Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cheer.

For some unknown reason, we had our Xmas breakup at the local lawn bowling club - the last bastion of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant and/or Catholic at leisure, maybe. No idea what to expect, apart from the stereotype of the elderly Aussie lawn bowlers' hangout.

Signed in - Fraudster, C/- The Windsor, Melbourne.  My nostrils were assailed by something foisty, faintly mothbally, and something else; essence of je ne sais quoi.

'Don't like the smell.' Fraudster curls lip, sneers a bit.  'Smells of old.' I'm sitting there at noon on Thursday before Christmas, kitted up to out-do a Christmas tree.
'Quite like it,' says Work Husband, guarding his pot of beer.  'Reminds me of my great-grandfather's house.'

The rest of the staff arrive.

'Don't forget to sign in.'

We sit in a bar around capacious ten-seater Formica topped round tables.  As people make their way across the enormous wooden dance floor, some of them trying out a few tap steps along the way, their faces, too, take on that look of searching for the source of the odour.

The brick bowling club dates from late 'fifties or early 'sixties.

'Perhaps someone could pop back to school to get some music,' a teacher suggests, given the echoey bleakness of this old people's place, bedecked with pennants from bowling comps past.  But that wasn't to be.

'We're here for a spit roast.  You can bowl later if you want to.'  That's our officious, put upon staff association leader, who'd organised the venue and catering..  (A coup was mooted by some of the young things last year, but ultimately no one either cared that much come the new year.  Or dared.)

I sipped my 100 ml of Chateau Cardboard wine and tried, unsuccessfully, to savour the ambience, like waiting for a game of bingo to commence.

We lined up like refugees for our 'meals'.  It was the usual spit roast fare, or what was left of it by the time I got up there, not being one to enjoy queuing for fifteen minutes in a pair of, for me, moderately high heels.  It was nutritious, I suppose.  The beef end was quite tender.  I don't eat much.

Then the floor show:

An aussie gent, sixty-something, Ted, in washed out striped polo shirt and shorts, unceremoniously held up a used Bandaid - sticking plaster.  'If any lady's lost the Bandaid off of her nipple, I've got it here.'  Embarrassed laughter ensued briefly.  Is that what the old 'ladies' do to prevent high-beams penetrating their bowling shirts?

Unabashed by lack of appreciation for his jest, Ted held up the wire stopper from a bottle of champagne.

'How long's this wire?' he shouted.

'What do you mean?' called one of my colleagues.

Ted frowned, a bit put out.  He spelled it out for the idiot.

'If you unravel this wire, how long is it?' Jeez, dumb teachers or what?

'Why?' called another temeritous soul.

Finally he explained that it wasn't a trick question, but a competition.  Ah!  The correct guess would win a bottle of wine.  Next question:

'How many hankies high is a horse?'  Huh?

'Men's or ladies'?' called a female teacher, getting into the spirit of it.  He reached behind the bar and produced an ironed, folded men's handkerchief.  Ostentatiously, he shook it out, grabbed it by two diagonally opposed corners and held it up for his captive audience.  Can't remember the answer.  I'd downed three 'cardies' by that stage.

I approached the bar.  Ted was the barman now, floorshow being over.

'Diet coke, please?'

'You don't look like you need a diet coke,' He narrowed his eyes; leered at me. Perhaps I only imagined him licking his already wet lips.  Wink.

'Ahahah!'  Hilarious. 'Thanks, but I'd like one anyway.'

'But you don't need it!'  He cast a raunchy eye over me, grinning lasciviously.

'Oh!  Ha ha ha, too kind.'  I tittered  'Can I have a diet coke, please?'

'You don't need one, love.'  Same deal.

'Look, I actually have diabetes.  Can I please have a diet coke?'

At that he changed tack; beckoned me along the bar, away from the others waiting for drinks.

Here we go, I thought.  Wants to share his own diabetic trials, or those of his dead grandmother.  Go with it.

Rictus smile on my face, I indulged him.  He waved me closer, the better to hear his confidence.  Okay.

With one elbow on the bar, grinning, catching me in an eye-lock, he recited some doggerel.  For about two and a half minutes.  A long time for me to smile and occasionally shrug politely, to feign interest.  Wasn't really focused, given 300 ml of chardy, that early in the day.  But the protagonist of the poem, a dog, was 'piddling' here, there and everywhere.  Meanwhile, a heavily made up, coiffed bowling club lady, ceased polishing the bar, to lend a delighted ear.

The rhyming punchline of his recitation, which he'd waited perhaps forty-five years to deliver?  'That dog's got diabetes!'


'Can I have my diet coke now?'

'No, you can't.  We've only got Pepsi Max,' he said, grinning like an imbecile, pleased as punch.

Merry Christmas.

That piece of doggerel?  The piddlin' pup.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Being at the mercy of tradies.

I ‘hooked up’ – to use modern parlance – with my husband, Al, because he was tall, good looking, well built and athletic.  Chemistry.  He also cooked breakfast when I had sleepovers.  He was, and remains, kind and considerate.

When we moved into our rental house, we didn’t have to do home maintenance.  Al did paint the bathroom once.  It looked all right.  Who cared?  We were renting.  He also installed a bamboo blind in our front room.  He got it backwards so the draw string was on the inside, against the window.  No matter.  He removed the blind and got it round the right way.

Al cooks.  Every night.  The best spaghetti marinara ever on Saturday nights.  He continues to give good breakfast in bed too. He's been a great dad to our two kids.  He can do complex mathematical calculations in his head in an instant.  He's a fair gardener.  He can do heaps of stuff.

But he can’t do ‘home maintenance’.  And neither can I.

As home-owners, therefore, we’re at the mercy of trades-people. 

After 25 years I decided it was time to replace a grotty jerry-built hall cupboard.  Do you know how hard it is to get a tradie to even return a call?

After hours searching the net and making phone calls, leaving messages that didn’t get responses, finally got through to a carpenter who seemed interested in taking on the job.  He asked me to phone through some photos, which I did.  He sent back some rudimentary drawings then quoted close to $10,000 to build a largely chip-board, melamine lined two door cupboard.  WTF?  An entire bathroom renovation not that long ago cost that much.

Perhaps he didn’t want the job so over-quoted it.

The only other person who returned my call - a ‘handy man’ -  was Costa.

Costa said he’d ‘make a few calls’ to his friend the cabinet maker and see what he could do.  Having done that, he quoted less than half the price of the other tradie.  With only two options, I ‘commissioned’ him to do the job.

Here was the rub.  He wanted, up front, $3,500 – most of the cost - before he’d take on the work. 

‘Youse’ve got to see it from my point of view.  If youse back out, I’ll be stuck with a cupboard I can’t do anything with.’ I suppose that was a fair call.  He seemed polite.  Didn’t let the black strands combed over his bald pate put me off.  Bells were ringing, but I gave him a cheque anyway.

‘Youse’ll have your cupboard finished in five weeks, once the cheque clears,’ he said, writing a receipt in one of those receipt books you can buy in the stationery section of Big W.

That was on October 14.  On December 8, we were still waiting for him to start the job.

‘What youse’ve got to understand,’ he said when I called, ‘is that everybody wants the job done before Christmas.’

‘But when I gave you a cheque on October 14, you said it would take five weeks.  See it from my point of view.  I’ve paid you $3,500 up front, and you haven’t started the job yet.’

‘I’ve been a business man in this area for twenty years.'   Costa was arcing up. 'Do you think I’m gonna run off with your money? $3,500 is nothing, anyway.’  

