Category Archives: November 2012 Posts

Fatherly advice

My home phone rings for the fifth time since arriving home from work.  I look at it with exasperation and bemusement.  My father’s relentless calls are draining, but I’ve always loved his unshakable and unrestrained fervour.  I rarely answer his weeknight calls, but that never stops him.  He leaves countless voicemails that run for the duration of the message time-limit.  Tonight included an entire song that he wanted me to hear – recorded by him holding the phone to the stereo.  Audio quality clearly wasn’t a priority.  As the phone continues to ring, I start to smile at his childlike enthusiasm and decide to speak to him.

Me: Hello

Dad (in a very strong Australian accent): Now, I know I’ve never given you any advice, but I’ve been thinking and there are two things I want to say to you.

Me: Ok.

Dad: Well first, I was thinking that you’ve got it right in that you live by yourself.  Don’t ever live with anyone.  It can be lonely at times, but the lonely times are worth it when compared to how annoying it is living with other people.  I hated living with other people.

The only “other” people he’s ever lived with are his first family, and his second family (my mother, my sister, and me).  I ignore the unintended insult and wait for him to continue.

Dad: But the most important thing, and I cannot emphasise this enough … is whatever you do, don’t ever, ever have children. (I laugh).  No, I mean it.  I like the ones I’ve got and that, but when all’s said and done, they’re just not worth it (I laugh again).  When I think of how much better my life could have been if I’d not had children … well I’m just saying, don’t have them whatever you do.  Your life will be better without them.

Me: Um, you do realise that it’s your daughter you’re saying this to?

Dad: Yes, I know and I did say that I like the ones I’ve got – jeez don’t be so bloody sensitive – but I stand by the fact that my life would have been better without them.  Don’t miss the point I’m trying to make.  Ugh, you’re annoying me now – I’m going.

We both laugh, say goodbye and hang-up.

He phones again in fifteen minutes.  Just hearing the ring makes me smile so I answer.

Dad and his daughters

Me: Thought I was annoying you?

Dad: You are, but I can’t stop calling.  It’s actually annoying me that I can’t stop calling.  Phoning you is like crack or heroin or something – I can’t bloody stop myself.

I laugh so much I’m unable to speak.

Dad (also laughing): I hung up, and then I thought “Don’t call, don’t call”. But then I thought “Bugger it, I’m phoning!” But now I’ve got nothing to say.  Right, I’m going to say goodbye and I’m not going to call until the weekend. Cold turkey for two days …

I shake my head as I hang up. There’s no way his life would have been better without having had children.

Choosing Mr Right

An irresistibly playful terrier

10thNovember 2012. The noise hits me as soon as I enter the Earls Court Exhibition Centre; dogs barking, children laughing, and whistles shrieking. But outweighing the racket is the tremendously happy and warm atmosphere.

The Kennel Club is hosting an event with over 300 breeds to help people choose the right dog for them. My friend goes crazy at every type; she’s even delighted at the furry rat that urinates on her.  My approach is more targeted.  I’m looking for something big, affectionate, intelligent, loyal and well-behaved.   I recognise the irony of these being the same qualities I look for in a man.

A lusciously soft Chow Chow

My laser eyes ignore the breeds around my ankles desperately yapping for attention.  I ignore the show-ponies.  I don’t want a dog that’ll jump through hoops, or with a glossy, high-maintenance coat.  Though neither do I want a dog whose appearance and behaviour will cause me embarrassment.

I walk past countless hounds, occasionally pausing to consider one before moving on.  Many are appealing in their own way: some are lusciously soft, others are disarmingly friendly, and a few are irresistibly playful.  But none are quite right and I dismiss breed after breed.

To my right, I see a group of composed working dogs. They’re sitting perfectly still and unflustered.  Yes, that’s what I’m looking for. Again, basically the same traits I seek in a man.  Suddenly my heart skips a beat and I take a sharp intake of breath.  There he is.  Without hesitation I take an abrupt diagonal short-cut, carving my way against the flow of the crowd to get to him.  I’m no longer looking at any other breeds and I’ve left my friend trailing behind me.

Leo the Leonberger

I approach and stand in front of him.  We look at each other directly in the eyes, each making our own assessments.  I sit down, cross-legged so our heads are at the same height, and hold out my hand.  He calmly steps forward, sniffs my fingers and then places his head under my hand.  I melt.  I scratch his ears and he promptly rolls on to his back for me to rub his stomach.  Suddenly he’s not so composed. The dignity he started with is gone, only increasing his massive appeal.  “Leo the Leonberger – I want you.

I rise to ask the owner if I can take a photo and my sudden movement prompts Leo to heave himself back to a standing position.  With the camera poised, my friend instructs me to kneel so I’m in the frame.  As I do, I feel something under my knee.  With shock I realise I’m kneeling, with my full weight, on Leo’s paw!   “Oh shit, I’m so sorry!” I blurt to him.  He just looks at me with that kind expression in his eyes.   I deserve to be bitten, or at the very least growled at, and I can hardly believe his response.

