Spring Has Sprung A Leak

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Yesterday, it rained and rained and rained. Today it reached the magnificent temperature of 14 degrees! It is spring…

Okay, I know we live in mercurial Melbourne, famous for four seasons in one day – so where are the other seasons – lately we seem to be stuck in winter.

Spring Lament

Mairi Neil

Today it felt like winter
Cold air crept under doors
Chilling bones, shivering skin
The steel sky released rain
In splashes, showers, and sheets
Torrential rain at windows pounded
Bouncing off pavements
Bruising flowers and trees
Warnings of flooding sounded!

Puddles formed on the road
Transformed into pools and
Swooshing waves
As cars drove by
Wary pedestrians must
Learn to jump – or fly!
The wind wailed, wrestled trees
Icy pellets drummed on roofs
Hailstones tattooing with ease.

Windy gusts grabbed droplets
Dashing them against the letterbox,
Advertising leaflets mush
Nothing survives this onslaught
Buildings and bushes saturated
By relentless    soaking     rain
This spring day surprisingly cold
My heater hums and thrums
A well-known winter refrain.




And as I continued to clear clutter from the shed I discovered this poem from the 90s. I wrote it after sitting on the beach watching the girls with their new foam surfboards.

We loved the beach on wintry days – perhaps if I’d taken myself for a walk along the foreshore yesterday I wouldn’t have felt so depressed at the dreich day?

The Wild Sea
Mairi Neil

The sea is wild today
The wind robust and strong
Blowing water onto land
And pushing me along
The sea bruised and grey
A mirror of storm clouds above
I’m buffeted and battered
By the huge waves, I love.

I’m awed at the force and
Power of the mighty sea
As it tosses flotsam
And insignificant me…

Flying high, like a bird I glide
Swirl and splash downward slide
To arrive breathlessly ashore
Invigorated and free
To run seaward for more.

In the shallows amidst
White foam bubbles
Mother Nature’s touch, I crave
The stormy sea pummels
As I dance with each wave
Sudsy fingers snatch and lift
Throwing me on high
Atop tickling, teasing rollers
Saltspray stinging eyes
The surf performs perfectly
Determined to deposit me ashore
Until the wind suddenly drops…
The wild sea is no more.


Winter Inspiration – Inside or Out


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Mordialloc Beach in Winter


Mordi Beach In Winter
Mairi Neil

A winter’s day, yet the beach is warm
sheltered from the blustery streets
the blue water of the sea is still
peaceful and calm
a mirror for Nature’s beauty.

Clouds, fluffy and soft kiss the horizon
blurring the pale yellow sun
peaceful and calm
birds glide playfully on the water,
an ice-skating rink for seagulls

the beach is almost deserted
a few hardy individuals searching
for what?
Seeking solitude as they stare out to sea
while looking inward towards soul?

In the distance, fossickers bend
searching for treasures left behind
metal detectors sweep gently
and keen eyes will shifting sands
to make their day.

Three children paddle in the sea
rolled-up trousers wet with rising damp
their pink toes tingling and wriggling
tiny teasing waves cause giggles
and footprints magically disappear.

Moored boats at the pier silent sentinels
Their masts bobbing in neat rows,
a lone tanker looms black on the horizon
lack of wind meaningless
to workhorses.

It is time to leave the sea to reclaim the sand
the children clutch a treasure of pretty shells
wet clothes are exchanged for dry
the trappings of civilisation put on feet
memories and mementoes packed away.

The children are tired from play
peaceful and calm
It has been a wonderful day.

Tomorrow is the first day of The Walking Neighbourhood at Arts Centre, Melbourne and after glorious winter days, rain has been forecast!

Seasonal Sneeze
Mairi Neil

The warm sun belies winter’s chill
Yet the calendar doesn’t lie
The first day of June in Melbourne
Is officially winter – I hear you cry.
But where are the southerly winds
Dewy grass transformed with frost,
The accumulation of bruised clouds,
Upon grey skies embossed?

