competition

Competition Winner, First Prize: 'Authentic Italian Pizza' by Melanie Kennard

We're thrilled to be able to announce our winner of The For Pity Sake Inaugural Short Story and Poetry Competition. Melanie Kennard takes the prize for her fantastic work 'Authentic Italian Pizza'. Big congratulations to Melanie, who receives a permanent discount to our Manuscript Appraisal Service and a book pack of some of our finest titles. We hope you enjoy her story as much as we did.  Slap the dough on the bench. Sprinkle flour over. Roll it out. Add sauce. Toppings. Mozzarella so delicate it melts with the slightest touch. Salami, shaved in translucent membranes. Capers, small, green, salty. Red capsicums, grilled, their skins charred. Fibrous eggplants, grown at home – the smaller the better. Fully adorned, slide the whole thing into cavernous mouth of the oven. Add more wood to the burner. Wait for the cheese to melt, the base to crisp. Pop it in a box. Order up. Another satisfied customer leaves, the smell of the pizza teasing the noses it passes.

Beppino’s has always prided itself on its authenticity. Italian pizzas made by a real Italian. Never mind that Nonno had his first taste of pizza in Australia, as a man of 40. ‘Ah, cara mia,’ he’d sighed, recounting that infamous first taste. ‘It tasted...like heaven, on a crispy base. And, I knew!’ This sentence always punctured by an exclamation. ‘What I had to do with my life. I said to myself: These Aussies, they think they can make authentic Italian pizza – let them see what a real Italian can do.’ Beppino’s opened mere weeks after this first tasting, and Nonno, along with his wife and daughter, began creating a legacy in their town of three-thousand.

Now the pizzeria is almost empty. Only you, your mother and brother, plus a group of late customers. The chair behind the counter, the chair Nonno resigned himself to when he got too sick to work, emphasises the emptiness of the shop. You slap base after base down on the counter, preparing the final pizzas of the night. Pile them with the vast quantities of toppings that had been Nonno’s joy. After the first season of Masterchef you’d complained; ‘But Nonno, Gary and George say pizzas should have fewer toppings!’ Nonno had merely laughed. ‘What they know, eh? They not authentic Italians!’ The pizzas that night were piled so high that you had ridden home to cut more eggplants, more tomatoes from the garden, as many as you could fit into the basket attached precariously to your bike.

When not in his take-out shop, Nonno could always be found in his other pride and joy – the large veggie patch behind the house. Here he grew all vegetables known to man, and a few you sometimes believed were made up. As a child this was your favourite place to be, digging in the soil alongside your Nonno. His back arched, twisted as he lovingly tended to the garden. Stooped from years of work, yet still fiercely proud. You, his tiny granddaughter, beside him. Overalls covered in dirt, holes worn in the knees, a bright purple hat your crown. He in a checked shirt and jeans, no hat. ‘Like a real Aussie!’ he’d insist, buttoning his shirt each morning. Yes Nonno. Like a real Aussie.

As the illness spread through his bones, your Nonno found he no longer had the strength to garden. Your mother busy with her work, your brother with his studies, and neither interested anyway, the garden fell to you. At first the old man would sit in a chair by the patch, watching you as you worked, calling advice when he felt it was required – which was all the time. ‘Not like that Raffy! Gently! If you don’t love your plants, how they gonna love you?’ The goat circling the garden, prevented from sampling its delights by a chicken-wire fence, would bleat angrily alongside Nonno’s yells. ‘Exactly Mussolini!’ Nonno would exclaim, scratching behind its ears. ‘See, Raffy! Even the goat knows you’re doing it wrong!’ And you, covered in dirt, would try again, show the plants love. Keep them healthy for the grandfather who was not.

