Here I am on Dex’s porch and it’s late in the afternoon. The fluorescent clad post officer has just stopped in front of the building to fill the mailboxes of the 6 flats, one of which is Dex’s. My friend Dex is having a nap and I came out here to catch some sunshine that has been so rare since I got here. Immediately I sat down the sun went behind a cloud and now I want to go inside but I’ll finish this porch blog first since I need to write things when they come to me, as I won’t remember later.
This is the third visit I have made to Western Australia to visit beautiful Dex. every visit longer than the last one. This year I’m staying 3 months. Hopefully in that time Dex and I will finish a project we’ve been working on since last year. We work on the porch.
The project is a life size man wearing a suit of armor for which we have used unique materials. Dex hand weaved a wire figure using his own body to make it the right proportions. It is lightweight and it is free standing. We leave it at the sink as if it’s doing dishes when we have to stop working and take it inside
Dex and I are both interested in making a statement about chronic pain and how people with chronic pain are prescribed medication from doctors but still feel pain and literally ache for relief. The medication is either ineffective or it’s so meager that for the last week before the doctor refills his sc
Dex’s pain is in his back and arms and is totally debilitating. He injured himself while clowning with a boy in the classroom where he was employed as a teacher’s assistant for children who have special needs. My late husband Leo suffered pain from the nerve damage in his body aging with diabetes. Both Dex and Leo get or got complete relief of pain only from intravenous narcotics.
Dex is comfortable right now. His personality is bubbly and aware when he feels well and he is naturally supportive person. I often wonder how he can be such a positive force when he is experiencing pain. He mostly smiles through any tears. Sitting here on his porch I feel grateful for his friendship.
The sculpture is going to be named “Suit of Pharma” and we are using the boxes and the empty bubble packs, which held the thousands of pills Dex has ingested over time. This medi-evil knight, who I call Sir Dexcelot, represents the warrior in both Leo and Dex and many others who fight every day to function while experiencing great pain.
Back to the porch. I’ll be going inside now. Dex and I will be here again another day. All of us only have partial control of our own bodies. I am reminded of this as I go inside to warm up and take my pills for PD.
For the third time in three years clarkee is visiting me, and I delight in her quiet, gentle presence on my front porch, just as the pre-dawn birds begin their chorusing. An unusually wet spring and a further injury to my back have combined to leave us largely housebound for this past week, but the clouds seem thinner this morning, the wind that has blustered and gusted for days has calmed completely, and I have painkillers enough -both licit and illicit- to get me through, so we are hopeful of being able to get some things done today.
A tiny bird with a loud voice pipes up from its roost in the red-flowering gum that shades my porch at midday, its wake-up call so close and sudden that clarkee and I are startled in our chairs.
"What bird was that, Dex?"
"A Singing Honeyeater, Love."
"Singing Honeyeater," clarkee repeats, as though double-checking the cataloguing in her memory. She is characteristically wide-eyed in her willingness to learn, open to the teachings of experience, as though she wishes to absorb the world around her into her inner depths. I so love it that she is here...
We share a coffee and some chocolate croissants that clarkee purchased from the all-night service station down on Main Street, and we watch and listen to the suburb as it wakes up and stretches, rubs its eyes and gets ready for its day. Lights come on in neighbouring houses, some behind roller-shutters that slide upwards like eyelids in slow-motion, bl
We hear the clanking of cooking pots as my upstairs neighbours begin to prepare their breakfast, and my stomach growls as my mind fills with images of bowls of steaming porridge, or syrup-dripping pancakes, liberally infused with melted butter.
By the time we have finished breakfast, the sky is well-lit, with a lumpy quilting of low cloud, but with breaks between the clumps through which shine the last of the dawn-paled stars. A squadron of New Holland Honeyeaters -"with that distinctive yellow patch on the wing-covers," I point out to clarkee- flits in close formation through the outer twigs of the gum-tree, en route from the macadamia tree by the driveway to the box gum in the middle of the lawn. They endlessly defend their feeding territories, often chasing away much larger birds in the process, and this chasing of each other at high speed through obstacles is less a game for the honeyeaters, and more a military exercise; air combat training.
A solitary crow makes an ungainly landing in the red-flowering gum, and mutters a single low "woe...", as though in self-appraisal. clarkee giggles in her gorgeous girly way and vows to make an audio recording of the Australian Raven's full catalogue of mournful songs while she is here. I understand her desire to record a lot of this visit, in sounds, still pictures and in videos, given that it will likely be her last chance -at least, clarkee's last chance to visit me.
clarkee and I talk about our collaboration on a sculpture we began last year, during her previous visit. It is a full-sized medieval knight in armour, constructed with a free-standing woven wire fr
Last year we managed to complete the free-standing knight, and to cover some parts of him with the blister-packs. This year -we have a little over ten weeks until the end of clarkee's visit- we hope to make all of the armour pieces: a total of 47 ! -and to have Sir Dexcelot in good enough condition to ship back to Canada, where we can give him the necessary final touches during my six-week return visit to clarkee's home.
The creative process has been collaborative and productive of some great ideas, and it has been beneficial for both of us as artists to have a like-minded creative partner to build our concepts with. clarkee and I have a deep mutual respect -as artists and as people- and this is essential in the way we can exchange ideas and suggestions -our artistic visions- and to reach creative decisions by consensus, without any sense of hierarchy. And it helps, no doubt at all, that we also love each other.
We make a list of the required armour pieces, including the visored helmet and the sword made from plastic valium bottles, and I draw a few ideas for how the armour will hinge and bend where required.
By this time, James is out of the shower and is standing in the kitchen in his school uniform and with his bag slung across his shoulder, eating some cereal.
"I'm off, I guess," he says, on his way to the door. clarkee and I wish him well with his media and maths exams, and he slides his headphones over his ears, gives us a final thumbs up, and ventures into his busy day. I watch him walking up the hill until he disappears behind the neighbours' wall, then turn to come inside.
"Don't cry..." says clarkee, alluding to a story I told her about seeing James off to school then closing my front door and confronting an empty house, day after day.
I smile at her, sitting on my couch.
"No way," I reassure her. "No need for tears while You're here, Honey!"
