Monday, July 11, 2016

A bit of my life as a writer.

In my thirties I tried to be a working writer. I was teaching one three hour evening school VCE class a week. I had two children, sixteen months apart who occupied much of my time. Still, I wrote. Journal. Short stories. A novel. Well, best to call it a novella. The novella amounted to 45,000 words. It was about a young woman whom I initially called Meredith but shortened to Mere - to some derision - who had married a young Anglican minister and lived to regret it. Underneath it all, I was writing about my own experience of being a Christian. Writing the book was cathartic and it helped me, at 37, to finally disentangle myself from the hold that Christianity and church had over me. That was extremely liberating and I've never returned to it. I think I'm probably over the bitterness I felt at being trapped in religion for so long. Can't stand going to church services for baptisms and funerals these days. Interestingly, I can still sing or recite all the liturgy. (I can also sing about a million TV show themes and adverts too and recite Shakespeare. It's all about exposure and repetition.)
Stick to the point. The writing. I began a business and sought copywriting opportunities. With the help of a relative in the design business I got perhaps three lucrative projects. I say lucrative because for the few hours involved they paid heaps more money than teaching did.  I enjoyed playing with words to complete the projects but they didn't provide any ongoing job satisfaction, especially the advertising catalogue for a now defunct stationery company. Pfft. Writing a newsletter for a restaurateur was more fun but he went bust and I experienced how hard some people have it regularly trying to get paid for their completed work. He shrugged and told me he simply didn't have the money - $500 - to give me. It was a lot of money back then given I was getting $25 an hour under our agreement. 
With the paucity of copywriting opportunities I mainly wrote résumés, the occasional student essay and job applications responding to key selection criteria. I became quite a job counsellor. The internet hadn't really taken off at that stage. I industriously read the classifieds in The Age, getting some sense of the job market and developed skills in helping people get work. Really. But once they'd secured work I never saw them again. You don't want them coming back because that means you've been unsuccessful. A couple of sad souls kept returning for yet another cover letter. 
My workroom is at the back of our house and looks out onto a paved courtyard. The kids’ tyre swing used to hang from an old fir tree, long since cut down. But it looked nice out there. One young woman, a return client, with a big fleshy stubbly face and woolly hair scraped back into a pony tail, gazed wistfully out there one day. You're so lucky, she said, to have this job. 
Some of my résumé writing experiences weren't pleasant. One woman, who'd seemed perfectly nice at the initial résumé consult turned into psycho-bitch when it came time to pay for the final product upon which she cast unwarranted aspersions. She held it in her left hand and slapped at it with the back of her right as she scorned the way I'd written it. In my ignorance, I'd put a hyphen in the compound word, bookkeeper. It was easily remedied but this instigated her ire. I fixed the problem and printed out a new copy. She claimed she'd have to take the two page document to a better résumé  service to see if they could fix my inferior work. I snatched it back from her. You're not having it, I said. I'd rather rip it up than let you take something unsatisfactory. This made her reconsider and she handed me twenty-five dollars before storming back through my home and out the door. Heart beating in her wake, I realised that she was simply trying to get the document for free. Probably behaved like that all over the place.
I formed a friendship of sorts with an elderly semi-retired businessman. He'd seen my ad in  the local paper. He'd get me to type business letters for him. Suppose I was his clever little secretary. He was a gentleman: tall, white-wavy hair, well groomed, soft checked shirts and business pants but with a sort of horsey country air about him. He'd wait while I typed his mail and we'd talk. He told me the story of his son’s death. His face crumpled and almost broke as he shared his grief. His son had died when a drug-filled condom he'd ingested in a smuggling attempt had burst in his intestine. His son had attended a private Christian college; had been loved and nurtured. This man couldn't understand what had happened. It broke my heart listening to him.
That was the thing about the little job I had. Clients shared their stories with me. Something about my demeanour seems to invite that. However  it wasn't enough and at forty I decided to let it go and get back into secondary teaching. Interestingly, my first teaching position after having my own kids was at the same school that gentleman’s son had attended. I was going to send my own children there, having put their names on a list back in my ‘intense Christian’ phase, but my five months experience there made me get my money back. As an educator, memories of that school still make me shudder.
During my break from teaching I also had three articles published in The Age, and I was paid for them; it was probably one of the biggest thrills of my life, especially when the first appeared. About 800 words long, it was underneath an article by Bettina Arndt and a cartoon illustration accompanied my piece about an experience I'd had, as a newly diagnosed person with diabetes. I'd submitted the article to coincide with Diabetes Week but I'd been occupied with looking after kids and hadn't expected it to be published. I’d had no indication that it would be. I experienced a sort of fifteen minutes of fame: congratulatory phone calls; the school where I taught on a very part-time basis had photocopied my article and pinned it on a notice board. I was astounded that I received so much adulation for this, and two other pieces that were subsequently published. They'd taken little effort to write. The hardest part was having the audacity to think that anyone would want to read what I'd written; having the guts to submit them. 
People wanted to talk about my writing. Teaching, for me, is far more worthy and humanitarian and yet I rarely get accolades for having devoted much of my adult life to it.
I'm glad I've never had to earn a living through writing. I've recently read Ruth Park’s engrossing two part autobiography, A Fence Around the Cuckoo and Fishing in the Styx. She wrote to live and by god she worked hard. (Highly recommend those books.)
I teach and I write. I've written things for which I haven't been paid that have been published in magazines. I've had as much satisfaction from writing these and seeing them published as I have from the paid articles, although there was a certain prestige in appearing in the then revered Age broadsheet newspaper.
Fortuitously, I heard, from an English teacher colleague, about blogging. Blogging seems to satisfy my writing needs. I began my fraudulentteacher blog in 2005 and later began fraudstersmusings. Between them I've had more than 65,000 page views. Not heaps but enough to satisfy me. I gather lots of those page viewers might not actually read what I've written but lots of them do. 
Why this need to write my stories? It's just what I've always done.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The upside of travel. Happy meetings.