Temperatures more like autumn
Blue skies reminiscent of summer
Mercurial Melbourne’s reputation
Is that of a seasonal actor.
We soak up this surprising sunlight
The delightfully warm days
Look forward to outdoor events
Dispelling winter’s malaise.

Wait! Our optimism is fleeting
The weekend promises rain
Umbrellas, scarves and coats
Will be needed once again.
Four seasons in one day
This city’s reputation after all,
Looks like we’ll be wet and shivering
While sheltering from a squall!

The seasons provide so many writing prompts and inspiration for poetry – especially form poetry. here is a Triolet.

Winter’s Whisper
Mairi Neil

Winter came a’calling today
With its bitter winds and rain
Chills no thrills; sneezes not gay
Winter came a’calling today.
Autumn debris about us lay
Squelching footsteps a sad refrain
Winter came a’calling today
With its bitter winds and rain.


window at NGV
water wall National Gallery of Victoria


Winter Blues
Mairi Neil

Tears on the windows
Melt Jack Frost’s artwork
A crackling fire
Steams clothes on the pulley
Hot broth simmers on the stove

A splatter of rain on roof tiles
Interrupts the murmuring television
As the eiderdown of white
Disappears from garden path

Slippers soaked from
Collecting the newspaper
Cradled in a pool of slush
The death throes of winter

Toasted marshmallows and
The warmth of electric blanket
Cannot banish the cold
Like a yacht adrift we wait
For spring’s balmy breeze…

Mornington beach in evening.jpg
Mornington Beach

Mairi Neil

Deserted barbeques
Empty swings motionless
Winter by the sea

Pool of blue rippling
Exhaling colourful buds
Life’s serene promise

Mother Nature’s arms
Always soothes and refreshes
Whispering sweet peace

Tree blossoms despite
Salty air and sparse rocky soil
Resilience plus!

Gusty gales blow boats
Forceful waves and jagged reefs
Gnashing angry teeth


Mordialloc Winter Rhythm

Mairi Neil

In morning winter fog
a row of ghostly gum trees
Signpost the traffic

Seagulls soar skywards
tossed by winter thermals
an aerial ballet

Blackbirds and magpies trill
as morning sun
penetrates tea-tree bush

By late afternoon
at Mordialloc Pier
fishing eskies overflow

Palm trees quiver
with chattering birds
as the sun sets

The full moon’s glow
suffused across a sea
now mirror calm



A daisy a day
Emblems of Nature’s beauty
Brightens and revives

Winter’s skeleton
Hides the promise of Springtime
And the buzz of life.

Mother Nature’s arms
Always soothes and refreshes
Whispering sweet peace

Wattlebirds feasting on
flowering grevillea
wake me from deep sleep

Huddling together
In aromatic profusion
The colours of love


Coffee for two, please
Friendship needs refills
Our regular fix

Winter Walk
Mairi Neil

Walk quickly, it’s cold
Walk quickly, be bold

The winter moon bright
On this dark wet night
Naked branches creeping
Towards skies weeping

Walk quickly, it’s cold
Walk quickly, be bold

Chill wind shivers
Gutters now rivers
Night sounds
Shadows abound

Walk quickly, it’s cold
Walk quickly, be bold

Mordialloc Parliament
Mairi Neil

A winter morn in Mordialloc
cloudless sky a washed-out blue
melting frost on grassy blades
glistening bubbles of dripping dew.

A magpie family carol and cavort
breakfasting from territory marked
the wattlebirds have departed
with harsh caws and hurried darts.

From grevillea to bottlebrush
my garden their summer home
feeding on nectar’s syrupy sweetness
until chilly winter makes them roam

This garden planted as a refuge,
a tiny oasis in suburbia’s dream
native flora to encourage fauna
so many creatures––some unseen

Showy parrots squeal and screech
their sunset songs a welcome delight,
but the proud magpies’ debutante dance
a morning joy and favourite sight.