When winter came, the old man no longer made his way to the garden. Although he claimed he was ‘As fit as fiddles’, you knew the illness was spreading; no matter how much he denied it, no matter how much you denied it to yourself. Working in the garden, your fingers bitten blue by the cold, the worry seeped out of you and you acknowledged the reality. ‘Take me,’ you whispered to the potatoes, the carrots, the pumpkins. ‘Take me instead.’ That winter, under your care, Nonno’s garden thrived, nurtured with your pain, watered with your tears.

The day finally came when you could no longer deny it, not to each other, not to yourselves. Lying in his bed, eyes shut, breathing laboured, your Nonno acknowledged the inevitable. ‘Ah, cara mia,’ he sighed, his wrinkled hand wrapped around your dirt-encrusted one. ‘I think it is almost my time.’ You couldn’t respond, couldn’t even cry. That night, for the first time, you opened Beppino’s alone, knowing that this was how it would be from now on. You, at home, in the dirt, lost in a maze of vines. You, at the pizzeria, swallowed in puffs of flour, suffocated by the heat of the oven. The same as always, but forever different.

This morning you stood in the doorway to his room, looking at the neatly made bed, at the worn boots, the faded button-up shirts, the jeans full of holes, never to be worn again. ‘You coming?’ Your grief interrupted by the weight of your brother’s hand on your shoulder, heavy, comforting. Although dressed for the occasion, you shook your head. No. You couldn’t go, couldn’t do that. Your mother and brother went to church wearing their best, accepted death with prayers for a man who didn’t believe in God. You, however, tore off your mourning garb and replaced it with your own jeans, one of the old shirts, and faced death in the garden. Your Nonno, forever in the dirt of the cemetery; you in the dirt of his garden.

By the time the funeral is over and people begin converging on the house, your jeans have new holes; the old shirt a large tear in the left sleeve. Ignoring your appearance, your mother insists you come inside, meet the long-lost relatives you didn’t know existed. You watch as your mother delights in the words of a cousin she hasn’t seen since before you were born, or allows an uncle to hug her. Even Ben is getting into the swing of things, politely making small-talk with various relatives, catching up on unshared history. Only you refuse to participate, standing by the windows, your face turned towards the garden. ‘That’s a nice garden,’ a woman comments, standing behind you, a glass of juice in her hand. ‘It was my Nonno’s,’ you explain, not meeting the stranger’s eyes. ‘Oh,’ she takes a surprised sip. ‘I didn’t know he gardened.’ You look at her, at the whole room, with disgust. Not one person from town is here, not one person who knew your Nonno, who knew he gardened, who brought him seeds. Not one person who ate the results of his toils in the dirt off his golden pizzas is here. The wrongness of this makes bile rise in your throat.

Still in torn jeans, ripped shirt, you slip out of the house unnoticed. Clutch desperately at the handlebars of your bike. On the main street is Beppino’s, its neon sign switched off, devastated by the loss of its proprietor as much as you are. You unlock the door. Switch the lights on. Head to the back and grab a well-worn apron from a hook. Scrub your hands until the water runs clear and all signs of the garden are removed. Begin measuring out flour, water, olive oil, yeast – all the things that make the perfect pizza dough. Put it aside to rise. Head to the pantry, where tins of tomatoes, best for making sauce with, still line the walls. You grab tin after tin, empty them in a large pot with all the other necessary ingredients. Leave the sauce to simmer, check on the dough. Everything is ok, nothing requires your attention. You sit down on a stool in front of the counter. There is nothing left to do. Now you can cry.

A bell at the door jangles, and you look up, your eyes rimmed red with grief. For a moment you hope to see your Nonno, a smile pasted to his face as his enters his shop. The smile he always wore when he was here, even after he got sick, goofy and sincere at the same time. But it is not your Nonno. Ben holds a large wash basket in his arms, filled with all kinds