‘It’s a lot of money to us.’  He couldn’t really argue with that.  Moved me up his priority list.

The other source of anxiety?  What if he was crap?  I’d handed over heaps of money without having any idea whether he was up for the job.

Costa almost finished the job yesterday, December 15.  He proved to be polite, and did a clean job, but he kept weird hours.  He only did half days.

‘Are you doing another job?’  I demanded.  Well, I was interested in knowing how it worked. ‘Or do you have to look after your mother?’ He’d told me when I’d interrogated him at the first meeting that he was thirty-eight, single and lived with his mother.  Amazing what a nosy person can discover.

‘Mornings just don’t work for me,’ he said a bit too loudly.

So Al and I took two consecutive days off work to let him in.  It’s taken three half days and a couple of unscheduled after hours visits to do a job that could have been completed, as far as I could tell, in a day and a half.. 

The door knobs aren’t quite aligned, but overall, he’s done a good job. I trust the $400 I’m still to pay him will be enough incentive for him to return in the new year and ‘finish the seams.’

Meanwhile, I needed an electrician to replace the thermostat displaced by the demolition of the old cupboard.  Booked the electrician; took yet another day off work.  The bastard didn’t front.  No call; nothing.

At that stage I was prepared to live without heating until autumn – it’s summer after all.  But I made one last internet search and called some random electrician.  Lo and behold, someone answered the call.

Next day, right on time, two thirty-something sparkies arrived and briskly completed what looked to me like a tricky job.  Up and down the ladder; ‘fishing’ for flex behind the walls, as they do.  Swept up after themselves.  Great legs.   

I was curiously aroused.

And as soon as Al gets home, he'll cook dinner.  I've only had to replace the cupboard once, but I get dinner every night.  So you can stay, Al.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Diabetes Pity Party Over

Bit hung over from the Diabetes Pity Party.  Should never have gone there.  Shouldn’t have indulged.  It’s too addictive.  Like alcohol - well, middle range chardonnay* - diabetes could control my whole life.

Used to regularly visit, and comment on,  It was hugely supportive when I first started pumping insulin and needed some insight from other pumpers.  But it became repetitious; tedious.  Hundreds – probably thousands – of PWDs banging on about diabetes in its various forms. 

I’m sick of reading and thinking about diabetes.  It’s enough having to live with it.  But I’m caught in a bind.  On one hand, I’d like to ‘unfollow’ all those diabetes Tweets/Twitterers/bloggers (whatever!) because they make me focus more on all that stuff.  On the other hand, there are some brilliant people blogging/vlogging very effectively about diabetes.  The social media thing has allowed me to correspond with some of them.  Communicating with like-minded people is a massive part of why I write.

And another thing.  My brief dip into the Diabetes On-line Community seems to have revealed a strange correlation between PWDs and Christianity.  As a born again atheist, this really gets up my wick.  I won’t go into that one.  Enough there for a whole conference.

So I’m going to cull a few people on Twitter today.  I don’t need extra crap – albeit about diabetes – to read.  Get enough of that from my less able students of English.

Time to get the diabetes cart back behind the horse.

Can feel my hang-over lifting already.

*  Confession:  I'll drink cheap chardonnay.  In fact for want of something better, I've imbibed that awful 'Dalat White' when travelling in Vietnam.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Diabetes Makes Me Cry

 A former endocrinologist – the ‘brilliant young doctor’ who cared for the diabetic part of me for 25 years – wrote a letter to my GP explaining that he was giving up his small private practice.  In the letter he said that working with me had given him an insight into the ‘psychological burden of living with diabetes’.

It’s the emotional side of diabetes that’s so hard.  Because it just doesn’t go away.  And it gets worse.  (Hello, burgeoning retinopathy!) A relentless journey.

Here’s my tilt at Diabetes Awareness for the second Blue Friday.

Yesterday morning, I was sitting on a wooden ‘park bench’ in the foyer of the building where I’d just had my three monthly visit with my endocrinologist.  I needed to take a minute. to recover.

My bike pannier bag was beside me – I’d cycled the eight k into town.  I got my phone out and called my husband.  I told him my HbA1c was creeping up – 7.8 for those in the know.  I lost control of my chin, lips and voice at that stage and a few tears leaked out.  (The HbA1c ideally should be under 7 to avoid 'complications' - retinopathy - blindness, kidney and heart disease, neuropathy, and the rest.)

Trying to control this bastard condition is nigh on impossible, despite my best efforts.

A week prior to this appointment, I’d attended the local pathology centre for a fasting blood test.  ‘Small sting now,’ said the nurse, as usual, before digging into the vein on my left arm.  Easy to say.  Those injections inevitably hurt, but they’re usually quick.

I go through this process – the blood test followed by the endo appointment, where I find out whether I’ve been a ‘good enough’ PWD – person with diabetes - every three or four months.

Too easy.

But my blood result – my HbA1c - is too high.  My endo is sympathetic and we’ve worked out some sort of ‘action plan’ which I won’t bore you with.

This is the thing.  Diabetes is my ‘dark passenger’ – apologies to Jeff Lindsay of Dexter fame.  I try to hide it when I’m going about my daily business, trying to pretend I’m normal and as capable as the next person.  But it affects everything.  I rarely sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time for fear of  hypos – when my blood sugar drops to dangerously low levels.  Have to wake up and test my blood sugar to be sure.  Every morning begins with a finger prick test so I can feed the data into my pump – that little genius – and it can calculate my insulin needs so I can infuse the right amount into my body – through a cannula that’s inserted into some part of my ‘trunk’.  (Gets rotated/reinserted every three or four days.  Fun.)

Any carbohydrates eaten must be accounted for and balanced against the amount of insulin taken.  The pump calculates it all, with a bit of input from me.

If I’m cycling to work – 7 undulating kilometres – I have to factor that in, too.  Which in these happy insulin pumping days means reducing, for ninety minutes, the rate at which insulin is delivered.  I pedal hard up those hills, but I usually have to stop mid-ride, to check my blood sugar again.  I struggle to get those numbers right.  If it’s too low I have to stop; eat some glucose; drink some juice.  If it’s too high, well, I’m laughing because I can pedal flat out for the rest of the ride. 

You know, I’d really love to just take off on my bike and just enjoy the ride, without having to prepare for it and monitor it.

So, finger pricks.  About ten a day.  Fewer on my days off when I don’t teach.  Wouldn’t want to have a hypo when I’m in front of a class of 25 teenagers, most of whom are ready to pounce on any vulnerability.  And the pump?  It’s doing its stuff 24/7.

As a PWD – Type 1 – I can never be spontaneous without serious risk to my health.

A few of my stats:
I’ve been cycling for about 50 years.  I’ve been a secondary English teacher for 32 years.  I’ve been in a relationship with my husband for 32 years.  My son is 25 and my daughter is 23.  I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for nearly 31 years. 

Can’t seem to shake it off.

And BTW, I'll be glad when Diabetes Awareness Month is over.  Cos I'm sick of thinking even more about it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blue Fridays

Blue Fridays in November is about diabetes advocacy.

I’m supposed to wear blue every Friday in November and advocate about diabetes.  The thought doesn’t thrill me. 

There was no Diabetes On-line Community – DOC – when I was diagnosed in 1981.  There was no line to get on. 

