short story: Bunch of Doves by Ewa Ramsey

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 29. Picture: Simone De Peak
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Read more finalists’ stories hereI TOLDMum about the birds at dinner.

“And then we were walking out of the shop and Mr Harrison’s truck made a big bang and a huge bunch of doves went flying out of that tree on the corner.

“They were so noisy! Eak eak eak! Pippa nearly cried!”

I thought she would laugh but she didn’t laugh.

I put the chicken nugget I was holding in my mouth. It was still cold in the middle.

“Did not.” Pippa banged her fork on the table.

“Did too! I saw you!”

“Not.”

“Too!”

“Samson!” Mum’s voice cracked from the kitchen. “Stop teasing your sister.”

I stopped chewing. “But …”

“And stop talking with your mouth full. And …”She snapped her head around.

“Where’s your fork? Why are you eating with your fingers again?

“You wouldn’t do that if your dad was here. Jesus!”

She slapped the edge of the sink and I saw Pippa jump. Her eyes were big like they were before she cried.

“And they’re corellas. Not doves,” she snorted. “In a flock. Not a bunch.”

I swallowed. “Sorry.” A flock of corellas, I tried to remember.

Mum was smart.

Nanna said that when Mum was my age she won an award for writing some story and it got in the paper.

Nanna said Mum was supposed to do something with her life. Not – she looked at me and Pippa with that face she made sometimes -that you’re not something.

But she was supposed to do more.

“So a flock of corellas went past and Hannah said …”

“Did Hannah get milk?”

“Yes. And bread and teabags. Like on your list.”

“Good.”

And a killer python for me and some freckles for Pippa. But we weren’t supposed to tell that part.

Once the lady at the shop said Mum wasn’t right in the head. It was the first time Hannah took us home and they thought I wasn’t listening but I was. The lady said she felt sorry for us. Because of Dad, and because Mum wasn’t right in the head.

I picked up another nugget and looked at Mum as I chewed it.

She held a mug of tea up to her face like she was smelling it. Her head looked fine. Her nose was a bit pointy and her eyebrows were very dark but she was pretty. One of the prettiest mums at school, even if she didn’t wear make-up or always brush her hair.

“Samson, are you eating with your fingers again?”

I shook my head but when I looked down I was still holding half a nugget. I didn’t know whether to shove it into my mouth or drop it on my plate so I went to do both and it fell into my lap instead, and then splud on to the floor, sauce-side down.

Mum sighed, looked up at the ceiling.

“Now you’ve done it, Samson. Honestly …” She did a funny breath. “If you just used your bloody fork … Just wait until your dad comes home.”

“But …”

“Samson.”

Another funny breath.

“No, but, when I use my fork I …”

She turned away. “Save it for your dad, Samson.”

“But …”

She always said things like that. Wait until your dad comes home. Save it for your dad. You’d be better if your dad was here.

“Just eat your dinner. With your fork.”

Her eyes were really big. And kind of pointy. I know you can’t have pointy eyes but Mum sort of had pointy eyes. When she looked at me sometimes it was like they were poking me. Maybe that was the wrong thing. Or maybe it was the freckle on her cheek.

She breathed out funny again and turned her whole body away so I couldn’t see any more.

From the back, her head just looked normal.

Nanna said I should be more patient with Mum. That this was very hard for her. Then she told Mum should be more patient with me. He’s just a kid, she said. And Mum would say she knew, and she was sorry.

I picked up another nugget. They were cold all over now.

“Muuum!” Pippa banged her fork on the table. “Samson’s using fingers!”

I tried to shush her but she didn’t stop, so I threw the nugget at her.

“Samson! Christ!” Pointy eyes again. Pointy eyes. Pointy nose. Funny big scary eyebrows. Freckle on her cheek. And a scar across her chin from when she fell over before Pippa was born. Not right in the head.

“I didn’t mean …”

She looked at the ceiling again, and I wanted to say I didn’t mean to throw the nugget but I did mean to throw the nugget.

Pippa didn’t even care. She was eating it, with her fingers. Pippa ate anything. She’d probably been waiting for me to throw the nugget for ages.

“I’m …”I wanted to say sorry but I wasn’t sorry.

“You know what?” Mum put down her mug. Thunk. Too hard. “Forget it. Forget all of it. Your dad can sort it out.” She looked at me with her pointy eyes again, then she walked out of the room.

“But …”

“Forget it, Samson.” I heard the door slam.