The full Moon is about to set, bronze-tinged by the sun that is broaching the opposite horizon, and by the remnant smog-haze above the freeway in the valley. In the north north-east, Antares bl
A young man with a bleached fringe to his jet-black, shaggy hair, rolls downhill on his mountain bike, past my porch, his pit-bull / ridgeback mongrel trotting beside him with a frayed-ended rope around its neck.
I have seen the young man and his dog a dozen times in this past week, almost always at the nearby park, where they slept each night beside the cricket club’s equipment shed. It has wide verandas on three sides, affording them protection from all but the worst of north-west winds, and has a handy fresh water tap at one corner. He is well-equipped to weather the winter, with an expensive-looking ‘swag’ in which he sleeps: a kind of canvas-covered sleeping bag, very thick, and waterproof, and with a head-protecting hood. And his dog beds down on a heavy hessian sack beside him, Sphinx-like in the way it lies, front paws extended, head held high, alert. They seem to keep each other company comfortably enough.
Last night, as I walked home from the liquor store, I passed the park just as two torch-beams flashed towards the cricket shed and in the moonrise I saw twin uniformed silhouettes pass through the gate and plod in that direction. I saw the young man sitting on the grass beside his camp, appearing to be reading by the dim yellow light of a kerosene lamp, his dog close by, no doubt with hackles raised, as the police approached, their torch-beams weaving. I paused by the gate when I heard a low bark and saw the backs of the dog’s eyes fluoresce for an instant in reflection of a directly-focussed torch-beam. For a long moment, I considered walking into the park myself, to bear witness to the cops’ inevitable harassment of the homeless pair.
In my mind, I rehearsed some phrases I might use in the young man’s defence, like:
“What harm is he doing anyone?” and
“Why can’t you leave the poor bloke alone?”
“Why are you wasting time harassing him?” and
“Why don’t you two heroes go and catch a rapist?”
-valid questions, all. And then I thought: No, Dex. James is waiting for you at home, waiting for his dinner. And you have a bottle of wine in your hand. And you don’t want to give those cops the slightest excuse to hold you up, or to take the bottle off you.
I sighed through my nose at my own weakness, dropped my chin to my chest and walked on, street-side of the park fence, fear-of-consequence trumping anger-at-circumstance, feeling ashamed at my temerity. One last glance towards the evolving situation showed the young man still sat, spot-lit by both cops’ torches, his palms wide and arms stretched out to his sides, Christ-like, in his capitulation.
And then I saw the cop car, parked close behind the nearby-resident’s flatbed truck that is always there... and my sense of shame was dimmed a little by the prospect of some civilly-disobedient mischief. Here was an empty police car –a high-speed pursuit vehicle, judging by the helicopter-visible ID number on its roof- and here was my chance to vindicate myself ...or, at least, to mitigate my sense of having abandoned a long-held principle of questioning authority when I suspect abuse. I glanced towards the cricket shed and in the backwash of their torch-beams I saw both cops standing legs wide above their suspect, with their backs to me. So I pulled the sleeve of my wind-cheater down over my good hand to avoid leaving fingerprints and, reaching across the windscreen, grabbed the driver’s side wiper, and pulled it back as hard as I could, bending it until I heard and felt the hinge snap. Then I folded it back down in its place, so the cops would not notice the damage until well after I was safely home.
And now I sit wondering, Did I do right? I no doubt cost the Western Australian taxpayer money, with my wanton vandalism. And there would be nothing to connect the act to the young man’s eviction from the park –for evicted he has been- no reason for the police to know that someone broke their windscreen wiper in reaction to their harassment of a homeless person. But I felt better for having done it anyway, fuck ‘em!
The crescent moon shines down at me through the foliage of the red-flowering gum, like a lop-sided smile in a pre-dawn sky pocked with puffs of tufted-cotton clouds. Only the earliest of birds are calling from their treetop roosts; and only the earliest of morning walkers strut the sidewalk across the close-cropped lawn from my chilly porch.
Whisps of steam waft from the top of my coffee cup, and the smoke from my breakfast cigarette is the sole pollutant of the crisply-cool atmosphere. I feel a sense of mental satisfaction at having solved, in record time, my local newspaper’s ‘Jumble Word’ puzzle, whose nine-letter solution is “extirpate”, and from which I have found 40 words, each containing the letter ‘p’, when the quota for a rating of “genius” is a paltry 31. I wish my ageing, aching body was functioning half as well as my brain.
I have slept fitfully for only a few pain-punctuated hours, wracked with cramps in my hands and feet, and there is a hot, hard knot in one of the muscles at the ba
Most mornings, after I have waved James on his way to school, I am free to return to bed for an hour or two of snoozing. But today I have a coffee-date at a city café with my friend, Ralph, who is engaged in a legal tussle with his sister over access to their mother’s meagre finances, and control of her future. Ralph has spent the past six years as a live-in carer for his Mum, who is afflicted by dementia, but his sister has somehow wrangled an Enduring Power of Attorney and now controls every aspect of their Mother’s diminished life.
The poor old lady had a nasty fall some months ago and shattered her frail, arthritic hip, so has been confined to hospital. She and Ralph were hopeful that she might soon be able to return to her home of 50 years, but the sister has –without consultation- arranged a bed for the old lady in an aged-care “facility” from which, Ralph is certain, she will not emerge alive. I have promised to help Ralph, who struggles to express himself on paper, to write letters to the appropriate authorities so that he –and his Mum, who still has her lucid moments- might have some say in the way she spends her twilight days.
Ralph worries that his history of substance abuse might count against him in the coming court hearing –especially given that his sister has lived a blameless, shame-free life in pursuit of financial stability and material acquisition. But I have done some internet research on Public Trustee and community legal service websites and found some potential loopholes that may give him some hope of justice. To my mind, the moral issue is quite clearly in his favour: Ralph has done the hard yards, sacrificing his social life for the past several years, while the sister has been selfish in pursuit of her own material comfort and has hardly ever spared the time even to visit their ailing Mother. Ralph clearly has his character flaws, but his tender heart is –just as clearly- in the right place, and I will do all I can to help him.
It’s a blue-grey day on the chilly front porch, with a piping shrike shrieking as it struts the grass in front of me. A knot of Italian ladies gathers on the footpath near the letterbox, where an overlarge sign proclaims that my front porch –my perch, for much of the past 12 years- is up for sale, along with the rest of the flat-block, and the land on which it stands. The news was conveyed to we tenants in a touching letter from our Landlady a few days before the sign went up.
