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Saturday, October 28, 2017

prisoners of time

We are all prisoners of time, the elusive physical dimension from which no one can escape. In my tenth decade I'm finding that I nod off rather often, dreaming of my lost youth, the delights and sorrows, joys and occasional sad moments in my long, eventful, happy and thoroughly worthwhile life. I have many regrets, as we all do. The towering regret that overshadows all others is, of course, the absence of my beloved Wendy. When she died in November 2010, I was glad for her sake that I'd behaved as a gentleman should and let her go first.  I'd spared her all the anguish and distress that comes the surviving spouse's way when a long, loving marriage is amputated by the death of one of the partners. We were lovers for 55 years, marriage partners for 54 and a half. But that period of bereavement has gone on longer than I expected or would have wished, if I'd ever paused and thought about it. Fortunately I'm a loner, and I can find enough to keep my mind active. I never feel lonely or sorry for myself. There are much loved books to reread, and worth while new books being published more often than I can keep up with. I have half a dozen on my bedside table. This year too I've written and published a story for children. This story is based on one I made up in 1962 as I've already described in earlier posts on this blog; but almost all the details of the plot, and my attempts to flesh out the characters, background details, etc, are recent creations. What's more, the plots for two sequels have taken shape in my head. I'll sink into senescence and oblivion before I run out of things to say and do. It's a great comfort that I am a willing prisoner of time. I am thankful for all the time I have had, and I'll be pleased to accept however much more I am granted. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sales pitch

In 2017 I published a story for children, "Gloriana and the Twins hunt for Pirate Treasure." This story has a long incubation time: it evolved from a story I made up to tell two toddlers on a long sea voyage back to Australia in 1962 after a year in London. Long John Silver, the villain of "Treasure Island," Robert Louis Stevenson's wonderful adventure story, had a parrot. I gave that parrot a name, Gloriana, conferred by Good Queen Bess herself at an investiture in Windsor Palace in 1590. Parrots have long lives, and in 1931, Gloriana is purchased from a pawnshop in Port Adelaide by 9-year old twins, Jennifer and Christopher. Three villains chase Gloriana and the twins across inland Australia and out to an island -- Treasure Island -- near the top end of the Great Barrier Reef.
You can buy a copy from Amazon, or from me.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

50th Anniversary Order of Canada

It was a perfect day for the 50th anniversary gathering of members, officers and companions of the Order of Canada. Rebecca came with me to Rideau Hall, both of us proud to see me wearing the regalia of an Officer of the "Snowflake Club" - a large medal that hangs on a red and white ribbon around my neck. Over 2000 Canadians have received this honour since its creation 50 years ago, and over 1300 attended this celebration. The photo shows Rebecca and me at Rideau Hall, Saturday August 26, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

