Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. … Winston Churchill.
I still haven't worked out how to amend the author information at the side of this page, so I'll introduce myself again here. I'm a wheelchair-bound mute quad in my sixties and I'm been this way for thirty years. Quadriplegics tend to introduce themselves with their C1, C2, C3, etc classification, but I don't know what my C classification is. I can't talk and I can't move except for minimal movement in my left arm. That makes me pretty well stuffed, which is all the classification I've ever needed.
I live alone in my own home in Castlemaine, near Bendigo in country Victoria. Government-funded carers come in morning, noon, night and nighty-night to do the basics for me. Little insights into my situation are sprinkled throughout this blog. (Hmmm, I think I'll save this intro for next time too.)
I'm a writer. I haven't got enough movement to type like normal or to access a computer like normal, but I have a special computer keyboard that is operated by a head laser attached to my reading glasses. I've been working on a trilogy of fantasy adventure novels for years. (The Drinsighe trilogy.) I had the three books all written and ready to be published, or so I thought, so I let one of my daughters read the first book, Ellydd Gate. Gemma is an editor by profession. She did a thorough edit of Ellydd Gate that blew away all my illusions.
Ellydd Gate is a never ending novel. Never ending in the writing of it. No matter how much I improve it Gemma always sees more I could do. It was a good story before I asked her to edit it. Her fresh eyes saw a few places where the story could be improved and lots of places where the writing could be improved. I've incorporated most of her suggested changes over the last few months. I finished that yesterday and now I'm going through the book yet again, looking for all the typos I've created during my recent work. And here, I hope, the never-endingness of Ellydd Gate finishes. No novel is ever perfect in every regard. After this proof-read I'm done.
I let my sister read the whole Drinsighe trilogy a year ago. I love her because she said nothing but flattering things about it. How couldn't you love someone who reads a thousand page story you've written and says she was disappointed ... disappointed that it ended?
She nbserved that I must have a good imagination, but I don't think Drinsighe was anything to do with my imagination. We sometimes hear authors say that the book wrote itself. I think this is more than a figure of speech. I think nearly all fiction writers are like me. We are really just scribes putting down a pre-existing story. The Drinsighe story has never been heard before, but I'm certain it existed somewhere, somehow, and put itself inside my head bit by bit so that it could take solid form.
I didn't sit down one day and think up the story. I didn't plan it out. I didn't know how it was going to to end. Often I didn't even know what the next day of writing would bring. I didn't know what adventures my heroes would have along the way. I started with a male hero and his sister, but I was surprised to discover that he dies fifty pages before she wins the day, and wins it much better than he ever could. Yeah, Drinsighe wrote itself.
Must go now ... it's a lovely Saturday morning and my dog Bruno is telling me it's time we were out walking.
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August 1984 - Bendigo Home and Hospital for the Aged, Bendigo, Victoria
Sister Murphy ran the ward and her sidekick was another fifty five-year-old introduced as sister Graham. Had they been under fifty they would most probably have used their first names. sister Murphy attempted to communicate via my board quite a bit during the next four months, but age's inflexibility prevented her mind from loosening up enough to become more than mildly proficient with it. sister Graham never once struck difficulty with it, because she merely avoided using it for my entire stay. In fact, I'm sure she never even asked me one single question that needed as much as my ‘yes/no’ eyes answer - and that doesn't leave much else. I think not giving me a chance to communicate was usually just a way for some nurses to get out of work, because if I'm not allowed to express my needs and wants I obviously require less care.
I'd arrived at BHHA during morning tea, so after a while two or three young nurses appeared. This mitigated my worries about communicating with the older nurses somewhat. BHHA had long been a training hospital for State Enrolled Nurses. These SENs were as competent and likeable as their city cousins were, but they lacked the big city poise and savoir faire. The atmosphere of farms and of small country towns clung to these fresh-faced freckled young girls, and that reminded me of my own youth. Long dry grass, the creek barely flowing into and out of the deep swimming hole, and my first dabbling with sex in a paddock on a warm summer's day with a girl exactly like these, but younger.
Sister Mary oversaw these trainee nurses. She was Bendigo born-and-bred, with a tomboyish attractiveness and an infectious vitality that hid her quick-witted intelligence. Ward work would slacken and sometimes dribble out in the quiet early-afternoon hours, so often she'd come to talk with me. She was very quick with my Etran board and at times I'd dictate letters to her. After five fairly 'solitary' months it felt great to once again be able to communicate with the world. While we were chatting one afternoon she asked me casually to tell her all about myself. All??? On the board???
‘I was a talker, a runner, a commando soldier, a house-builder, a doer. Isn't it ironic?’
sister Murphy never displayed much of a sense of humour, but on that first day I got my only hint that her style of humour might be linked more to subtle or understated irony, or something like that, because she had placed me in a two-bed room with an elderly gentleman introduced to me simply as Michael. Michael had the severe shakes of a Parkinson's disease sufferer, so he wasn't able to ever hold my board still enough for me to use it, and as the disease had clobbered his voice he couldn't even hold a one-way conversation with me.
He was one of those endearing gentlefolk you meet from time to time, and whom you instinctively sense wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm not like that - in fact I carry a can of fly-spray. Most people warm to lovable characters like Michael, but some see their gentleness as a weakness. They come down on them like a ton of bricks. The night-staff at BHHA were like this to him.
