It was inspiring. It had drama. The audience truly were provoked to tears, and laughter. And there was some anger.
John Napier-Hemy read from his delightful memoir, Evacuee.
John is a young boy in the middle of WW2, in Victoria and far away from the action:
In addition to having my pockets stuffed with conkers, pellets, elastics, speargrass and blades of grass, I had a small bag of marbles. My best marbles had a red or yellow spiral embedded in the glass, but they were hard to get because of the war. Most of the time we had to put up with marbles that were a murky mixture of green, blue and brown. The worst marbles were called “doughboys”. They were made of baked clay and painted. They cracked almost as easily as our conkers did. The very best were the “steelies”. These were ball bearings that had been purloined from one of the shipyards. They had to be the right size. The small ones were practically useless. The big ones were impressive but impractical, but if you were lucky enough to have one just the right size you had an unbeatable shooter. I felt guilty when I had a steelie in my possession because they were supposed to be important to the War Effort.Evacuee, pp 63-65
To play marbles you drew a circle in the dirt, put your marbles inside the circle, and then began by shooting from outside the circle. The boys who were really good at it knew just how to place a spin on their shooters so that they stayed exactly in place after hitting a marble out of the ring. If you knocked a marble out of the ring you were allowed to keep it. Try as I might I never learned how to place a spin on my shooter. Because I had to kneel to play marbles my knees were dirty and bleeding much of the time. This annoyed my mother who had to remove the gravel from my knees with a washcloth before she applied boracic acid and iodine.
“For goodness sakes. Stay off your knees or you’ll wear them out altogether,” my mother said. “And don’t keep picking at your scabs. You’ll get an infection and anyway it’s disgusting.”
I listened to my mother politely but I never changed my behaviour. How could I possibly play marbles without getting down onto my knees?
Next, Ben Nuttall-Smith had the audience by the heart with his readings from Margot: Love in the Golden Age. The book is his homage to his partner of the past 16 years, “the best years of my life”. Here is a prescient poem by Margot called Kayaker:
Margot, pp 15-17
Splashes near my feet.
A half-crescent of sparkling sea.
The webbed claw and feathered corpse of a sea bird
whose spirit is here in the sea-smells.
Dried sea-weed mounds
And lovely jeweled light shedding small waves
revealing myriad colours on brightened stones.
Sun warms my fleecy jacket –
But the breeze is cool.
The lap/splash sounds get louder.
The hollow woof of the curving water finds my attention.
I love this moment. I treasure its fleetingness.
I long to hold onto it.
This is all I want!
A crab carapace rolls against the bird’s body.
Seaweed wraps both dead things.
Not a bad place for a burial!
I’m being splashed! I don’t want to move
but the beach-space is being eaten by the incoming tide.
Stay here forever. Die here! Like the sea-bird and crab.
Roll me in seaweed!
Let the tide take me to the forever and ever.
My spirit would be so grateful!
My bones rolling with currents
My bones becoming sand – being swum over gracefully by fish.
Finally my minerals becoming the sea splashing on many shores, floating sea-birds, reflecting sunlight, being wind-blown
into giant, roaring and crashing waves –
thundering in praise of the beauty of the Earth.
Dr. Michael Catchpole’s Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, was the serious part of the readings. He spoke of the inappropriate use of prescriptions for anxiety-related disorders. While anger was seething below, he professionally explained the causes of anxiety and PTSD, then gave two examples of the cure that is used by registered psychologists. Here is one of the examples of PTSD treatment he read from his book:
A recent (highly modified) example of the latter was, let’s say, a firefighter I had treated, successfully, for PTSD about 10 years ago. He had attended at a very bad fire that tragically included dead children being discovered at the scene. Recently this person came by to see me at my college office (I am retired from clinical practice but continue to teach university courses). He was concerned because his nightmares about the original incident had unexpectedly returned a couple of months ago. He had been to his family doctor who had prescribed Prazosin, an anti-hypertension medication also thought to help with nightmares. However the medication was not working and he wondered if I had any recommendations. My own view is that the nightmares were an effort by his mind (not his brain) to deal with what was a not unexpected re-flare up of his PTSD “mental malware”.Anxiety, pp 176-177
I suggested that he might try backing off the medication under his physician’s guidance and instead re-do some of the exposure steps he and I had done when I saw him originally. Ultimately this would include re-visiting the location of the fire. We agreed that he would drive toward the fire site and when his anxiety got to a 7/10 level pull over and wait there for his anxiety response to drop. He would proceed with this series of steps, perhaps over a few days (each provoking anxiety in the 7/10 range) until he could actually stand at the fire scene and have his anxiety not rise above a 3/10. Subsequently, he reported back to me that the re-exposure was tough but that his nightmares had now resolved. While at the fire location, and not unexpectedly, he reported that he cried, which of course also is helpful.
