My breakfast carer this morning observed 'You're quiet today.' Over time quite a few carers have had reason to say that. It's usually because I've got something on my mind - like today I was going over the questions I have to email to the three possible new service providers, and I was thinking about what I could put in this blog. It seems odd to say that someone who can't talk is 'quiet today', but it shows how much we 'say' with our smiles, facial expressions, body language, etc.
Aha - an email has just arrived. Excuse me, please ...
Damn, damn, damn! I'm snowed under with demands on my time at present, and just now I received an email that's going to add to that. The American National Spinal Cord Injury Association puts out a magazine called Life in Action. The editor asked me so nicely to write something ne that it wouldn't be right to refuse.
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September 17, 1989 - Castlemaine, Victoria
I’m in my wheelchair at a kids’ party in a packed classroom. There are two classes of little kids, about six teachers and parents including Rainbow with her camera, and five real live clowns mingling and clowning around. Butterfly and her kids Carly and Ben are dressed up and made up like clowns too. So is my niece Siobhan from Melbourne and so am I.
Everyone is busy eating and drinking and talking to each other ten to a dozen, so I’ve got a few seconds of peace. Bedou is sitting on my knee, but in between eating her piece of birthday cake and feeding me bites of it her eyes and her attention are still fixed on the clowns.
Early this year I daydreamed about how good it’d be to surprise Gemma and Bedou with a couple of clowns for their birthdays, but I didn't follow it up. Then in June I was at a fair with Butterfly, and there was a clown there too. Seeing him wandering around clowning stirred me into action. I wrote one of my heart-rending brave quad letters to a clown club telling them I could afford a few dollars to delight my kids and outlining my proposed Clown Day.
Country kids miss out on stuff like clowns, so I proposed spreading the fun to other kids as well as my own by having the clowns turn up at the school. They’d be unexpected by the kids and we’d have a birthday party for my girls and their classes. It would’ve been great to involve the whole school, but there’s no way I can afford to throw even a small party for three hundred kids. As it was I’d have to supply balloons, fairy bread, lemonade, cordial and a hundred cupcakes.
Five clowns got hooked and they offered their services free of charge. Some frantic organization followed - permission from the school, an approach to the fire brigade to help, food, drink, party stuff, clown suits to hire (the clown club provided their own suits and all the make-up) and some other stuff.
I told the local paper and the only two TV stations Castlemaine received at that time about this newsworthy event, so the kids would get more of a thrill from being on TV. But being a story-maker, I knew that it could easily be made into much more than a simple report about an unusual local event. I left the local small-budget TV station to run with the straightforward thirty second news item, but I ‘sold’ the bigger-budget national carrier on the idea of making a standard seven minute segment for their nightly current affairs program - poor mute quad (ex commando soldier, ex pro runner, etc) and his amazing love for his children.
We all got dressed and made up at the Castlemaine fire station earlier today and drove to the school. Butterfly and I were in the back of the fire brigade one-tonner and the others followed on a fire-truck festooned with balloons.
The teachers had Gemma and Bedou's classes in the gym and they'd made up some reason for the TV cameras being there. On queue we ten clowns trooped in honking and shouting and me sobbing with emotion in my stroke-affected manner. All fifty-five kids were stunned into silence, but Gemma and Bedou recognized me. They ran over to hug me. Gemma was subdued, because she was sick. Rainbow had brought her to school that afternoon on some pretext. She sat on my knee for the next hour, but Bedou was too shy in front of her class to stay with me at first. By the time the party was on she'd replaced Gemma on my knee.
For an hour the real clowns clowned and got the kids singing and dancing. At recess we were all in the yard with the whole school, and they were face-painting kids from all the classes. I had a gaggle of kids around me, because most kids everywhere are intrigued by me and my communicator - even when I'm not dressed as a clown.
The two classes had a birthday party for Gemma and Bedou after recess. Gemma had seven and a half candles on her cupcake and Bedou had five and a half. (Their birthdays are way back in February and January.)
I can hear outgoing Siobhan and Carly talking behind me. They’re both agreeing they love being dressed up like clowns and they’re saying they want to learn to be real clowns. Quiet little Ben’s talking now, but he’s not so enthusiastic. In fact he wishes he was somewhere else.
The party is drawing to a close around me. The real clowns have left, the food and drink have gone and the teachers are talking about breaking it up. Butterfly has made her way back to me to go, and I’m nibbling Bedou’s ear, which she always likes. A tiny boy from her class tugs at Butterfly’s clown suit to get her attention.
‘Why is he biting her ear?’ I can hear him asking.
‘That’s Bedou’s Daddy.’
‘Nah’ the little boy is scoffing. ‘He's a clown!’
