Life with Charlie

Two years ago, a slew of books and movies, all focused on the same subject, were released.

That subject was Manson. Charles Manson.

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the crimes the world would come to know as the Tate/LA Bianca murders. That year I read and reviewed a number of those newly published accounts of life with the hippie cult leader –HERE , HERE and HERE. And now comes another.

Author Edward George was Manson’s jailer for eight years of the career criminal’s incarceration. Beginning first at San Quentin Prison in 1975 and then following Manson when he was transferred to Corcoran Medical Facility, Edward George supervised Manson’s cellblock, read and censored Charlie’s mail and talked to him almost daily.

San Quentin Prison was most recently in the news last year when more than 1000 inmates and 100 staff tested positive to Covid 19.

At both locations, George, whose unique background includes having been both a navy fighter pilot and studying for six years as a seminary student, was in charge of the lockdown unit (what he refers to as the ‘cuckoo’s nest’) – the section that housed prisoners so crazed and violent they couldn’t even coexist in a society made up of their criminal peers.

Against his better judgment, the author describes developing a rapport with Manson to the extent he began to feel the self-proclaimed guru’s words and ideas flowing through his brain at night, even as he slept. George says he used Manson – who he describes as being animated and entertaining (when he was in a good mood) in a not dissimilar vein to Jack Nicholson’s ‘McMurphy’ character in the 1975 movie ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST – to get through his workday, perk him up, amuse him, make him laugh and make him angry.

“In retrospect, I needed a guy like Manson to keep me sane. Prison work is dull and boring. Charlie’s wit engendered a subtle excitement. Manson was the buzz of the day, my daily rush. Many afternoons I sprung him from his cage and escorted him free and unshackled into my office. We sat like boyhood friends and shot the breeze, sometimes for hours”.

George confesses that a prison unit psychiatrist was among a number of people who warned him to stay away from Manson and not get pulled into his mad charismatic aura. The author describes dancing around the fire of madness but not being singed by its flames was an exhilarating experience.

“Before Manson arrived at San Quentin, I found the prison routine stifling redundant. Of all the murderers, sociopaths, psychos and gangbangers I managed over the years, Manson was the one who always made my day.”

At one stage Manson had attempted to convince George he should quit his job and join Charlie’s ‘Family’. Amusingly he writes, ” Sometimes, absurd as that was, I have to admit it was tempting. Especially for a man going through “Middle Age Crazy”. I ended up buying a motorcycle instead. Whew!”

The book recalls in vivid detail the daily grind of Manson’s imprisonment; from endless tirades that saw him repeatedly set his cell bed on fire or attempt to clog the sink and flood the floor to him tending to and ‘raising’ a pair of cockroaches.

Manson seemed to take particular delight in toying with and confounding prison psychiatrists. Some of the recorded and transcribed conversations sound more like comedy routines than psychiatric evaluations.

DR H: “If you had only one wish, what would you wish for?”

MANSON: “More wishes.”

DR H: “How are your spirits?”

MANSON: “Right here.”

DR H: “How do you see your future?”

MANSON: “I don’t see any”.

DR H: “When was the last time you wished you were dead?”

MANSON: “I haven’t found out what life is yet.”

DR H: “When did you last think of suicide?”

MANSON: “When you mentioned it.”

In the book’s epilogue, George recounts this defining exchange with Manson –

“Why did you do it” I asked him a thousand times in a hundred different ways. “Why the celebrity slaughter that rocked the entire world?” He offered a dozen different answers, depending on his mood at the time.

By way of summary, the following passage is probably as good as any to capture the essence of the author’s Manson experience –

“For nearly a decade, Charlie entertained me and my staff. I visited him daily. I befriended him, knowing full well who he was and what he had done. He could be Saint Francis one minute and Satan the next. I experienced the bipolar mind control throughout my personal association with him. There was no doubting his powers.

Former Miami News reporter Dary Matera (1955 – ) is the ghost writer of CHARLES MANSON: CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER. He is the author of 14 books, including John Dillinger – The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal.

KISS and TELL

It’s been a long time between drinks for me as far as attending live music concerts go.

How long? Put it this way. The last time I attended a major stadium concert (for the curious and nostalgic alike, it was Bob Dylan on his ‘True Confessions’ tour) the internet had not yet been invented, Ronald Reagan was in the Whitehouse in the U.S and legwarmers – pants for your calves – were a thing.

And now I’m about to break that drought in, well…if I’m forced to chose a description – WHOLLY SPECTACULAR FASHION!

My G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) band are coming to Brisbane and I’m so happy to announce I’ll be there to cheer them on. The END OF THE ROAD tour is being promoted as the last opportunity fans worldwide will have to see the band live before they hang up their touring boots forever. Not sure I entirely believe that claim but I do know I have no plans to see them again in the future so for me this will be it.

I remember I was in Year 9 at school when KISS visited Australia as part of their UNMASKED TOUR. That was back in 1980 and at that time KISS were big beyond any comprehension. The media compared them to The Beatles for the amount of hysteria they generated amongst fans. Thousands gathered at airports around the country to greet them and wherever they went an army of the most dedicated would camp outside their hotel rooms.

Their Brisbane concert was held that year on November 25th. My mate Google tells me that was a Tuesday night. I remember the next day at school, a boy by the name of Joe Cranitch, who’d gone to the concert, telling the rest of us what we’d missed. It sounded completely life-changing. Well, I was fourteen.

41 years on, the Brisbane KISS concert I’ll be attending will also be on a Tuesday night – also in the final week of November. It’ll be back to work the next day for me. If I make it. I’m not sure I will. In any case it’s seven months away. Seven months to savor one of life’s great pleasures. Antici……………………….pation!

In a confession you can be guaranteed would be considered blasphemous to any lifelong rabid committed KISS fan, I’ll admit I hesitated long and hard before actually going ahead and splashing out the coin to buy a ticket. It wasn’t so much the $200 asking price, ’cause by all accounts that’s more or less the going rate these days to see a name act of this heft.

No, it was the thought I wouldn’t be seeing the band at their peak (key members of the band are now either approaching or in their early seventies) and did I really want to run the risk of tarnishing an unblemished, idyllic recollection of what at one stage you could, if you were really straining for words, refer to as a ‘band’ but a band which many decades ago most assuredly morphed into an out-and-out cultural phenomena.

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And while I was in the entertaining-miscellaneous-doubts game, I threw this one in as well : Was I too old to enjoy having my ear-drums assaulted by a reputed 136 decibel noise level (the equivalent of a jet taking off 100 metres away or the loudest human voice shouting one inch (2.5 centimetres) away from your ear) while attempting to be entertained by the sight of a lead singer resembling a Japanese Kabuki performer spitting up blood and breathing fire?

In the end I surprised myself and concluded I wasn’t too old to still get a kick out of such hoo-ha. Toss in the fact I’ve never seen KISS live before and there’s the distinct possibility this could be the last opportunity to do so, and, with the encouragement of my wife, I set about being among the first to purchase a golden ticket on-line the minute they went on sale a few months back.

Funny thing happened on the way to that on-line KISS concert ticket purchase though. I almost fell for the ‘ol fake ticket scam. Even now, when you enter BUY KISS CONCERT TICKETS into the Google search engine, the first site that appears at the top of the page is something called viagogo.com

I came within a hair’s breath of purchasing my ticket from this site before I looked more carefully and realized they are a reseller of event tickets, not an authorized seller.

