Tag Archives: Kirribilli

Weekend Coffee Share – 8th March, 2021.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Happy Birthday to my 17 year old son , and Happy International Women’s Day. I’ve just woken up to wih my son Happy Birthday, and I’m not planning on staying up for long, and my stomach feels like I’ve swallowed Draino and my back feels like it’s been run over by a truck. I could say, that’s the power of positive thinking. That that’s me looking on the bright side. Well, I am looking at the bright side because I’ll feel bettter after a bit more sleep. I might also feel better if I wasn;t trying to type with a chewed up tennis ball under my right wrist too. There’s also an expectant do parked in front of my chair, too. That’s Rosie and the other two, Zac and Lady, are parked right in front of the door. I don’t know whether they’re hoping I might actually levitate out of my chair to take them for a walk. If so, they’re dreaming.

Our gorgeous little man as a new born in hospital.

17 years ago today, I became a mum and my husband and I became parents. I don’t think we truly understood what that meant at the time, even though we knew their were huge responsibilities and sleepless nights with our little bundle. I think beyond all of that, our fundamental feeling was profound and overwhelming joy. I’d had an elective caesarean. So, there isn’t a lot to say about that, except Geoff still hasn’t recovered from the stress of trying to juggle the video camera, SLR etc and actually seeing the baby. It was exciting times. Our hospital was also still using cloth nappies. I have no idea why because i was 2004 and they’d changed to disposables by the time our daughter arrived just under two years later just so she could always be first with the birthday, although she was the youngest and clearly number 2.

Little Man and Mum in Tasmania late 2005.

Meanwhile, I used to taken International Women’s Day a lot more seriously and have even gone into the local march and was on the organising committee. Today, I think International Women’s Day can also be able having a rest, taking it easy, and making birthday cakes.

Last week, I ended up heading down to Sydney for my first medical specialist’s appointment since covid and in just over a year. This was a big milestone in terms of feeling safe and being able to take what now amounts to an almost negligible risk, and also in extending my personal freedom.

We went out for lunch in Kirribilli afterwards, and also walked down to the harbour to fully soak in the magnificent views of the Sydney Opera House and the sheer imposing grandeur of the Sydney Harbour Bridge which truly towers over the top of you their almost stretching a protective arm around like like a father towering over a small child.

Walking back up the hill, I spotted a pair of boots sitting on a street corner.

Not only that, the boots were around the wrong way and looked plain odd, which of course told a story they wouldn’t have told if they’d been around the right way.Of course, I have no idea what they were doing there.

Whose boots they were.

That turned out to be part of their appeal, and their inspiration.

Of course, I photographed the boots, and needless to say, I wrote a post about them, which I’d like to encourage you to read: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2021/03/06/boots-under-the-bridge/

After all, they made a perfect analogy for how we respond to people who don’t quite fit the norm.

So, how are things at your end?

Before I head off, I thought I’d just update out on the vaccine roll out there. Well, to start that story off, we’ve had over 42 days without any community transmission here in NSW, which is wonderful news, and further praise for our response to the virus. Without the imminent virus threat, we’ve been able to wait to get the vaccine through the proper government approval processes, which also means vaccination is only just kicking off here. Vaccination began on the 22nd February, and they’re still just starting to vaccination health and aged care workers who are in category 1a. We fit into 1b of people with health conditions, and last night I heard that we’ll be eligible from March 22nd. That’s only a few weeks away as along as all goes to plan. I still don’t know how I’ll go with getting the vaccine via my local GP. They have nothing written up about it on their web site, but I should have faith, shouldn’t I?!! I shouldn’t panic. Freak out or desperately long to have some peace of mind?!!

Well, what do I have to worry about anyway? It appears covid isn’t here and yet, when it gets out of its box, it truly takes off and as we all know, you can’t tell you or someone else has it and it turns out this early barely detectable stage is when it’s most infectious. It doesn’t do a lot to ease my concerns. However, I’m not really complaining about taking measures to stay safe, because I’m still here and a year ago I had a chest infection, breathing difficulties and was concerned hospital would be full of covid cases and it would be too risky to go. Thankfully, that never happened here, and friends of mine who are even more vulnerable than I, are still around. I say that not to show off, but to show what is possible. We should never give up on what is possible, because sometimes, it can actually come to pass, and the worst case scenario passes us by.

Humph. I’m not sure whether I should spend so much of our coffee time talking about covid. There’s so much more going on, but at the same time, i is having a daily impact on our lives. I’ve decided no to go to a physical Church service until I’m vaccinated, because people are singing and not wearing masks. Indeed, our Church has taken a stand against it because they feel the Church is being discriminated against when restrictions aren’t so stringent in other places, especially sporting arenas. However, singing has been shown to be a super-spreader. So, their decision counts me out. Moreover, when you’re having to make decisions all the time about wearing masks, hand sanitising etc, it’s hard to ignore covid’s omnipresence in our lives, and for that longing to boot covid out once and for all to reach fever pitch.

I hope you and yours are doing well and keeping safe. What have you been up to this week?

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Natalie the Explorer at https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Boots Under The Bridge.

Yesterday, was all blue skies and glorious, golden sunshine when Geoff and I headed down to Sydney’s Kirribilli, lured away by the magnificent views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the harbour itself. This is the third post inspired by this trip. So, might I suggest that if you can get yourself down to Kirribilli (or your local equivalent), your efforts could be well re-worded.

Geoff and I photo bombing the view from Kirribilli towards the city and the Opera House.

After lunch, we walked down Broughton Street towards the harbour. After undergoing some nasty tests on my lungs and responding badly, I was naturally concerned about the steep decent and whether I could make it back up. Indeed, as we marched enthusiastically down the hill, Geoff even voiced these concerns: “what goes down, has to climb backup,” he said.

