Shattered and Soothed

Driving to Woodford this morning I had just crossed the M1 and started down the d’Aguilar highway when, under the Pettigrew St. bridge a sound like a gunshot startled me from my cruise mode reverie. A truck was passing in the opposite direction at the time, but I have a suspicion the missile came from above. Not that I could do much about it.

I completed my mission, left another little piece of myself behind, and returned to Bribie without stopping at Beefy’s.

Direct Hit.

A call to the RAC and a new windscreen was arranged. Such good service. While I was talking to them I changed my address and clarified that I did not need to transfer my membership or insurance to RACQ even if my drivers licence is changed to Queensland. So that’s one thing off my mind.

As I talked to the RAC man in Perth I felt calmer. I enjoyed the beauty of my basil bush, which I grew from a piece of a bunch of basil from the supermarket. My parsley died off but I see it is coming back now the pot is in a better position. The chives thrive. The rosemary cuttings survive. The pepper and tomato seeds I planted are struggling valiantly.

I’m going to hunt for a bay tree next.

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

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.

Arrrr

In the laundry yesterday I met a man with one leg, and a Cornish accent. His prosthetic was a pretty good approximation of the peg leg of yore. He would make an excellent pirate, I thought. In his eighties with white hair and beard, he towered over me, at least 6’4”. I considered offering him my pirate flag to fly from his caravan, but in keeping with my resolution to think before I speak I forebore to do so. He might have taken it amiss.

Besides, I like my flag and may not find another.

We exchanged stories. He is a retired policeman from the UK. He has been a Grey nomad here in Australia for eleven years. He has seen all the places I’ve been and more. I thought he seemed quite interesting, and when I learned he was travelling with his wife I considered inviting them both over for a meal and a drink.

Then he said something racist, and I was glad I hadn’t. Again I thought before I spoke, and by the time I had gathered my wits for an appropriate but non-confrontational response he revealed that he and his good lady would be moving on later this week, heading south.

When the dryer announced it was finished with my washing, I unloaded it, shook his hand and wished him safe travels.

That was my social life for the week.

Health Update

I don’t have dementia. I don’t have diabetes. My kidney function is actually improving slightly. It had dropped from 47% to 33, and now it’s working its way back to 40%. I am losing weight;

6.8 kg in 70 days. It is working. The MyFitnessPal app is very helpful in monitoring my energy intake. I recommend it. I can work out in advance what I want to have and how much of it fits in my energy budget. So nothing need be off the menu. Portion control.

My mobility is not yet improving and pain constrains the amount of exercise I can do walking or standing. I am building up my upper body strength with my rubber band gym, which is a surprisingly effective way to work out sitting down.

My mental health remains stable thanks, in no small part, to fluoxetine.

I have my hobbies, books, Netflix and Spotify. I’ve done a bit of exploring, but the weather has not been particularly conducive to swimming, fishing, drone flying or bird and reptile photography. I do miss the stimulation of intelligent conversation, and I am acutely aware of how far away I am from family and friends. Much of my support system is now with Facebook friends, many of whom I have never met. .

My finances are, if not precarious, in need of scrutiny. I can’t afford to eat into my nest egg any longer, and must try to manage on the pension. Fortunately I have all the tools, appliances, appurtenances and clothes I need for now, so there is just rent, medications, food, fuel and entertainment, Insurance and registrations – and that bloody albatross of a lockup in NZ that is costing me $1,500 a year. I’ve spent more on it than the contents are worth.

This month marks nine years since I was Dear Johned. It seems like a lifetime.

So that is the story so far.

Home

Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome — there’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of interstellar space.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.

Where I am now does not feel like home. I hoped it would, but it doesn’t. It is the place where I currently live. I live in a caravan, which is an object. The caravan is in a park on Bribie Island, which is a location. Neither the domicile nor the location is home. I’m not even sure these days what, or where, home might be for me. Or even where it was.

Every place I’ve ever considered to be home has been taken from me or I have had to leave it behind. Every place I’ve been happy, I’ve had to abandon. As child I moved with my parents wherever their aspirations led. As a young man I followed employment opportunities and my own romantic hopes. For the last eleven years I’ve gone again where necessity sent me, albeit of my own free will. I have found the occasional Happy Place, where I can enjoy being alive and communing with the natural world in some positive heart-lightening way, but I have had no home in that time. No place where I could look around me and say “This is where I belong. This is where I shall stay”.

Looking back I realise I have been searching for such a place since I was a child exploring the hills and fields and streams of the Manawatu, and as a young man exploring the bush and beaches and under the seas around New Zealand

Also, of course, as I explored the possibilities of a shared life, relationships, offering and seeking love.

Home is more than a house, more than a place. It is people in familial and social relationships. Relationships which are enduring and settled. It turns out I’m not so good at maintaining relationships. Two failed marriages, other failed relationships, and very little constant contact or intercourse with family.

I’m not sure if this is caused by, or is what causes, depression.

Fortunately, or perhaps otherwise, I am comfortable and content in my own company. I don’t get lonely when I am alone. Even so, social interaction comes easily enough to me. I don’t have the difficulties that, for example, an autistic person might. I can be amusing, empathetic, and supportive. Caring. Nonetheless I cannot seem to get right the combination of interaction that will lead me to have constancy of companionship and the stability of location that feeling at home requires. Others move on. Or I must.

So here I am ageing, separated from friends and family, with my social interaction limited to a few short term acquaintances and virtual friends whom I no longer see in person or have never even met in the first place.

All I can do now is seek out a new Happy Place. One where I can stay. I have no idea what, or where it might be, though I have an inkling it must be somewhere on or near the sea. Most of my Happy Places have been. I find peace and contentment by the sea, or by water, more than anywhere else.

Does this introspective essay mean I am, after all, becoming lonely?

I have to think about that.