Late last year viagogo were ordered by the Australian Federal Court to pay a penalty of $7 million for breaching the Australian Consumer Law by making “false or misleading representations when reselling tickets for live music and sports events.” 

Elton John fans who bought tickets on-line from the site got stung badly back in 2019 when they fronted up to some of his Australian concerts and were refused entry because the tickets they’d bought turned out to be fakes.

Consumer magazine CHOICE dropped the axe bigtime on viagogo in this article HERE last year condemning the company for shonky business tactics. I’m confident in saying I dodged a possible bullet by not buying my ticket from these guys.

After having bought a proper ticket from the official Australian seller /https://premier.ticketek.com.au/ I know where I’ll be seated is in the front half of the venue (capacity 13 500) on the right hand side. I won’t need to bring binoculars. Perfect ’cause I don’t own a pair.

Two questions remain…

(1) Will I wear KISS make-up on the night? ANSWER: No

(2) Will I wear my KISS t-shirt on the night? ANSWER: Definitely maybe.

And finally, here’s to the fans…

Ps. And for no other reason than it doesn’t come much weirder than this, PLUS… if you’ve made it all this way through the post you deserve at the very least … a KISS-flavored Scooby snack!

Fruitless Frappe

Sometimes you can get an idea in your head so powerful, so insistent, so all-consuming, not even a dozen blows from a hammer can dislodge it from your brain.

Not that I’ve tried that. The hammer thing, I mean.

This was pretty much the situation the other Saturday morning when I awoke with a craving for a coffee frappe. Satisfying that craving was as simple as driving to my local McDonalds.

Or so I thought.

“Sorry but our frappe machine isn’t working at the moment” were the pin-through-a-balloon, deflating words delivered via a crackling drive-thru speaker later that morning. “That’s ok” I replied back into the speaker-box, fake acceptance chortling through my voice as I checked the rear vision mirror and prepared to test my stunt- driving skills by reversing out (who does that?).

A minor set-back like that was never going to stand in the way of me and my beloved coffee frappe being united in a lover’s tryst to rival that of King Louis XV of France and Madame de Pompadour. Yeah. I wanted it that badly.

What happened next was sadly – for the telling of this story – pretty next-step logical. I simply drove to the next nearest McDonalds whose coffee machine was working and got my fix there. Hooray for the ‘Plan B’s’ of this world. Simple really.

And that is where the real story ends. But also where the make-believe one begins. See, I used that real-life minor mis-adventure as the basis to concoct a fiction story. One that contained a few more twists ‘n turns. One that I ended up entering in a writing competition. Wanna read it? You do? Ok, but first I’d better act like a good, responsible host and issue one of these rapscallion little devils…

Yeah, and I think you know the type I mean. Five-star-god-awful ‘home-made’ poems and short stories poured out like clumped matter from a raw sewerage pipe by bloggers penning love letters to themselves.

Bloggers who appear to believe that just because they own the domain (or maybe they don’t) that somehow gives them the right to inflict miserable literary dross only they can see the brilliance of on unsuspecting followers.

Naturally I would never stoop so low. Well, not on any regular sort of basis anyway. And I have been considerate enough to issue a caution first, right? Yep, it seems you can get away with a lot when you sound a warning shot first…

Sometimes you just have to hit things. In Carla’s case that meant the rubber-sheathed steering wheel she was holding. Uselessly she’d already shot the drive-through speaker a disgusted look, like she’d just been asked to empty a full bed pan. They’d told her their frappe machine was not working and asked would she like to order an iced coffee instead. No she would not. After joining the backend of a six car queue for the privilege, she now felt like asking for a refund, even though she hadn’t spent any money.

Not from the area due to the fact she was currently staying at her brother’s house since her own apartment on the other side of town was under repair due to her upper-floor bathtub crashing violently through the floor into the dining room below – traced to a slow leak that had caused the chipboard floor to perish over time – Carla used her spiderweb-patterned, decal-decorated left thumb nail to tap through her car’s navigation maps and locate the next closest store.

She wasn’t pregnant, but the pretty medical clinic receptionist had woken that morning with a craving for a coffee frappe with extra caramel drizzle. A craving that had to be satisfied. That WOULD be satisfied. “3.4km away” read the screen’s little red numbers. Doable!

Carla started humming a tune from an advert to herself as she headed out of the carpark and onto the main road. With hardly any traffic at this early hour she enjoyed a glance out the window of her Ford Focus. What do people see in trees, she wondered, settling into the meditative bliss of driving. Trunk, branches, leaves. And there are just so many of them! Her mind began to wander.

Nearly seven minutes later, she was ready to try to kill the craving for a second time. With the excited interest of a tourist, the first thing she noticed while still out on the street was the red and blue flashing lights that filled the carpark. Chequered police tape was going up over the entrance. From the size of the gathered team of uniformed officers and suits packing guns on their hips, whatever had gone down was a big deal. Too big a deal for her to order a humble coffee frappe.

Carla u-turned the car just as the first drops of rain began hitting her windscreen. With a squeal of tyres she accelerated out and headed for the highway. Her left hand began tapping out the rhythm of her agitation on the centre handrest . The GPS told her it was 14 minutes to the next drive-through. This would be her final attempt she told herself.  Even a frappe kamikaze like her knew their limits.

In less time than that, she’d completed her order through a crackling speaker and was now finally inching closer to crossing the finishing line that was the payment window. With the end of her quest within reach and the thing that mattered most to her now close enough she could practically taste the delicious topping cream coating her tongue and sliding down the back of her throat, Carla reached over to where her handbag and purse should have been while momentarily amusing herself with the thought “What could possibly go wrong this time?”

FRUITLESS FRAPPE was my entry in a monthly writing competition run by the Australian Writer’s Centre. That competition is known as FURIOUS FICTION.

On the first Friday of each month the details of the 500 word story’s MUST HAVES are released. This month’s criteria were –

Close to 1300 short stories were received for this month’s competition. If by chance you’d like to read the winning story click HERE.

The Last Lighthouse Keeper

Lighthouses and I have history.

Well, maybe not actual lighthouses – unless you count my sole visit to the one on Bruny Island in Tasmania two years ago. No, I’m probably referring more to lighthouses I’ve seen in films or read about in books.

Last year I went along to a film called THE LIGHTHOUSE. (For the trivia buffs – an identically titled and similarly themed but otherwise completely different UK movie was made back in 2016). It starred Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. A lot of people were raving about it at the time but, putting it politely, I failed to see what all the fuss was about and said so in a post I named LOST IN THE FOG.

One of my most favorite episodes of the 1960’s television show Lost in Space was titled THE HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE. I’ve heard so many amazing things about the Virginia Wolf penned 1927 novel TO THE LIGHTHOUSE I’m curious to read it.

Only last week I got speaking to a mad keen stamp-collector who used to visit lighthouses in the 70’s as part of his role working as a supplies clerk for the Australian Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.

And who could forget my quirk-filled short story PIANO MAN about two bickering lighthouse keepers? It got published back in 2018 in the less than prestigious, less than acclaimed but quite colorful BALLOONS LIT JOURNAL. Who could forget? Well, how about everyone, including me most days.

But all of this was mere finger food when compared to the banquet on offer in reading THE LAST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER (2020).