‘OK, Michael! We'll be down there in a minute!’
(Bad news, Mike Old Boy - a nurse's minute is anywhere from five minutes to half an hour.)
After ten minutes he buzzed for help much more urgently.
‘Bzzz, bzzz, bzzzzzzzzzz!’
‘Alright, Michael! Get your finger off the buzzer! I said we'd be down soon!’
Another ten minutes elapsed before I heard a clatter as the three nurses put down their empty cups and wandered down the corridor to our room.
‘Well, what is it? Spit it out, we haven’t got all night.’
The questions were shouted loudly and slowly as if there was an inverse relationship between a patient's hearing and comprehension and their ability to talk.
‘Shit, you’ve wet the bloody bed.’
I was mentally fingering my fly-spray. That particular trio were so moronic that I had nothing to lose by getting myself in their bad books. Even when they all combined they were unable to use my board more fluently than to take ten minutes or more to interpret my Etran spelling of ‘B - O - T - T - L - E’, so the following morning I reported them to Sister Murphy and insisted she tell them that I was the culprit. They needed to know someone was watching them with Michael. I figured that at the worst they'd just refuse to answer my nightly buzz for a bottle and if that was the case I'd merely piss the bed and make some much-hated work for them.
From that time on they treated me coolly, but they knew to always respond to Michael's calls immediately and with the utmost courtesy. I couldn't do anything to protect the rest of the ward, but I was already learning how to put the Fear of God into nurses.
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My former travels. April 1976, Turkey.
He led me this way and that until we stopped outside a very seedy-looking café/coffee shop. It was uninviting, heavy, sullen. I had no idea where we were. The ploy was obviously to have me so lost I couldn’t risk not paying up later on. The inside of the cafe was no better than the outside – poorly-lit, bare wooden floor, bare wooden tables and chairs, two nasty-looking men playing backgammon aggressively at one of the front tables, and all but empty.The atmosphere was seedy, heavy. Sullen. The only customers were an out-of-place couple eating at a table further back with an Ahmed clone. The Out-of-Placers were neatly dressed, had cameras with telescopic lenses slung from their chairs and had the word ‘Tourist’ tattooed on their foreheads. Ahmed said something in Turkish to the cigarette-smoking sullen man behind the sullen counter as we wove through the sullen tables to a side door.
‘That man is my cousin.’ Ahmed threw over his shoulder to me. ‘This is his restaurant. The food is very good. Turkish food.’
He opened the bare wooden door and we stepped into a different world. The room was light and colourful. There were rugs to-die-for, both underfoot and on three walls, two low couches deep and comfy, low tables holding a hookah and a silver coffee set and that familiar smell that reminded me of home – hash smoke. Sparsely-furnished, yes, but everything in the room was honest-to-God, non-tourist Turkish. Even, I was to learn, the dope and the company.
‘This is Damad. He is my cousin’ Ahmed said, indicating the well-dressed youth lounging on the closest couch.
‘Another cousin, Ahmed?’ I asked. ‘Another cousin???’
‘No, Danny,’ he replied with a smile, ‘this time he really is my cousin. And this is my brother Tahsin and my other brother Abdi.’
Tahsin and Abdi were sipping coffee on the other couch. They were both older than Ahmed – Tahsin an architect and Arbi a med student. Damad was also studying medicine. They all spoke only-just-passable English. Except Ahmed. He’d left his street persona at the door. Everything about him was more genuine, more likeable, and his English was more correct and much less accented.
An amiable afternoon followed, hilarious at times, serious when they talked about Turkey’s present politics.
‘The café out there, Danny’ laughed Ahmed early on. ‘It looks like that for the tourists. They are happy to pay us much more if we can take them to a bad Turkish restaurant like in the very old movies.’
As if on queue the sullen proprietor entered with a large silver tray of very fresh afternoon nibblies – dips, Turkish bread, falafels and some sorts of meaty things. He was smiling, friendly, interested - so different now he was serving Turks.
The afternoon quickly ran ahead into evening, with the liberal help of dope and raki (the Turkish equivalent of ouzo). The evening was an enjoyable blur for me. All I remember is that my companions wouldn’t allow me, their guest, to pay for anything. They all saw me safely back to my Star hotel that night, genuinely urging me to move elsewhere – anywhere elsewhere. The following morning Ahmed and Damad turned up in a car to show me the country around Istanbul and the morning after that Ahmed saw me to the country bus station.
I’d decided to catch a bus to the Greek border and then hitch-hike right across Europe to the UK. The bus for the two or three hundred kilometres trip turned out to be a comfortable, modern coach mostly full of mostly well-dressed country people (I guessed). The only noteworthy thing happened when the road to the border ran along the top of the Marmara Sea. There was just the sandy strip between the road and the water for kilometre after kilometre. As it was a weekday the beaches were pretty deserted, but there were a few people swimming in the more populated areas. All the women on the coach (and most women in Turkey as far as I’ve seen) wear longish to long dresses and tops on the street, but the few women on the beaches were clad almost exclusively in modern bikinis just like back home. Every time one such woman came into view up ahead nearly all the men from the far side of the coach stood up to get a better perving view. And not one of their wives remonstrated.