Pippa looked at me, still chewing her nugget. “My nugget”, grumbled my belly. I shouldn’t have thrown it. Her eyes were big like Mum’s, but round, like they were supposed to be.

“It’s OK, Pippy.” I said. “That flock of corollas was pretty exciting, wasn’t it? Eak eak eak!”

Pippa laughed.

“You ready for your bath?”

Mum got confused sometimes. About Dad.

Nanna said I should be patient with her, but it was hard when she got confused. It was hard when she talked like he was going to come and run our bath and put us to bed, like other dads.

His eyes weren’t pointy. They were blue.

I think.

I couldn’t really remember.

Some days I couldn’t remember him at all.


The day Gladys Berejiklian became the 45th Premier of NSW

Gladys Berejiklian and Dominic Perrottet at Monday’s press conference. Photo: Wolter Peeters Ms Berejiklian is sworn in by Governor David Hurley at Government House. Photo: Wolter Peeters
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Ms Berejiklian embaces her parents and sisters at Government House. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Gladys Berejiklian’s day started in the most ordinary of ways – catching a bus to work. But by mid-afternoon she had been sworn in as the 45th Premier of NSW.

The Willoughby MP’s bus ride was to the state Parliament where, at a party room meeting, she was formally elected as the NSW Liberal Party’s leader and therefore the next premier.

In the late morning, she strode into the Jubilee Room, known for its book-lined walls and ornate stained-glass ceiling, to hold her first press conference as Premier-elect.

She said building local infrastructure, from bitumen roads to hospital wards, tackling housing affordability problems and strengthening the economy were three policy areas that would be hallmarks of her government.

Amid hard questions about council amalgamations, party instability and controversial privatisations, there was a topic area where she displayed a bring-it-on attitude.

Asked whether – like former prime minister Julia Gillard – she was prepared for questions about being a woman who was single and did not have children, she responded with: “Ask me one.”

One reporter asked: “Do you think this is a disadvantage?”

To which she replied, with a laugh: “Take me as you see me. Dom Perrottet [her deputy, who was standing beside her] has made up for me – you’ve got four kids.

“I’m someone who’s always been myself, and not all of us can plan how our life turns out,” she said.

“If you asked me 20 years ago would my life look like this, it would probably not be how it looks like.”

She described her Armenian immigrant parents – her father, Krikor, and mother, Arsha – as “outstanding human beings” who raised her and her sisters, Rita and Mary, to believe “we could be anything we aspired to be”.

They came to Australia from Jerusalem and Syria in the 1960s. Her father was a boilermaker and welder and one of his first jobs was working on the Sydney Opera House. Her mother was a nurse.

“In our household, there was no room for making complaints and excuses, you got on with the job,” she said.

One highlight of her day was no doubt the moment she and her family paused just at the entrance of Government House and tightened their arms around each other. Their arms were already criss-crossed behind each others’ backs.

Moments earlier, Ms Berejiklian, holding a black Bible, had been sworn in as the new Premier of NSW.

Ms Berejiklian paid tribute to her schoolteachers in the public education system, saying their hard work and encouragement led her to become the “strongest supporter” of the Gonski school funding reforms.

She confessed with a laugh that she has one thing in common with 45th US President Donald Trump, who was inaugurated on Friday: “That’s the number 45 and it pretty much stops after that.”

And how did she end her day? She said she usually enjoys spending her spare time playing golf, watching movies and reading books.

Monday night was probably very different.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Sundance Film Festival 2017: Melbourne filmmaker Kitty Green on her new film Casting JonBenet

Melbourne filmmaker Kitty Green. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer A scene from Casting JonBenet. Photo: Michael Latham, Courtesy of Sundance Institute
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The experimental documentary film Casting JonBenet was warmly received at its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, though Melbourne filmmaker Kitty Green’s unusual approach to the sensitive subject matter may yet drum up some controversy.

Already acquired by Netflix, the US-Australian co-production is vying for the prestigious festival’s US Documentary prize.

Early reviews have been broadly positive; entertainment site The Wrap called it “a work of grace and beauty”, but added “it may also have you questioning whether it’s right to turn the murder of a child into an art project”.

Green, 32, has taken an unconventional approach to her title subject JonBenet Ramsey, the six-year-old American beauty queen who was found brutally murdered in the basement of her family’s home on December 25, 1996, and whose murder has never been solved.

