Night Cafés

I listened to the Sam Jones Off Camera podcast with Patton Oswalt last week. Patton has talked in the past about Night Cafés; a room that you walk into, that you walk out of as a different person.

It intrigued me, so I thought about what mine would be, so in the order they came to me:

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, by Joseph Wright of Derby. This painting I first saw in the National Gallery when I was a teenager. It’s massive, the figures are almost life size, which until you see the painting you can’t get from any reproduction of it. The painting was also discussed in an Open University course, the one I met the first husband on. Hence the Night Café.

A Passage To India, this movie broke me open when I watched it. So much so, I’ve never been able to watch it again.

Pride & Prejudice, the book and the BBC adaptation with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The book is glorious and I re-read it every year. The BBC version is the definitive version for me, I know that Keira Knightley was the same age as Elizabeth Bennett when that version was made, but trying to squeeze such a dense book into a movie is hard work.

Local Hero, I adore this movie. It’s part of my fabric of being. Quotes are part my lexicon and vernacular;

“You’ll never get two sheep in the back of a Maserati”

“I’ll make a good Gordon, Gordon”

“Did you cook my rabbit?”

“IT’S GONE RED ALL OVER!”

Surrender The Pink, Carrie Fisher #OurPrincess. I love all her books, but this one in particular was the one that resonated loudest with me. I typed a whole lot of stuff here, but then deleted it – as it was way too personal… I will say though, I still have car-parking karma.

Graceland, Paul Simon’s album.

Tubular Bells II, Mike Oldfield. Although, if The Bell catches me in the wrong mood with Alan Rickman narrating, it can make me weep. I particularly like the track Tattoo, there’s a version shown on BBC2 (I think) from Edinburgh Castle, with John Gordon-Sinclair narrating, but all those bagpipes – oh my.

Lady Antebellum, particularly the song We Owned The Night. For a 3:16 minute song, it’s one I can listen to over and over.

Wall·e My favourite Pixar movie. Not recommended to watch while pregnant, you may be a blubbering mess for hours.

Likewise with The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. Both amazing movies, both based on novels / novellas by Stephen King, both featuring actors at the top of their game.

Possession, AS Byatt. I can’t tell you how much I love this book.

Mapp and Lucia, EF Benson. My comfort blanket, my constant.

That’ll do, but there will probably be more – what are your Night Cafés?

Yesterday was not a good day

Despite having all my hardware removed, I’ve still got my ovaries in, so hormones – those pesky little critters are still rampantly waging war on my moods. Combine that with a very late night the night before, I didn’t get home until midnight, I was cactus yesterday.

I could have easily stayed in bed and hidden away from the world, instead I hid in my phone and stuffed up my mood even further. When will I learn?

I’ve decided to not look at facebook for a couple of days. I’m not looking at twitter at the moment – sheer red rage at the orange twat-waffle and NRA lobbyists mostly.

My mood has not been helped by leaving a set of hand-over notes that were ignored by the person covering my role while I was away. Instead of having meeting papers in one place for me (brought forward folder) and one place for BossLady, (her daily pack); I found papers, agendas, things to sign and approve, OHS walks – anything and everything, all over the desk and shelves behind me.

When an autographed approval comes back to me, I scan it, save the PDF with the same naming convention in our files, stamp the hard copy with today’s date, update my spreadsheet and send the PDF on it’s way electronically. I then put the hard-copy into my pending tray to file each Friday afternoon when my brain is fried and all I can do is filing and clean my desk.

Never under-estimate the amount of people who want hard-copy bits of paperwork, as well as the same scanned bits of paperwork.

me

I had six days out the office, and its taken me nearly two weeks to find (what I’m hoping is now) everything, which is pretty impressive. Talk about a sense of humour failure. But more importantly, it also made me feel anxious and flustered because before I left the building, if I was asked for anything, I could put my hands on it straight away. Maddening.

This week I’ve been so tired, I looked up ‘How long does jet lag last for?’ It ain’t jet lag, pure and simple. I am an emotionally stuffed piñata. Hubs and I had such a good time away over the weekend, real-life in the week is hard to get back into. I am so far off my normal rhythm, it ain’t funny.

In an effort to combat this, I signed up for a 30 day Pilates challenge at my gym. You can only book into the classes 2 hours before they’re run; so far on day four, I’m yet to get a spot in one.