To label this book one of the most enthralling reads I’ve enjoyed would be underselling it. More accurately this 352 page memoir is no less than an inspired, visceral and wholly transporting masterwork. Really.

John Cook spent twenty six years as one of Australia’s longest serving lighthouse keepers. In the 1960’s he was running a service station and picking up the pieces after a marriage breakup. Seeing an ad one day in the local newspaper, he applied for a position with the Australian Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. So began his decades long love affair with, as he describes it, “a life in the lights”.

The book centers chiefly with his time spent on two Tasmanian lighthouse islands, Tasman and Maatsuyker (the last spot between Australia and Antarctica) It ends with his transfer to a third, Bruny – the one I’ve visited – where he stayed on for another 15 years.

The presiding tone of the book is summarized on page 55 when the author, referring to his first posting on Tasman Island, notes – “Either people come here crazy or this place turns them that way”. He softens that statement in the very next sentence, however, when he adds – “But no more than the real world does”.

Craziness in a great many guises is laid forth in huge dollops on nearly all pages. From the monotony of weeks without fresh food before the supply ship would arrive to fisticuffs with fellow lighthouse keepers to removing your own rotten teeth with a wood punch because visiting a dentist is months away to the microscopic gaps in brickwork that, via howling winds, could turn a lighthouse into an oversized whistle and drive a person insane with the sound. It’s all here and more.

Speaking of wind, it’s fair to say the weather is the chief protagonist in this story. I never thought I’d be one given to frequent descriptions of nature – and this book has that in spades – but the degree to which the author makes use of a veritable slew of colorful phrases to immerse the reader in what it felt like to be alone in a concrete tower perched 300 metres above sea level battling the elements, leaves one little choice but to be swept along for the ride.

Here’s a sample of descriptions of battering winds taken from THE LAST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

  • wind so strong it flattens grass
  • I could hear the windows rattling in their frames and the wind trying to curl the tin off the room.
  • wind that felt like you were clinging to the wing of a jet
  • wind strong enough to burst reinforced window panes and tear through doorframes
  • I would place tissue paper in my ears to withstand the sound of the wind.
  • I have never known anything like that wind. It sets your ears roaring and your face has to turn away or your stubble will be shaved off.
  • The tower would literally sway in the 100 knot winds because if it didn’t it would snap.
  • I followed my torch beam down the path. It was the only thing not moved by the wind.
  • winds so cold they turn your hands bluish in their pockets

Early on the author quotes the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who advised that men really need only two things: love and work. There’s plenty of both amongst these pages. Love provides one of the narrative spines running through the book, interwoven with a mystery whose answer is only party provided at the end.

The many and varied work routines are also well catered for in descriptive passages throughout the memoir. In the days of manual lighthouses there were always tasks to perform, all without the benefit of power tools. From operating a kerosene pump to logging weather conditions and vessel sightings every half hour to polishing the prisms (what he calls the ‘enormous rotating jewel’) to gutters that needed fixing, grass that needed mowing and 44 gallon drums of fuel that needed hauling and refilling.

There are sad parts of the book as well, not least of those when John Cook documents the beginning stages of automation and de-manning of Australian lighthouses that commenced from the mid 1970’s. (The last manned lighthouse in Australia was the Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse in Tasmania, where the author worked for a time in the seventies. It was deactivated in 1996 and allowed to decay.)

The end of the life of tv reception-less isolation came in gradual stages for John Cook, beginning with the day a portable generator got delivered to the remote island he was residing on. He says he was tempted to damage it, so much did it represent to him the civilized world he enjoyed being apart from. “It was the shape of ruin to me” (p 295).

Another pre-cursor to the end was when the island got connected to the mainland by telephone. “94 years after the 1st telephone service in 1880 in Tasmania, Maatsuyker now had a telephone. The world was edging closer to my rock. I felt like we had lost our peace and privacy. In the months to come we would be inundated by fisherman and pilots ringing up wanting to know weather conditions; even surfies wanting to know swell heights” (p296).

When helicopters began to replace mail boats, Cook could see the writing on the wall. “I felt like I had fallen in love with a dying woman” (p296). The day he was lifted off Maatsuyker Island by helicopter for the final time, he says he cried.

When he arrived at his next and final posting – Bruny Island (more populated and connected to the mainland than his other more remote, more ‘pure’ locations – he recalls how he was surprised that he was now required to lock the tower. “It was not something we had to do on the other islands” (p319).

Cook observes in one of the closing chapters, “The ocean gets in your head and soaks your brain”. That is my experience of devouring this genuinely brilliant memoir.

Reading like a thriller in parts, secrets and mysteries are laid out like a trail of breadcrumbs throughout, ensuring the reader is well and truly strung along for the ride. There’s a heartfelt love story here as well. Exhilarating, profound and exquisitely written, probably the highest compliment you can pay a memoir once you’re done reading it is think to yourself – even if it’s only for a few brief moments – “I wish I’d lived that life”. That’s how I feel about THE LAST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER .

Most people who’ve led amazing lives don’t suddenly transform into gifted writers when they decide it’s time to finally share their stories. Unless of course that individual happened to be a professional author to begin with, which lighthouse keeper John Cook wasn’t.

Credit must therefore go to the ‘ghostwriter’ who helped give form and life to this incredible memoir.

Jon Bauer is a UK based author who lived in Australia for 15 years. He is a qualified psychotherapist and is currently at work on his latest novel.

Top Ten Favorite Films of the 1960’s

When the swarm of literally tens of thousands of films nesting inside a dedicated movie buff’s head reaches critical mass and the buzz becomes too busy to ignore, there’s but one thing to do – compile a top 100 list.

This ‘hive’ will be organised according to time period – nominating ten loved films from each of the decades from the 1940’s through to the 2010’s. That will total eighty films. Twenty selections will be included each for the 1970’s and 80’s – ‘my‘ decades – rounding out the list to 100 titles.

The decade of the 1960’s was also known as the ‘Swinging Sixties’. It was an era characterized by demands for greater individual freedom and a breaking away from the rigid social constraints of previous times.

Politically this time witnessed the assassinations of the leader of Japan’s Socialist Party Inejiro Asanuma  浅沼 稲次郎 (1960) – the Prime Minister of Togo (1963) – John F. Kennedy (1963) – human rights activist Malcolm X (1965) – Argentinian revolutionary leader Che Guevara (1967) – Martin Luther King Jr (1968) and Robert F Kennedy (1968).

Technology-wise, the 1960’s saw the release of the birth control pill, the measles vaccine, the world’s first automatic teller machine, the Quicksort algorithm (the most common sorter on computers), as well as the first public demonstrations of the computer mouse, email and video conferencing.

Academy Award winners for Best Picture during this decade were –

And here are my ten favorite films from this period –

Every frame of these ten movies a feast!

Ps. Wanna see another person’s ‘Favorite Films of the 60’s’ list? Click HERE

PSS. This has been in the pipeline for some time. Coming to a beach near you… the SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK swimsuit collection. First reveal. One piece. Classic. A picture worth a thousand words. Seriously? Ummm… yeah.

PSSS. Still here? I’d better show you this then. The March issue of DARK DOSSIER Magazine came out last week. My included story begins on page 52 HERE.

First Love – Endless Love

This is not a film review of the movie ENDLESS LOVE (1981). Though it almost could be. This post is intended as a personal memoir of sorts of my ENDLESS LOVE. My first love. I’ve been wanting to tell this – for me – magical story for some time now; before it faded from memory altogether. It’s probably already forty years too late.

