I live in Castlemaine and the only family members who live here are my twelve year old daughter Jez and my sixty nine year old brother. Neither of them could look after me, so DHS-funded carers are essential. The service provider Golden City Support Services supplies and admiisters my carers - for a rather large fee.
I've been with GCSS for fifteen years. For the first eight or nine years I had nothing but praise for them and the manner in which they looked out for me, but from that time on my dissatisfaction with their service grew and grew. When I started with them they were a small organisation that focused on giving quality service. Over the last decade they have expanded greatly, but the quality of service has dropped and dropped. Just this morning at breakfast I had to tell the carer about my current big problem with GCSS (which I'll tell you about in a minute) and she replied that there's a lot of discontent with GCSS nowadays from her other clients too.
GCSS and I have had an up and down relationship for years, but mostly down for the last couple. Things bottomed out six months ago, but it seemed to me that they started to get better overnight. I was wrong. Early this week GCSS gave me the legally-required two months written notice that they will be terminating their service to me at the end of January.
At first I was blown away because it's going to make life hard for me for a while, but after the initial 'Ah, shit!' I realized it's what I've wanted deep down for a year or two. There are two options available to me to continue with carers, but they are going to take a lot of research, time and effort. I'll have to devote much of the next month or two to it, and I selfishly want to keep up my own writing on Ellydd Gate, so this blog is going to miss out somewhat. The next few posts, like this one, will probably have just a bit about life today, which means that they will be little more than cut-and-pastes from my travels long ago.
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March 11, 1976 - Mediterranean Sea, Greece
Our divorce is lodged and nearly final, soon it'll be `decree absolute'. I got a loan to buy Innocent's share of our cottage, which I then rented out. Now I'm in Greece.
I checked out the Acropolis and other sites around Athens for a few days before I made my way down to Pireaus, Athens' Mediterranean port area - the ferries terminus for the Greek islands. I bought a ticket to the most distant isle but one, Lesvos, because it was the only ticket line with no tourists.
There's two hundred and fifty seats in the ferry's passenger lounge and three hundred passengers - all Greeks, and most of them aren't city-dressed. It's smoky. All Greek men smoke.
I'm lying on my sleeping bag on the linoleum floor with my pack at my head and I'm reading and watching, mostly watching. I can see four leg-tied chickens, no, five, and two tethered goats and I can see the night-time sea-darkness through windows.
The lounge's settling for the night trip - voices lowered, low card games, low laughter. I walk the aisle past a neatly-dressed young woman, and I'm thinking ‘Could go a bit of that.’ She's reading, and she's still reading when I return the other way up the aisle. I'm peering at the title of her book. It's in English - Voss, by Patrick White.
I'm once again lying on my sleeping bag pondering the goats. The neat woman's out on the dark deck now. It’s empty out there except for Neat at the railing, but a Greek man appears - innocently taking an air stroll. Another one appears, innocently taking an air stroll, another, and another and another and another. All innocent and they're definitely not near Neat by base design - just ask them - and they're not collective, not an organized group.
It hits me through the window that Neat's uncomfortable, uncomfortable with all those male eyes craving her - craving, but not threatening. It hits me through the window that she's not Greek. She looks like a sophisticated city Greek, but she hasn't got the right aura - even through the thick window her aura feels not-Greek.
She's uncomfortable, not wanting to brave through the men to the lounge, and I'm thinking `Make hay while sun shines, boyo'. I exit through the door to the other side deck then I circle the ship. I stroll up to her with a `close friend' appearance and ask quietly ‘You OK?’
Her eyes are relieved as she answers in English with an Australian accent. Christ, an Australian accent. How many times does opportunity knock?
We're sitting on my sleeping bag just talking. She's a Toorak girl. She's headed for a Lesvos holiday, because she knows two Aussies living at Mitilini.
‘Mitilini's a quiet village on the island of Lesvos,’ she says. ‘Each week a cruise ship berths there for the day. It's `Mitilini madness' then, but it's a typical Greek village the rest of the week’.
The hours pass with the ferry eating sea miles steadily, then at midnight it's docking at the island of Chios.
‘I think this'll do me, Neat’.
‘But this is only Chios. It's still two hours to Lesvos’.
Lesvos with its weekly cruise ship and its Mitilini madness? I think not. ‘I'm off, Neat’.
I’m in a bus leaving Chios town, port of Chios island in the Aegean Sea, right over near Turkey. A bus to where, I'm wondering. It’s motoring along a narrow street out of town with houses set back behind high stone walls. The conductor's selling bus tickets down the aisle and he speaks to me incomprehensibly in Greek. He has his hand out for my fare, so I give him all the change from my pocket, seventy drachmas, and I get a ticket and five drachmas back.
‘Nenita’ he says, then he repeats it slowly, clearly and expressively ‘Nen ee tar’.
He knows, but how does he know? My shoulder-length hair maybe, because it's so un-Greek in Greece? My untrimmed beard maybe, because it's so un-Greek in Greece? My combat jacket or my backpack maybe, because they're so un-Greek in Greece?
The bus stops at two stone villages, one small, the other smaller by the sea - it's got three tall gum-trees at an impossibly tight corner and two-storey houses on the other sides. The gums have got white and grey trunks, smooth-barked but gouged deep by the bus. Three tries then the bus gets around and ambles on until it stops at a biggish village. Half the bus empties, but still it waits. ‘Nen ee tar’, the conductor enunciates to me ‘Nenita.’