However, “oh me of little breath” powered ahead just like the the “Little Engine that Could”. I’ve done that: “I think I can. I think I can. I know I can” up many a hill or flight of stairs before. I might be turning blue and gasping for air, but you can’t “carpe diem seize day” from the couch. You need to have a go! Besides, (and I didn’t tell him this), he could always go and fetch the car. After all, even the best of generals has a “Plan B”. On the other hand, giving up before you try is, of course, an automatic fail.

kirribilli-map.gif
Above: Map of Kirribilli. The boots were on the corner of Fitzroy and Alfred Streets half way down on the left hand side of the map.

While we were walking back up the hill via Alfred Street, I spotted a random pair of black workman’s boots sitting on the corner of Alfred and Fitzroy Streets just back from the curb.

Now, if you’re someone who is focused and gets straight to the point, you’ll probably find my reflections on this pair of boots quite random. Or, you’ll even accuse me of over-thinking things again. However, on the other hand, it could equally be a virtue to find meaning and purpose in seemingly insignificant little things – especially in a place overshadowed by two of the great modern architectural wonders of the world, and one of the world’s most beautiful harbours.

The work boots’ neighbours are pretty impressive, making it hard to keep up with the Joneses.

Moreover, being “creative”, I couldn’t help thinking about how these worn, ordinary work boots must feel glancing up at the magnificent steel arches and towering granite pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Then, as if they didn’t already have a massive inferiority complex, across the harbour there’s the Sydney Opera House with her magnificent white sails glowing in the sunlight at the very top end of town! It must be hard for those work boots to feel that meaning and purpose aren’t just confined to the big wigs, and the flashy, strutting peacocks of life. That an old, discarded pair of work boots couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say. Moreover, you can also understand how people feel like that way too.

However, it wasn’t just their simple ordinariness which attracted my attention to the boots, and you’ve no doubt noticed this yourself. They’re round the wrong way, back-to-front. Mixed up. Odd. So, if you were mad enough to try to step inside these boots and see what it was like to walk in their shoes, your legs would be heading off at cross-purposes and you’d fall smack – face down on the pavement.

By the way, there’s also another reason why I probably noticed the boots. I’ve had to learn to walk again twice. In my mid-20’s, I found out I’d been born with a harbour inside my head, and I was a lot more than “anxious”. Indeed, when the hydrocephalus was at its worst before I had a shunt put in to relieve the pressure, leaving a pair of boots around the wrong way would’ve been the very least of my problems. I have definitely tried walking in a wonky pair of boots that made no sense to anyone including myself. I also know what it is to be THE STRANGER, and not just someone unfamiliar.

So, how are we supposed to respond to these boots? Do we look at those boots and judge?

For many, it would be just too tempting to simply rearrange them. Make them right, just like you’d re-adjust a crooked picture frame until it was straight. However, I didn’t rearrange the boots and much to my later annoyance, I didn’t move the dead leaves out of the shot either. Moreover, if we’re really getting stuck into straightening things up and going for all out perfection, I wish I’d had my digital SLR camera with me instead of my phone. I am a photographic snob from way back. I also wished I’d got down lower for the shot. However, the boots were right on the curb and I didn’t want to risk being runover on Fitzroy Street just to take a photo. (That’s a first).

In addition to thinking about how the worn-out, back-to-front work boot people of this world feel in the shadow of greatness, these boots also made me think of how we respond to the apparent rejects and oddballs we come across through life. Do we as individuals (rather than the “royal we” where we can hide) offer them shelter and invite them in? Or, do we lock them out by whatever means is at our disposal be it a glance, a door, harsh words, a diagnosis, prescription drugs or a prison cell?

There’s a lot of bridge maintenance going on at the moment, so maybe the boots belong to someone working here?

However, when you give these boots a second glance, they’re scuffed, but they’re not worn out. They’ve been positioned carefully beside the road as a pair, even if they are back-to-front. Anybody could just walk up to those boots and set them straight. It wouldn’t take much, although perhaps you might be worried that who ever left them there, is watching. That they might misconstrue your good intentions and attack. You might also pop back down and speak to the supervisor on the work site beneath the bridge and see if anyone’s lost their boots. Reuniting the boots with their owner would be a noble thing. Indeed, perhaps those boots aren’t so unloved after all. Their owner might just be careless…or a teenager.

Who knows?

However, that’s the point, isn’t it?! No one knows anyone else’s story without asking AND without listening. You can’ t even judge a pair of back-to-front boots by their cover, let alone a person.

I have been reminded over and over again about the capacity of people to show love and even self-sacrifice to a stranger, especially someone in need. I have had a couple of spectacular falls in public places well away from home. Both times, I was using my walking stick so it was clear I had mobility issues. Both times, I’d hurt myself quite badly and had nasty grazes on my knee, was bleeding and needing a plaster. Last year, I had a nasty fall outside a nearby school. Passers-by, were quick to stop and render assistance, along with the inevitable question about an ambulance. A man headed off to his car and returned with a medical kit. Gave me saline to clean it, and the big sticking plaster. You know… the only big one which comes with the medical kit. Meanwhile, a teacher returned with ice and drove me down to McDonalds where I was meeting a friend. They were so kind!!

Yet, at the same time, the so-called weirdo who might not put their boots together in quite the right way, probably gets a much harder time of it. Indeed, it’s not just the strangers who reject them, but their nearest and dearest. The people who know them. Or, more to the point, don’t want to know them – the rejects. Somehow, we need to ensure there’s a place for them. A place for them in our families, our schools, our Churches, our streets. We don’t need to lock them up. They don’t need to self-medicate because they feel unloved, misunderstood, outcast. Love might not be enough to save everyone from genetics, society, bad luck or themselves, but it certainly goes a long way.

There’s still so much life left in these back-to-front workman’s boots, and I really hope they’re not still sitting there beside the road. That someone has taken them home.

Meanwhile, our son has invited “the boys” over tomorrow afternoon. He has no idea how many are coming, but I’ve made a pavlova, Mars Bar Slice and figure we can order pizza. After all, home is where the heart is and where real connections are forged.

