Life is Absurd – If You Don’t Laugh You’ll Cry

 

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What a week ! Despite all good intentions and a host of ideas I’ve found completing a post for the blog elusive. I had plans to write about my mother in relation to St Patrick’s Day but in the planning I rearranged a class lesson and decided to do a post on all things green and Irish. However, I haven’t got around to editing and polishing the flash fiction and poems that exercise triggered.

My fingers moved too fast typing  this post and ‘flash’ came up auto-corrected as ‘flawed’.  Ha, ha – a Freudian slip or is my iMac confirming the truth of recent findings that computers are smarter than man and will soon be able to control us? Perhaps I should order a robot to write my posts!

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Meanwhile in the search through my files for a poem I wrote about my last trip to Ireland, I came across one written when I worked at Melbourne University. A bit of doggerel born from the time spent travelling on the train each day.

The hour long trip in the morning and the hour home again put to good use writing in my notebook, jotting down ideas often prompted by articles in the free mX newspaper, which had a section of brief stories from around the world titled Weird.

For a creative writer this was manna from heaven and indeed one such story on the lead up to Christmas inspired me to dash off a verse.  The nonsense produced actually fits in with the sense of unreality I’ve felt this week as the media promotes the likelihood of Donald Trump, not only being the Republican candidate for the Presidency, but perhaps the President of the United States of America.

In Australia, we elected Tony Abbott to a position of power so what people do with their vote never ceases to amaze me, but how do we explain Trump’s popularity and the scenes of hero worship and frenzied adulation?

And then I remembered Diana Duyser and her grilled cheese sandwich.

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Ode To A Cheese Sandwich

Mairi Neil, 2004.

Challenging the world’s non-believers
a goodly woman’s news did travel
displaying the Holy Toasted Sandwich
advertised as an E-Bay marvel.
Modern headlines scream of terror,
famine, war, pestilence and more
so the mother of God visited Florida
a lasting impression to make for sure!
The Blessed Virgin was desperate
she’d visited Earth before
statues wept, shrouds wrinkled
wraith-like she’d walked through doors.
But all that is so last century
modern Americans are much more cynical
Mother Mary had to choose a medium
observable without being mystical.
In the year of Our Lord, 1994
checked out of Heaven by God’s clerk
Mary traversed God’s own country
looking for somewhere to leave her mark.
Lo and behold, great tidings
Diana Duyser’s toaster was set just right
and miracle of holy miracles
she instantly saw The Light!
Without any theological training
or a holy life of note
she recognised the Virgin Mary’s visage
upon a sea of butter afloat.
In cotton wool and plastic wrap
two wonders of modern technology
for ten years the blessed sandwich
has defied all toxicology.
And so in December 2004
Golden Palace Casino’s gullible folk
made Diana $A35,000 richer
proving the silly season is not a joke!

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In 2004, I was also studying part time and achieved my Certificate IV in Workplace Training & Assessment. The course spanned 18 weeks – a much more intensive and thorough course than many on offer today – especially those in the scandalous private sector where charlatans have received government money because ideologically driven governments insist private does it better than public.

I was lucky the Sandybeach Centre was founded by a family of teachers who believed in public education. They gifted the centre to the community. My Cert IV tutor had relocated from Canberra and was one of the people who designed the course aiming to ensure people training others had the teaching skills to present and pass on that knowledge.

There were 18 students meeting each week and the insight into the range of skills and ideas for courses, as well as the range of personalities and backgrounds, led to fascinating lessons.

At our farewell luncheon I presented everyone with a poem on parchment, rolled and  tied with a bright red ribbon. The scroll, a little reflection to celebrate the end of what had been an intense course for some.

CERT IV – 2004

At Sandybeach for eighteen weeks
Eighteen students gathered to learn
With expert guidance from Maria
We experienced a pleasant sojourn.

Deanna taught us yoga breaths
Especially breathing through the nose
Encouraging meditation and calmness
Just make sure a handkerchief is close!

Esther explained website design
With a great example of how it’s done
Being first to do the ‘assessment task’
She was the perfect guide for everyone

A veteran of the corporate world
John’s mapping a new career
He enthralled us with statistics
Showing a water crisis is here!

Artistic Shelly displayed flair
We admired her icon painting
But if she’d gone into labour
Some of us would be fainting!

Toni was the second youngest
To be a teacher her ambition
Her presentation on computers
An excellent example of tuition.