I'm at the edge of the town square. I see can see a lot of Nenita and I can see the bus driving away across a wide valley towards a much smaller village. I'd guess the population of Nenita to be about a thousand and I'd bet London to a brick no cruise ships stop here.
Nenita's built atop a hill and down the steep side to the sea. The houses are mostly whitewashed or painted and mostly fairly old. There's two places with men at tables outside them (cafes, I guess, seeing their signs say Something cafenion). Down at the water I can see a small harbour/port/jetty, more stone houses, another cafenion and some shady gum-trees.
Blue sky clear above and a grassy knoll beneath. A smooth, regular, long-grassed dome-shaped knoll with drying, dead, grass. Turkey's distant `cross the flat eastward sea. It's a just-seen grey ribbon where sky meets sea, six kilometres from here, or maybe it's ten or twenty.
It's three weeks I've been living in Nenita - in my tiny cottage with the tiny stable abutting it. Three weeks of every morning and every night talking to the stabled donkey through a shuttered hole, a tiny shutter that opens into the kitchen. It doesn’t answer me, though. I guess it can't understand English.
I've settled into a fitting routine, fitting for my fancy about being a writer off to a Greek island to write his first book, tucked away from the tourist hordes nearer Athens. I start my day at noon, rising slowly from my solitary bed for coffee and bread and cheese, six hours too late for fresh fish from the boats. After my breakfast I walk country miles, many country miles, further by the day as my running-torn knee mends.
I walk through small villages with washing on the balconies and village women shout doorstep to doorstep, shouting warnings down the cobbled streets and alleys, warnings to see my hair and beard passing by. They laugh at my shorts, laughing fit to piss their pants. It's a sheltered life in the villages.
Back at Nenita I usually eat dinner of fish or eggs with salad and chips at `my' cafenion and stay there for an hour or three with some of the young conscripts or the young cop, or with any of a dozen older locals. We drink cheap retzina, wine, or ouzo with water and talk and laugh - me with my English/Greek phrase book, them with my Greek/English dictionary. Much is started, but little is said.
Talking and laughing, then the TV on the wall killing the cafenion noise abruptly. The commentary's all Greek to me, but the pictures are familiar, too familiar. Torture cells with bloodstained walls. One of the conscript rifles through my dictionary, pauses and ponders, then leaning to me he whispers ‘See - secret police, Papadopolous secret police’.
It's the tenth anniversary of his overthrow, Papadopolous, that is. (I think he said Papadopolous.)
I'm sitting here on this sea-edge knoll, this smooth and regular dome-shaped knoll, with the blue sky clear above and a fishing boat or a trawler or something chugging into view over near distant Turkey. I wander forward watching the far-off boat, and soldiers spew onto the beach from under my feet. They're spewing from the front of the knoll. A never-ending stream of them - hundreds, I swear. And all with rifles and pistols and Greek shouting, all of which is aimed at me.
Get this - I'm standing on a hidden gun emplacement that faces Turkey. They don't speak English and I've got no Greek to mention, but language's no barrier to communication - body language, facial expressions, voice tones, exclamations, hand-waving, ground scratched drawings - all these say heaps.
They tell me, none too gently, that I'm a spy. I'm a Turkish spy up to no good and they check my pockets for spy stuff. Alas, I've got no secret ink, in fact no writing gear at all. Alas, I've got no tiny camera, in fact no camera at all. Alas, I've got no cyanide pills, in fact no pills at all. Alas, I've got no radio transmitter, no satellite dish, not even a signal mirror.
I tell them, gently, reasonably, not wanting to get even more in the shit ‘Look, you guys - I'm Australian. Look at my passport. I'm staying at Nenita, and the knoll looks so knollish I didn't know it wasn't’. I stress ‘Nenita’ like a bus conductor I met once - ‘Nenita.’ and gently, reasonably, not wanting to get even more in the shit, I get them to concede they could be wrong. They drive me home, two of them in a jeep, an officer and a driver. (Did I mention there were really only five in all? But who was counting when their guns were pointing at me?) They check me out with the local cops and leave satisfied.
I must admit that at the time I thought all of today's carry-on was a bit like overkill. I'm still thinking that way now at the cafenion for my nightly Greek salad and eggs, but it's six forty five and here comes Georges regular as clockwork. He emigrated to New York when he was a young man and drove taxis for twenty years. He’s the only person I’ve met in Nenita who speaks English. He's come to watch the evening news on TV and to have his after-dinner R&R.
He puts my day into perspective.
‘There's oil beneath the Aegean Sea close to Chios and a few other Greek islands’ he tells me, in his Greek-flavoured English. ‘Long ago the Aegean islands were Turkish, (I think he says that was before Homer's time or something like that) and Turkey has threatened to invade to reclaim them, because whoever owns the Aegean islands owns the oil - hence the islands are discretely fortified and the Greek Military's paranoid about spies.’
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I sit all day;
I never talk.
Sometimes I think 'A chat and a walk',
but need I chatter or on byways stalk?
From where I sit
I see peoples,places,
All the world with all its delight;
I love all the Beauties my heart desires -
I talk to presidents,
Advising to problems and all sorts of things -
I talk with Buddha,
And with silvery tongue love can heist -
A heart to submission with hardly a fight.
I sit all day with never a word,
but the world's in my daydreams -