At Charles De Gaulle airport with a couple of spare hours pre flight back to Oz via Abu Dhabi.

The best thing for me about travelling, and life, actually, is interaction with other people. (I'm still learning not to overreact to any perceived offence. 'Maybe it's paranoia, maybe it's sensitivity...' Joni Mitchell said that. Love Joni.)

One interesting interaction was on the train from Munich to Stuttgard. We shared a six seater first class compartment with Boris and his daughter, Josie. (See, I'm so nosy I get names.) We initially started talking because we'd been double booked in the same seats. It I didn't matter, given there were four of us and six seats available. He spoke perfect English with a slight accent. His daughter spoke with a flawless clipped British accent. Then they slipped into their native Estonian - I think. However, they live in Munich and also speak German. Boris, having been born in Russia to a Finnish mother and Russian father, also speaks both those languages. I find that amazing, coming from a country where speaking anything other than 'Strayan' - as the word Australian is often pronounced - unless one is a migrant, is unusual. It was the first day of Josie's three month summer break from the international school she attends. Given that her mother had to work that weekend, she and Boris were attending a seminar in Switzerland. On quantum physics. As one does. 

While Josie, a teenager, listened to music on her phone and sketched faces in blue ink in her visual diary, Boris told us a little about his life. A ship builder now, whose next contract doesn't start until October in Japan, Boris also did his time, aged eighteen, in the Russian army. 'It was bad,' he said, 'but not like prison.' He served on the North Korean border. The harshness was mitigated for him by his mother's insistence during his youth that he attend a music school. Consequently, he had learned the flute, having been 'no good, according to [his] teacher' at cello. Thus he played in the military band and was proud that he'd never carried a Kalashnikov during his military service. 'Only a flute.'

Boris, urbane and articulate, is a passionate ice fisherman. Said he is much happier if it's minus 30 degrees than anything over 25. 'You just drill your hole in the ice and it's wonderful,' he said. 'To keep warm you can drink some tea. I can stay out there - in Finland on the ice - all day. But the days are short.'