failings of democracy

It's just as well that I'm not a serious blogger. If I were, I could write reams about the psychopath who currently holds the office of president of the United States. I did write a few comments on his unfitness for this office when rumours were rife that he might be a candidate, but after the electoral college declared him president, I switched off. It was obvious that he would drag the USA's reputation down. When I awaken long enough to observe events in the formerly great nation south of Canada, I glimpse briefly what is happening -- he is indeed  dragging the USA down. So long as he doesn't start a nuclear war I'll be content to stay on the sidelines, watching, shuddering at the growing evidence of his incompetence, grossly flawed judgement, ineptitude, unfitness for the office he holds. Like the Brexit vote in the UK, his election illustrates the fundamental failure of democracy: it can't protect an otherwise stable democracy from demagogues and plausible charlatans. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gloriana and the Twins hunt for Pirate Treasure Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Jennifer and Christopher were not identical twins.
They couldn’t be: Jennifer was a girl and Christopher
was a boy. Twins like them are called fraternal twins.
But in many ways they looked remarkably alike, both with
fair hair bleached blonde by all the sunshine, both with
bright blue eyes, freckled faces and arms, both the same
height and build. Until they were about 6 years old and
Christopher had his hair cut short, their appearance and
behavior were almost identical and sometimes strangers
had a hard time telling them apart. But by the time they
were almost 10, Jennifer was becoming more conscious
of her appearance than Christopher was of his. They
wore similar clothes, khaki, grey or navy blue shorts, red,
blue, green or yellow aertex open-neck shirts, a pullover
or cardigan if it was cool, sandals rather than shoes most
of the year. Another difference usually distinguished
them now they were nearly 10. Jennifer kept herself and
her clothes clean and neat, her hair brushed and plaited
at the back into two little pigtails. Christopher’s knees
were always grubby from kneeling to play marbles in the
school playground and his hands were invariably dirty for
the same reason. His hair looked as if it had never been
brushed, there was always dirt under his fingernails and as
often as not there was a smudge or two of dirt on his face.
His shirt and shorts never stayed clean for more than an
hour or two after he got dressed in the morning and his
sandals were scuffed and often had the strap twisted.
Apart from looking so much alike and being fellow
spirits with the same urge to be adventurous, to climb
trees, clamber over rocks and up cliffs, go exploring on
their bikes and in rock pools at the end of the beach where
the hills came down to the coast, Jennifer and Christopher
had an uncommon and precious gift. They had their own
special ways to communicate with each other.
Like occasional other sets of twins, about one twin
pair out of 100, according to some experts, they made
up their own private language when they first began to
talk, and they continued to use this private language to
chatter to each other until they started school. Then it
was replaced, most of the time, by the Australian English
spoken by their Mum and Dad, their teachers, the other
school kids and everybody else around them. They didn’t
forget their private language, however, and continued to
speak it when they had something important to say to each
other that they didn’t want other people to know about
or understand.
They had something else, something that is rare but
not unknown among twins: in an emergency or under
special circumstances they could contact each other by
thinking about what was on their minds, transmit their
thoughts to each other without actually saying anything
out aloud. They didn’t understand how this worked, and
they didn’t have much, if any, any control over it. If one of
them had a tough problem in a class at school, usually it
was Christopher, he sometimes tried to “send” a thought
to Jennifer that he wanted help. This never worked.
But it worked with important and serious events like
emergencies, and once when their Mum and Dad had a
quarrel about something and were shouting angrily at each
other, something they’d never done before, at any rate
when the twins were there to see and hear it. One day not
long after their fourth birthday when they had just learnt
to swim, Jennifer got out of her depth and the current
was sweeping her farther out to sea. Christopher received
her alarm signal and alerted the lifesavers before anyone
else had noticed she was in trouble. Another time, when
they were about seven, Chris was set upon by a pair of
bullies, two big boys from a class a few years above theirs
at school, who thought Chris had made a rude face at
them. Jennifer picked up his unspoken distress signal. She
mobilized a troop of little girls from their class, they all
crowded around the two bullies, and began to poke them
with sticks until the bullies stopped thumping and kicking
Christopher and ran off.
Jennifer didn’t consciously try to pass on her
exciting thoughts and new knowledge about Gloriana to
Christopher but somehow he sensed her thoughts without
any effort from Jennifer, and she wasn’t surprised when he
knocked softly on her bedroom door and came in to join
her. He was wearing his Tarzan of the Apes pyjamas. Before
she could tell him that their parrot ‘s name wasn’t Cap’n
Flint, but Gloriana, he spoke, or rather whispered because
it was past their bedtime, and they were supposed to be
going to sleep. He didn’t want their Mum and Dad to know
they were still up and about. This is what he whispered:
“Hello, Gloriana. I’m sorry we’ve been using the wrong
name for you. We will call you by your real name from now
on. What’s all this about buried treasure?”
Gloriana looked at him long and hard, then looked back
at Jennifer in the same sort of penetrating, questioning way.
She seemed rather upset that Christopher already knew
her name, and knew about the treasure. Both children
realized that she was weighing them up, deciding how far
she could trust them.
“It’s all right, Gloriana,” said Jennifer, “You know Chris
and I are twins, and sometimes when one of us is thinking
about something important, the other one can somehow
‘hear’ those thoughts without us having to actually say
them out aloud. We don’t understand how it works and we
can’t always do it, but when it works it’s very useful. That’s
how Chris knows your name is Gloriana without me having
told him, and that’s how he knows about the treasure.”
“Ah, yes,” said Gloriana, sounding reassured. “I’ve
known a few other people who can get in touch with each
other like this. You are right. It is very useful and you are
lucky to be able to do this. It might be useful when we go
hunting buried treasure. I must say I prefer Gloriana to
Cap’n Flint, but for now, let’s just say you thought of the
name, not that I told you!”
There was a little silence for a moment, then Gloriana
went on. She spoke to them again, turning her head a little
so she looked straight at first one then the other of the
two children.
“This is important. Both of you must promise me,” said