In a lot of ways, the events and feelings connected with the story, to borrow an ancient chestnut of a phrase, feel like they all took place only yesterday. Five seconds ago, actually. Seen from another tack, it all feels by now so long ago I sometimes wonder whether any of it really happened at all. Time makes a mockery of memory, afterall. But your first love is something you never forget. Not really. Not this first love anyway.

Details are what make a story. I know that. But I won’t start with those, other than to say her name was Caroline Byrne, I was a few months short of my fifteenth birthday (as was she) and back then you can be certain both our bloodstreams were positively awash with the type of pulsating teenage cocktail of ‘feel good’ hormones that helped transform every thought into something a thousand times more potent.

I’ll begin instead by trying to put into mere words my memory of how the whole thing -‘thing’ meaning ‘experience’ and experience meaning romance, which btw, endured for all up only around five glorious months – made me feel. ‘Magical’ is a good word to get things rolling. So is the 2014 Scarlett Johannsen movie LUCY.

If during any part of watching that trailer – if in fact you obediently went ahead and did that – you were left scratching your head and asking yourself what in bejesus drug mules, Asian crime syndicates and Morgan Freeman have to do with Glen’s first love story, then let me clarify: they have nothing to do with Glen’s first love story. As far as I recall anyway.

The on-point comparisons kick in only from around the 1 minute 15 second mark. That’s when the trailer starts talking about the average human being only using roughly 10% of their brain capacity. For the few short months my first love affair lasted (though admittedly ‘affair’ seems too adult a word for this context) I felt like previously unused parts of my brain were now lighting up like the proverbial 4th of July fireworks display.

Not just that but, like LUCY, it definitely felt like for a time I’d acquired a range of magical powers. Nothing to the degree of being able to hurl people up against walls with the wave of my hand like the title character of the film. No, this was more like thoughts, feelings and, probably most significantly, a sense of self, way more concentrated than before.

Like a hundred thousand times more concentrated. Like a lazer. Like I’d ascended to a higher realm of existence. Like a super human who could now float on air to get around. Like, in many ways, I suppose, no less than a god. An entrancing-five-months long type of god.

In a sideways pivot, allow me to mention that American author Dean Koontz (1945 – ) penned a novel titled INTENSITY back in the early nineties. I read it last year after I stole souvenired it from the library of a mountain-based so-called holiday retreat we stayed at. (Should probably mention not many things at that ‘retreat’ were in working order the weekend we visited so I reasoned I was due some form of recompense… and I got a small bit of it claiming that dog-eared book). It’s a story about keeping one step ahead of a stalking serial killer. Incredibly the whole novel – all 384 pages of it – with the exception of a couple of brief exterior scenes, is set inside a house. First loves don’t feature.

I mention the book and it’s title here because I think the word INTENSITY summarizes the feelings and experiences that commonly come with a first love. Having attended an all-boys high school and being from a family with three brothers and no sisters, falling in love with a ‘real-life’ beautiful girl was always going to send my heart into car-alarm mode, sparks of electricity shooting into my brain and show me the real gold this universe has to offer. It did all that. In colossal, sea-salt coating tidal waves.

As if that hyper-intoxicating rush wasn’t enough, my first love also came with an unexpected bonus: elevated social status. See, I feel in love with and began ‘dating’ a cheerleader. Well, not an actual cheerleader, like Sandy in GREASE (1978) ’cause I don’t think Australia had cheerleaders back in 1981. But she may as well have been a cheerleader, cause, you know…same social status. No, Caroline was a fifteen year-old water polo player who went to the local Catholic all-girls school.

Teenage female water-polo players all resembled well-proportioned, majestic Amazonians. Think WONDER WOMAN if that helps. Caroline was one of them and sat most assuredly atop of the popularity tree. She could have had anyone and she picked me. I’ve been trying to work out the why of that puzzle for forty years.

I debated long and hard whether or not to include some type of (approximated) image in this recount to give an idea of the type of face I fell head over heels Dunlop Volleys in love with. Words, and imagination to fill in the blanks between those words, are so much more powerful in many ways. In the end I succumbed to the wisdom of a picture being worth a thousand words. Not that I’d mind writing those thousand words. But you know, could drag on a bit.

Fifteen year old Caroline, my Caroline, was a blonde goddess of teenage beauty in anyone’s language. Mine especially. With all cherished photos of her (come to think of it I only ever had just the one – a Year 10 school head ‘n shoulders shot enclosed in a plastic keyring case) long since lost to time, the closest resemblance I can lay my hands now on is an early-nineties version of Britney Spears.

Memory tells me Caroline was even better, cuter looking than Britney (she used to wear her hair in ‘Heidi’ style plaits as well). But at the risk of sounding like a cheap – or not so cheap – novels’ unreliable narrator I’ll refrain from saying that. But maybe not thinking that.

Caroline’s best friend was another girl named Caroline. Caroline Rogers. She was blonde and stunning too – kind of a Jessica Simpson clone. If anyone remembers her. Word back in the day was the two of them used to walk past building sites together and attract a chorus of wolf-whistles. Construction workers have long since been forced to clean up their act so that could never happen these days.

I remember one Friday afternoon after school a group of us gathered together at The Pancake Manor in Charlotte Street the City. With plastic menu in hand I found myself sitting in a leather-clad booth sandwiched between the double-act cascade of loveliness that was the bff Carolines. I was a bee nestled in-between honeycomb either side; a kid in a candy shop; Jack on the bow of the TITANIC shouting “I’m King of the Worrrrrrrld!” What’s for sure is that day had beauty to burn.

My Caroline was fully two to three inches taller than me. The height difference just seemed to underline my view of her as half-god to my mortal. Seated, that contrast disappeared. One such occasion of extended sitting occurred when we went to see the Brooke Shields teen-romance movie ENDLESS LOVE (1981) together.

Don’t remember much of the film but I do remember caressing the entirely lovely shape of her earlobes and of course… our kissing. Our weightless, time-stands-still, heart goes ‘whomp’, non-stop kissing. Teenagers in general deserve praise on this front. On the kissing love-0-meter scale they can more often than not rate a ten. They leave the majority of adults, who’ve long since progressed their attention to other items on the menu, a lot of the time completely and unequivocally for dead.

I had the Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet from ENDLESS LOVE going through my head the entire time I was typing those words so may as well drop it in here below. That’s a very young Tom Cruise btw glimpsed at the 1 minute 35 second mark.


*** OVER THE YEARS I’VE WATCHED THE MOVIE ENDLESS LOVE (1981) SEVERAL TIMES TO SEE WHAT I MISSED OUT ON UP ON THE BIG SCREEN IN THAT THEATRE ALL THAT TIME AGO. FILM-WISE, I WOULDN’T SAY THE TEEN ROMANCE GENRE IS MY NATURAL HABITAT – EITHER BACK THEN OR NOW – BUT I’M HAPPY TO REPORT NOW I CONSIDER THE FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI DIRECTED FILM A FIVE STAR QUALITY MOVIE, BORDERING ON MODERN-DAY CLASSIC.

Precious memories – the title of one of my favourite 1980’s Bob Dylan songs btw – from this magical five months of my life come as spring blooms, only ever needing an invitation from the sun. I can see them, feel them now, as if I were back in that time. I remember Caroline’s voice on the phone to me the first time she told me she loved me. I remember asking her to say it again because hearing those words made me feel so wonderful.