Back then, I was admitted to a hospital in country Victoria, where I’d failed the glucose tolerance test, taken during a family holiday.  I slumped soon after that hit of glucose and was carried, by a doctor, to a hospital bed.  I raged for a bit; had a cry for a couple of hours.  But I responded well to a single shot of insulin.  By the time my family arrived that evening to hold a vigil at my bedside, I was cracking jokes about being able to eat as much powdered mustard as I liked because it was ‘free’, according to a pamphlet I’d been given.  Carb-free, for those not in the know about just one of the elements involved in managing diabetes.

Spent the following week in an eight bed very public ward at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.  Successfully injected myself on the first attempt.  Surprised by how easy and pain-free it was, despite my former horror of injections.  

Each morning, for the rest of my life, it was emphasised, I would require a single injection of a mix of long and short-acting insulin.  I’d inject myself, after I’d gauged my blood sugar level. 

Like this:  first thing in the morning.  Empty bladder.  Ten minutes later, catch the next bit of pee in a jug.  In a test tube, using a dropper, mix six drops of this urine with six drops of water.  Drop a tablet into it.  The cocktail fizzes.  Check cocktail’s colour against a chart.  Thus see how many ‘pluses’ of glucose are in one’s pee - how sugary it is.  Take more or less insulin accordingly.  (How primitive!)

Had to do the same thing in the evening, at six o’ clock.  Carried my little chemistry set around with me.  Often did this procedure in the ‘ladies’ at the local pub on a Friday after school.  What larks.

And the other thing was that I had to eat by certain times, because on only one injection a day I had to eat when my insulin ‘peaked’ in its action, otherwise I'd have a hypoglycaemic reaction.  Low blood sugar.  Bad.  (And they are!) This had all been explained to me during that steep learning curve week in hospital.  I’d also been given a crash course in carb counting by a dietician who drummed into me the nexus between carb counting and good blood sugar control.

Back then there was no nutritional information on foods.  The only sugar free soft drink was Tab Cola.  Gold Crest manufactured a ‘diabetic’ range of cordials.

I was discharged from hospital with a supply of syringes, insulin and testing gear.  It didn’t last long.  We didn’t have a National Diabetes Supply Scheme back then.  I tried to buy syringes in a pharmacy across the road from my school and I think the pharmacist called the police!  I found out from the local diabetes association that there was a 'diabetic friendly' pharmacy in the city where one could buy one’s supplies without suspicion.  Syringes weren’t cheap either.

There was a sort of ‘tourist excitement’ to all this which turned into ‘culture shock’ after about three weeks.  It was a hell that I endured for a year, at the end of which I was wraith thin and constantly sick with a variety of ailments that thrive on excess glucose in one’s system.

And then I found a brilliant young doctor who was into multiple daily injections and ‘home glucose monitoring’.  Lucky for me.

That was thirty years ago.

It’s my day off today.  I’m wearing a blue-grey tee-shirt and blue jeans.  Quite sure I won’t be telling people about diabetes today, other than through this blog, which perhaps five people will read.

We’re not supposed to talk about people ‘suffering’ from diabetes.  But you know what?  I have suffered.  And apart from battling with this condition on a daily basis, I’ve had to suffer people’s ignorance and insufferable, almost prurient curiosity about it.

Tip:  when you meet someone with Type 1 diabetes, don’t ask them if they should be eating whatever it is they’re about to eat.  And don’t tell them about your grandfather, or other close friend, who died of diabetes.  We don’t want to know.

Could go on, but no one likes a long blog.  If you’ve read this far, cheers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mae West, Mum and Me

Visited a friend the other day; a new mum.  She’s called her beautiful daughter Mae.  This isn’t about my friend or her daughter.  This is about me and my aged parents.

My parents live a ninety minute drive from me, so I don’t see them as often as I’d like.  In hindsight, pity that fifteen years ago, they sold the house, five minutes from where I now teach, to make a sea change.  Was a good move for them, back then, when they were in their sixties.  Now that they’re elderly, and my dad ailing, they’re a bit far away.

Nonetheless, most days I call my mum to keep up with the minutiae of her days and to keep us both in each other’s loops.  This is the thing:  despite being brilliant, hilarious and the very archetype of what a mother should be, age is taking its toll and my mum’s memory is going a bit.  Which led to this.

“Visited my friend and her new baby this arvo,” I said.  Minutiae, as I’ve already said.  The stuff of conversation.
“Oh, lovely!  What did she have?”  Mum sounds genuinely pleased with the news of a former colleague of mine, someone she has only heard of in passing.
“A girl.”
“Lovely!  And what has she called her?”
“Mae,” I say.
“May?”  Mum sounds incredulous, for some reason.  She raises her voice to enunciate her thoughts more clearly.  “May?” she repeats.  “M-A-Y?”  She spells it out, in case you hadn’t worked that out from how I’d written it.
“No, mum.  M-A-E.  As in Mae West.”
“Mae West?  What Mae West?”  She sounds puzzled as if I’m deliberately trying to trick her by throwing some gobbledegook into the conversation.  “Mae West?  I don’t know anything about Mae West.”
“Of course you do, Mum.  Mae West, the film star.”  Why am I explaining?
“I’ve never heard of her.  Must have been before my time, “ says mum.  And why don’t I let it go there?
“She was a sexy platinum blonde.  She said ‘Come up and see my some time, big boy’.”  I do my best Mae West impersonation.  “And ‘Is that a pistol in your pants or are you just happy to see me?’”
“Never heard of her.”  Mum is dismissive.  If she hasn't heard of Mae West, I must have invented her.
“Mum, she was as famous as Marilyn Monroe.  Of course you remember her.”
“I know Marilyn Monroe.  But I’ve never heard of Mae West.  Dad!  Dad!” She invites my dad - never calls him by name - into the conversation.  “Dad, do I know Mae West?’
“Lusty Busty,”  pronounces my dad in his profound bass voice with its Yorkshire accent.  He'll be sitting in his chair, his walking frame to one side, a glass of red on the table beside him.

Laugh at my dad.  He does the memory for both of them these days.  My mum’s as fit as a trout and we laugh about the fact that for the first time in her life, she is, due to memory loss, living in the minute, like everyone says you’re supposed to do all your life.  My dad’s still good on the one-liners, but it takes him all his time to get around and his fine motor skills – dental technician, talented musician, carpenter, a man who could repair anything – have gone.  And now I’ve made myself cry.

Better give my mum a call.  I’ll tell her it’s Mae West

Friday, September 30, 2011

Night Flight

Interesting flight to Darwin last night.

I'd been randomly allocated a window seat. After I'd herded onto the plane and found it, a couple about my age, fifty plus, were in the process of appropriating the window seat to store a large flat framed, bubble wrapped piece. Suppose they couldn't believe their luck on a packed flight. Seemed a tad miffed, I thought, to relinquish the floorspace they'd used and stow the item in the overhead locker. The woman - thin lips, tan leather jacket, skinny jeans, menopausal black dyed concave bob - had removed her knee high boots. In black socked feet, she unfurled herself, distractedly stood, and slotted her piece in the locker. Oddly, she ignored me and sat down again.

"Perhaps you'd like to move over?" I inquired politely, thinking they could both just shift over one.
"No, I'm staying right here, thank you very much!" 

Bit aggro. Think she thought I was going to boot her out of her allocated seat.  She was shaking her head, glaring at something indeterminate. Her partner, a grey loose-jowled man, chin sunk on his chest, just stared at the seat ahead. Perhaps he was jammed in. Thin-lips was determinedly having that aisle seat. I didn't care except I'd had a soaring blood sugar all day, probably a rebound from my near-death gastro in the previous 36 hours. Now I was dying of thirst - a diabetic thing - and knew I'd need a pee at some time during the flight.