Instead of talking to those who knew Ramsey personally, Green cast people from her home town of Boulder, Colorado, as characters – including her mum Patsy, dad John and brother Burke.

Each of the roles is “played” by multiple actors, who perform on casting tapes and speculate about what might have happened to JonBenet, in between re-enactments of some of the evidence from the case.

In one scene, some of the child “Burkes” bash a melon with a torch until it smashes, in an attempt to prove whether JonBenet’s brother could have been strong enough to crack her skull.

Some viewers may think it poor taste when one of the boys is shown chomping into a piece of melon, but The Hollywood Reporter – which branded the film “powerful, provocative and dazzlingly original” – praised the “many moments of serendipitous, seemingly unplanned comedy” for lifting the mood of the subject matter.

Rather than trying to offer easy answers about who killed the little girl, Green’s film invites the viewer to consider the way that speculation surrounds such events and how people relate the tragedy to their own lives.

Introducing Green at the screening in Park City, Utah, one of the festival programmers described her as “an absolute visionary with a unique voice”.

The director was tested at a question and answer session following the film, as she was battling a heavy cold.

“A little ill is an understatement,” she said. “I can barely speak.”

Green explained that she drew on her award-winning documentary short The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul in making this latest feature, with the casting tape device “a beautiful way to explore all the suffering, pain and grief – the kind of things I’m interested in because I’m twisted”.

“Then I thought how do you go about casting it, if you don’t know if they’re guilty, if you don’t know if they’re innocent?” she said. “[The format] lends itself incredibly well to this. The cast knew what they were in for and they jumped down the rabbit hole with us. It was a big experiment for everyone.”

More than a dozen of the cast attended the premiere, and some revealed the emotional impact of being in the film.

Dixon White, who plays one of the incarnations of John Mark Karr – a teacher who falsely confessed to JonBenet’s murder – said: “This was my dream project; I love playing creepy dudes. At the time I was taking care of my mum and I got the call the day before she died and I filmed three days after. It was my dream come true and my mum’s dream, so I want to say thank you very much.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


short story: Leonardo’s Flight by Otto Fischer

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 28. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
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Read more finalists’ stories hereLEONARDOwas getting twitchy.

Eternity was a long time, and one of the few mathematical problems he had not yet got his head around. He’d only been here a mere 497 years and 17 days and he didn’t know if he could last the distance.

It showed. His beard was getting exceedingly ragged and he could barely see through his shamefully shaggy eyebrows. His mane of white hair was tied back in a ponytail –even manna didn’t taste good with hair in it. Angels shooktheir heads discreetly as they passed.

He’d filled notebook after notebook with drawings, calculations and musings, but even he was running out of ideas. His growing restlessness was causing the Higher Powers increasing concern, particularly his recent coded message to The Other Place.

Leonardo sidled up to St Peter for the third time that week. (He’d refused to abandon Earth Time, even though the Eternal Light made this difficult.) The Keeper of the Keys found Leonardo’s grovelling manner distasteful, although he knew it stemmed from a long career of currying favour from patrons. Princes of the Church could be difficult.

“For the life of me, don’t you ever give up?” St Peter exclaimed.

“But, but … just for a day! Just to see how folk are running with my ideas, given a few centuries,”Leonardo pleaded, to which St Peter replied:“Look, you got here by the skin of your teeth, let me remind you! They’ve run with your ideas all right – machine-guns, tanks, submarines, weapons of death. Are you proud? And dissection of dead bodies … that wasn’t strictly kosher at the time, was it? You were lucky to get away with that!”

“Hey, I did some very nice religious paintings! Very time-consuming they were too!”

The saint sighed. This Italian certainly was persistent. (He couldn’t help an unsaintly resentment about his final indignity in Rome: why upside down for goodness sake?) Peter was capable of some very succinct language – he was a fisherman after all – but it was like water off a duck’s back with this one!

“Leonardo, I can sympathise to some extent. Settling in can take some time. But I won’t be badgered into giving in! I pride myself on my firmness. After all, I am The Rock!

“Heaven isn’t like The Other Place. They’re slack there. They allow visits all the time, and look at the results: wars, pestilence and plagues, and weird American election results! Here we allow only the odd judicious miracle and occasional apparition.

“But I’m not unreasonable. And I know, despite your impatience, that you haven’t done a Faust on us. I’ll give in a little – only a little! I’ll let you go for a short time – only an hour, mind you! And I’ll put you down at random – not a place of your own choosing. Understand?”

