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Lest We Forget

In 1941 Gunner Stanley Walter Elliott, VX57559 sailed to defend Singapore and wrote home to his mother at Upper Lurg in North-Eastern Victoria.

‘So far this war has been a gentlemen’s affair for us, but expect it to change any tick of the clock; just busting to have a go – may sound a bit bloodthirsty, that is the way the terrible slaughter of the innocent grips one.’

Stan believed in doing his duty and continued to write to his mother.

‘Although as far as Singapore is concerned, it would take more than all the Japs together to gain a point! Pity help anyone who tries, nobody’s business what will happen. I, for one, would rather be the defender.’

On the 8th February 1942, the Battle for Singapore began.

‘They are whizzing around all day – and what they can’t do with the latest fighters that are here is harmless. Suffering tomcats they can go – at present, there are half a dozen fighters playing hide and seek in the clouds – think there were many more by the powerful noise they make.’

Eight days later, Singapore fell, and the Japanese captured Stan.

Aged 26, Stan was taken to Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp on the island of Borneo along with 1500 other prisoners captured at Singapore.

At Sandakan, the prisoners became slave labour, forced to construct a military airstrip. The Japanese guards starved, tortured, and murdered the men in one of the greatest brutalities committed on Australian soldiers during the war. In the final months of the war, the Japanese marched the surviving prisoners out of Sandakan into the mountains in three separate death marches.

Of the 2434 prisoners sent to Sandakan during the war, only six survived. Stan died, apparently of malaria, at Sandakan on the 15th June 1945, the day the third death march commenced. The Japanese threw his body into a mass grave near the camp.

After the war, the bodies in the pit were exhumed and moved to Labuan War Cemetery. Gunner Stanley Walter Elliott, VX57559 lies alongside other POWs, identified only by the original Sandakan mass grave.He was my Great Uncle.

Lest We Forget.

JWT


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The Fishing Fleet

By Jennifer Walker Teh

Part One

‘What do you mean, we’re not going in Simla,’ Ainsley asked. ‘We’re on the train to Simla.’

William looked away from his new bride and spoke with his eyes down.

‘We are honeymooning in Kasauli; it’s a hill station near Simla.’

Ansley was silent; it was sweltering, and she dabbed her forehead with a handkerchief. There was only one Simla, the summer home of the British India Government set in the cooler cedar green foothills of Himalayas and known for its lively social entertainment. Ainsley had her heart set on Simla.

‘Yes, I know where Kasauli is. It’s further down the mountain, and they have a sanatorium for rabid patients there,’ she replied a little curtly.

William continued to look out the window, ‘That is where my work is.’

‘Oh,’ Ainsley said softly realizing she now had responsibilities. As of this morning, she was a married woman, Mrs William Cartwight, and must follow her new husband. He was a doctor, after all. She must do her duty but living near people infected with rabies, that was very concerning.

‘Look here, I may not have been exactly honest with you,’ William said, twisting his hands.

The train pumped forward and rattled as they left Kalka Station.

‘Dear girl, I’m not a doctor rather I’m a hospital orderly. Awfully sorry to have misled you.’

Just then, the train descended into darkness as they entered the Koti tunnel. It was cool inside, but the blackness amplified the hissing of the steam engine. The two of them sat in silence, invisible to each other as the train chugged through.

As they drew out of the blackness, a mob of wild monkeys ran along beside the track trying to jump through the open carriage windows. Ainsley reeled away from the window and screamed, ‘Get away!’

William held her and said, ‘It’s alright. The monkeys can never catch up with the train.’

‘That’s all right for you, William, you are used to rabid animals.’

‘Dear girl, I fell in love with you and had to have you. Nothing matters when you are in love,’ said William.

‘At lot matters in life,’ cried Ansley. ‘Rabies matters, Kasauli is uncivilized, it’s down the mountain, and the unsanitary winds from the plain make it hot. It’s not a true hill station; it’s just somewhere they put half-mad rabid people, and I’m sure it will have cholera.’