What are your thoughts on the boots under the bridge? I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

An Empty Harbour – Sydney.

Yesterday, my husband and I went down to Kirribilli for lunch after the first appointment I’ve had with one of my medical specialists since Covid started ravaging our world. I usually go on an outing after these appointments as a much needed pick-me-up, and often end up at Kirribilli by the harbour, where I might catch a ferry into the city (and by city I mean Sydney and yes I’m coming to you from Australia). The other place I end up is Surry Hills, which is also characterised by the terrace house, but is more inner city than harbour if that makes any sense.

There’s a lot to dazzle you in Kirribilli. Obviously, you need to go no further than the Sydney Harbour Bridge whose Northern arch is parked right in its front yard. Across the harbour, the Sydney Opera House is smack bang in your face. You can’t miss it. Although I’m Sydney born and bred, I never tire of these monumental architectural feats. Yet, there’s still the beauty of the harbour itself, which is usually a hive of activity.

Selfie.

So, I was rather taken aback when I was down there yesterday, and the harbour looked “empty”. There was water without boats. No cruise ships were parked across at the International Terminal. Of course not! Could you imagine the huge public outcry??!!! Yet, only twelve months ago these cruise ships were simply part of the scenery. Of course, I photographed them whenever I was in town, because they’re still a novelty to me and they’re absolutely massive, and almost unbelievably big, glamorous and totally dominated the waterfront. However, they’re now gone, and I wonder if these super-spreaders of disease will ever be back, or at least in quite the same way.

However, this emptiness isn’t just confined to the water either. The harbour foreshore is also conspicuously empty. There are no armies of tourist ants marching around the usual suspects. Indeed, in hindsight, it sinks in that we were alone and didn’t see anyone else posing in front of anything. The SLRs, phones and selfie sticks were all gone along with all the people. Not that Sydney’s become a ghost town yet, but she’s not what she was.

How you feel about that, probably depends on your perspective. Less humans is always a good thing for the environment. We are a destructive breed. However, the economics must be tough. I don’t know to be really honest. We live in a protective bubble both thanks to me needing to social distance and my husband needing to work from home to protect me, but also because he has a good job, and he managed to survive the extensive staff cut backs at the university.

There’s been much to lament about covid, but environmentally speaking, it has eased the pressure a little, and perhaps also reminded us of what we’re doing to the planet. That maybe we don’t need to go, go, go quite so much and that we cause pause, slow down and connect more with each other, and it’s not the end of the world.

Geoff in shadow and a glimpse of Kirribilli. This is the chopped off version of the covid beard.

Obviously, our lessons here are quite different to places overseas where so many lives have been lost, and there is so much grief. It’s hard for some of us to grapple with that, but we also struggle with the effects of isolation, or being jammed in together with no escape. I think for many travel offers something to truly look forward to, and also allows many to keep in touch with close family and friends. So, the very tight travel restrictions are really being felt. Last year, our son was booked to go on a six week history tour of Europe, and instead he ended up in lock down with Mum, Dad and his sister and doing school at home. Not only that. We were also living in sheer terror of seeing another human being in case they might secretly, unknowingly have the virus, and particularly that I of reduced immunity and shitty lungs would die. The fact that storm has seemingly passed, doesn’t negate what it was like to live through it, and that until we are vaccinated, the risk, however minute, is still there.

Florist window in Kirribilli.

We wait.

Well, some of us wait.

Others are invincible. We’ve had over a month since there’s been any community transmission here in NSW. It’s very tempting to throw caution to the wind, and get out there and party.

However, our defences at this point are not infallible. One slip up in hotel quarantine, and it’s out. Moreover, we won’t know where it is until someone symptomatic is infected. Yet, does this justify such caution? So many restrictions?

Here we were late last year trying glasses on over our masks.

Given our current status, it’s not something to lose sleep over, but I’m still largely social distancing, trying to remember to wear my mask in high thoroughfare areas, washing my hands more than I’ve done in the last ten years, and won’t set foot on a train. If I’m in a small group, I’ll give my friends a hug, but I don’t shake hands. I think of it as insurance. Moreover, I don’t blow the sacrifices I’ve made through the last year, by not seeing this through to the end.

Meanwhile, close friends of mine have barely made any changes. Life’s gone on. However, we respect each other’s decisions. Well, most of the time. I do like to see people comply with the government’s restrictions, particularly as organizations. Do the right thing. After all, to use a phrase borrowed from World War I, we need to do “our bit”. Moreover, for those of us who are more susceptible, we need to go the extra mile which might seem unnecessary, but for us it might not matter. For us, the risks are still too high.

Loved being able to have lunch in a cafe in Kirribilli, and that the table was cleaned when we arrived and great precautions were maintained.

Meanwhile, Geoff and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch in Kirribilli and soaking up those magnificent harbour views on a perfect, sunny Sydney day.

How is covid impacting you where you live? What are you going through? I would love to hear your stories and hope you and yours are keeping well and safe.

Love,

Rowena

PS The vaccine roll out has been slow here in Australia. Given the low incidence rates, there understandably wasn’t the urgency and it was good to wait and see how it went overseas first. However, now that I’m hearing about friends with my auto-immune disease being vaccinated overseas and responding, I’m keen to line up.

Vaccination began on the 22nd February, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the first category, which includes frontline medical and nursing home staff. he urgency wasn’t here and they’re just starting to vaccinate health workers and frontline staff. These people fall into category 1a, where I’m in category 1b. Although the TV is looking promising, it could well be more than a month before I get my first jab. Again, I’ve got to talk myself through the anxiety and be thankful the vaccine has been developed so quickly or at all. I’m not really suffering or doing it tough, but who isn’t hoping the mass vaccination is going to help restore some real sense of normality. Who wants to live in covidland, even our covidland of very low incidence for any longer than we have to? No! Of course not. We all long to escape. Go back and just enjoy walking down the street, stopping off at a cafe or browsing through a shop without thinking, logging in, wearing a mask and being able to shake hands with a mate.

