Weekly photo challenge: Names

It is said that the department store Whiteaway Laidlaw & Co. was often nicknamed Right-away & Paid-for, since they accepted only cash and offered no credit. It was also known simply as Whiteaways and became a household name in India, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai during the first half of the 20th century, as well as in other British colonised cities like Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya, seen here in these wartime photos.

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Nairobi, Kenya, c1941

East African Standard building on the corner, Whiteaway Laidlaw department store on the right, Delamere Ave, Nairobi, Kenya, c1941 (from my father’s WWII album)

The store was founded by Scotsman Robert Laidlaw in 1882 after he had lived in India for 20 years. He was not just an entrepreneur but also a philanthropist and British politician. He died in 1915 in London, but his emporium continued until 1962. It imported and sold household goods and was also a tailoring business, selling products that appealed to Europeans and wealthy locals. As advertised on the store sign in Mombasa, they were drapers and “Complete Outfitters”.

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Mombasa, Kenya, c1941

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Mombasa, Kenya, c1941 (from my father’s WWII album)

Kenya was then a British colony engaged in defending itself against Italian Ethiopia (created in 1936) on its northern border. Kenya herself contributed a great number of men to fight for the British colonial Military: the King’s African Rifles. The Italians were defeated in November 1941 during my father’s period in North Africa. Hence, he had these photos in his album.

I’ve been looking at these old photos since I was a small small child and have often wondered why two photos feature the same franchise of Whiteaways. Perhaps my father bought some outfits here. Apparently the store catered for shoppers with a small purse, which would therefore have attracted soldiers. Thanks to WordPress for challenging me to find out who Whiteaway Laidlaw were.

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The Enchanted Ring

Today a new story has been published in Peacock Journal online, “The Enchanted Ring”, written by Catulle Mendès in 1887, translated by me. The story is in his collection, Pour lire au couvent (To Read in the Convent), which might surprise since it’s a wee bit spicy for innocent convent girls and only a little less risqué than his tales in Pour lire au bain (To Read in the Bath).

To set the scene, the Peacock Journal editors have illustrated the story with Claude Monet’s impression of Vétheuil in the outer regions of Paris in 1879. This will give readers a hint that the story works its way towards a country inn where three rich and handsome princes are resting for the night (only one of them is asleep…).

Claude Monet, ‘Vétheuil, Paysage’, 1879

Another of my Mendès translations, “The Only Beautiful Woman”, appeared recently in The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation which you can read about in my blog post here where you’ll see a photo of Catulle Mendès standing casually in his study reading a story. Or a poem. If you don’t recognise Mendès, you might recognise his daughters from this painting by his friend Auguste Renoir in 1888, now in the Met Museum, New York:

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Auguste Renoir, ‘The Daughters of Catulle Mendès’, (1888), Huguette b. 1871, Claudine b. 1876, Helyonne b. 1879

Peacock Journal has a theme: beauty. The editors search for it in every submission. I feel fortunate and chuffed that they found it in “The Enchanted Ring”. Make your day better by popping over to read this and other stories about beauty.

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Weekly photo challenge: Anticipation

In anticipation of a 2.6 metre fence to be built in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Lester Yao, a young architect, came up with a plan during the week to invite everyone to roll en masse down one of the grassy roof slopes.

Since the building opened in 1988, adults and children have enjoyed rolling down the slope or even jogging or training on it, and indeed this was part of the inbuilt anticipated pleasure designed by the architect Romaldo Giurgola (who died in May this year). When the security fence goes up in the new year, the public will no longer have such free access as we do today.

Lester Yao put out a call on social media last Monday, and in response hundreds of people turned up for the peaceful rolling protest. We drove towards Parliament House and saw all the people on the grass from the approach road, so we parked, went to have a look and discovered that a few minutes earlier, on a signal, they had all rolled down from the top. Even though it rained yesterday, all day, as well as the day before, this morning was dry and the temperature was up and no one was complaining about their damp grass-stained clothes. As the rollers began to disperse, much of the space was cleared, which suited individuals who wanted to do their own thing without getting crushed.