"Well, I'll have to climb over you." I was sing-song, smiling, indulging a couple of children.

At this, something clicked and they clambered out. Bit of a struggle for him, clinging to the seat in front and shuffling sideways.

"And you'll have to forgive me climbing over you during the night," I belled, beaming, shuffling into my seat. "Old bladder, ha ha."

During the night? Who was I kidding? I thought, sitting heavily on my crossed seat-belt before wresting it out.  It was 3 a.m.

Amazing how much urine one's bladder can hold, in extremis, despite considerable discomfort. Once in, I could not get out. Had there been an emergency, perhaps a crash, with assistance from flight attendants, the blob next to me could perhaps have been induced  to prise himself out. He reeked of a few too many at the bar prior to take-off.  He was in an inert Can't Be Fucked, alcohol induced torpor.

Glad I'd relieved myself of those last few drops back at the airport toilets.

The armrest between me and my companion was raised and he'd taken the opportunity to ease himself about a quarter onto my seat.  Hmm. What to do?

"Would you like the armrest down?" I carolled, clicking it into position under a roll of his flesh.  He rested his arm over it, as one does, and I was okay.  Still had one completely to myself on the window side.

Beyond him Thin-lips had assumed the position: facing her husband, legs drawn up towards her chest.  Quite flexy, I thought.

Blob inclined himself towards her, in so doing, resting his back fat right over my arm.

I was irate, and perhaps more irrational than usual. It was 3.45 a.m.  I'd had no sleep since 9.30 the previous a.m., and prior to that I'd been on a drip in the ER for five hours following 18 hours of explosive gastro.

I swore under my breath.  That achieving nothing, I whimpered for an instant, pinioned as I was between back fat and the aeroplane wall.  Hmm.  What to do?

Tapped him on the arm.  He blinked awake and slowly turned to gawp at me.

"Excuse me?  Is she your wife?"  No more sing-song.  Assertive now, I nodded towards Thin-lips.

He registered the question; cogs creaking round.


"Well, would you mind leaning on her instead of me?  These days I don't even let my husband get this close."

He gawped some more, bemused perhaps.  Maybe he thought he was having an alcohol induced dream.  At this stage, ready for sleep or what passes for it on a plane, I'd pulled my orange hood up over my head, my bespectacled 55 year old face was peering at him, and around my neck I had, due to air pressure, an over-inflated blue neck support pillow.  He obeyed anyway.

Unfortunately, when he dropped into deeper sleep it was no holds barred.  He rolled over 'in bed' onto me, to mouth-breathe into my face.

Confession:  I can't even bear this with my old man and consequently we sleep, in our queen bed, in our little compartments, our heads separated by a pillow (affectionately known as 'the barrier') standing on its side.

Drunk, Blob was comatose.  I pulled my hood around my face, cleaved to what remained of my $300 seat and the side of the plane and prayed for a swift flight.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Me at Highpoint.

I'm in the changing room in Target, Highpoint - I've hit the fashion heights, clearly.  There's a discarded coat-hanger on the bench and a used  tissue on the floor.

I've stripped down  to my socks and undies on the bottom.  I'm keeping my top pulled securely down over my trunk lest my abdomen escape from the top of my knickers.  I don't want to see it.  I've selected five pairs of pants to try on.  It's an interesting exercise being in one of those rooms with the reveal-all mirrors.  I try to avoid looking at myself above my hip line.  Muffin tops would be putting it politely.  Think I've got the opposite of body dysmorphia.  I go about my life thinking I look okay, and then I see the reality in Target when I'm trying to have a nice shop.

One by one I struggle into these enormous pants - my size - and one by one I drop them into a heap on the floor.  The pants look crap but I quite like my asymmetrical haircut. Haven't seen it from this angle before,  Not bad at all.  It compensates a little for the disappointing elephant-crutch duds.  I've worked up a sweat at this stage and check my blood glucose in case I'm having a hypo rather than a menopausal flush.  I'm okay, but I've had enough of Target.

I abandon the trouser shopping.  After all, I'm supposed to be buying a present for my old man's birthday.

I'm in Big W next, opportunistically buying a bra.  Well, they've got my style and size.  This presents a problem though.  I want to browse the rest of the store but I'm not carrying a shopping basket so I must carry this enormous black bra with its massive moulded d-cups.  Try to tuck it inconspicuously under my bag but to no avail.  This bra has a life of its own.  If it had wheels I could have ridden around in it.

Run the gauntlet of Level 3 - yes, madam is having a nice day, but no, she's not interested in boxing lessons, nor organic cosmetics - and decide to buy a USB from Dick Smith.

Next stop, Just Jeans.  Really must get something for the old man.  The alarm goes off as I try to enter the store.  I fling out my arms, as one does, as the assistant rushes over to accost me.  I rifle through my bag.  The USB is the culprit.  I'm asked for the receipt, which I proffer.  Good to know they're all looking out for each other at Highpoint.  Nothing to see here, I think, given a small crowd has gathered behind me to gawk as we swing various items through the sensor.  They're rewarded with a viewing of my incredible living bra.  The shop assistant kindly peels off the metal label from the packaging of the USB and I'm in.

Now I'm having another hotflush/hypo special combo.  Surreptitiously check my blood sugar again before resuming my jeans shopping.  All good.

Despite my earlier trouser disappointment I'm tempted by the two pairs for $100 offer.  Pair for me and a pair for the old man.  He's easy to buy for.  Thirty-four inch waist.  He works out; has hardly changed shape in 32 years.  I have a moment of euphoria in the changing room when I find a pair of jeans that fit - albeit below the muffin top line.

So I pay for the jeans and head for the exit and WTF?  I'm bleeping again.  The assistant rushes over and now the d-cups are once again being passed back and forth through the sensor.  That's what you get for being environmentally friendly and bringing your own carry bag.  But once again, it's the USB.  The shop assistant obliges with a pair of scissors and liberates the USB from its attention seeking plastic packaging and sod the guy in Dick Smith who didn't de-magnetise it, or whatever he was supposed to do.

Back for more tomorrow.  The old man's pants didn't fit.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brief update on daughter, Didi.

It's my niece's birthday lunch today; a chance to catch up with the young relatives. 

The venue is about three k away so the old man and I plan to cycle there, rather than have to worry about driving and the rest.

Daughter has been living away from home now for about six weeks.  It's all good.  Can't be bothered detailing it at this point, given I've got about five minutes to spend writing.

Surprised to get this text message from my daughter, who lives about four k away in the other direction from the venue.

"I don't want to drive.  How will I get there? K [housemate] isn't home.  [Presumably Didi would have cadged a lift.]  Could dad maybe drop me off at Sydney Rd then go home and get his bike? Or can T [brother] drive me?"

Well, dad isn't up for a ten k round trip at this stage on a Saturday, sorry Didi.  Catch a tram.

She's still our baby girl.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Visit to the eye specialist.

I’m sitting in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room, rugged up against winter outside; bag on my lap; umbrella gripped between my knees.  Gloves off; book out.  (I’m rereading The Secret River.  Should link to it to get more hits on my blog.)

It’s a busy Melbourne practice.  The waiting area is L-shaped. Two busy receptionists field a constant stream of patients.  An elderly woman, flanked by two assistants, hobbles by.  “You’ll be okay, mum,” says one of them, a woman about my age, like she’s said it a few times already.  She’s guiding her mother by one elbow and reassuring her a bit too loudly. “You’ve just had a little bleed.”

