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Some Happenings in the Hoose o’ Ness

Tuesday, 30 July in the year of grace, 2013

It is 10.30pm, and I am contemplating the events of the past few days since the last entry of this journal, none of which is likely to arouse undue excitement in you, dear friends; all the same, that is life, with its ups and downs and its quieter moments.

Janet is away for a few days, staying with family members who are holidaying at our house Puddleby on Sea and attending to some matters that will require her attention.

Tonkie, Jock and I are surviving, but Janet’s absence is always felt by us all. Everything runs so smoothly when she is here. On Sunday, for instance, I went off to the morning service in my dark suit but had absently put on brown shoes instead of black ones – something that would not have happened had Janet been here to check me out.

Before she gets back, I must remember to make the bed, and do some odd bits of housework: dishes and so on, and pretend that I’ve been a good boy… but am trying to remember where she said I’d find the vacuum cleaner. When she returns, that nurse’s eye will sweep automatically around the house with an experience born of years of practice, noting those areas where I have failed to reach even the low standards I have set myself. Oh well, no point in dwelling upon the likely consequences of one’s failures…

The nights and early mornings up here in the mountains have been freezing, with frosts in the mornings, but the night skies are glorious. It’s hard to imagine skies so crystal clear – frosty clear. The black of the night, unchallenged by any city lights,  accentuates the golden radiance of the sprinkled stars.

Last Saturday, friend George and I went to Sydney Opera House to see Donizetti’s opera, “Don Pasquale.” It is set in Rome and is a lovely, romantic little opera, with no stabbings, no dead bodies lying about as one often gets in other operas, such as ones by Verdi or Bizet. The music is glorious.

I’d love to see “Don Pasquale” again. The Australian performers were undoubtedly world class. It’s one of the best operas we’ve seen for some time. Donizetti wrote it in 1843, only a few short years before his death in 1848, at age 51.

To make it even better, George, who bought the tickets, went for really good seats. We were upstairs and in the front row, so I didn’t have someone’s head in front of me. It’s an amazing fact: almost invariably, whenever I sit in seats where there are people in front of me, the man (or woman) who happens to be the tallest, with the  biggest head in the whole building, will sit directly in front of me. If it’s a woman, she’ll be tall, with her hair in a high bun. I have to peer around them all the time, dodging either side, depending on what bit they lean left of right to see.

I’ve taken to feeding a carrot and/or apple daily to the horse in the paddock next to the manse paddock, whose name is Rommel, or Rommie for short. He’s a beautiful chestnut. I saw him galloping around the manse paddock the other day, (the gate was open) with the owner in hot pursuit. She must have bribed him somehow, for later I saw him back in his own paddock. I mean, he’s a retired racehorse, so she’d never have caught him simply by running after him. He’d be cropping grass in Mudgee before she got to the top gate.

Later, I walked to the bottom of the manse paddock, where in the next paddock I could see some cattle grazing. They were so beautiful, as they gazed at me curiously with their soft, liquid brown eyes. Looking into those eyes reminded me again of why I am a vegetarian.

Here's looking at you kid..
Here’s looking at you kid..

Tonkie is such a funny cat. He just walked over the keyboard (he’s fond of doing that), and as I mentioned in my latest book The Ness Fireside Book of God Ghosts Ghouls and other true stories, he frequently head-butts my hand, just when I have a screen-full of type. Almost invariably he knocks my hand up to ‘delete’ and before my very eyes, the lot vanishes. He has a gift, that cat. He is also very mischievous, and has an irritating habit of nipping Jock’s toes when Jock is lying, sleeping. It is so deliberately ‘naughty’ that I’m convulsed by laughter, watching it, for Jock gets annoyed, and it’s on for young and old – but never nastily. They spar about for a while until Tonkie stalks off, satisfied that he has caused more disruption to Jock’s normally peaceful life.