William took a deep breath. ‘There’s no cholera; the water is so clean they even have a brewery,’ putting his arm around Ainsley’s waist.

‘Don’t touch me, you deceived me,’ Ainsley snorted, tears rolling down her face. ‘You knew I was vulnerable, that I didn’t have a family to question who you really are.’

Then she said, ‘I’m not one of those girls who come to India to fish for a husband.’

William was angry now, ‘Well they did call your ship, the fishing fleet.’

‘How dare you!’

He added, ‘At your age and with your looks, you had no prospects in England. You have nothing to complain about,’

They each glared out the train’s window with arms folded firmly across their chests.

Part Two

Dear Bishop,

I write to you concerning an irregular episode associated with my parish here in Simla. It primarily involves one of my former parishioners, a Mrs Cartwright.

I first met Mrs Cartwright on a train to Simla. I was returning to Simla from the Vicar’s Synod in Calcutta when I sat in the same compartment as Mrs Cartwright and her husband. During our journey, Mrs Cartwright became extremely distressed.

Mr and Mrs Cartwright had married that morning and were travelling to make their home in Kasauli after having become acquainted only two weeks earlier.

The unmarried Mrs Cartwright had sailed to Bombay alone and unchaperoned to take up a position as governess in a household in Lucknow. Sadly, her future employer and the entire family had perished in the recent outbreak of cholera in Lucknow.

Mr Cartwright met his future bride in a guest house in Bombay, and within four days, he had proposed marriage. She accepted.

Unfortunately, Mr Cartwright deceived his wife by stating he was a doctor when indeed he was an orderly at the Kasauli Sanatorium.

Upon hearing Mrs Cartwright’s great distress on the train, I compassionately intervened and was informed of this deliberate deception. In the spirit of Christian concern, I suggested Mrs Cartwright accompany me onward to Simla where with the help of my good wife, I hoped to convince the bride of the Holy and binding nature of her marriage vows.

Mr Cartwright agreed to this arrangement, and he disembarked at Kasauli while Mrs Cartwright and I continued onto Simla.

However, shortly after Mr Cartwright was dismissed from his employment at the sanatorium for impersonating a doctor. Neither Mrs Cartwright nor I know of his whereabouts.

Mrs Cartwright spent the summer season in the Vicarage with my wife and me.

In the Autumn, my wife, in sound Christian spirit, was able to secure a position for Mrs Cartwright as a governess in the household of Major and Mrs George Wentworth of Meerut.

However, it appears an unchristian relationship has developed between Major Wentworth and Mrs Cartwright. Unfortunately, Mrs Wentworth sailed for England with her children a week ago.

I have written to Major Wentworth’s commanding officer, Colonel Bradshaw, about the continued presence of Mrs Cartwright, unchaperoned, in the home of Major Wentworth. It is not a good example to the many Christian men under the command of Major Wentworth.

I am saddened this unfortunate circumstance developed, particularly as my wife and I, only attempted to do our Christian duty.

Yours in Christ,

Reverend August MontgomeryChrist Church, Simla.

Part Three

Dear Reverend Montgomery,

Your colleague, the Reverend Little of St John’s in Meerut, has already written to me about this irregular liaison between Major Wentworth and Mrs Cartwright.

He has informed me a position was found for Mrs Cartwright by your wife only after your own improper relationship with Mrs Cartwright became apparent.

This is not the first time I have written to you about matters of this nature.

I had hoped the move to Simla would prevent you from forming these inappropriate relationships. It is after all, far from the Bombay Dock where the so-called “Fishing Fleets” of unmarried English ladies arrive.

At the end of this month, you will be relieved of your position as Vicar at Christ Church, Simla.

Please present on the 8th November to your new position as Curate, St Andrew’s, Lahore, North-West Frontier Province.

Yours sincerely

Bishop Howard Rochdale.

JWT


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Miss Brill

By Jennifer Walker Teh

Writers Note

This short story is an exercise in developing plot. I have taken the first paragraph of the short story, Miss Brill, by Katherine Mansfield’s and used it to create a plot for my own story. Katherine Mansfield’s first paragraph has become my final paragraph, and so this storyline and character are entirely different from hers. You can easily find the original Miss Brill online.

Part One

Miss Brill dressed only in black with a touch of white because she felt it gave her authority.

‘Color only adds frippery, and that is not a good look for a school headmistress,’ Miss Brill decided.

She was a creature of habit, and she considered good habits the backbone of proper womanhood. At 5 am sharp, she rose, ate a lean breakfast of lightly buttered brown bread then walked her beloved dog, Mungo, a border collie in the Jardins Publiques. She liked her dogs the way she liked her clothes, black and white. By 7.30 am Miss Brill was in her office at the Académie Internationale pour Jeunes Filles.

Miss Brill terrified the girls at her school with narrow accusing eyes along with her gaunt cheek-less face and a scornful hawkish nose. She had the hint of the wicked witch of the west about her and, like little Dorothys, the girls cowered as she passed them in the school’s corridors.

‘It is important we instil good values into our girls here in Paris,’ she instructed her teaching staff.

Although Miss Brill had been a resident of Paris for many years, she never trusted the French and especially not the Parisians. Paris was far too ostentatious for her, too much trivial expensive fashion, too much excessively rich food and too many overtly flirtatious men.

‘It is my job to see girls can navigate the French shallowness.’ said Miss Brill to every international parent who crossed the threshold of her office.

The only Frenchman Miss Brill had any time for was Mungo’s veterinarian, Dr Aguillard. At Mungo’s check-ups, Dr Aguillard flirted outrageously with Miss Brill, yet she not only tolerated this but was flattered by it.

‘I’m so glad I have you to take care of my dear Mungo,’ gushed Miss Brill as Dr Aguillard pressed a thermometer into the dog’s bottom.

One morning Mungo broke free of his lead and ran toward the rue de Thorigny as a speeding Citroen rounded a corner. A loud thud boomed across Jardins Publiques as Mungo flew like a heavy wayward shotput and landed at feet of the headmistress. Miss Brill rushed the gravely injured Mungo to Dr Aguillard’s clinic.

‘My dear Mademoiselle Brill, we will do what we can for your beloved Mungo, but you must brace yourself for the worst,’ said Dr Aguillard.

Indeed, poor Mungo’s injuries were too severe. The next morning, Dr Aguillard explained, ‘I’m sorry Mademoiselle Brill, your dear Mungo has passed away.’ She lost her composure and began to cry.

‘Mungo was my life, my one love. Now, who shall I walk along the paths of the Jardins Publiques with?’

The veterinarian drew the grief-stricken old spinster toward him.

‘There, there, Mademoiselle Brill. It would be my honour to walk with you every morning,’ said Dr Aguillard as Miss Brill wept on his shoulder.

Part Two

Whack! Dr Aguillard slapped the boy hard on his ear.

‘What is this! I can see some unburnt newspaper in the ash!’ he yelled.

The boy’s ear throbbed; he was only 15 years old and had come to Dr Aguillard’s veterinarian clinic six months ago believing he would train in animal husbandry.

However, he was drawn into a dark world. No animal admitted for overnight care ever survived, instead they were put down the moment their owners left. The next day Dr Aguillard would dishonestly explain there was nothing he could do. He would console the shocked owners and hand them a black marble urn supposedly containing the ashes of their much-loved pet.

Of course, Dr Aguillard would give lengthy accounts of how he fought to save the pets, and he would charge for expensive intravenous infusions, X rays and even the use of a unique veterinarian defibrillator.

‘Stand back I yelled then zapped your dear Bobby,’ he told the owners. ‘But alas I could not get his heart beating. I kept trying for an hour until I collapsed with exhaustion,’ he said.

There was more. The boy was responsible for the distasteful task of skinning the pets.

‘Skin those mutts,’ instructed Dr Aguillard. ‘Then take the pelts down to Le Marais.’