Leonardo sulked. He gnawed at a wisp of unruly beard. Despite the hair, the after-taste of ambrosia cheered him up: Greek habits were seductive even here.

“All right,” he conceded. “It’s a deal!”

Leonardo found himself sitting on a promontory overlooking an ocean. The grass was cool and the darkening blue of the sky heralded approaching dusk. The ocean, ruffled blue and vast, whispered below. Lines of surf foamed white along a curving yellow strand. A sea breeze fanned his whiskers. He breathed in the air. He had been a sensuous man and now he thrilled at foreign scents. He knew this was an eastern coast, for the sun was sinking through gold-fringed clouds beyond low violet-blue hills. Yet this was not a Venetian sea.

He heard the plaintive call of gulls. They were different to the ones he knew. There was activity out at sea. Birds were spearing into a patch of ocean darker than the rest. His painter’s eye froze them in tableaus of flight –white black-fringed wings outstretched, tips curved slightly upward, orange-red legs tucked in, head cocked, observing the surface below. Wings folding in, elongated body gracefully tilting in a downward arc. The plunge, swift as an arrow, the entry cleanly efficient. He could imagine the frenzied fish below, darting this way and that. Scales shimmering loose in the water. Beauty in death.

Leonardo drank in the scene, the scent of the air, the balm of the breeze, the sound of the sea. His fingers itched for pencil and paper. Did he only have an hour?

Suddenly an apparition swooped between him and the sun, outlined by the brilliance of the background light. As he watched, spellbound, a running figure leapt and took to the air. Leonardo was right there with him, arms outstretched, feeling the lift. For he knew what this was. How often had he dreamed of it, longed for it! Pined for it!

The triangular wings were different, but unmistakably similar. It flew! He’d never doubted it would! Always practical, he wondered how the wings were stiffened, how strong the silk was.

He watched breathless as the man scythed soundlessly through the air, weightless as a bird, freed from the bonds of the Earth and the constraints of evolution. Godlike, he guided his craft in graceful flight, master of the air, joyous and free!

Leonardo smiled. He closed his eyes and a tear rolled down his cheek. In his mind he soared. His dream was vindicated!

“Thank you Peter!” he sighed. “I can face Heaven again …for a while.”


Australian Open 2017: Serena’s title to lose? First she must beat a player she has never played

The players at the top of the tree in the women’s game have been falling around her – at a rapid rate. Simona Halep was first to drop off, even before most spectators were comfortable in their seats on the opening day.
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Most significantly, the player who shocked her in last year’s final, women’s world No.1 Angelique Kerber, exited at the hands of American Coco Vandeweghe late on Sunday night.

With seeds one, three and four gone, many at Melbourne Park were pondering: Would world No.2 and six-time winner Serena Williams simply march her way to another title?

If not, then, which player would jump from the pack and become the newest winner of the Australian Open women’s title?

Of those who could potentially stand in her way, the next person across the net from Williams’ – the vastly-improved Johanna Konta of Great Britain – is an opponent player she has remarkably never played.

Fresh off her 7-5, 6-4 fourth round win over Czech Barbora Strycova, Williams sought confirmation that Konta was unbeaten in 2017, before adding: “Well, she’s been playing really well. She has a very attacking game. I know her game pretty well. I look forward to it.

“I have absolutely nothing to lose in this tournament. Everything here is a bonus for me. Obviously I’m here to win. Hopefully I can play better, I can only go better.”

Konta is one of the form players on tour and made her way to the quarters with a clinical 6-1, 6-4 over Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

There is a 10-year difference between Konta and Williams and the Brit admitted she had wondered when she would get her chance to take on one of the all-time greats.

“Interestingly, I was thinking that I would love the opportunity to be on court with her before she retired, but I doubt she’s talking retirement!

“She doesn’t seem like someone who will be talking like that. I think she will be playing until the very last ball she can possibly physically hit, I think.

“Yeah, I’m happy that I’m getting the chance to play her, and hopefully it won’t be the last time before she retires.” The younger of the Williams siblings and arguably the greatest female to play the sport, Williams has now reached the quarter-finals or beyond in Melbourne for an 11th time.

Only Williams is still in contention to add a seventh trophy to the mantelpiece, and not of course men’s world No.1 Andy Murray. It’s been that sort of tournament, replete with jaw-dropping results.

“Yeah, Murray was very shocking. I went to bed by the time the other match came on, because it was getting to be so late. Believe it or not, I’m still slightly jet lagged. I go to bed really early now,” the American said.