I remember all the charming, funny and sincere love letters Caroline wrote me, signed with ‘Love Forever’ back in a time when the word ‘forever’ was imbued with meaning and belief by the both of us. I can even still see the different types of stationary they came written on.

I remember the school dances we attended together. Better still I remember some of the secret moonlit spots we found ‘out the back’ amongst the shadows to cuddle and kiss – and sometimes a bit more. I remember her whispering in my ear at the High School Prom that year “other people say we look great together”. And I remember the day we arranged to meet at lunchtime outside her school gates.

It was about a 1.5km walk from my school to hers. When I got there, with a busy road separating us, instead of seeing her across the lanes of cars I was greeted by two of her friends. We communicated via hand signals and raised voices across the din of traffic. They explained that something had happened that day and the girl of my dreams wasn’t able to meet me.

What I did next is as clear in my mind as if it happened five minutes ago. I felt in my pocket and found that, handily, I happened to have a packet of the then iconic Hubba Bubba bubble gum on my person. I lobbed it with my best throw over the lanes of traffic to the dutiful messengers. They picked it up where it landed on the concrete on their side and indicated they’d heard me when I shouted over the traffic noise “Give it to her”.

A few days later Carolyn wrote in a letter to me how she loved receiving that gum. Reading that would have had me ringing like a happy bell. Some memories are as clear as color prints. The irony is they’re alive and dead simultaneously.

The final memory fanning the flames of yesteryear concerns money. Not spending it but inscribing it. At some stage in our relationship I must have latched onto the idea I needed to announce our love for each other to the world. What better way to do that, my fifteen-year-old brain reasoned, then to write on every banknote that crossed my path the love-code letters GD4CB.

Back then you could do that as Australian money notes were made of paper. I mostly confined myself to $1 and $2 notes, ’cause that was the currency I chiefly dealt with in those days. I think I even continued for a while after things faded away and Carolyn and I went our separate ways. When the $1 note got withdrawn from circulation three years later in 1984, all my ‘engraving’ work went with it. In 1988 the $2 note got killed off as well, and that was that.

Silly, eh? Sure, but it’s the sort of harmless, innocent and well-meaning-at-the-time thing you can look back on with a laugh. A lot of laughs. These days, getting a tattoo of your current flame’s name only to be stuck with a permanent reminder of it after things go belly-up and splitsville is a whole ‘nother level of silly. I think we can agree on that.

First times for anything are always memorable. First loves supremely so. But am I right to look back on this as the happiest time of my life? It’s tempting to. Yet in a way that seems almost disrespectful to the countless other joyous times enjoyed from all facets of life both before and since; not to mention the other enchanting love affairs as well as life milestones like marriage and starting your own family that the woven tapestry of a person’s life will come to be made up of over the passage of time.

What I will say is if I could magically transport myself back in a time machine and relive any five month period of my life, this five months would most likely find itself first pick. Most likely? Pfffft! Who am I kidding? Without a micro-seconds hesitation, it WOULD be first pick.

This beguiling chapter in my life was so relatively short it was able to be perfect. There were no arguments – no struggles – no responsibilities. It was pure and undiluted, before the concerns of the adult world were allowed to take hold. Nothing can ever compare. And so nothing should be compared.

In at least a few ways I can look back and say I was never more alive – if ‘alive’ means the ability to feel. For a brief time I had the type of self-belief and certainty that can lead armies into battle. I felt super-charged and wonderful. It was all so long ago.

POSTSCRIPT

Some time after high school ended I got word that Caroline had ended up becoming a nurse. I was never able to find out for certain. I tried a few years back to make contact with her again via an ex-student’s organisation on Facebook attached to her old school. I never heard anything back.

For someone so resplendent, so golden, so…lovable as her back in the day, you can know with the certainty of a sage I would have been just one of a long, long list of suitors. I’ll admit there’s a chance today Caroline may not even remember my name. That’s ok. I can remember our time together back then enough for the both of us.

Reasons I’ll Never – and I mean NEVER – Write a Novel

It’s a melodramatic scene lifted straight from a literary version of an AA meeting. And it’s been jangling around in my head for some time.

A dozen or so institutional-grey metal chairs are positioned strategically in a ‘covered wagons’ style semi-circle. While clearing their throats and taking in a series of quick breaths, one by one each occupant of the chairs first stands, introduces themselves and then utters the most dreaded, god-awful phrase they prayed they’d never hear themselves say – “I’m a writer… but I’m never going to write a novel”.

Does it even need saying the undisputed Holy Grail of the literary world is without doubt the long-form novel? This Everest of words, this most prized version of narrative nirvana is the benchmark for success for writers world wide. And it’s been that way since at least as far back as the 18th century.

Yet sadly I will never know the triumph of this unique form of extended self-torture. For now all eyes have come to rest expectantly on the one person in their grey metal chair yet to rise. That person is me. Mustering every morsel of mouse-courage I have, I stand, blink rapidly for a few seconds and then hear myself say in a low but surprisingly calm voice – “My name is Glen Donaldson and I am never going to write a novel”.

AND HERE’S WHY…

Not counting life itself, I’m not known for my participation in ultra-marathon events.

As much as I love words – and it’s taken me some time to realize this – what I love more is ideas. The shiny, unclouded purity of ideas – especially the good ones – before they’re translated into mere words – is for me where the real magic lies.
Whether those ideas come from the field of medicine, philosophy, aeronautics, sport, the construction industry – it matters not. But good and even great ideas alone, as any writer will tell you, don’t necessarily make, or in most cases, come even close to making a worth-ploughing through novel.

File this one under ‘C’ for consideration if you like. I have more respect for other people’s time than to try to foist my at best mediocre hobby writing on them in a gargantuan, read-a-thon-sized dose.

Last time I attempted that – with a mere peanut-sized short story – sent in the general direction of a couple of my nearest and dearest (should have known better!) I got something close to the following response…

The number of self-published books released annually topped the one million mark back in 2017. Each year that has followed, another at least one million ‘amateur’ offerings – each one no doubt representing some budding author’s much-sweated over and loved literary pride and joy – have hit a market that, thirty years back, would have been labelled ‘super-soaked’.

In other words, every man and his dog, cat and frill-fested canary not only firmly believes they have a book in them but is now actually going ahead and writing that book. To go through the effort of grinding out 80 000 words with the lofty ambition of actually entertaining other human beings, I would want to be rewarded with no less than the keys to the city.

Throw in a couple of boast-worthy accolades like a TIME magazine cover or two and … let’s dream big here… a six figure cash advance, and I might actually begin thinking all the toil and agony and hand-wringing it would take to produce that number of artistically sculpted words might be worth it.

But to embark on an intrepid word journey of this mind-frying magnitude only to be greeted at the end of it all with just a handful of obligatory family and friends cheers and slaps on the back, deafening silence from anyone else and a mere 250 digital copies sold (that’s the average number of sales IN ITS LIFETIME for a self-published, digital only book) – is simply – ‘in my book’ not worth the effort – not to mention the self-abuse and self-delusion it would take to pull that feat off.

Three little words – one big problem: SAGGING MIDDLE SYNDROME. Let’s take the last novel I read as an example. THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB by Richard Osman was published in 2020. The first 80 pages of that story are possibly among the most perfectly manicured, witty and polished prose I have ever had the good fortune to read. And then I hit the sagging middle – all 50 000 words of it.