We shared the cabin for a couple of hours and the time flew. Sounds like I did some sort of interrogation but it wasn't like that. Boris was equally interested in our Australian lives and our travels. 

Yesterday, we went in search of something of Paris as I remembered it from 1980. That was a winter holiday and I don't recall the hordes of tourists we've seen in the summer months. So we took the métro to Sebastopol and walked through the Montorgueil area. There we found an arcade, Passage du Grand Cerf, and wandered through it. This arcade has greenery hanging from one of those high leaded glass-like ceilings and was lined with shops selling beautiful handcrafts and jewellery, amongst other things. And not one other tourist. How can this be, so close to the Marais which is crawling with tourists?

Chantal, a shopkeeper I talked to, explained that there's Paris for the tourists and Paris for the locals. We had wandered into her shop - Le Labo + filf; Objets poétiques et créations lumineuses - looking for some unusual gifts. Chantal's daughter, Maud, designed the beautiful bags I ended up buying. Chantal was lovely and more than happy to chat with me in French, something I crave. She asked where we were staying and how we intended getting to the airport. She lives in the arrondissement where our apartment was and was puzzled as to why the tourism office had directed us to Porte d'Orléans as the nearest métro station. 'Cité Universitaire is much closer, just a walk through Parc Montsouris. And it connects directly with CDG airport.' She laughed a bit at this. We'd not only walked out of our way to catch the métro each day but the train loops through heaps of stations adding about fifteen minutes onto a journey that otherwise takes about five. Ha. At least we found the local supermarkets.

It was a fortuitous meeting, Chantal, should you ever read this, you greatly reduced the stress of our trip to the airport this morning. (Chantal and I did actually swap email addresses and I've already composed the email I'll send her as soon as we get back home. I haven't been able to send any emails while I've been in Europe, for reasons I don't understand.)

By the way, there was a four day haute couture fashion event during our week in Paris. Twice we've stumbled upon the glitterati and their entourages. The other day we walked along the red carpet being set up in Rue Montaigne. Yesterday we were amongst the buzz and press of the Jean-Paul Gaultier show. I know this from another of my sources, haha, a freelance photographer sitting outside a café near the mêlée. He was nice. I told him I'm a writer, of sorts, and he was keen for me to hang around and soak up the ambience. 'This is a big thing. You have Jean-Paul Gaultier. Use that as a label in your blog and you'll have more readers,' he suggested. 'And you have the fashions and the chateau here.' Yes, there was a chateau. Beats me if I can remember the name of the street we were in. (Perhaps I'd look it up if I wasn't up in the air courtesy of Etihad Airways.) Hard to see through all the posh cars with their tinted windows. At that moment an emaciated model fell off her six inch stilettos right in front of us. All caught by the nearby paparazzi. She didn't miss a beat. Picked herself up and continued wobbling along the cobbled path.

More interested in sausages than fashion, I moved on in my Target blue jeans, home-made haute couture shirt and running shoes.

Now Porte de la Villette sounded interesting in the Paris tourist guide. It's where two canals converge. It was almost at the end of the métro line it was on. No one else seemed to be going there. We emerged from the métro into a dodgy looking street, walked a bit, then crossed the road into an enormous empty 'parc'. Well, there was a science exhibition centre if you're into that sort of thing, which I'm not. We wandered over relatively modern - 1983 - cobbled pathways to check out the canal. Yep. Canal. Straight. Flowing. There was a sort of 'fun fair' but no one really seemed to be having any. A carousel was going around playing the Danube waltz. A guy was leaning idly on the counter inside the office of the unused dodgem cars. (I was slightly tempted, but then thought of the camping car and decided against it.) Quite bleak, really. A handful - six? - other tourists were wandering around with bemused expressions, like wtf am I doing here? (I'm perhaps being unkind about this place. Al compared it to Melbourne show grounds when the show's not on.)

