It's a great day to be alive - warm and sunny and oh-so-pleasant. I wouldn't be dead for quids! I'm just can from taking Bruno for a few kilometres. His second walk today and we'll get in another one if I can tear myself away from my writing. I sent Ellydd Gate to Gemma last week for a final proof-read before the publisher, so now I've started going through the second book in the trilogy before getting it edited - by, I hope, Gemma. This book is called Arathea, which as I'm sure ever in the world knows is the magical home of the equally-magical faerls.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
Bendigo Home and Hospital for the Aged. Continued ...
I didn't want to be in hospital. I was starting to hanker bad to be home, but I had no choice. I still had a trache, and traches need regular cleaning. Only much later did I learn that trache maintenance can be done at home by the wearer or any helper, but my lack of this knowledge turned out to be to my benefit. If I'd been full bottle about traches I'd have been content to leave hospital with one permanently in my throat, but as it was I got rid of it completely.
Two days after the nosogastric was taken out my impatience got the better of me. That day the ward doctor popped in to say good day like he does from time to time.
‘I want the trache out today’ sez I (spelt I, actually - with the Etran board).
‘Hello, Danny’ sez he. ‘How's life?’
‘Ha ha - I want my trache taken out’.
‘No way’ sez he. ‘It's too dangerous.’
‘How do you know?’ asks I. ‘You told me I'm the first trache patient you've ever worked with I want it out’.
‘Maybe next month’ sez he, ‘or maybe the one after. It's too early yet - you'll aspirate, you'll die.’
‘What's aspirate mean’ asks I.
He said stuff about me filling my lungs with my drinks and choking on my food if I didn't have the protection of the trache. (Traches have an inflatable cuff around them to prevent any food or liquid dropping into the wearer's lungs from their mouths.) Neither of us could be termed a medical expert on traches, but he was close to being in the dark. I at least had a rough idea about my present capacities. That's rot - I had absolutely no idea if I'd be able to breathe through my own airway, but I figured it like this:
What the hell - let's give it a go. At the worst I won't be able to breathe, so I'll suffocate. I'm, um, not too keen on that idea, but I'm in a hospital. There's no better place to be if I do aspirate and need resuscitating.’
Remember that bill of rights, Danny I thought on, but then I decided it'd be less agro to get there by other means. We compromised - seemingly. The cuff would be deflated for progressively longer periods every day for the next month, after which I'd try eating and drinking with it down. If I handled all this OK, the trache would be taken out in about six weeks time.
I didn't tell him I had no intention of waiting that long.
We started the six-week training regime that very day and ten days later I was trache-less. All it took was a few lies, a bit of bluff and the pretence of a positive attitude. The first time the cuff was let down was that day at eleven thirty for an hour. Lunchtime was normally at midday, but I was instructed to delay mine until after the trache cuff was reinflated at twelve thirty. At midday an innocent nurse brought me my lunch, and asked me if my cuff had been reinflated.
Go for it’ I thought fleetingly, giving a casual Yes answer.
She'd nearly finished feeding me my meal before the doctor came in at twelve thirty to check on me. I was choking and coughing like hell at the time and he guessed why. He started carrying on like a pork chop at the nurse, but once I’d recovered somewhat I let him know I’d tricked her.
‘Now we know it's safe' sez I. 'I'll eat all my meals like this.’
‘Ah, yeeeeees, I suppose, but promise me you won't try liquids yet’ sez he.
After lunch I was wheeled to wait in the hallway to be collected for my daily physio and there Sister Murphy went up in my estimation. I was waiting near the open door of the nurses station and I overheard her talking to the doctor.
‘I could've easily become defensive that time he complained about the night nurses, and I nearly went and gave him a piece of my mind for lying to my nurse today, but in a way these things are good - they show he's beginning to take positive interest in his life again.’
‘Positive interest? He must think he's James Bond with the foolhardy way he acted.’
‘No, he's terrified about this trache business, but he knows that unless he takes the risk we never will.’
The nurse who fed me dinner had been warned not to trust me, but after eating I asked if my cuff could please be reinflated so I could have a drink. I did this again the next lunchtime to get back in the nurses `to be trusted' good books. At dinner that evening the nurse asked me about my trache and I told her it was OK, so she gave me my meal and drink as normal. I coughed and spluttered quite a bit while drinking the liquid, but that happened sometimes. After I'd finished the drink I couldn't suppress a huge grin. She saw it, and she knew what it meant.
‘Oh, Danny - your cuff's down. I'll get into trouble for trusting you. ’
We reached an agreement whereby she'd give my drinks with the cuff down and I wouldn't let sister Murphy know what she'd done just now - not that I would have anyway. After about a week I was drinking well enough to prevail on sister Murphy to test my drinking ability. Two days later my trache was removed.
The doctor had been right about the aspiration bit, but not about its degree, because I didn't die. The first three or four or fifteen meals without the trache in my throat ended halfway through with me coughing and choking all the way to tears and sobs, but I sailed through number sixteen. I sailed through and only choked badly twice and those two times didn't get me crying with fear and pain.