Result? That story and I parted ways long before the final chapter. Do I really want to inflict my sagging middle, and for that matter probably sagging beginning and end as well, on unsuspecting punters? Some people would call that being considerate.

Rather controversially I’ve now reached the conclusion that gifted writers are born not made. I can train and train until I’m sleep-deprived and I will NEVER EVER make it as an Olympic runner. I simply do not have that within me.

Likewise with writing. There are whole galaxies of on-line courses, books and personal writing mentors happy to try to convince me they can turn me into a better writer. And, in one sense, they’re all probably write…er, right.

Thing is that degree of ‘better’ is still not going to be anywhere near good enough – no matter how much money I hand over or how long I stick at it – to write something of a sustained length like a fully-blown novel that will actually do what it sets out to do – entertain the socks off people.

Which leads me to my next point…

Via ‘duty reads’, I’ve trudged through at least a couple of full length novels over the years written by hobby writers. While I admired the tenacity of those people to pen that many words, as a reading experience they were – how to put it? – carob-coated to say the least. And I have zero reason to think I could do any better.

I’m acquainted with a person who wrote a god-awful heaving mass of black and white pudding he deemed a novel (it’s ok, I know this person doesn’t read this blog) only to have the good sense to realize he should stop after the one go at it.

That person has since turned their attention to short story writing and morphed themselves into a short-story writing teacher. Make of that what you will.

And speaking of short stories, let’s consider for a moment the harsh-reality, unforgiving maths. The time and effort it would take someone the likes of me to amass 80 000 words for a novel – would be far more pleasurably spent producing 80 separate, one-thousand-word short stories. And that’s something I know I could do.

For someone with as short attention span as mine to be stuck with the same characters and scenarios for a full one to two years – the time it would take to write such a monstrosity from start to finish – is an excruciating, pain-ridden thought.

Stephen King said it best in ON WRITING (2000) – “The feel of the new – nothing beats it”. I recognise I derive far too much enjoyment from that feeling of wrapping up a project and moving on to the next one to get bogged down with the same story going round and round in my head for months and years.

If I look at my own reading tastes, I’m a non-fiction guy head to toe. For every novel I’ve made a start on (note I stop short of actually committing to using the word ‘read’) I’ve devoured 30 non-fiction works – biographies, memoirs, true accounts of war-time battles etc.

With a lopsided ratio like that, the odds are further stacked in favour of me never writing a goddamn.. what do you call it… novel doorstop!?

If you thought I’d trot out the old chestnut about not having enough time to write a novel, you’d be wrong. But don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.

Just the other week I had a completely brilliant short story of mine (tee hee) knocked back by one of those super serious on-line lit mags with 12 monthly readers. This little word concoction of mine took all of about three days to chisel out so the fact it didn’t get a thumbs up, well… no biggie.

But imagine spending a year or so pouring your heart and soul into writing a gosh darn walloping great novel and having that knocked back a couple of hundred times to the point where you completely gave up on the idea of it ever seeing the light of day for an audience.

Yeah, that’s gonna hurt.

Before Jim Carrey there was Jerry Lewis. I’m guessing neither of them like rejection…

Why deny it? I enjoy the background research aspect that frequently underscores good fiction writing – the journalism component if you will – way too much!

The thought of having to go off on a never-ending series of writing tangents all in the name of a multi-layered plot and just so I can make the 80 – 100 000 word length, leaves me, I don’t mind saying, absolutely stone frigging cold.

The disproportionately large ‘filler’ component of so many novels reminds me of some of the music albums I used to buy as a teenager. One, or two if you were really lucky, decent tracks and the rest unlistenable and just plain lousy.

I reckon we’ve all read a novel or three that goes into passionate detail about certain events that ultimately have no bearing on the plot. The reader is essentially mislead into believing that future events will relate back to these things, leading to confusion when apparently significant happenings vanish like a stone into a lake.

Would I want to do that to unsuspecting readers? I would not. Consideration, once again, wins out!

If ‘getting my name out there’ via publication of a novel was ever the goal, I know now I’d have far more chance of hooking an audience and finding maybe a slither of fame along the way through writing by becoming the neighbourhood graffiti artist.

There are many reasons why people write. And by write I mean creatively. For me, above all else, the act of writing is a thought release. It gives my hounddog mind something to latch on to.

As far as writing ambition goes, these days I’m pretty much kicking a ball around the local park – not someone trying to make the New Zealand All Blacks (football team).

To use another analogy, I’m just a guy strumming his guitar in his bedroom – while now and then pretending his hairbrush is a microphone – not someone trying to make it on Broadway.

So novel? Who needs one of those?

My final reason for knowing I’ll never write a novel may very well supplant all the other reasons combined. And that reason is… I can’t! I simply don’t have it in me to write something of that magnitude with the accompanying complexity of your average computer’s internal wiring, circuit boards and hard disks combined.

How do I know this? Because I’ve tried.

And just in case anyone may have received the mistaken impression this post was tinged with the crestfallen tone of hurt and bummed-out defeat, may I point out the title of this blog was most definitely NOT – Reasons I’ll Never – And I Mean NEVER – Write A Book.

Gender Battle Checkmate!

Towards the back end of last year, Netflix aired a seven-episode drama series called THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT. It was based on a 1983 novel of the same name by author Walter Tevis (1928 – 1984) and centred around a 13-year-old female chess prodigy.

Thanks to the show – and also probably the global pandemic – chess had, and continues to have, a bit of a moment. According to eBay, the retail site saw a remarkable 273% surge in sales of chess sets in the first 10 days of the Netflix series’ release.

The world’s most popular game – made to feel fresh, kinetic and by all reports, damn near sensual by this most recent film treatment – seemed worth finding out a little bit more about. And so I set my sights on taking a tour of the quirky and completely brilliant world of competitive chess. I discovered some interesting things along the way.

My starting point was visiting the website chess.com

Like tennis, golf, athletics, swimming, darts, snooker and many other recreational sports, chess has its own world rankings system for elite players.

World chess competition is governed by a controlling body known as the International Chess Federation based in Switzerland. Founded almost a hundred years ago in 1924, this organization, usually referred to by it’s French acronym FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) publishes a list of the Top 100 Chess Players in the world every month.

The listing on chess.com stretches to the top 138 ranked players in the world. I started at the #1 position – Norwegian Magnus Carlsen – and began scrolling down, waiting to see when the first female name would appear in the list.

Nothing in the Top Ten so I kept going down. The Top Twenty and Top Thirty also came up blank for females. When I’d reached the 40th ranked player and still no female names had appeared, I scrolled back up, thinking I’d missed someone. Nope. No females listed in the World’s Top 40 ranked chess players.

Top 50 – no. Top 60 – no. Top 70 – also no. It wasn’t until I reached the name Hou Yifan from China, ranked as the 83rd best chess player in the world, that I was able to see a female included in the list. Hou Yifan, revealingly, is the ONLY female listed in the Top 100 World Chess rankings.

At just 26 years of age, Hou Yifan is a Professor at Shenzhen University in China. She is the youngest person ever to earn that accreditation at Shenzhen. She has been described as “an exceptional genius” and someone who is “leaps and bounds” ahead of her female contemporaries.