The photo is taken and a familiar sad ache fills me as I stand up.  I can’t have him.  Not now.  My circumstances aren’t right.  I don’t have a big backyard, I don’t have time to exercise and entertain him.  I can’t give him what he needs.  I stroke him once more and walk away without looking at him.  Maybe one day I’ll be ready for Leo, but for now we’ll go our separate ways.

The blood drains, but I’m red-faced

A cold November day in one of London’s many hospitals. Kate, a young blonde nurse, takes me in to a cubicle sectioned off by a thin blue curtain. I sit down on a hard plastic chair as she chirps away, presumably to distract me from the approaching activity. It’s her first day working here and she seems a little nervous.

Me (smiling): Just so you know, I’ll faint.

Kate (in a heavy South African accent): Oh, are you sure?

Me: Yes, I always faint when I have a blood test. I often faint when I get a needle, but I always faint when blood is taken.

Kate (slightly apprehensive but maintaining her chirpiness):  Oh, okay. Well just relax and take a deep breath and I’ll try to be as gentle as possible.

The needle goes in and after a few seconds I feel the familiar woozy rush.

Me: I’m going to faint now.

Kate: Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

I wake up.

I feel clammy and damp from head to toe. My hair is sticking to my face. A woman in her late-fifties is standing in front of me, Kate at her side.

Woman: Hello dear. You’re in hospital. I’m the nurse in charge. Kate just tried to take some blood from you, but when she did you fainted and you actually had a bit of a fit. Your eyes rolled back and you were gurgling …

She wants me to say something, but I’m embarrassed so I just look at her blankly until she continues.

Woman: You also had a bit of an accident… you’ve unfortunately wet yourself.

With slow horror, it dawns on me that the damp feeling on the seat isn’t sweat. I’m mortified.

Woman: Kate, get her some water. Do you feel okay?

I shake my head. The truth is I feel physically fine, but I’m so excruciatingly embarrassed that I can’t bring myself to speak. I need a moment to regain my composure. This is horrendous.

Thankfully I’m wearing black trousers – if I’d been in a light summer dress this would have been worse. Unfortunately the failed test means I have to go home and come back another day. The humiliation isn’t over as I realise that today I’M going to be the person on the bus smelling of urine.

That was in 2001. Eleven years later, on Friday 16 November 2012, and I’m in another London hospital about to have an MRI scan. An injection is required.

Me (commencing a monologue I’ve repeated many times): Just so you know, I’ll faint. And I might have a fit. That’s happened before and I wet myself so I need to let you know it’s a possibility. I’m okay most of the time though, so I’m likely to be fine. I’m sorry to be a problem.

The nurse isn’t taking any chances and brings in two other members of staff (the “reserves” for special cases …) and takes me to a room so I’m not in the open area. One of the “reserves” takes over as she’s apparently the best. She talks me through the process far too much (hearing “I’ve got a good vein here!” isn’t helpful) and cheerfully announces when it’s over. She’s pleased the procedure was successful and turns to complete her paperwork.

With her back to me, I faint.

God. Damn. It.

Balloon friends

3am, September 5th.  The pre-dawn is cold and dark. I have two hours to prepare before my father rises at 5am for work.  The previous night I’d purchased balloons, permanent markers, party hats and an array of confectionery.  I blow up the balloons and draw faces on them before tiptoeing downstairs to the kitchen.  I keep the lights off and press my back firmly against the hallway wall so I walk on the floorboards that I know don’t creak.  It’s my father’s 43rd birthday. I’m 13 and surprising him with a party full of imaginary friends.  The friends are made out of balloons. The year is 1990.

I place the balloon heads around the dining table and carefully place a party hat on the head of each one.  I put up a “Happy Birthday” banner, and decorate the room with the remaining balloons and ribbons.  I put some bowls of confectionery on the table in front of the balloon people.

I creep back upstairs and wait.  Soon I hear a loud laugh, followed by my father shouting, “Simone!! Simone!!”  He runs up the stairs enthusiastically yelling, “Come downstairs! Oh my God!”  We bump into each other on the staircase and laugh.  Without speaking, we turn and excitedly race to the kitchen, nearly knocking each other over in the process.  He calls out, “Mary! Mary! Come and look at this! Come and see what Simone’s done!”  My poor mother stumbles out of the bedroom, bleary eyed.  She smiles at my handiwork, amused but possibly more exasperated by the shared and rapidly accelerating energy between her husband and daughter.  After a decade, she’s resigned to our antics.

Dad’s balloon friend party

Giddy with excitement, Dad heads off to work.  Later that day he’ll discover that in his packed lunch I’ve placed a cupcake, a birthday card and a birthday badge.  When he arrives home he’s so excited that he’s barely able to blurt out his account of telling his colleagues about his surprise party with the balloon people and the opening of his lunch. In our dynamic, he’s the child and I’m the parent.