Thursday Doors – Kirribilli, Sydney.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors!

Today, we’re heading down to Kirribilli, located smack bang on stunning Sydney Harbour. Indeed, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is parked here with one foot in Kirribilli, and the other planted across the water in Miller’s Point. Not unsurprisingly, the Bridge dominates Kirribilli with its sheer physicality, but also in terms of sound, whenever a train rumbles across all that steel with its echoing, idiosyncratic roar.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge viewed from Kirribilli today. In so many way, the bridge is the gateway (or door) into Sydney.

In a sense, our trip to Kirribilli represents the opening of an invisible door. This door marks the dividing line between the safety of home, and the more risky context of Sydney and Covid 19. Although there hasn’t been a case of community transmission for over a month, clusters have seeming sprung up out of nowhere, but usually connected somehow to the hotel quarantine program. While contact tracing does a fabulous job of identifying potential spread, it doesn’t actually prevent you from catching it. It only tells you after the fact. Due to my auto-immune disease and associated lung fibrosis, I am at a heightened risk of catching the virus if it’s around, and also having a more dire outcome. So, for me, caution makes a lot of sense, especially with the vaccine around the corner so I don’t have to lock myself away forever.

However, there’s also a risk that avoiding medical treatment for these conditions could also be harmful, and all my specialists are located at Royal North Shore Hospital about a 15 minute drive North of Kirribilli, and I often go to Kirribilli afterwards as a reward.

So, that’s how I ended up having lunch with my husband, Geoff, in Kirribilli and comin across this really beautiful and richly ornate door as we walked down to the water’s edge.

Isn’t it something?!!

However, even to the most one-eyed door lover around, it still couldn’t compete with this…magnificent Sydney Harbour.

The thing that particularly struck me about Sydney Harbour today was just how empty it was. It’s usually a hive of activity with ferries criss-crossing the waterways and people moving around on the foreshore. There could well have been one of those towering cruise ships in port, as was often the case before covid. Sydney Harbour isn’t usually this empty, even on a weekday.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip to Kirribilli, and I apologize for being a one-door-wonder this week, but hopefully this is a sign of things to come and I’ll soon be able to get out and about more and venture further afield.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Dan Antion.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share -18th June, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Rather than joining me for coffee at my place, today I thought you might like to join me down at the San Antonio Bakery in Kirribilli. It’s right across the road from the stairs taking you up onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge. By the way, you might want to bring a bit of sun and the Northern Hemisphere Summer with you. It was a cheek-smacking 15°C (59° F) there today. Mind you, I must have Viking blood because yours truly sat outside this afternoon to soak up the Kirribilli charm, although I did wrap myself up in one of their blankets. By the way, the food there is amazing and I’ve indulged in a few of their delights. Today, I had a sort of nut crumble topping on a Nutella tart. The texture of the topping was fairly complex with a combination of seeds and nuts. The pasty was perfect and you can’t go wrong with Nutella.

Harbour Bridge Stairs

A wet day in Kirribilli. You can just make out the steps leading up onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

While I was there, I pulled out my notebook and simply started jotting. Kirribilli is a rather rustic part of Sydney with Victorian terraces heading down to the wharf and Sydney Harbour. If you were had bionic strength, you could throw a stone from Kirribilli Wharf straight through the Opera House windows if you were feeling like getting arrested and being rather unpopular.

As I said, I started jotted. A cold wind was blowing straight off the Harbour and round the corner blowing the Autumn leaves in the trees across the road. I was quite mesmerised by the fluttering leaves, although perhaps that was because the rest of me was snap frozen.

Of course, any sensible soul would’ve sat inside, but I wanted to experience Kirribilli. Be a part of it, and feel its breath blowing against my neck, even though it was freezing and giving me a different kind of goosebump experience.

However, my reasons for being in Sydney today weren’t social. After crossing the lung specialist off the list for the next three months, I was off to the gastroenterologist to see if he could do anything to get rid of The Cough. Well, he was full of ideas and conferred with the lung specialist on the mobile and they managed to cut it down to an endoscopy and colonoscopy. It’s not til August so I don’t need to get too excited about it yet. Some people go on a cruise, I’m cruising on off to the hospital. One thing I do know, is that a friend’s wife with MS died of bowel cancer because the early signs were dismissed. It’s important to keep in mind that things can always get worse and not to be complacent or in some kind of la-la land of uninformed positive thinking.

Anyway, aside from all that medical stuff today, there have been some great highlights during the last week.

Firstly, on Saturday my husband and I drove our daughter and friends up to perform in Starstruck at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre, about 1.5 hours North of here. This showcases school talent in the performing arts, and our daughter appeared in two dance numbers with the Year 7 dance troupe. I have to be honest and say that during their performance, I only had eyes for her. She was like a twinkling star, and as much as their was that immense pride in watching her perform, I was also dumbstruck. She didn’t get any of this from her father or myself. Sometimes, you’ve got to wonder whether God can be a bit random in how he allocates gifts and interests. That, or he has a very good sense of humour!

scouts prepared

 

Also on Saturday, we dropped our son off for an overnight Scout Camp and something like a 17km hike. That meant he was sleeping in a tent in this freezing Winter weather, which as my Dad would say, puts hairs on your chest. They had to carry everything in, and everything out so it was quite a credit to him. The hike ended at the local tip and the backpack went straight into the car and tales of aching feet, back, neck began to unfold. Clearly, he went to great lengths to avoid going to his sister’s dance concert, and we’re proud of his efforts.