“What are You going to do?” one of the ladies calls to me across the intervening lawn. I shrug.
“That depends on the new owners,” I tell them. “If they put the rent up, I will have to move.”
“But You’ve been here for years!”
They tut-tut, what a shame.
“A new owner will probably knock it all down anyway,” I say.
There are only six units, and the block of land is huge. They could easily fit ten or 12 units here, only ten minutes’ drive from the city, in such a quiet, desirable location, just a short stroll from the restaurant and café strip of Main Street.
The Italian ladies click their tongues again, and walk on.
I hear James stirring inside and make him a cuppa soup for breakfast. I have hardly seen him this week, as he has an after-school job at a burger joint, has been going to work straight from school and returning late.
“OK Dad, I’d best be off,” he tells me.
“OK, Mate.” I hold his arm and walk him to the door.
“Are You coming straight home after school today?”
“Umm, I might go into town…”
I bite the insides of my lips and swallow noisily.
“OK… But You’ll be back in time for dinner?”
He tilts his head towards his shoulder.
“I might get something to eat in town.”
A wave of… something painful… passes through me. I am needed less and less, it seems.
I squeeze his arm.
“Let me know, hey?”
I stand in the doorway and watch him walk away, tucking his headphones over his ears, and let the tears roll down… My blue-grey day just got a little bluer.
The mid-winter sun smiles benignly from a China-blue sky, clear of cloud except for a wrinkled band of stratocumulus on the northern horizon. I prepare myself a long macchiato, roll a cigarette, make sure I have my notebook handy and a pen that works and I bring a book with me onto my front porch, just in case the writing doesn’t flow. Although today that won’t be a problem, as I have an idea. It is a scene from a story I have been trying to write for 20 years, that links several of the story’s major themes, and it demands to be written, right now.
And then I realise that I have not brought a cigarette lighter onto the porch. So into the house I go, to rifle through the chaos for several minutes in search of this vital piece of writing equipment. I excavate my phone from beneath a pile of loose-leafed random notes, and eventually I locate the lighter, too. Now, where did I put my sunglasses?
I take a chocolate croissant with me on a plate and eventually I have everything I need arrayed on the little table next to my favourite cane chair. I eat the sweet treat while contemplating the scene I wish to write, the story-spark still flashing bright in my mind. I sprinkle the crumbs from my breakfast onto the path at the end of the porch, for the birds.
I write “(V,C)” in the top right hand corner of a fresh notebook page, to denote the page as part of my Vietnam war-era novel, Victor, Charlie. I am just about to note the date when my upstairs neighbour, Shirley, makes the first of what will likely be at least a dozen journeys to her letterbox. My heart sinks. Shirley is a dear, sweet lady, but she does tend to go on –and on and on- about not much… and I have a story to write. But I make small-talk with her for 15 minutes or so and listen with a strained smile as she tells me about having lunch with Bev, and making an appointment for a hearing test, and the ulcerating gash on her forearm that refuses to heal.
“Oh well, I s’pose I’ll go back upstairs,” she says, her ugg boots grinding croissant crumbs into the concrete. And then she remembers how badly I need to know that her electricity account was only $56 and that the rent went up again (as if I hadn’t known…) and how she owes her dentist $1500 for a crown…
“Oh well, I s’pose…” she says again, then complains about her sore back as she bends to pick up some twigs that have fallen from the red-flowering gum. I grunt and frown and grimace, more or less at random, feeling Shirley’s stories oppressing me while my own story kicks and twists inside me, desperate to be born.
Shirley tells me that the lawns are looking nice and shows me my nasturtiums are in flower –some orange, some yellow.
“Did I check my letterbox?” she asks.
“I did, did I? Oh well, I s’pose…”
She disappears suddenly around the corner, calling back “Seeya Love.”
“Seeya Shirley,” I call after her.
I pick up my pen and take a sip of coffee, which is now too tepid to be enjoyed. So I give it a quick zap in the microwave while in my mind I compose the opening sentence of my story-scene.
All set again, with another cigarette rolled, I look up to see Maria waddling towards me with a pair of dark brown pants folded over her arm. She has lately taken to bringing me clothes that no longer fit her husband, often providing a detailed history of each garment –where purchased, at what price, how infrequently her husband wore it.
“These pants are from Milan…” she begins, but my ex-wife, Carrie, pops her head around the corner of the porch.
“Hi Lovey,” she says, and bends to kiss my cheek. “I’m Dex’s ex-wife,” she explains to Maria.
“I just brought over these trousers,” says Maria. “They’re from Milan.”
“I have a friend who lives in Milan,” Carrie offers.
“My grand-daughter is there now,” Maria counters. “She went there from France…”
“Where did she stay in France?” asks Carrie. I know, having heard variations on this theme for over 20 years, that this is Carrie’s way of working the conversation around to her own six-month stay in France, 26 years ago.
I bite the insides of my lips as Carrie tells her story, then Maria relates another anecdote, then Carrie tells another tale… I can’t help wondering why the two of them don’t go away together and have a coffee and swap their stories. I can’t help wishing they would just leave me alone, to write my story.
ames appears in the doorway to let his Mum know he is ready to go with her to the book exchange. Maria says her farewells. Carrie tells me she will have James home by lunchtime. And suddenly –finally!- I am alone again, just me and my thoughts, now over-ripe for recording.
Then Cameron texts: Call me. So, thinking it must be something important, I do.
“Hey Bro,” he says with a yawn. “I’m on my break. I just felt like a chat…”
And so we chat a while, as the clouds close in from the north and the sunshine dims, as time ticks quickly by.
“Enjoy the rest of your day,” says Cameron.
“Thanks, Mate. I hope the rest of your shift isn’t too busy. Catch You soon.”
I hang up, finally free of any social obligations.
Now, what was that story idea I had?
It was, quite suddenly, quiet on my street, late on a sunny autumn afternoon. For at least two whole minutes there was only the background hiss of homebound traffic on the middle-distant freeway. No jets or helicopters rent the air above; no buses sighed to a stop just opposite; no angry thundering of motorcycle engines was heard; nor the rush and rumble of all those squat little wheeled boxes that so often whizz past. Not even next-door’s dog raised its too-common cacophony. (He must be eating, if he isn’t barking, and thrusting his paws at the rattling metal mesh of his garden fence.)