Gloriana, “that you won’t talk to anybody about treasure,
or talk about me being able to have conversations, like we
are having now!”
“What about Mum and Dad?” Christopher asked.
Jennifer nodded her agreement that this was a good
“Let’s wait a while,” said Gloriana. “I’ll tell them when
I think they are ready to be told or need to know. In the
meantime, only you two know my secret, and I want you
to promise on your honour not to tell anyone else.”
The twins agreed to this. They both made a solemn
promise to Gloriana, Scouts’ Honour for Christopher,
Girl Guides’ Honour for Jennifer. After another moment,
Gloriana went on:
“For many, many years I remembered everything,
every detail about everything, including the directions
to Flint’s treasure, until that rascal Lazarus Pew gave me
a really bad rum and vodka mixture one night last year. I
think he gave it to me hoping it would loosen my tongue so
I’d tell him all my secrets. But it acted like poison. It upset
my crop and my gizzard, and what’s worse, it wiped out
some important memories, made me forget the directions
to where the treasure is buried. My memory is starting to
come back. I’ve remembered that we have to line up a
headland on one side of the bay where the ship anchors,
and a big yellow rock at one end of a rocky outcrop on the
beach. We line up the headland on the other side of the
bay with something but I haven’t yet remembered what we
line it up with. Where the two lines cross is either where
the treasure is buried, or perhaps it’s just the first part of
more complicated directions to find the treasure.”
“Well, that’s a start,” said Jennifer.
“Not really,” Gloriana said. “The first, most important,
thing I have to remember is the longitude and latitude of
the island where the treasure is buried. Once we get to the
island, we use the other directions stored in my memory –
when I’ve fully recovered my memory – to find our way to
the treasure.”
Jennifer and Christopher had heard of longitude and
latitude but had only rather vague notions of what these
were. Gloriana explained that latitude is a measure of how
far a place is from the equator and the north or south pole.
Longitude measures how far east or west a place is from
an astronomical observatory at Greenwich on the River
Thames, a little way down river from the city of London in
England. If you know the latitude and longitude of a place
like a very small island you know exactly where it is on a
map, and you can find your way to it.
“How can we help you get all your memory back?”
Christopher asked.
Gloriana thought about this for a moment and said,
”To start with, a few good nights’ sleep would help all of
us. I’m much older than you two, and it’s past my bedtime.
I’m sure your Mum and Dad would be cross if they knew
you are still up and wide awake at this time of night. So
you both must go to bed and sleep now, and I’ll go to sleep
too. Perhaps tomorrow I will remember more, after a good
night’s sleep.”
They all had a good night’s sleep, then several weeks
more of good nights, but these didn’t help Gloriana
remember the longitude and latitude of the treasure island,
or restore any other lost memories.
One morning about two months later the family were
at the breakfast table and Gloriana was on her perch on
the veranda, chewing with pleasure a fresh crisp lettuce
leaf, having first rolled it up like the delivery boy rolled
the morning newspaper; she held the end in one claw, and
nibbled neatly at the other end with her powerful beak.
The rolled-up lettuce leaf shrank remarkably quickly to a
little green stub.
Over their breakfast Jennifer and Christopher were
playing one of their favorite breakfast table games, using
Vegemite to paint their initials on pieces of toast before
spreading it and eating their slices of toast. Sometimes,
and today was one of those times, they painted each
other’s initials instead of their own. Having picked up
a generous serving of Vegemite on her knife, Jennifer
painted a “C” and Christopher painted a “J” in cursive
capitals, the most difficult variation with the tasty black
paste. A few months earlier they had discovered that it was
easier to make artistic shapes with Vegemite if they let the
toast get cold before spreading a layer of butter on it. They
had become experts in spreading a smooth layer of butter
as a foundation on which a ribbon of Vegemite could be
steered wherever they wanted. If the toast was hot the
butter melted and soaked into the toast, and not only was
the Vegemite more difficult to shape they way they wanted,
it was also harder to see exactly where it was, especially
if the toast was a little bit burnt. After many unsuccessful
attempts to discourage this game, their parents had given
up and decided to tolerate it. Life was easier and happier
this way.
Partly so he wouldn’t have to watch the twins playing
the Vegemite game, Alec McLeod, was reading the morning
newspaper, even though Brenda said it was bad manners
and setting the twins a bad example. He exclaimed as
he read, “Goodness me, here’s a terrible story! That
pawnbroker who sold us the parrot has come to a bad end!”
He read a little of the story to his wife Brenda, and
the twins:
“Police made a gruesome discovery yesterday
when they forced open the door of the pawnshop on
Harbourside Road. They were responding to complaints
that the pawnshop had not been open as usual for several
days. Inside, they found the body of the proprietor, Mr.
Lazarus Pew. His body was tied to a chair and showed
signs of a severe beating. Police are investigating, but have
few clues.”
Jennifer and Christopher looked at each other with
alarm. Whispering softly, Jennifer asked Christopher
in their private language, “Do you think the way Mr.
Pew died might have had anything to do with Gloriana
knowing how to find the pirates’ treasure?”
Chris replied in the same private language, “I don’t
know. We’d best talk to Gloriana about it as soon as we
finish breakfast!”
After breakfast their Mum wanted the twins to run
an errand, to get flour, cocoa, sugar, vanilla and eggs, so
she could bake their favorite chocolate cake. They were
off school, which had been closed a week early, before
the spring school holidays, because of an outbreak of
meningitis, so they were just beginning three weeks of
holidays. After they had cleaned their teeth, made their
beds and tidied their rooms, they set off. Jennifer took
Gloriana on her shoulder so she could tell her the worrying
news about the pawnbroker’s grisly death.
When she heard their story, Gloriana said: “Of course
it might be nothing to do with me and the treasure, but
I’m worried: if it is me that someone wants to find, we
must be on the lookout. Lazarus Pew was a bad man. He
often disposed of stolen property and some of his ‘friends’
are scoundrels. I wouldn’t want you to come anywhere
near them!”
The twins always enjoyed running errands to the corner
store. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Ruggles, knew them well,
let them have a free look at the comics, which they often
bought (for a penny – better spent on something to read
than on tooth-rotting toffee) and gave them a rainbow ball
for Jennifer and a licorice strap for Christopher to keep
their strength up during the 15 minute walk home. It was
the first time Mrs. Ruggles had met Gloriana so they had
to be introduced to each other, and Mrs. Ruggles had to
call Mr. Ruggles into the shop so he could be introduced
too, and could admire Gloriana. All this took time, so they
were in the corner store for more than 20 minutes before
completing their purchases and heading home.
Gloriana was feeling contented with her life for almost
the first time in over 200 years. She really liked the McLeod
family, especially Jennifer. Riding on Jennifer’s shoulder
felt almost as grand, and was at least as comfortable, as
riding in Good Queen Bess’s rather smelly old coach – and
Jennifer’s breath was sweeter than the old queen’s had
been. She was as upset as the twins when they got home
to find Brenda McLeod looking worried and frightened.
The twins and Gloriana all listened, concerned, as
Brenda spoke.
“Oh, children,” she said in a rather shaky voice, “I’m
so glad you are home safely! While you were at Mr. and
Mrs. Ruggles corner store I had a visit from three very
unpleasant men. They said the pawnbroker, Mr. Pew, had
no right to sell Cap’n Flint to us, and they demanded him
back. They threatened me! They said it would be the worse
for all of us if we didn’t give Cap’n Flint back to them!”
“Odds bodkins and shiver my timbers!” Cried Gloriana,
“It’s just as I feared! Those scoundrels are after me!”
Brenda McLeod looked in amazement at Gloriana, and
said, “Good gracious me! Are my ears playing tricks? Did
you hear what Cap’n Flint just said? How did Cap’n Flint
do that? He spoke like a human person would!” Before she
could ask more questions or Gloriana could say any more,
both twins spoke together:
“Mum, she’s a lady parrot. Her name is Gloriana,
not Cap’n Flint. She knows where the pirates’ treasure is
buried, but last year Mr. Pew gave her some rum mixed
with vodka, trying to relax her so she’ll tell him how to find
the treasure. Instead, the mixture damaged her memory.
It’s only just starting to come back. She has to remember
the latitude and longitude of the island where the treasure
is buried, and has to remember more about where to dig
for it.”
“What an extraordinary story! How do you know all
this?” Mum asked.
The twins looked at each other. Both were thinking,
“How much should we tell Mum?” Looking at them, Gloriana
could almost read their thoughts too. Before they could
say anything, Gloriana spoke:
“I told them,” she said. “I’m more than 300 years
old. I’ve learnt how to have real conversations, not just
memorize a few phrases like young parrots do. On the
first cold night after I came to live with you, Jennifer
wondered out loud if I was warm enough on the veranda,
and before I could stop myself, I said I was warm enough,
thank you very much, because feathers are very good
insulation. While I was about it, I told Jennifer I am a
lady parrot and my name isn’t Cap’n Flint. My name is
Gloriana, after Queen Elizabeth, Good Queen Bess, God
bless her, known to the poets as Gloriana. I was hatched
in Windsor Palace in January 1599, more than three years
before Queen Elizabeth died. I was presented to the
Queen at the court in January of the year of Our Lord 1600
and Queen Elizabeth herself named me Gloriana. What a
grand occasion that was! All the courtiers were there in
their finery, and everybody clapped and cheered each of us
as we were presented to Queen Elizabeth. I got the loudest
cheer of all! Good Queen Bess kept me in a golden cage in
her private chambers from that day onward until she died.
On special occasions she let me ride on her shoulder. Alas,
the special occasions were few and far between by then,
because Good Queen Bess was getting old and rather
crotchety – but she was always good to me.”
Gloriana paused to preen herself, carefully smoothing
the feathers on her wings and tail with her partly open
beak, then held herself erect, her head straight on her neck,
fluffed out her feathers and looking proudly forward. She
always wanted to look and behave at her best when talking
about royalty. She went on:
“I learnt the directions to find the treasure while I
was Flint’s prisoner. The pirates didn’t often talk about
their treasure and where they kept it, and they never
wrote anything down. Most of them can’t read and write.
But I was always there when they spoke of it. When Flint
told Long John Silver, I was sitting on Silver’s shoulder
quietly minding my own business, listening carefully, and
remembering it all. I went to the island once, on Silver’s
shoulder, the time Jim Hawkins was there too, and there
were gun fights between Squire Trelawney and his men,
and the pirates led by Long John Silver. All the details of
latitude and longitude were there in my head until Lazarus
Pew gave me that poisonous tot of rum spiked with vodka
that damaged my memory.”
Gloriana expressed all her disgust in her tone of
voice when she told the twins and their Mum about the
spiked rum that had damaged her memory. She made it
emphatically clear that although she loved her little tot of
rum, she disapproved of drinking alcohol to excess.
She went on talking, now with a rather urgent tone in
her voice.
“We should all leave here as soon as we can. Those
three bad men will be back, perhaps with others like them.
They all want the pirates’ treasure, and they think I’m
the only one who knows the directions to find it. When I
remember the rest of the details I probably will be the only
one who knows. They will probably try to harm you all as
a way to persuade me to tell them my secrets. We must all
get away to a place where they can’t find us!”
Brenda McLeod had the same adventurous spirit as
her twin children. To be truthful, they had inherited their
adventurous spirit from her. She believed what Gloriana
said, although many grown-ups might not. She made up
her mind quickly and told the twins what they had to do.
She said: “Jen, and Chris, pack your haversacks
with three changes of clothes, pajamas, socks, cardigan,
waterproof, towel, face cloth, toothbrush. I’ll telephone
your father, ask him to come home and pick us up. We can
all go to the shack. I’ve just got time to bake a chocolate
cake. It would be a shame not to use all the cake-making
supplies you got from Mrs. Ruggles!”
It took only a few minutes for her to mix the ingredients
for a chocolate
cake. As soon as it was in the oven she phoned her
husband and asked him to come home at once. By the
time the cake was cooked, she had packed rucksacks for
her husband and herself. She inspected and approved Jen’s
and Chris’s haversacks. She just had time to put a thick
layer of icing on the chocolate cake before Alec McLeod’s
car pulled into the lane beside the house. Alec was worried
and curious about the impression of urgency he had
detected in Brenda McLeod’s voice during her phone call.
Brenda didn’t tell Alec about the parrot’s unusual ability,
just that some unpleasant men were threatening her unless
she gave them the parrot. The whole family had become
very fond of the parrot and they were all determined not to
let Gloriana fall into the hands of men who were obviously
unpleasant, and probably violent and wicked.
Fortunately Alec McLeod was in his office at the
insurance company when she called and it was a quiet day
– because of the financial slump, the insurance business
had been very slow lately. He had decided to take overdue
holidays while the twins were off school, so it was just as
easy for him to start his holidays a day or two early.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Radio talk

I have the radio on almost all the time as I sit in front of my keyboard and screen. It's tuned to CBC Radio One, and throughout the day a succession of mostly thoughtful, thought-provoking programs keep me in touch with the world and all that's going on in it. 

With trifling exceptions, CBC Radio One offers a series of programs from early morning until late in the evening, aimed at listeners with an IQ of 100 or more. Even the few exceptions, rather feeble attempts at humour that tends to be heavy-handed or just unfunny, sometimes stray by accident into stratospheric hilarity. Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe stories will be sadly missed. His untimely death has left all of Canada and much beyond, a poorer, sadder place. Most of the programs intended to stimulate the mind are successful, sometimes quite outstanding. None of them reach the heights of intellectual excellence of Lister Sinclair, but one or two come close and I get the feeling that they are improving rather than complacently resting on their laurels.   

When things fall apart

The North Koreans are getting stroppy again, test-firing an ICBM that they claim can reach Alaska and the west coast of USA, and can carry a nuclear bomb. Donald Trump is making predictable bellicose remarks. Few People doubt that he has a short fuse and an itchy trigger finger.

Somehow I find the situation much less ominous, much less threatening than the Cuban missile crisis. We were insulated from the Cuban missile crisis by distance -- it was going on a long way off on the other side of the world from where we were then, in Australia.  Even so, it was worrying, even frightening. The escalating tension between North Korea and the USA seems somehow unreal by comparison, but as events unfold in the next few days i might have to revise this view.

Trump is clearly unsuitable for his position as so-called leader of the so-called free world. He is shallow, ill-informed, volatile, often displays evidence of paranoid conduct (for instance his obsession with a mythical widespread voter fraud to explain the odd fact that some 3 million more votes were cast for Hillary Clinton than for him. The true explanation of course is gerrymandering at the electoral college lever in the bizarre US presidential  process. It's too much to hope that Trump's  obsession might lead to abolition of the electoral college, but it's nice to dream about the possibility... 

As for North Korea's bellicose behaviour, I can't help wondering whether the weird regime that runs North Korea is a puppet whose strings are being twitched by the Chinese. It's an interesting speculation.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Gloriana and the Twins hunt for Pirate Treasure - Chapter 1

Let's see if this works -- Yes, it does, sort of. I've pasted here Chapter 1 of my story for children, with a few glitches. And the technicolor cover didn't come through.

Gloriana and the Twins
Hunt for Pirate Treasure
John Last

This story is based on one I made up in 1962 to
tell two toddlers who were bored after many
re-readings of Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the
Willows, Charlotte’s Web and The Magic Pudding. We were
on a cargo ship carrying 12 passengers, in the Indian Ocean
about halfway between the Red Sea and the Western
Australian coast. I couldn’t pop out to a book shop to
replenish the supply of suitable books for small children.
They asked me to make up a story and tell it to them.
Remembering Treasure Island by Robert Louis
Stephenson and the villainous ship’s cook Long John
Silver, I recalled the parrot on Silver’s shoulder. I made up
a story about that parrot, about 9-year-old twins Jennifer
and Christopher who got this parrot hundreds of years later
at a pawnshop in an Australian seaport. The twins and the
parrot were the heroes of my story, and were chased across
inland Australia and out to an island – Treasure Island –
off the coast beyond the top end of the Great Barrier Reef,
by three villains who were after the parrot and planned to
extract the location of the pirates’ treasure by getting the
parrot drunk.

I thank those two toddlers, Rebecca and David Last, for
provoking me into making up the precursor to this story,
and I thank my beloved late wife Wendy for recording
details of that sea voyage in her diary for 1962. When I read
her diary for the first time in 2014, several years after she
died, I was reminded of the story I made up and I began to
write it down for the first time. The characters came to life
in my head and took over their story. Gloriana is the result.
The story is set in Australia in the early 1930s and is
based partly on my memories of the country and its people
at that time. The human and avian characters in the story,
however, do not resemble any real people or parrots, living
or dead. I have taken some liberties with the facts. Rosella
parrots can live a long time, but not several hundred years
and I never heard of one with Gloriana’s conversational
abilities. Bon-Bon station was on the edge of the Nullarbor
Plain in South Australia, not in Northern New South
Wales. Seasons in Australia and seasonal activities in the
fruit-growing irrigation districts along the River Murray
and on sheep stations, don’t follow the sequence implied
in this story.
John Last
Ottawa 2016
Several people have given me useful reactions to
incomplete drafts, and other help and advice as this story
took shape. They include Janet Byron Anderson, Theresa
Jamone, Susan Jennings, Karen Trollope Kumar, Ian
McDowell, Nerys Parry, and Ian Prattis. I thank them all
Also, I thank friends who have children or
grandchildren in the target age range, approximately 8-12
years of age; and have given the story to these children to
read. These include Jennifer Chew, Maria Cristina Harris,
Margaret Jaekl (her grand-daughter Erika Iwasaki Jaekl,
was especially helpful), Susan Jennings, Guy Thatcher, and
Leslie Wake.
Finally I thank my children Rebecca, David and
Jonathan Last, all middle-aged now but still able to accept
make-believe; and my beloved Wendy, for jogging my
memory even after her death.
John Last
Ottawa, Canada, 2016

