Bev at the club

Bev pulled down hard on the steering wheel. Her tyres squealed as she drove into the carpark. It was a snap decision. What would it matter if she arrived home twenty minutes later? There was no-one to meet her anyway.

She locked the car and shuffled across the to the club’s entrance. Her legs had swelled in the heat and the humidity made her gasp for air. It was sure to be cool inside and a cold drink would be welcome.  As Bev neared the glass doors, they silently slid open releasing a rush of air towards her. She was feeling better already.

At the bar she ordered a midi of shandy. One drink and she would leave. That’s what she told herself.  Today was going to be different to every other time swung into the carpark at the last moment. Yet her heartrate was already up, and she felt the familiar agitation build. Bev was saw flickering lights from the room behind her reflected in the mirror behind the bar.  Then there were the enticing beeps, chimes, and whirs of those spinning wheels. Her fingers drummed the beat on the counter. She only had twenty dollars left until her pension arrived on Thursday. This time she’d resist.

Photos on my phone

Fifteen years ago, I had to remember to take a camera if I wanted to take a photo. I may have remembered to take it along to special occasions or when we went on holidays. I chose my subjects carefully and tried to take the perfect photo in one shot. Before digital cameras, the roll of Kodak film often sat in the fridge for a year or two before I remembered to have it developed. The result was either joy at remembering a forgotten moment or the disappointment of a badly executed composition. Usually, it was the latter.

Now that we all have a camera in our pockets, it is easier than ever to take bad photos. The only difference is that we don’t have to print them. We now store these along with the thousands of other photos on our phones, computers and of course the cloud. We keep it all because we can. We have photos of wi-fi passwords, breakfasts we have consumed months ago, screen shots of travel arrangements and of course thousands of photos of pets and the occasional human.

By the time we have several thousand photos, culling becomes a chore best avoided. There’s always something more important on the to do list.  Who wants to spend hours making one decision after another? Generally, this task is only attempted when we are running out of memory on our devices. Even then, people will go to great lengths to avoid pressing the delete button. The number of photos slowing down a device is often the excuse for buying a new phone or iPad with bigger memory and better camera to continue our bad habits.

I have recently updated my computer and decided it was a good time to do some digital culling. I deleted thousands of files and even made a start on the photos. My worst offenders were images of work-related PowerPoint presentations that reminded me of my good intentions to revisit them. Of course, I haven’t looked at them. Not once. This was followed by random photos of cute dogs, hundreds of photos of my daughter at graduation, catching each expression milliseconds apart. I do it because it is easy; just a slight push on the glass screen and I have a memory that is less likely to fail than the memory stored in my mind. At the same time, I realise it is another version of mindless consumerism. I can now outsource remembering to my phone.

My friend Lizzie once gave me some advice when I felt overwhelmed with my (lack of) filing. The piles of paper were screaming at me every time I entered the room. I felt shame and a good measure of embarrassment whenever I glanced across at the papers. She suggested spending no more than 15 minutes on the task each afternoon. It worked. Slowly the pile began to recede and as I acquired stamina, I could face twenty minutes or even half an hour to get it done. The problem I have always faced is all or nothing thinking. Either I sort through the lot, or it isn’t worth starting. Yet the reality is that deleting 5 photos is better than deleting none.

Currently, I still carry 5 838 photos and 132 videos in my pocket. What about you?

Country life

Seven years ago, I moved to a small country town in the Central West of NSW. Initially, I had preconceived ideas and prejudices which have mostly turned out to be, well, preconceived ideas and prejudices. I had no idea what it would be like. I freely acknowledge that each town is different and, honestly, some I really wouldn’t want to live in at all. However, if you choose the place carefully, it is a delight to live out west.

Millthorpe, where I chose to live, is a gem of a town. It is located between Orange and Bathurst which makes it a much sought-after address. It has quaint cottages which give it that old-world charm and the functioning railway station makes it one of the more accessible villages to reach. Our hatted restaurant, Tonic, attracts people as far away as Sydney and weekends can feel a tad busy down the main street. On weekdays, however, the place reverts to a sleepy little village where people walk dogs, chat to one another, and enjoy the slow pace. People look out for one another here and no one is considered an outsider. It is genuinely one of the most welcoming places I know.

While most shops and amenities are further away, it doesn’t take long to get to them. Traffic is mostly non-existent. I drive 20 minutes to get to work which for most people in the city is considered a short commute. My drive is scenic and I am blessed to be surrounded by nature. Whether it is cows on a hill, frost on the grass or swans in a dam, the bucolic charm never fades.

Another thing I appreciate is the quietude. I am one of those people who needs oceans of silence each day. I can listen to bird song, the rustling of leaves or the occasional bark but I don’t cope well with traffic noise or loud people. Here, my nights are dark, silent, and restful. Now and then, there is a storm with heavy thunder and lightning, but I find that a welcome release.