Oh, blissful suburban Peace!
It didn’t last, of course. The 5.43 bus arrived right on time to break into my silent mind, followed closely by a whining Porsche, accelerating out of the chicaine. And, now that the sunlight is fading fast –leaving the houses opposite silhouetted by light lemon sky- the birds begin their roosting calls... and Ziggy, the next-doors’ dog (having finished his meal), loudly protests the passing of a pedestrian.
It is the Chinese girl from up the hill, carrying her skateboard homeward, her backpack heavy with homework. Her chin sits on her chest and the skateboard’s tip scrapes along the footpath. She looks as though she doesn’t have the energy to respond to the dog’s barking, and seems focussed on some misted, distant future, but without enthusiasm, as though that future was almost indistinguishable from her overburdened present; as though she had nothing to look forward to but more of the same.
A young couple in stylish lycra walk their panting Staffordshire Bull Terrier home from the park, its tongue lolling, dripping, its saliva-sodden ball gripped by its owner in a single-fingered pincer with a cocked thumb, held well away from her tights. I hear the puffing of the overweight dog, but neither of the humans speaks, each with their ears plugged by their own preferred music, a sound-track to the movies of their separate lives. And yet they would both likely rate this as “together time”.
The tall Namibian man who was injured in a tribal war walks in his slow, rocking way downhill, pressing his stick hard into the footpath each time he leans towards the left. We nod and smile and bid each other a good evening. I hope he will one day take up my offer of a coffee and a further chat, our brief initial conversation by my letterbox having raised –for me- more questions than it answered about this quiet, calm, gentle-seeming man who had so obviously endured agonies beyond my understanding.
A splendid-bearded Sikh, all in white, struts serenely on his evening stroll, his generous belly bobbing like a trapped balloon beneath his embroidered waistcoat. His wife, in gold-threaded veil and orange sari, keeps pace, demurely, several steps behind. He has the carriage of a retired Rajah, parting the air in front of him with wide-nostrilled confidence, clearly the lord of all he surveys; and she, his wife, seems drawn along behind him like flotsam in his wake.
The Macedonian man who sleeps in his car around the corner passes, chewing on a burger and carrying his night-supply of snacks and bottled water. I hope he has plenty of blankets, as the sky is clear, there is no hint of wind and, without a quilt-cover of cloud, the city’s heat is quick to dissipate, so I suspect tonight will be a cold one.
Indeed the night was cold –for this temperate climate, anyway. I curled up in a thick quilt all night, with bed-socks on, and a warm pair of tights that Clarkee gave me last time she visited. I felt close to her as I dropped off to sleep, despite the fact that we have had numerous communication problems lately, mostly resulting from my having changed my phone provider. I also –rashly- cancelled my wireless internet contract after seven years, as I have been piggy-backing for the past six months on the guy upstairs’ unsecured WiFi... until suddenly the WiFi connection grew abysmally slow, and now I am unable to access it at all. Perhaps he has finally twigged.
It is now the houses on the north-east corner opposite my porch that are silhouetted by the light bright peach that fades to pale pre-dawn lilac, already devoid of stars. When I took my 4am walk to buy chocolate croissants for breakfast –this being Pension Day- I passed the battered Mazda in which the Macedonian guy sleeps, its windows fogged and runneled with the condensation of his whole night’s breath. How he must loathe the dusk, when all he has to look forward to is curling up on the back seat and trying to sleep, despite the early hour. Perhaps he listens to the radio? Or perhaps he is afraid of flattening the car’s battery.
The poor man’s days seem equally devoid of any interesting activity. I sometimes see him wandering through the nearby park –he often took refuge in the shade of the peppermint trees on those infernal summer days we suffered for months on end- and sometimes I see him scouring the sidewalks for cigarette butts.
We have exchanged looks at times and once a curt nod, but have never spoken. He seems acutely aware of his social position, ashamed of his reduced circumstances, and I would not wish to probe, perhaps exacerbating his pain. I can see that he is trying hard to maintain some semblance of normality, and I wonder how he manages as well as he does. I suspect he makes use of the shower and the toilets at the nearby library, and washes his array of track suits and hoodies at the all-night laundrette on Main Street. He eats pies and sandwiches from the all-night service station and I’m told –by my old murderer mate, Dave –that the Macedonian man has a deal with the people who run the cafe inside, to fill his thermos for him with hot water, free of charge. Dave it was, also, who told me the car-dweller was Macedonian, that they had met in gaol, and that no landlord was willing to rent him a home. So he had bought the car instead, as the next best option. We human beings are nothing if not adaptable.
# # # # #
Bright spikes of egg-yolk-yellow sunlight slice through the trees across the road, a few houses further up the hill, and spotlight the steam that rises from my coffee. James is up and about, and I need to iron his school shirt. I had better go inside.
I have enjoyed this brief excursion back into my porch-blogging-self, and hope similar circumstances of weather, health and inclination will coincide again soon.
Thank You for reading
I was a little surprised –and less than delighted- to find what was on my internet home-page this morning. The word “Google” was spelled out in letters shaped like festive-looking cakes and, when I hovered the cursor over it, the drop-down message came: Happy Birthday Dex.
OK, I know I recorded my birthdate at the time I registered for a Gmail account, but I never expected Google to take any notice of it, much less to use it against me!
Poor James lost $10 thousand last night, at the stroke of midnight, when my time on earth ticked over to the start of its 55th year. Under the terms of my life insurance policy, the amount paid out to my beneficiary dwindles by $10 thousand per year after the age of 46, a rate of nearly $300 per day.
Insurance companies are nothing if not cold and –literally- calculating, and I guess their actuarial tables tell them that this is the only way the Directors can maintain their obscenely high salaries and bonuses. The older I get, they reason, the more likely I am to die, so the less risk they are prepared to take in betting on my life.
But it seems to me the insurance company has given me ten thousand reasons not to be alive this time next year!
My front porch has been mostly uninhabitable for months now, as my city suffers through yet another record heatwave. At 6am today the temperature still hovers around 30C, expected to climb to 40+ for the fifth consecutive day.
