Short-story writing quality high

Shannon Brookes, winner Leanne Braddick and Belinda Engelman. 196584

Leanne Braddick has won local author Alan Cobham’s short-story competition.

Alan, author of ‘What’s the Point’, ploughed more than $2000 of his own money into the competition to encourage budding local authors to write more.

Seven ‘heats’ were held each month where writers were required to pen no more than 500 words on a particular topic.

Judges then decided on a monthly winner, who was presented with $200 at Bookgrove.

The seven finalists were given free licence to write whatever they wanted and Leanne’s entry was judged best with Shannon Brookes and Belinda Engelman winning consolation pries.

The announcement was held at Driftwood cafe where Leanne’s daughter Eliza read out her mother’s winning entry.

Leanne’s winning entry was ‘The Lengths I will Go To’, a story about Beanie the slater, who fell down a drainpipe and had to be rescued.

“I knew the answer required a bowl. Ashamed to admit it now, I did use one of the cereal bowls provided. What choice did I have? It was life or death.” Leanne writes.

Alan Cobham thanked all participants and Stacey Moore from Bookgrove.

“I hope it has encouraged others to write more,” he said.

“I didn’t know what to expect before it started, whether anyone would participate, but we had a steady seven to ten entries each time.

“The quality of the writing was excellent.

“Even individuals improved markedly from their first entry right through.

“It was a tough job judging the final. All seven stories were high in quality.”

The lengths that I will go to

by Leanne Braddick

Dear Geelong Animal Rescue,

In answer to the request for information on your adoption form: ‘Please tell us about your current and previous pets,’ I would like to proffer this story for your consideration. I hope that the facts contained therein will sufficiently convince you of our suitability as a forever home, for Peppy the nine- year old miniature poodle.

The story of Squidgy and Beanie (Beanie specifically), is one that will live on forever in my family’s hearts and minds. It has all the elements of a gripping tale – love, sliding door moments, a desperate fight for survival against the clock, and lightning quick thinking. All of this AND a

description of manual skills incorporating plumbing components.

It goes thus: Squidgy and Beanie were my daughter’s pet slaters, who had accompanied us on a road trip to Avoca Beach, New South Wales. Eliza attended to their food requirements with religious zeal. The careful way she arranged the partially rotted zucchini slices in the slaters’ plastic container domain, was not unlike the precision one would use in feeding a much higher order animal. Like one with a proper brain, as opposed to a few clusters of neurons.

Eliza took care to make sure the enclosure was not overloaded. This was for the dual reasons of not overfeeding the creatures, and avoiding a compost bin-like aroma in the various places of accommodation in which we stayed. One night, as part of this feeding strategy, our daughter even removed an offending, overly rotten zucchini strip and relocated it in the little, lidless motel bin found in the main area of the motel room. That was the level of attention given to these animals’ health and well-being. I saw it slide slowly (almost imperceptibly) down the bin liner. It moved just like the blob of sloppy cabbage that fell out of the bottom of a large spring roll I was eating at the Melbourne Show once (The spring roll was the highly sloppy version of the Chiko Roll). It fell on a glass display case in the craft pavilion. I was ten years old and with my friend and her strict mother.

Somehow, I don’t think the woman thought it had anything to do with me and my inexperience with spring rolls. With a disgusted look she just said, ‘Some people are pigs.’ I quickly ate the rest of it before she noticed the similarities between my lunch and the disgusting blob.

We arrived at the holiday park in Sydney at dusk, after a somewhat stressful drive through peak hour traffic. The experience of opening the car door into the cool freshness of the delightful bush setting was instantly tarnished. This was due to the unexpected and somewhat alarming auditory proximity of the Boeing 747s. Alternatively, they may have been Airbus A380s. My knowledge of aircraft does not extend beyond, ‘That’s a big plane.’

VOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM.

‘Mum! Was that thunder?!’ our seven year old cried out in anguish. ‘I’m s-c-a-r-e-d! What was that?

Was that an earthquake?!’

‘No….it’s alright Lizy…it’s just a big plane (see?) flying right over our heads,’ I answered as reassuringly as I could. ‘We must be near an airport.’

‘But how come it’s so LOUD?’

I sighed. Back home about the only night sounds outside are the wind and the ocean. ‘It’s because…’

VOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM.

At this point, another big plane drowned out my words. It could have been the Hughes H-4 Hercules making a comeback as far as I could tell. It was MASSIVELY LOUD.

‘MUM! DAD! I want to go inside the cabin NOW!’ our daughter pleaded, panicking. ‘My ears are HURTING!’

In the dim light of the car’s interior, my long- suffering husband dug around for the cabin key in his deep front jeans pocket, contorting himself while still in the driver’s seat. He looked like a gymnast in some kind of arched-back floor routine position, with legs stretched out, toes pointed, and head to one side. Instead of Tchaikousky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ playing in the background, there was only the sound of his repeated grunts and sighs as he struggled.

‘DAAAAAD! Hurry UP!’ The pressure was building to find those keys.

