the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

A day in Oxford

Travelling home from the NAWE conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, Dave and I stopped for a night in Oxford. We had a wonderful day visiting one of my favourite places, the Pitt Rivers Museum. The entrance is situated inside this fabulous building: the Oxford University Museum Natural History (OUMNH) on Parks Road.


The door leading to the Pitt Rivers Museum is on the far side of the building and there are plenty of exhibits to distract along the way. I love the way visitors are encouraged to touch some of the items on display.


(If you’re interested, the American Black Bear has quite a coarse coat.)

I love the Pitt Rivers Museum – it must be one of the few to offer the loan of a torch to assist in reading the many tiny, handwritten labels. I like to head of the displays of artefacts from Papua New Guinea. (I lived in the Highlands for two years from 1982-84 and have written about some of the things I brought home here and there’s a fictional story here.)

This is a photo of a display of lime spatulas from Papua New Guinea. (Lime powder is used in the process of chewing betel nut which stains the teeth red and gives a mild euphoric high.)


If you’re ever in Oxford, do go along to the museum – you’ll find some very surprising items on display.
















In the Highlands

Here is the short fiction story that came highly commended in the National Poetry Day Bournemouth flash fiction competition. It’s titled In the Highlands.

Scan 8Droplets fall in parallel lines and the rain plinks against the earth. Banana leaves fan the mist, and beneath the covered balcony of the lodge, there’s activity in the kitchen. I’m startled by shouts in Tok Pisin then I concentrate, trying to make sense of the words. Elias appears barefoot in the doorway and watches the downpour; his springy hair shows a scattering of flour. He lights a cigarette rolled in newsprint and takes a long drag. ‘Im bagarap.’

‘Bugger up, indeed.’ I assume he’s referring to the weather, but it could be a disaster in the kitchen, judging from the smell of burning that wafts. He disappears inside before I have a chance to practice my conversational skills, not that he really wants to talk to me. It’s easier being with the women in Papua New Guinea. They chatter and stroke my hair with fingers thin as vanilla pods.

When the sun splits the clouds, I walk to the edge of the gully. The land is covered in a lemon light and the river is a piece of twisted foil. In a clearing, little children emerge from kunai houses, squat wooden buildings with smoke seeping through the thatch. One boy is naked but for a belt of twine strung around his middle and his head’s been shaved. The hair is used to make ceremonial wigs which the tribesmen decorate with bird of paradise feathers. I have at least learnt something during my study tour.

‘An-i-ta’ The three syllables of my name bounce over the distance from the lodge. I return to find Elias with his hands cupped. Whatever he’s holding, I hope it isn’t alive. Last night a moth the size of a dinner plate had me cowering under the covers.

‘Lukim yu.’ He hands me a clump of moss and the roots of an orchid show. The flower hangs delicate between the leaves. I lean close to breathe the scent of honey.

Elias’s smile is broad and his brown eyes dance. ‘Nais.’

‘Very nice.’ The flower nods as I examine the structure and the dotted markings on the waxy petals. I find words of thanks in Tok Pisin, ‘Tenkyu.’

Elias shows me how to strap the orchid to a tree and each day I walk the garden to admire the plant. The gift is an entry into his world.


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Black Pug Books, Wimborne

Victoria Sturgess, in the bookshop

Victoria Sturgess, in the bookshop

Black Pug Books has been open in Wimborne every Thursday, Friday and Saturday since October 2012. As a newcomer to the town, Victoria Sturgess has made her mark on the popular thoroughfare by opening a bookshop full of ‘loved and used books’ at 24 West Borough. Sitting in Victoria’s front room, it is a pleasure to be surrounded by a hand chosen collection of out-of-print books. The shelves groan at the sheer weight of choice and I was delighted to purchase ‘An Outpost in Papua’ by Arthur Kent Chignell an account of missionary work in the early 1900s.  Anything written about Papua New Guinea interests me, owing to my experience of living in Wabag, Enga Province during the 1980s.

wimborne 002Victoria has always wanted to run a book shop and began purchasing books that would form the stock three years ago.  Paperbacks are a sideline (along with LPs, cigarette cards and magazines) and these are displayed in a wheelbarrow that is set outside the front door whenever the shop is open.  Victoria encourages customers to knock on the door to gain access outside normal opening hours or you can telephone ahead for special visiting arrangements.

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Bored with Boxing Day? Read a little bit more about PNG

For those of you still wondering what on earth the artefact below is used for, let me put you out of your misery.  It is not a drinking vessel or a hearing aid, but a piece of clothing.

penis gourd

A penis gourd is worn amongst the male members of tribes in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. It is secured by the rattan loop and worn in an upright position without other clothing.  While it is frequently assumed that the wearer is making a sexual display it is more usual for Highlanders to simply wear the penis gourd to cover themselves.

One of my other treasures from Papua New Guinea is my bilum bag. This is a netted bag which is made from imported wool that is twisted into twine.  The colours make this type of bag more sought after than the tradition ones made from woven plant reed. Each bilum has a long strap that is worn by women across the forehead to enable the carrying of heavy loads balanced over the back.  Depending on the design, bilums also make useful baby carriers.

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A bit about Wabag, Papua New Guinea

I was minded to think of life in Papua New Guinea when I wrote the story called Big Wash which was published in the Writers’ Abroad anthology titled Foreign Encounters. The story details the eccentricities of expatriate life and is based on my experiences of living in Wabag, Enga Province in the early 1980s.

Something about the Highlands of Papua New Guinea has never left me and The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska took me right back to Wabag. Although I don’t own any of the bark cloth that is mentioned in the book, I do have one of these:

Kina shell

This is a kina shell necklace, made from Gold Lip Shell and drilled with two holes to allow it to be worn.  When the Leahy brothers first discovered the Highlands during the 1930s, their search was for gold which the Highlanders willing exchanged for pearl shells. These shells are valued all over Papua New Guinea but particularly in the Highlands where contact between tribes traditionally brought the shells very slowly from the coast to the mountain valley.

Papua New Guinea currency is also called the kina but the shells continue to be used in traditional ceremonial payment.

I also have one of these:

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