In 1962 my parents fled the chilly winters of England, seeking the Australian sunshine. By 1989, when my Dad retired from his job as a photographer for the Commonwealth Government, they had had enough of Perth’s searing summers and moved further South, to Western Australia’s South-Westernmost point, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. At least there they could be assured of a cooling sea breeze in the evenings.
The availability of my work as a clown, storyteller and stand-up comedian meant that I had little option but to sweat it out in this sweltering city for another 25 years, but I can stand it no longer... I hereby vow that this will be my final year of frying in this boiled, baked and sun-cooked place.
Given that this is my son James’ final year of school, and the imminent immigration of my new Life Partner from snow-bound Canada, I intend to follow my parents’ example and to find somewhere closer to Antarctica to live; I have truly had enough.
This morning the breeze –such as it is- sighs in from the East-North-East, out of the centre of this dessicated continent, and the usually-chirpy birds seem stunned into silence. A family of magpies that farm the new-cut grass beyond my porch already look exhausted, their beaks open, panting, their wings held wide, away from their bodies. A pair of wagtails takes an early morning shower beneath the neighbours’ sprinklers; and a jogger does not bother to deviate from the footpath between the sprays, knowing she will dry out soon enough.
Climate change denialists use all manner of statistical tricks to “prove” that the steady warming trend of the past three decades is nothing but a left wing conspiracy, but in truth the figures speak for themselves: eleven of the past 12 years have each seen temperatures soar beyond all previous records; rainfall figures in this South-West corner of the continent have plummeted by 30 per cent in the past 35 years.
These patterns are exactly as predicted by the meteorological models plotting climate change. The high tide levels of the Indian Ocean have risen even further than forecasted.
Climate change is real, immediate, happening. My only option, if I am not to sweat myself to death, is to move to somewhere cooler. Augusta, here I come...
The slimmest sliver of moon appears above the houses in the East North-East, edam-orange in the pre-dawn pale sky.
Venus blazes bright, as always, though sometimes haloed by puffs of thin low cloud.
Such is the alignment of the moon, Venus and two bright stars whose names I do not know, that it looks as though a game of celestial billiards is going on above the sleeping houses: the moon provides the curving butt-end of the billiard cue and Venus is its tip, ready to knock one of the nameless stars to canon into the other, perhaps potting it in a black hole.
I can hear the hiss and grumble of traffic on distant Wanneroo Road and a single bird –perhaps a singing honeyeater?- calls out across the misted distance that it is the first to see the lightening of the eastern horizon. A magpie, closer, carols its awareness, awake as well..
The horse-faced woman I have seen a hundred times trudges past on her way to work. She stares, always, at the metre of ground in front of her feet and never looks up, much less acknowledges my presence on this bright-lit porch.
I have had an awful night, woken frequently by the crushing pain in my arm and shoulder. I plump and pile up my pillows so that I am practically sitting, and try to move my head into a position in which the damaged nerves in my neck are not pinched by the bulging disc above the titanium plate that holds my neck together. My dreams, these nights, are plagued by scenarios in which my arm is being damaged : sometimes jammed in the door of an elevator, or squashed between the gunwales of a heavy, heaving boat and a hard dock, or simply run over by a bus.
I am still drowsy from the valium I washed down around midnight with a half-glass of vodka, but eventually I abandon all thought of sleep and brew a double espresso to kick my brain into wakefulness.
The cancers at the ba
The first aircraft rumbles overhead, bound for the tiny mining settlements in the North. Having flown those routes myself –bound for stand-up comedy gigs- I know the ‘plane will be full of Fly-In, Fly-out mine workers, already dressed in their bright orange reflective vests, ready to start work as soon as they disembark a thousand kilometers away. They will work 12-hour shifts for two or three weeks, then fly back to Perth for their week off.
The work is hard but the pay –apparently- is good enough to have their homes paid off within a few years, their families set up and financially secure. But I wonder if the non-monetary cost is worth the lifestyle: the costs to their health, their relationships, their sanity…
The moon is chalk-white now, against the brightening blue, and Venus is dulled by the dawn. The other –nameless-stars have disappeared, so it seems the billiard cue has been secured in its rack.
Many birds are chorusing from their roosts and some flit from tree to tree in the daily ritual of re-establishing their territories.
I have finished my first breakfast –that double espresso and a cigarette- and it is time, now, for something more substantial to line my stomach before I swallow my first dose of pain-killers.
Another day has well and truly begun…
My sliding window is not quite sealed tight and the wind moans high and low, loud and soft, mournful as an old air-raid siren.
Just after mid-day I felt myself flagging, though more in energy than in spirits. I have been awake since just after 4am, catcvhing up on news from a dozen disparate sources, reading the overnight comments on Australian politics blogs, leaving my own comments here and there about the issue de jour, reading some recent posts by EP friends. I post a couple of Porch Blogs, laboriously tapped out by five fingers which once, when teamed with the healthy other five, could thump out 100 words a minute.
Every post I make –here and elsewhere- costs me much in the cold currency of pain. As does every other waking action and, lately, dreams as well. It hurts to shower and to shave, slipping on a shirt can make me wince. And I have to breathe deeply, brace myself and grit my brittle teeth, just so that I can tie my shoelaces.
The last time I ventured into the city centre I think I may have given half the population good reason to believe that I was suffering Tourette’s Syndrome. Every step I took was sending savage molten flares from neck to fingertips and my face was greasy white and twitching, “Uh! Shit!” I would sometimes hiss aloud, then shuffle on, and grunt, and swear again.
I express myself more freely inside my home, grumbling loudly as I bend to slide something into the oven, groaning as I slump into a chair, sometimes sobbing. James picks up on all this, of course, soaks it all in like a sponge. I want to squeeze him, sometimes, to try to remove the stain of my pain has made on his young life. I want to rinse him clean so he can start afresh without the whining cripple on the kitchen floor.
How long can I go on damaging my son’s life this way? At what point does the short, sharp trauma of my death become outweighed by the lingering burden of my diminished life?
Most who know a little of my mind will understand that such thoughts are not symptoms of depression, indicative of some cerebral imbalance. My words are nothing like a cry for help from a world that has already been too kind to me, but now has become too cruel.