Chapter 1
Sunbeams flowed through gaps between all the stuff
in the crowded pawnshop window and the dusty
air inside until they struck something that glowed
green, blue, yellow and red against its drab surroundings.
Gazing at it after she noticed it beyond the clutter in the
window, Jennifer McLeod at first couldn’t make out what
this strange thing could be. Whatever it was, it moved
sideways and turned first one way then the other. As she
kept looking at it, she made out a head and beak at one
end, beady black eyes that seemed to be looking straight at
her and two grey claws grasping a perch. It was a brilliantly
colored parrot.
She gasped with surprise and delight and clutched her
twin brother’s arm.
“Look, Chris! Look at that beautiful parrot!”
Christopher McLeod turned rather reluctantly from
the flintlock musket he was inspecting in another part of
the pawnshop window and looked where she was pointing.
Jen wondered if their father would get the parrot for
them for their birthday. Chris grinned. “Yeah! Let’s ask
him.” He hadn’t heard her unspoken thought, although
he did occasionally at times of crisis; he knew his twin
sister as well as he knew himself, and he knew what was
on her mind.
In a few weeks the twins would have their 10th birthday
and were already thinking about it. They were far-sighted
children who believed in planning ahead. Entering double
figures, they believed, would make them quite mature and
grown up.
“Would we have to do much looking after it?”
Christopher asked cautiously, speaking aloud rather
than thinking silently, remembering the guinea pigs that
had been so much more work than either of them had
bargained for.
School had to be taken more seriously this year too.
Not only were the hours more demanding, the work was
more interesting and even good fun at times, there was
also homework for the first time in their lives, a rather
rude shock to the system. The twins enjoyed school, were
doing well and recognized their duty to get homework
done; but they rarely enjoyed doing it. They knew there
wouldn’t be as much spare time as there had been in
earlier school years.
“I dunno, Jen,” said Christopher. “It might be a lot of
work, like those guinea pigs…” But Jennifer was determined
at least to have a closer look. She turned to their father,
Alec McLeod, who had caught up with them and was
standing behind them, smiling.
“Daddy,” she said (she only called her father “Daddy”
when she really, really wanted something; at other times
he was just “Dad”), “Daddy! There’s a beautiful parrot in
there! Can we go in and have a look at it? It mightn’t be for
sale, but if it is and it’s not too expensive, could Chris and
me get it for our birthday?”
“Your birthdays are a long way off,” Alec McLeod
remarked quietly, but firmly. He was accustomed to his
persuasive daughter’s ways. She’d had a way of extracting
un-birthday presents for herself and for her twin brother
Chris for several years. Both parents tolerated this as part
of the price they had to pay for having happy children.
So in they went. The pawnshop was dimly lit, except
where rays of sunlight got through between all the stuff
displayed in the window. The parrot was bathed in
sunshine that make it seem almost to glow.
The cramped space between the entrance and the
counter had a fusty smell, mildew, disinfectant, mothballs,
stale cigarette smoke and other unattractive odors. The
parrot’s glowing colors made the smell seem unimportant.
The parrot looked them up and down with its bright beady
eyes, giving Jennifer the feeling that it was inspecting them
before deciding whether to approve of them.
Then, both Christopher and Jennifer were absolutely
certain, the parrot winked at them, first with its left eye,
looking straight at Jennifer, then turning its head a little,
it winked at Christopher with its right eye. Somehow, they
both thought, the parrot would have smiled too if a beak
could smile. But of course a beak can’t smile so that really
must have been just wishful thinking.
“Shop,” called the parrot in a high-pitched squawky
voice, “Customers!” They turned as they heard footsteps
shuffling along behind the counter, to see a stooped old
man, wisps of straggly white hair across a nearly bald head,
several days’ stubble on his chin. His shirt sleeves were
rolled up. The wrinkled skin of his forearms which looked
as if they had once been beefy and muscular, was covered
with tattoos. On his left arm there was a ship’s anchor, a
mermaid and a dagger; and on his right, a flintlock pistol
pointed at a man’s torso with the initials LJS ; below this,
forked lightning and more initials.
“Good morning sir,” Jennifer said politely, “We are
interested in this beautiful parrot. What’s its name? Is it
for sale?”
The old man’s shoulders shook as he coughed, and
growled in an angry-sounding sort of way, not a happy
sound. “Don’t call ‘im it,” he snapped, glaring at her with
watery red-rimmed eyes. “This ‘ere is Cap’n Flint, a wise
and wily old bird. ‘E’s ‘undreds of years old! You treat ‘im
with respect!”
“Um, I’m sorry, sir,” said Jennifer politely to the
pawnshop proprietor, but looking at the parrot, which
looked back at her and nodded his head as if he understood
what she had said and accepted her apology. She went on
speaking, now looking directly at the parrot. “We want you
to come home with us, Cap’n Flint. Would you like that?”
The parrot bobbed his head up and down vigorously, as if
he was saying “Yes! I’d like that!”
Alec McLeod took over from his daughter and picked
up the conversation with the rather unsavory looking
pawnshop proprietor. He named a price, í10 for the parrot
but seemed to be in two minds whether to sell or keep
the bird. Jennifer and Christopher listened to the back and
forth conversation. The old man was saying something
about giving up on his mate who’d left the parrot for him
to look after many years ago but had never come back; now
the old man was sick, probably not long for this world, and
wanted to pass on the parrot, Cap’n Flint, to somebody
who would give him a comfortable home and take good
care of him.
In 1931 í10 was a lot of money, several weeks’ wages,
and their Dad was reluctant to pay so much, even though
he reflected that this was a 10th birthday present for the
two of them and he was getting a good salary. He offered
í5, and eventually agreed to í7. He peeled a í5 note and
two singles from the small sheaf of notes in his wallet and
handed them over.
The old man, whose name was Pew according to a
faded sign above the door, wrote Alec McLeod’s name and
address in his sale book, “Just in case me mate turns up,
so ‘e can argue the toss with you about ownership.” He
held his wrist out for Cap’n Flint to step on, brought his
wrist close to Jennifer’s shoulder and the parrot stepped
daintily from his wrist to her shoulder. He reassured her
that once Cap’n Flint was settled on her shoulder, there
he’d stay, “Come ‘ell or ‘igh water – and, what’s more, ‘e’s
‘ouse trained, ‘e won’t make messes on your cardigan! And
‘e won’t fly away. But just to be on the safe side, I’ll clip this
chain to the ring around ‘is leg and you ‘old the other end
or loop it around your wrist.”
He took a light metal chain from a drawer under the
counter, snapped a clip at one end around a ring on the
parrot’s leg and gave the other end to Jennifer. “Mind you
take good care of ‘im now, lassie!”
Mr. Pew told them how to feed the parrot, “Bird seed,
yes, especially sunflower seeds, stale bread crusts, a lettuce
leaf or a bit of celery, also Cap’n Flint likes a little bit of
underdone steak now and then, and ‘e’s partial to a tot of
rum once or twice a week.”
Alec McLeod raised his eyebrows at that suggestion,
but Christopher, who was looking at Cap’n Flint as the old
man mentioned a tot of rum, was sure the bird perked up
and looked more cheerful when he heard the word ‘rum.’
Two happy children walked back to their shabby old
car with its torn and patched canvas top and yellowing
celluloid side curtains to keep the rain out on wet days.
Christopher was carrying the perch in one hand and a big
wire bird-cage in the other. Jennifer had Cap’n Flint on
her shoulder. The thin metal chain was clipped to the ring
around one of Cap’n Flint’s legs and she held the loop at
the other end of the chain firmly in her hand – not that the
bird seemed the least bit interested in flying away.
“What a marvelous shop!” Chris exclaimed as they got
into their car. “I’d love to have one of those old pistols!”
His Dad replied, “It’s not really a shop, Chris, it’s
a pawnshop, more like a bank. Did you notice the sign
outside it, the three golden balls? That’s the symbol for a
pawnshop, a place where you take something you value,
and use it as a pledge to borrow money against the value of
what you leave as your pledge. That symbol dates back to
the powerful Medici family in Florence, in Italy, hundreds
of years ago. They got rich lending money, and successful
pawnbrokers still do, because if the pledge isn’t claimed in
a timely way, the pawnbroker can sell it.”
Jennifer and Christopher – the tumultuous twins,
their parents, Brenda and Alec McLeod, called them
affectionately– always enjoyed going to the port with
their Dad. He had business there, something to do with
insurance on ships and their cargo. They had never before
been inside a shop there, and thanks to their new parrot,
this had been their best visit ever.
The port, especially the wharves, smelt different from
the well-kept gardens and eucalyptus gum trees of their
suburb on the other side of the little city of Adelaide.
The port smelt of the sea, of salt and drying seaweed, of
tarred ships’ decks, and wet canvas. It smelt of cargo being
unloaded, new cars, and wooden crates of farm machinery,
tractors and harvesters heavily coated with pungent grease
to protect them from rust. And it smelt of the cargo being
loaded, great bales of wool that smelt of lanoline, sacks of
wheat that smelt of dust and breakfast cereal, sometimes
frozen meat going into refrigerated holds to keep it fresh
and frozen solid all the way to London, or Hamburg,
or Liverpool or Rotterdam. Frozen meat didn’t have a
distinctive smell but everything else did. Wool and wheat,
the main exports especially at this time of the year, had very
distinctive smells. In the early 1930s, a world-wide slump
had slowed business but some trade went on, although
very sluggishly. Insurance of ships and their cargo was as
important as ever, so Alec McLeod’s profession was more
secure than many others in a time of high unemployment.
The sights and sounds too were different from where
they lived. Wharf laborers shouted in loud voices, seamen
sometimes spoke in languages they didn’t understand,
with different rhythms in their speech that made it hard to
know when a sentence began and ended, and wore clothes
unlike the customary jacket, tie and trousers of the locals.
In the background there were seagulls’ calls and squawks
as they squabbled over food scraps. Occasionally a goods
train rumbled along the tracks, its engine puffing, steam
hissing from its pistons, and for a while the distinctive tang
of coal smoke overwhelmed all the other interesting smells.
The ship’s winches were driven by motors that throbbed
like a motor-bike’s engine, and the derricks often squealed
their need for oil as they swung back and forth, over the
ship’s hold, then over the cargo stacked on the wharf.
A little way back from the waterfront was a street of
interesting shops that Jennifer and Christopher always
liked to dawdle over. There was a shop selling local
souvenirs that seafarers could take home to their families
in Britain or Europe: boomerangs, imitation doll-sized
koala bears and kangaroos made of rabbit fur, as well as
exotic nick-knacks from overseas. Several other shops sold
things used on ships: pulleys, ropes, sails, life jackets, red
and green lights in glass covers that ships used to indicate
starboard and port sides, signal flares and the heavylooking
pistol-shaped gadget to fire them, bright red antifouling
marine paint that supposedly stopped weeds and
barnacles from settling on ships’ hulls. Another shop sold
navigation instruments, compasses, telescopes, sextants,
barometers, and other brass instruments that swiveled and
balanced so they were always upright and level, gimbals
their Dad called them.
The pawnshop was the most interesting of all. It wasn’t
always open early on Saturday mornings when their Dad
usually took them to the port, but it was a never-ending
source of fascination to browse over the astonishing variety
of things in its windows. There were wrist watches, fob
pocket watches with gold chains to go through a buttonhole,
ivory carved into a coach and horses, a set of ivory
and ebony chessmen, cameras, radios, war medals, silver
and brass cigarette and cigar cases, telescopes, binoculars,
pocket knives and sheath knives, bags of golf clubs, tennis
racquets, lawn bowling balls, portable typewriters, a sword
in its scabbard with a coat of arms on the guard over the
handle, antique firearms, two muskets and a flintlock
pistol, a book of nautical signals, signal flags, pewter beer
mugs, a large picture frame with a portrait of a king and
queen – not King George V and Queen Mary who were on
the throne now, but the one who had died over 20 years
earlier, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in oldfashioned
clothing. The twins always found the pawnshop
windows fascinating. This was the first time they had been
inside it, and what a successful visit it had been!