Kamil was the youngest in the class
Yet his forte is knowledge of business
To actually gain this qualification
To Kam would be sheer B.L.I.S.S.

Softly spoken Paula’s desire
To train civil celebrants is unique
Her advice for aspiring celebrants
‘Get it right!’ before you speak.

There was a doctor in the ‘house’
Janos Bognar was his name
He shared his knowledge and expertise
The ‘mad cow’ debate to inflame!

Andrea is not demented
And she tested all of us
Her presentation and assessment
Completed with minimum of fuss.

Stefan tackled each session
Enthusiastically with a smile
His commitment to French food
Gave us a salad with style!

Gordon’s morning drive was impressive
His keen participation too
Flowery speech and tussie mussie
Made his presentation difficult to outdo.

Frank kept us entertained most sessions
Mr. Hospitality could be his name
We learnt what makes good coffee
and dealing with complaints is not a game.

Liz recognises signs of conflict
And has solutions that will work
Her triangular presentation
Helped us recognise a jerk.

If ever we suffer depression
Let’s hope Maralyn is on hand
With soft voice and caring manner
Our every symptom she understands.

Eve coached us all for life change
She made us think seriously about time
The quality not quantity
To have a balance just sublime!

Leanne loves outdoors
But suggests gardens need design
Her checklist incredibly helpful
To avoid a strangling vine.

Ann embodied the perfect presenter
Her cool style one to emulate
Customer service is her forte
Her training talent innate.

And last but not least is yours truly
A wordsmith of moderate note
The best thing about Cert IV
is the people about whom I wrote!

Mairi Neil

The celebration with classmates cut short because a close friend had died suddenly.  The funeral to be held in Castlemaine where she had relocated with her family to start a new life in the country and fulfil her dream of bringing her children up in a healthy sustainable lifestyle.

I left a city restaurant, caught the train to Castlemaine and met up with a group of friends, all in a state of shock like me. We’d become acquainted through Alida. I’d taught puppet and writing workshops at her home when she organised large groups of home-educated children. Her two young children had come to my Scottish country dancing classes. Before that they had briefly attended the same Steiner school as my daughters.

Alida had just turned 40. Why were we attending her funeral? As children painted her coffin and a quartet of strings played Mozart, we heard how she had died of a blood infection picked up after she cut herself gardening. Life is indeed absurd.

Alida – one of my angels. She supported me through John’s illness, encouraged me to write and insisted I was a good teacher, giving me opportunities through the home education network. She gave me confidence and the impetus to improve my qualifications. I should have been showing her my certificate not signing a condolence book. She left instructions for her funeral and it was unique like herself. Lots of laughter as children and adults painted flowers, trees and rainbows on her coffin and shared quirky stories about a truly remarkable and memorable person.

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And as this post visits random memories triggered by files on my computer I discovered a story I’d written about another bizarre episode in the Life & Times of Mairi Neil…

Hospitals Take Patience

When Anne was in primary school she ached to roller blade. Each school holiday we received a discount voucher to the local skating rink in White Street and each holiday I promised to go ‘one day’.

My childhood memories of roller skates were of expandable contraptions strapped over shoes. One size fits all. They usually slipped off, loosened, or stretched. Children were fortunate to reach adulthood with ankle bones intact. Skate design improved but I discovered eva in adulthood, risks of broken bones remain.

One Easter, I kept my promise and took Anne to the rink. I hired skates for us both so that I could demonstrate and help Anne skate, but the speed and antics of teenagers whizzing around made me change my mind. It was twenty years since I last roller-skated. One novice on the rink was enough. I returned my skates.

I showed Anne how to stand, glide and most importantly hang onto either my arm or the side of the rink. The first three encirclements slower than a snail on ice. Anne bounced back from falls, her patience, perseverance and endurance astonishing as she alternated between grabbing the side of the rink and me. Confidence and skill improved and she staggered solo.

Fourth time unlucky!

Clipped by a boy as unsure as herself, Anne fell. On the way down her left foot landed on my right foot. The slip-on canvas shoes I wore offered no protection from the wheels of the skate. Oh, the pain! So intense I was glad the general hubbub masked my expletives deleted.

I managed to finish the circuit and endure two more before suggesting we call it quits. Every step of the ten minute walk home excruciatingly painful.

After an uncomfortable night, John insisted I should have an x-ray in case I’d cracked a bone in my foot. (To match the one in my head his unspoken judgement.)

