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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rocket Men (1)

When inspiration comes, you just have to go with it. Bugger any other story you're half-way through; you write about what's on your mind or it gnaws away at you. You try to concentrate on the other story but this one won't let go. You have no choice. You must get it out there. Set it free.

So here it is. I'll do my best to keep it short but it spawns at least three other stories
I will ignore. Fear not; there is a Part 2.

They're like Hydra's heads. You cut off one of them and you have to put several others on the list.

Who are these people who get writer's block? Didn't they ever have a life? Don't they know there's at least one good story in every day?

Now, here it is. Really. Cross my heart.

Dick Goon Chew and I. Guess who's who.
I was on my way to Magnetic Island. If you've been there lately, my memory of it wouldn't be recognisable to you, because this was 1961 and it was a pristine backwater with little habitation. 

  1961. Now that's a very significant date for me, but for reasons of privacy of one very close, I can't say why. (Stay with the story, foolish boy.)

   I was going to a Leaders Camp run by National Fitness Australia. I was 14 going on 15, selected because I'd been coaching gymnastics for several years, even at that tender age. (Stay with this story... stay... stay!) The camp was run by a very athletic Dick Goon Chew, together with guest instructors like the famous Laurie Lawrence. (Another two stories there, but.... stay... stay.)

Undecipherable: the text is below
   This is not about the NFC camp, but an incident on the way up on the train from Gladstone to Townsville, the latter being the jump-off point for the boat trip over to Magnetic Island. The experience to which I refer was so chilling for me that I distracted myself from it by composing a poem – a scrawled one written and revised at intervals on the jolting train in a second-class compartment on the Sunlander during the 18 hour trip. (The real Sunlander, that is, not this new-fangled tilt train that now takes half the time.)

    I viewed this scrap of paper again for the first time in 50 years, while looking for something else entirely. (Thanks, Tracey, for finding this poem, but... stay.... Don't stray....)

    This piece of doggerel, which I thought vaguely amusing as a 14 year old, had nothing to do with the incident I found disturbing, except as a diversion from it. All I intended to do by composing it was to take my mind off what was happening beside me in the train compartment. 

   I'm amused at how contrived it is, from this distance of half a century, but you know, I've seen some not much better printed in poetry books. So, I'm far from ashamed of it, for it was the product of my mind at fourteen years of age.

   It's the mind of a boy I think I can still recognise inside me, and maybe, if you've read some of my other stories, you will too. 

The Home-Made Rocket

The idea came with brilliant thought and planning –
A gem – from Rolly, Bert and Thomas.
It needed little ardent fanning,
That flame of dare which indicated promise.

The rocket was the product of tradition
Made to reach beyond the furthest star.
The wick was long, of subtle composition.
The fuel solid – as most modern rockets are.

All three inventors knew of its potential,
Though inert now, it generated fear,
So Thomas said (he was most influential)
"Light it Bert; it's really your idea."

In face of this the youngster could not fade
And set it up with inward trepidation,
But lacking that which mightier men has made
Retired soon to safer habitation.

The astronauts, with little close inspection
Now wished it dead at this eleventh hour.
It altered course; and right in their direction
And none of them had doubts about its power.

No prophet could foretell its course exact,
For weaving vaguely in its frenzied flight
The missile left its proper goal intact
And scattered its creators left and right.

So scientists, please note this little drama
The course you planned may well be parabolic.
But when you aim for unknown panorama
Your rocket too may turn out diabolic.
Rocket Men (1) | Rocket Men (2)


  1. No longer a need for words.
    Thank you, Denis

    "High Flight"

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

    And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    John Gillespie Magee. Jr.

    The remainder:

    1. An extraordinary poem, by a boy who, in common parlance, 'met his Maker' at an age younger than my stepson is now. Read the whole poem, but as importantly, the biography.

      To make it even easier for you:

      "High Flight"

      Thank you for this.

  2. What on earth was going on beside you in that compartment??!!

    1. Now you know. :) For some, used to evils we innocents raised in a secure environment could not comprehend, it may seem a petty thing, blown out of all proportion. But proportion is achieved only by experience, even if at times vicarious.


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