I’m immediately imagining my not too distant future; daughter leading me, perhaps a little impatiently, when I suffer ‘the little bleed’; or the ‘Falling Curtain’ or “Failing Sight.  Having already experienced the first two Fs one must watch for, Flashes and Floaters, I’m living in Flagrant Fear.

I reread the same line in my book.  Try not to think about it. 

Next, a doctor instructs an orthoptist - his assistant.

“Where can I put Mrs M?" she asks him.  "Just a cataract check?”  As if that’s nothing.
“Room three’s free.”  He sounds mildly fed up and detached on this Friday afternoon. He swings a door open to confirm the room’s availability.

The orthoptist leads a seventy-something woman with a well cut silver bob and seats her in the room.  “Yes, that’s right, just click whenever you see the stars.”  Orthoptist is a young Sybil Fawlty now, singing the instructions, but not really there.  She leaves the door open to attend elsewhere.  There’s something awful about this elderly woman’s exposure to the busy waiting room.  Try not to look at her perched on a stool, using the mouse. Think of my own mother.  She’d be freaking out if someone left her alone with a computer, let alone with the prospect of loss of vision.

Force my eyes back to The Secret River.

It’s my second visit to this doctor.  I’d needed a change from my previous ophthalmologist who I'd tolerated for several years.  Apart from his supercilious attitude, his hand stank as though he hadn’t washed it all day.  Doctors, even if they are just looking at eyes through whatever that little device is, should wash their hands regularly.  Or wear gloves. 

I made the change to this new doctor after a recent eye emergency.  My retina had partially detached from my right eye, causing a terrifying ‘visual disturbance’.  Cracks in my vision; looking through a shattered window.  What larks.  (That’s how Pip and Joe Gargery talk to each other in Great Expectations.  Do yourself a favour.  Read it.  Brilliant.  But I digress.)  Don’t want to sound cavalier about my eyesight.  I’ve worn specs since my mid teens and my vision has gradually deteriorated to the extent where I’m just this side of legally blind.  Throw in diabetic retinopathy, the legacy of thirty years of Type 1 diabetes and now this scrawl of a floater on my right eye ball.  The point is that I’m apprehensive, no, scared, sitting with my book, reading the same line over and over without comprehension.

Could do with a little compassion, or someone with basic interpersonal skills.  Instead, I got the doctor.

Hearing him calling my name in the waiting area around the corner, I close my book and gather up my bits.

“That’s me,”  I announce.  Rush over.
This doctor looks unremarkable. Late thirties, tall, round-shouldered, dark blue suit pants, white and tan striped business shirt, short wavy fading brown hair; wearing specs with another pair hanging around his neck.  It’s the mildly fed up doctor from earlier.  I hadn’t recognized him from my previous visit – despite having made notes, as I tend to.

“Put your things over there.” Ushering me into a room, he indicates a green leather two-seater couch. I do.
“Take a seat.” Expressionless voice.  He gestures at a chair.  I sit.  “Thanks for coming in earlier,” he intones. The appointment that I’d made five months previously had been changed the day before.  “Do you work?”
“It’s my day off, but I’ve been working all morning anyway.” Who cares? Certainly not Mr Personality.

Silence.  Hmm. So, we’re playing that game, I think.  None of that small talk that oils the wheels of human discourse.  He’s reading the display on his monitor.  Checking my file, I suppose.  Or Twitter?  I can’t see the screen from my disadvantage point.  He types very slowly with two index fingers.  Still he doesn’t speak.  It seems I am not there.  I try to find comfort in the silence.  I don’t.  It continues for about four long, awkward minutes.

With all due respect to his straight ‘A’ HSC score – he’s HSC vintage – and his years of academic excellence to achieve such career heights, what a shiny arsed wanker.

He stands.  He speaks.
“Just going to put some drops in your eyes.”  His voice is rehearsed-modulated, fake; someone humouring a tedious patient at the end of a long shift.  Hands me a tissue and I’m terribly grateful.  “Look up at the ceiling.  Just some local anaesthetic. And another one.  Keep your eyes closed for a few minutes.”  He leaves me alone in the room with the door open.  Now I’m exposed to the waiting room, sitting there like a pillock with its eyes closed, imagining everyone gawping at me.  Mere paranoia.  When five minutes later I dare to open my eyes, I glance out into an empty waiting area.  An old man ambles carefully past.  He’s looking at the ground ahead of him.

A fairly standard eye examination ensues.  Chin on the papered chin rest; forehead pressed against a papered metal bar; look straight ahead, to your left, to your right, at the ceiling, at the ground, at my right ear, my left ear.  A blinding bar of light repeatedly passes painfully across my vision. I fight against my instincts; try not to flinch as I stare at the sun.

“No change at this stage,” he drawls, finally, back to staring at the computer screen.  Probably has too much eye contact, given his job, and thus he avoids it during any other interactions.
“Keep your sugar levels under control.”  Easy for him to say.  “Cholesterol.  Blood pressure.  Probably looking at laser surgery somewhere along the track.”  I try not to care.

He picks up a recording device and dictates a letter into it, still staring at the monitor.  It seems I’ve left the room again but I’m still there.  Listening in like some naughty kid in the principal’s office, I know that the letter contains two paragraphs, has been cc-ed to my GP and endocrinologist and that my case will be reviewed four to six monthly.  I didn’t catch the other medical jargon.  This is all the time my $80 consultation will buy me.  At least my endocrinologist waits until I’ve left the room before dictating her letter.

He’s both efficient and ludicrous.  While sitting there I wonder what would happen in my own teaching job if I was arrogant and had poor communication skills.  Somehow, he, and many other doctors I’ve encountered in the last forty or so years - with a couple of brilliant exceptions - are above having to lower themselves to my plebeian level; having to be nice.

But on the positive side, his hand doesn’t smell.  I can tick that box.

Back for more in four months.

Friday, June 17, 2011

She's leaving home.

 A pink flamingo, about a metre high, stands on my right. on its two shiny black legs and little black webbed feet.  It’s looking back over its plumed tin torso.  Its beak looks like a mini banana.  Beyond that is a box filled with newspaper wrapped crockery.  Further behind, and filling the usually sparsely stacked shelves of my workroom are pots, a kettle, a second-hand microwave oven and who knows what else.  My spare room has temporarily become the repository of my daughter’s ‘glory box’.  She’s not getting married.  She’s just stockpiling prior to moving out.

For me, it’s bitter-sweet. 

Yep.  She’s leaving home.  My baby girl.  My Didi.  The second of my two adult children.  She’s twenty-three.  As with everything in my children’s lives, her imminent departure – she leaves in about six weeks - is both a signifier and an opportunity for vicarious enjoyment.  There’s one thing about my daughter:  she lets me share – especially if I’m carrying my credit card.

I first moved out of home at eighteen.  My sister, her friend and I moved into a tiny two up two down terrace in Fitzroy in 1974.  This was pre-gentrification, pre-uber cool bohemian Fitzroy.  No phone.  No mod cons.  No heating.  (Quite third world actually if some of the places I’ve stayed in in Vietnam are any indication.)  Just our single beds, taken from home and a bean bag each: two black and one yellow.  We rented a black and white TV.  Any other furniture came from the op shop.  I upholstered an old bridge chair in brown and red corduroy patchwork.  (It’s on my right just by the flamingo.  Good investment.  Probably paid fifty cents for it.)  I was a student cycling up the road to what was then Melbourne State College.  Also had the mandatory VW. 