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Late March, 1977 - Lesvos, Greece
I've decided to see Lesvos, mythological Lesvos, island home of the Greek myth lesbian. I'm going to Mitilini, in fact. Touristy Mitilini with its Australian expatriate couple, Neat's friends - she might be there still herself. She said there's quite a few travellers there and I need some easy English talk with native English-talkers, with non-Greeks.
I'm eating at a quayside cafenion in Chios town and re-reading yesterday's mail. I get a good number of letters because I send a lot, I guess . Mum and the Other Woman are the most regular writers. The letters I write are nearly all eight or ten page rambly ouzo-driven letters - letters about Nenita and the island and me. Neat's in them, and Georges, Yannis, Raucous and Sinister. I keep carbon copies of all of them, because there could be a book somewhere there one day.
Yesterday I got ten letters, but that sounds better than it is. I don't get any for a week or two then a bundle all turn up together. They've been posted on all different days though. I can even tell they reach the Chios post office on different days, because they've got different date stamps on the back. They must hold all mail here in Chios then send it all together to the small Nenita office. They must be rough with the mail here in Chios, because there's always some of my envelopes torn.
One of yesterday's letters is torn, in fact. It's from my brother. He's somewhere in Switzerland with his family, touring Europe in a three litre Bentley, `26, I think, nineteen twenty six that is. It's an old sporty car with a canvas top, and he's driving around in the Swiss snow - mad bastard.
Neat's still here in Mitilini. In fact she's letting me use the spare bedroom of the bare-ish house she's renting from a fisherman, a fisherman of about thirty. I've been here just under a week, an easy, relaxing week, sort of semi-touristy. There's about a dozen foreigners here right now, mostly backpackers here for a week or four.
There's two Swedish girls stepped from a Swedish travel brochure with their Swedish looks, with their Swedish long blonde hair and with their Swedish accents. I dream they’re porn stars from Swedish porno flicks. There's three young New Zealanders, a Yank couple, Neat, the couple she knew in Toorak back home - they're not backpackers, and they've been here two years. There's also a middle-aged expatriate Pommy couple. They're not backpackers either. They've been living here ten years. And then there's me. That's it for this week.
I'm on a narrow camp bed in my sleeping bag. It's nearly four in the morning and I'm tired, wanting to sleep, but I'm still too hyped up. Porn and Porn and the New Zealanders and the Yanks and Neat and her friends were drinking with me at a cafenion last night. We all drink there except the Pommy couple. There were a few Greek guys too, and they were looking eagerly to tomorrow, the day the cruise ship's in port, because, to use their expression, it always brings fresh meat for them. Fresh meat - unattached women not Greek, some young, some not, some single, some not. The Greek guys show them around for the day, pave the way for them, charm and flatter them, and usually get a quick poke for their troubles. And Fresh Meat has a Greek Lover tale to enhance back home.
Neat's friends are two guys and they're queer, as camp as a Scout jamboree. One's slight like me, not tall, but he's blatantly she-ish, and the other's built like a brick outhouse. After the cafenion last night we went back to their place for ouzo, ouzo, music and more ouzo. The New Zealanders and Yanks head home at about one thirty, very much under the weather. Porn and Porn help pissed Slight to bed just after that and they leave too.
At about Three Neat heads off and I find myself there all but alone, quite a bit under the weather. Brick Outhouse is the only one still there with me and he's nowhere near as pissed as me. He puts the hard word on me from behind, with one molesting hand in my pants and with the other on my bum and I'm back at Neat's before you can say Jack Robinson. I've been recovering my famous `cool' ever since.
It's not long after dawn, but I may as well get up soon. I still can't sleep. Daylight's assaulting through the uncurtained window. The sky's arranged for another perfect day, the rising sun having swept it clear of stars and any errant nighttime clouds.
I can't get last night off my mind and I think it'll be awkward today when I bump into Brick Outhouse somewhere around the traps. Ah, stuff it - I know, in the spirit of my failed marriage, that the best way to solve a problem is to run away from it, so by tonight I'll be back in Nenita.
The front door being opened just woke me more, or the boot steps on the staircase. It’s like this every morning - the unlocked door being pushed open none too gently, scraping the bare floor hard like it does, clomp, clomp, clomp loud up the bare stairs, ‘Ti kanis?’ to her in her bed (How are you?), it a narrow camp-bed too, a few seconds while he gets his gear off, which is all the foreplay she gets, then squeak, squeak, squeak the camp bed as she pays her daily rent.
After a brief minute, sometimes two or wondrously three, there's silence while he gets dressed again then clomp, clomp, clomp, scrape, bang and he's gone again, home to his wife and his kids, just like every morning when the fishing boats get back, and Neat's a Toorak girl with a romantic Greek lover.