365 Unusual Things:1-7

Every day this week I’ve been taking notes about things that made me look or listen, not quite believing what I was seeing or hearing. I’m pretty sure I’ll observe uncommon things 365 times this year. Here’s one thing from each day of this past week:

1. A neighbour has a back to front Merry Christmas sign on his door. Every time I walk past I ask Why?

2. I saw Lake George today, an endorheic lake that’s usually dry due to evaporation, but after months of rain at the end of 2021 it is now full.

3. I’ve received encouraging gifts from students, Russian chocolates from a Ukrainian woman, and Japanese ice cream from a Chinese woman.

4. At my local pond the authorities have put up a sign telling us NOT to feed the birds. Now a graffiti artist has written Feed the Birds on a nearby sign.

5. A pharmacy experiencing overwhelming demand for Rapid Antigen Tests had a sign in its window: SORRY NO RATS.

6. The local bakery is selling hot cross buns, two weeks after Christmas.

7. I bought a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a world map. The image on the box has Australia and north-east Asia covered with other images. This is the only image to use as a guide, so how can I finish it?

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Nine books I’m reading

Since taking up literary translation about ten years ago, I’ve read many more books on a daily basis than ever before. Always within arm’s reach is a combination of English-language books, French-language books and books translated from other languages. On any day I can name roughly eight books I’m currently reading. There’s one in my backpack, one on the coffee table, one beside my bed, one under my bed, one on the breakfast table, one on my desk, and one in my tutoring bag. I gathered up all of today’s books and took a photo.

Today there are nine. I’m surprised.

Here’s a bit about each one, whether it’s a translation, whether it’s in English, why I’m reading it (and whether I’ll finish it) :

1 Les contes bleus du chat perché. In French, by Marcel Aymé, a collection of children’s stories (told to the author by a cat perched in a tree) and first published in the 1930s. I’ve read each story quickly and three of them again, slowly. I’ve translated two, and one has been published, ‘Le Loup’, ‘The Wolf’, in Delos Journal in 2018. Two small girls live with stern parents and farm animals that talk. Love it. Les contes bleus is on my desk.

2 Les contes rouges du chat perché. In French, by Marcel Aymé, more stories from his collection. I’ve read each story quickly and one slowly, the one I translated which has not been published. Yet. More talking animals. It’s on my desk.

3 Aymé. Nouvelles complètes. In French, by Marcel Aymé. All his short stories. I’ve read about half of this book. Every story is quirky but quietly clever. It’s beside my bed and is often the last book I read before sleeping, and in the wee hours when I can’t sleep.

4 Biblical Literacy. In English, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Interesting notes on the Hebrew Bible books, teaching me things I never knew. For instance, loneliness was the first thing that God saw that was not good: ‘It is not good for man to be alone’, Genesis 2:18. I’m not Jewish but I like the author’s approach to studying the old texts. It’s under my bed.

5 David Copperfield. In English, by Charles Dickens. My husband and I read a few pages to each other every night. It’s long but we’ve never grown tired of it. Dickens deserves his reputation as a gifted writer. It’s on the coffee table.

6 Gould’s Book of Fish. In English, Australian English, by Richard Flanagan. You could be forgiven for thinking Richard Flanagan is the title of the book, so large is his name and so ridiculously small is the title due to this publishing trick to get us to buy it. This book is dreadful so far, but I’m only a quarter of the way through it. One of my students asked me to read it with her, to help her learn English. There are horrific descriptions of what people did to people in the colonial days of Australian history, so I skip the disgusting bits when we read it together. It’s in my tutoring bag. Possibly won’t finish it.

7 People From My Neighbourhood. In English, by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Ted Goossen. A Christmas present from a relative. A small thin book that I read at breakfast every few days. Not bad, the stories are very short and often don’t go anywhere. On the breakfast table.

8 The Thurber Carnival. In English, by James Thurber. A book of American short stories. Very entertaining, but some stories are better for me (not being American) than others. Lent to me by the relative who gave me number 7. I read it most days. It’s on the breakfast table. Possibly won’t read every story.

9 Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? In English, by Hans Fallada, translated from German by Michael Hofmann. One of the 50 small Penguin Moderns that come in a long rectangular case. The stories are not bad, but the book is handy should I have to wait somewhere for someone. (I don’t read my phone.) I carry it in my backpack because it’s almost weightless.