Pre-dawn rain hisses down just as I wake James but I decide that, as the rain is slanting in on the southerly breeze, my north-facing porch will be shielded from all but the back-eddying rain-mist, and it is safe to sit outside this morning.
It is only a few days after the southern winter solstice, and dawn is still almost an hour away. There is no sign yet of any lightening in the eastern sky. The air above the tree-line is infused with pale orange from the streetlights.
The shiny-leaved flowering gum tree sways and drips and every few minutes a car passes, its tyres louder on the wet road than its engine sound. In the middle distance of my soundscape I can hear the rumbling of the early traffic down on Main Street, at the bottom of my hill and, beyond that still, the persistent heavy hissing of the distant freeway. I wonder whether, in the total absence of traffic noise, I might perceive the ancient whispers of the ocean, eight kilometres away.
It is too early, yet, for birds, dog-walkers, joggers or surprise visitors –my usual topics for these blogs- so I am left with a limited palate with which to paint my word-pictures.
The foreground sounds are of the wind-rustled trees, buffeted by arrhythmic gusts, their leaves making micro-slices of the breeze, their branches sometimes rattling percussive accompaniment. The gurgling of the gushing downpipe sings along with the drips from the gutters above.
If I had the ears to perceive the sound, I would hear the soil drinking, I am certain. We have had some storms this winter –including a “mini tornado” which tore through the suburb in which I grew up and caused $20 million worth of improvements- and there have been some days of steady rain. But this thirsty city is still well below its average rainfall for the month of June –again- and that average, of course, is itself falling. Perth now receives 30 per cent less rain each year than it did when I was in my teens.
There is a strained blue tinge to the upper sky now where Venus rides, pale and cloud-shrouded. Banks of dark plum clouds slide steadily past and suddenly Venus breaks out, ultra-bright, looking flattened and fattened, almost classic UFO shape. I guess the planet must be presenting us with a crescent-faced reflection from the sun, causing this distortion.
The first birds begin calling now, whistles, chirps, chattering and trills awakening each tree in turn.
“I’m awake!” they tell each other.
I hear the first of the early-morning jets rumble overhead and watch its taillights bl
The Pilbara coast boasts thousands of sites of ancient rock-carvings –up to 30 thousand years old- including whole high hillside galleries of jumbled iron-stone, whose every flat face is scored with images of turtles, dugongs, kangaroos, emus, fish, birds, animal tracks, human figures, their weapons and their tools.
Just such a gallery was dismantled, over 20 years ago, and dumped in a disused caravan park, to make way for the construction of a Liquified Natural Gas plant, which condenses gas pumped there from offshore wells. I doubt the gas company could get away with this today, given that most of the ancient artworks are now listed on the World Heritage register.
But the enormous mineral wealth of this region –with huge, untapped sources of iron ore, gold, diamonds, oil and gas and uranium- means that every square inch is already pegged for exploration.
It has grown light enough now for me to see my notebook without the aid of the porch light behind me, but I leave it on for a while. I like the feeling of my front porch being just as much a stage as it is an observation post. I remain here for a while yet, not spotlit any more, but highlighted nonetheless. And so I am “on show” to passersby. I don’t suppose that I am all that exciting to watch –just a man drinking coffee and scribbling his thoughts –but then, I don’t suppose that passersby see many like me in their travels.
I don’t mind being characterised as “that guy who sits on his front porch and writes”.
As an epitaph, one could do worse.
Venus sparkles, still, in a pale blue patch of true-dawn sky bounded by heavy dark clouds sliding in from the north-west horizon. It is chilly out here on my front porch, exposed to the breeze, but it is not so cold as the past few mornings, which made my bones ache.
I hear the distant humming of the freeway traffic, like an angry swarm of worker bees, roused too early. Nearby a family of honeyeaters gang up on a solitary golden wattle-bird and eventually drive it away with their aggressive chattering.
A Lycra-clad cyclist rolls by down the hill, resting his shiny calves as he lets gravity do some of the work.
A van pulls up beneath the streetlight in front of my home and disgorges two mountainous St Bernard dogs and their diminutive mistress, straining at their leashes, all three.
“I’ll see you on the other side of the park,” I hear the driver call.
“Oh-K!” the woman shouts back as the dogs drag her towards the light pole, their great shaggy heads to the ground.
“Soon!” she adds as the van drives off and the dogs jerk her down the footpath.
There’s not much going on out here as yet, and so I am forced to look inward for a time. I feel, now that my morning medication is wearing off, as though I am some kind of voyeur, indulging in a perverse perusal of my own suffering. The pain in my left arm has intensified during this past week, sometimes to excruciating levels. I can’t seem to find the right position of my head and neck to take the pressure off my damaged nerves.
It is definitely eating into my quality of life –and will likely define its quantity also. I wonder, quietly, how much longer I can endure this torment, especially given the lack of positive, pleasant experiences to balance it. I am just marking time, I realise; but what am I waiting for?
I hear James stirring inside at the same time as my phone signals a text alert. It is my beautiful young friend, K, asking if she can visit. She brings such beauty, wit and youthful wisdom to my world, such sunny, fun feelings, so many laughs, that I can’t consider refusing.
I often feel quite deflated after seeing James off on his way to school, retreating like a hermit crab into my empty home, my empty shell. But this morning I have something to look forward to after all.
June 26, 2012
Iron-grey clouds are splashed with bright galah-pink in the east against the pale blue wash of dawn. In the west, low grey-white bands or rain-cloud are sliding in on the chill wind, so it looks like yesterday’s sunshine won’t be repeated.
Shirley is on her way to the letterbox when she sees me sitting on my porch and makes a detour to have a chat. She bought some make-up yesterday –“foundation, to plaster over the cracks,” she says- but, in trying to open it, she spilt most of the bottle over her clothes.
“I’m sure it will wash out,” I reassure her.
“Oh, I hope so,” says Shirley.
Sylvette swoops by on her bike, looking fresh and trim. She cycles five kilometres each day to work, then back.
“Should I have brought my umbrella?” she asks.
“Yes!” I call after her. I see a grey curtain descending in the west. She is riding towards it.
Seconds after she has gone, the first light spots appear on the concrete path in front of me.
“Is that rain, Dad?” James calls from inside.
