Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Thuza

T is for Thuza

“She, like her fellow travelers, was throwing the dice for the last time, trying to reach Australia where they had heard stories of peaceful wide open spaces and a generous government. They had handed over their last coins, dumped their identity documents and begged with the smugglers agents for the privilege of being transported in miserable conditions on a dangerous voyage. In her case, her mother had arranged it all but with no money, and her pleas for mercy having fallen on deaf ears, she made an arrangement with one of them. It was all she had to give and he happily took it from her. She was seventeen years old. She was alone. Her name was Thuza.”

From chapter 1, Ashmore Grief.

In Ashmore Grief, Thuza represents the vulnerable, the lost and the hopeless. I live in paradise. I know nothing of war, famine or political or religious persecution. I was raised by two parents in a stable home, and all my life I have prospered in the fertile ground of freedom and affluence. I have had a wealth of amazing relationships and plethora of wonderful opportunities. I go where I want, when I want to, and I eat and drink what I want to. I have bucket loads of leisure time and my work is not arduous. I have never been struck by tragedy of any kind, and I have never been a victim of violence, nor been forced from my home. From time to time I get a bit lost, and I have experienced loneliness but I have never plunged into despair.

Maybe, you also have been blessed like me. Perhaps not, but if not, then you probably know someone who has suffered, or who is suffering. Why not me? Is that what you ask yourself? I do. Why have I escaped the evil which seems so prevalent in the world? I don’t know, but I’m thankful. I thank God for his grace and mercy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Sex Workers

S is for Sex Workers

“ ‘These boat people are going to destroy this government. And I am going to destroy myself.’

‘What say, darling?’

Amy, like most of her imported associates in the sex industry, spoke just enough English to do her job: to satisfy her clients. For small talk, or God forbid a decent conversation, Wittaya would have to go to another bordello where Australian girls worked. The problem with Australian girls was that most of them did not smell as nice. Not their hair not their skin. Neither were they as soft and smooth, nor as genteel. For proper social discourse before, during or after sexual intercourse, he would have to put up with hair which smelled like cigarette smoke and leg stubble. They all shaved their pubic hair these days as well and pierced themselves. Navels were one thing, but the labia and clitoris? He shuddered. None of these women who sold their bodies to him for an hour were even remotely close to the perfection he knew he would never find. But he had needs, and this was uncomplicated: an anatomical transaction between consenting adults.” 

from chapter 8, Ashmore Grief

I have become increasingly ambivalent about the sex industry over the years. There are elements of it which I find abominable and disgusting. Most of what passes for fun, I find at best distasteful and at worst sickening: toys, fetishes and orgies strike me as inventions of the Devil, wicked distortions of the beauty of sex. I cannot stand sexual violence to the point that I skip sections of books which describe such practices, or fast forward movie scenes, or at least avert my eyes. There is a lot of evil in the sex industry. Aside from unmentionable sex crimes, perhaps the worst sin is the exploitation of the weak and powerless, including human trafficking. I really hate all these things.

However, I cannot rouse any such antipathy for a business transaction between consenting and respectful adults whereby a client pays for sex. If a woman chooses to sell her body for financial benefit, then isn’t that her own business? Why should the provision of sexual services be stigmatized? What is the big deal if a relaxing massage includes what is colloquially known as a hand job? Is it a crime or a mortal sin for a man to pay for sex with a stranger if his wife will not make love with him?

I accept the moral, and some would say conservative ideal that is one man and one woman within the context of marriage, is not that simple. Is the oldest profession in the world, a legitimate occupation? I think so. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo source

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rugby League

R is for Rugby League

“‘Are you !@#$%^&  kidding me? Come on!’

Wittaya was on his feet gesticulating wildly at the television. The object of his wrath was the referee who had just awarded a try to the Bulldogs over their arch rivals the Melbourne Storm. Although Wittaya was a Sydney boy, Melbourne represented how he felt about his place in the world. They were a team which had dominated the game for over a decade. A team which all other teams aspired to emulate. A team of outsiders representing a state which was so passionately in love with Australian Rules Football that they had little affection left for a team full of New Zealand and Queensland imports. The Melbourne Storm were hated because they were so good. It was jealousy. Plain and simple, and exactly the same puerile emotion felt by his enemies towards him: a young, ambitious senator on the rise through the ranks.

‘What is the point of having a video referee if they are not going to use it? That looked dodgy at normal speed and the ref was not in a good position to see it properly. What do you reckon, Kelly?‘”  from chapter 9, Ashmore Grief

This is a bit of stretch in terms of being connected to my novel, Ashmore Grief, which is my theme for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, and it’s a repost from last year’s challenge but rugby league is such a great game, I just wanted to share this again.