Meanwhile, with our daughter at an evening performance and our son away at camp, Geoff and I ventured out for dinner at Mum’s cousin’s restaurant Talulah at The Junction in Newcastle. This place has become a bit of a rock to me when visiting Newcastle and I think I’ve been there about 3 times in the last couple of years. I remember going up to Newcastle for family get togethers. My grandparents initially lived there, and then we went up to see mum’s aunt and her family and there were 21sts, weddings, birthdays, christenings and unfortunately too many funerals of loved ones who died before their time. The family home was sold years ago, so the restaurant gives me some kind of bearings, and there’s an old piano in there which I wrote into a story a few years back. I don’t know if it came from the family. Or, was simply found beside the road, but it’s over 100 years old and it tells a thousand stories, despite staying silent. There’s also a Cenotaph outside the restaurant where a soldier stands to attention. He looks like he’s standing over the place and looking out for us. Goodness knows we’ve needed it at times. Apparently, the pigeons poop all over him, and doesn’t show him an ounce of respect.

I’m not real good as a food writer, especially when I don’t take notes at the time. However, each mouthful had such a burst of flavour and the meal was very refreshing. The ambiance was also fantastic. Quite aside from the fact that we’re family, Talulah feels like a stylish yet casual family home with appealing paintings throughout and fresh, modern decor. It’s a fun place to be and I could feel the stresses of life fall away, although I was also rather conscious of a growing list of “absent friends”. You can read a review Here

Before I move on from Talulah, I just wanted to share about our navigation difficulties, which you could say are something of a feature of our marriage. Geoff drives the car. I navigate. Unfortunately, this division of labour is driven by necessity, not ability and I have no shame in admitting that I could get lost in our own driveway. However, when it comes to navigating our way through Newcastle, I’m back being a kid in the back seat of the Holden and Dad’s driving through the streets without a map saying he only needs to go somewhere once and he can find his way back again. Of course, this boast was filled with bravado and a bit of cheek, but it was true. Moreover, it did sting a bit as I couldn’t direct Geoff to Talulah using Google maps even though I’d been there three times before. Geoff turned down Darby Street and from there, we zigzagged back and forth desperately hoping to see a spark of familiarity but seemingly driving deeper and deeper into the maze. Both of us were getting frustrated and it came very close to simply driving home, but we persevered. Quite frankly, I don’t understand why they don’t have signs set up specially for my visit…”Rowena turn here!” It would’ve made it so much easier.

In terms of blogging, I posted two more family history stories. Firstly, there was Fire in North Sydney…Grandma & the Mosman Bomber. The next one focused on my difficulties to finding my 3rd Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Flanagan’s, name of birth: Digging Up More Family Bones. I’m hoping that by posting this info in my blog, that I might flush out the answers.

Getting these stories written up, is feeling great. I’m gaining more confidence in my ability to weigh up quite a mass of data, and actually get a story onto the page. As far as I’m aware, the data is well researched and documented, which is just as important in my mind as a good story.

Lastly, I wrote a story revolving around food for this week’s contribution to Friday fictioneers: Madame Cuisinier.

Well, I’m sorry for talking at you for so long. Clearly, there’s been a lot on and all the chatter in my head has spewed onto the screen. Thank you for listening and being there for me tonight. It’s much appreciated and I look forward to popping round to catch up on your week.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

A Million Dollar View…My Journey Through Ambulatory Care.

I am up in the clouds again. Being creative, that’s not unusual but right now, I’m literally up in the sky wrapped up in an enormous, sky-blue woolly blanket dotted with a scant scatter of clouds. There is no wind today and the clouds are just sitting still like lost sheep.

Given the view, I could be on a jumbo jet.  Yet, I can actually recline my chair and put my feet up without squashing the sardine in front or behind. There are no screaming babies or in-flight movies either.

The lunch trolley arrives with a much anticipated rumble. It’s four star service with rather humble offerings of cheese and tomato or mock chicken served up on very plain white bread. We are offered a choice of apple juice or Paradise Punch. I always take the Paradise Punch. I wouldn’t mind a touch of paradise as long as it’s not permanent.

My nurse would make a fantastic Hosty, even though she’s not wearing one of the glamorous purple gowns. They’re reserved for the chemo patients.

Inside 12A looking out

Welcome to 12A. It isn’t First Class but it’s certainly not economy either. I am being very well looked after. I haven’t been admitted.  I’m just visiting, having my regular three-weekly transfusion of Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG). Immunoglobulin (Ig) is another name for antibodies, molecules produced by the plasma cell. IVIg is very precious and is currently is worth more than twice the price of gold on a gram for gram basis. On a more comic note, the stuff looks a lot like lemonade… all clear and bubbly. For all I know, it could be sugary sweet as well. After all, I’ve never drunk the stuff!

The views here are first class.  Today, I am facing west and the Blue Mountains form a smeary smudge just above the window sill. Up above there’s only sky. If I stood up, which is a little challenging juggling a laptop, a cannula and a cup of tea, I could see across the historic Gore Hill Cemetery and the Lane Cove River, which flows into Sydney Harbour. The views are much better in the other treatment room where the Sydney Harbour Bridge stands centre stage. It is not the conventional perspective you see on postcards. It’s the back-end view but it’s still magic.  I have always loved The Bridge but since coming here, we’ve become something like close friends, even soul mates. The Bridge has been my strong and silent partner, helping me get through all of this. There have been some pretty dark times in here, especially as an inmate when the “Coathanger” literally held me up.

I’m no longer afraid of needles but it can take a few jabs to find a vein and it certainly isn’t “pleasant”. My veins are pretty obstreperous.  I know there’s blood in there somewhere because my heart’s still beating but my veins have somehow managed to dry up. It’s like trying to get blood out of a proverbial stone. The nurses are extremely patient and accommodating and bring out the warm towels and squeeze toys. They’ll try anything to pump up the volume and believe me especially in winter, there have been some desperate times. My hands routinely turn deep purple and feel so incredibly cold, they’re like lethal weapons. Geoff and the kids flinch when I touch them. I have to warm my hands up first.