The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body.

We went to Frankston, the nearest public hospital and I limped to the reception desk.

‘Do you want see a doctor?’

I hoped the receptionist didn’t hear John’s mumbled, ‘No, we want to see a plumber.’

I managed to keep a straight face while explaining my injury.

Usual questions on personal and medical history were answered before she said, ‘Take a seat and I’ll arrange to have your foot elevated.’

However, a lady sitting at the adjoining window called me over to ask more questions of why I was there. I gave a detailed explanation, which she typed into a computer. My foot throbbed more and a headache developed to match.

At last sitting down I watched as moments later, three youths and an older lady helped a young girl through the doorway. She clung to the woman’s arm, hopping with an obvious swollen ankle. I discovered they were German tourists.

The receptionist deemed it necessary to repeat everything they said accompanied by an increase in the volume of her voice. I don’t think any of them were deaf but apparently your hearing and privacy disappears if your English is limited.

A twenty-something couple with two small children arrived next. They collected food and drink from the foyer vending machines and settled down to watch the television suspended from the ceiling. No reporting to reception – perhaps their TV was broken at home.

It was now 10.00 am. I turned to John, ‘The hospital isn’t that busy, hopefully this won’t take long.’

An orderly wheeled the young German girl away. She returned after having her ankle x-rayed. An hour had passed. The young children bored with the television offerings demanded more snacks.

John checked his watch for the umpteenth time. A pulse in his cheek throbbed as he stabbed at The Age crossword with his pen. I flicked pages so fast in the magazine I was reading they were in danger of ripping.

Anne and MaryJane were being taken care of by a friend but as is usual with emergency child care arrangements I worried. Stymied from voicing guilt and fears for the hundredth time, when a nurse called my name.

I hobbled after her, along the corridor, through double doors to a large area bustling with activity. Health professionals in abundance talked on phones, wrote on clipboards, chatted to patients and each other. People in various stages of treatment occupied three beds. A baby cried from behind a screen and a worried mother nursed a toddler being examined by a young doctor.

How long had these people been here? Was there another entrance to Accident & Emergency I didn’t know about?

The nurse directed me to join a couple sitting on a row of seats against a wall. The elderly man displayed an injured foot and his wife sat beside him holding crutches.

The nurse elevated my foot too and asked me to explain what had happened. She had difficulty finding evidence of ‘vital signs’ but at last announced she’d located a pulse in my foot. We both sighed with relief. She marked the spot with a biro, ‘to make it easier next time.’

She tried to take my temperature with a new machine that plugged into your ear to show body temperature on a portable screen. It didn’t work. She discarded the machine for an old-fashioned thermometer muttering, ‘so much for hi-tech medicine.’

Left alone, I introduced myself to my fellow sufferer and his wife. Fred said, ‘I’ve been sitting here since ten o’clock.’

I panicked. It was nearly midday. I shuffled back to Reception and told John about the back-log behind the scenes. He didn’t need convincing to check on the girls, ‘I’ll grab some lunch and return in a couple of hours.’

I resumed my conversation with Fred who confided a woman pushing a stroller knocked him over. ‘I just got the plaster off this morning and went to the local shopping centre. She careered into me from behind. Hit me good leg and sent me flying. I grabbed a parking meter to save myself but hit the kerb and the leg snapped.’

The woman didn’t stop to help or apologise but when Fred repeated what he said and how, I suggested her lack of response was through fear rather than indifference. His wife nodded in agreement. Righteous anger can be scary.

‘When you say good leg what happened to the other one?’

‘Oh,’ said Fred, ‘I broke that playing golf.’ He pointed to his left leg. ‘It was summer and the ground was dry and hard and I was wearing me winter shoes.’

I hid my ignorance – I didn’t even know there were special shoes for golf, never mind ones for different seasons!

Fred barely paused in his tale of woe. ‘I hit the best shot of me life, swung around but the shoe stayed put. I heard the lower leg and ankle crack.’ He shuddered with the memory.

Both his wife and I let out suitable sympathetic sounds and shook our heads. Some people attract bad luck!

I shared my mishap and laughed at our lack of sporting prowess.

A young intern approached. ‘Steven’s the name,’ he said with the false friendliness of a McDonald’s commercial. ‘What happened to your foot.’

I explained, yet again and wondered if a lie detector lurked nearby checking to see if this fourth retelling any different from the initial one hours before.