of veggies from the garden. ‘Christ!’ He gently places the basket on the counter and takes the stool next to yours. ‘You did right to get out Raf,’ he says, using a napkin to wipe your eyes, your face. The tenderness and concentration of his features mirrors Nonno’s face from when you were a child and had a scraped knee. Not only the expression, you realise, but also the love behind it. ‘One of the cousins found the last of Nonno’s grappa and they’ve all gotten into it. Except mum, of course. She’s trying to get rid of them now.’ You smile at the memory of Nonno’s grappa – the way it stung your throat, made you cough, the one time you tried it. Nonno’s laugh as he thumped you on the back, cheered. ‘Now, cara mia, you real Italian!’ he’d said, dancing you around the kitchen. Getting up, you grab the basket, take it into the kitchen. Ben follows. Side by side you slice eggplants, zucchinis, tomatoes. Grate balls of mozzarella into snow that forms mountains in the bowl. Stir the sauce and spoon tastes of it into one another’s mouths, as you and your Nonno have done for as long as you can remember. At exactly five Ben switches on the neon sign, turns the notice on the door from closed to open. Rummages around in small cupboard where Nonno kept his papers and receipts. Emerges a few minutes later with the white chef’s cap that Nonno always wore. Places it on your head, tucking a strand of hair behind your ear as he does.

Slowly, customers drizzle in. Ben stands at the counter, taking orders, laughing at the stories people tell about your Nonno. You stay in the kitchen, making pizzas for the people who knew your Nonno best. Soon your mother arrives, joins you. For years she refused to enter this shop, to do the work she hated having to do as a teenager. Now, next to you, she does it with a mixture of happiness and grief, the old resentment gone. Every now and then she looks across the long bench to you and smiles, before turning her attention back to the pizza she is preparing, rolling the base as thin as possible so that it crisps up the way your Nonno insisted it should. The way an authentic Italian pizza should be.

All evening there is a steady flow of customers, but by eleven, the last order is served, lovingly taken home with a group of hungry teenagers – teenagers who, like everyone else in this town, knew and respected your Nonno, the Beppino of Beppino’s. Together, you, your mother and your brother prepare one final pizza for the night. A pizza whose toppings you squabble over. You finally decide to put a bit of everything on it – it would have made Nonno proud. When it comes out of the oven, steaming, you sit at one of the small tables, covered in a red-checked tablecloth. The table seats four, but now there are only three of you. Somehow, with the pizza in front of you, the fourth place does not feel so empty. Your mother slides the sharp blade of the pizza wheel through the steaming concoction. For a moment you all are still. Then Ben grabs a slice. Your mother follows. Finally you. Silently, you eat.

Competition Winner, Second Prize: 'Bees and Heritage' by Andrew Findell-Aghnatios

Our second prize for our inaugural For Pity Sake Short Story and Poetry competition goes to Andrew Findell-Aghantios for his stirring poem 'Bees and Heritage'. Congratulations to Andrew, who moved all the judges and made this an irresistible offering.  Check out yesterday's third prize winner here and check back tomorrow for the first prize winner!

I always wondered

How something so old

Could keep being reborn.

If that’s what happens

All the time, what’s the point

Of continuity?

 

Why not just pack your bags

And catch some flight to an

Isle that yearns to be named,

Knowing that when you return

You can start

All over again?

 

How free that would make you!

How liberating never to be

Tied down, trapped

Within the constraints of time,

Of history,

Of heritage...

 

My heritage lies in a land

That knows only rebirth.

Built from a buffalo hide and

The verdant deserts of

Northern Africa,

We came to where we are.

 

Our alphabet sold, we built

Temples to Jupiter.

Our temples razed, we built

Monasteries cut from

Wizened mountains;

We fashioned wombs.

 

And when that war was over,

We once again emerged to see

Cedars crowning through the snow

And the blood,

As strident as the day we made

Our flag.

 

All our continuity ends with

Each breeze, and rises once more

From the bee’s road

That winds through our

Hearts, gifting us with

Milk and honey.

 

The annals of history ruined me

With their banality.

I read through books

that held my country

In their pages

And tore it from me.

 

6, 086, 184 People;

10, 452

Square kilometres;

71

Years of formal independence.