Twenty-two years later, 5th September 2012, Dad’s mental and physical health has significantly declined.  I hand him the only thing he wanted for his birthday, a simple egg poacher.  He receives it with his usual excessive enthusiasm. “Oh God, that’s exactly what I wanted! I’m going to use it right now!” He pauses, then says quietly “Can you please show me how?” I spend the next half an hour demonstrating how to poach an egg, slowly and methodically … again and again.  We go through almost a dozen eggs during his supervised attempts at poaching.  My father isn’t a quick learner.

Eventually the pain from standing becomes too much for him.  He stumbles to an arm-chair and sits down.  While he regains his composure, I get him a cup of coffee and a piece of toast.

Dad (looking at me and smiling mischievously):  If only I had some balloon friends to poach my eggs for me.

Me (grinning, surprised at his sudden memory):  You’ve not forgotten that?

Dad:  God, no!  That was the best birthday ever.  I still laugh about it.

Today, 10th November, 2012, Dad’s been in hospital for over a week for the sixth time this year. He’s not a well man.  I phone some shops to arrange for balloons to be sent to him, but I’d rather be able to blow up my own, draw faces on them and deliver them myself.  I feel a long way from home.

The Hurricane

7:15am, Monday 29th October, 2012.   JFK airport is deserted.  Only 200 people wander around, passing through security checks at record speed.  We are the ONLY flight to depart today.  Hurricane Sandy will be in NY within hours.  I’m leaving another country to unprecedented natural disaster.  Five hours after I left New Zealand in 2011 a state of emergency was declared as it experienced its worst floods in fifty years.  Six hours after I left Fiji in 2012, a landslide hit my resort – 74 evacuation centres were set up and 8 people were killed.  The day I departed the UK in 2010 for a Christmas visit to Australia, England was hit by the worst snowfall in over forty years – Heathrow flights were grounded for days.  Twenty-four hours after that trip to Australia, my hometown was flooded and a locust plague was followed by a snake plague.   My arrival in Australia late in 2011 was marked by a mini cyclone, fires that destroyed thirty homes, a mouse plague and a fatal white shark attack.   I can’t work out if travelling with me will keep you safe or put you directly in line to encounter God’s wrath.   If my life was a movie, there’d be many scenes with me walking away unscathed, leaving an apocalyptic blaze behind me.

Upon hearing my boarding call, I get on Flight VS026.  I walk down the aisle and see a white-haired man in his mid-seventies in the seat next to mine.  He rises to let me take my window seat.  Once I’m seated and buckled in, he turns to me and holds out his hand for me to shake.

Him (with a strong NY accent):  Hi, I’m Robert.  We’re lucky we made this flight, aren’t we?

Me (shaking his hand):  Simone. It’s amazing.  I honestly never thought I’d be flying out today.

Him:  No, God’s on our side for sure.  And I’m pleased to have a lovely young lady sitting next to me.

Me (smiling):  Well I’m not sure I can be described as young any more.  And I’m not sure I’ve ever been lovely.  But thanks.

Him:  Oh everyone looks young to me now.  But you are lovely – a wide smile and big blue eyes.  You brighten up the plane.  Tell me, do you mind chatting for the flight?  I know some people hate it, but I’d quite like some conversation.  Of course if you want to read or watch the TV, that’s okay too.

What can I say?  I’m tired, but he’s a kind man and I think I want to talk to a stranger for a bit too.  Anonymous conversation can be cathartic.

For the next few hours I hear his story.  He’s a  76-year-old retired architect, proud of his work and proud of his family.  He has two children from his first marriage.  After a painful decline, his wife died of cancer three years ago.

I keep listening, occasionally agreeing and encouraging.

Him:  I’m lonely now and I don’t get to talk to many people for long.  My daughter phones every week, and my son about once a month … but that’s about it.  I miss Angie.  We married late so never had children together, but I loved her so much.  It’s hard now.

Suddenly my eyes well up.  

Him:  Oh, I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean to upset you with my grief.  How long have you been married?

Me (quickly pulling myself together and smiling):  I’m not married … that hasn’t happened for me yet.

Him:  Make it happen.  Love, and being with the person you love are the only things worth being here for.  You both become better people for it.

Me (smiling):  I know.  That’s exactly how I see it. 

Him:  I’ve been trying to work out if you’re sad to be leaving New York or sad to be going to London?

Me (laughing):  I’m happy to be avoiding a hurricane. 

Him (laughing kind-heartedly too):  You’re a clever one, avoiding my question.  I think you’ve got your own little hurricane going on inside you at the moment.  I’m old enough to see it.  And your eyes are very telling.  I think your eyes could kill a man, but right now they show you’re troubled.  But I won’t ask any more. 

There’s an awkward moment as we shift to a neutral conversational topic.  But we manage and enjoy the rest of the flight by covering light-hearted subjects.  He’s a gentle, intelligent and interesting man.

At Heathrow we say goodbye.  To my surprise he hugs me and says, “Have a good life, Simone”.  I smile.  The only time those exact words have been said to me were by another 76-year-old.  My babysitter, Jillian.   I am having a good life, and I’m trying to make it even better.