“But it’s been a couple interesting weeks for Angie [Angelique Kerber]. You know, she’s been dealing with a lot. I think she was able to handle it the best she could.

“I think Coco played really well. I think she really just came up with a wonderful game plan, and it was an easy match so it wasn’t too surprising.”

There’s also remains the tantalising prospect of a showdown in the women’s final against older sister Venus Williams who plays Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her quarter-final on Tuesday.

Quizzed on why two players in their mid-30s still having such an enormous impact on the women’s game, Serena said: “I think it’s impressive. I think in general people our age aren’t really playing at a top level, so indeed, it’s definitely impressive.

“Venus and I are mentally eight and nine, so that’s why we’re probably able to play a little better [smiling].”

For those who are wondering when her retirement is due, Serena had a salient word for when asked whether she felt older than 12 years ago. “Sadly, no. I wish I did, but sadly, I don’t.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


Expert says England rugby team’s work with MMA coach a smart move

A mixed martial arts expert has backed England rugby’s move to use MMA skills in defence work, saying players can become more efficient and conserve energy by utilising grappling techniques.
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Igor Breakenback says he has worked with a number of professional rugby players in the past and says the skills directly translate between the two sports.

England defence coach Paul Gustard revealed he had been working with an MMA expert in the lead-up to the Six Nations championship.

Breakenback, who teaches mixed martial arts at his gym in Bondi, says the biggest area where players can benefit is at the breakdown.

“Both sports play in the strength-endurance kind of area, so in rugby union you’re required to be explosive for long periods of time and obviously you need to have strength-endurance qualities,” Breakenback said.

“There are various skills that we train that are very compatible with rugby union, including take-down skills and grappling skills, because grappling happens quite extensively in rugby, as well as, obviously, tacking.

“The initial collision in rugby, the tackle, is just one area, what happens after that is basically the grappling part, or the take-down part, is a very different one. Somebody that practices mixed martial arts or wrestling or grappling, they have much better muscle memory in that area than rugby players.

“By practising, grappling specifically, or wrestling, it will allow you to transfer after the tackle straight into the grappling part of the rugby game much faster and more efficiently. Which results in having more energy for the rest of the game because you’re not using as much energy to take the person down and you’re not using as much energy to control the ruck.”

Breakenback said there were benefits a smaller athlete could get from learning the specific take-down techniques trained by martial arts practitioners.

“Jujitsu and mixed martial arts and all grappling sports pride themselves on that you can take a smaller, weaker person and then by understanding technique apply it against somebody that doesn’t [have the training], and be more successful in the same arena.”

A major aspect of rugby union is learning to use your body while still maintaining control of the football and MMA fighters are well trained in implementing manoeuvres while one body part is out of action.

“Another thing for mixed martial arts is we try to handicap ourselves when we practice very specifically. Let’s say you’ve thrown a punch and one arm is injured and you cannot use it, you still have to be able to defend yourself on the ground, even if that arm is not available to you.”

This skill is beneficial for the ball carrier in a maul in rugby union or getting rid of a tackler in league to play the ball faster.

“That specific practice is very transferable into playing with the ball,” said Breakenback.

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Australian Open 2017: Mischa Zverev, from Subway in southern Texas to beating Andy Murray

Mischa Zverev didn’t have a plan B. He didn’t have it two years ago and he didn’t have it two nights ago against Andy Murray. Fortunately, plan A worked.
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His plan A in life was to be a tennis player, but it was not working. He was in his mid-20s and his peers were in the top 10. He had beaten Andy Murray in the European Cup under 16s but then all that promise crumbled among many injuries.

He had herniated a disc, had fractured ribs and then badly fractured a wrist. His arm was in a sling and he couldn’t even hold a racquet. His ranking had dropped out of the top thousand, no, out of the top 1100.

He had nothing to do and nowhere to go so he figured he might help out some teenage friends of his talented younger brother whom his parents coached a bit. They were playing futures tournaments through America’s southern states and he offered to go along and help them out. They said OK..

It was here, bouncing around motor inns and eating takeaway in crappy south Texas towns he realised he shouldn’t be too hasty to give upon his own plan A in life. Plan B was grim.

“Nothing against south Texas, but we went to really small towns, playing futures, no hospitality. You stay at hotels, eat at Subway. You do all that stuff,” Zverev said.