 

Younger than my

Teta. So she must

Know all about

The beginning of

My heritage.

Such a young heritage.

 

I left the library, sadness

Filling my past, overwhelming

My now. –Suburban Australia–

Far away from home,

A breeze

Whispered through my tangled hair.

 

It carried with it

The scent of

Buffalos and Jupiter.

Wombs and cedars.

Bees

And heritage.

 

It wrapped me,

Like a babe in my teta’s arms,

Waiting for me

To open my eyes.

Pushing me

To open my eyes.

 

“Nothing begins anew,

That has not lived.”

"Crossing the Rip" by Dorothy Johnston, Part One

We're in the midst of celebrating the art of the short story with our For Pity Sake Short Story Competition (have you got your entry in yet?).  Here, celebrated crime writer Dorothy Johnston shares a never-before-seen short story, 'Crossing The Rip'. Dorothy has just released 'The Swan Island Connection', the second in her Queenscliff mystery series. The Australian Crime Fiction blog recently said: "There's an excellent balance here between character, setting and plot" and gave a fantastic summary of the book. 

Here's part one of 'Crossing The Rip'.

To Elspeth’s family belonged the distinction of having been the first to bring a dairy cow across the Rip. Her great-great-great grandfather had ferried the cow, whose name was Mrs Collins, in a small boat, together with sacks of flour and rice, her great-great-great grandmother and their four children. The boat had nearly capsized, drowning them all, but it was the cow he was remembered for. Mrs Collins had given birth to twin calves shortly after their arrival and had become a matriarch, outliving many of the human immigrants.

Elspeth had been told more times than she cared to remember that Mrs Collins had been named after the first governor’s wife, the governor who had landed at Sullivan Bay with three hundred convicts, of whom her grandfather with all those greats in front of his name had been the youngest, at nine years old, which happened to be her age right now. He had grown up and been pardoned and had been enterprising enough to realise that the new settlement at Shortland’s Bluff would need fresh milk and had decided that he was the man to provide it.

Within the family, the story was believed to give them a prestige it would have otherwise lacked, and the children of each generation had been schooled in its details. Elspeth was aware of a further unwelcome distinction, and that was her own name. She had tried, during her first three years at school, to comfort herself with the thought that she was different, to believe that her difference provided some sort of balance against the teasing meted out by girls with names like Jenny and Susan, and boys called Jim or Simon. That great-great-great grandmother had been called Elspeth too – no doubt it had been a more common name in her day.  Her mother had taken a more sensible approach with her younger siblings. Her brother, christened William, was known as Billy. Her twin sisters were Margaret and Ann.

Her father had always called his eldest daughter Ellie. But her father was away from home. Her mother, through pre-occupation or a preference for her son had, after saddling her with a dreadful name, ceased to pay her much attention. Elspeth knew there would be no help from that quarter. Even to hint at what she’d done might bring so much trouble down on her head that it would be second only to being sought out by a murderer. Indeed, the one might lead to the other.

Elspeth had often been warned that the gun emplacement wasn’t safe, and already she’d been scolded for getting home after dark.

It was the wedding that had thrown her. But for the wedding, Elspeth would have climbed the steps by the lighthouse and continued on home. She wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the gun emplacement. The sun had been setting and she’d been walking towards the lighthouse looking for cuttlefish, having a bet going with Billy as to who could find the biggest.

She’d looked up and seen a group by the rocks. In light already dimming, they’d appeared from a distance as no more than black shapes. A flash had told her that photographs were being taken, which meant a wedding, though anyone who’d climb down all that way in her wedding dress in order to be photographed had to be nuts.

By the time Elspeth remembered the cuttlefish, she was almost up to the group, now separated into bride and bridegroom, three bridesmaids and their partners, photographer and his assistant. Suddenly all the women jumped into the men’s arms and stayed posed like that, right arms held out and bunches of flowers at the ends of them. The jumping and the staying upset Elspeth in a way she didn’t understand.