I used - needs must - one of the grottiest 'bathrooms' since the back blocks of Vietnam. Two, let's call them ne'er do wells, male, were hanging around inside the unisex facility. The toilet wouldn't flush, no paper. Just a stench of old urine. (Not mine.)  Suppose it could have been worse, I thought as I swabbed the backs of my thighs with antiseptic handwash.

Happily, the Champs Élysées is only a métro ride away. We came up into the sunshine and the glorious view of the arc and right into the middle of a great hip hop dance performance. You can knock your tourist haunts but this is where you can enjoy a bit of street entertainment, for free if you're a bit short on spare change. It was wonderful.

I'm on the plane now, having an early Chardonnay - it's 11.45 am Paris time - and I'm sure I've tested your stamina with such a long post. Thank you again for reading.

PS. Do you know how effectively writing passes time?

Reflections on our last night in Paris

Sadly, we're leaving Paris early tomorrow morning after six days here. It's also the end of our six week vacation. (Don't think I've ever needed a complete break so desperately before. See previous posts re me and my old mum.) This holiday, torrential rain notwithstanding, has been wonderful. And I'm writing that despite all the anxiety incurred renting and driving a whopping great 'camping car' - let's call it a truck/lorry/camion - from Munich across France to the Atlantic coast and back. Not to mention the €700 bill for the damage I caused to the van by navigating Al into a hedge. (This was our fifth camping car rental, by the way. We've only managed to return our van once without damage of some sort. Hehe.)

Al and I have been to Paris five times now. This time we had no real plans of what to do for six days. I had a vague idea that I wanted to return to a fabric store - Sacrés Tissus - because I'd bought some lovely unusual  fabric there a couple of years ago. (Went. Didn't find anything.)

I'm making myself gag now. Here I am in the 'city of light' and all I want to do is buy a couple of metres of fabric. But, I'm a dressmaker and that's what I like to do. Suppose one should have sympathy for Al, who follows me around; hangs around at shop entrances in his Aussie cowboy hat pretending he's a tall Crocodile Dundee. (He looks quite cool, I think.)

To summarise a bit of our week in Paris:
It's always an immense relief when one arrives at one's Airbnb rental and discovers it is as described and more. This is our third Airbnb rental in France and second in Paris. Seems there are a few more service charges than there were when we rented in Bordeaux in 2013, but back then the company wasn't advertising on television as it is these days. (Hope they haven't got too big for their britches.)

You don't need a description of our apartment. Let's just say it's near Porte d'Orléans and on 'our' corner we have a couple of decent restaurants and the beautiful Parc Montsouris to wander through. The closest métro, at the other side of the park, is also a direct line to Charles De Gaulle airport. Should prove useful in the morning. The apartment is close to boulangeries - croissants! Tartes aux champignons! Etcetera! - markets and supermarkets. Parfait - perfect - as I've just written in a note to our host, Françoise.

Over the last six days we have walked our feet off. I don't care if I look like a tourist. My expensive  running shoes, and my regular jogging back home, ensured that despite having walked countless ks I have remained blissfully blister free. Decided against chancing Velib - the bike rental system - this time. Have already fallen off my bike once (good sight gag, I imagine) - cycling around beautiful Bodensee - Lake Constance - and nearly cycled myself under a bus last time I was in Paris.

So much for a summary. Too much information, I know, but indulge me, dear reader. I'll be teaching surly adolescents six days from now.

Last Saturday, several bridges across the river Seine were closed due to the massive gay pride march that we just happened upon. Massive crowds. Uplifting experience. Enormous police presence - and not just in the march. Our bags were searched by police carrying rifles as we crossed the Pont Neuf to see what was going on. 

Very conspicuous armed police and military presence all week in Paris, especially yesterday when there had been a demonstration - if I understood my French source correctly. Yesterday was the day that the government implemented its changes giving more power to the bosses and less to the workers, according to my source. Walking along the Seine amongst hundreds of armed police in full on sci-fi riot gear was somewhat unnerving but if there was any shit going down, I'm glad they were there.