I can’t get comfy on my chair at work.

My back hurts.

I’m grumpy.

I miss Erika, spending so long thinking about our shenanigans has made me realise that despite the friends I’ve made over here – sometimes you need people around you knew you from before. Before divorce, before breakdown, before Hubs, before Archie. People who know you from days of yore and see you at your core.

Coven

Give me a couple of days to get out my funk, I’ll be ok. Until then, we’re all off again this weekend (we have a house-sitter), we’ll have a good car conversation on our drive up, I’m going for a run, we’re going to hang out with Hanno, drive the wee man’s RC car and watch an Am-Dram panto #HesBehindYou

I read this on Instagram from Andrew Johnson:

Imagine if we treated each new dawn of each new day with the same reverence and joy as we do each new year.

Angie Lynn

Tomorrow we start again. I just need to get through today. As I keep saying to Ian, sometimes you can’t get through more than a minute at a time. But anyone can do anything for a minute.

For Erika

Before I start, a bit of housekeeping: if there are any people with children here, let them be noisy – don’t shush them and take them out. I can wait and work around you. That being said, I am likely to swear a little bit and I will cry, you will also have to work around me. If anyone wants to come and stand beside me while I do this, thank you. Lastly, this looks long, but it is only really spaced out, so I can read it through my tears.

When Ian asked me if I wanted to speak today; he said I could send my words to Jane who would then read it out for me. But if Erika taught me anything; it was to get up and get on with it, even when you didn’t want to. Just keep going. 

For many of you, the past few weeks would have been a blur. I’m all over the place, I’m only here from Melbourne for a week. I don’t know my arse from my elbow, although I know it is Tuesday but only because I’m here in a dress talking to you. I started a new job the week before Erika died; I’m still in that learning new processes, period of confusion and breaking in a new boss limbo. We’ve also only just got Archie back to school after his two weeks winter holidays. Add the fact it is bitterly cold in Melbourne at the moment, is not helping my confusion on this beautiful day.

None of that matters though, because I simply cannot fathom I am never going to see Erika again; that she won’t get to meet Archie; that I can’t post Princess Bride quotes on Facebook while I’m watching the movie, that she’ll like every single one of them and volley them back at me; or that whenever I see a rabbit, kitten or Metallica video, I can no longer share it with her.

In fact, it’s inconceivable.

But I don’t want to stand here and rattle on about how awful it is, as every one of us is feeling that, the Man in Black reminded us that ‘Life is Pain Highness, and anyone who says differently is selling you something.’

‘Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.’ That quote is from Glennon Doyle Melton. 

Most of the poems on bereavement I found, are awful and not Erika. Death is nothing at all? Bull shit. Death is everything. I know it is only technically the opposite of birth; but it also the full stop at the end of a sentence in a paragraph that many of us were still writing. That quote was me. 

We celebrate births, then dither about what to say when someone dies. What I want to try to do today is celebrate Erika, to try and share with you how daft we were together, how much she shaped and helped my life over the past fifteen or so years.

We met in the early 2000s at a clothing company based in Andover, specialising in selling clothes to grumpy old women who would complain, vociferously, about anything and everything. Helen and I sat opposite each other in customer service; Erika was in an office next door. Before I go any further, can we also acknowledge that Helen’s beloved Dad passed away a couple of weeks ago, his funeral is on Thursday, let’s all give our love to her and her family too?

James Meade clothing was all hideous print blouses, high waist trousers and mostly polyester. If you walked too quickly through the warehouse, you could set it on fire. 

Customers would phone up and complain about buying a hideous print blouse, for it to be on sale after they’d brought it. They wanted their money back. Their parcel hadn’t arrived. They wanted their money back. The colour in the catalogue of this blouse was red, you sent me scarlet. They wanted their money back. 

A never ending stream of vitriol and bile which was not helped by calls being held in a queue for us to answer. If you answer a call and put people on hold to tell them their call is in a queue, it costs them money. The customers would only hear a phone ringing and ringing and ringing; they didn’t understand, or care, that we were all flat-chat on calls until we got to answer theirs. They wanted their money back.

Erika was away when I started, I bustled into the lunch room one day and saw her sitting there. I told her she looked like she needed a hug. So I gave her a hug. She then told me that she’d just got back to work after burying her Dad and she needed that hug. I probably gave her another one just to make sure.