When there are no clouds in the sky, the stars are so much brighter than in the city. Even the moon seems bigger. It comes over the horizon as a large, illuminated ball breaking through the purple, orange and pink sky that heralds our sunsets. Dawn and dusk are magic in the Central West and makes even the most unsentimental among us gasp in awe.

While I know that I will probably not stay for ever, the Central West will always have a place in my heart. I love the quirky, earthy humour of the locals, the defined seasons, my gorgeous worker’s cottage. This is a place where I have felt more accepted than anywhere else I have lived and I have made life-long friends in a short time. It is the place where I have been given the freedom to write, where I have found love and where my soul has been given time to heal. Looking back, it is hard to understand why it took me so long to make the move.

Visiting Jean

Jean in 2015

Jean, my 94 year-old mother-in-law lives in a nursing home. She has been there since 2019. Like most elderly people, she didn’t want to go, nor does she want to stay. It was the lot of her own mother, and she prayed it would never be hers.

Jean was doing really well, living on her own and managing with her daily routines. Then came a fateful slip on the tiles which landed her in hospital with a broken hip. The pain was unbearable. She did not want to live, and we did not think she would make it. She survived the long operation but never regained the confidence to walk nor her will to keep living. Yet she is still with us, four years later.

As a young person, Jean went deaf before she reached twenty. Throughout her long life, she has learnt to cope with hearing aids, learning to lip read and pretending to understand when she was too embarrassed to seek clarification. This has led to many amusing and some quite unfortunate misunderstandings. One I remember well was when Jean came to visit us from Albury. We had made all the arrangements over the phone, but she never arrived in Sydney. We worried that she had made a mistake and alighted at the wrong station. Finally, we phoned her. She was at home drinking a cup of tea with a biscuit, completely unaware that we were expecting her on that day. As far as she was concerned, she was coming the following week and had not heard us confirm the date over the phone.

Her hearing impairment led to a secluded life lived in the bosom of her family. Jean did not have friends and found social gatherings difficult. As much as she loved going out to lunch, she enjoyed it most when she was on her own or with one other person. Since arriving in the nursing home, she has refused to leave her room to eat in the communal dining room. The social expectations are beyond her.

I used to call Jean weekly the way my husband did, but I stopped about three years ago when she could no longer hear me on the phone. I began writing letters instead, but they too have fallen by the wayside as I find it difficult to come up with new things to say. Most weeks are routine and don’t leave much to report. I now manage a letter every three to four weeks. I also try to visit three times a year – not much, I admit, but all I can manage as I live more than 400km away.

This time, I arrive mid-afternoon. I walk into her room and find her in bed. Frail and sunken, I am shocked at the sight. Her skin is translucent with purple bruised arms.

‘I’m not feeling too well,’ she tells me, ‘so I decided to stay in bed.’ Fair enough, I think. She only has two choices – stay in bed or sit in the armchair. Life has been reduced to this.

Jean perks up with my visit. She tells me news about her granddaughters, the new house her daughter Diane is building and the sale of the house that used to be her home.

‘I was upset at first, she says, ‘but I don’t care anymore.’ With the next breath she asks, ‘But where will I go, when I leave here?’ I cannot answer, so I say nothing.

As dinner time approaches, she begins to speculate what will be on the menu.

‘I hope it is crêpes,’ she says. ‘I had them once and they were lovely.’

When a nurse comes to check on her, she repeats her wish for crêpes, hoping that this will get back to the cook.

‘It doesn’t take long to cook a crêpe,’ she says, as if the cook could easily accommodate her wishes.

When dinner arrives, she is disappointed. It is meatballs with mashed potatoes. ‘I don’t want that,’ she says and asks for the soup on the tray. I watch her spoon her soup with gusto, making loud noises as she eats. I don’t remember her ever making this sound before.

‘Let me look at those meatballs,’ she says, and I bring them to her. ‘I’ll only eat the sauce,’ she says but then tries to cut into the meat. I offer to help, and she accepts. There is no way that she would have managed the cutting process on her own. Then, while telling me that she really doesn’t want to eat, she polishes off the meatball and seems to enjoy it.

‘What’s for dessert?’ she asks.

After dinner, I look for a nurse to help her move up in the bed. She has slipped down, and her toes are hitting the footboard. She has to be lifted out of bed for it to be remade. The process takes all the energy she has.

Once back in bed she points to a single red chrysanthemum in a small vase on her dresser. ‘Dianne brought it from her garden a week ago,’ she tells me. ‘It was twice as big and such a vivid red. Now it is wilting.’

The sentence hangs between us as we share the same thoughts. She looks at me, shrugs and smiles. Neither of us needs to say another word.

%d bloggers like this: