On This Day

Today is the anniversary of the second of the two most important days of my life. Two events that both completely changed my view of the world and my place in it.

This is the anniversary of when I fell completely, and utterly, in love. Once again.

The first thing I learned when my second daughter was born was that there is always room in the heart for one more. I loved my first daughter, now a cute and precocious two year old, so much that sometimes during the time of expectancy I had been genuinely concerned I might not be able to love this newcomer as well. It was a fear that vanished without trace on her arrival.

That arrival was just as fraught with difficulty as was her sister’s before. Distressed foetal syndrome and a caesarean. But this time I was allowed to be present. Watching a caesarean is fascinating and frightening. I concentrated on holding June’s hand and being reassuring.

The surgeon jokingly warned me that if I fainted, he would just stand on me and carry on with his work. June was conscious. She’d had an epidural. The previous time she had been under general anaesthetic, so this must have been even more frightening for her than for me.

When the hospital staff held up the still and silent chocolate-blue child my heart stopped. I’ve never, ever, been more frightened. In fact I realised at that moment, I had never really been frightened before at all. I cannot express the dread I felt just then.

Suddenly she let out a cry and miraculously turned pink right then and there in front of me. I treasure that memory as I do the one where I was introduced to her sister, so tiny in an incubator, tubes up her nose, two years before.

I shall never stop loving June for what she went through to bring those two into the world. If ever frustration or resentment arises when I think of how things eventually turned out, I remind myself of this.

I shall never stop loving those two girls, for the meaning they brought into my existence. Flawed as it must have been, parenthood is the one thing that really gave my life any significance.

These wonderful young women that June and I made.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Observations, Dining at the Pub

A couple, middle aged, on holiday
He orders the parmigiana,
She the shrimp salad with pink dressing
They always order that, away

Another couple with a noisy child
The most interesting person in the room
Who does not want the mashed potato
Because it contains something strange

They order the same things they eat at home
And marvel that the vegetables include broccolini
And artichoke in the Pommes Purée
Who would have thought of that?

An old couple, he taciturn and grim, she loquacious,
Eat in respective misery and chatter
A complacent lifetime in their pockets
Neither connecting with each other or the food


A young man and the girl to impress
“We’ll have the escallop de veau”
He’s disappointed when it comes
“Where are the scallops?”
She’s trying not to smile.
I’m not.

At the corner tables sit the regulars,
talking loudly into each other’s hearing aid
Old men from the camp, who cannot cook
And even now, alone, won’t take the time to learn
They order steaks well done, with chips and salad
And apple crumble with whipped cream.


The waiter, young and earnest, recites the specials
They don’t seem that, so much

And I, I realise I’d rather be at the Punjabi
Where smiling Sikhs serve fragrant food

But I order chilli and nachos
And a Coronita
They put lemon in the bottle neck, not lime.
And very little chilli in the chilli

I smile at the noisy youngster
Demanding ice cream
though he hasn’t eaten his mash.

ARF

Returning Alone – Haiku 2

I go to the bush

With my black dog on a leash

I return alone.

ARF

The other day in the changing room at the pool I met Julius. Fit, firm, muscular and tanned with a shock of grey hair that rivalled mine before I cut it, he looked much like I aspire to. My casual “How are you going?” unleashed an expletive – laden account of depression and unhappiness that caused a conversation of over half an hour. His life had no purpose. His family no longer needed him, he had no job satisfaction. He was getting nowhere. He’d lost a lot in a property settlement. He wanted to be dead. Whenever he saw a report of someone being killed he wished it had been him. And so on.

,A lot of what he said resonated with me. I told him I had an inkling of how he felt and that I shared some of his experience. I was very concerned not to enable his suicidal thoughts and looked for ways to talk through them. I asked if he had sought medical help. I told him I had found a lot of help with Prozac. It might not be for everyone, but there was undoubtedly something similar that might help in his case. He was dismissive. He did not want to put that stuff in his body. I asked if he preferred to have sadness and sorrow. There was an alternative. I have been on medication for ten year’s over. It helps.