The sand had been all churned up with the footprints of people and dogs. In less than an hour, Elspeth knew, the rising tide would wash them away, and the place where the wedding party pranced and laughed would be swept by currents so swift and unpredictable that no one in their right minds would venture near them.

Elspeth looked down and saw deep marks in the sand, as though made by a huge dog such as a Great Dane, or a giant cow.

Feeling restless and upset, she walked along the cliff path as far as the gun emplacement, where she saw a bundle of something wrapped in a rug. Without stopping to think, she walked over and lifted up a corner.

Before she fell asleep at last, Elspeth spent a few moments wondering what it might have been like to be part of that far-off family who’d crossed the Rip, and what that other Elspeth would have done.

Normally, Elspeth liked a foggy morning. She liked rushing ahead of her sisters on the way to school, hearing their shrieks of half-put-on, half-real fear disappear behind her, their voices growing weird and distorted once she could no longer see them. Billy would never admit to being scared of fog, though there’d been a time, not so long ago, when he’d cried and shrieked for her to wait for him as well.

Elspeth felt more or less herself until she’d left the twins behind, and was on the path that followed the line of sandhills. She did not have to pass behind the gun emplacement or the lighthouse. She could turn off before she reached them - that was the most direct route to school – but on foggy mornings she sometimes took the longer way around, in order to come close to the lighthouse and be deafened by the fog horn.

Now, even if she’d wanted to, she could not have heard her sister’s cries. She timed the gaps between each blast of the horn – one thousand, two thousand – and it seemed as though they were growing shorter. Elspeth kept walking, pleased that nobody knew exactly where she was. If she did not show up at school, Meg and Ann would say, ‘Yes Miss Primrose, she went on ahead of us.’

Primrose was a stupid name for a teacher, and Elspeth hated the way her sisters sucked up to her. She turned right and took the steep track that led towards the lighthouse. As a vague idea of wagging school turned into a resolution, she understood that what she wanted most of all was time to think.

Elspeth shivered, spooking herself for a moment by the thought that the body might still be there. But of course it wasn’t. Her mother had put on the news while they were eating their breakfast. The police had found it; they would have taken it away.

Close to the lighthouse there were tunnels underneath the tea-tree, secret places covered in vines where Elspeth had dragged Ann and Margaret on long Sunday afternoons when she’d been deputed to look after them. Billy had been allowed to stay home and help their father, on weekend projects such as carpentry and painting. Elspeth had felt left out until she’d understood that there was something absolute in the division, and that her father loved her in spite of it. He often stood up for her in her fights with her mother. She wished he would come home.

Elspeth was free for a whole day if she chose. Could she claim that she’d stumbled against a tree and been knocked unconscious, only coming to as the bell rang? She crouched down in the darkness. In the tea-tree tunnel, with the fog all round, it was almost as dark as night. At first, she hadn’t recognised Simon Bantree, hadn’t even realised that the shape inside the rug was human. Then – oh, stupidity of all stupidities – the squashed-in head had been right there in front of her, and it belonged to Simon, her worst enemy.

Could the police find out if she had touched the rug? Would her fingerprints be on it?

It was cold underneath the tea-tree. The fog made Elspeth’s hands and face feel clammy, and bits of dirt and twigs stuck to her clothes. She felt cramped and cold and hungry. She hadn’t wanted to sit at the kitchen table eating breakfast. Her mother had shrugged and said, ‘Suit yourself.’ Perhaps this wasn’t such a good place to spend the day after all. Elspeth reasoned that, if she was going to leave, it would be better to do so now, while it was still early.

She crawled out and made her way towards the gun emplacement. To the right, there was nothing but white vapour, though the surf was loud in the gaps between the fog horn blasts. Unless someone saw her going in, it was doubtful they would think to look for her inside the concrete bunker, though it was a place she often visited. On clear days, she liked to look out across the Rip, through the slits where guns had pointed. The concrete was crumbling and falling in on itself, stained almost black in places, with bits of metal poking through. Elspeth liked the way the slits framed the beach and ocean.