“I realised, a): I missed playing myself; and b) I still felt like I could do some damage on court. I felt like I was still pretty young and I started missing tennis myself. As soon as I started feeling better, my wrist was better, I started my off-season 2014 in November with my brother and  I felt like, let’s try it again.”

That began a long road back that arrived most spectacularly two years later when he defeated world No.1 Murray in Melbourne on Sunday. A night earlier his much younger brother Sascha had taken Rafael Nadal to five sets in a match that announced him as tennis’ next generation in a way that, in contrast, prominent local players  had not.

Mischa was born in Russia 10 years before Sascha, who was born in Hamburg, Germany, where the family now live. The brothers are close despite their age difference and the teenager was the ingenue whose infectious enthusiasm drove him to reapply himself to life’s plan A and succeed.

Mischa finally got a break with his body and found that not only was his game still there but his time away had given him a mental resilience that gave him an edge on others. Hence he had the confidence on Sunday to know that when  plan A is a good one do not jump too quickly to plan B. Besides, against Murray he knew that if  A did not work there was no B.

Plan A was to play a high-risk game that demanded confidence and persistence. It was a game that had to be played without self-doubt. He played a game that was aggressive and in modern tennis terms, strikingly unconventional. He played a serve-volley game, coming to the net an extraordinary 119 times.

It was from the book of heresy that also outlaws tactics such as kicking a football long to a big man in the goal square or advising  opening batsmen to leave more balls than they hit. Crazy old tactics will never work.

Murray played well but was discomforted by this surprising and necessarily inventive game.

“I knew there was no plan B really. Like, I can’t stay on the baseline, a couple feet behind the baseline and try to out-rally him. He’s very strong physically. He has a good baseline game,” Zverev said.”I knew I had to come in. That was my only chance to win. So, yeah, honestly there was no plan B for me, so that’s all I could do.”

But he had to be comfortable with the risk he was taking, he had to be comfortable seeing Murray whistle balls back past him yet stick at his game. That confidence to persist was something that was borne of years of toil and disappointment and hours spent in southern Texas towns eating Subway.

“I believed in my game. I believed that playing serve and volley against him and slicing a lot, trying to destroy his rhythm was going to work, which it did in the end,” he said.”I felt comfortable going, like, three, four sets, even though it wasn’t that hot, but it was still pretty warm. I felt like I could hang in there with him, you know, sometimes rally and come in quickly. I feel like everything just worked out well.

“I always say it takes longer to develop a serve-and-volley game because eventually you’re going to get passed a lot, especially when you’re younger, you play top guys. Like what happened to me two weeks ago in Brisbane against Rafa, He killed me 1 and1. I really felt like I had no chance. I feel like if you’re younger and you feel something like that on the court, you get discouraged quite easily. You change to ‘let’s stay on the baseline, let’s try to get somewhat of a rhythm going’.

“I feel like it’s a very different mindset you need to have as a serve and volleyer. You need to go to the net, get passed for two sets. Like what happened with Isner, I lost two sets. I was still trying to stick to the same game plan.

“It kind of changes in the end. If it doesn’t, then you just walk off the court, you say, ‘Well done, you passed me too well’.”

Plan A worked against Murray, who visits the net as often as he smiles, but can it work against Roger Federer, the man who has plans A through to Z?

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2017 Australian Open: Mark Philippoussis rules out coaching Nick Kyrgios

Two-time grand slam finalist and former world No.8 Mark Philippoussis has ruled out coaching troubled local star Nick Kyrgios in the wake of his latest meltdown.
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Kyrgios admitted after his shock loss to Andreas Seppi that it was time for him to get a coach.

But Philippoussis, who made the US Open final in 1998 and the Wimbledon final in 2003, said while he believed Kyrgios was a “good kid”, he’s not the right person to coach him.

“I would think about it … but to be quite honest, no,” Philippoussis told Fairfax Media on Monday. 

“I have no interest getting back on the tour.

“But if I was going to coach someone, I’d want them to want to improve or want to listen or want to learn.”

Kyrgios has come under fire since surrendering a two-sets-to-love lead against Seppi, before seemingly imploding and going on to lose 10-8 in the fifth.

He drew the strongest criticism from former world No.1 John McEnroe, who labelled his behaviour a “black eye for the sport”.

The Australian No.14 seed admitted after the match he was still seeing a sports psychologist as part of his sanction from the ATP for tanking during last year’s Shanghai Masters.