Jock really loves it here. He is popular with the congregation, and joins us for morning tea, where he is suitably spoiled with tidbits. He’s a wonderful manse dog, for he loves everyone. He also loves the freedom afforded by the acres of land around the manse. He loves to play with Beau, the dog next door, and they run and run. It is so funny, watching Jock’s interaction with the many rabbits. They see him, and run. Jock chases them. They stop and look at him. Jock stops and looks at them. They run. Jock follows, but never tries to catch them. They are getting quite cheeky, knowing that not far away is the safety of the ‘bramble bushes’ that once saved brer rabbit from brer fox.

Jock loves the country air
Jock loves the country air










Oh well, time is getting on, and I have a busy day tomorrow, with some visiting around the parish. It is now approaching ‘the witching hour’ as it was once called, of midnight.

Angels guard thee…” as the lovely old song by Benjamin Godard  has it. (“Ah! wake not yet from thy repose“).  Good night, good night.


View across the valley from the manse
View across the valley from the manse


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“Winter’s Hoary Breath”

Saturday, 20 July in the year of grace, 2013            

As  I write on this chilly morning, I am sitting in the study of the Presbyterian manse at Bowenfels, NSW, which is in the mountains west of Katoomba and on the edge of Lithgow. I think I read somewhere that it is about 900 metres above sea level, which must be close to 3000ft in the old scale of things, and the temperature to date reflects it.

Not far from my feet is the ever-faithful Jock, while in the sunniest part of the room is, of course, Tonkie. (Where else would any sensible cat be?). Janet popped in a short time ago, holding two shampoo bottles. I vaguely heard the words, ‘red’ and ‘blue’ so thought I’d better check on what she’d said. It’s too easy for us men to get into trouble by failing to remember what we’d been told a short time previously, so age and caution serve me well – when I remember to apply them. It turned out she’d held up the bottles for my inspection, explained what was in them and said, “The one with the red writing is the shampoo, and the one with the green writing is the conditioner.” Janet has amazing amounts of patience when dealing with her vague hubby, and of course rearing our five children helped develop it.

The domestic scene here is one that is probably being repeated in various ways right around the country at this time of the day, but it’s a bit unusual for us, because we are now some hundreds of kilometres from Puddleby on Sea, our home at Lake Macquarie. I’m up here for six weeks’ locum work, while some members of our family are holidaying at Puddleby. The Bowenfels minister has sensibly lit out for a few weeks’ holiday and is off to Queensland’s sunny warmth.  We’ve been coming up here each winter now for some years, and stay in the manse. The Presbyterian Church Bowenfels is on the register as an historic church. It was built in 1842 and is much the same now as it was then. You’ll see the sign on the Great Western Highway as you approach Bowenfels, advising you that it is there. Behind the church is a lovely, fairly modern hall. The church is so hard to keep warm in winter that the congregation holds its Sunday services in the hall, which is cosy, warm and well-heated, during the winter months.

Behind the hall is the manse – quite modern, and made for the winters. It’s a lovely home, and sits on three beautiful acres, with lots of trees. Beyond the bottom fence is the bush. Blackberry thickets are sprinkled through it, populated by cautious rabbits who have burrows tunnelled into the blackberry bushes’ prickly safety. Gloriously plumed mountain lorikeets, magpies and other bird species add to the beauty of this place. The air is fresh and keen.. sometimes TOO fresh, TOO keen in mid-winter, but it’s as pure as one could get. There’s not an ounce of anything in it but pure air.

Flowers surviving the Bowenfel frost
Flowers surviving the Bowenfel frost









We arrived a few days ago and were welcomed as old friends by the marvellous people who live up here. Their warmth and kindliness are beyond  measure. They’d thought of everything. That warm hospitality is not just for us – it’s for everyone whom they meet. The congregation is a congregation of friends. Each Friday evening a few members go to the Lithgow bowling club for dinner, and while here we always go with them, where there is always a great deal of chatter, laughter and tall tales. Norm the session clerk is so funny. He told us that a few days ago a visiting lady was looking at some large holes in one area of the church grounds that were dug by a post hole digger. Trees are to be planted in them eventually – some big ones, including at least one Wollemi pine. “What are those large holes for?” the lady asked. Norm’s reply: “They’re rabbit burrows. You wouldn’t believe the size of the rabbits around here!” “Really?” replied the lady, looking astonished, before noting the twinkle in Norm’s eye. Yes, the old bush yarns are alive and well around these parts. Norm spent the first few years of his life in Northern NSW, working on a banana farm, and told us that his job was to put the bends in the ends of the bananas, to make sure they’d fit into the boxes, which are always made a trifle short. Of course we believed him!

