Oversize

Journal: 063

As I reported, I did one trip Perth-Melbourne in January, getting home in time to summarize another successful AWW ‘Gen’ Week. Victoria had had one case of Covid in December so it was back to iso for me, then Perth had a case too, and iso became a city-wide 5 day lockdown. The main effect as far as I was concerned was no library, no new audiobooks.

Rather than head straight back out, I waited for a road train load of hay up north but a cyclone put the kybosh on that – and now it seems the North West Coastal Hwy has been cut near Carnarvon – so I ended up accepting a load to Melbourne which turned out to be marginally overwidth. And that in turn meant I could only take one trailer (so less money coming home!).

It’s a while since I’ve done an Oversize – maybe one for Sam & Dragan a few years ago, and two or three others 20 years before that, also for Sam & Dragan. I had the right permits but had to check on nighttime travel which surprisingly turned out to be legal in all states (well anyway, I didn’t get pulled over, which is much the same thing). This morning I unloaded in Geelong (75 km SW of Melbourne) and now I sit at my usual western suburban BP truckstop waiting for Homer to come up with a load home. He asked me a couple of hours ago how much weight I could carry and the answer can’t have been satisfactory as I haven’t heard back from him [I’m loading steel, 7.30 tonight [When I rolled up it wasn’t ready so now I’m loading 9.00 AM tomorrow. That’s trucking.]].

The other half of ‘oversize’ is my bloody weight. Melanie/GTL is doing her best to educate me about fat-shaming and owning my body, and yes I’m old and sedentary, but another eight kgs over Xmas really is too much. The Age says I don’t need to walk 10,000 steps a day, that was just an advertising slogan for some device or other, but I do need to walk 7,500.

With all 3 trailers my truck is 35 m long, say 40 paces, and 3 paces wide: 100 paces total if I circulate staying 2 or 3 paces out. I walk around the truck every two hours, 7 or 8 times a day, to check the load and the tyres (and to get some of the stiffness out of my legs): 750 paces a day. To get to 7,500 I can either stop every 12 minutes or I can do 10 tours per stop. I wonder if it will make a difference.

My time home this time was just under 2 weeks. I normally review any hard copy books that I read, in fact I’m usually desperate to finish them so I have something to review. But having nothing but time on my hands in this last round of iso/lockdown I read a couple of books that I let go through to the keeper.

First up (and not finished yet) was Hoffman’s Mr Flea following Johnathon’s posting of an excerpt but still not knowing really what to expect. E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776 – 1822) was “a German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror” (wiki) and one of the early fathers of science fiction, not to mention the Hoffman of Tales of Hoffman and author of the stories on which Coppélia, my favourite ballet – if I may have a favourite after not going for 40 years – is based. These are all thing I didn’t know. Johnathon, you may have inspired me to a whole Hoffman post, though not of Mr Flea, that’s your job.

That was my early morning read; researching and writing up the next episode of Such is Life (scheduled for Thurs), and a couple of posts before it, occupied my days; and that left evenings. I have an endless supply to choose from but decided on Angela Thirkell’s August Folly (1936) which I had told Liz Dexter I would read “soon”. And now I have. Thirkell of course is thoroughly English, as English as Evie Wyld for instance, and August Folly is a very gentle village romance. I thought it a bit laboured at the beginning but soon sank pleasurably into the criss-crossing web of relationships between the Tebbens with two marriagable children, the Palmers with none and the Deans with too many to count, a college Dean down from Oxford (on whom Mrs Tebben had once been keen) and a curate and the rector and his daughters and all the quaint villagers who ran the local train and the shops and supplied the servants and the farm hands. And don’t forget the snarky conversations between the donkey and the cat at the end of each day.

Recent audiobooks 

Lee Child (M, Eng), Persuader (2003) – Crime
Becky Chambers (F, USA), The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (2014) – SF
Sarah Fine (F, USA), Uncanny (2017) – YA/SF
Stuart Palmer (M, USA), Murder on the Blackboard (1932) – Crime
Caeli Wolfson Widger (F, USA), Mother of Invention (2018) – SF
Graeme Macrae Burnet (M, Sco), The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau (2014) – Crime
Alexander McCall Smith (M, Sco), The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) – pseudo Swedish Crime (Yes, I’m embarrassed I picked it up. DNF)
Julia Thomas (F, Eng), Penhale Wood (2017) – Crime (Detective fiction set in Truro, Wales. The female lead leaves her Australian husband and children behind in Sydney to persuade the police to investigate the death a year previously of her daughter, and the disappearance of the children’s nanny. Sorry Karen, I should have reviewed it but I had too much else on.)