He asked how old I was, I told him.

“Christ, you’ve had eight years of this shit more than I have”.

I could only tell him that it wasn’t all bad, and though I had been right where he was not so long ago, there is another side. I urged him to get help. We talked on for a while. In the end he shook my hand, told me his name and asked mine, then bid me goodbye, saying he was pleased to have met me.

I don’t quite know what to make of that encounter. On the way home I pondered whether there was ever a time when it was ok to decide one had endured enough and there was nothing left in life to give it purpose and meaning. What circumstances would make it a reasonable decision?

From his physical appearance, Julius has no reason for such despair unless he has been diagnosed with something as yet invisible but terminal. From a social and mental health perspective it is harder to comment. There are creative and intellectual considerations. There could be matters of conscience.

Though I have been where Julius seems to be, I don’t think it was ever more than a passing moment of self-pity and self-doubt that was easily managed by an appropriate dose of fluoxetine and a jolly good talking-to.

“On the other hand, there are plausible circumstances that I can envisage. Perhaps, should there come a time when the pain is too much, the prognosis too bleak, and the point has been so completely lost, I may need to think along those lines. If so I’d like to think I shall make the decision rationally, deliberately, and without despair. At such a time it would be wrong to dissuade me. I would not have “so much to live for” any longer. There would be something unpleasant to avoid and nothing still left I’d care to do. Particularly if the cost of doing it was too great. Then the inevitable end should be embraced and welcomed in a manner of my own choosing, rather than slowly, fearfully and painfully. At such a time I would prefer to go gentle into that good night. Joyfully, even, knowing I have done, and had, enough.

This could have been a very depressing encounter. Oddly, in the end I concluded I was ok. I worry about whether I shall see Julius again, and what I should do if we meet. Should I invite him out for a drink and a chat?

Aberdeen

I’ve been a wanderer all of my life, and many’s the sight I’ve seen…

There is no Aberdeen to which I long to return. My whole life has been spent moving on. There has never been anywhere for me to return to, because it was no longer there after I left.

I can remember two homes in England before I was five. We had five more homes in four towns in New Zealand before I was eleven.

The most stable period of my youth was my teenage years in West Auckland. After that I moved around a lot again, until I acquired a family and had a second, relatively stable, period with them in only three locations. And that didn’t last either. Not nearly as long as I wanted. It was not my choice. Which does not mean it was not my fault. I don’t know.

What I do know is there is nowhere to which I can return. No family seat, no family. Just scattered relatives. A few friends.

In the small hours I wonder “What if?” There is no answer except the soft early call of the magpie who roosts in the trees behind my caravan.

I ponder the events that led me here. Living with anyone is difficult. When does the effort become too much? Is the person wiser who decides “enough” or the one who keeps trying? Who is at fault, when someone calls enough? Perhaps the fault must always be borne by both.

I am trying to be more zen in my introspection and self-appraisal. I accept what is, but still can’t help wondering what if? I am the sum of my memories. I owe it to myself and the world to ensure my memories are honest and clear.

I was not a good son, I was not a good brother, I proved to be a poor husband, Twice. I truly don’t know any more what kind of father I was. I want to write accurately about my memories. Of what made me what I am. That will not always put me in a good light, but it also may not please those who get to see themselves as I saw them. They may see my perception of causality as blame. But one does not blame the sun for sunburn. It is what happens.

Well. Wow. I didn’t know that was where I was going when I started this post.

Buoyancy

I’m not doing nearly as well as I expected, despite some positive signs. In the pool yesterday, I spotted something someone had dropped in the deep end and dived to retrieve it. Successfully. That may not seem much of an accomplishment but not so long ago I was so buoyant with adiposity that I could not sink no matter how I tried. Though I could float on my back and snooze without fear of drowning, I could not reach the bottom of the pool no matter how hard I tried. Now, I can swim down.

This positive sign perhaps explains why my weight loss graph has plateaued in the last couple of weeks. I’m developing muscle, which is denser than fat. I am still incrementally tightening the drawstring in my waistband, so something positive is happening.

The best time of day is when I am weightless in the pool. I am virtually pain and discomfort free . I feel as fit as I was when I made my marathon swim around Mayor Island over 47 years ago. But climbing out and returning to the gravity of the world leaves me limping and hobbling like the old man I have become. Riding the bicycle is my second pleasure. Seated, so my knees bear no weight, and with my feet positioned properly on the pedals, the discomfort in my knees is minimal, and the ache in the muscles of my calves and thighs is an acceptable sign of effort being rewarded. Climbing off the bike at the end of my journey is a painful return to reality. I have to take care not to fall over. I believe it is time to talk to the doc about new knees, and get onto that waiting list.

My mental buoyancy is better. Despite occasional bouts of loneliness when I am acutely aware that I am far away from my family and closest friends, I am coming to embrace solitude, and the self-awareness that comes with it. I have left so much behind. Lost so much. I am not, and never was, the person I wanted to be. Perhaps I am where I am now because it is where I deserve to be. That is not self-pity, it is self-appraisal.

Part of me wants to return to New Zealand, but why? My family don’t need me. I actually have fewer friends there than I do in Western Australia – and the weather is worse. I’d be financially worse off. Plus there is the inertia that seems to come with old age. I find it difficult to even contemplate moving on from the camp I am in.

One of my neighbours has a sign on his cabin “Der Komandant, Stalag Luft 13”. The old chap has a sense of humour like mine. Despite the title he has given himself, he knows he is a prisoner, like the rest of us.

Neighbours

Every body needs good neighbours.

I have good neighbours. Some are more disabled than I, yet they are always cheerful. Or at least when they are not, like me they try not to show it. The other day on a whim I made some savoury muffins for breakfast. They turned out so well I shared the recipe here.

At 600 kJ each, even though I only made half a dozen, I could not eat them all before they went stale. I thought I should share them with the neighbours. I went for a walk to share them.

As a direct result, during a conversation about mobility, one of my neighbours kindly offered me his mobility cart when the Veterans Association supplies him with a new one next year. Who knows? If I can’t get these knees working again, I may just need it. I am thinking it is inevitable I shall need new knees after all. All my efforts so far have not helped as much as I thought when I wrote in a moment of optimism a while back.

I know, “no pain, no gain”. I’d settle for no pain.

Having determined that a lack of social interaction may not be conducive to my mental wellbeing, I decided the only answer is to be more sociable. Also, it occurred to me today that although I have been living on Bribie for months I have not yet spent any time on the beach. I’ve visited it, but stayed up on the sealed paths to watch the waves. So I went for a paddle. The water is cold. I was swimming in the sea this time last year, so I probably could now. But not today. The wind was strong and the sea rough. The lifesaver’s flags were not even ten metres apart and only three people were swimming. I struggled through the soft sand back to my bike, which I realised I had not locked, and left with the key turned on. I must pay attention. It was an invitation for someone to ride off on it. You’d think I’d have learned by now. I wheeled it to a park bench and sat down to rest.

A young lad, maybe six or seven years of age, looked at my flag and asked me if I was a pirate. In my best pirate voice I said “Yaarrr, matey. That I be”. His mother looked alarmed and dragged him away.

I probably need a haircut.

Yaaarrr Matey!

The windy conditions reminded me I still had a number of kite kits I could make up and give away. Perhaps though, instead of offering them to random kids as I did in the past, perhaps I’d just tie them to a fence and leave them with a sign saying “free kite”. Probably safer to do that.

While I was pondering this, a chap on a mobility scooter pulled up and asked me about the trailer behind my bike. I told him where he could buy one and we sat for a while, talking about how it might be attached to his scooter and other old codger matters. Ha! My social life just doubled.

When he drove off back to his (probably million dollar) home just one street away from the beach, I was left with a thought that had not occurred to me before. I am in the low socio-economic group of the elderly. Most people with my professional background and education have a home or homes, a boat and/or a caravan, are financially secure and not dependent on the pension and state funded health services.