Yet, the nurses persevere. They take my hand and inspect the back of my palm surveying an arid, desert landscape. I hope and pray that they’ll get the cannula into my left arm so I can write and even though we both know it’s usually mission impossible, they’ll always have a go. They know how much it means to me and perhaps they’re also doing their bit to help a struggling writer.  They also tell me to drink loads and loads of water before each treatment and I certainly try to do my best but with a long car drive, I have to be careful. I can’t pull up every five minutes for a toilet stop. At the same time, I desperately want them to get that cannula in my left arm so I can write and that’s what it takes…a gallon or more of water. But I want to write. I need to write. For me, writing is breathing.

12A has become my home away from home… some kind of strange oasis, the calm at the eye of the storm. My transfusion takes about 3-4 hours and during this time, I write, read or chat with my “colleagues”. Before the kids started school, these treatment sessions provided me with much needed time out….a time of relaxation and repose. It was my “cave” and my retreat. Life was very hectic back then.

My trips to 12A are full of routine, ritual and rewards. That’s what gets me through.

The kids usually go to my parents’ place while I’m here and I set myself up with a cup of tea, a muesli biscuit and all my writing and reading material. I naturally always sit in one of the chairs facing the view and I very rarely miss out. The view is my salvation!

The Twins

When the cannula goes in, I usually focus on the two tiny little flags perched on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Apparently, fixating on a point is a relaxation technique but I’d been coming here for several years before I’d found out about that. The Bridge was just there like it’s always been with its broad arms proudly spanning the Harbour. She is still stunningly beautiful after all these years so strong, majestic and omnipresent.

Usually, my husband and I have afternoon tea at Kirribilli afterwards. Nestled under the Harbour Bridge, Kirribilli has a quaint almost village feel with rambling old terrace houses, narrow, winding streets and stunning harbour views. It even has a community garden. We used to hang out at the local bookshop with its community knitting projects and tea served in real cups and saucers. It was another home away from home…an oasis after a day at the hospital. Sadly, the bookshop closed a couple of years ago but we’re also known at the Freckle Face, which is just downstairs from my dentist. The Freckle Face sells tea towels saying something along the lines of a face without freckles is like a sky without stars. My daughter has had a smattering of freckles over her nose ever since she was 3 despite smothering her face in sunscreen and staying out of the sun. Freckles are our friends. They have to be. They’re not going anywhere.

I have met an amazing cast of characters in here and it’s never been morbid or depressing. People are often amazingly upbeat, philosophical and they are going to beat whatever’s trying to beat them and they are very positive and determined. If anything, I’d say the people in here are turbo charged and very pro-active. I’ve come out of here with all sorts of good ideas and suggestions. I’ve even managed to meet a few writers. One put me onto a fabulous TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about the source of creativity.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA

But the seasons are changing.  This is my second last visit to 12A.

What the kids call “the brown hospital”, the ambos call “the chocolate block” and what was named the “Royal” North Shore Hospital when it really was the 8th wonder of the ancient world, is closing down and going to be demolished. Detonated. Kaboom! The much-anticipated new, almost space-aged hospital is almost ready for sickness.

It’s terminal….the Chocolate Block as viewed from neighbouring Gore Hill Cemetery.

Many would argue that the Chocolate Block is well and truly passed her use-by-date. An imposing brown-brick box stuck on top of Gore Hill, she’s not exactly beautiful. To be honest, she’s on the ugly side of “eyesore”. I’ve also heard on the hospital grapevine that she’s riddled with concrete cancer and might even fall down before D-day. I don’t know about that but the lifts certainly have “issues”. They take so long to turn up that I can’t help wondering whether they’re daydreaming, stuck between floors, or having some kind of midlife crisis.

Being stuck in hospital isn’t that much fun either and there have certainly been times as an “inmate”, where I could have blown the hospital up myself! I wouldn’t have needed dynamite either. I was pure explosive!

That was five long years ago now but I haven’t forgotten. I can still hear my then 3 ½ year old son stammering: “Mummy better? Mummy better?” He was all innocence. He didn’t know what he was asking.  I don’t even think I gave him an answer. We didn’t have a lot of answers back then. With his big, brown eyes and golden curls, he was way too young to deal with all of that but it’s not as though we had a choice. It was just the way it was but fortunately, we survived!

After going through all of that, it’s hard to understand how I’ve developed this strange sense of attachment now that the Chocolate Block is about to expire. I wouldn’t call it “love” but there’s a very definite fondness. Fate has seemingly forced us into something approximating friendship and I don’t really want to let it go. I want to hold on. There are so many, many memories and even though most of them are pretty bad, they are still part of our story… who we are and where we’ve been. That means something to me even though the place is slowly falling down, rumbling and decaying.

You see, a hospital isn’t just a place of disease and despair. It’s a place of healing…a place of hope where relative strangers reach out and care for your most personal, most desperate needs and love and care for you. They take you into their hands and sometimes into their hearts. After coming here for so long, I am no longer among strangers. This is my extended family… my friends. We care. We reach out of our little cubicles and touch one another. At least, we try!

I know it sounds strange “enjoying” having medical treatment… having a needle stuck in my arm for a couple of hours when I could be outside somewhere in the real world and doing real world things. I could be at the beach but I was there yesterday. I walked through the sand and felt the waves freeze my toes. The kids, who always seem to be so immune to the cold, were jumping over and under the waves and splashing each other with water and building canals through the sand. The sun was glorious just as spring sunshine always is after a cold winter. It’s a wake-up call. Time to shed your winter skin and squeeze and shove all your whale blubber into some sort of swimming attire and dive into the waves.

I could be at the beach but I’m here and I have no regrets or disappointment. We all need time to stop. Pause. Contemplate. You can’t just go, go, go, go, go. You need to be still for a bit just let all the busyness of life recede like a wave and just be. This is enforced stopping coming in here although I don’t really stop because I always write but this writing is usually more reflective. I often think about what’s transpired since my last visit. What’s coming up. I also have a few regulars I meet up with too. I’ve lost track of my favourite at the moment an older lady who would shoot me for calling her elderly because she is a young woman displaced in an older body. That’s all. Just like I still consider myself 25 despite appearances to the contrary.