The boy did as he was told. All the pelts were taken to a high-end boutique and used in fashionable couture. They paid the veterinarian a pretty penny for the exotic furs.

Dr Aguillard was an evil man, and he paid particular attention to the older female pet owners.

‘Mademoiselle Brill looks like she would be the type to donate to my Vétérinaire Médecins Sans Frontières.’

The boy knew the veterinarian was referring to his bogus charitable organisation, which was supposed to care for animals worldwide.

‘I just need one more donor, and it’s two weeks skiing in Val-d’Isère for me,’ said Dr Aguillard.

Part Three

Winter was on its way, and Miss Brill felt cold as she strolled about the charming streets of Le Marais. She stopped to admire a stunning black and white fur stole in the window of a shop.

Inside she tried it on. Something was comforting about it. The long soft hairs were striking, and the black and white was in keeping with the rest of her wardrobe. Importantly she would need a warm stole for her morning walks with Dr Aguillard.

Part Four

Although it was so brilliantly fine – the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques – Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur. The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and then a leaf came drifting – from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur.

JWT


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Mamma Red Gum

Look who I met last week, The Big Tree of Guilford in Central Victoria. This beautiful River Red Gum, with superbly contorted branches, is estimated to be between 500 to 1000 years old.

She is one of the largest in Victoria, with a height of 34 metres and circumference of 9.35 metres at the base.

Like a kindly foster mother, her branches and hollows provide homes to a variety of wildlife, and her shade offers respite from the searing summer heat. Mamma Red Gum has been providing these services for centuries.

Please take a look at the photograph taken in the mid-1800s; even then she was a big lass.

JWT


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Miniatures

Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki has a rare collection of 400 miniatures.

Most miniatures are portraits; they are an intimate item, perhaps of a loved one which can be held and easily transported.

Usually painted on ivory or paper mache; they were popular from the 17th to the 19th century when photographs replaced small painted images.

The Sinebrychoff collection is displayed in narrow cabinets and no need to bring your spectacles because there are handy magnifying glasses for viewing.

JWT


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New Year

NY Greeting 2017

A very Happy New Year to you and may your 2018 be filled with the best of times.

My news is that I have purchased a new home. It has a smaller more manageable garden which will suit this time in my life.

I adore gardens and I will continue to write my posts on Quantum Vis using garden themes.

Please continue to read me and we can explore the pleasure which gardens give together.

In the mean time all the very best to you 2018.  Jennifer x

JT


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The Search for Water

R 1

I was alone and beginning to feel like I was in a post-apocalyptic novel.

This place was unnervingly deserted. Where was everybody, perhaps they were all underground?

I had entered the lonely New Moon Mine via a small gate I found in the high wire fence which enclosed the property. It was topped with two rows of sharp rusted barbed wire deterring unwanted entry. The mine sat in a clearing in the Whipstick forest. I had found it by turning off a main road and driving over a farrowed dirt track which wound its way deep into the forest. This led me through an unpleasant dehydrated environment with bush struggling to survive.

The Whipstick is named after its Box-Ironbark trees, which grow spindly and whip like in the dry clay earth.  More of a dense scrub than a forest, this is a habitat of narrow trees constricted from growth and covered with a Spartan canopy of dull grey leaves. They languish, stick like, in red stony dirt. I looked down as I walked in case I was attacked by bull ants, jumper ants or more worryingly, a snake.

The monotony of its bushland means the Whipstick is an easy place to get lost. The only geological landmark was a mound of soil which had been removed from the mine.

New Moon Mine was first established as a gold and quartz mine in the 1860s. One hundred and fifty years of refuse from inside the mine created a small hill of gravelly earth. It was a bizarre sight which had the look of being both natural and man made. Beside this lunar-esque knoll I saw a series of overgrown low brick walls. The remains of antiquated windings, used over a century ago to pull the earth from deep in the mine.

