Posted on

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


Posted on

“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.