The bloke across from me doesn’t quite see it like this right now. He tells me being sick is a full-time job. I know what he means.  I’m down here three days in a row this week myself but that is exceptional. I have appointments with the rheumatologist, my transfusion, breathing tests, the lung specialist and the gastro registrar. That’s three different specialties in three days. I can get rather miserable too but I have to guard myself from that. Protect myself from the undertow. Before you know it, it can snatch hold of you and drag you under and it’s very hard to find your way back up to the surface! You could very easily drown!

The Chocolate Block may not be a perfect world but it’s been there for me through thick and thin. I’ve had my team of doctors, nurses, chaplains, physios, OTs, social workers, food service, cleaners and the beautiful Pink Ladies and everyone behind the scenes who somehow manage to keep this hospital operational. Collectively, they’ve not only saved my life but have also given me quality of life. They have given my husband a wife, my kids their mum and my parents still have their daughter. That is priceless!

I know the new hospital is going to be brand new, bigger, better but I’m losing my room with a view and it feels like I’ll be having my treatments in some kind of cupboard. After four years of staring at those little Australian flags perched on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’ll be staring at a blank wall and it won’t be the same. It won’t be the same at all. The chemo patients and their nurses will all be moving to the Cancer Centre and I’m off somewhere else. I don’t even know where I’m going but I’m pretty sure that most of the nurses who have been treating me for the last four years, won’t be there. They’ll be gone. They know my veins like the backs of their own hands and as I said, they’ve always tried to get the cannula into my left arm so I can write. It is such a small detail in the overall scheme of things but it’s meant the world to me. The nurses have been my rock throughout this tremendous storm and I have been the limpet. I have clung to them as the waves and the wind smashed into me on every side.  But now the rock has gone and I’m slipping into free fall drifting, drifting. I have never seen a limpet drift. They’re clingy…always glued to the rock and nothing will pry them off. All I’ve ever found is the empty shell.

It’s not just the nurses I’ll miss. We are a community. We might be a motley crew battling a myriad of things like cancer, auto-immune disease, blood disorders but we’re a community. It’s a place where we all come to find healing, understanding and we’ve also found that great Australian tradition… mateship. A mate is someone we fight for. We don’t just throw them overboard. Not that I’ve been thrown overboard. I still have one more treatment to go and I can’t complain too much. After all, they have built me an entirely new hospital!

Some people are never satisfied!

I know I’m being a capital letter Drama Queen…the dying swan. But I don’t care. Right now, I don’t feel like moving forward.  I feel like going backwards, wrapping myself up in my dooner and sleeping through. It makes a fabulous cocoon.  I’m only human. I’ve had enough of stormy seas! I just want to sleep!

But…But…But…

The way forward or the way back? Scenes at the Chocolate Block.

Even this control freak of control freaks has to concede that things are moving on. There is nothing, nothing at all I can do to stop or change any of it. The hospital juggernaut is just too big and clinging to the past will only make me sick. It’s certainly not worth dying for! Given the volatile nature of this auto-immune disease, I really have to pick my battles very, very carefully!

Besides, is a hospital really something I want to cling onto? Wouldn’t this little limpet be so much better off perched on a rock somewhere down at Kirribilli instead? The hospital doesn’t have a monopoly on harbour views. The Sydney Harbour Bridge isn’t going anywhere. It will always be there smiling, strong and resilient… just like me. After all, I’m a survivor!

xx Rowena

PS:  It’s taken me almost a week to work on this post and I’ve been going through some difficult emotions. While being sick can feel like a full-time job and I’ve spent 3 days at the Chocolate Block this week, it’s not my world and it really is just a very small part of it. It’s just that sometimes hospital looms larger than it should both in positive and negative ways and perhaps it’s time to shrink it down a bit.

I’ve actually done quite a range of things this week. I stayed at a friend’s place in Sydney on Monday night. Tuesday, I met up with Mum and the kids after my appointments and we saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Marion Street Theatre. I also had my first violin rehearsal this week and met a whole new group of people. We made music together and laughed as we made mistakes and laughed as we improved. Today, I took my kids to see their dance teacher star in Peter and the Wolf and we arrived home to see the Sydney Swans, our Aussie Rules Football team, win the Grand Final by a nail biting 10 points. The game was so close I could barely stand to watch those last few minutes.

We live in such a diverse and eclectic world and somehow we need to cross the bridge and embrace change, instead of being afraid or turning back. I find that particularly difficult but as the inspirational Helen Keller once encouraged:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.

Another challenge awaits!

Walking to Luna Park…

I’d like to let you in on a little secret. I have found the perfect time out location… not for the kids but for you. Better still, it’s not going to cost you the earth. It’s absolutely free. Now, that’s one for the record books, isn’t it?

I wasn’t actually looking for time out on a conscious level when I found this spot. It’s school holidays. I had just been to the dentist and I was walking to Luna Park with Mum and the kids and  feeling rather exhausted.

Anyway, that was when I found this perfect little spot to relax. It isn’t the park under the Harbour Bridge but that’s a critical part of the plan.

You see, step one is to ever so kindly deposit the kids in the park with your partner (or some other obliging grown-up other than the local stranger danger). This isn’t as bad as it sounds. The park is fully fenced and is nestled right underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge with stunning views across the harbour to the Sydney Opera House. Being just an easy stroll down hill from Milson’s Point Station and on the way to Luna Park, this park is definitely has location. The kids can even go train spotting and listen to the trains rumble over the bridge. I assure you they will all have a ball and won’t even notice you’re gone.

Step two. Tell them you’re just ducking off to the loo.

Well done! At last, you’re a free agent.

So where are we going? Well, I wasn’t lying when I said you were off to the loo but this is no ordinary loo. This loo does everything except serve you a barista style cappuccino.