This was a harsh location to work and the names given by the first miners to the gullies where they toiled reflect that. There are Dead Man, Dead Dog and Beelzebub Gullies. One mine bore the curious but probably accurate moniker of Unfortunate Bolle’s. Who was Unfortunate Bolle and what had become of him all those years ago?

On the map this area is marked as Sailor’s Gully, named after the seamen who had illegally jumped ship in Melbourne to try their luck in the diggings.

New Moon is in the bush outside Bendigo, an Australian provincial city built in the 19th century on the profits of gold mining. Gold was found in the 1850s and Bendigo went on to become one of the largest gold producing regions in the world.

Like the sailors before me I came here in search of a precious commodity but in my case it was water. The New Moon Mine is still in operation, and has a problem with underground water. The solution is to pump this excess water to the surface and this is what I wanted to buy.

Bendigo experienced a prolonged drought starting in 1997 which eventually forced the city to ban all garden watering. My established garden and historic oak trees were in need of  an alternative water supply and New Moon was a potential source.

However the day I entered the New Moon Mine I found it was deserted and I was sorry I hadn’t told anyone where I was.

What if I went the way of Unfortunate Bolle?  What if I was murdered and thrown down a mine?

I would never be found because Bendigo mine shafts go down for kilometres. They have cross cut tunnels which spread out like ant’s nests so there are plenty of subterranean places to hide a body. My life could end in mystery. Perhaps I would feature in the sort of TV programmes discussed in office tearooms.  Whatever happened to Jennifer Teh?

‘Can I help you?’ a deep voice behind me boomed. I jumped.  

It was a large man, clearly a miner, with a beard long enough to cover his torso. He was a frightening sight but turned out to be very helpful man.

I left New Moon grasping a contract allowing me to purchase enough water to continually fill the large tank I had recently installed in my garden. I employed a man with a water tanker to transport a load of New Moon water to my garden every two weeks. Then it was pumped around my garden and this happy arrangement lasted for a year or so.

Unfortunately, the drought continued and Bendigo’s municipal parks and lakes were dry so the city procured all of New Moon’s excess water. I was exasperated and worried about my oak trees.

A greywater system was required and I became an amateur plumber, designing and installing one. The water from my laundry and bath was pumped around the garden using a sump pump with an odd assortment of black poly pipes. If you hate washing clothes, imagine collecting the ‘used greywater’ in the sink and pumping it onto the garden. I had to constantly move, disconnect and reconnect poly pipes so all the garden was watered. It was an ever demanding balancing act.

However this was not enough water for my thirsty garden and the alkaline nature of the greywater was killing the rhododendrons and azaleas which require acidic soils. I needed a new solution to my watering woes.

Then I was lucky enough to negotiate a deal with a carrier who agreed to deliver me water from an aquifer 50 kilometres away. I was back in the business of watering my garden again.

The Millennium drought was the longest recorded since European settlement. In Bendigo it lasted 10 long years with harsh restrictions for most of that time. During those years I pumped and dragged hoses around my garden, sometimes well into the winter months. It was hard work.

When the Big Dry finally broke, children who had never seen rain were mesmerized.

My garden fared better than most in Bendigo. I lost several established rhododendrons which were as tall as my house and two groves of beautiful silver birches, but happily my grand oak trees survived.

This morning, under those oaks trees, a large rhododendron bloomed. She is the only rhododendron to have survived. I smiled and thanked her for her generous soft pink blooms.

Then I thought of the time back in the drought when I wandered around the New Moon Mine trying to find a supply of water to keep her alive.

The things we do for our gardens.

JT

 

Oaks

One of my treasured oak trees

 


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Keeping up Appearances

H6

I know a lady named Hyacinth, perhaps you know her too?

She has an unusual pronunciation of her surname, it is written as Bucket but pronounced Bouquet.

I’m talking about the social climbing Hyacinth Bucket from the hilarious BBC Television series, Keeping up Appearances.

Hyacinth was an overbearing women always trying to impress others with her snobbish social refinement.