We had an archaic vending machine in that lunch room, where you’d put your money in and hope you’d get what you asked for. One day I asked for Maltesers, but they got stuck. I went to find the key to open it, in the meantime, Helen had also asked for Maltesers and, of course, got two packets for the price of one. Helen just thought ‘Result!’ and promptly shared them out. I got back to the lunch room and shrieked ‘You Bitch-Troll-From-Hell!’ to much hilarity and the name stuck. I was re-christened Maddie-lion and Erika was Furriner.

We all took the day off one day to have a Bar-B-Que at my house. We went to the butchers in Ludgershall, then the supermarket, and ended up with enough food to feed the five thousand. Over the day, Helen and I bombarded Erika with British culture, including Bagpuss, and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life which she watched in either bemused horror, or bemused amusement at our hysterics. We’d also all got firmly stuck into cider, which made Helen’s task of making a dress to wear for an upcoming night out more difficult than it needed to be. Feeling slightly shady, she was worried it was a bit too short after she’d got carried away and tried to even the hem up. Sending Erika out to her car to get some fancy shoes to see what the dress looked like with heels on, Helen wiggled into the dress while I refreshed the ciders. Erika tottered back with two shoes. They were both black, but not a pair and both for the left foot.

I am so blessed with my close friends; I call them my coven for all the cackling and mayhem we create. In truth, I have many best friends, those people that when you meet up with them, it is like no time has passed.

Before the age of smartphones, Erika never had her phone on. It was either off all together, or on but on silent at the bottom of her bag, or on but had no charge. To get around this, I would text Ian, then ring him, he’d pass his phone over to her, we’d chat for hours. 

Then my world collapsed. My first husband decided he was leaving me. I can still see this day so clearly, I left my desk at work with my phone and called Erika. Her phone was charged, on, and sitting on her desk when I rang. 

Erika sent Ian to come and get me. Initially I stayed with them for a couple of nights. When I was told I had to move out of the house I had lived in with the ex-husband, she told me I was moving in with them. She wasn’t going to have me living in a council flat on my own. They helped me pack up my stuff, going backwards and forwards to try and collect everything over one weekend.

Amanda who I worked with at Sandhurst was on the phone with her sister Sara one day. Did Amanda know anyone who wanted to work as a PA in the Chairman’s office at Cable&Wireless? Amanda knew of the situation I was in and suggested I would be ok, and that I needed a new opportunity. Mum brought me a suit for the interview as I’d lost so much weight, nothing smart enough I had fitted me any more. When I got the job, I surveyed my wardrobe. I had precisely four outfits to wear to work. Getting worried about my severe lack of clothes; Erika reminded me that as they had dress-down Friday, I would wear jeans. That, when I got paid in a couple of weeks, I could buy a top or two. Now get out there and do it.

Erika and Ian let me stay rent-free while I got my life together again. I’d buy the groceries when we all went to the market, or treat her to John Freida’s Frizz Ease, as she’d never buy it for herself. Other times I’d be home, the front door would open and Ian would say ‘I smell cleaning products’. He’d also have to announce ‘I am coming up the stairs’ after he scared me shitless that many times by apparently just apparating into my bedroom.

Mon Bears took me to France for a weekend away. It had been a long day driving over, I decided to take my contact lenses out in the carpark of Carrefour as my eyes were itchy and dry, I was using disposable ones then. But before I could put one into a tissue to throw it away, it flew off and got stuck on a windscreen. Ian and I have been reminiscing over phone calls and messenger, he reminded me that ‘I had to separate the two of you before you could stop laughing’. 

Erika, Wiz along with the rest of my coven, nursed me back to health, back to life. 

Wiz, Erika and I would have tat competitions. Trying to find the worst thing we could as a holiday souvenir. The only caveat was it couldn’t be an outright souvenir, like a fridge magnet, or shot glass. It took some effort I can tell you to find things. I have a variety of memories from all over England, but my favourite is a tray from Montreal that would maybe hold a tea-cup, but only if empty. Truly useless.