Last night I went to a rugby league match. Those of you unfamiliar with this fast and brutal sport should think in terms of American Football without all the padding and helmets, less players and few breaks in play. Rugby league is 80 minutes of skillful gladiatorial combat. So here I am in a hotel room, the morning after the game, in Canberra which is not only our national capital but is also celebrating its 100th birthday. As part of the celebrations, it hosted last night’s match at Canberra Stadium. Just over 25, 000 people, of which I was one, watched the first rugby league test match between Australia and New Zealand to be played in Canberra. It was an historic night. It was also an historic night for two of my guests. My niece and nephew are visiting from Thailand, and I felt obliged to share this wonderful facet of Australian culture with them. They were exposed to some of what is good and bad about living in Australia.

The free bus, which was to take us to the ground from where we parked our car and had an awesome Italian meal, was late. When we got to the ground, there was a massive queue of ticket holders like us, who were being slowly corralled through just four ticket gates. The teams came on to the field while we were outside. The national anthems were sung, the haka performed and the game commenced all before we made it in. We were then directed by stadium staff to the wrong end of the ground, and by the time we walked to the other end, found our seats, ejected the people who were sitting in our seats and finally sat to watch the game, twenty minutes had elapsed. It was very cold but we cheered with vigour as our boys finished strongly in what had been a tight contest. With a victory under our belts we left the ground in high spirits, and went to join the crowd of people waiting for buses. It was long wait. I thought my niece and nephew, unaccustomed to cold weather, might die from exposure. The crowd jeered the stadium staff as they apologized for the lack of buses as we stood and made the best of our plight.

Last night was one of those nights which will be talked about for as long as we live. A great victory by a great team with great support from patient and generally good humoured fans. I love my footy. What sports are you crazy about? What lengths have you gone to see a match?

Photo sources

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quirky

Q is for Quirky

“It was only then that Mark realized he himself was the subject of intense scrutiny from the other side of the bus.


The woman lifted her hands high above her head and began to chant something about seven sons and six fathers, and the various blessing s they were seeking to bestow on the favoured ones.
‘I am one of those upon whom the masters shine. I am favoured,’ she said.

‘I’m Mark. How are ya?’

She lowered her hands, and brought them into her chest with the palms facing the roof of the bus. Then she pushed them out simultaneously towards Mark.

‘More will come. Many will come. Many are here already.’

‘Good thing there are plenty of seats,’ said Mark.

The woman allowed her right hand to drop by her side and rest upon her dirty denim handbag. With her left hand she made elaborate stroking gestures across her thick matted hair. Mark watched as the static charges in her hair caused individual hairs to be liberated from the thicket on her head and rise to freedom.

‘The boat people,’ she breathed. ‘The boat people.’

Mark was torn. The conversation was ludicrous but mildly entertaining, and he needed a distraction. Thus far, the crazy old bat had not made a skerrick of sense, but how could he fail to engage, or at least attempt to engage her on the topic of boat people. Unless, of course, she wasn’t talking about illegal arrivals to Australia aboard smugglers’ boats.

He decided to step out on a limb and test the strength of the branch of her sanity. ‘I used to work on a patrol boat.’

‘Then you know the truth.’

Mark’s heart stopped. ‘What truth?’

‘Ashmore Grief.’

‘It’s reef, not grief.’”  From Ashmore Grief, chapter 9

Do you have an eccentric friend? Are you a little idiosyncratic? Call it quirky or call it weird, there is something of the ‘slightly off kilter’ within all of us. Something quidditative. ( Thanks Roshni  ) 

We are all individuals and the mixing of our personalities with our experiences results in a unique and slightly fruity cocktail. Sure some of us are nuttier than others, and some people are much more overtly ‘on another planet’ but we are all different, and it is worth our while to try to be as accommodating of these dissimilarities as possible: to even develop an appreciation for them.

The woman on the bus in Ashmore Grief clearly had a mental problem of some kind, and I don’t want to be insensitive towards or dismissive of those who suffer mental disorders. However, whether we have been diagnosed with something or not, we are all a bit batty sometimes in some of our habits and behaviours. We’re all a bit looney, aren’t we? Or I am out of mind?

Photograph source

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Prime Minister

P is for Prime Minister

"‘...The closed door policy that some Australians believe we should adopt with respect to migrants is an intolerable nonsense. Such a policy would have prevented me from coming to Australia as a three year old boy on a boat with my father. I love this country and I want Australians to be magnanimous and compassionate for these are admirable qualities which please God and bring peace. Thank you Australia.’