It would've been so much easier if I'd let them vitalize the food smooth, because then it'd slide down no pain, but I had these visions, y'see - visions of gummy oldies in the dayroom with their minds lying topless on Costa del Sol sunning themselves. The nurses call these oldies Love and Dearie and shovel vitalized mush into them, and wipe it off their tufty chins asking, ‘Have we had enough yet’.
I choked on nearly every spoonful, but not too badly, except for those meals which ended with me coughing into tears and the nurse scared I was going to die. I wouldn't have it vitalized, though – apart from giving them the foot in to patronize me like with the oldies I was determined to beat the eating business if it killed me.
Most of the other patients ate communally in the ward dining room and many had worse table manners than I did. Some patients had suffered bad one-sided strokes and looked quite yuk as they battled to feed themselves. Other patients whose minds had left to see St Peter years before their aging bodies oozed mush down their chins as nurses crammed it into their mouths.
I ate in my own room. I knew that were I in the dining-room when I was choking and dying I'd become the centre of attention. Many times in my life I've done outlandish things to make others react, but I didn't want all eyes on me when I wasn't calm and controlled. Besides, I imagined elderly patients dropping like flies as my noisy bouts brought on their heart attacks.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
Continued travels. August to November 1976. Greece to the UK.
Whole planeload milling Singapore Hilton,
or was it the Holiday Inn?
Unscheduled stopover for repairs,
New wings or something.
Getting rooms like bees swarming honeycomb
He hangs back ‘til swarm fades.
Now just him and a girl waiting for honey-cells
‘One double left. No more. You share. Yes?
Yes, you share?
One room. Two beds. Yes?’
Both tired, too tired to fight
He drops his backpack one side of the double bed,
She the other side.
‘So much for two beds’ she says,
‘You stay on your side, I’ll stay on my mine’.
She climbs in, clothes and all, but not her shoes.
Her simulated coma says ‘Stay away from me.’
He rummages his pack for a mate’s Going Away present
‘Don’t open it ‘til London’. He opens it anyway. ‘Holy shit.’
Peanut tin crammed with marijuana -
He’s smuggled grass to a county where they machine-gun drug crims.
He rolls a joint and she revives at the smell.
Both indulge, and again, and again, and -
Dope can cultivate sexual activity - even in the comatose
Grey-black storm clouds banking over blue sky, foreboding doom
‘It’s going to bucket down’
The traveller leaves the empty highway, dashes ‘cross empty wasteland
Empty warehouse - forsaken industrial dream.
‘Home for the night’
Water bubbling vapour from the small billy
on a tiny gas-can cooker.
Nescafe bottle, bagged sugar, teaspoon, mug,
Small pan ready for eggs, bread for toast.
A kingly hot meal with rain drumming the industrial tin roof
A battered car coughing outside, tappet concerto
On its last legs.
Four figures scampering through the drumming rain
Drawn to the warmth and home of his candle in vast industrial blackness
Moths with moth-eaten wings, Gypsies poor and worn as church mice.
The traveller rummages his pack -
More eggs, more bread, olives, cheese,
Tinned fruit with tinned cream for dessert and biscuits.
Two days rations for one meal.
Pour one coffee, empty canteen into gas-heating billy.
Steaming mug and sugar to one, gesturing to the laid-out feast.
‘All join me please’ with his smile
Better-than-nothing and friendship for five
The chapel on the rocks
You’d reckon storm waves could crash right over it in a gale
Must be OK though.
It had a seaman flavour inside, and seamen know where it’s safe to build close to sea,
but it seemed so perilous metres from the sea in rocks ‘tween shore and land.
It was a small whitewashed chapel, Orthodox Greek
Alter paraphernalia, icons, pictures, cloths, chairs for half dozen devout
As-new whitewash - no water stains, no water wear
Untouched by hand of God.
Tall Swedish girl and the traveller been roaming Lesvos daily out from Mitilini,
Lesvos from Greek myth, home to the first lesbian.
Leggy Swede a bit of alright - lilting accent, tall, blonde, legs all the way to her bum.
He reckons he’s in with a chance.
Been cultivating her for a week nearly.
Tonight could be the night
‘Lovely place to make love on rocks here near vee church’ Swedish telling the traveller
‘Is all vee do in Sveden, but I having holiday from that.’
Village of whitewash, donkeys, shrill chatter from laneways, cafenions for men.
Sitting under a carob tree by the highway, patient for a lift from cars that never stop,
Patiently the traveller chews another sickly-sweet carob pod.
Woman from a nearby house brings out a covered plate shyly -
feta, olives, fresh-baked bread oven-warm.
She waits shyly while he eats
Then she takes him shyly to her house for coffee
She brings a decanter of ouzo, a jug of cool water, one small glass.
He knows the drill -
scoffs half the straight ouzo she hands him, tops the glass with water cool,
sips it empty while they ‘talk’
‘My husband drives a truck’ she conveys to him in Greek less shyly now.