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There are many ways to roll down a hill. Most lay across the slope and propelled themselves over and over like a log. But a few creative ones did somersaults  until they were giddy. The woman below did headstand rolls.

Parents rolled holding a child, dog-owners rolled with their dogs, and people rolled with rolling cameras. Quite a few adults simply played by themselves like children, rolling on their own for the sheer silliness of it.

In the photo below, there’s a guy laughing at the two rollers in front of him. It looked like such fun…

…that he couldn’t resist. He just had to see what it felt like.

(Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t roll down the hill.)

Romaldo Giurgola had designed the building with a roof that could be accessed by the public in a spirit of democracy. He liked the idea that we could walk over the top of those in charge of us. But that is all about to change.

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge for the Anticipation prompt.

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The Only Beautiful Woman…

… is the title of my newest translated story, published yesterday by The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation. You can read the story online: go to the website, scroll down to the translator’s note (that’s me, of course) then click on “click here to read”. You’ll then be able to enjoy The Only Beautiful Woman by Catulle Mendès, originally “La Belle du Monde” in his collection Les Oiseaux bleus.

Like Perrault and the Grimm brothers, Mendès was a great creator of fairies. In “The Only Beautiful Woman” the incurable selfishness of humans is embodied in a trifling, time-wasting princess who frightens even the mirrors that reflect her beauty.

Image from

Image from “L’Illustration”, no. 3240, 1 April 1905

I’m very grateful to The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation editors for publishing my work, especially since this is my second appearance in their journal. In 2015 they published my translation of Madame Gorgibus by Jean Lorrain, another story in which one character suffers from another’s selfishness. But Mme Gorgibus never sees the victory of good over evil; her story is less of a comedy than Mendès’ little tale in which mirth predominates and the ending is happy.

I invite you to read these tales; they’re old and short but memorable! If you enjoy them please let me know.

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Nervous

We arrived at the ruins of the burnt-out observatory at Mount Stromlo before the sun set yesterday, excited about the performance we were about to see: “Nervous” by the Australian Dance Party, an hour of contemporary dance, music and lighting.

At eight o’clock, inside the structure in the light of the early evening, four dancers began their interpretation of the inner turmoil of nervousness, while the audience waited outside in anticipation, peeking in through the doorway. At last we were invited into the space to find a chair or floor cushion to settle into for the performance as the dancers slowly and aimlessly walked about the circular centre of the floor, confronting each other and almost colliding, wondering about the thing that was making them nervous.

And then they seemed to come together in harmony and moved as one.

Once the audience was comfortably seated, the dancers picked up speed, and the idea moved from wondering to worrying. The nerves were back in control, and we soon learnt why, through the dialogue of the blonde dancer: “Hey, there’s something I really need to talk to you about.” We heard it over and over in different phrasings, as she talked to herself or moved up to the audience and addressed them directly. Hello, there’s something…. No. Hey, how are you? There’s something I… No. Ahhhh, there’s something I really… No. Ughhh, just act natural… Why is this so hard?…

And as she practised her speech, the other three were her conscience, the angels and devils telling her she was doing it right and doing it wrong and she was hopeless at this but had to do it anyway. The four became one conscience and approached the audience, and again the blonde spoke, Hey, there’s something I really…, while a second dancer held her breath, another writhed and the fourth groaned painfully. All of that stuff that goes on inside us while we’re trying to appear calm and in control.

Eventually the nervousness conquered its victims and they could do no more than lie on the cold concrete floor in the purple light of defeat…

Over all of this movement was the intense electronic music composed by Ben Worth (my son), pulsating and vibrating and making us physically vibrate with it. It was loud and soft and occasionally absent but it always returned. And there was Robbie, the lighting guy up there on the platform with Ben, playing his lights over the dancers as darkness descended. Robbie’s light show became one of the players playing with the dancers’ nerves.

Ben, left, and Robbie, right, on the platform behind one of the old concrete arms that supported the telescope in the past.