Spontaneous applause erupted around the gallery as recording devices were discarded on chairs and on the floor. ..He had never felt such unabashed elation, yet he knew, that an incredible amount of hard work was required. The job he believed he was always destined for, was now his to populate and prosper.
When the applause faded, Wittaya left the room, with his two favorite girls by his side. It was only then, in a flash, that an unwelcome intruder crashed into his joy. A fleeting thought of Watheq Abdullah Mishal."  From chapter 34, Ashmore Grief

I recently read a book called In God They Trust written by Roy Williams. In the book, Williams explores the core values and beliefs which underpinned the political careers of Australia’s Prime Minsters. It is essentially an investigation of integrity, and questions whether the practice of a genuine Christian faith is compatible with the execution of the duties of the highest office in the land. The answer to his question is, unsurprisingly, vexed not least because of the problem of accurately defining a Christian.

Is belief in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity sufficient for a person to be called Christian? If you have Christian values and believe in God, does that make you a Christian? If you’re a good person and you go to church, is that enough?

What I will say is that if you call yourself a Christian, you immediately subject yourself to greater scrutiny. More will be expected of you by your family and friends. If you have a public profile, for example as the Prime Minster of Australia, then even more will be required. You will be judged by different standards and the pressure to compromise you values will be intense. In a healthy democracy, politics is, after all, the art of compromise.

Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged yourself.” Today is Good Friday. Easter is a reminder of how much God loves us, and what it cost for us receive the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Original Sin

“Wittaya used people the way his father had used tools. He remembered watching the man work and marveling at his artistry, his concentration. He could be awesomely focused in times of sobriety. Each tool brought to bear on the blank canvass of a piece of wood for a specific purpose, a limited time, then discarded and ignored until need once more. The finished product, a carving of breathtaking beauty for which men paid good money. Although possessing no such skill as a woodworker, Wittaya considered himself an artist in his own right.  He had a team of people upon whom he could call, but who were forbidden to trouble him even if they did possess such temerity. His favours were only ever gifts to be received according to his whim. The outsider may have seen caprice, but the superficial randomness masked engineering. Manipulation.”  
from chapter 11, Ashmore Grief

Pride is the original sin. According to the Bible it was pride which led Adam to disobey God’s command in the garden, and partake of the Forbidden fruit which then saw him and his wife, Eve, cast out of paradise. It was pride which saw Lucifer exiled from heaven along with a third of the heavenly host who thought to raise themselves above their creator. 

Pride makes a man declare independence from God and from others. I am enough. I can do it myself. Have you met a self made person? Have you heard their tales of triumph over the obstacles the world has thrown in their path? Pride rejects help even when it is needed. Pride doesn’t acknowledge other contributions to success. Pride justifies immoral or unethical actions. Pride audaciously declares, “I am the most important person in the world.” Pride focuses attention on the self. The ego becomes the master.

In Ashmore Grief, pride drives Wittaya Keawwanna. He dresses his pride in altruism, but his ambition is fuelled by a darkness which causes him to function with deliberate ruthlessness. The Proverbs tell us that pride goes before a fall...what calamity awaits Wittaya?

When has pride caused you to fall from grace?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Navy

N is for Navy

“In no time, Mark was in position at one of the two 12.7mm mounted machine guns should he be given the order. The Albany was also equipped with an ATK Bushmaster cannon which was operated remotely from the bridge. Each man knew his job. The well oiled machinery of this patrol boat was matched by the men and women who crewed her. With everyone at their respective stations, the countdown began. Mission parameters for Armidale Class patrol boats allowed for the provision of naval support for civilian authorities such as fisheries protection, customs patrol and in protection against illegal immigration.

Unidentified vessels were most likely foreign fishing boats, trespassing in Australian territorial waters or leaking, overcrowded people smugglers. There was a potential for hostility in either case, as well as the chance that pirates were plying their wicked trade. Piracy was a new phenomenon in Australian waters. Formerly ignored by maritime criminals, the popularity of the Great Southland had ballooned following the much publicized campaigns of the colourful Indonesian buccaneer Porampu Satu.”  from chapter 1, Ashmore Grief

The Royal Australian Navy consists of 53 vessels and over 16 000 personnel. It is one of the largest and most sophisticated naval forces in the Pacific region, with a significant presence in the Indian Ocean and worldwide operations in support of military campaigns and peacekeeping missions. The RAN currently uses the Armidale class patrol boat. Boats are named after Australian cities and towns with close links to Navy heritage. Armidale class patrol boats provide the RAN with an improved ability to intercept and apprehend vessels in a greater range of sea conditions than earlier patrol boat classes.

Author's note: I did much more research for Ashmore Grief than for either of my previous novels. Authenticity was important, and I hope I managed to convey a realistic feel to the novel with respect to the RAN. HMS Albany is the main Armidale class patrol, boat featured in the novel.

My extreme distaste for the Australian government's policy on "boat people" is no reflection at all on RAN service personnel who do their jobs well and proudly serve this great nation.