Was a big shock for my mum when the pair of us moved out.  She'd taken my eleven year old sister back 'home' to England for the school holidays.  She’d left us alone with my father, who was inclined to rage and sulk.  He was insufferable without my mum’s calming presence so my sister and I left.  He didn’t try to stop us and he couldn’t if he had.  (As a parent, I can’t imagine how she coped on her return to discover her eighteen and nineteen year old girls had left home.)

In retrospect, this is awful.  I went on to suffer the most torrid relationship break-up, the emotional pain of which I could never have foreseen.  Because let’s be honest.  I’d moved out of home so I could have sex.  Suppose that’s what drove us all out back in the seventies.  The previous generation got married and pregnant, not necessarily in that order, at the same age.  (Thank god for the pill.)

Twelve months later and six months after my relationship break-up I was huddled on the floor in the bare white passage, just inside the front door.  Rejected again, I was sobbing uncontrollably, my face pressed against that bleak white cold plaster.  Probably banged my head a couple of times for good measure.  Inconsolable.  Ah, the pain of nineteen.  We didn’t take many photos in those days, technology being what it was, so the forty or so photos show us laughing fit to burst, looking gorgeous.  Impossibly young.  As if.  Nineteen seventy five was the worst year of my life.  Of course, there’s no photo of the sobbing head banger by the front door.

I moved back home to recover emotionally and live it up on my twenty dollar a week studentship, rather than spending that pittance on food, rent and petrol.

Daughter Didi is having an entirely different experience of moving.  She’s done lots of the done things already, being the child of relatively permissive try-hard baby boomers.  Moving out now is a positive, natural progression.

I’m missing her already.  But very glad she’s taking the freaking flamingo with her.

Friday, May 27, 2011


First whole Friday off in my new part-time status saw me cycling into town, doubtless smiling beatifically again, locking up my bike in Swanston Street and unexpectedly wandering down memory lane.

Here's one of the unbidden memories.

About fifteen years ago I was assaulted while I was in town.  I'd been at my regular Friday writing group at the CAE in Degraves Street.  I don't think I can do myself justice by describing what I was wearing that day, but I think I looked good in my 'nineties' over-sized printed shirt tucked into wide long pants, cinched at the waist - hey! I had a waist! - with a wide belt. My straight brown hair was waist length and I was wearing it out.  It was probably glossy in the sunlight; attracting attention.  I offer this vague description of myself, because when I've second-guessed why this assault occurred, like many victims, I've tried to imagine it was something I did, or how I looked, that prompted it.  (I've often thought the perp could have been a former student who finally saw his opportunity.)

A friend and I were having a coffee outside a cafe.  There wasn't the parade of cafe tables lining Degraves Street that you see today; just a few tables and chairs outside the cafe that's almost on Flinders Lane.  It was a sunny, warm day.  I felt relaxed, chatting with my friend.  Loved those writing group sessions.  It was an ordinary Friday, in the days before I'd returned to full-time teaching.  Elbows on the table, holding my cup in both hands, I glanced to my right and noticed a khaki clad skin-head.  He was sauntering along the footpath.  He wore an open frock coat over a singlet and trousers tucked into boots that laced up to his knees.  He looked out of place; menacing.  I noticed all this in an instant; registered it; resumed my conversation.  Seconds later I fell forward onto the table with the force of impact.  It felt like someone carrying a loaded suitcase had turned suddenly and inadvertently slammed the case into the back of my head.  Cups rattled in their saucers as I sprawled across the table, momentarily stunned; head aching already from the blow.  Next thing, my friend's on her feet.  "You bastard!" she shouts in her cultivated Brighton tones.  She shouts it again fiercely, waving a fist.  I look up to see people gawping at me.  I turn my head to the left and see the slowly receding back of this new romantic romper stomper thug.  Evidently, he'd punched me at full force with a closed fist as he'd walked behind me.

I was quick on the mobile phone - a brick.  Called 000 and a couple of police walked up from Flinders Street, passing by the psycho who'd slugged me as they did so.  He hadn't sped up his pace.  I wondered how many other women he'd hit from behind as he strolled around the city that day.  By the time the police got to me and heard what had happened he'd disappeared.

I'm still wary when I sit down at tables in public places but I'm over the nightmares I experienced for a while.  One of the worst things about the experience was the lack of response from the people who witnessed my assault.  Suppose it's the bystander effect.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cheap thrills on Ebay

Back in the day, when I was a student teacher, I had to fill in a survey.  One of the questions was "What concerns you most at this point in time?"  Had a brief think.  World peace? Poverty? Infant mortality in third world countries?  No.  Whether to get my hair cut or not.  At the time I wrote this trite response I knew what it said about me: vacuous; self-absorbed; typical Baby Boomer.  But hang about.  My hair was seriously Brethren long and it's hard to make a decision like that. What if it looked shit short?  (It didn't, but I grew it back anyway.)

All of the above is by way of an explanation for the empty-headed musings that are to follow.  I concede that there are all sorts of serious issues worth my contemplation but I choose to dwell on domestic minutiae.  Crap really, but it passes the time.

So.  I bought a reasonably expensive washing machine a couple of years ago.  Did my research, courtesy of Choice magazine.  Won't make that mistake again.  This $1200 white monster, this 'top loader with front loader action!!' that we could barely fit  through the laundry door, entangled and twisted my washing to such a degree that it took me half an hour to unravel everything before I could hang it on the line.  To add further joy, it covered everything in chalky lint.  I swear that machine grinned at me as its digital read-out told me to balance my load or put it through its clean cycle.  Became a bit obsessed with this problematic machine.  Rang the customer help line and got advice on all sorts of tricks I could try to optimise my washing pleasure.  Nothing worked.

Given my workload had increased exponentially, decided to cut my losses and get another machine.  And thus began my Ebay fun.  It's illicitly thrilling trying to sell something one knows is a dud.  Advertised it at $500 'still under warranty', because it was.  Had lots of interest, but everyone wanted to know why I was selling it.  So I became an 'empty-nester, downsizing'.  Sounded legit and sort of was, except both kids were still living at home.  Found a buyer who was happy to collect the machine and even ranked me as 'great to do business with!'.  I'd like to think that whoever he bought the machine for found a way to minimise the just-been-through-with-a-tissue effect.  But ultimately, who cares?  Pig in a poke, but at least they got it for $700 less than I had twelve months earlier.

My second trepidatious foray into Ebay trading was to buy a packet of iPhone screen covers for the princely sum of about four dollars.  You'd think I was committing to a Winnebago given the sweat I worked up hovering over the keyboard, deciding whether to press a key.  Can't explain my irrational fear.  Suppose it could have been something to do with my own duplicitous dealing in white goods.  My little packet of six covers arrived promptly and in good order.  It's not the seller's fault that I can never get all the air-bubbles out.

My next Ebay moment came about as a result of my Cinderella syndrome.  I can't resist certain shoes.  They call to me through the window.  In the shop, they looked great on and they felt, well, tolerable.  Convinced myself I must have them and isn't that what credit's for?

So here's me, on my second wear of my 'gorgeous black leather and patent flat lace-ups; Wittner Cosmic Size 39' - still have my vague copy-writing skills - whimpering in pain as I'm cycling home from work.  The problem was the stitching line on the right shoe sat directly on a pressure point on my foot.  On my second hill the pain was so excruciating that despite the cold and risk of detritus on the footpath, I removed the offending shoe and clomped, up and down, one shoe on, one off, all the way home.