Somewhere along the line I fucked up.

Poor Old Horse

I’m paying for all this activity with extra aches and pains, but I keep telling myself it’s a good thing, and it will get better. As long as I keep my knees from twisting while they are flexing. It happens sometimes while pedalling. That fuckin’ hurts badly. I cannot ride with the ball of my foot on the pedals because the positioning of the seat, handlebars and pedals do not allow me to bend my knees that far. So I pedal with my heels. Because I am a bit splay-footed my knees poke out sideways. I need to be careful to avoid the sideways twinge. Pain is a good tutor.

Now while I ride there is a more acceptable sort of pain developing in my thigh and calf muscles, which tells me they are burning energy and performing work. I am now pedalling all the time, with the electric assist set to minimum. The boost is off, so the accelerator doesn’t work. That means the bike only helps when I’m actually pedalling. I’ve been heading out further afield and encountering some slightly more challenging hills. Definitely need the gears. I know I’m contributing significantly to my own progress because apart from being able to feel it, I’ve learned to read the LED lights that tell me how much contribution the bike is making. Also I’ve used up less battery charge by the time I get home even though I’m venturing further.

I’m still marvelling to myself how much I’m enjoying this effort.

In the water, things are even better. The initial shoulder aches and pains last less than fifteen minutes at the beginning of my swim. After that, endorphins or muscle memory or something kicks in and I seem to be able to just keep swimming. Slow and steady. Today I swam another 140 minutes, yesterday 130. I still resist my tendency to count Strokes and laps as I go, cycling through mantras like “Just keep swimming” “Om mane padme Om” finally, to trying to fit sea shanties into my rhythm. While trying to remember all the verses and versions. To quote Dylan Thomas; “Time passes”.

As an aside, by sheer coincidence, today was “Talk Like a Pirate Day”.

Yaarrrr!

Poor Old Man

A poor old man

Came riding by.

And we say so,

And we know so.

O, a poor old man

Came riding by,

O, poor old man.

Says I, “Old man,

Your horse will die.”

And we say so,

And we know so.

And if he dies

we’ll tan his hide.

O, poor old man.

And if he don’t,

I’ll ride him again.

And we say so,

And we know so.

And I’ll ride him

‘Til the Lord knows when,

O, poor old man.

He’s dead as a nail

In the lamp room door,

And we say so,

And we know so.

And he won’t come

Worrying us no more

O, poor old man.

We’ll use the hair of his tail

To sew our sails

And we say so,

And we know so.

And the iron of his shoes

To make deck nails,

O, poor old man.

Drop him down

With a long long rope

And we say so,

And we hope so.

Where the sharks have his body

And the devil takes his soul!

O, poor old man.

Another Version

Poor Old Horse

They say, old man,

your horse will die

(And they say so, and we hope so)

They say, old man,

your horse will die

(Oh poor old man)

And if he dies then we’ll tan his hide

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and if he dies then we’ll tan his hide

(Oh poor old man)

And if he lives then we’ll ride again

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and if he lives then we’ll ride again

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s after years of sore abuse

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Then we’ll salt him down for the sailors’ use

(Oh poor old man)

He’s as dead as a nail in the lamp room floor

(And they say so, and we hope so)

He’s as dead as a nail in the lamp room floor

(Oh poor old man)

Aye and he won’t bother us no more

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and he won’t bother us no more

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s Sally’s in the garden and she’s picking the peas

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and her long black hair’s hangin’ down to her knees

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s Sally’s in the kitchen and she’s baking the duff

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and the cheeks of her arse are going chuff, chuff, chuff

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s down the long and the winding road

(And they say so, and we hope so)

And it’s down the long and the winding road

(Oh poor old man)

It’s mahogany beef and the weevily bread

(And they say so, and we hope so)

It’s mahogany beef and the weevily bread

(Oh poor old man)

And I thought I heard the Old Man say

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Just one more pull and then belay

(Oh poor old man)

Just one more pull and that will do

(And they say so, and they hope so)

For we’re the lads to kick her through

(Oh poor old man)