Currently reading

Trent Dalton (M, Aust/Qld), Boy Swallows Universe
Elizabeth Tan (F, Aust/WA), Smart Ovens for Lonely People
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life
Sayaka Murata (F, Jap), Earthlings
Octavia Butler (F, USA), Parable of the Talents
Angela Thirkell (F, Eng), August Folly
ETA Hoffman (M, Ger), Mr Flea
Helen Garner (F, Aust/Vic), Cosmo Cosmolino

Trooper to the Southern Cross, Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell (1890-1961) was born in England of good upper middle class stock. Her father was professor of poetry at Oxford, Rudyard Kipling was a rello and her godfather was JM Barrie. She was tall, good looking and rebellious, married a bi-sexual, professional signer to disoblige her family, as they say, had two sons, divorced him, and near the end of the Great War, married George Thirkell, a captain in the AIF who had served right through from 1914 – Egypt, Gallipoli, France. Thirkell’s family had land in Tasmania, but he was an engineer.

“Early in 1920 the Thirkells returned to Australia aboard the Friedrichsruh, a horrendous voyage when rank-and-file diggers became increasingly assertive. After a sojourn at Hobart, the family settled in suburban Melbourne. In January 1921 a son, Lancelot George, was born. Thirkell’s business activities as a director of a small engineering firm won only modest rewards.” (ADB)

Angela, needing money, began writing satirical essays and short stories. In 1930 she made her second visit home and stayed there. From 1931 on, for 30 years, she published a novel a year, middlebrow stuff set in Trollope’s Barsetshire, which she said she wouldn’t want her friends to read.

Trooper to the Southern Cross (1934) is something else, a fictionalised account of her post-war voyage to Australia, biting in its contempt of incompetent officers and sometimes laugh out loud funny, which was originally published under the male pseudonym Leslie Parker.

The story is written in a chatty tone in the first person, by Major Bowen a doctor in the AIF who had, like Capt Thirkell whom he no doubt represents, served right through the War.

I have always wanted to write the story of the old ‘Rudolstadt’ which took a shipload of Australian troops home after the War, but there were so many reasons against it. At the time we were all very angry, because it isn’t a fair deal to put families on a troopship where there isn’t any dicipline ..

opening lines

Bowen’s background is as the son of a Western District (Victoria) property owning family with whom he has only distant relations. I was impressed by Thirkell’s local knowledge, though I waited until I had finished the book to look up her history. It doesn’t say, but perhaps she travelled a bit during her 10 years in Australia. Bowen talks of his mother cooking for shearers – chops for breakfast, a roast joint for dinner and the shoulder for tea. Do people still eat like that! My grandparents did, and sandwiches for morning and afternoon lunch in between, and tea, tea, tea, and maybe a slice of cake for supper.

Still, that’s only the first few pages, and a couple more to deal with the War. But because Bowen mentions fighting in Egypt (in 1914, though it was actually 1915) before Gallipoli, I had to look that up too (here). The AIF landed in Egypt for training at the end of 1914 and some must have taken part in the defence of the Suez when the Turks attacked from Palestine to retake Egypt from the Brits.

After the Armistice, Bowen takes a position at a hospital in Leeds, meets a girl, Celia, to whom it turns out he is related, marries her and after a year or so the Army tells him he is to be repatriated on the Rudolstadt along with many other officers with their wives and children and hundreds of diggers (troops). He wrangles a decent cabin for himself and Celia. His mate Jerry has a suite for his wife, two children and young nanny, but the junior offices are crammed into small cabins below decks not necessarily with their wives; the diggers are a level further down, and beneath them are the cells for hardened criminals who soon have their jailers bluffed and the keys to the cells chucked overboard.

I don’t have to tell you the plot – they sail to Australia, the men cause a lot of trouble, and despite an incompetent CO and his adjutant, Owen and Jerry with the assistance of a few loyal sergeants, save the day. Repeatedly.

The pleasure of the book is in the humour, a lot of which is the author slyly making fun of her husband (whom she had already left). Here they are on first meeting –

The girl didn’t know what back-blocks were, so I had to explain they were way out beyond everything. So I asked her if she had read ‘On Our Selection’ … but she hadn’t. And she hadn’t read ‘We of the Never Never’, nor ‘While the Billy Boils’ so I knew she wasn’t literary.

And here, on wifely duties –

As for Celia, the poor kid didn’t know the first thing about cooking, but she soon got the hang of it, and I can tell you it was good-oh to know there would be a nice hot supper my little missis had cooked, whatever time I got back from the hospital … [he and a mate would] go off somewhere and get a drink and get yarning, and often I’d bring the chap home with me … It was great to walk into our own little sitting room and say “What about some tea, babe?” and introduce her to my pal.

Sometimes I’d take my boots off after supper and Celia would give them a shine for me … She was a great hand at polishing boots, as good as a batman, and it’s a job I’ve never liked somehow.

There’s all that stuff of my father’s and grandfathers’ generations about not swearing in front of women, not even hinting at sex. One bounder shows some officers’ wives a pornographic Indian carving which accidentally ends up overboard. And a great deal of racism about unwashed Egyptians, ‘gyppos’ and Irish Catholics, though the RC chaplain on board shows he’s made of the right stuff.

All in all a fun, nostalgic, read.

.

Angela Thirkell, Trooper to the Southern Cross, first pub. 1934. Sun Books (pictured above, right), Melbourne, 1966. 177pp. ex libris J. Terry

see also: Sue/Whispering Gums’ review (here)