“Yes, Mate. You will need your umbrella.”
He has a maths exam today. He’s feeling confident.
A minute after he departs, his iPad in his ears, the wind suddenly picks up and sends the rain down hard. It lashes in against my legs and a fierce gust sprays raindrops across my notebook.
I scurry inside to finish this blog on the laptop.
It is a fine lemon-sunny mid-winter’s day outside my flat, following a week of rain and wild weather, so I take the rare chance to sit on my front porch and enjoy some fresh air with my cigarette. As always, I have my notebook on my knee and a ballpoint pen in my hand, ready to record some random thoughts.
The shadows are already long across the lawns and it will soon be too cool to sit in comfort here. I watch some dog-walkers pass and am pleased to see that most are carrying plastic bags, with which to pick up after their pets. Ten years ago, many people would have bristled at the suggestion they should do so, and I am further pleased to note that attitudes can change over time.
My upstairs neighbour, Shirley, returns from a shopping trip, her bulging trolley in tow.
“How are you, Dex?” she calls from the driveway.
“I’m OK, Thanks, Shirley,” I reply. “How are You, Love?”
Shirley leaves her trolley by the side of the driveway and steps across the grass towards my porch, removing her ear-plugs as she approaches. She suffers from winter-time ear-aches, poor Dear.
“I’m pretty well,” she tells me. “Though this tooth is still a pain.”
“Still sore? I thought You had those antibiotics?”
“Oh, I’ve finished those,” she says. “The infection’s gone, but it’s still sore when I bite.”
We speak for a time about our dental care system, which is ridiculously expensive. I recall a senior politician lamenting a decade ago that it is easy to see the Class Divide in Australia, by looking at people’s teeth.
Shirley can’t believe how much she’ll have to pay out of her holiday savings to fix her tooth.
“It’s $260 for the extraction and over $5 thousand for the new one,” she tells me. I whistle through my own neglected teeth.
“And my friend was telling me her daughter went to Thailand and got the lot done for $1 thousand,” she continues. “Why are dentists here so much more expensive?”
“Because they can be,” I tell her. “They charge whatever they like. A dentist would look in my mouth and see his next Porsche.”
“Ah well,” says Shirley, “I s’pose I’d better get upstairs and cook us some soup. Would you like a bowl?”
I tell her I would be delighted. Shirley makes great soup.
“Are You OK with that trolley on the stairs, Dear?”
“Well...” she says, “it is a bit heavy... But your arm...”
“I’ll get James to haul it up for You. James? Could You carry Shirley’s trolley up the stairs please?”
“Thank You, James,” Shirley and I chorus.
Now I await the soup.
Pale skeins of writhing steam drift up from sunlit roadways, following another unseasonal shower. They lift and swirl with thermal currents, veiling the trunks of the eucalypts at the bottom of the hill.
The land exhales, sending light white puffs of condensed breath upward, stark against the dark-bellied rainclouds overhead.
High winds spin tufts of cottonwool clouds across a patch of perfect blue. The edges of the clouds are ragged, teased and tangled by the struggle between updraught and downshear.
Mr Good Morning strides by in his customary pale blue shirt, dark pants, white court shoes, floppy cream hat. He walks the circuit past my house perhaps a dozen times a day, morning and afternoon, always passing left to right. He looks towards me and smiles and lifts his rolled umbrella to show he is prepared.
“Good idea!” I call.
He winks and gives me the thumbs up and in two dozen strides is gone from my view. For now. I expect he will be back in ten minutes or so, having completed another lap of the block, like a clockwork locomotive on a model track. He will glance my way again and if our eyes meet –if I am not bent, intent on writing- there will be an awkwardness between us, as though our vocabulary of interactions was already exhausted in his previous promenading.
We say “Good Morning” (hence my name for him) or “lovely day” or “rain again” –and that is our limit, long-established as the convention of our relationship, such as it is. In truth, we are only tiny tangents to the arcs of each other’s lives; we touch and go.
He has just gone by again, while my head was bent over the notebook. I didn’t notice him until he’d passed the flowering gumtree, when he struck my peripheral vision. And by the time I looked up, I was out of his eyeline, so that awkward moment was avoided.
A Lear jet sears the sky, banking loud and low beneath the clouds, heading for the crosswind strip at the airport south of the river. The people aboard have also touched my life, tangentially, though they were unaware of my existence on this little porch so far beneath them. Their jet’s engine noise is cause for resentment as it echoes back and forth between the clouds and the earth.
I watch the patch of blue closed over by the next cloud-front and think of people with whom my life’s course has intersected... how many thousands?
And Mr Good Morning strides by again. We meet each other’s eyes again this time around, and exchange smiles. And it doesn’t feel awkward at all.
The elderly lady shuffled to the kerb beside my driveway and took a long, bemused look each way before she began slowly to cross the road. She looked about 70 and quite robust in body, but there was a frail uncertainty about her movement, as though her bones were porcelain and her brain just as brittle.
I watched from my porch as she stood for a time at the corner –perhaps to get her breath back, or to orient herself in an unfamiliar space. She was knee-deep in a patch of drying wild oats, peering at the street-sign, with an unsteady air.
She turned to face the way she had come and took a few sore-footed steps, as though her toes were cramped inside her shoes. Then she turned again and nodded to herself and shuffled on. And stopped again and shook her head.
The lady was obviously disoriented, perhaps lost. She looked in pain, confused, distressed. I resolved to help her if I could. I crossed the stretch of lawn and called her from the kerbside.
“Is everything OK, Ma’am?”
But she didn’t hear my call, so I crossed the road and stepped into her field of view. She looked up at me in bleary-eyed surprise.
“Do you need any help, Ma’am? Are you on your way home?”
She nodded deliberately.
“Y-y-yes,” she stammered, unsteadily, then swayed back as though appraising me.
“Perhaps you’d like a lift then? I have my car...”
The lady squinted and clenched her lips and swallowed.
“No, thank you.”
She swayed back towards me and exhaled and it was then I smelled the liquor on her breath.
“OK,” I said. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” she slurred.
Now that I knew about the booze, it was obvious that this elderly lady was not struggling with dementia, as I had surmised. She was just drunk.
As I watched her wend her way down the hill, I hoped she would make it safely home.