She lifted her head at the sound of voices. As the fog began to lift, she saw a line of policemen walking slowly along the clifftop. Elspeth shrank back inside the bunker and crouched down, trying to think of Simon as a person, a boy her own age. She tried to reflect on the fact that he would never grow up, and to count, in her mind, all the kids who might have wanted Simon dead, and one who had actually killed him.

Elspeth remembered that she’d seen the rug before. She’d pushed the memory right down to her toes, but now it came back. It occurred to her that the teacher might not think of her absence as wagging. They might send out a search party. The idea came to her that she would catch the ferry to Sorrento. She wasn’t running away, and had no plan to stay out overnight. But she needed more time, and if the teacher rang the police and the police came looking for her, then she’d have to face their questions.

Elspeth decided to make her way by stages to the landing bay, keeping to the trees and bushes and avoiding the police. She would have scorned anyone who believed in ghosts, but if Simon’s was anywhere, Elspeth was sure that it was in front of her, where those bridesmaids had jumped with posies on the ends of their arms.

Elspeth made her way along the left-hand side of the road. When a police van passed her, she kept her eyes down. It was then that she remembered seeing the rug in a pile of things on the pier - it must have been the Sunday before last.

She’d been taking some bait out to Mr Mahood and he’d paid her two dollars for it. Mr Mahood only ever came down to fish on Sundays. He and his family had bought a big two storey brick place at the Springs.

She had not seen who the rug belonged to. It was a purple and blue rug, very nice. Elspeth told herself that she would not think of lifting up the corner. Before leaving home, she’d taken the money she’d saved from a box under her bed, and felt the two five dollar notes warming her pocket as she walked.

There were no other foot passengers waiting to board the ferry and only five cars lined up. Elspeth felt conspicuous, especially since the fare was more than she’d expected, seven dollars one way, which meant she wasn’t able to purchase a return. She hesitated and the ticket seller gave her a mean look.

Instead of sitting in the lounge, Elspeth stood at the top of the steep metal staircase leading to the cars, which crossed the Rip in a kind of cargo hold, though a huge and open one. That morning, with the fog still thick over the bay, the cars were invisible except for their outlines and glinting metal here and there. Nobody took any notice of Elspeth, and for some reason, though she shivered with cold, she felt safe. She was alone and on the water. She was going somewhere.

Elspeth remembered how Simon Bantree used to wait for her after school, how he called out from behind the pine trees, ‘Hey Spit! El-spit!’ and how she walked on without turning round, and how the stones followed, while, in the background, other kids, safe from his attentions for the time being, laughed. She remembered the fury she always felt, and how she wished that he would just get sick of it, and how often her mother was annoyed with her for coming home scratched and dirty. Billy had been one of the few boys Simon left alone. How had he managed it?

Elspeth was the first passenger off the boat, jumping down the stairs and then the ramp. She ran along the pier. She wouldn’t think about the three dollars in her pocket, or else she might be tempted to spend it on a bag of chips. The fog was thinning and shredding over the headland as she began the steep climb towards the shops.

The noise of a car engine made her turn her head. In a strong, sudden ray of light, she recognised the driver. It was one of the bridesmaids from the wedding.

Elspeth recognised the bridesmaid’s hair - ‘big hair’ it was called. She had a big build too. She remembered feeling sorry for the man who’d had to hold the bridesmaid up, and how stiff her arm had looked with the flowers like an extra hand.

Elspeth sat on a bench in the Pioneer Gardens, but instead of relaxing, her thoughts returned to home. She wondered what her mother would say when the teacher rang to find out why she wasn’t at school. She worried about her father, who’d been gone too long.