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Fireside Flames Flicker as Imagination Ignited

Mordialloc Beach in winter

Mordialloc Winter Rhythm
Mairi Neil

Wattlebirds feast on
flowering grevillea
wake me from winter sleep

Morning winter fog
a row of ghostly gum trees
signpost railway station

Seagulls soar skywards
tossed by winter thermals
an aerial ballet

Blackbirds and magpies trill
as warm sunlight
penetrates tea-tree bush

By late afternoon at
Mordialloc Pier fishing
eskies overflow

Palm trees quiver
with chattering birds
as the sun sets

The full moon’s glow
suffused across a sea
now a mirror of calm

Winter has well and truly arrived in Mordialloc this week! Winter woollies the order of the day, electric blankets the order of the night! One of my students suggested being born in Scotland  made me less susceptible to the cold, however after 53 years, my blood must have thinned.

Although not completely acclimatised to the extremely hot weather, I feel the cold like anyone else. This week going to work, I too huddled in the waiting room at Mordialloc Railway Station rather than brave the southerly wind sending dust and leaves skittering along the platform and snatching at scarves, coats and hats.

It may be cold outside, but this is the perfect excuse to stay inside and write! Unless, of course, I take a walk along the foreshore or Mordialloc Creek for inspiration! The sky, sea and surrounds more interesting and mercurial in winter.

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Beach Park, Mordialloc

Mairi Neil

The swings creak a slow chant
joined by seagull squawks,
children’s sing-song screams.

Children clamber over the pirate ship
slipping, sliding, spewing from
all sides like the cutthroats of old.

Abandoning ship then climbing aboard
on ladders of plastic and rope
their fantasy ship anchored in a sandy sea.

Grandparents diligently move from
slide, to swing, to see-saw and back again
a day in the park serious business.

Mothers watch from afar, this daily duty
to tire the children, their conversations
interrupted to soothe, admonish, wipe a nose.

A father returns to his boyhood with delight
monitoring his offspring while steering
the child towards equipment made for two.

Naked masts and tired trawlers bob,
the sea a wavy navy ribbon unfurled,
clouds hovering bruises in a blue sky.

Children cavort beneath the foreboding blanket
bright winter clothes transforming them into
delicious Cherry Ripes, Candy Canes and lollipops.

A blustery wind has hysterical palm tree fronds
waving and the foreshore tea-tree whispering
their attention-seeking an urgent warning.

It is time to weigh anchor.

winter tree

Mairi Neil

A plaintive song
echoes in university grounds.
Students hurry home
ignoring skeletal branches
of winter trees
and the bird’s lament.

The mournful echo
recalls dinosaur dynasties
amid the whirr of bicycle wheels,
footsteps and ring tones
mobile conversations
and iPod seclusion.

A plaintive whistle announcing dusk
before full-throated celebration
As lights douse, classroom doors close.
A melodious call to rest
as shadows deepen,
and the campus empties.

Crowded trams trundle past
bathed in artificial sunlight
beneath the star embroidered sky.
Tall grey buildings reach to conquer
the ghosts of long forgotten species
the call of birded tongue
a plaintive echo.

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Mordialloc Parliament
Mairi Neil

A winter morn in Mordialloc
cloudless sky a washed-out blue
melting frost on grassy blades
glistening bubbles of dripping dew.

A magpie family carol and cavort
breakfasting from territory marked
the wattlebirds have departed
with harsh caws and hurried darts.

From grevillea to bottlebrush
my garden their summer home
feeding on nectar’s syrupy sweetness
until chilly winter makes them roam

This garden planted as a refuge,
a tiny oasis in suburbia’s dream
native flora to encourage fauna
so many creatures––some unseen

Showy parrots squeal and screech
their sunset songs a welcome delight,
but the proud magpies debutante dance
a morning joy and favourite sight.

Melbourne in Autumn – a Writer’s Delight – Especially for Poets!

‘A poem is never about one thing… you want it to be as complicated as your feelings’

 Terrance Hayes at NYT


We farewell summer to greet autumn and I’m grateful Melbourne has distinct seasons. I’d hate to live somewhere without a changing climate for inspiration to write. (Not to be confused with climate change!) It is cliched I know, but the seasons are metaphors for our journey through life.