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Which of the nine would I recommend? David Copperfield.

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365 Unusual Things: Intro

It’s midnight, 31st December 2021. Some are drinking to forget another year of a worldwide health crisis, while I’m writing to remember, not the pandemic, but lots of unusual things that happen around me every day. Normally I let them pass over my head, barely observed. But in 2022 I’m going to write them down, remember them and think about the world and how curious it is. As Dickens’s David Copperfield said: “This narrative is my written memory.”

Just today, for example, I was sitting outside a café (safer Covid-wise) when a chicken flew down from a balcony above and landed on the footpath, then leapt up onto the seat at the bus stop.

I reported it on Facebook’s lost pet page and added a photo. Someone immediately asked Why did the chicken cross the road? And an answer came as quickly: to catch a bus lol. But it has ended well: I’ve just read that the chicken and her owner have been reunited.

Let’s see if I can record one unusual thing every day for the rest of this year. Here’s hoping I can one day add Covid case numbers that are so low they’re unusual! 

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Six Unusual Things Before Christmas: Six

It’s a bit sad that this post is about something unusual that used to be usual. This is the first year in my life that I’ve received only one Christmas card in the post. Here it is. Arrived today, Christmas Eve.  I used to receive so many that I could string them up across the living room. Who knows why I didn’t receive more than one? Could be Covid, could be technology. I did get one e-card, but I can’t hang it up…

Six Unusual Things Before Christmas: Five

As I strolled on the sand, a strange brownish bird flew past me and landed at the edge of a flock of seagulls resting on the beach. Instantly they all stood up and turned their backs to it, then moved away. The outcast walked up the sand to be alone. I couldn’t get closer without it fearing me, so I took a photo which reveals it is a seagull with a sand-coloured affliction.

Six Unusual Things Before Christmas: Four

A horde of seagulls followed a woman who I thought was a man as she dug through wheelie bins, pulling out recyclable bottles and throwing them into a shopping trolley. Occasionally she found a bit of food to throw to the birds that followed her from bin to bin through the park.

Rummaging for bottles

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Six Unusual Things Before Christmas: Two

On the news this week I heard that Caroline Kennedy has been nominated as the next U.S. ambassador to Australia. We haven’t had an ambassador for a couple of years and now we’re getting Caroline the daughter of JFK. Now, that made me listen twice!

Caroline Kennedy (photo Gage Skidmore, 2018)

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Six Unusual Things Before Christmas: One

Closely observing what goes on around me, I’ve picked up on things that make me look twice, think twice. Here’s a good place to write them down and read them again when I’m feeling like life is unchanging and unamazing. Every day I hear or see something unusual, something to remind me that I don’t know everything. Writing about one unusual thing a day during this Christmas week won’t be a private pleasure because I’ll share them with you.

One

I read about a new acronym that suits people who don’t like to party: JOMO. The Joy of Missing Out. A special kind of joy for those like me who have the strength to say No when exhausted from Christmas activities.

Swamphen standing on a branch: the kind of thing you see when you’re not with a crowd.

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Back to blogging

After a very quiet year in my writing life, I’m coming back to blogging to practise writing about life in a manner suitable for you, dear reader, to read.

Almost ten years ago, at the beginning of January 2012, I began a blog and wrote:

To my surprise, in my summer years, I find language and words filling my life. On any day, I spend hours dealing with language.

Now it’s almost the beginning of January 2022, and I’m still surprised to find language and words filling my life. I translate French stories, an activity that occupies my mind for a few hours every day. Rarely a day passes without me translating something fictional, and rarely a month passes without me submitting my English version of a great French story to a journal or two. But while for many years I’ve submitted and often got a Yes response, this year I’ve submitted and got silence…

This silence is unusual, but it’s a good way to introduce the first blog posts of this my second blog. My old blog began with a weekly list of unusual things I had observed each day, and since life and people have not stopped throwing up unexpected words or incidents, I’ll start 2022 with this decade’s unusual observations. But, first, a little writing practice over the Christmas weeks, leading up to January.

Let me begin with yesterday.

I saw a lone turtle walking away from the water in my local pond, and a magpie lark and a noisy miner were swooping it. My son took it back to the water, where it instantly dived down to safety.