On Sunday, we spent a long time on the métro and SNCF - the railway - going to and from Claude Monet's house and garden at Giverny. Guess what? It rained the entire time. Still. So beautiful. I read somewhere that Claude Monet said his garden, developed over 40 years if my memory serves, was his greatest achievement. It was wonderful. It really was. But, and I know I'm one, tourists. Blerk. We queued, and shook our sodden umbrellas over each other and poked each other in the eyes with them. We shuffled around those tiny paths blocking each other's views of Japanese bridges and lily pads. We tried to absorb a sense of the place; to have impressions - pun intended. Wonder what Monet would have made of us all disturbing his place. Could he ever have imagined the travesty that we tourists would make of his creation?

The hour train ride back to Paris was interesting. It was so packed that I couldn't even place my feet in such a way that I could balance. I clutched Croc Dundee by the chest hairs and tried not to cry. Really. That bad.

Still, glad we spent the money - about €100 for two of us counting a 'light lunch' - and visited Giverny.

(If you want to see extremely glorious medieval French villages and towns though, try the Alsace region - Colmar, Kaysersberg - birth place of Albert Schweitzer - Strasbourg. Actually, lots of France if our experience is any indication.)

Revisited Sacré Coeur on another day - it's close to my fabric shop!  I'd hate to be a physically impaired tourist in Paris. The climb to the cathedral is quite a challenge. Suppose you could catch a bus, or tootle around in the ubiquitous little white tourist train. Another word on sodding tourists. Yes, sod them. There are clear signs in about four languages forbidding the taking of photos inside the cathedral. Completely ignored. What is wrong with these people? 

Sacré Coeur highlights: lovely music in the lane outside. Three musicians, all harmonising, one guitarist, one beating out a rhythm, one mc-ing. So good.
Second thing? A delicious hotdog with onions and hot mustard. (A few trips to Germany and I've become quite the sausage aficionado.)

A word on Parisian hospitality, and I've probably written this before: people have been so helpful. Note well: I can speak French. In fact I speak it really well. My problem is my aural comprehension. I fool people and then I haven't got the heart to interrupt their responses to ask them to slow down. Croc Dundee, Al, understands French but can't really speak it yet he meets with neither aggression nor arrogance should he ask a stranger for assistance. I don't understand these scathing commentaries I've read here and there about people having trouble communicating with the French. In fact, all the young people seem keen to practise their English

Look, you know what, there's much more, but it's getting late and I have to get up at five. Thanks so much for reading.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hey, let's drive on treacherous B roads for 5 hours.

Why is there fucking foliage in the middle of town anyway?
So said Al, driving down an almost non-negotiable alleged 'camper route' in France. A semi-trailer - articulated lorry - was coming at us head on. Al clipped - haha - the hedge with the passenger side mirror. Very squeezy.
We set off at 9.30 this morning from our sublime chateau camping with its manicured lawns and shady trees and wonderful restaurant, La Ferme, just outside the gate. Al had, through the campground manager, he thought, made a reservation for us at Vermenton, a five hour drive away. He wanted to 'break the back' of our return trip to Munich. (Break the back of our marriage?) Van and bikes need returning in about four days.
Well we did our drive. Yet, no matter how splendid the countryside with forests, fields, vineyards and 12th century. villages, it can be overdone. As it was today.
We'd stocked up with bread, cheese, pate and wine at Super U, this morning. We had filled the gazeole - diesel. But when it got to lunchtime we could not find a place to pull over to eat.
By this stage - about 2pm- I was ready to chow down on my own elbow. Sugar-free Fisherman's Friends weren't doing it, other than giving me wind. 
Eventually we pulled over in an asphalted lay by. I put the kettle on, grabbed the small goods and bread. But by jeeze I wish I hadn't opened the door to see that dump of human excreta and soiled loo paper just outside the van door. Put me right off my mousse aux canards.
At 4.30 we arrived at our camping to discover that we didn't in fact have a reservation and that the camp was suffering from 'l'inundation' - flooding- so we had to find another place.
Here we are now, a few k up the road in a 2 star joint. Squat toilets, bring your own 'papier' and 'les moustiques' - mozzies - up the wazoo. Which is why, despite the warmth, I'm wearing a hijab, long pants and socks.
Meh (love that expression) I've got everything, and wifi if I sit by the l'accueil - reception.
Not looking forward to being back at work.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's raining again.