In Melbourne, known for having four seasons in the one day, autumn days usually begin with worrying about something as fundamental as what to wear!

Mairi Neil

Autumn is…
a time of falling leaves,
the days often have
a cooler breeze.
Morning and night are chilly
yet Melbourne days can be hot –
you have to dress silly…

at breakfast you don
warm jumper or jacket,
by lunchtime layers removed
like unwrapping a packet.
But, dinner time requires
warm clothes once again…

unpredictable autumn weather
can be quite a pain.

This morning, as I look out the window, the house over the railway line is barely distinguishable from the filmy grey wash of sky. Faint bruises of clouds drift from the sea,  promising a dullness to the day as a breeze carries the chilly air from the foreshore to swish through open windows.  Hopefully, by lunchtime, the sun will remove the blanket of autumn haze, and blue sky will triumph.

It is Melbourne after all.

A Glimpse of Mordy Foreshore from The Bus
Mairi Neil

The sea, shades of grey, blue and green
has a line of white sails parallel to the pier
boats happy to leave the confines of the creek.
Tables and chairs outside cafes fill with families
soaking up the autumnal sun.
A  kaleidoscope of  colour dots the beach
as groups and singles lay claim to a patch of sand.
In the distance swimmers brave the chilly sea
their wet suits mimicking  dolphins
often seen offshore on warmer days.
Seagulls circle above gannets poised on rocks
myriad hungry eyes ever-watchful for a feed.

No butterflies are flitting gaily in the garden. Instead, the agapanthus droops and die, their brilliant purple flower head replaced by a crinkled fawn and faded green petals nursing tiny brown seeds, ready to drop and hide until spring. The wind is not strong enough to whip fallen leaves and other debris to skitter along the street like children let loose in a playground.


Autumn Acrostic

Mairi Neil

Leaves die and fall in autumn
Each work of art farewelled
And as the trees become bare and
Very sad through winter days
Early buds herald the onset of
Spring and promise new life!

An  Indian Myna sighs and whistles in triumph from among the Banksia enticing mates to land. A juvenile Magpie declares to the world, in happy squeals, that he now hunts and fends for himself.   While his parents perch proudly on the overhead wires chortling and singing his praises, he makes considered stabs at the earth in a steady sweep of the nature strip.


A single Blue Moon rose brightens my verandah, and I focus on its delicate beauty,  ignoring the scabbing paint that needs renewing and the couch grass to be removed before it chokes the flowerbeds. At least the geraniums splash a red, white and pink welcome to the constant stream of passersby on their way to the station or shops.

Autumn Chores
Mairi Neil
A surprising spring-like day in autumn Melbourne
finds me on my knees, apologising to weeds
pulled from their cosy beds.
Recalcitrant couch grass trembles at my curses,
muscles ache as each tug trails tentacles,
loosened from their choking grip on tender plant roots.
Perspiration weeps and eyes sting, but
I acknowledge passersby who pause to
compliment the beauty of freed flora and
inhale the wafting perfume of rosemary,
admiring white daisies guarding the mailbox.
A baby wattlebird swoops onto the
orange grevillea victoriae for its daily feed
joyful satisfaction declared with distinctive bark.
This rewarding distraction reminds me
to ease aching knees, massage throbbing back
and return indoors for yet another cuppa!

The leaves of the wattle tree in the right spirit of autumn, are beginning to turn yellow and drop, reminding me of a children’s poem I wrote to explain to my daughters about “Fall”:

Autumn Leaves

Mairi Neil

Colourful autumn leaves are falling
they carpet my lawn so green
the fairies have been at play again
silent and unseen.
They’ve climbed or flown into the trees
and selected a leaf for transport,
on their magic carpets they’ve race around
until too exhausted to cavort.
When gentle moonlight politely gives way
to the brightness of dawning sun
the leafy vehicles will be discarded…
until darkness permits more fun.