And like the washing machine before them, those shoes began to mock me for wanting so desperately to go to the ball.  Offered them gratis to several people, but no takers.  Suppose my slim footed niece, who politely declined, didn't want to look menopausal in her old aunt's shoes.  Couldn't bring myself to drop them off at Savers, given they'd cost me $130 and were barely worn.  So I tried to auction them off on Ebay.  As if.  Clearly there's a method to selling on Ebay but whatever it is, I haven't managed it yet.  Could probably do a course, or something, but I fear that would eliminate the idiotic thrill of the potential  sale.

The starting price for the shoes 'that sadly don't quite fit' was $19.99.  (Tried to elicit sympathy to lure a buyer.)   Suddenly (be still my beating heart) I had one bidder and one watcher.  I started barracking for the bidder, genuinely wanting whoever it was to get a bargain.  Felt some sort of vicarious excitement.  Don't think that's how it's supposed to work.  As it happened $19.99 was the ending price as well. The lucky winner, who'd spotted my shoes among the gazillions on offer, agreed to pay the sum, plus about five dollars postage and handling.  Unfortunately, after I'd queued for a good fifteen minutes in the post office I had to pay eight dollars.  Note to self:  weigh the shoes at the post office next time before you try to sell them.

Hope the successful bidder a. isn't a second-hand dealer; and b. hasn't got a fat right foot. .

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hair today.

I've been thinking lots lately about when and if I should go grey. At what stage should I give into those silver threads sprouting near my crown and along the part?  What keeps me, and others, vainly dyeing, or augmenting, our hair?

Studied an older woman as she jaywalked in front of our car pushing her old vinyl shopping jeep, if that's what you call them.  She wore a plain brown knit top, a grey skirt, flesh-coloured stockings and sensible black shoes. But her standout feature was freshly coiffed lividly dyed sparse dark chocolate hair.  It was combed back around her forehead and ears; short on her neck. Her face, as she peered around at the traffic, was weathered, lined, some would say haggard, but the hair could hold its own stand up gig

Used to dye my hair a gingery colour in my mid-forties.  Stopped that after my daughter told me I looked like the alcoholic woman in that film Requiem for a Dream.  Hers was an orange dye job gone horribly frizzily wrong.  My daughter was going for a cheap laugh, and she got it, but I think I made a hairdresser's appointment the next day.  Reverted to something akin to my natural colour.

Interestingly, there are quite a few women teaching at my school who have the potential for grey hair, but none has dared to achieve it.  Perhaps it's something about not wanting to give the teenagers any more ammo than they already have by virtue of their lack of manners, audacity and strength in numbers.

Many years ago, a male teaching colleague who used to drive to and from school with me, begged a favour.  On the way home, would I mind going with him into the supermarket to buy a packet of hair dye?  He didn't want to suffer embarrassment at the check-out, having the assistant smirking at his dark little secret.  So I stole with him up the hair aisle, and interpreting his surreptitious sign language, grabbed the box of whatever it was and paid for it, while he stared off, pretending he wasn't with me.  Apparently, he started dyeing his hair when he'd turned snow white in his mid-thirties whilst teaching in Africa.  "I didn't want to stand out," he said, as I hung onto the steering wheel, trying not to laugh.  As if his dyed hair would have camouflaged him amongst the natives.

A couple of years ago, I was in the pub with my old man and his work mates, checking out the seriously springy brown curls of one of his crew.  "Do you dye your hair?" I asked him. (Yeah, I'm nosey.)  I judged him to be middle aged, if the profusion of eye-brow, nose and ear hair was any indication.  You know how it gets at a certain age.  I suppose it could just have been a natural accompaniment to the mop of curls.  "Yes," he conceded, having another sip of his pot.  "Same," I said.  (Well, I have these conversations with women all the time.  Why discriminate?  I was interested.)  It was only after he left that the assembled group let out a collective guffaw.  They'd been working with Jack for years.  He'd been wax bald since his early twenties and had one day turned up to work in a curly wig.  From that day forward, he didn't mention it and neither did anyone else, well, not to him.  He even had a series of similar wigs that he wore sequentially to simulate hair growth.  Evidently I was the first one to call it, but I didn't get it quite right.

My cousin's middle aged bloke had a generous seventies Robert Redford-esque ash blond mane.  He was sitting with me and my old man (bald, number one) out on the patio.  We'd had a couple of drinks in the sunshine and had arrived at that level of relaxed intimacy that naturally led to me getting personal and complimenting Gerry on his excellent hair, given his age.  He modestly accepted the praise; turned his head just so, possibly to catch the afternoon sun's rays through the trees.  Much later, my cousin told me that he was wearing a wig.  Apparently, when he undresses, the hair comes off too, leaving a scant fringe of hair around the neck, which during the day is deftly blended with the wig.

So in the butcher's this morning, I'm standing behind three oldies, studying their hair.  The gent on the right looks like an aged ballroom dance instructor.  A thick black youthful wig adorns his old head. His shirt is white with fine black stripes, open at the collar, under a black cardigan. He's wearing matching slacks and black pointy toed slip-on shoes.  He paid for his meat from a massive roll of cash that he pulled out of his pocket on his missus's order.  She has an almost ubiquitous - for a Saturday morning - brown-orange bad home dye by the looks, all fluffed out to disguise the alopecia. The woman next to her is one shade lighter, but it's the same look.  Must have been a sale on in Chemist Warehouse.

And there's me standing behind, wondering at what stage I transmogrify into that parody of my former self or whether I'm already there.  Actually, think I'm overdue for a root boost.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sleepless in Rutherglen.

Have done some big bike rides over the last three days.  Glorious days of exercise, food and wine, followed by hellish nights, I might add.  Had another night of horror last night.

It's not down to the old man's 'adventure dreams' either.  Although they keep me busy.  He shouts, cycles his legs, scraping me occasionally with his lethal toenails, and rants in what could pass as the devil's voice in an episode of Supernatural.  Or it's doof, doof, doofdoofdoof fists into the middle of my back where I'm suddenly some nemesis he's taking a swing at.  (Well, that's his excuse.) The other night, like a magician doing the table-cloth trick, he whisked off the bed clothes and flung them into the air.  But it's not that.  His antics are mildly diverting.

I usually sleep well for four or so hours, then groan as I check the beacon digital clock and see 2.20. Try not to think of it. Think of something else. Sing American Pie in my head, then 999 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, then, fuck it, I'm wide awake.

Thus I lie there for at least the next two hours before drifting into a light sleep, invariably to be awoken again by the night-time adventurer beside me. I shake him, punch his arm, slap him, beg him to wake up and swap to a different dream, but to no avail. He seems to be able to nod off and take up where he left off, after an ad break.  But I'm back to listening to my heart-beat and feeling for lumps.

Basically, my insomnia's down to alcohol abuse, and don't we all put it away when we come up here to
Rutherglen a couple of times a year for a bit of cycling. And wine.

Did a bit of reckoning this morning, after another wakeful night. It's just too easy to imbibe here, without even thinking about it.  But think about it I did.

We'd cycled about ten k yesterday before having a tasting at Cofields. Generous, delicious sparklings. Who can resist? And their sparkling shiraz is excellent.  (The enormous tastes could have been down to a new cellar manager. Unfortunately, she'll probably learn.)  The marsanne viognier hit the spot, so we decided to take a glass each out on the lawns.  By my addition I was up to about 350 ml of 14 percent proof.