“That’s one area where I need to start taking [it] a bit more seriously,” Kyrgios said on Wednesday night.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the top 100 without a coach apart from me, so that needs to change.”

While Philippoussis admits Kyrgios doesn’t do himself any favours with some of his behaviour, he’s adamant that all decisions made in his career need to come directly from Kyrgios himself.

“Kids are looking up to you, they’re watching what you’re doing and they’re listening to what you’re doing.

“But at the end of the day it’s his life, so as long he’s making decisions that makes him happy … you have to respect that as a human being.

“Whether that be him continuing to play and trying to be the best he can, or being happy where he is.”

In early 1999 Philippoussis, along with Jelena Dokic, defeated Sweden to win Australia’s first ever Hopman Cup.

It was the only time Australia had won the event until Kyrgios and Daria Gavrilova won it again early last year.

“People think I know Nick very well, but I don’t know him very well.

“What I know is, I like him, he’s a good kid.

“But I don’t have interest coaching anyone, I’m just very happy where I am.” 

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….


short story: Breathe by Ash Keeling

I SPEND my days on this same bench seat, overlooking the whitecaps. My doctors tell me, every breath inhaled here earns me another. Dare you disagree.
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I peel back my throwover to capture some early rays working hard to burn away the morning chill. Only, my nightingale, Billie, fusses over me.

We met and became friends sharing the park, yet I suspect there’s more than convenience to our union. Her wont for spending time with this broken soul perplexes me. It pains me so, but the responsible in me hints that her primary school bell would have tolled.

There’s the usual huff of, “Whatever,” standing, straightening her tunic before collecting her backpack off the pavement, flicking her chin, muttering, “See ya.” Defiant, not looking back.

I long for her hugs, those she affords, watching her walk away. Inevitably, the incoming tide will draw me in, lift and float me away. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Billie’s visits, I’d be well on my way by now.

I crave the energy of the morning walkers, until one tilts her sympathetic head.I’ll never get used to people staring at the trademarks of the dying.

Down the hill, I sense familiarity. I smile at a young woman trailing a bare-chested surfer, jogging past. An odd force compels me to scout for more, to know more, to seek answers to questions I don’t yet know to ask. As she approaches to walk on by, her interest in me couldn’t be more obvious. We eye off like a double-headed penny. Until it drops.

“Hello,” I say. She hesitates, advances, hesitates again, looking back annoyed, turning away, then back. I smile at her angst.

“Was she bothering you?” she asks. “The girl?”

I look up the hill, toward Billie in the distance. Billie dawdling, uncommitted, in no hurry for school. Her rampant lack of enthusiasm makes me smile. “Not at all. Why?”

She shakes her head, as though grieving her question, before turning away.

“Wait,” I say, “It’s Mouse, isn’t it? You’re Mouse?”

She turns back, “I’m sorry?” As though she hadn’t heard correctly.

“You’re Mouse, aren’t you. You’re Sheila’s cousin.” She nods, her face agitated.

“You ran away, from Kendell, catching the train to the Newcastle Show. Do you remember? You and your friends. I’m Hillary. Sheila’s friend. I was there, at the showground, when we found you.”

Sheila and I were tasked with finding the twelve-year-old scallywags and putting them on the train back home. I continue: “Do you know Billie?” She nods, still agitated, like a child wanting to stamp her feet. “I have to keep my distance,” she says. I pat the bench for her to sit. She presses her palms against her temples in frustration or pain.

“Are you OK?” I ask.

“I’m coming down, that’s all.”

Oddly, this, I can empathise with. Adjusting my throwover to clear space on the bench, patting again. “She’s my little bench mate,” I say of Billie. “We share the park, that’s all. We talk.”

“Of her past?” she asks. I sense her alarm. “Bits and pieces,” I say. Truth told, Billie’s memoirs slip about like a four-wheel-drive on soft sand. Mouse sighs while finally sitting down. “Whatever she tells you, you can’t repeat.”

I laugh, while assuring, “I’ll be checking out soon.” I feel Mouse slump as though my demise hadn’t occurred to her. “She’s in witness protection,” Mouse says.

“Is she in danger?” I ask. Mouse barely nods, adding, “Why would he do this?” She pauses, her eyes darting about, searching thoughts. “He rented me the apartment and said find this park.”

“Who?” I ask. She shakes her head. I notice her fondling her ring and take a stab, “Your husband?” She nods, correcting me: “We’re not married.” My expression urges her to volunteer more, but fails. “Yet, you have to stay away from Billie?” I ask.