And perhaps most significant to the curious phenomena under consideration here, she is widely considered to be the second greatest female chess player who has ever lived (behind Hungary’s Judit Polgar (1976 – )).

And yet… and I say this with nothing… absolutely nothing but the greatest of respect and deference for a mind light years ahead of my own…she can ONLY make it as high as number 83 in the world rankings.

When you also take into account the fact Hou Yifan is only the third female to EVER crack the Top 100 World Chess rankings since official rankings have existed, then it’s clear something is going on. That ‘something’ is what might be termed a dinky di, boss-sized ‘gender gap’ in the world of competitive chess.

Leave it to your intrepid sleuth reporter SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK to unearth the inscrutable and in-no-small way enigmatic ‘How come?’

In a great many sports – name pretty much any sport you like – women are incapable of competing equally against men. Males have inherent physical advantages in the areas of muscle mass, speed and strength. This gender ‘superiority’ makes biological sense and is hard to argue against. Men are simply just generally bigger and stronger.

By contrast, chess isn’t a physical game, it’s a game of the mind. Some have labelled it the ultimate intellectual contest. And yet… males dominate at the top in chess. That’s not ‘just a little bit’ dominate. That’s completely, universally and unequivocally DOMINATE.

Almost all grandmasters are male, there has never been a female world champion and only one female, Hungary’s Judit Polgar, has ever reached the official top ten rating list (at her peak, Polgar reached #8 in the world in 2005).

Judit Polgar has also defeated the current World Number One Magnus Carlsen. At just 12 years of age she was ranked #55 in the world.

How then to account for this male dominance – with the very occasional notable exception like Judit Polgar – at the top in chess when physical strength does not enter the equation?

The first point of note is that male predominance in chess parallels that in domains such as mathematics, physics and engineering, which may tap some similar abilities and propensities.

Prior to the 20th century, it was a commonly held view that men were intellectually superior to women. Early brain studies comparing mass and volumes between the sexes concluded that women were intellectually inferior because they have smaller and lighter brains.

During the early twentieth century, the scientific consensus shifted to the view that gender plays no role in intelligence. And yet in so many fields of what may be characterized as ‘high intellect‘ – chess included – females are underrepresented, bordering on invisible.

The graphs below serve as but one example. Fields such as physics, chemistry and physiology would all be regarded as areas requiring high intellect. And yet, using Nobel Prize recognition as a measure, females hardly rate a blip on the radar screen.

A closer anaylsis of male brain and female brain intelligence reveals that while men’s and women’s average IQ is pretty much identical the distribution within each sex is different.

Let’s say the average IQ for both men and women is 100, well, the vast majority of women are on that average (obviously with some exceptions), whereas quite a few men can be way above it or way below it.

This is why we have so many male geniuses but on the flip side it is also why men fill the prisons. Some people would contend that men – generally speaking – are better analytical thinkers and problem solvers and since there is direct correlation between IQ and being good at chess, this is one, albeit, controversial explanation of the gender gulf between the sexes that exists in the world of top level chess.

Although there is a degree of truth in the simplified and perhaps slightly outdated gender stereotypes represented by the two illustrations above, I personally am more comfortable with the ‘mosaic’ idea of what is seen as typically male and typically female traits, as put forward in this 2019 book..

Having acknowledged the downside of gender stereotypes in their propensity to be in equal measure porous, blurring and simplistic, I’ll concede to finding playful truth in the depiction below –

Returning to the subject of chess, some researchers would suggest the under-representation of women in top level chess is due to social factors.

It can be argued social pressures discourage women from being competitive and, like snooker, chess is seen more as a male pursuit which means less females take it up as a hobby and so the talent pool from which to draw is much reduced compared to men.

This leads on to the question of the purpose and validity of female-only chess tournaments. In addition to publishing it’s monthly list of rankings for the Top 100 Chess Players in the World, The International Chess Federation (FIDE) also publishes lists for ” The Top 100 Women”“The Top 100 Juniors” and “The Top 100 Girls”.

Jennifer Shahade (that’s her with the pink hair above) is one person who holds strong views on the importance of female-only chess tournaments and separate titles and rankings for women and girl players.

Shahade holds the title of WOMAN GRANDMASTER and was at one time, back in the early 2000’s, considered the best American-born female to ever play the game. Her father before her was a chess FIDE MASTER and her brother is a chess INTERNATIONAL MASTER.

This is her in the ‘Hula-Chess’ video below. From someone who can’t play either chess or keep a hula-hoop twirling around my hips for anything more than a few seconds, this video is pretty impressive –

Shahade believes by introducing separate titles for women (with admittedly much lower performance criteria than ‘Open’ titles open to either gender) the world chess body FIDE has helped create female role models in chess.

This, she believes, has provided women a ‘leg up’ to help increase exposure for female chess with the flow-on effect of increasing participation at the grass roots junior girls level (see video below)

Other commentators have suggested separate titles for women (with lower performance standards) is mildly patronizing and that women-only tournaments assume that females are somehow intellectually inferior.

Former world #8 ranked player – not world #8 ranked female but world number 8 ranked playerJudit Polgar refused to play in anything but ‘Open’ tournaments. Her belief was and still is the end goal must be that women and men compete with one another on an equal footing.

Yet segregated tournaments allow those playing to get media attention, benefit financially and make friends with people with whom they have similar interests.

Considering the participation rate – probably due to cultural reasons – for woman and girls playing chess is so much lower than for men, separate rankings, tournaments and junior leagues for girls allow chess to grow and develop in an under-represented area.

Why are only two of the world's top 100 chess players women? — Hana Schank  — Aeon Essays | Chess players, Chess, Famous men

Trivia-licious!

Little known and silly facts your thing?

Giddy excitement is yours for the taking as January the 4th marks WORLD TRIVIA DAY.

There’s nothing trivial about trivia if you’re an enthusiast of amusing yet useless information. Yet trivia has always been a ‘reader beware’ proposition. Mix one part urban legend with two parts impossible-to-prove-or-disprove ‘old wives tale’ then add in a liberal dose of exaggeration for extra spice and voila! There you have it…a perfect morsel of mind candy that may or may not have it’s base in fact. In the era of fake news you can bet a decent fiver this ‘truth is secondary to entertainment’ phenomena is even more a thing.

The old adage about never letting truth get in the way of a good story applies equally even more so to trivia. Try this fun ‘fact’ for example – nearly 3% of Antarctic glaciers consist of penguin urine. Not 4%. Not 2%. But exactly 3%. Like it’s been measured. Accurately. Probably has been measured for all I know. But measured how?

Some degree-qualified ‘scientist’ melted down a portion of glacial ice, analyzed the water content and found a level of penguin urine present that amounted to 3% of its volume. They then extrapolated from that figure that precisely 3% of all Antarctic glacial ice consists of penguin Budweiser. Well, that’s me guessing how the factoid might have been originally born anyway.

Speaking of which, it was American novelist Norman Mailer (1923 – 2007) who first coined the term ‘factoid’ back in 1973. Today the term refers to a piece of trivia or ‘fun fact’ but back then it had almost the opposite meaning. Mailer invented the word to describe a piece of information that isn’t true…but becomes accepted as true if enough people hear it or read it.

An example of this would be the commonly held belief about Mount Everest being the highest peak in the world. In actual fact the dormant volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the world’s highest mountain – when measured from it’s underwater base. Ok, that’s probably a technicality but you get the point about the disputability and all-round rubbery-ness of a lot of so-called ‘facts’.