Roll down the road to Pfeiffers and about another 100 ml in obligatory tasting. Started with an evaporative reisling. That's how it felt. Don't know the correct terminology.  Steely? But from my perspective it just disappeared in the mouth. No need to swallow or spit. Evaporative. But not like metho.  The chardonnay was delicious so bought a bottle to have down on the bridge.  Sister, Reggie, supplied the picnic.  All good fare that I won't bore you with. Suffice to say, it hit the spot, and I had to laugh when she produced a vintage sixties table cloth to complete the idyllic picture.  Another couple of bevies and I was up to about 650 or so ml, but not feeling it, unless really enjoying the gum trees, Murray tributary and bird song with my lunch was a sign.

Continued the pedal for a few flat k along to Campbell's. Didn't even bother with a tasting. We were on a chardonnay roll, so took a bottle onto the lawns to watch what was left of the sunshine setting over the vines.  Ker-ching. Another 200 ml or so.  Time to head back to Wine Village, our very comfortable lodgings in Rutherglen, for an apres cycle glass or two. According to my rain-man reckoning I was up to about 1.15 litres by now.  Further glass of Campbell's chardonnay up at Poachers Paradise, a more than worthy accompaniment to my special Seafood Laksa with Hokkein Noodles and Coconut Milk. Despite a 29k cycle, and notwithstanding the fact that I hit the Diet Coke and coffee at that stage, clearly I'd put away about 1.3 litres of 14 proof delicious wine ON MY OWN!

In conclusion, I'm my own worst enemy suffering self inflicted sleeplessness and feeling like shit in the small hours. Or perhaps it was the country seafood laksa??

(BTW, have cycled 45k today and feel awesome because FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER in Rutherglen, I haven't touched a drop.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Picture Framer.

I'm thinking of my exhortations to my Year 8 Writing Class to begin at the interesting bit, then backfill, but I'm not sure whether there is an interesting bit in this musing.  It was for me, but perhaps you had to be there.  I'll try.

My cousin's been staying with me, on and off, for the past three months, using our place as her Australian base.  She wanted to buy us - my old man and me - a parting gift.  Thus, she offered to have one of my son's drawings framed.  Seemed like a good idea, and something I'd been meaning to do but never got around to.  Thus the plan for the first weekday of my vacation was to locate a picture framers close by.

My son sketched this picture on black cartridge paper with what looks like white chalk. There's some charcoal shading too.  It's quite big, about a metre by god knows what; maybe sixty centimetres.  It's from a life drawing class he took when he was about nineteen.  We were all overwhelmed by the beauty of this portrait of a woman, breasts hanging, eyes closed.  I didn't think my big goofy boy, who at that stage spent lots of time stomping around the house making animal noises, had it in him.  Prior to that year, he'd done maths and science subjects, thinking he'd be an architect, or some-such.  Now he was a budding artist.  The other thing about this portrait is it's done several years under his bed, unprotected, amongst indescribable, unmentionable filth that's shocked even him.  I rescued it last year after he'd finally finished his Communication Design degree and cleaned up his room, thinking to start fresh.  By that stage the picture was crumpled, and a bit torn around the edges, but still, well, a work of art; an almost careless yet very accomplished study.

Which is how we ended up at a local framers.  It's in Sydney Road, only a block or two down from the Coburg shops, in that no man's land stretch that's not yet fashionable.  (Give it time, now that Brunswick's the new Fitzroy, it won't be long 'til Bohemia creeps further north.)  The shop didn't look like much from the outside.  Thought it might have been closed, but it wasn't.

"What can I do for you ladies?"  This dark-haired stocky, smiling guy was rubbing his hands together as we approached.  Told him the story and he cast an oh-oh sort of eye over the crumpled picture.  "Hmm," he said, frowning, "I'm going to have to glue it and I can't guarantee that it won't get creases and I'm worried about smudging it." Spreading his hands over the picture like a Reiki healer, he mimed how he was going to have to press to get the wrinkles out.  Didn't seem to be a problem from my perspective, but I rang my son for his advice.  They had a bit of craftsman to craftsman talk and decided the whole gluing procedure wouldn't be a problem.  Seemed a bit ridiculous to worry about a couple of creases from my perspective.  Whatever the framer did was going to liberate Ms Tits from down the side of my wardrobe and would have to be an improvement.

"So, have youse got a particular frame in mind?"  Good teeth and a very accommodating attitude, I thought.  I had no idea.  "Did youse want a mount?" Interesting.  Cousin Butterfly, however, knew what he meant.

Our framer was a bit of a know-it-all but savvy enough to make Butterfly think he agreed with all her  suggestions for frame and mount.

"Do you want ordinary glass or matte?" he asked.
"Oh, I think ordinary," said Butterfly, on what pretext, I don't know, but she sounded like she had some artistic reason for her choice.
"Glad you said that!" he chimed.  "That's the best.  The matte can make it a bit dull."  I'm quite sure if she'd said matte, he would have agreed and had a stock reply - the ordinary can make it a bit bright?

I didn't really get it so asked what he meant.  He waved to a display over my shoulder.  I swung around. "See those pictures there? They don't even look like there's any glass on them, whereas with your ordinary glass, see how it brings out the colours?"  I looked at the frames he indicated.  He had a point.  I wandered in a bit closer to study the matte finished photos.  They were a framed series of four photo portraits of what I thought were four pretty young girls.  Initially, I thought they were sisters given the variations in age, hair styles and clothes.  These were black and white head and shoulder shots of back-combed made up early sixties debs, by the looks.  Special party frocks, ribbons and strappy dresses.  Clear, beautiful faces.  In the centre of the frame was a small square inset plaque, inscribed with Greek capital lettering.

"Who're the women?" I asked, mildly interested and my usual nosey self.  Thought it'd be some old relic from a customer who hadn't returned to collect it.
"It's my mother."  I was still studying the pretty faces.
"Wow. Pretty woman."
"She passed away in 1971. When I was two.  Her and my little sister.  And that's me sitting on dad's knee."  Instantly, I had tears welling up.  "It's a passport photo.  You didn't have to have a separate photo for a child back then.  It was just before we went back to Greece.  After my mum passed away."  In the black and white photo, his father has short, rocker-style hair. He's wearing a checkered sports jacket and an open necked shirt.  He has a hollow eyed look; a blank, empty serious stare for the camera.  His wide-eyed similarly serious two year old son is perched on his left knee,  The pretty young woman above had died in childbirth.

I don't know the framer's name, but I'm calling him Dimitri now.  Dimitri was far from maudlin, although his eyes shone with empathy at my reaction.  However, it seemed life improved on the return to Greece.  His dad, unable to make a match with one of her older sisters, courted and married the fifteen year old girl next door who'd been looking after little Dimitri while his father worked.

"People can't believe how young my mum is," Dimitri laughed.  "She's only thirteen years older than me.  I  call her my mum.  She is my mum.  She never made me feel that I wasn't her own.  I didn't find out until I was sixteen that she was my step-mum.  How would I know?  I couldn't remember."

"Where's your dad now?" Dimitri was trying a couple of different frames against the picture.
"He's here, working." Almost on cue, a small grey haired man shuffled across the back of the workroom behind the shop.
"Doesn't mind you talking about him?"
"Nah. Doesn't listen. He's got selective hearing."

There was something wonderful about being in this family business  where Dimitri, his brothers and his dad work together.  I'm wondering what else I can have framed for the sake of a bit more chat.

Meanwhile, I could see that Butterfly and I were doing a bit of a dueling writers thing, wondering who'd get dibs on the story.  If I was a better writer perhaps I could eke it out into a sixties Captain Corelli's Mandolin.  Sadly, I'm not.

The frame will set Butterfly back 175 bucks.  But the experience was a bit priceless.