Thursday, September 19, 2019

Put it down to Jet Lag.

3.27 am. ‘Comfort Single Room,’ somewhere in Paris.
Jet lag meine Freute. That’s a lame parody of the title of a Bach chorale - Jesu meine Freute - Jesus my Joy. You get it. I know this couple who gave jet lag the finger in Rome by visiting all the tourist sites in the small hours. The photos were magical, as were their smiles. But given I’m alone here, I’m not quite brave enough to go wandering, even in this quiet arrondissement - district - of Paris. I’m defeating JL in my own practical way. Great time to alphabetise my travel wardrobe. No. Cheap unfunny line. But I did roll and categorise. Not me on the floor, my clothes into packing cells.

I’m trying to ditch some weight. Again, not from me, from my rucksack on wheels. I’m fine. Will be even finer after lugging that capacious behemoth up and down too many steps between Charles de Gaulle airport and my hotel in the thirteenth.

My room is actually a perfectly comfortable single. Which sleeps three. Albeit compactly. Great shower. Good locale with lots of choice for eating and shopping. What am I? Trip Advisor?

No bouloir  - kettle  - in the room but there’s hot and cold in Reception. Water, not service. Farque. JL. Loving the licence it affords one! It’s like being drunk. Perhaps I’ll regret this blog post later.  Unfortunately, the hot water dispenser wasn’t working. Meant the night concierge had to get up off his improvised bed to boil a regular kettle. Nice of him. I even got to practise a little French. ‘Vous êtes un ange,’ - you’re an angel - I said, bowing at him, my hands folded in prayer. Wonder what he thought of my bra-less nightie-leggings ensemble. With all due respect to myself, I didn’t think there’d be anyone at the water dispenser at 2.30 am in a petit hotel in a quiet Paris district.

Now. About my missing wallet, euros - not all of them - and that little divet that you use to remove a SIM. Total mystery. Was I robbed? If so, with skills like that the thief is an artist who deserves their own reality TV show. Such sleight of hand. Magic. Or did I inadvertently leave the wallet somewhere  while I was doing something? (Set that precedent in Munich in 1980. Still got the mauve beret but never saw the travellers cheques again.)

I’ll know in 24 hours whether I’ve developed a cold. A little jetset princess did more than a few point blank coughs into my face as she slept, kicked and snotted her little way from Melbourne to Doha.  Possibly why her mum and dad had her relocated to the spare seat next to me. (Another bloke and I thought we’d lucked out with the space between us until 90 minutes into the flight.) The parents had to consider what was best for them and their other child. I jest. No idea why that poor kid got stuck between two strangers. C’est la vie.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Won't be lonely on my travels: meet Diabetica


I was a fearless 23 year old when I packed, then re-packed too many times, my enormous rucksack preparing for my first overseas trip, well, not counting emigrating to Australia 15 years prior. My girlfriend and I practised hoisting these monsters onto our slight respective shoulders. Seemed easy enough in her front lounge-room. Palled quite quickly getting on and off trains and finding accommodation in England and Europe. On a four week trip around France, Germany and Italy, even the pages of a bulky Europe on $15 a day guidebook were unnecessary weight. Disposed of them as we went. Paris, rip. Nice, rip. Florence, rip. And so on. All the way back to England for our flights home - by which stage my travel companion and I were no longer on speaking terms.

Wasn't much fun, that trip. My chain-smoking friend and I tired of each other's company after a couple of weeks but we still had to do another four, often sharing a bed. We froze, given we were Australian  teachers taking advantage of our long summer holidays which of course coincided with the bleakest winter weather on the other side of the planet. I picked up a rotten virus sleeping ten to a room in a pension in Florence. But mostly I was desperate for big Al, whom I hadn't planned on when I'd planned that trip. Decided that in the future I wouldn't travel anywhere without him.

There were actually three of us on my next trip to Europe: Al, me and another demanding passenger who needed constant attention. Why not personify Type 1 diabetes? I'll call her Diabetica. She and I had started our life-long journey together three years earlier. She still likes to dominate and if she doesn't get her way she makes me pay. Had to learn to do it her way, as I discovered when I regained consciousness in the back of an ambulance on our first night in London. Diabetica and I had become accustomed to how she'd behave during my workaday Australian routine. Didn't know that she'd go berserk trying to fathom the effects of too much exercise and an eight hour time difference. You learn these things as you go.

I started writing a journal on 1st April, 1985. I'm glancing at it now. Everything was blissful and beautifully handwritten for the first page and a third. My aunt and uncle had met us at Heathrow and later dropped us at our hotel - where our booking had gone missing but we were accommodated anyway. We wandered around London, bought a leather jacket for Al (subsequently stolen in the south of France but that's another story.) We ate, we drank. I wrote that 'my dogs were killing me'. Must have walked miles. Later the same day we met some Australian friends for dinner then back to our hotel. 'Fell into bed at approx. 9.30 absolutely jiggered,' I wrote. 'Slept very deeply until I woke up at the desperately hypoglycemic stage...I grabbed one of the sweets at the side of the bed and woke Allan.' Won't detail the feeling of losing consciousness and having a seizure, but even without rereading what I'd written back then I can still remember the terror of fading out and not being able to stop it. (Later it led to nearly 7 years of panic disorder, but again, that's another story.) I've glued the admissions card from University College Hospital, London onto page 3 of that first journal. In my attempt to analyse what led to that hypoglycemic episode, the only one requiring medical intervention in my 38 years of living with my Type 1 twin, I've recorded the number of 'portions' I ate at dinner -  that's how we did it back then; 1 portion = 10 grams of carbohydrate. I'd injected an evening mix of 16 units of Actrapid insulin and 14 units of Protaphane insulin. I finger-prick-tested my blood glucose using a bulky Glucometer and had three injections - using plastic syringes - a day. It's still complex managing my condition, my constant passenger, my occasional succubus, but living with diabetes today is a free-wheeling cycle down a gentle slope compared to life back then. Still, our six month trip around Europe in an orange VW combi-van remains one of the most delicious experiences of my life.

Said I wouldn't travel without Al again, but Diabetica and I, are travelling alone together to France next week. Al gets a break, but of course I'm stuck with her. Nowadays, with the help of an intuitive insulin pump that delivers insulin according to the data from a subcutaneous Continuous Glucose Monitor, I can mostly work out what Diabetica is doing . But mindful of what she might do out of her comfort zone, much of my carry on luggage will comprise of countable carbohydrate snacks to keep her tempests at bay. I've even bought a silicone band for my wrist pronouncing that the wearer is 'Diabetique' - sounds almost romantic - should capricious Diabetica decide to attention-seek in the streets or subways of Paris.

Actually, if I drop my tedious metaphor the fact is that I'm travelling solo. I haven't been this excited since I had my second baby, 31 years ago. I'm going to Aix-en-Provence to do a two week intensive language immersion home-stay with a French teacher.

Should be interesting.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Did you just say erection?


He was in the supermarket deliberating by the bread. ‘Excuse me, love,’ he said noticing me. Must have thought I looked friendly enough. 'Can you help me? How good are your eyes?’ Maybe he considered my conspicuous specs give me supersight, rather than indicating the reverse. He passed a printed list and I removed my glasses to apply my 20/20 close range vision to the small print - I do actually have perfect visual acuity if the target is within about 10 centimetres.

'The doctor told me I’ve gotta lose a bit of weight,' he confided ruefully, 'and it’s killing me.'

He looked okay to me. Tall, comfortable, easy on the eye, bit of a rocker style about him, full head of salt and pepper hair combed back, gold hoop earring in each ear; cool bomber jacket; blue jeans. Maybe carrying a bit too much weight around his middle.

'Yeah? Maybe I can help,' I said. 'I’m a bit of a diet expert. I've had diabetes for nearly 40 years.' Not normally something I'd share with random shoppers in supermarkets but the occasion seemed apt. And yes, I know that doesn't make me an expert but I've got a bit of insider insight into the effects of carbs on the system.

I read the printed list he gave me, scanned the shelves and suggested that the Helga’s whole meal grain bread might suit his dietary requirements. (Not affiliated with the Helga's company in any way, in case you're interested. I'm more your home brand.)

'The doc, she says I’ve gotta have porridge instead of my usual five Weet-Bix,' he told me. 'Reckons  I’m eating too much carb.'

I did a quick mental calculation. Five Weet-Bix. That’ s easily 50 grams of carb before you add the milk and sugar.

'Yeah, that’s lots of carb. She's right. Try porridge with a few sultanas,' I suggest. 'Forget the honey, you’ll get used to the taste of porridge and gradually find it's good on its own.' He looked a bit sceptical and picked up the bread. 

'Had a bit of a scare recently,' he continued. 'Thought I'd had a heart attack. Turned out I'd pulled a muscle at training.' I study him a bit more closely. Football? Probably.

He seemed to want to talk and I was okay with that. He told me the heart scare led to further tests. Despite his blood work being normal, a calcium test had revealed he was at greater than average risk of heart disease. He didn't want to take statins to reduce his cholesterol, hence the diet.

Gary  - I asked his name - said he'd had another health scare. He'd had his prostate removed two years earlier when he was 50. Seemed appropriate to tell him husband Al had also had a radical prostatectomy two years ago. Perhaps that opened the flood gates. After I'd agreed that you've got to continue the pelvic floor exercises to keep incontinence at bay, Gary got on to Viagra. By this stage, I was poker-face riveted.

Gary wasn't a fan of Viagra; joked about how he didn't appreciate checking his watch at dinner and asking his wife of 25 years if she'd be up for it in an hour. Said it was a bit of a downer, if I knew what he meant.  'If we can't just share a look and go, how about it, what's the point?' he asked. Luckily, he and his lovely wife had been able to re-establish normal relations. As some kind of proof, maybe, he got his wallet out and showed me a picture of her with their son at his son's graduation.

What really got to Gary was the fact that some men are so fixated on their virility, their perceived masculinity, that they'll avoid having surgery at all costs, even if it means death. 'I mean, what's the point of an erection in a coffin?' he asked. Beats me.

Therapists have all sorts of theories about oversharing. Perhaps I should have shut Gary down at whole grains and walked away. Perhaps his revelations were inappropriate. Perhaps I was interested and it was freezing outside and I didn't mind dallying. Or perhaps my new rocker friend had met a soul-mate in aisle 7.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Losing my shit.


So I've had this cheap plastic water bottle for years. It lives on my bike in a neoprene, faded pink and blue spotted holder. Recently it brought me close to tears. Twice. To anyone else it's about as precious as an old newspaper blowing along a gutter. Unless you were into collecting rubbish, I doubt you'd pick it up.

The guy working at the cinema snack bar must’ve thought me deranged as he retrieved this wrecked vessel from his special lost property cupboard under the counter - and he didn't know I'd just cycled seven k to pick it up.

"Come to mama," I thought, eyes pricking with tears. I only talk to myself when no one can hear. "You’re home now," I smiled. Was only mildly self-mocking as a bit later I fitted it into the bottle carrier on my bike.

I hate losing things and it doesn't often happen. I have a mental map of where everything is and can generally find anything, with little mental backtracking, amongst apparent chaos.

Beats me how I recently lost two items. Had to let the first item go. A neoprene - that word again - wrist support, in case you're wondering. I knew I’d left it behind in the Ladies, just as I settled in for my second viewing of the three hour film Never Look Away. (I'd make some comment about the ironic title, given my loss, but if you've seen the film you know I wouldn't dare suggest such a trite analogy.) I was hardly going to leave my seat, stumble out of the dark cinema and run downstairs to the public lavatory to see if that’s where I'd looked away and abandoned my armband. 

The movie over, I dashed to the loos. Well, it is a long film. Unfortunately, in my haste I looked away from pink spotty bottle, which I left behind in the cinema foyer. Didn't know that at the time.

Felt a bit ridiculous leaving my name and contact details for the cleaner, in case she'd found my manky wrist band and rather than dropping the smelly thing in the bin had put it carefully in lost property. No luck there.

Cycled home a little forlorn, despite my second viewing of one of the best films I’ve ever seen. A couple of hours later, back home, pink spotty bottle was still addling my thoughts. To assuage my misery, I called the cinema. I teared up when a kind person told me she'd found my precious and I could collect it from the snack bar.

About 20 years ago, I watched a teacher spend her recess accosting a room full of busy teachers on their break. She was sure one of us had stolen her coffee cup. I totally understand. There are so many things over which one has no control that some of us become a bit manic about guarding our stuff. Think it's time for me to give a few things away.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Winter morning confab

Four rugged-up people sit in a cobbled cafe courtyard in the inner Melbourne burbs. An outdoor gas heater struggles to have any impact. It’s possibly turned off. This area is normally bustling but today we’re the only takers. Tom has his hoodie pulled over his head - where else? Like the rest of us he’s wearing a down-puffer jacket. I’m wearing four layers plus hat and scarf. My hands are drawn up into my sleeves and I’ve zipped myself into my outer layer, determined to retain some of the warmth I’ve generated on my bleak ride to get to this chilly morning space. Our breath steams as we catch up with one another. In French. 

Who’s done what during the past week? Tom had watched Chernobyl which led onto discussion of other series. What were his thoughts on the final ep of Game Of Thrones? No spoilers, given two of us hadn’t seen it. But then again we - two women of a certain age - had both abandoned it seasons back due to its gratuitous sex.  Is there too much porn in Game Of Thrones? Je pense que oui - IMO yes. Who’s the better chanteuse? Céline Dion or Lara Fabian? General consensus that CD is cheesy; LF wins but had to confess I could only manage listening to part of one of her songs. À chacun son gout - everyone has their taste.

Amidst that and more, I pick up some idiomatic French and new vocab. C'est nul - it sucks, Le nain - the dwarf. Guess what that was in reference to. (GoT for those who've neither read nor seen that epic.)  Interesting conversation ensues re the political correctness of using that word, apart from in reference to the fairy tale, Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains - Snow White...

The foggy firmament refuses to disperse as the cold works its icy fingers through my clothes. Our 75 minute session flies to its conclusion in a tumble of rapid French talk.

I don’t rush much these days, but my weekly French conversation class is absolutely worth the wintry effortful 10.30 start. I cycle chez moi - home - up the Capital City Trail, my heart beginning to heal - another story - with a little joie de vivre.

Lovely French conversation class thanks to VoulezVouloz.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Quitting a shameful habit.


I used to smoke. I was addicted. Sometimes I binge-smoked. Suppose you'd call it chain smoking. When I was 14, during a weekend hanging out with a girlfriend with more permissive parents than my own - who both smoked, BTW - I could easily puff my way through a packet of 20 Alpine. Loved smoking in those days, before we knew the health risks, before I'd developed my own smoker's cough. Years later, driving home from a day's teaching, or when I got home, I'd light up; have a few each night. Aged 23,  over several months I screwed up and turfed many half-full packets of cigarettes; threw them away in self-disgust. I went cold turkey and quit. No nicotine patches or telephone counselling back then. Had to rely on one's mettle. Helped a bit that I'd fallen in love with a non-smoker. I considered smoking disgusting. Unhealthy. Made me cough. Exacerbated my sinusitis. Stank.  I've never smoked since. Never looked back - except that  I do all the time, for example, writing this.

Well, I've just quit another dirty addiction. It's been difficult, lasting as it has for many years in various forms. Now it's over. Finally. Think I can safely say that I will never indulge again.

Have you read or seen The Hunger Games? To control the population in this SF series, the Capitol, the ruling zone, selects 'tributes' - young people - from amongst other defeated working classes, to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. In the novels, the games are sensational, barbaric, cynical and for the Capitol, hugely watchable.

My addiction reminds me of The Hunger Games. Okay, nobody dies, but I've decided it's equally cynical. And I've been buying into this garbage for years. What passes for entertainment simply feeds the insatiable appetites of idiots like me who can't get enough. Of course I'm talking about reality television. This year's contenders, MKR and MAFS .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_at_First_Sight_(Australian_TV_series)- My Kitchen Rules and Married at First Sight.  I'm so familiar with them that I refer to them by their social media tags. I've even followed along on Twitter to see who's writing what about whom. Sad. Sad. When I was teaching, I could justify this guilty pleasure by saying it helped me connect with my students. No excuses now.

Didn't mind the cooking aspect of MKR but this is secondary by far to the people-watching. The contestants are filmed slow-motion walking into each 'instant restaurant', eager to sample and critique each other's food. Inside around the table, breasts, often augmented, are almost served on plates. The costumes, sorry clothes, are often reminiscent of the outfits of citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games. Over-the-top hair, threatened into position, theatrical makeup, waxed brows and lots of filled, pouting deformed lips. (What do these people see when they look in the mirror?) Contestants are selected, presumably, for their enthusiasm and varying cooking abilities. But their backstory, and their potential to mouth off or stuff up and battle with their partners or other contestants is apparently vastly more important.

This year features a duo of self-proclaimed 'Christian brothers': home-schooled by Christian missionary parents. Christian? These brothers are like a couple of demons! I know it's death by editing, but sheesh. Cooking aside, these two delight in shit-stirring - is that cooking? - their sole aim, evidently, to relentlessly, shamelessly provoke other diners. The nastiness, the savage criticism, the arrogant mimicry of other contestants. And me glued to it in fascinated horror.

I tried to justify my addiction to watching MAFS by suggesting it was some sort of interesting study of human behaviour. Nah. Nuh-uh. Unless we're studying the network marketers' seducing the viewing public by giving it what it wants. The more extreme the better: people who'd sacrifice everything to get their plumped face on national television and thousands of 'Insta' followers.

This year, on MAFS, a few of the 'newly-weds' finished me off. Just the impetus I needed to kick the habit for good. This was the worst, and again I acknowledge the manipulative editing. A '29 year old virgin' - so what? - was served up for our viewing entertainment. His demeanour and excessive blinking suggested a timid, clean-cut naive man with a bit of an anxiety disorder. The alleged psychologists selected as his match a 28 year old woman, who'd 'need to take the lead'. After a honeymoon romantic bathtub scenario where our virgin got up terrifyingly close and personal with his bride's painted toe-nailed feet, so overwhelmed by panic was he that he had to be taken to hospital, still virgo intacta. Happily, the drama 'brought them closer' and whatever his name was was duly deflowered, announcing it proudly on national television. And then, and then...a couple of episodes later, the blushing bride reveals that she 'used to be a lesbian' - huh? - wanted 'more' and was into swinging and threesomes. Had this propensity been revealed in her bio? Seemed it was all a cynical set-up and this young fellow is potentially ruined for life, as if things hadn't been hard enough already. And how do either of them return to their normal lives?

I watched my final recordings of MAFS and MKR quickly, fast-forwarding through commercials, repetitious reminders of what had happened before the commercial break, narcissistic posturing and bitching. There was very little left worth watching. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Lorikeet love, or get your organic apple cores here!

So this lorikeet, its back to me, was hunkered low on one of the branches on our apple tree. Inside the net. You see, we've provided the net so these nimble creatures can effortlessly trapeze down inside it to better access the fruit. Not really. I crept closer. This particular lorikeet's green back plumage was sodden and awry. Its breathing seemed to be laboured, as much as the layperson can tell by looking at a wild bird perched in a tree. It didn't fly off. Didn't react to my presence. Should I get under the net and pick it up? I whimpered a little. 

I shouldn't fight with the birds. They're exotic; glorious to look at. Some say it'd be worth having an apple tree just so they could see these rainbow green flocks rising from its branches. Fools. It's my tree and I want my apples. Well, some of them. I'd be happy to share but the lorikeets aren't fair about it. 

Before the lorikeets come marauding, this tree is a delight, with spring blossom, worthy of a wedding. It produces three types of the best fruit you've ever tasted: Jonathon's, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith's. Ask my neighbours. They seem to enjoy a bit of washed, juicy organic fruit on their way to work or school. Round about March, I leave baskets-full at our front gate. Was expecting a bumper crop this year from my carefully pruned and nurtured tree. Except for those thieving lorikeets, one of whom was currently pegging out in it.

And it was all my fault. Looked like I'd maimed a lorikeet which was only following its instincts. See, I'd jet sprayed up into the branches. I'd left the trigger hose handy, tap on, for just this purpose. The rest of the flock,  clocking me and knowing my useless drill, had scarpered to the jacaranda over the back fence where they waited, sniggering, for me to go inside so they could resume their vandalistic feast. Except for this one, now apparently breathing its last. Instead of flying off, it had gripped its branch, lowered its head and leaned into the torrent, copping, albeit briefly, a full body blow. And I'd done it. Bit like in that Seinfeld episode where George runs over some pigeons because they didn't keep their side of the deal. 

What to do? I went inside and paced around a bit; considered calling a wildlife rescue service. Thought better of it and returned to the tree to attempt to rescue the bird; put it in a shoe box; take it to a vet. I knew my duty. But it was gone. I scanned the ground for a little body. All clear. I was off the hook.

Having learned my lesson, I resolved to let the birds eat the fruit. I'd settle for some waxy lesser fruit from the green grocer and live in harmony with nature.

Well, the tree's now a desecration of rotting cores. The only consolation is that the rotting apples attract loads of bees. The birds have worked their way down to the fruit almost hanging on the ground. They don't even fly off when they see me now. They know they've won.

In fact, yesterday this shaggy looking specimen was swinging upside down on an apple. Seeing me, it clambered up the net and flew straight at me, deftly depositing a shitload at my feet as it passed by my shoulder.

I swear it winked.