Her catchphrase when answering the telephone was, ‘Bouquet residence, lady of the house speaking.’ Hyacinth’s long suffering neighbours dreaded her exclusive candlelight suppers where she commanded care must be taken with her hand painted Royal Dalton.

Hyacinth desperately tried to hide her working class background with excruciating pretentiousness. Then her amusing ragbag family would inevitably appear at inopportune moments and give us all a good laugh.

In my garden the hyacinths are in bloom and they remind me of their namesake in Keeping up Appearances.

Hyacinths are one of the most impressive garden flowers. They are very grand but each one originates from a simple unglamorous bulb. In that respect they are similar to Hyacinth Bucket.

Colours include pinks and white but a deep blue is the plant’s most iconic shade. It reminds me of the blue hair tint once fashionable with 1960’s matrons. Even the shape of the flowers resembles the popular beehive hair style of that time, where hair was piled high into cylindrical mounds. I wonder if Hyacinth Bucket wore a blue beehive in the 60’s.

For you own garden Hyacinths, plant the bulbs during autumn in dappled shade with good drainage. They prefer a cool climate and will reward you with glorious spring blooms.

You can also grow hyacinths indoors using special vases. The single bulb is held at water level by the narrowing neck of the vase. Grow in a cool room, away from sunlight but keep the water topped up to the base of the bulb. You can add a piece of charcoal to the water to keep it fresh.

Soon roots grow down into the water and the flower spike with its leaves will shoot from the top.

Once the flower begins to open the vase can be moved into a sunny position. Hyacinths are beautifully fragrant and will perfume your home.

Sadly, the bulb uses all its reserves when growing. Therefore it will not produce a decent flower next season, so throw it out once finished.

The plant acquired its name from a mythological Greek youth named Hyacinth. He was slayed and it is said where he bled onto the earth Hyacinths began to grow.

However, when I see them flowering, I prefer to think of dear Hyacinth Bucket and her side splitting attempts at keeping up appearances.

JT


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The Graveyard

MHF 1

“We are gathered today to celebrate the lives of these maidenhair ferns which have died in my care.”

I regularly hold funerals for my maidenhair ferns and they even have their own graveyard in my garden.  

These plants were healthy when I brought them into my home, but each ends up a mass of drooping brown leaves.  

I love maidenhair ferns, but they are not a plant I seem to be able to grow.

My aunt knows all the tricks, and grows maidenhair ferns with the ease that Monet grew water lilies.

Great pots of healthy maidenhair ferns almost bob with buoyancy in her fernery. Bunches of fine black fronds spring from the pots and crowns of delicate lush leaves open to float about them. They arch and fall, cascading like fountains spouting waterfalls of emeralds.

There are 200 varieties of maidenhair fern and each has an intrinsic freshness. Although they have no fragrance, I feel the air is somehow sweeter in their presence.

Maidenhair ferns are temperamental to grow and prefer a constant temperature without drafts. This is where I go wrong. With winter heating and summer air conditioning blowing cold air, it’s little wonder mine never survive.

Maidenhair ferns must be kept moist at all times, even a short period of dryness is enough for them to turn up their toes. It’s also very important they have a humid environment.

The best way to provide humidity is to grow the fern on a saucer filled with water and small stones. The water evaporates producing humidity and the stones prevent the roots from rotting by keeping them out of the water.

Maidenhair ferns are hungry and need a liquid fertilizer on alternate weeks

If grown outside, they need dappled shade and protection from frosts. My little maidenhair graveyard has exactly these conditions with a brick wall providing protection from temperature changes.

No need to send me your condolences because after about three months something astonishing happens.

Like Lazarus the maidenhair ferns arise from the dead. Fronds begin to grow and small green leaf buds develop. When the newly risen plant is looking good it is brought back into the house. After time, I have the same unhappy results so its out to the graveyard and the circle of life continues.

Now back to the funeral; a couple more pots of maidenhair fern are going out to the graveyard. The grief is too much, where is my handkerchief…

JT