Elspeth stood up and began to walk around the gardens, then read the sign outside the historical museum at one end of it. Free entry it said. She climbed the steps and wandered around looking at old-fashioned clothes in glass cases, and bits of glass and metal that had been washed up from shipwrecks. It was all dusty and boring. In another room was a display of the first settlement at Sullivan Bay.

There was Mr Collins in his soldier’s uniform, a life-sized statue. He had a funny blank face and a red coat. The real Mrs Collins, the one their cow was named after, had stayed behind in England and Mr Collins, Elspeth went on reading with more interest, had taken a second wife from among the convicts. A huge oak barrel was on display. The convicts had sunk it in the sand in order to get drinking water.

Elspeth found a book that listed all the convicts by name, and settled down to go through it, looking for Harry Tregear, the youngest of all, who’d grown up to be her great-great-great grandfather. She wondered what his crime had been and kept looking till she found it.

She stayed in the museum till a woman came to tell her they were closing. She felt terribly thirsty and drank deeply from a fountain in the gardens.

 

To be continued...

 

Hungry for more? Check out a free chapter of Dorothy's audiobooks, or order one of her novels now.

 

 

"Life with Claude" by Peter Yeldham

One of our most celebrated authors, the legendary Peter Yeldham, has a new book coming soon. In fact, "The Last Double Sunrise" is now available for pre-order! While waiting for your copy to arrive, it's worth visiting some of Peter's memories about one of his more mischievous family members: 'Claude'. Peter spent many years in the United Kingdom, writing celebrated scripts for radio and television, and even working with Spike Milligan.  Peter's story presents plenty of inspirational fodder for the theme 'new beginnings', which is the focus of our very first short story competition. Since we announced last week, our inbox has been filled with exciting entries! We're looking forward to receiving even more and bringing you the winning entry before Christmas. If you're stuck for ideas, we think this post from Peter presents plenty of opportunities for inspiration. 

My wife and children decided it was time for a dog when we moved from a flat in Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, to a house with ten acres, just a half hour from London.  We’d had various pets since Marjorie and I married; first a cat, when we lived in North Sydney, where our daughter Lyn was born.  This was in  the days before computers, when I typed on a portable.  The cat, her name was Cleopatra, found a cosy spot to park herself.  Each day she sat on my desk, inches from me and the typewriter, purring as I wrote radio scripts. When I finished each page I had to lift her, since her chosen  residence was on the typed pages of dialogue which she kept warm. If I got stuck at this point, and paused for thought, she’d start to purr again, as if to say ‘do get on with it.’

We had to leave Cleo with friends when television was about to be imminent,  and our government gave both licenses to media moguls Packer and Fairfax, who then expressed little faith in local actors and writers being able to handle this new attraction.  “I’ll treat Australians the way I’ve always treated them,” promised Packer.

“In that case let’s go to England,” I said to my wife, and three months later we were on a ship with our children, Lyn aged five, and Perry two years old. We were mad, our friends and family said, but they had no idea how mad.   It was our secret, we had no return fare, and not much spare cash for when we arrived in London.

But this is about Claude, so let’s skip the  two hard years when we might have fled home, but couldn’t afford it. Our bank, The Bank of NSW, now Westpac, refused to lend us the fare. We had no collateral they said, and we are still very grateful to them.  If they’d been generous enough to help, I’d have been back home writing radio scripts and listening to Cleopatra purring.

Instead we stayed another eighteen years in England, the kids went to school there, and after twelve years in London, we found the perfect house in Surrey, and decided it needed a dog.  Marge and Lyn went out one day to buy a small sweet doggy.  At least that was their intention; he may have looked small and sweet to them, but it was clear he wouldn’t stay that way, as he had enormous feet. We christened him Claude, and from the day of his arrival he grew. They had clearly been won over by his friendly demeanour, but they’d brought home a bloodhound, a breed who not only grow, they also follow scents. Before long Claude was living up to this status, tracing aromas he’d detected all over most of southern England.