Despite the formidable reputation of Scotland’s weather, my early childhood is filled with memories of playing outside, especially during the long summer school holidays in July-August, but even at other times during the year. Autumn days in the northern hemisphere, as I’ve mentioned before, were taken up practising for Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ night. I’ve written about Guising and Galoshens, published here and about collecting  ‘pennies for the guy’.

I recall more time spent playing hopscotch, skipping, tramping over the fields and hills among the heather (corny as that sounds) than anything else. We also played British Bulldog and the robust Relievers – boisterous games, which certainly kept us fit as well as warm.

We performed impromptu plays for each other, along with the regular games of Cowboys and Indians and Robin Hood and his Merry Men, which reflected the influence of the fledgeling British television industry in the 50s and 60s.

The yet to be developed, and newly established backyards and front gardens of the houses in the new Braeside development took on many personas.  Indian badlands, seas populated by Captain Pugwash and his inept pirates, Sherwood Forest, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Colditz prisoner of war camp, and many other land or seascapes from island to a desert.

Locations and scenarios limited only by our fertile and stimulated imaginations fed on books, comics, television and radio.

The first couple of years in Australia we transplanted many of these games, revelling in much kinder weather. We could play outside for most of the year – no need to hibernate from winter snow.

All those childhood hours, playing outside in different continents, provide wonderful memories.

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

Marthe Troly-Curtin

Write and Share your Story

We are influenced by everything we have experienced in our lives and many in each generation experience similar things, therefore it’s natural there’s often a familiarity about stories. However, as I’ve discovered in my classes, most people will have stories from childhood or another period of life that can be shared in an original way, if written from a personal perspective including details and their reflections. 

Mairi Neil

Autumn… a time to enjoy
Clocks altered to give
An extra hour snuggled beneath the doona

Autumn… a still warm season
Days pretending summer still lives
Walks in the park crunch leaves underfoot

Autumn… a time of colour
Rainbows drop from trees
Vibrant flowers play peek-a-boo through fences

Autumn… a season to pause
Contemplate winter’s chill
Prepare body and soul with warming soups

Autumn… a time of contemplation
Remembering Easter sacrifice and ANZAC
Courage and Faith, admirable human qualities.

Autumn in Melbourne is a time of reflection for many people. It coincides with Easter, the most important Christian festival, and the one celebrated with the greatest joy.

I was brought up in a Christian household and have many happy memories participating in rituals that gave meaning to our beliefs and practices.

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I never knew about the Easter Bunny until we came to Australia, nor did I consider the giving of chocolate eggs as the most important part of the celebration.  I no longer attend church, but still, value and respect the rituals and beliefs inherited from my parents.  I try to avoid the rampant consumerism around Easter that appears to have become the norm just as I avoid the over-the-top materialism that has transformed Christmas.

In Scotland, and for many years here in Australia, we painted boiled eggs and rolled them down a hillside, the winner being the family member whose egg survived with the least cracks. This ritual (I think!) based on the stone rolled away from the tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed.

However, the most important part of the tradition being family get-togethers, sharing a meal and enjoying hot cross buns and each other’s company. There was also Pancake (Shrove)Tuesday, which was a treat because Mum was a pancake-maker supremo.  All genuinely happy times.

As children, we received a chocolate egg or a selection box of chocolate bars to enjoy on the school break that coincided with Easter, and when my children were young, this tradition continued. Many family traditions, including those at Easter, have altered or been abandoned after the loss of my parents, and changing family dynamics over the years with siblings growing older and the lives of our children diversifying.

Such is life, which is why recording memoried by writing or with photographs important for family history.

Perhaps future grandchildren may revive old traditions (with Fair Trade chocolate and Free Range eggs of course…), or create new ones. As the truism suggests – the one thing constant in life is change!

Sister Cate's quilt block

Autumn hosts Australia’s commemoration of WWI on ANZAC Day. A special celebration in 2015 because it is 100 years since the landing on the Turkish beaches of Gallipoli. ANZAC Day a ritual we only discovered when we migrated here in 1962.