Jock searching for giant rabbits.
Jock searching for giant rabbits.


Much as we miss Puddleby, we also love being here among the people of Bowenfels and Lithgow; a district where people actually know one another and who belong in a definable community, with a strong community spirit. Most country towns are like that.

Oh well, I’d better leave now and start thinking about tomorrow, Sunday, and the two services; one at Wallerawang and the other here at Bowenfels. The weather forecast for tomorrow is a bit daunting, I’ve been told: 3 degrees maximum, snow at Orange and possibly around here. It’s snowed each year we’ve been here. As I was thinking of that a few minutes ago, a lovely little poem by Samuel Longfellow (1819-92), the great American poet, popped into my head. It’s been set to a hymn tune and is in the old Presbyterian hymn book.

The final verse goes:

O God! Who gives the winter’s cold                                                                               

As well as summer’s joyous rays,                                                                                  

 Us warmly in Thy love enfold,                                                                                         

And keep us  through life’s wintry days. 

PS:  Janet just asked to read what I’d written. She’s often good at picking up the odd typo etc before I submit it. As she read, I heard a giggle.

What? I asked.

She gave me “the look”:

“I said ‘red and blue’ writing, not ‘red and green writing’” she told me.

The historic Church of St. John the Evangelist is the home of the Wallerawang Presbyterian congregation.
The historic Church of St. John the Evangelist is the home of the Wallerawang Presbyterian congregation.
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Ambling and some mental rambling

Saturday evening 13 July in the year of grace, 2013

That is a very old-fashioned way of dating a letter. If you care to look at some writings from around the 18th century, it’s not so uncommon. In fact I have an idea some of R.L. Stevenson’s works contain that sort of introduction.

I can hear you ask: Why do you do it? Well, I don’t do it very often. Our children, and friends, may have observed it in a letter from time to time and put it down either to an affectation, or slight eccentricity or whatever, but the truth is, I like it.

The week that is almost past has had nothing major to report.

One sadness was the death of Zena, a dear old German Shepherd who belonged to friends of ours. Her passing caused a deal of grieving amongst the children in the family, for they loved Zena and she loved them.  Whenever I hear of a death of a dearly loved pet, I think back on one of the chapters of my book, The Ness Fireside Book of God Ghosts Ghouls and other true stories. The chapter in question looks at the question “Do Animals have souls?” If you want my considered opinion, backed by scripture, then you may care to read it. I’ve always believed they do, and that opinion is confirmed in scripture.  I know we’ll miss Zena too.

We are so fortunate to live here by the shores of Lake Macquarie, believed to be the largest saltwater lake in Australia. Sydney Harbour will fit into it four times, but on the other hand, the lake is not very deep.

There is a fountain in the garden, which is a favourite watering hole for the local birds; especially when it’s been dry for a while. Two kookaburras are inclined to treat it as their own, but not exclusively. They sit there, one either side, chatting away quietly, making intimate little clucking sounds, every now and then taking a sip from the water bubbling out of the top. Occasionally, one must tell a hugely funny joke, for suddenly they burst out laughing in that wild, rather uninhibited fashion peculiar to kookaburras.

On other occasions through the study window I can hear the squabbling chatter of the rainbow lorikeets, all seated around the bowl of the fountain like seasoned old drinkers. They, and the Australian miners, are the noisy ones who always seem to have something to squabble about, or if not squabbling they engage in noisy, excited chatter. They are the social ones with big, noisy families.  Then there are occasional magpies and galahs, the odd sulphur-crested cockatoo, shy top-knot pigeons with their little red eyes and their little red legs and feet, and every now and then, a couple of wild ducks. The garden rather reflects the lines of T.E. Brown’s pretty poem, ‘My Garden,’ which commences, A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot.. It’s true – “Puddleby” is such a restful place, and I love it.

