A Day Of Writing Fun

This is an extract from an article called Words Of The Wise, which I wrote for the Central Coast Seniors Newspaper – Over 50s Lifestyle – back when I was Kathryn Andersen.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of facilitating Writing For Fun workshops for school students during the holidays, on behalf of Gosford Fellowship Of Australian Writers. What follows is my account of how the day unfolded…

Anticipation was high. Thirty-one children between the ages of seven and eleven piled into the Spike Milligan Room at Woy Woy Library.

Four senior women were there to greet them. They had already arranged furniture and organised treats for their young guests. They had also spent weeks organising the event.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it is worth it,” one of them said.

It was difficult to tell who was the most excited, and in some cases, anxious.

Names were marked off, parents took their leave, and young bodies settled at tables with unfamiliar companions.

One of the women welcomed the newcomers and introduced me as the tutor for Writing For Fun, a free workshop organised by the Gosford branch of the Fellowship Of Australian Writers (FAW).

“We want to encourage young people who enjoy writing,” Bridget Sharp said.

Bridget and fellow-FAW members, Sheila Drakeley, Helen Luidens and Joan-Marion Ben, handed out writing paper and colourful pencils to the children, distributed cordial and biscuits, and were on hand to assist me and the children on their writing journey.

The women mingled amongst the aspiring writers, giving them guidance and support. Some of them even worked side by side with the children, to complete the writing exercises themselves.

Children who thought they had no ideas found they had several and were soon putting them on paper. Others, who had thought they could get ideas but not put them to use, were soon developing poems and stories.

The morning passed in a flurry of word associations, Ezra Pound Couplets, Dylan Thomas Portraits, character profiles and the antics of clowns.

Then, as quickly as they came, the children were gone; bearing packets of chips, their pencils, the fruits of their labour, and colourful certificates.

This was round one for the FAW women. Fresh mugs and more biscuits laid out and the room again readied, they grabbed a quick bite before the arrival of eighteen more writing enthusiasts aged between eleven and fourteen years.

This time, writing pens were issued with the paper, ideas became more ideas and then titles to be drawn from a box and written about. First lines were explored, much work shared, and questions about getting published were answered and discussed.

The FAW representatives distributed information about suitable competitions. “Enter your work in competitions and try to get your writing published,” the children were told.

Both groups of students were asked to share previous writing successes. There were many, among them a proud Astrid Worboys told of winning a prize in the ‘Spike Fest’, run by the Bouddi Society last October, with the limerick she had written at the previous FAW children’s workshop. Her prize was a parcel of poetry books and the opportunity to recite the winning limerick at the cavalcade of prize-winners towards the end of the festival. Nine-year-old Astrid’s limerick was included in a book of winning entries published by Gosford Council, and she also read it on Central Coast Community Radio.

“I’d say that was another successful day,” Bridget Sharp commented as five Over 50s (tutor included!) watched the last of the happy participants scurry from the room.

Fair comment indeed, as it was Bridget who taught the limerick session at the children’s workshops the previous year!

Generous Tradition

This is no ordinary Christmas cake. It is a cake baked with love by one beautiful woman (my sister Jen) in honour of another wonderful woman (our mother) and given to a very grateful woman (me). But this is just a fraction of the story…

My mother cooked a special cake every year – and in earlier days, Christmas puddings with silver threepences and sixpences sprinkled throughout for good luck. The tradition of coins in the puddings ended with the advent of decimal currency in 1966, when cupronickel replaced silver alloy and the coins turned green if cooked, but Mum’s delicious Christmas cakes continued until her death in 1991.

Then Jen set herself the challenge of baking Mum’s cake for each of her siblings every year. With four surviving siblings besides Jen, scattered far and wide down the east coast of Australia, this undertaking also involved packaging for safe posting among Christmas mail.

Twenty-six years later, my 2017 gift from Jen arrived last week, solidly steady in the centre of a post box tightly packed in foil and surrounded by bubble wrap… as it has been each year.

Jen gradually added others to her list of recipients of this generous offering. Last Christmas, she made twenty Christmas cakes – for her siblings, her partner’s siblings, adopted siblings, friends, and a couple of extra cakes to keep on hand for visitors and herself.

That’s a lot of Christmas cakes in just over a quarter of a century!

Jen still uses Mum’s unique recipe and has also adapted it for those in the family who must be totally gluten free. Regardless of which version of the recipe Jen uses, the cakes are delicious… superb… and loved by all.