We lived in Surrey, but his nose took him to Hampshire and Sussex, from where we'd get phone calls saying: "We have your gorgeous dog, but we'll keep him safe until you collect him." In vain Marge asked them to turn him loose, just don't feed him and, he'll find his own way home.  The reply was always that he was much too precious to do that.   So off she went, to the next county or the county after that, and Claude would come home in the car, flop down to rest for a brief time, then set off on another journey.  When he did come home our cat who was perched on a kitchen bench, would whack him across the ear as he went past.  It became easier for her to reach him, because this small sweet doggie had grown so large.  For instance, when I was sitting at meal times I could feel his hot breath as he peered over my shoulder to check what was on my plate.

"Sit down, Claude," I'd say.

"Dad, he is sitting down," the kids liked to point out.

There was an invitation from the lady where we’d bought him, we called her “Mrs B-Hound” because she raised them and, looked a bit like some of her merchandise.  She was having a Sunday gathering of the faithful, at least thirty bloodhounds who all looked identical to Claude were meeting in a forest near Chessington Zoo with their owners.  It was a bizarre and hilarious day.  A canine picnic where thirty hounds all chased scents and got lost in the process, where our son and daughter said the owners all looked like their pets, and poor Mrs B-Hound who’d invited us all, had to call an early end to the meet as everyone was having difficulty identifying which bloodhound was theirs.  The humans were becoming terse and the dogs barked and seemed to have trouble working out who owned them.  Claude, as if deciding the whole thing was a debacle, took off in search of somewhere more interesting and, of course, we were the last home, as we had to go in search of him.

After some months, finding the trips to collect him from other counties becoming even more frequent, we sent him to an obedience school who vowed promised to control his roving.   Two weeks later he came back with a new best friend called Jason; the owner had been taken ill and somehow we’d inherited Jason, a peaceful Labrador.  The school told us the two spent all day together and, such a friendship would be a calming influence.  So we adopted Jason and hoped for the best.  The next day Claude disproved the theory by going on his longest exploratory trip, almost reaching Brighton.

Marjorie had to drive there to collect him.  Our son Perry attempted a solution.  He rode his horse to Epsom Downs, with Claude loosely following them. When they reached the Downs Perry rode at a furious gallop to exhaust the hound.  Claude raced alongside them, enjoying it immensely.  When they returned home, the horse and Perry were exhausted.  Claude had a brief rest, but by the time the horse was unsaddled Claude had sniffed the wind and was gone again.   It seemed the British Isles might soon be unable to contain him.

Some weeks later Marge was driving home, when she saw the back view of the village policeman who appeared to have a large animal on a leash.

"Oh, thank you.  That's my dog," she said, pulling up beside him.

"Is it, Madam?" the copper said, turning to face her.  He was covered in slime from the village duck pond and so was Claude, wagging his tail in cheerful recognition.  Seeing him splashing among the ducks, the cop set out to catch him and had fallen in. A bunch of school kids had witnessed this and roared laughing at the sight, leaving the law wet, bedraggled, and seriously displeased.    He stumped off, threatening that Claude could face arrest, and a large fine if his behaviour continued.

That night we held a high level conference on his future.   It seemed there was no way we could confine him to Surrey. Soon he'd be on his way to Devon, after that Cornwall or Wales. A heart-breaking decision was reached after some gin and tonics.  Claude had to go.  We took him back to the breeder, to Mrs B-Hound, who found him a new owner in Kansas.   We never forgot him, and often wondered where he might be now.  We couldn’t help imagining him at full stretch across the prairies, headed for the next state, or perhaps on his way north to Canada.

 

The Inaugural For Pity Sake Creative Writing Competition

For Pity Sake is thrilled to announce our Inaugural Creative Writing Competition. Open now for poetry and short story, entrants can submit pieces under the theme New Beginnings. We'll publish the winners right here on the blog, and you'll win a free appraisal from our editors, plus a selection of our books!

We'd love to hear from you!! Enter now!