By nine o’clock, the sky above the roofless structure was black and starry with a crescent moon and nearby Venus growing brighter by the minute. Some cords from the floor became a prop that lit up and tangled about them, winding around and wrapping them up. The music stopped, the darkness was almost complete. Someone began clapping, and we realised this was the end.

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Great

After the US election, Ailsa at Where’s my backpack wrote Great, a poem. I read it out loud (no one was listening) and heard myself almost rapping… It’s a two-part verse, beginning in darkness, ending in light.

Encouraging bloggers to add some goodness to the dish on the other side of the scale, she has challenged us to do something GREAT:

Create something beautiful and share it with the world. Write something true from the depths of your humanity and share it with the world. Do something kind for someone in need. Embrace a different culture. Volunteer. Plant a tree. Tell someone how much they mean to you. Reach out to someone in your community you’ve never even noticed before. Try to understand someone else’s point of view. Learn something new. Teach your kids something new. Stand up to bullies. Protect those being victimized. Be brave. Be gentle. Be vulnerable. Nurture. Encourage. Forgive. Love. Shine.

The word Volunteer leapt out at me with its capital V. It’s what I do. I’ve done voluntary English tutoring for years, but previously only once a week. This year, it has been five days a week, a few hours each day. The rewards for the students are free language instruction and friendship, but for me the rewards are many and varied. They buy me flowers, plants, perfume from France, skin products from New Zealand, clothes from China (!), crockery and meals. But mostly, it’s coffee.

We meet in local cafés, where the owners have come to know me and my students. They even know what we’ll order, each student ordering the same thing every week.

This week I combined the great thing that is Ailsa’s poem with my volunteering: I used her poem in a lesson. I asked my student to read it out loud, tell me what poetic devices were used, and tell me what it all meant. Here she is expressing her feelings about the negative half, words about words that are ‘meant to shock, intimidate, demean and mock’, followed by the positive half, words about words that ‘serve to heal, unite, encourage and appeal’.

Now, I doubt that any great act on my part will counteract the new US president’s policies, but one day at a time, one person at a time, is a policy that’s working to make life better for me and my students in this part of the world.

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Weekly photo challenge: Tiny

Yesterday I was quietly translating a fairy tale about dragonflies and damselflies when a couple of stuck bugs walked over my window. Tiny stuck bugs, one walking forwards, the other dragged behind, backwards. Unlike my fictional insects, flying didn’t seem to be an option. I needed an excuse to procrastinate, unable to decide whether the story would be as much fun for others as for me, so this tiny event suddenly seemed like something I should record for posterity.

I tried to pick them off the window with a sheet of paper but they tumbled onto my monitor and walked quickly and unceasingly over every surface on and near my desk, across the laptop, over the Cruzer memory stick and down the power cord…

… over my diary page where Alice is dancing with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, and looking very much like painted bugs…

…and around my mother’s portrait.

I thought: you two need to be doing this outside with other tiny things. And as they marched across the books piled beside my keyboard, making their way blindly along the edge of a fairy tale collection where tiny bugs are friends of fairies…

… I took my chance, picked up the book, and… oops! They flipped upside down! You’d think this would have kept them still for a moment, but no. Together they flipped right way up (undoubtedly not in a united effort) and I hurried out the door while they were running in a frenzy over the book. And yet, when I held them next to my potted pansies they refused to get off without some shoving and shaking.

This is the story of a tiny procrastination. It was all the break I needed to give me strength to go and read two fairy tales and translate one.

Thanks Daily Post for this tiny photo challenge.

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Flâneuse

A flâneur? In a 19th-century dictionary he’s a loiterer, a lounger, an indolent man spending his time idly. In contemporary dictionaries he’s a loafer, an idler, a stroller, a dawdler, an ambler, a laggard.

So many options to describe a man who has no timetable, no destination. Doing nothing, going nowhere. Apparently.

Yes, a flâneur in French is a man. But a woman, too, can loiter and lag. She’s the flâneuse.

