There is a Writer’s Festival on this week in Bowral. They seem to pop up everywhere now. I have never been to one yet. They are at the drop of a hat (or book) in Bali too. Each day this week something to do with books and writing is on somewhere in this region. Helvi has read the pamphlet. It combines writers and their published books with lunches and sumptuous dinners. The prices range from $25.- to $150.- per person. A large banner is hung across the main street in Bowral advertising the event. You wonder if writer’s festivals are in cahoots with restaurants to bolster trade?
There are two book shops in Bowral. One right next to the other. They have been here for years. Both often feature the same books. Mainly cooking. Lots of colour photos of pork crackling, almost to the point that the books seem to sizzle in sympathy. This week they both feature the Writers Festival. A good selection of known and unknown (by me) writers will grace the festival to talk to and answer questions by interested readers and budding writers. The Writer’s Festival advertisements also feature in the windows of chemist shops vying for space with the incontinence pads for the mature. Is there a link between reading books and incontinence? Does a Paracetamol tablet help? Does reading give cause for intestinal hurry syndrome? I must investigate.
I am not sure that if having a book published, and the deal includes also sitting at a dinner table and field questions from eager readers, would be worth it. How keen would I be to go through that? Would I not remain mute, staring at my plate with the rare-cooked beef-mignon and Kipfler spuds? Or would I do a chameleon and change in a stand-up raconteur? There are those who write brilliantly and also perform well in public. I don’t.
Some years back I was asked if I would like to be interviewed on radio by someone called ‘Red’. The radio program was a light early breakfast kind of show. It was meant to be filled with laughter and happiness. I should have been suspicious. The interview was a result of what I had written on the ABC ‘ The Drum.’ I had never heard of him but my daughters had. I remember sweating all night on what I would say and how my answers would come across. I knew the date and time when this short few seconds interview would take place, and had settled in a comfortable chair an hour before the interview. I had also taken a shower, brushed my teeth.I was phoned up by ‘Red’s’ secretary and advised to turn my radio off. A time lapse would only confuse me! I never heard or listened to the interview.
Many years before I was interviewed on TV about my experiences having undergone a vasectomy. Millions watched this, including my mother. “How is your performance now, post vasectomy, Mr Oosterman?” ” “Has it improved, or are you still recovering”, I was asked by the smirking but attractive Channel 9 girl. Did I shrink? The local butcher had watched it too. “You had it cut off?, he asked while packing the snags. Confidence is a strange animal. Fortunately, no interviews since.
I remember after boarding the boat to Finland that I had taken a suit on board in my suitcase, together with some of my small paintings with the gum trees and blue sky.. Was it the same suit that I wore in the Bank during my stint in Amsterdam? I have forgotten. I do remember lots of Australians on their way to England for their first experiences of a different country. A few passengers are worth mentioning. One was a large stomached Australian man with huge feet clamping equally large rubber thongs between enormous toes. Each day one would find him on the deck giving court to many listeners, all of whom seemed to crack tinnies of beer all day long. As the day grew in tandem with the mountain of tax-free empty tinnies, it became more and more raucous. On one particular day he held forth on the item of ‘love’. “Oh love, he said dismissively, “it is nothing but something with hair on it!” It resulted in a huge outburst of mirth by his disciples, almost an applause, certainly an approval. And then…, he did not come on deck anymore. Questions were asked. He had died midway between Aden and Port Said. I wondered if he died wearing his thongs?
Another person on-board was a Finnish boy named Pirkko. He was on his way back to Finland, permanently. He did not like it in Australia. He had worked at Mount Isa, a large mining town and was somewhat reticent and shy, the opposite of the garrulous Aussies. I confided in him that I was going to Finland to marry a Finnish girl and showed him a photo of Helvi. He was impressed and spoke about his family and background. The Finns are known for avoiding small talk and Pirkko was no exception. We would spent hours talking in silence. He disappeared soon after we both arrived by ferry on the Finnish shore from Sweden’s Stockholm. I thought too then that he wanted to meet a girl from his home country.
From Genoa on I took a train to Stockholm and then the ferry to Finland. As the boat berthed at Finland’s Turku, I looked down from the deck of this huge ferry, she was there, waiting for me. She looked up and recognised me too.