“In case I’m being followed,” Mouse says, looking up the hill to where Billie last was, her hands fidgety. “They staged a funeral and everything.”

“Why would they follow you?” I ask.

“She’s my daughter’s sister!” Mouse says, her tone suggesting that it were obvious. It takes me a moment to process the puzzle. Billie had told me her mother was murdered via a drug overdose, taking her father’s identity to the grave.

It’s like deciphering Billie’s day had at school! “Where is your daughter?” I ask.

“She’s up home. I’m not fit,” she says clenching her fists, “I need to get clean.”

“Up home, near Kendall, with your parents?” I ask.

Mouse nods and just then it slaps me in the face, like staring at numbers, an equation on a school blackboard that couldn’t possibly add up …until they thunder cha-ching!

My family were relocated to Newcastle in the ’90sby the government. While my brother Davidand I remained with Mum, my father was drawn back to his people in Sydney. My brother Charlie followed. Today, Charlie’s some hot-shot city detective, something of a pearl in the sand. How that works with his drinking and anger issues, has me beat.

He told me of an estranged daughter, living with the child’s grandmother up Port way, the mother not being fit to care. He added with a laugh: “The kid’s not been dealt a winning hand with her chosen parents, if you know what I mean.”

I do now.

“Billie knows who her father is?” I say and ask at the same time. Mouse nods, her mouth poised open, looking for an explanation.

“Lying little cow,” I mutter of Billie, before stating the obvious, “Charlie Taylor!”

She nods again. I begin breathing deeper than ever, desperately breathing more life into these wretched lungs, feeling the disappointment of loss before this game begins.

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 28. Picture: Jonathan Carroll


Science and fiction: can a robot become a top writer?

A hallmark of civilisation has been the drive to create unique stories that explore the human condition. Now robots are learning to write fiction. Is nothing sacred?
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No computer has yet written the Great Australian Novel because they have some of the same handicaps that afflict human writers. Writing is hard. Although computers can work unhindered by free will, alcohol or divorce, such advantages are outweighed by a lack of life experience or emotions.

Computers are quietly elbowing their way into the workplace. They’re flying planes, driving cars, selecting job candidates and writing news stories. The Associated Press employs a company called Automated Insights to create short news reports from raw data. More advanced software is working on longer pieces. To be able to write fiction, a machine does not have to think like us but it must “understand” patterns of human experience. While not discounting the life of the mind, computers are being fed millions of novels and short stories to “teach” them character, pace and plot.

This is the goal of the What-If Machine (WHIM) project, a venture involving teams at five universities across Europe. WHIM analyses databases of human prose and then inverts or twists what it has learned to introduce a new idea as a premise for a story. Knowing what is typical is the first step in generating atypical stories.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been working for four years on a program called Scheherazade, which analyses crowd-sourced human anecdotes and then produces plausible short stories.

The program writes convincing sentences: “You entered the movie theatre … you find the seats allocated on your ticket.”Stories generated by Scheherazade about everyday situations are nearly indistinguishable from human-written short stories. Using code, they are taught to learn from their mistakes.

I was the former head of the creative writing programs at a large university in Melbourne, where students were taught the difficult art of writing fiction. The majority of the themes involved young women living in the inner suburbs who had gotten themselves involved in drugs, prostitution, a gender change or domestic violence. I never realised things were so grim in Fitzroy and Newtown.

Could a computer write those plots? Absolutely. The reason is they are programmatic. It’s innovative and unique writing that computers have trouble with. Could they write like James Joyce or Ursula Le Gunn? Forget it.

The philosopher Leibniz speculated that humans wrote, uttered words and phrases that were derived from individual emotions and perceptions. Behind this was an important supposition. Humans are not only knowable but predictable (sort of).

If our thinking and how we express our thoughts in language can be expressed in an equation or by a “middlebrow algorithm”, then we can also model the product of that thinking. That means a computer can write novels and poetry.

I know what you’re thinking. Computers aren’t alive. Their “writing”is flat and lifeless. There’s no surprises, nothing that rises up off the page and goes for your throat or heart. But such criticism may be premature.

It’s intriguing that human beings, whose very consciousness is born from experience, may relate in some way to stories that have no experiential grounding. That truly would be science fiction.

Malcolm King works in generational change and is an Adelaide writer.

What if?: Can a computer master the art of writing fiction.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net….