‘He’s away many days at a time to Germany and France.
This time he’s gone to England, all the way to Ireland where the bombs are -
‘I’m so lonely’ she says imploringly and cow-eyed
(The traveller can hear cow-bells sounding loud in his head - warning and alarm.
‘I’m desperately desperately lonely,’ she says.
She pours for him another ouzo, like for her husband home from away,
then begins to unlace his boots unshyly now.
Images of a shotgun booming in a darkened bedroom and the traveller stands up
‘I’m out of here.’
Toasty toast waiting for eggs scambling and cooking in the pan
Paprika, salt and lemon go in too.
He eats unhurriedly, water on the boil for coffee
Last night memories awash in his alcohol-fuzzy head.
Memories of the cafenion with retzina and ouzo and calamari nibbles from the sea,
guitar on fire, men dancing like Zorba , plates smashing
And not a woman in sight.
On top of the world last night, cotton-wool hangover dully drumming a funeral in his head this morning.
Sleep must be to blame.
The traveller with one ear out for any traffic, no ride since midday yesterday.
Kombi noise distinctive through the village
Carefully placing breakfast, the traveller assumes the kneeling supplicant role,
hands clasped on chest beseeching a lift.
‘To Munich we’re headed
With someone else in here already’
‘You beauty. But only if there’s time for coffee first’
Together they sat in the back of the Kombi
Politely sharing the Germans’ hash at times,
Then bussing together to England
She was English, going home from three months diving in Red Sea.
First time scuba-diving with first time female lover – a new holiday experience.
‘I’m heading to a squat in Hampstead Heath’ he said. ‘Crash for the night, clean up before you go home’
‘Let’s go to the pub’ the squat leader said once they’d stowed their packs
‘I’ll get changed first’ she said, unbuckling her belt
The traveller ambled to the door, but the squatter stood stock still, waiting for more
‘Excuse me?’ she said nodding to door. ‘But you stay, Traveller’.
Jeans off, shirt off. Knickers only, no bra - good night ahead for the traveller?
‘I want to tell you ‘cos I’m practicing for my parents’ she said to him, dressing afresh.
‘I liked it lesbian. I’m staying that way forever from now on.’
London City is an oyster shell.
Smooth-glazed mother of pearl with St Paul’s cathedral, Tower of London, Hyde Park, Big Ben and more inside.
Many indeed are London’s pearls.
London City is Christopher Robin’s London just as it should be.
London’s suburbs though - London’s suburbs are dark mussel shell
‘Very ordinary’ springs to mind. ‘Very much the same’ springs to mind.
Featureless, humble, bland - English.
A chance meeting on the high street in Hampstead Heath
A five billion to one chance, or destined certainty?
A long street with a pub, Sainsbury’s, a betting shop, three travel agents and sundry other small businesses
It could be any of dozens of London’s suburbs
‘Last I heard you were motoring Switzerland in a vintage sports car’ said the traveller
‘On your way to Egypt, I heard.’
‘Plans change’ the traveller’s brother replied. ‘Met Lord My-Shit-Doesn’t-Smell in the Alps.
Milord offered me work restoring his mansion out Windsor way’
Back home the traveller’s brother built stone houses - stonework that is a pleasure to the eye.
Solid, neat houses to last a thousand years without English correctness and regular lines
His houses were undisciplined Aussie privates –-
They didn’t salute British officers but by jove you wanted them on your side in a fight
His houses were the free Aussie feel of Cold Chisel’s music pumping out of a sex-selling Bangkok bar.
‘Milord’s hundred kilo daughter giving me the eye and he’s saying
‘Son, this could all be yours’
‘Stuff that. Cold cheddar cheese life with cold cheddar cheese sex.
I’m leaving, driving home to Australia on Friday. Want to come?’
‘Sorry, busy this year’ mused the traveller. ‘Dreams beckoning.’
Pursuing dreams, the Life gourmet’s caviar.
Reykjavik icily off Greenland’s coast
Istanbul minarets pale blue in a Moslem moon
Timbuktoo staging camels sailing Saharan seas
But first Lumb Bank, a small village up near the Scotland border’
The traveller travelling the world with typewriter in backpack, books, typing paper and no change of jeans -
Just underwear, teeshirts, shorts, sleeping bag.
A writer’s workshop at Lumb Bank, small village before Scotland
Hilly country and green
Learning such important stuff as ‘No word in the English language rhymes with orange’
‘In his latter years Shakespeare suffered from hemorrhoids’
Margaret was a skinny single mum nearing thirty, two kids at home in stifling Sheffield.
This a stab at life.
To her the traveller’s no-rush, no-fuss, everything-in-his-relaxed-stride manner
and his Australian accent set him apart, attractive, desirable.
He was her one-night stab at life
Bonking like rabbits bare-arsed on the darkened office floor - no cold cheddar Margaret.
‘Click’ - bright white overhead light.
Lecturer entering, showing six would-be writers his first editions.