Let me admit at once that it’s Janet’s. I have the pleasure of it, but Janet is the one who tends it with patience and love.

Autumn Days
Autumn Days

Tonkie, our Tonkinese cat, likes to sit on the window-sill in the study, staring out at the birds on the fountain, making noises that suggest he would like to go out to play with them, but he is a totally indoor cat, so we don’t think that’s a very good idea. He would probably fall in the fountain, which I am sure would greatly amuse our feathered visitors.

Come on!  Let me at em'
Come on! Let me at em’

“Puddleby,” so close to the lake is a popular place for walking, and Jock our border collie likes to go for ambles along the shore, sniffing around the rocks, hoping to find a bit of rotting bait to eat, which is one of his more vulgar habits. Jock has yet to learn that if he is a naughty boy and rolls in something smelly and unpleasant, it inevitably means yet another (unscheduled) bath!

I took Jock for a walk late this afternoon. We meandered along the shore where a chilly breeze drove wavelets onto the rocks and into my old walking shoes. Jock sniffed every single rock, hoping to find some bait left by a fisherman – the smellier the better. There is a rough and ready boat ramp, with a fish-cleaning table nearby, and as we were passing I heard the unmistakable honking sound of a pelican. It seemed to be quite close, but, much as I looked, I could not see it, even when it honked again. At one stage the sound seemed to come from one of two ‘wheelie’ (rubbish) bins situated there, so I lifted the lid to peer in, on the unlikely chance that someone had put a pelican inside – I couldn’t think where else it could be. I was almost overwhelmed by the stench of rotting fish, prawns and so on, but no outraged pelican stared back at me. In fact all I could make out that resembled anything at all was a fish-head, its long-dead eye staring up accusingly at me. “Don’t look at me like that!” I told it; “I’m a vegetarian!”  Then I heard the honk again, but again could find no pelican to attach to it. Deeply puzzled, I turned to leave, and had taken no more than a single step when, glancing back, I observed a stream of pelican excrement, the length of my forearm and practically as thick, tumbling from the sky. It landed with an impressive splash and went everywhere, for pelicans are large birds. I looked up – and sure enough, there he was, sitting on top of the light pole by the bins. He stared down on me with that world-weary indifference that appears to be the perpetual expression on the countenance of any pelican you’re likely to meet. I mean, the pelican is not the cheeriest of souls.  Anyway, at last I knew where the sound had come from, and in fact I’m puzzled by my failure to look up, for pelicans are fond of sitting on light poles. That fact, to my mind, gives some insight into the nature of the bird. What other fowl would choose a parking place more suited to a seagull than a pelican? It’s like trying to park a Rolls Royce in a spot reserved for a Mini-Cooper.

We had meandered on no more than a dozen paces when a sudden thought struck me: Had I remained where I was, directly below the light pole, I would have had the contents of that cunning fowl’s bowels on my head! That honk – I now suspect it was the result of straining to offload the contents of his lower intestine before I managed to move away. Thank heavens I did move away! Thank heavens I hadn’t looked up at the crucial moment! Maybe it wasn’t like at all. Maybe it was simply a genuine call of nature, with no thought in the pelican’s mind of what was below. Janet tells me I incline to paranoia occasionally…

Oh well, enough of idle thoughts. This time next week I’ll be nervously going over sermon notes and things. That will occur just about every Saturday night until the end of the year at least.

Jock waiting for his walk
Jock waiting for his walk








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Back Again

11 July 2013

At last I am connected to my blog again! As I totter into my dotage I am finding it harder and harder to maintain regular  individual correspondence, so a blog is a great way to stay in touch and to let everyone know what we’ve been up to.

We’ll be up at Bowenfels again later, doing some locum work for the parish there, renewing friendships from past times in that delightful area. Great people, those mountain folk!