‘ELIZA! Just WAIT! Stop being so dramatic!’ said Mark tensely. We were all tired and hungry. More contorting. He gave up and quickly got out of the car. He hopped from one foot to another. The long time away from amenities was taking its toll. The keys were in his jacket. ‘Here! Unlock the door! Quickly! I’m busting!’

Our daughter picked up the slaters’ enclosure and opened the cabin. After everyone had availed themselves of the facilities, Eliza began to show Beanie and Squidgy around. Mark and I wearily hauled multiple unnecessary bags from the boot and dumped them in the rapidly shrinking area inside. At least we could look forward to a rest and a cuppa imminently.

‘Really! Did we have to bring the acoustic bass this time?’ I complained. ‘We’ve got to look into those uke basses. One of those would be so much easier to pack, carry and not end up using when we go away.’

Mark didn’t hear me. He was standing on a little white folding step, wrestling with one of the bikes on the roof rack. In the fading light, he was like an Olympic weightlifter, holding the deformed barbell high above his head. The front wheel swung loose, changing the weight distribution

constantly. One tiny misjudgement here would spell disaster. ‘BLOODY HELL! This bike is so HEAVY!’ he yelled in exasperation. I suppressed a chuckle. The old baby seat, still attached, puts too much weight on the rear end of the bike. I keep hanging on to it though. Partly because it’s handy for carrying things, and partly because I can’t bear to remove it.

Before I could think of something useful to say or do, the shrill dread-inducing scream of our child in the cabin silenced us. ‘MUM! COME QUICKLY! HELP! MUUUMMM!’ Leaving my precariously wobbling husband with the too- heavy bike, I sprinted through the open door, expecting to see blood. Hoping there wouldn’t be too much. Hoping it was going to be one of those, ‘There’s a spider in here!’ moments, where the spider is so minuscule it barely registers as a living entity.

Eliza was ashen. The last time her face was that pale, she needed a chest x-ray. ‘Eliza! Are you ok? What’s wrong? What’s happened? Did you fall off something?’ The questions flew out of my mouth like popcorn shooting out of a popcorn machine. A few milliseconds passed, where as a parent my fear was metamorphosing into annoyance. My senses perceived that there were indeed no injuries.

That this would in fact be, another maddening parenting encounter. You are exhausted. You have many more tasks to complete before you are even close to enjoying an ‘Aaaaahhhh’ moment with a hot beverage. Yet, your child is going to delay you from having this brief pleasure for an even longer time. To involve you in some ludicrous situation.

I was about to let fly when Eliza wailed, ‘Mum! Beanie fell down the drain!’

‘What drain? WHAT? What were you DOING?’ This wasn’t sounding good.

‘I…I put Beanie on my forehead…..and was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. And he….fell down the hole.’ She was in shock. One minute, the slater exploring her face. Next…gone forever. I was about to launch into … ‘That’s really sad Eliza, but we have things to do…,’ but looked again at her frightened face, her eyes pleading with me to fix this nightmare. Our chances of enjoying our time at this place completely depended on what happened next. Then came the earnest, quivery, heart- aching question that drove me to take action: ‘Is…Beanie… going out to sea now?’

Every second counted. I flung open the bathroom cabinet doors. I had performed this manoeuvre only once before, when as a much younger woman I had dropped a tiny stud earring down the plug-hole. Why was I even bothering with tiny stud earrings? My hair is long. Same with the daily eyelash curler routine. I shuddered at the memory of my younger self, occasionally pinching my actual eyelid skin in the ridiculous contraption. We all only have a limited amount of time in this world, and I was spending some of my precious quota on daily eyelash curling.

I knew the answer required a bowl. Ashamed to admit it now, I did use one of the cereal bowls provided. What choice did I have? It was life or death. I did wash it thoroughly afterwards. Before we proceed further with this, I want you to understand something about my character. I am the type of person that, before leaving any accommodation, will strip the beds. Not only that, but I neatly fold all of the blankets. Any pillows we haven’t used will be stacked in a separate area, often with a little note on top saying, ‘These were not used.’ Every crumb in the kitchen will be swept up, surfaces wiped, and any spills in the microwave banished. Once Eliza bled a microscopic drop of blood onto a patchwork quilt at Yanakie near Wilson’s Prom. I told the owner. I also told the owner after Eliza vomited in a plastic salad bowl at an apartment in Merimbula. You will be relieved to know she told us to throw it in the bin.

Anyway, I knew I needed to unscrew something called a PVC U- shaped trap fitting. The bowl had to be small enough to fit under the low hanging pipe. I prayed it would not overflow with whatever putrid grunge this holiday park pipe contained. I hoped that, we would not become ill from the hideous pathogens, that could only reside in still water full of (who knew what) three-dimensional substances. The mission had to be a success before the poor crustacean drowned.

I squatted before the pipe that held within it the key to our holiday happiness. With the bowl in position, I carefully started to unscrew the U-shaped trap fitting. In the rush to save Beanie’s life, I had forgotten the cabin door was wide open, with the bathroom and me in full view. I heard voices approaching. I froze. Sweat beaded on my upper lip. This was my equivalent to scaling a crane at a Melbourne construction site. I imagined various reactions of the park manager, including, ‘Are you ok there? If you’re looking for more toilet paper you’ll have to ask at reception. Have you already gone through two rolls?’ Or the more scary, ‘Oi! YOU! What the hell are you doing TAKING THAT PIPE APART?!’ I tried to imagine an answer I could give that contained the best chances of: 1) making the manager go away, leaving me to rescue the slater, and 2) not making me sound like a freak. I had nothing.