It has rained (again!) during the night, and a single snail is coursing over the wet grass like a sailing ship of old, retreating towards the shadows. But, with the rising sun, the shade-line is also shrinking towards the nasturtiums at the ba
It is a race in slow motion: as the snail stretches itself along the tops of grass-blades, its shell rocks side to side; the shade’s retreat is steady, one grass-blade at a time.
My beautiful Canadian Friend, clarkee, and I spent many hours on my front porch during her recent three-week visit, watching the world go by. I am sure she would confirm that a large proportion of these passers-by are as regular as clockwork, often exercising their dogs. And –almost always- the dog-walkers resemble their pets in clearly identifiable ways.
A woman strides by in tights that give her muscular legs the same lines as those of her short-haired terrier. And she wears a ponytail that bobs and flicks up with each step, like the tufted tail of her other dog, a spaniel/terrier cross. She sees me smile as I observe the similarities, and calls: Good morning!
A broad-shouldered man with short, skinny legs and a pugnacious thrust to his chin, puffs by, his barrel-chested bull terrier snuffling side to side, straining at the thick leather leash.
It is fun to watch the passing pet parade and to note pet/person parallels. I wonder how this phenomenon evolved? Do people sub-consciously change aspects of their appearance in order to resemble their dogs? Or do they choose dogs –again, sub-consciously- that resemble their own images?
While I ponder this conundrum, the snail seems to have given up chasing the fleeting shadow, which has now reached the edge of the concrete path. The snail has withdrawn into the moist and slimy sanctuary of its shell, to minimise the chances of its becoming dried out by the sun.
I think of the coming summer heat, and how most of my city’s population will need to emulate that snail. I am grateful for the recent unseasonal rain, which has topped up our dams and aquifers, though I do wish there had been more sunny days while clarkee was here.
This morning as I sat on my sunny porch I noted with jubilation the number of Australian native bees darting and hovering and farming the nasturtiums in my little garden for their nectar.
Native bees are much smaller than the European honeybee, and swarm and hive in smaller numbers. They are also stingless, and less aggressive in defence of their hives.
Native honey is produced in much smaller quantities than the industrial-scale output of the introduced bees.
Indigenous Australians called the native honey “sugar bag” and it was prized for a thousand generations as the richest source of sugar in their diets. As it is often made from the nectar of eucalyptus flowers, native bees’ honey is also known for its medicinal properties.
Native bee populations were dramatically affected by the introduction to Australia of the European honeybee, which bred and spread and became the dominant nectar-feeding insects in almost every corner of the continent.
In previous years, I have seen only single native bees occasionally browsing flowers in my garden. This year, they are turning up in their dozens. And there seem proportionally fewer European bees.
Perhaps the rapid change in climate in this south-west corner of Western Australia –with each of the past ten years warmer and drier than the year before- has caught the European bees off-guard? Perhaps the native bees are better adapted to the warmer, drier climate?
Let the fittest survive, I say.
My upstairs neighbour, Pat, will not be coming home from hospital, her husband says.
The “tough old chook” –as I described her in my account of the brave way she survived a fall in our driveway that broke both her wrists- is on palliative care now, in the final phase of her last fight.
She has endured repeated attacks from within, her own cells mutating into rebellious offshoots that choked and broke her internal infrastructure. Endured also the medical world’s counter-attacks: the surgical strikes, the chemical weapons, the radioactive bombardments.
Like any battlefield, her body is torn and scarred, worn down, rendered unproductive of all but pain.
But now, it seems, there is a ceasefire. Soon will come her surrender, and then ever-lasting peace.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It is difficult for me to think of Pat’s predicament without considering my own prognosis. She chose to fight, to dig her fingernails in deep and hang on desperately to dear life. She battled bravely, but both the cancer and the treatment took their toxic toll. And I have chosen not to fight, but to loosen my grip and slide down what is, perhaps, a quicker path to peace.
The last time I spoke to Pat was as she stood between my back door and the laundry block, where she and I have so often chatted throughout these past ten years. Her eyes glimmered still from their sunken sockets and she lifted her chin as she defiantly declared:
“I’m still here!”
Alas, she never will be here again, except in spirited memory.
I’m still here, too. For now.
Previous PostsGuest Blogger On Dex's Porch ! clarkee's Here !!!, posted October 20th, 2013, 2 comments
A Special Guest On My Porch, posted September 25th, 2013, 2 comments
I Feel Grateful to Have a Porch on Which to Sit and Blog, posted August 24th, 2013
Ralph Loves His Mum, posted July 31st, 2013
Porch For Sale !, posted July 24th, 2013, 3 comments
Porch Blog July 19, 2013, posted July 19th, 2013, 2 comments
Overdue Porch Blog, posted May 25th, 2013, 6 comments
Birthday Blog, posted February 25th, 2013, 3 comments
Porch Blog 15, posted February 11th, 2013, 4 comments
Porch Blog 14, posted July 18th, 2012, 5 comments
Diary Of A Dead Man 3, posted June 27th, 2012, 2 comments
Porch Blog 13, posted June 26th, 2012, 4 comments
Porch Blog 12, posted June 26th, 2012, 3 comments
Porch Blog 11, posted June 18th, 2012, 4 comments
Porch Blog 10, posted June 18th, 2012, 5 comments
Porch Blog 9 -Spring Cycles, posted November 14th, 2011, 3 comments
Porch Blog 8 - My Misconception, posted November 10th, 2011, 4 comments
Porch Blog 7 -Of Slugs, Snails and Dog-Owners' Tails, posted November 9th, 2011, 4 comments
Porch Blog 6, posted October 31st, 2011, 3 comments
Diary Of A Dead Man 2, posted October 25th, 2011, 3 comments
Diary Of A Dead Man, posted October 8th, 2011, 5 comments
Dawn Chorus, posted September 21st, 2011, 3 comments
View from a front porch 5, posted September 16th, 2011, 8 comments
View from a front porch 4, posted July 21st, 2011, 4 comments
View From A Concrete Porch 3, posted May 23rd, 2011, 2 comments
View From A Concrete Porch 2, posted May 20th, 2011, 2 comments
View From A Concrete Porch, posted May 19th, 2011, 2 comments
Will I Ever Learn?, posted December 28th, 2010, 9 comments
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