Okay, won't use that cliché, first world problems. Oh, it seems I have.

Bearing all that in mind this is what's largely been happening for three weeks: rain. Various kinds. The pelting, frightening, soaking deluge that catches one on one's bike, amidst traffic, suddenly, in Auxerre as one is heading back to the flooded 'camping'. One is without shoes because they're drenched. (Yeah, boo hoo.) Then there's the type of rain that shrouds the hills and vineyards as one is cycling back to the camping in Beaune, Bourgogne, after a surprising - cos it wasn't raining - blissful morning's ride with occasional sunshine peeping through the grey-wash. But mostly the rain's been that all-night pittering or smashing on the roof of the rental van. We heard it first when we picked up the van in Munich, three weeks ago and it's been a regular feature of our days and nights here in Germany and France since.

But we're troopers. The waterproofs have had a good workout and we've headed out on our velos - bikes - anyway. We've put in lots of ks and admittedly have generally laughed at our 'misfortune'. Is it misfortune when one is lucky enough to have left all responsibility behind on the other side of the planet for six weeks? Don't think so. 

Nonetheless, it casts a pall that dulls the verdant landscapes and makes me happy to have the activity of doing a load of washing and drying.

Currently, we're on the Atlantic Coast. Read cheek by jowl camping grounds - holiday villages I suppose. All neat and well appointed with swimming pools and water slides. The Atlantic Ocean is a .7 k sand dune walk away from our camping and it looked bloody bleak. One young man was swimming amidst the choppy grey. I'm sure he warmed up, as you do after a while in the ocean, but I was a bit frightened for him. I didn't notice any warning signs. Perhaps it's safe.

I pulled my hood over my hat and secured the ties.

Weather notwithstanding, we were both a bit flat this morning with the rain pittering on the van skylight. You see we'd 'dared to dream' that we could make it to Saumur for our third time for the fête du velo - vintage cycling festival - held over the past weekend and we made it. I try not to to put too much store into these things in case I'm disappointed. But far from it. I'd say it was the best experience so far these hols and for a long time. Sad that it's over.

I come over here hoping to engage with the French. (I've written elsewhere about being the French pretender but I can't link to it on this device. Merde.) Well, apart from the magnificent cycling through the vineyards and along the troglodyte route - where markets and houses were carved out of the clay in the eleventh century - we had a real treat. A group of people were celebrating the fête with a picnic in one of the caves. This cave has a wood-fired oven and toilet facilities. (Pretty good cave.) The cave, all chalky white, is built into the cliffs on one side of the Loire. It's a room-like space that is open to the elements above. On that Saturday it wasn't raining.

We could hear lots of echoing voices as we approached. Didn't want to bust up their party, whoever they were, but I really needed a toilet stop. I barged through. Pardon, messieurs dames - basically, excuse me, I'm coming through. Pas de problème.

And after I'd washed up we were invited to have a drink. Next thing, we'd both got a glass of wine and a hunk of bread with chèvres - goats cheese. I chatted to Dianne, who had a bit of English. Between my French and Dianne's English we were away. It was marvellous. They were a group of neighbours and friends enjoying the special weekend. We shared their marinated duck and saucisson and stayed there with them in that cave for over an hour. Magic. Definitely flies in the face of all that guff about the French being unwelcoming. Very special.

So was Claude, well met at a wine and food pitstop along the vintage vélo ride around the Loire the next day. Claude had worked for the French government around the world including in Australia. Of course he spoke excellent English. Somehow, during the course of our conversation we had been invited to park our van at his place next time we're in that area. And I'm sure he was sincere.