The twins’ Mum, Brenda McLeod, was pleased to see
them all when they walked into the kitchen. The parrot
was on Jennifer’s
shoulder and Christopher was close behind her
carrying the perch and the bird cage. The parrot looked
their Mum up and down just as he’d looked the twins up
and down in the pawnshop and somehow, they weren’t
quite sure how, he seemed to be letting them all know he
approved of her too.
“Aha! Who have we here?” Brenda McLeod said,
“What’s the name of this new member of the family?”
Jennifer and Christopher answered together: “Mum,
this is a birthday present from Dad! May we introduce you
to Cap’n Flint,” they said, while Cap’n Flint looked from
one to another of them, bobbing his head up and down
and looking very cheerful.
Smiling at her husband and clasping his hand, Brenda
McLeod said: “As head of this household, it is my pleasure
to officially welcome you to our home, Cap’n Flint. I hope
you will be happy here!”
The parrot looked happy, and bobbed his head up
and down several times as if acknowledging their Mum’s
welcoming words.
They decided to set up the perch and the cage on the
veranda outside Jennifer’s bedroom window. They weren’t
sure if or when they might need the bird cage. In that mild
climate Cap’n Flint would be quite comfy on his perch
outside in the open air on the veranda. On the rare cold
nights, they could put him in the cage with a rug over it to
keep out the draught.
Cap’n Flint was very well behaved, and he seemed to
understand almost everything they said. When there was
a conversation going on, his head was cocked slightly to
one side, and as each of them spoke, his beady little black
eyes looking straight at the speaker, occasionally nodding
his head as if he understood it all and was agreeing
with what had just been said. Clearly he agreed with the
family’s decision to put his perch on the veranda outside
Jennifer’s window.
That first night after he came home with them, as
Jennifer lay in bed before drifting off to sleep, she was very
excited about their new pet – their new family member, she
corrected herself. Cap’n Flint really felt to her more like a
member of the family than a pet – she was too excited to
go straight to sleep. She heard Cap’n Flint muttering away
to himself, although that night and for a goodly number of
nights and days after that she couldn’t make out what he
was muttering.
Finally after several weeks she got accustomed to
Cap’n Flint’s voice and began to pick up some of the words
he was muttering. She heard him say “Buried treasure,”
“Pieces of eight” and “Spanish doubloons,” and “Rubies
and diamonds,” but it was all rather disjointed. Another
thing he muttered had something to do with his name, and
yet another bit of muttering sounded like directions to get
somewhere, or perhaps it was to find something.
Some of what the bird said was a sort of song, part of
a song anyway.