The only slight problem of course is the fact that we will be exchanging the mild winter enjoyed by us Lake Macquarie-ites for the harsher mountain clime, with ice and snow not uncommon. All the same, it’s a very healthy place to live.

From September, while Rev David Campbell is on LSL, I’ll be looking after St Andrew’s Newcastle, (always qualifying that of course, with the understanding that there are no hiccups, such as my unexpected demise, or occasional attacks of galloping consumption or creeping paralysis). All things being equal, it means that the rest of the year is taken up with some part-time ministry in parishes.

Anyway, Janet and I thought that we should let you know something of our doings since last I wrote.

We have had a busy sort of a year to date in many ways. It’s mainly been to do with the book-writing of course.

As I write, the latest book: The Ness Fireside Book of God Ghosts Ghouls and other true stories has been out a week, and so far the demand for it has been encouraging. I was amazed to find that writing it, and getting all the information, was quite draining – either that, or I’m getting old.

I’ve been able to get this one done for a slightly cheaper rate, although it’s slightly larger than the other books. It’s on the market for  a trifling $15, plus postage which is $5 for one book, or $10 for two books. (Those are the PO prices, not mine).

Three cost $13.40, I think it is, sent in a PO bag. By  the way, I am speaking of within Australia prices, not overseas prices. As the books are available on Kindle, and Amazon, that would be the least expensive way to go for overseas buyers.

If you are on the internet, my brother has made me a new website: Type in to get you there.

In regard to that last book, mentioned above, I was having a look at an original photo today that was sent to me by friends, who took the photo about 25 years ago. The original is in colour, but the one in the book is black and white, for cost reasons. (And what picture is that; I hear you ask. It’s the photo with the story, “The ghost in the mausoleum.” It’s an amazing colour photo. The apparition is as plain as day – much plainer than the photo in the book. I wish I could have put it in the book in colour. If you get the hard copy of the book, you will be intrigued by that photo. I have complete confidence of the genuineness of the photo. It was taken by close friends of mine who are not given to silly practical jokes. It’s the best true photo of a ghost you’ll ever see, I suspect.

Chaplaincy took us to sea aboard Pacific Jewel in April and the ship’s passengers and crew commemorated Anzac Day with a service off the Isle of Pines, which belongs to Noumea. We held the service early in the day to allow the passengers to enjoy that loveliest of tropical islands. Hundreds attended the service.

Sadness was to follow however, for one of the passengers died on the island, standing knee deep in the tropical waters, so it wasn’t a bad way to go. It’s the first time someone has died on a ship on which I have been the chaplain. That occupied my time for the rest of the trip home, and some time afterwards.

There has been nothing major happening of late, although yesterday I heard Janet complaining bitterly. She’d just drawn up a shopping list on a sheet of paper and left it for a time. When she returned, it was missing, but teeth marks on a remnant suggest that Tonkie ate it. Yes, our eccentric, glue-sniffing, cardboard, rubber-band and shopping list-eating Tonkinese cat had casually devoured it. (Glue sniffing? Well, he likes to lick the glue off envelopes, if we don’t catch him at it).

I heard Janet mumbling as she wrote out another shopping list. Things can’t get much worse than that… can they?

Keep well and God bless. I’ll be in touch again soon.


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God Ghosts Ghouls

GGGcoverI am very pleased to say that my latest book,The Ness Fireside Book of God Ghosts Ghouls and other true stories is now finished, published and available on as a paperback and and a Kindle e-book, as well as from the website.

So far  there has been excellent feedback and if you decide to purchase it, I hope you enjoy it too. There should be a number of reviews which will be worth reading to get an idea as to its contents, whether or not readers consider it well-written and so forth. The first reviewer gave it  4 stars. The reason he didn’t give it five, he told me, was because he automatically knocked off one star for bad hand-writing. When I told him I’d typed it all, he said “Oh well, for bad typing” – and I can’t argue with that!

Looking forward to read/hear what you have to say about it.