Despite mostly bad weather, it's been worth the trip. I love the French culture and being able to improve my French conversation, love being with Al in our cosy van. Love not working. However, don't think I'm ready for retirement. (That's a whole nother story.)

PS: next day. Great forest cycle track along the coast around St Jean de Monts. Beach at low tide on the still but overcast day was amazing. Loads of activities for the masses of tourists who'll no doubt fill all the apartments, gites, hotels and campsites along this part of the coast in ten days time.

PPS: two days later - our first experience of a hot blue afternoon in France this holiday. Camped now in the picturesque well-appointed grounds of a chateau - Castel Campsite Le Petit Trianon in Ingrande-sur-Vienne. Quite enjoying sweltering heat and the peace of this place after the four hour drive to get here from the Atlantic coast.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Touch wood indeed. Tour de Germany part 2.

Beware your own beatific smile. Beware smugness. That's a warning to me. Minutes after I posted my last blog I drove the campervan to the waste water drain. Very pleased with the way the van handled. Why does Al make it look so hard? I thought, swinging her round the corners and expertly positioning the outlet nozzle over the drain. He just wants to have all the fun.

I'd set the sat nav for our next destination. Told Al to hop in the back and I'd drive to recepzion. Except I couldn't find my way back through the hedge maze in the camping ground. Signs didn't help. I have about three words in German. (Wein - wine, tee mit milch - tea with milk, biergarten - beer garden. Okay, that's five.) I couldn't tell which way was the ausfahrt - exit. (Okay, six.) Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn down a narrow hedged lane and felt a bit of sick coming up cos I knew I couldn't get through. Al, meanwhile was in the back putting his shoes and socks on for the drive. (He has his standards.) Realising I was in trouble, I asked him to take over the driving. 

We couldn't go forward. Had to reverse back around a corner in this tiny lane. Well, we - me out in the rain rushing side to side at the back of the van flapping my hands and calling increasingly terse instructions - got stuck on a hedge with a low thick protruding branch which got jammed under the front wheel rim.

We needed help.

Given it was my fault I felt utterly sick, stupid and pathetic. Cried. (Been there before.) What else could I do? (Hyperventilate while pacing up and down with my purple umbrella, as it happened.) My 'patheticity' galvanised Al into action. In his yellow plastic poncho he headed off to find help at recepzion.

Interestingly, he found the office quite easily whereas I had been totally disorientated. Should have let him drive.

About 45 minutes later one of the campingplatz workers arrived in his golf buggy and inspected the problem. He ripped off a few branches then wrenched, with an alarming tearing sound, the offending branch from under the wheel. 'Now is good,' he said. But it took quite a lot more to-ing and fro-ing for Al to negotiate out of the trap into which I had led him.

At least a couple of locals were entertained. A giant sized elderly gent, in white singlet, blue shorts and plastic scuffs joined in barking out instructions in German. The louder the better, he evidently thought, nodding and grinning at me. An old woman in white cardigan and the ubiquitous white pants silently bore witness from her caravan site.

Ultimately, very lucky to have got out of that one with minimal damage.

And here we are in Waldshut on the Rhine in a camping car park. Might as well be in the Coburg - Melbourne - shopping centre carpark. No way. We're having an adventure.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Tour de Germany. Part 1.

Here we are again, smugly sitting in our rented van in a campingplatz on Bodensee, Germany. Okay so rain, thunder and lightning now and much of the night but the past two days have been sublime.

Again we bought second hand bikes in Munich. By the way, not only does Munich do Octoberfest in September, they also have the IFAT. That's the biggest trade fair in the world for Water, Sewage, Waste & Raw Materials Management. Held every second year in May. Apart from eavesdropping on animated American breakfast conversations about waste disposal, we also paid double for our accommodation.