My gratitude goes to Jen for her thoughtfulness and generosity, and above all for establishing and continuing this tradition in honour of our mother.

 

Poignant Reminder

 

It’s still here

hasn’t changed really…

 

I imagine

familiar carpet     curtains

pull-down light     over dining table

but sense     the energy

is different     now

 

New people     live

in these rooms

 

I wonder

at the brand of love    that bounces

off the walls     penetrates

their hearts

 

and remember

time     spent here

struggling for air     choking

with confusion

 

and know     the decision

to leave     saved my life.

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

Highly Commended: 2005 Joan Johnson Poetry Award (Kathryn Andersen)

 

Yin & Yang

For Ashlee – 22.08.1991-12.09.2013 

 

Twelve inch thongs on three inch feet

left on right     right on left

four small toes fitting neatly

in the space of one adult big toe…

you strut about the house

chin held high

golden curls flowing to your waist.

 

You snatch your brother’s toy

while Mum’s back is turned

smile in glee as you watch him punished

for trying to get it back.

 

‘Mine!’ you screech

when your empty cup is removed from the table

or if someone should hold an item you want.

 

‘No, not!  Tell my Daddy, you!’ you pout

when unable to have your way.

 

You insist on calling David ‘Dave’

announce ‘Dave, you’re Grandmum, right?’

and ‘Grandmum, you’re Dave’

then proceed to address us

by each other’s name

for as long as it suits you.

 

Contrary to the core

a storehouse of limitless energy

you fill the room with your presence…

 

as you do      when you sit

on your mother’s lap

look intently into her eyes 

or

walk hand in hand with big brother

exploring flowers and butterflies

and when you

lie quietly with baby    tenderly stroking

his tiny limbs

or

when you sing to Dolly

as you tuck her into bed

 

and most treasured of all

 

when you bounce into my room

angelic face framed by silken hair

eyes sparkling beneath long lashes

excited smile exuding from young lips

 

softness      softness      everywhere…

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994 in Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

Also: 2017 on Scriggler – https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Poetry/45331

 

Poison Tongues

‘A’ says something to ‘B’ about ‘C’.

‘B’ agrees, and adds a little.

Her fire fuelled, ‘A’ contributes again.

Hyped, ‘B’ continues

making it up as she goes.

 

Reaction… leads to reaction…

leads to reaction…

 

A fact, taken out of context

twisted and distorted with jealousy,

is moulded

until the meaning has changed.

 

‘B’ can’t wait to tell ‘C’ what ‘A’ has said.

‘A’ soon takes her opportunity

to report to ‘C’

that ‘B’ has been tale-telling.

 

Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ believe

they have spoken the truth:

each has shared their reality

even if maliciously…

 

and the truth lies

somewhere in between.

 

 c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1993 in Live At Don Bank – Live Poets’ Society Anthology  

Also: 1994 in Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

Also: 2017 on Scriggler – https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Poetry/113005

 

 

Nipped In The Bud

Wedged        in a bed of snow

against a backdrop of bricks

the headstones        stand in rows

like the teeth of an old man

with gingivitis.

 

Not the graves of soldiers       

taken in battle

as first glimpse would suggest

but

fifteen hundred children

of Sarajevo

ripped        from the future.

 

 c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994 in Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

Best Poem Of The Night: Penrith Sailing Club Readings 1998…

…Chosen by a scout from The Joan Sutherland Centre

 

From My Window

I     Simple beauty meets the eye…

a still, but ever-changing landscape

shades and shadows shifting

with the sun.

 

Morning fog obscures detail

across the valley.

 

Mist rises from dam

nestled amid rolling green

fodder for cows that wander there

a few times each week.

 

An orb of earth-sodden roots

of a fallen tree       on distant hillside

blends in       until

reflection takes it

through the spectrum

of yellows and gold

to burnt orange.

 

Night draws the shutters

and bathes the hills

in moonlight.

 

 

II    Closer in       by day

galahs       parrots       peewees

forage for worms and seeds    

in freshly cut grass

and magpies       drift

around the yard.

 

Their baby visits me     

perches on the clothes line

and       sings his hallowed tune.

 

I talk to him       from my window.

 

…Sometimes…

he brings his mother

to sit beside him

and check me out.

 

 

III   In the evenings

small brown frogs

graze on white moths

that flutter       against the glass

drawn by the light.