There is a family link because one of Dad’s Australian ancestors enlisted and went to Gallipoli.  George Alexander McInnes, only 19 years old when he died of enteric fever, six months after joining the Australian Imperial Force, raised in Williamstown. He is buried in Chatby Military Cemetery, Alexandria, Egypt.

My sister Cate (Catriona), a talented quilter, created the “Lest We Forget” block pictured above. It was chosen as one of the 100 finalists for the particular display at the Australasian Quilt Convention this April in Melbourne. The entries, along with their 100-word stories will tour Australia.

Postcards from Gallipoli
Mairi Neil

He survived the assault on Gallipoli
to die an unheroic death
from ‘enteric fever’ in Alexandria.
Weak, miserable, hungry and alone,
the tent hospital overcrowded,
too few nurses overwhelmed.
Our family’s Aussie digger
buried in foreign fields.
His working class parents too poor
to visit his grave
and the body count too high
to return him home.
A nineteen year old larrikin
eldest son farewelled,
a rabbit skin vest, Holy Bible,
and pipe welcomed home.
His war brief,
like his life.
Postcards ‘from the trenches’
sent love to family and friends
missing home and wishing for peace.
Passed down through generations,
the neatly pencilled sentences
hint at the man he could have been.
A great uncle I never knew.
Each ANZAC Day I think of
George Alexander McInnes
and the thousands like him,
acknowledge the debt owed
to previous generations
for sacrifice, trauma, and loss.
But, in the remembering there is
no forgetting the madness
and futility that is war.

To end on a happier note – form poetry is fun to try and with traditional Japanese haiku indicating the season is an expected feature. However, like everything else tradition does not always win and expectations not always achievable.

Autumn Haiku

Mairi Neil

The sea melds with sky
dark shore dreams of light caress
and whimsy clouds flee

Holidays at last!
slippery stairs to the sea
lead to splashing fun

The artist’s eye rare
Vincent’s Starry Starry Night
a gift to the world

What differences do you see when the seasons change? Do you have rituals you follow? Have you written about them? Why not start now!

I Can’t Take the Heat, Even When Out Of the Kitchen!

Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair…”

Susan Polis Schutz

Today, it will be 36ºC – another scorcher in a mercurial Melbourne giving us a summer of weather surprises. On the other hand, it may only reach 34º, depending on what forecast you believe, and the rest of the week will be a wonderful 23º. If that is the case, I may feel like dancing, but the last time I wore wild flowers in my hair was the 70s at university inspired by Scott Mckenzie’s instant hit, ‘If You’re Going to San Francisco‘. When I revisited San Francisco three years ago I didn’t really have enough hair to weave flowers through and I was grateful the weather was not too hot.

I’ve always preferred winter and cooler days to hot summers and have decided anything over 30ºC must be suffered rather than embraced. You can pile on clothes to get warmer, but once you’ve stripped to your skin, what else can you do to keep cool? Perhaps lie in front of a fan or beneath an air conditioner, or immerse in a cold bath or shower, but these options may not be available, plus as I get older stripping off and diving into a pool or the sea to cool, appeals less than years gone by. I certainly can’t imagine skinny dipping as I did in teenage years –  the world, nor me, quite ready for that image, especially since a mastectomy took a breast and a slice of self-esteem! Modesty the go now, although not quite like days gone by.

images-3Strange as it may seem, considering the reputation of Scottish weather, my first conscious memory of the effects of a hot day is from my childhood in Scotland. My Dad loved repeating the old joke, ‘I remember the summer it was a Thursday,’ because hot Scottish summers are rare. However, they do happen and because of climate change, more frequently than usual. Unlike Australia’s current Prime Minister, the Scottish Government is not in denial.

The year I was born, 1953, temperatures were higher than average and people talked about an Indian summer. My Mother remembered it as being long and hot. Since I was born in August, the last few weeks of her pregnancy must have been uncomfortable, which may explain why I didn’t waste much time coming into the world, producing the family record for the fastest birth. At 8.45pm Mum decided it was time and climbed the stairs to her bedroom with the midwife. At 9.05pm I entered the world!

However, the hot day stuck in my psyche occurred when I was five years old.   Mum, pregnant with child number six had an appointment ‘in the town’ and I was left to play with a best friend, Jean, in her garden next door. Mrs Robinson came out with a sandwich for our lunch and as children often do, we ignored her call to eat because we were too engrossed in play. When we turned our attention to food, the bread had curled at the corners, the margarine and mashed banana tasted sour and the accompanying glass of lemonade, warm and unpleasant. Jean pestered her mother for another sandwich, but I had Mum’s voice in a loop in my head lecturing me to eat what was given and to be on my best behaviour.  I ate the sandwich.

That night, as I vomited, I learned that food goes off quickly in the heat, and in future to trust my sense of smell and taste rather than an inculcated mantra of ‘waste not want not’. I developed a scunner (a good Scots word meaning disgust and dislike) for bananas and never ate another one for 30 years. To this day I rarely drink lemonade unless it transforms into ‘lemon, lime and bitters’.


The avoidance of bananas an awkward decision because it was the one fruit plentiful in our neighbourhood, courtesy of Dad. A locomotive driver, he brought huge bunches home for free when the banana boats were unloaded from the West Indies. Green bananas ripened in the airing cupboard and others distributed to neighbours. Our community shared the bounty. Most people, like my parents, tried to honour their Christian beliefs, as well as continuing habits of wartime – making do and sharing what you have, especially essentials like food.

This was 1950s Scotland, food rationing only ending July 1954. No one in our working class neighbourhood owned a refrigerator. Lifestyle and weather didn’t warrant a fridge; people bought perishables daily from the various vans that cruised the housing scheme selling meat, vegetables, groceries and household goods. Most families lived from week to week on meagre pay received each Friday. Daily budgets strictly adhered to if you wanted to remain debt free from the ‘never-never man’ offering all sorts of post war delights on hire purchase.

In Australia, I learnt another lesson about the effect of heat on food, this time with milk. In the 1960s small cartons of milk (1/3 of a pint) were delivered to primary schools to be freely distributed at morning playtime. An initiative taken up by schools in the UK, NZ and Australia to improve the health of children. The crates piled high with cartons often sat in the sun at the school door, or just inside in a corner of the corridor. Milk sours rapidly in the summer heat. I developed severe migraines and nausea, and only a letter from my mother exempted me from the morning ritual deemed compulsory ‘for your own good’. I stopped drinking the milk at school and Mum had a battle to get me to drink it at home. This stubbornness must have given Mum, an ex-nurse, schooled in the importance of calcium for growing bones,  a headache!  I still dislike milk unless it is refrigerator-cold and for years it was consumed under sufferance disguised in puddings and flavoured drinks. I can relate to this picture on Google where the schoolgirl looks far from impressed!


Summer also brings sunburn and heat rashes. The Australian sun unkind to those sporting a Celtic pelt. Despite Mum’s carefulness and encouragement for us to cover up, there were days when we played under the sprinklers on the lawn oblivious to the sun’s harmful rays. No water restrictions in the 60s and 70s in Melbourne and no Anti-Cancer Council, ‘slip slop slap’ campaign.

Cold tea or vinegar ssolution easedthe pain of scorched skin and blistered shoulders, but after the throbbing and discomfort the itchy irritation when dead skin peeled and flaked. All that pain and not even a decent suntan. When I became a teenager self-inflicted injury continued;  fashion dictated ‘itsy-bitsy’ bikinis and lubricating the skin with Johnson’s Baby Oil before lying on a Lilo or towel thrown on the grass. I cooked like the Sunday roast. Vanity (or on reflection stupidity) thy name is woman! At least in this pre-teen photograph I’m wearing a hat!

older sister Cate claiming the Lilo

Sleep always elusive on hot nights in those early days. The old house we rented for the first five years had no fly-screens. Claustrophobic mosquito nets blocked the inadequate breeze from open windows, and the persistent buzzing of mozzies angry at the foiling of their bloodthirsty mission, just another element to keep us awake. No air conditioning, or even ceiling fans in the house until we moved into the new home my parents built, and then it was the 70s before we could afford to have an air conditioner installed in the window of my parents’ bedroom. Dad, a shift worker and our main breadwinner, needed a decent night (or day’s) sleep especially when most of his jobs involved controlling machinery or on road driving.  I have memories of us all squeezing into that room to eat dinner on trays, study or chat in comfort when the rest of the house felt like a kiln.

Most people in Australia will have memories of sleepless nights and uncomfortable days coping with heatwaves, yet unlike our Mediterranean cousins and parts of Asia there are no siestas. I’ve often wondered why. Too strong an attachment to ways imported from Mother England, stiff British upper lip? That certainly seemed the case at school when uniform was strictly enforced until the temperature reached 99ºF and an announcement over the tannoy said, ‘boys may remove their ties.’ When the thermometer climbed to the magic 100º F those with a parent or responsible adult at home could leave school early, the others released into the playground to squirt water at each other from outside taps and dream of being home to play with water pistols, drop ice cubes down each other’s shirts, or go for a swim at Croydon Memorial Swimming Pool.

My first summer in Australia a definite culture shock in more ways than one. We left the fog and snow of a British winter, arrived here in December 1962, and didn’t see substantial rain until February ‘63. When it arrived in a thunderstorm we danced like American Indians, holding hands and whooping in Disney style as the clouds burst and rain splattered in huge drops, to be absorbed into the parched earth almost immediately. Our light cotton clothes soaked, but dried quickly in the steamy heat. The relief from the drought palpable with Dad and Mum giggling and jiggling too, as we sang ‘ring-a-ring o’ roses’, splashed in rapidly dissolving puddles, and laughed at each other’s plastered hair.

‘What would the folk back home think if they could see us now?’ said Mum.
‘That we’ve gone troppo,’ Dad replied with a grin.

How true, considering ‘back home’ was Greenock, the place with the reputation of having the highest rainfall in the UK prompting other Scots to joke, ‘if you’re born in Greenock, you’re born with webbed feet.’

Today, I sit at my computer with a ceiling fan ruffling my hair. Outside there is a slight sea breeze, but leaves still curl and flowers droop from the relentless heat of the sun. The magpies‘ trill muted, the noisy miners silent. Thank goodness no gusty hot north wind adds to the discomfort. Two cabbage white butterflies flit to and from in the garden and for a moment I forget about the weather and watch their dance in the sun.

Fleeting thoughts
Mairi Neil

 It’s too hot –– breathing an effort.
Yet you flitter and flutter
with energy to spare.
Like pretty scraps of paper
buffeted by the hot north wind.
From flower to flower you dance
dainty feet tripping from
geraniums, to agapanthus, to rosemary…

Iced water soothes parched lips,
I find relief and feel better
with minimum effort
as you flitter and flutter,
quenching your thirst,
supping nectar or water,
with a drinking straw
provided by Mother Nature

This interminable summer and
global warming’s topsy-turvy world
has you searching for peace
to lay your eggs,
propagation your solace.
Diligently seeking perfection
or frantically rushing to fulfil
Mother Nature’s timetable.

The computer screen demands words
a deadline squeezing joy
from a task begun with passion.
Time more your enemy
you have a week, or months – if lucky.
Oh, little butterfly
do you ever flitter and flutter
just for pleasure?

Your cousins in America
exotic and colourful Monarchs
travel 2000 miles
from California to Mexico
to breed and stay alive.
The timeline of their migration
now dead lines as farming and
pesticides exact a toll.

You, a reliable commoner,
flitter and flutter in pale anonymity
yet brighten my day.
My fingers flitter and words flutter
Capturing thoughts – as you capture –
I wish I had an answer and your energy,
Breathing an effort –– it’s too hot!