Doesn’t matter. If it’s fun you crave then the world of trivia can be a goldmine rich for the plundering. The following ‘facts’ are, I like to think, possibly a bit more believable and, going that one step further, maybe even verifiable than some other preposterously imaginative bits of trivia out there doing the rounds, but as usual… reader beware. And remember… knowledge is power (the power to make others feel stupid) – except when it comes to trivia!

Who knew that when you flip a coin, physics, not probability, determines how it will land. American mathematician Persi Diaconis (1945 – ) found that a coin is slightly more likely to land on the face that was up when you flipped it.

The way a coin lands is not ‘random’; in fact it’s easy, Diaconis contends, who, in addition to being Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Stanford University is also a former professional magician, that with a little practice anyone can manipulate a coin flip so that it lands the way they want it. What’s more, if you’re spinning a coin, it’s more likely to land tails up, since the heads side weighs slightly more.

Yessiree, ‘Go’ – all of two letters of it – is a grammatically correct English sentence. And for the grammar geeks, it’s only a sentence if it’s used as a command, then ‘you’ is the understood subject. Alternatively if you’d rather a sentence with a separate word as the subject, ‘I am’ is the shortest sentence, with three letters. Clear? Good. Don’t want to have to repeat all that!

Ever told someone you’d be back in a ‘jiffy’? You were definitely lying.

Though the English language has adopted it to mean ‘a short amount of time,’ it actually is a scientific term. In the physics world, a ‘jiffy’ is the time it takes light to travel a centimetre in a vacuum or around 33.4 picoseconds. (A ‘picosecond,’ meanwhile, is a trillionth of a second.) Now you know!

Someone was having a little fun when they came up with this. Technically, a ‘mickey’ is 1/200th of an inch. The speed can be measured in ‘pixels per mickey’, referring to how many pixels the cursor on the screen moves when the physical mouse is moved one mickey. Really.

The precious ball of fluff (if you’re a cat lover) pictured above is called a ‘Munchkin cat’ and, like the corgi and the dachshund, its short legs and long body are the results of a genetic mutation. The technical stuff is if a cat possesses the autosomal dominant gene, which causes the leg bones to grow shorter, it can pass the trait on to its kittens. You heard it here first. Or maybe you didn’t.

 Although they probably won’t grow back completely or to their original size. Not sure if that’s a comforting thought or not.

And finally, couldn’t resist finishing off with a dollop of homespun trivia.

The name of this blog – SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK – contains exactly 18 letters. Through a god-freakin’ coincidence that also happens to be the exact same number of letters in four of my all-time favorite movies – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) – FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) – THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) – and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979).

And if that ain’t the literal definition of information of little importance or value then I really don’t know what is.

That’s A Wrap – 2020

How best to sum up a year like this?

‘Extreme’ ‘hellacious’ and ‘dumpster fire’ are words that spring to mind, certainly. The very Aussie abbreviation ‘iso’ was named by the Australian National University as it’s word of the year, so that may also be of help. There was ‘the new normal’ and you can throw in the classic-sounding ‘unprecedented’ as well, unless of course you happened to be alive a hundred years ago for the Spanish Flu (1918 -1920 / 100 million deaths), which not many of us were.

Actually, that last statement may not be completely true. After checking, I discover there are more than half a million people alive in the world today who were around at the time of the Spanish Flu – something that makes Covid 19 resemble a mere papercut on the scale of global death and destruction.

2020 was the year when a smile or hug became an act of revolution. It was the year people worked out the best way to avoid touching their face was having a glass of wine in each hand. It was the year when households went from “It’s great to get this time together” to “Why are you chewing so loudly?”

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In 2020 nail and hair salons, waxing parlors and spray tanning centers all shut their doors and things got ugly. 2020 was the year when having plans for tonight meant hitting the living room around 8 or 9. It was the year we understood there’s nothing like relaxing on the couch after having spent a long day of being tense on the couch. And in 2020 we finally realized the movie HOME ALONE was thirty years ahead of it’s time.

Maybe the best description I’ve come across of 2020 – apart from it being a year that made you want to put not just your mouth but your whole body in the chocolate drawer just to feel good – was it was like trying to build a plane while you were still learning to fly it. That’s definitely what it felt like to many.

Around here at SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK things carried on pretty much as normal. The new normal, that is. There were virus-flavored posts up until the time when I called quits on all of that and enacted a ban – back in April – of any and all further mentions of the ‘C’ word until there was some good news in the form of a vaccine.

Now that we’ve got one (Pfizer), with more on the way, that ban can be lifted. SWS and all the world’s other major news outlets (tee hee) are certainly hoping very soon Covid 19 will subside into a ‘sooooo last year’ news story that won’t warrant the attention it deserved across the last twelve months.

Here then is your year in review… SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK style –

Park Run and Me (February)

Monopoly Fun (February)

Introverts Unite! (April)

Hollywood ‘Virus’ Movies (April)

My Pledge – No more mentions of the ‘C’ word until a Vaccine is found (April)

Four Part Series – The Discovery of Lithium (May-June)

My Favourite Actors (July)

Movies with Identical Titles (July)

STACEY BRYAN GUEST POST – ‘Aussie Character Seen From Afar’ (August)

Manson Exposed! (August)

RICHARD DAWKINS – KING OF THE ATHEISTS (September)

Favourite Films from the 1940’s (September)

Sinking of the ‘Kursk’ Submarine (October)

Release of ‘The Shining’ Board Game (October)

Favourite Films from the 1950’s (October)

The 1969 Death Of Reet Jurvetson (November)

More Movies With Identical Titles (November)

BEST BOOK COVERS OF 2020

150TH BLOG POST (March)

with congratulatory email from Australian Prime Minister

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN (February)

THE LIGHTHOUSE (March)

Outbreak (1995)

Contagion (2011)

Note: Haven’t seen it but the 2020 released new ‘Crocodile Dundee’ sequel THE VERY EXCELLENT MR DUNDEE was voted worst Australian movie of the year – SEE HERE.

SLOGANS USED ON SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK THIS YEAR

* PEACHY NOT PREACHY

* THE BEST IS YET TO BE WRITTEN

* “I do this for the money, prestige and power” said no writer ever.

New Year's Day 2019 Parkrun report - Wirksworth Running Club

What’s PARKRUN got to do with a writing blog? Not much, besides the fact that when it comes to looking back on a year when there were weeks and months when even leaving your own suburb was forbidden, completing 40, what I’ll call Saturday morning 5km ‘Parkruns’ (along routes that were used for Parkruns when Parkrun was up and ‘running’), seems like some type of achievement. Last year I only managed 26 of the gut-busters.

British author John le Carré (December)

Doug Anthony – Australia’s longest serving Deputy Prime Minister (December)

Thankyou for riding the tsunami-wave-meets-an-about-to-come-off-the-rails-rollercoaster-meets-a-rampaging-elephant-stampede-meets-an-agitated-wasps-nest year that was 2020 with SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK.

SWS shall return in the new year with more adventures, high-jinks and smooth-reading boingaloings (pretty sure I just made that word up). Here’s to 2021… a year stacked floor to ceiling with high expectations.

Ps. You never know who you’ll see around town sporting the latest Scenic Writer’s Shack apparel. Here’s hoping 2021 is a little prettier than 2020.