Strolling the streets of my city, observant, detached, armed with a small camera, watching for someone who’s not like the others, I occasionally play the part of the flâneuse, capturing a few colourful characters in this city. But their colours can distract. Here I’ve removed them.

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I love hair. My trigger finger itched when I saw this man who hasn’t seen a barber for some time. I stopped and loitered as flâneuses do. It was lunchtime and his eye was on a small charity barbecue stand while my eye was on his hair. I bet he’s an interesting bloke.

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Within minutes I came across another one who avoids the barber. With his long white hair and beard and his black scarf and coat, he loses nothing in a conversion to black and white. He’d been to the sausage-sizzle stand and was sitting down for a lunch break.

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Not far away I spotted another long male ponytail, plaited. Whatever he was saying, it amused his companions, the woman handing out The Big Issue free magazine and the bloke with a can of Mother and an attitude.

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On my way home my ears were tickled by a busking guitarist who plays here frequently and brilliantly. A busker with a ponytail. His head was bent low over his guitar, eyes fixed on the strings, but when a passer-by threw a few coins into the guitar case and stopped to watch, the guitarist looked up and sort of smiled, as tickled by his one-man audience as I was by his music. I dropped some money into the guitar case. He had earned it.

The Daily Post challenged us this week to become flâneurs. As I ambled and wandered – not aimlessly nor idly – observing people in front of me, across the street, under a tree, against a wall, I concluded that not all of us are forgettable.

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Weekly photo challenge: H2O

When fishermen leave taps dripping or even running at public fish cleaning tables, the seagulls make the most of the free fresh water, even if they have to stick their beaks right up into the spout, and then only after waiting their turn.

Seagulls, Mosquito Bay, South Coast NSW

Seagulls, Mosquito Bay, South Coast NSW

Seagulls, Nelson Bay, Port Stephens NSW

It’s a good spot to watch a seagull coming in for a landing, to admire the beauty of spread wings.

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Thanks WordPress for the prompt, reminding us that all living creatures need H2O.

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Weekly photo challenge: Nostalgia

Any image of a tram makes me long for the past. When I was a child in Brisbane there were trams in the city, but by 1969 the use and support of trams had declined and the tramway was closed. It had been operating since 1885.

Brisbane tram, 1968, courtesy of Aussie mobs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/10115705345/in/photostream/

Brisbane tram, 1968, courtesy of Aussie mobs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/10115705345/in/photostream/

(An aside: In case you’re wondering about Vincent’s, they were powders for headaches, wrapped in paper. You poured the powder into your mouth and washed it down with water. My father took them daily. They were withdrawn from the market in the 1970s because they were causing renal failure and codeine addiction. So he shouldn’t have taken them with confidence after all.)

These days in Australia, only Adelaide and Melbourne still have trams. Melbourne is famous for them, and whenever I’m there I catch them just for the fun of it.

When I lived in Lyon, France, I often got around on trams, enjoying the ease of hopping on and off without having to climb stairs or walk down the aisle in search of a seat, as you do on a bus or a train, and without having to descend into the subterranean metro stations.

At present in Canberra, a light rail system (tramway) is under construction, but there’s a heated debate about the expense of it and disputes about the benefits. A local election in a couple of weeks will determine whether the project continues. And if The Opposition wins, it will stop the construction and cancel the contracts for which numbers of people have been employed. Hmmm.

But despite the arguments against our tram project, my nostalgia-filled heart is firing up memories of tram trips taken, of the fun of travelling on these little street trains, of waiting at the tram stops with my mother or father, or by myself in Lyon, holding my ticket nervously purchased in much-practised French, and being transported quickly and efficiently to my destination. So, rationally or not, I’m pro tram.

This 1941 photo of a tram in Port Said, perhaps waiting for the Australian soldiers to jump on board, gives me a little thrill every time I look at it. I wish it could teleport into my life so I could ride on it.

Tram, Port Said, Egypt, c1941

Tram and Australian soldiers, Port Said, Egypt, c1941. Photo from my father’s album. Subjects and photographer unknown.

Thanks WordPress for evoking my nostalgia.

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