While people cannot always re-visit the locations where they acquired a trauma I do note with interest recent work with military combat veterans with PTSD indicating that “re-visiting” PTSD-inducing combat via virtual reality goggles also can replicate the therapeutic benefit of in vivo exposure.
George Opacic spoke about the book he co-authored with Ron M. Craig, In a Cloud of Sails. He mentioned the series of remarkable adventures that the skipper and crew endured on their way across the Pacific to Australia. The one incident that had a few hairs rising on people’s necks was about Myrt, fortune-teller:
The day before the Consul General visited, and without any clue whatsoever of the existence of the Australian, Ron had, in some desperation, made a decision. He had handed Jeff $200 with instructions to purchase charts to Panama and into the Caribbean for at least as far as Jamaica.
Jeff later said that he had no idea what possessed him that day. In a bit of a daze, Jeff had set off to buy the Caribbean charts as instructed. Carrying back his newly purchased charts, he realized in astonishment that what he was carrying was an armload of basic charts for the Pacific, out to Australia! With that realization, he stood on the sidewalk literally gobsmacked. Confusion rattled around his mind.
His only rational explanation was to remember the time last year, between his initially shipping out on the Monte Cristo and later becoming skipper. Jeff was working on a dockside project called the Explorer:
In Bremerton, Washington, I had experienced the inexplicable.
I had heard from the daughter of the Explorer’s owner that there was a fortune-teller in Bremerton who supposedly possessed amazing powers. I am not by nature a mystical or philosophical person and am certainly not superstitious, other than following the established seagoing customs of never, if possible, sailing on Fridays, always putting a gold piece under a mast before it is stepped, and never whistling up a wind. These rituals are kept more as tradition than from fear of consequences if defaulted.
Cheryl, the owner’s daughter, convinced me that I might like having a reading from Myrt, the seer…
Myrt invited me in and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. As soon as she said that, she corrected herself.
“Oh yes, you drink tea, don’t you,” she stated.
She returned presently with the cups on a tray and told me, “You’re a sailor, but not the type we have around here. You’re a real sailor. One who sails sailing ships.”
I replied that I was not sailing on any sailing ship at the moment, but wanted to someday.
“You will, within two months,” she predicted. “You are going on a long trip,” she said.
Here we go, I thought. The next thing she will tell me is that I will meet a dark stranger who will make me wealthy. That should be in the script. I asked her to expand on this. I admitted that a ship I was interested in was planning to sail to the Caribbean to charter there.
“No, it’s not going to the Caribbean. You are going to take her to Australia.”
Australia? Nobody had mentioned Australia to me before.
“You’ll be greeted by thousands of people including heads of state and royalty,” Myrt predicted. “You’ll have difficult times, naturally, but everything will be all right in the end.”
I thought the prediction about heads of state and royalty a bit over the top, but it made a great way to spend the afternoon. If nothing else, I was getting my money’s worth…
I thanked Myrt and said that maybe I would see her again.
No, she told me. She had intimations of her own mortality…
She died shortly after that. And her predictions about me were eerily correct, for reasons I cannot explain.
In a Cloud of Sails pp 96-98
Perhaps Myrt had been instructed by Captain Cook.
Indeed, the mysterious appearance of the Pacific charts were to become very useful.
To purchase these books, please visit https://rutherfordpress.ca/books-available/