Steven attempted to take the pulse in my foot but couldn’t find it despite the biro mark. He expressed surprise at the foot being cold. I reminded him I’d been sitting for an hour in the path of the blast from the air-conditioner and two doorways. He didn’t acknowledge there may be a connection.

‘Are you a smoker?’

‘No.’

‘That’s odd, you have very poor circulation.’

He called a nurse and they both felt for a pulse. The nurse found it near the biro mark. Steven still couldn’t find it. He started to manipulate my toes and move my foot about. He pressed hard. Obsessed about my pulse he forgot about the injury. My not quite muffled scream brought an embarrassed apology and the original nurse over.

‘What’s the significance of this worry over my pulse?’ I wondered aloud. ‘Is it a sign of terminal illness? My foot was smashed by a roller skate. I just want to know if I’ve broken anything.’

The original nurse recognised fear. ‘It means nothing except they can’t find it!’ She dismissed Steven with a glare.

He wandered off to practise on another patient, the nurses returned to their respective posts and Fred and I pondered on the training interns received.

The German girl had joined us and another intern was using sign language and broken English to explain the intricate muscle, bone and nerve structure of the human leg. She paid great attention to his every word, mainly because she couldn’t understand it – neither could we.

He had examined her x-rays, which revealed no broken bones. That would have taken seconds to say. Perhaps he recognised she hadn’t been waiting the obligatory three hours or perhaps because she was young and attractive he wanted to delay her departure.

I wondered if Steven had bothered to order x-rays for me when as if by mental telepathy a young technician appeared with a wheelchair. He asked what happened and so for the umpteenth time I explained why I had come to the hospital.  I had a desire to begin the narration with ‘a tale as old as time… ‘

Half-an-hour later John returned in a mellow mood. Lunch had been delicious, the girls were happy. The x-ray a great advance in his eyes until I reminded him it was after 2.00 pm.

Fifteen minutes later a nurse came over and bandaged the German girl’s ankle and my foot. Steven reappeared and introduced himself to John, ignoring me.

He talked over my head. ‘I don’t think the foot is broken but I’m not saying it isn’t in case you come back and sue my ass off.’

Steven received my most scathing look.  John refrained from speaking. I thought how my Irish mother sometimes mangled the English language but then she had no great love of the English or their language and made no pretence of having studied it at tertiary level.

A nurse bandaged the foot that may or may not be broken. I didn’t tell her being a proud owner of a Ranger Guide First Aid badge, I could have done that at home.

We left Fred demanding loudly if they had misplaced his file while his wife shrunk behind his crutches.

I limped out to the carpark leaning on John’s arm reflecting that before being let loose as a General Practitioner, Steven needed a trifecta: to improve his medical knowledge, master a doctoring technique and find a better bedside manner.

‘You’ll think twice before roller-skating again,’ John said as he helped me into the car.

My smile, lopsided and fleeting as I vowed next holiday, the school’s discount vouchers better be for the cinema.

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6 thoughts on “Life is Absurd – If You Don’t Laugh You’ll Cry

  1. Another great piece Mairi – do so love your ‘life’ stories but I read Maureen’s comments above and was waiting just as anxiously as she probably was (I feel the comments section is just an addendum to the main story and needs completion as much as the main – it is certainly read by me as such!) but you haven’t answered the questions raised.
    I wll wait with bated breath. 🙂

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    1. Ha, ha, Kaye, thank you:) To answer the questions – my foot was very painful for a long time and there is a bump in it so perhaps one of those tiny bones cracked. Not important enough for any medico to care. The visit to Frankston was under the dastardly days of Kennett’s pulling funding out of anything public under the guise of restructuring the hospital to be more efficient. Anne continued her love of rollerblading as did MJ – I stayed off the rink unless feet suitably attired.(The little place went the way of all valuable property sites in Mordi and is now townhouses.) I’ve often wondered if Fred’s run of bad luck continued…

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  2. hi Mairi, you have again taken me on an enjoyable journey around the ins and outs – or should I say ups and downs – of your life. did you break a bone in your foot and did Anne go on to become a skilled/semi-skilled/or just a skate owning little girl who was only allowed to glide around in circles in the driveway? have you ever tried skate-boarding – has Anne or Mary? also love the quotes and photo’s. your personal blogs are like modern day pop-up book -never any flat pages. thank you for sharing, Maureen x

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