A carer takes me shopping every Thursday afternoon. It's my one and only regular outing. Every now and then I go to Melbourne and stay with Gemma or Bedou for a day or two, or Jez's Mum Esther takes me to a school function or school meeting for Jez, but these times aren't that frequent. During shopping afternoons we do my weekly shopping and sit and have a coffee until it's time to pick Jez up from school. She comes home with me until after dinner, then my dinnertime carer runs her home.
I lived in a unit in Castlemaine about a dozen years ago and became friends with Pat - an older woman from directly across the road. In those days I had enough movement in my hand and arm to peck out messages on a Lightwriter laptop communicator, so I could converse/argue/talk in a slow fashion.
I've kepr contact with Pat ever since that time, always getting her a Christmas present and taking her for coffee a couple of times a year. She is very, um, forthright and forceful with her opinions. Some of the things she says beg a reply/rebuttal/retort, but nowadays I often have to sit there and say nothing. Pat is now in her eighties and can't /won't use my Etran board, so when I want to speak to her I have to go through the carer. I used to have a carer who was as fluent with the board as my daughters, so I could say full sentences quite quickly, relatively. My present shopping carer is new and is still grappling with the board. In the hour or two that we were with Pat on Thursday I only tried addressing her remarks half a dozen times, but probably four of those times ended with me giving up after a few words because the carer couldn't get it right.
I'm not blaming the carer. Fluency with the Etran board takes a lot of time and practice. I'm definitely not blaming the carer, but by God it's so frustrating not being able to say even the simplest thing. Even more frustrating with someone like Pat. I value her friendship but know I'm not doing my share - not engaging her in the manner that made me her friend in the first place.
Difficulties with communication have ready fucked up my life, but that's a big topic. One I'll leave for my next blog post.
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Granny Thomas Gully, Campbells Creek. 1987.
Rainbow and I have a friend called Flute Earth. She is a poet and an adventuress. She was about to work as a cook on an ocean-going trawler and intended following that with six or seven months travelling through Chile. She said she had no immediate use for her super-dooper electric typewriter and she gave it to me. Our house wasn't connected to the electricity grid, but we worked out a way to run the typewriter from the car battery with no adverse effect on the car.
Actually, I saw through Flute's little ruse. Her typewriter was small and flat and also ran off torch batteries, so it was ideal for her back-pack and rolling decks and for remote South American villages. She was just trying to cover up for being a good guy. She saw how great my need was, so she put a casual friend before herself. That typewriter has been my main lifeline ever since. I'm using it now. It types without a ribbon; it's computer compatible; it plays three octaves of musical notes; and it can type in either English or Japanese. I'm sure that if I knew the correct combination of keys to press it'd jump right off my desk to dance the Pride of Erin.
This gift was - is - just about the best thing which has ever happened to me. I could write Rainbow long notes with it, so she could read them at her leisure without having to work with my board, and could then answer me as she went about her daily tasks. This wasn't ideal, as it still meant delayed conversations drawn out into bursts over many hours, but at least it meant I got to say things fully and got to say them the same day I thought of them. I'd been cut off from any real communication with the whole world out there for twelve months - except for maybe a dozen slowly dictated very short letters - so now I began to make up for that with a vengeance by typing reams of looooooooooog letters.
Of course nothing came as easily as it sounds for me at that time. My typing was a veeeery slow, error prone and painstaking procedure. I didn't have the use of my shoulder muscles or my arm muscles to lift my arm, so my elbow was supported by a sling attached to the ceiling by a spring. I'd type with the side of one finger of my left hand. I'd swing my left arm over the keyboard to select keys ever-so-slowly at first, but after a year or two of practice I could type without the sling. Initially, a reasonably-sized letter would take me all day to type, whereas after six or seven months I could whip out such a letter in less than half a day.
Not long after this we bought a cheap ‘communicator’ from Dick Smith Electronics for one hundred dollars. It was really just a businessman's pocket machine for printing office memos on the paper shops print receipts on. It made the Etran board redundant, but my typing speed with it was so slow that I'd generally confine my everyday remarks to as few words as possible. The communicator freed me to talk more, as it didn't require the person to whom I was talking to have any special ability, except the ability to read. I used to be virtually at a loss for words with most people as they weren't, um, very fluent with my board. Even when I got my little communicator I still needed to use the typewriter to give detailed explanations of my thoughts. The typewriter is also the means of expression of my active imagination, allowing me to pour out children's fiction stories and the odd adult short story.
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May 17, 1977 - Ketama, Morocco
That lie about buying kilos later on is all that gets us driving now, driving on for Fez, but there's a bit more sales talk first and a bit more hashish smoking. We're pretty well hashed out by the time we finally start driving, so we stop after just ten kilometres even though it's not midday yet - stop, camp, and get straight for travelling. We're nine thousand miles from home and everything's too different to miss from too much dope. By tomorrow we'll be clear-headed again and all seeing.
We're camped at a bubbly stream, a shallow creek at the bottom of a steep rocky hill with a stone farmhouse small near the top. Watery coolness midst the rocky heat down here and up there there’s not even any water by the look of it. There's a donkey labouring up the steepness to the farmhouse. There's a man and a boy aboard it and there's another beast of burden trudging behind it. That second beast of burden's got a huge bundle of firewood on its back and a baby slung on breast - it's the everyday beast of burden in Morocco and many other Moslem countries, it's the man's wife.
Wives here scour countrywide for branches and sticks for half every day, more sometime. It’s their firewood for cooking, - flat arid country, rocky. Then they trudge the homeward miles laden in the relentless sun, laden with their burdens like beasts of burden.
May 24, 1977 - Fez, Morocco
Fez's really two towns hard up against each other. There's new Fez which is just any modern city and there's old Fez which is a very old walled town gradually being surrounded by new Fez. Old? It's ancient. Ancient and teeming, with its rabbit warren Medina teeming merchants and craftsmen and traders and the buying public. There's narrow cobbled alleys dim with no cars, no wheeled vehicles at all; tiny shops and stalls; pushy Arab merchants and hawkers, camelhair blankets hawked in the `streets'; and chi. There's chi shops with kif smoke in the air, kif's that weakish grass mix Ahmed told us about, that weakish grass mix that keeps you toking all day. There's spivy youths hawking hash sneakily, and there's the odd donkey.
A laden donkey slips on wet cobbles and it falls - flailing hooves and legs, load too heavy for it to regain its feet. An interested crowd gathers to watch silently while the owner beats the struggling animal - dare I say mercilessly? It's struggling to rise from the thick staff beating and it eventually makes it to its feet to stay alive.
It's a donkey's life in Fez medina.