Nestled under the Harbour Bridge under the shade of what is either a huge weeping fig or a Magnolia Grand flora (my husband and I couldn’t decide), you will find the Fitzroy Street public toilets. These are almost as entertaining as visiting Luna Park itself and my kids just love them. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, they are over in the park with Grandma or they would be pressing all the buttons and I would be strung out instead of relaxed.

Image

Made of stainless steel, the Exyloo resembles some kind of alien spaceship which has just zoomed in from another planet. You press a button to get in and another button to close and lock the door. Then, speaking in a friendly but robotic tone of voice, the toilet kindly lets you know that “your maximum use time is ten minutes”. At that point, the door opens automatically and I guess you face the risk of being caught up in its self-cleaning cycle if you don’t get out quickly enough.

Anyway, I sit down on the toilet and start enjoying the music: What the world needs now is love sweet love… Yes, it’s definitely music of the elevator variety but I love it. I’ve never been to a toilet which not only talks but also plays music before. It’s so much fun!! I feel like a big kid. This toilet is so amazing that it even dispenses the toilet paper automatically at the touch of a button and flushes automatically when you wash your hands. You press the button to open the doors to leave and then best of all, the toilet even cleans itself.

A toilet that cleans itself… I’ve been hanging out something like that. If only I could find myself a good crowbar, I could possibly take the Exyloo home. Not that I’m about to become a toilet thief but it would accessorise perfectly with my stainless-steel cooking appliances if I’d ever got around to renovating my kitchen!

Anyway, there I was sitting on the throne feeling like the Queen of Milson’s Point when I remembered that I had a book in my bag. For some unexplained reason, I suddenly felt almost compelled to read my book in the toilet. Don’t ask me why. I never read in the toilet at home but perhaps that’s just my point. I can’t even sit on the toilet at home without being interrupted. It’s like there’s some alarm system which goes off as soon as I sit down. Suddenly the kids, who up until this point have been playing quietly, suddenly grab each other by the throat and in what’s yet another case of he said she said, I’m playing Justice of the Peace all from the sanctity of the toilet. Somehow, even the dog manages to open the bathroom door and let himself in. I mean this is the bathroom. It is, after all, meant to be private. Yes, I know there’s such a thing as a lock but we haven’t quite got around to installing one yet and to be honest, I’m so used to chaos in the bathroom that I’m usually oblivious to it.

So ironically, this public toilet was the most private toilet I’ve been to in ages!

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I really needed to recharge my worn out batteries. I was tired and exhausted and when I experienced more than a moment’s peace, I over-compensated. Being able to read in the toilet, was such pure, unadulterated indulgence. It was the sort of serious decadence that could only be compared to eating a hot chocolate with whipped cream, marshmallows and a chunk of Toblerone on top (I had one of those recently at mid-station Perisher and I can assure you it was the very epitome of decadence. It was divine!!)

Even though I wasn’t reading War and Peace, I did feel dreadfully guilty about reading my book in the toilet while Mum was minding the kids in the Antarctic winds outside. But I wasn’t in there long. I didn’t even use up all my ten minutes. I was literally out of there in a flash…just a slightly delayed flash that’s all. I was only reading a couple of motivational quotes and looking at the pictures but when those precious moments have been stolen, snatched away… they feel amazingly good but also amazingly bad. I must confess that even I went on just a little bit of a guilt trip and felt like I’d just been caught stealing the last cookie from the cookie jar. I was indeed a bad, bad girl!

However, I had just had the most hell-raising train trip with the kids and I really needed to detox for a few minutes. The train can be such an adult environment where the kids are out on display and have to use their very best behaviour. They’re expected to sit still. Not put their feet up on the seats. No fighting. No bouncing on the seats or turning around and staring at the person behind. No sticking sticky fingers all over the seats and no drawing on the seats either. They are expected to act and behave like mini adult statues. When the kids, heaven forbid, actually behave like kids, can’t you just feel the dagger stares piercing through your equilibrium? It’s not the kids that are being judged for their behaviour. It’s you. You are the bad mother who can not achieve the impossible. You can’t control your kids. I have to admit that I was a bit flummoxed too. I couldn’t understand why my kids just couldn’t look out the window and recite the names of the stations like other normal kids. Why did they have to rip each other apart…especially in public? The kids were so bad that the man sitting opposite us even moved to another part of the carriage.

Sometimes, I feel like handing the kids over to these well-intentioned strangers and letting them have a go. They always seem so convinced they could do a better job!

So you understand that after traveling all the way from Woy Woy to Milsons Point on this never-ending train trip why, even with my mother’s assistance, I was going totally crazy. Reading in the toilet was certainly a much better option than all the alternatives!

Our daughter on the carousel.

Our son on the Ferris wheel.

To finish the story off, we had a wonderful time at Luna Park. My six year old daughter somewhat conquered her fear of heights and went on the Ferris wheel with me. I managed to survive my fear of fear and went down the slide in Coney Island and we all spun out of control on the Spider. It was great fun and the kids almost went to sleep on the train home. That was worth a trip to Luna Park in itself.

Postscript:

Image

Photo: my husband at the park bench.

Yesterday, I went back to Kirribilli with my husband to photograph the amazing Exyloo for my blog. Much to my surprise, not everyone shares my fascination. It had just completed its self-clean cycle and a woman was complaining about the floor being wet. There was nowhere to hang her handbag. I was also chatting to a mother with young kids who I thought would love my story about reading in there. However, she just stared at me as though I had two heads and I was the biggest weirdo she’d ever seen. I guess people are a little bit circumspect about strangers photographing public toilets these days.

This made me reconsider my perfect location just a little. Without the stress of the kids, I noticed a park bench that was only metres away from the park. With all those perfect views, you don’t really want to lock yourself away in the loo. You want to make the most of it. So might I suggest instead taking turns watching the kids with one of you in the park and while the other one chills out on the bench. Who knows? You might even get through the Saturday paper.

All it takes is a little bit of smart planning.

xx  Rowena