How WOULD I explain this to any normal person? What would happen if I couldn’t put it all back together again afterwards? Images from the 1970’s British sitcom, ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’, came to mind. It was a cringe inducing show we used to watch when we were kids, starring Michael Crawford playing the role of Frank Spencer. Frank means well and tries his best but is hopelessly accident- prone. The usual storyline of each episode was that Frank tries to fix some very small problem, like a painting hanging on a slightly crooked angle. By the end of the show, the room is destroyed. It was extremely frustrating to watch. We’d all be yelling out at the telly, ‘NO! DON’T! WHAT ARE YOU DOING! STOP! YOU IDIOT! OH MY GOD!’ None of us could understand how his poor wife Betty was coping with the endless insane and highly embarrassing predicaments he kept creating for them. I’ve tried to watch it recently and just can’t handle it.

What was I thinking? What would happen if the water started spraying everywhere, like in a Frank Spencer situation? Trouble was, time was running out. Mark walked in. He surveyed the scene, and we both knew it would be pointless him trying to help. He has nil interest in PVC pipes. Neither do I.

It’s just that I had that earring incident years before. Fortunately, in those pre-internet times, I had a Reader’s Digest Book titled, ‘Household Hints and Handy Tips.’ On the cover is a scene out of another time (1990). Someone actually using hand shears to trim a hedge, and a pair of hands weaving a pastry lattice on a pie. On page one hundred and ten there is a little hand drawn picture, and description of how to remove the trap under the sink. Bless that book. It worked last time and I had to believe it would again.

I slowly unscrewed the coupling nuts, beginning with the higher one. Ok…I can’t remember that level of detail. It was a pipe. There were things to unscrew. There was a sudden, but non-voluminous flow into the bowl. Disgusted, I added the contents of the U-shaped pipe. Luckily, there was room to spare, so no overflow. I was appalled, but oddly thrilled at how relatively smoothly things were proceeding so far. The water was chock full of foul fragments of who knows what. I scanned frantically for any sign of the miniature crustacean.

Then…Elation! There amongst the swirling specks of the previous guests’ saliva, was a tiny being. Tossing around like a limp crab in a gentle wave. My first instinct was to dip my finger into this filth, right under the wretched insect. Crustacean.

To our amazement, the creature clambered onto my finger, like a drowning man thrown a finger-shaped life raft. Except that it continued crawling around immediately afterwards. A half drowned man would lay there, spluttering and coughing, using his superior cognitive functions to reflect over what had just happened, and how close he came to annihilation. Beanie, on the other hand, behaved as if nothing at all had happened in the previous ten minutes.

I will never EVER forget the look on Eliza’s face as long as I live. Beanie was alive….ALIVE! I had just turned complete pain into complete pleasure using some basic plumbing skills from ‘Household Hints and Handy Tips.’ My daughter looked up at me with total and utter love and admiration. She squeezed me as tightly as only a small skinny kid can, for a very long time. ‘I love you SO MUCH MUM! I can’t believe it! You saved Beanie! YOU’RE THE BEST MUM IN THE WORLD!’ she shouted euphorically. I thought of my own mum, who had given me the handy tips book when I left home, a long time ago. ‘Thanks Mum,’ I thought.

I put the pipe back together. There was a tiny bit of occasional leakage after that. Lucky the bowl was there to catch the drips.

Beanie went on to live out (almost) the rest of the holiday with Squidgy. Unfortunately, they were both found dead upon arrival at a motel in Albury. Eliza blames our forgetting them in the car overnight the night before. Mark’s opinion is that the whole day of travelling in the car did it. I

thought it must have been the hour’s lunch break at Goulburn. Whichever way, we learned a valuable lesson about pets and cars.

And so, dear Geelong Animal Rescue – I hope the story just told illustrates to you the depth of commitment we would have to Peppy, the nine year old miniature poodle, if you would kindly allow us to adopt her. We don’t have any current pets, but we went above and beyond for the ones we did.They didn’t even have proper brains.

Yours sincerely,

Leanne

Postscript. While researching for this story I learned that Beanie was a woodlouse of the family Armadillidiidae, who breathed through gills attached to his legs. If submerged in water he could have survived for about an hour. He also didn’t urinate, but expelled waste through his shell in the form of ammonia vapour. Lastly, he drank through his bottom and ate his own faeces (QI crustacean facts: did you know that woodlice don’t urinate? by Anne Miller and John Mitchinson 2013). We didn’t know if Beanie was actually male. It is too late now to check. So, what I am saying is, that had we known these facts when we had Beanie, we WOULD have had plenty of time to unload the car, and have a cup of tea, before dismantling the bathroom. It just shows that you do need to do your research first, before acquiring any animal. 

Your first stop before buying a home. View the whole picture.