Otherwise, we're well over jet lag and have relaxed into this vacation. Well, perhaps not when we were pushing our bikes uphill through torrential rain on a forest trail near Neuschwanstein Castle. We'd been trying to cycle around Alpsee - a lake - as recommended by a school mate. Except it's not possible. An hour into this isolated soggy workout, concerned about hypos with only a few jelly beans and a small container of sultanas to sustain me, insisted we back track. No harm done and good for the thighs.

We were camped amongst the meadows by Hopfensee, a beautiful lake reflecting perfectly the surrounding snow capped mountains. Gorgeous ride through wild -flowery fields to nearby medieval town of Füssen. Even had a deer sighting on the bike path.

Three nights there then onto Gohren, Bodensee. The cycling here is delectable on mostly flat well signed bike paths through apple orchards, corn and wheat fields, vineyards, villages and beautifully maintained allotments, mostly within sight of Bodensee - Lake Constance. 

We finished our two rides - about 50k to and from Meersburg on day 1, perhaps 30 beyond Lindau and back on day 2 - sitting in dappled sunlight under shade trees in a traditional Biergarten. 

Hence, smug. Touch wood.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sunday with my old mum.

My mum, former nursing administrator, reader, writer, humorous raconteur, was also into meditative ironing. In retirement, she'd get up early and set up, in her kitchen, to iron. 

Sunday, I 'got her out' of her aged care facility; rescued her for the day. It was windy, grey, squally and damp last Sunday. Couldn't imagine much worse than being stuck in that day room at the hostel. Old women, walking frames. Some heads descended on chests asleep. Other sleeping heads thrown back, mouths open. Looking like my dad just after he'd died. 

Anyway, I got my 85 year old mum out. Not before I'd checked her clothes; fixed her hair; applied her a bit of tinted moisturiser and lippie. She's so pale these days, not getting into the sun much. When she stood in front of me as I dabbed the lipstick onto her quivering lips I noticed that I was looking directly into her face, despite her formerly being six inches taller than me. She's lost her memory and her height.

Still, mum looks good. Physically robust.

I drove to my local shops, fielding the confused questions. "Do you think if we went to see my mother she'd be home?" Her mum died in 1972. "Have you been through to see my mother lately?" Mum means have I been to Goldthorpe, Yorkshire, England, to visit her mother. 

I'll deflect occasionally. Haven't had time, I'll say. Other times I'll remind mum that her mum died when I was sixteen and mum was in her early forties. Her eyes fill with tears. As they say in the dealing with dementia reading, sometimes it's better to humour the sufferer. We're all suffering.

The confused questions are repeated on a sort of loop. About three years ago, when mum's dementia was first diagnosed, I used to get angry and frustrated by mum's repetition. I wrote out standard responses and told her to read them. Got sick of telling her where we were, where she lived, where she lives now, what's happened to my dad and who that man in the kitchen was, that is, my husband, Al, who she's known and loved since 1979.

Now I'm amazed by my acceptance and patience. 

Surprisingly, I relish the humour, when it occurs as it frequently does with mum. She's always had the best sense of humour.  On Sunday, I let mum out of the car at a neighbour's driveway so she wouldn't struggle with the door and the gutter as she got out of the car. I then reversed  to park outside my house. Mum walked up the path and got into the car. She thought we were leaving having forgotten that we'd just arrived. We both roared with laughter, eyes filling with tears.

After lunch, I invited mum to do some ironing. She longs to feel useful and I thought she'd appreciate a familiar task. Set it all up, worrying a bit about the hot iron but thinking she'd manage. Gave her one of her straightforward shirts. She worked around it a bit; re-ironing sections she'd already done, unable to figure out how to move the shirt around on the board. "I'm not sure I can manage this," she said after a few attempts.

I helped her out by lying a sleeve out flat on the board. 

"Oh, I see!" She smiled her thanks, secured the top of the sleeve in her left hand and ironed with her right. She glided the iron along the sleeve and over her thumb. Her reflexes, happily, are still good. 

Packed up the ironing, poured her a wine and she watched me make some biscuits instead.