 

They wait patiently

for their prey

grey bellies and suction toes

visible from inside.

 

Freddie and Freida

we call them…

Soon a third appears

a baby

Freddo or Francine

we joke.

 

We leave the light

on for them      until

bedtime       so they

can have their fill

but

they are gone

in the stillness of the morning

when

simple beauty       once more

meets the eye.

 

 c. Kathryn Coughran  April 2016

 

First published: December 2016 in The Triangle

Also: 2017 on Scriggler – https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Poetry/54336

… Scriggler Publication of the Day – 22nd March 2017 …

 

Subtle But Strong Inspiration

There is a level of inspiration more subtle and yet more powerful than the boosts we receive in our everyday quests for creative stimulation. This is the degree of connectedness reached by some who think of themselves as ordinary people, but are in fact remarkable in some way. When you encounter such a person, their beacon shines, your heart sings and you feel like you can also achieve anything you set your mind to accomplish.

Dot Strong springs to mind. In 1970, Dot walked away from a drought-ridden property in western New South Wales and headed to Sydney with just an old station wagon and a few clothes. She found work as a cleaner at one of the Australian Broadcast Commission buildings, and slept in her vehicle in the backstreets of Darlinghurst for months to give herself a chance to recover financially. An executive eventually helped her into a small flat after he caught her showering in his suite early one morning, when she thought no one else was in the building.

With time, Dot took up the position of tea-lady. In this role, she served many entertainment industry personnel and other celebrities. She sang the praises of most and was smitten with Kamahl, who she said was a perfect gentleman. I agreed, having crossed paths with Kamahl myself briefly in Tasmania in 1972.

When I met her, Dot was about to retire and the ABC was moving to a new building in Ultimo, where the mezzanine cafeteria was to be named in honour of her as their last and longest-serving official tea-lady.

Dot told many interesting tales of her time at ABC, and chuckled proudly as she relayed how she gained the attention of a high-ranking politician who was intent on not communicating with her. He was scribbling away, head bowed low when she tapped on the open door and offered, ‘Tea or coffee, Sir?’ He ignored her. She waited a moment and asked again. There was still no reply, so she cleared her throat and said slowly with emphasis, ‘Tea..? or… Coffee..? Sir’. He grunted. She repeated the slow questions twice, with only a grunt in return the first time and a gruff ‘Yes’ the next. Dot quickly fetched his brew and delivered it with a smile, which he missed because he still didn’t look up.

While she was serving her next, more convivial recipient, she heard spluttering and then demands of, ‘Come here, Woman!’ from the politician’s room.

‘Yes, Sir’, she said, approaching him professionally.

‘What is in this?’ he snapped, pointing at the cup on his desk.

‘Tea and coffee, Sir’, she said with a dead-pan face. ‘I asked if you wanted tea or coffee and you said yes, so I gave you both, Sir…’

Dot was especially proud to have been one of the inspirations behind the television character Aunty Jack, created and played by Grahame Bond in the early seventies. Aunty Jack’s favourite line, ‘I’ll rip yer bloody arms off!’ was a direct reflection of Dot’s regular threat when someone was about to put a wet spoon into the sugar bowl. When cups weren’t returned, she warned the offenders they were risking broken arms. The celebration cake at Dot’s farewell party was in the shape of an arm torn from the shoulder and covered with ‘blood’ – strawberry jam, I believe.

Dot was a character in more ways than one. Her stories whisper through the memories of those who knew her. The plaque on the wall in the cafeteria on the Dot Strong Terrace reminds those who relax and dine there of the many times Dot’s trolley rattled down the corridors of the old building, and the good-nature with which she served over two-million cuppas across more than two decades.

These two claims to fame were quite an achievement for the unassuming, hard-working woman off the land who’d taken drastic measures to survive.

Dot never lost her sense of humour no matter what the world threw at her. She just ‘got on’ with her lot and lived a routine kind of life, serving her fellow-workers day-in and day-out. Yet she brought out the best in most people she met and found ways to influence others.

I like to think of her as an extraordinary ordinary person, but she didn’t like praise. ‘I’m just a simple country girl, itching to get back to Dubbo to open a little café’, she told me, when I complimented her on her achievements.

I walked away from interviewing Dot energized and ready to take on the world. I wasn’t sure how, but it seemed nothing was impossible.

 

Watch this space for more stories of inspiring people and other musings…