The song went like this:
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest;
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! ”
Christopher could have told her that this was the song
the pirates sang in a book called Treasure Island, but that
was a boy’s book and Jennifer hadn’t read it. She would
read it before long, however, when Christopher told her
where the song came from.
As the days began to get shorter and cooler in April
and increasingly frequent rain squalls lashed the roof,
she wondered whether she should bring Cap’n Flint
inside where it was warmer and no wind or rain would
discomfort him.
One night late in May as autumn was giving way to the
beginning of winter there was heavy rain and a penetrating
cold south wind at bed time. For the first time that year,
Jennifer felt the need to switch from cotton to warmer
flannel pajamas as her Mum had suggested, and wondered
about closing her window part way. She looked at the
parrot, who had been sleeping as he usually did with his
head tucked under one wing, until her movement at the
window woke him up and he looked at her. She was quite
sure that, as usual, he winked at her cheerfully.
More to herself than to the parrot, she murmured, “I
hope you are warm enough out there, Cap’n Flint.”
To her astonishment, Cap’n Flint answered her: “Of
course I’m warm enough, you silly girl! My feathers keep me
warm; feathers are very good insulation; and this veranda
is warmer, and steadier, than the deck of the Hispaniola!”
The parrot went on: “And another thing Jennifer, now
that I’ve got your attention. My name is not Cap’n Flint.
That was the name of the leader of those wicked pirates
who captured me. After Flint came to a bad end – he had
a very gory death, I won’t talk about it – Long John Silver
became their leader, and had me on his shoulder for a
while. Then Jim Hawkins looked after me, looked after me
very well too, until Silver stole me back.”
The parrot paused briefly, puffed its feathers out so it
looked larger, and went on speaking.
“My name is Gloriana, the poets’ name for Queen
Elizabeth, Good Queen Bess, God bless her. Queen
Elizabeth gave me my name herself! I’m a lady parrot!
And don’t you forget it! I must say it’s good to be back
with decent, respectable folk like your family, after all
these years!”
Jennifer was usually a talkative girl, but she was struck
speechless listening to all this, her jaw dropped, her mouth
fell open and stayed open. Fancy the parrot speaking to
her by name! And knowing Queen Elizabeth! After this
conversation she was at a loss for words for almost the
first time in her life.
There were a few moments of silence while Jennifer
digested this exciting new information. Then she took
the parrot’s claw in her hand and shook it as if she was
shaking hands.

“You’ve made me very happy, Gloriana,” she said. “I
love your name. It suits your beautiful colors. I’m very glad
you’re a girl, too!”
“Mhff,” said Gloriana. “That’s all very well. But I’m
hardly a girl. I’m more than 300 years old. And my memory
isn’t as sharp as it was. Flint, and Silver and the others were
wicked pirates. They attacked merchant ships and stole
all the valuables. Sometimes they even killed the people
on the ships. When they’d gathered enough valuables to
fill their ship’s hold, they made for an island in the South
Pacific and buried their treasure on it. I’ve been trying to
remember all the directions to the buried treasure, Flint’s
treasure, that is, and what Long John Silver added. It’s
coming back to me slowly, little bits at a time, but it’s not
all there yet. When it’s all come back, I’ll tell you all, you
and your brother Chris and your Mum and Dad. We can all
go to the island where the treasure is buried. We can dig it

up and we’ll all be rich.”