Erika asked for the recipe for my sticky rice, not realising that I’m just hopeless at cooking it. She made a soup for Ian and I from the left over veggies after a roast dinner, whizzed it up, then realised she’d left a bay leaf in – so painstakingly sieved it all out. We’d bake for hours to make scones, biscuits and cakes to raise money or to take to offices for birthdays. Leaving the kitchen in a trail of destruction, and Ian to do all the dishes. One day Erika and Ian were coming over for lunch with Dan and I in Portsmouth. I was on the phone to Erika trying to navigate them in to the car park under our building when they drove past me walking to the store at the end of the block, as I’d just found a huge, surprised grasshopper in the bag of salad. 

I moved to Australia in 2008 to be with Dan, Erika gave me a Jasper thumb stone, auspicious for long journeys. Dan and I married in 2009, with Wiz and Erika arriving at the ceremony with wedding tat from the same Clintons range. A truly shitty wedding frame and a cake slice that was so plastic you’d either break it entirely, or fling the cake across the room if you’d attempted to use it. Erika put a wedding album together for us, and even with our official photos, we’ve never needed to put together another one. Then our Archie arrived in 2011, the Jasper stone also came into the theatre when I had to have Archie by emergency c-section. Erika sent a package of love to him, with post-it notes on everything, painstakingly telling me what, why and when she’d found things for us.

Our friendship slipped a little for a couple of years; life got in the way for all of us.

I’ve come back to the UK twice before this trip. Once for my brother’s wedding, again for his 40th. On my last trip here, Mon Bears came and got me from Wiz and Jim’s house, we drove around, not sure where to go and ended up at the seaside. We walked along the prom, eating ice cream. We went to lunch and talked and talked and talked. The bridges that were broken were mended.

I knew I’d be coming back for a funeral at some point, but I never thought the first one would be for Erika. Again, it’s inconceivable.

Ian, being Ian, apologised he had to break the news to me over the phone that Erika had gone. He has been humbled and amazed at the messages he’s received. Ian has told me that people he didn’t even know existed have sent him messages, and he knows they knew Erika because of how they describe her.

From her lary leggings at zumba, to her stamps and crafty buddies, to Charli at the Wakkie Hair company doing her hair, given free reign with colour and cuts. From Erika’s love of the sublime to the ridiculous, including, but not limited to: Harry Potter, heavy metal, rabbits, kittens, sci-fi books, Stargate, Dungeons and Dragons, Red Dwarf, The Hairy Bikers and Nigella, chicken wings and chee-bor-gays, both our fridges groaning with condiments, the airer that she hated me hanging washing on, but she loved me so accepted it; she taught me how to fold a fitted sheet instead of rolling it up into a ball and hoping for the best. Her absolute love of self, the endless selfies, she truly was “This is me”, I’ve so many memories. Such a long receipt of love to show everyone. 

It only remains for me to say, “As you wish”

Valerian, the herb, not the movie

Last night it took me ages to get to sleep again. Then I woke up. Fretted. Got cross with myself. Fretted some more. Got back to sleep. I had bad dreams last night too, images I can’t shake even now. I staggered out of bed at 6:20am; bleary eyed, unbearably sad and with less than an hour to have a shower, finish lunches, get Hubs to the station, Archie to school and me on the road.

Things didn’t get done over the weekend, like Archie’s reading diary. We read every day with him, but have to justify it to his teacher by completing it. I sent him to school with three blank spaces in it, so can look forward to ‘????’ in there tonight when we get home.

I got in the car ready to whizz the wee man to school and got an alert on the dash ‘Key mechanism not working’ I only needed to get the battery changed, but it freaked me out somewhat as I’m transferring the car to my new job.

I’m tired, cranky and honestly, shell-shocked. I am not fully in my body. I have to start taking better care of myself, otherwise I’m going to fall over. I need to do some exercise to help tire me out and get me to sleep, but tonight I just need an early night. I’ve also brought some Valerian for good measure. I am making myself eat, as I have no appetite and when I do eat, I feel sick. To top it all off, my stomach is churning. Looking everything up online, so far so normal. I know it is a process I’ve got to navigate, my compass is a bit faulty.

I am so glad that I’ve got people on the end of the phone for me. I’m also grateful that Ian and I are messaging each other. Cat photos, nonsense, updates on our days and laundry. Anything and nothing. He told me off for drinking, having seen me obliterate feelings and pain before, he knows the depths I can sink to. I’ve reset my sober date to today (24 June).

At lunch time, I went to Box Hill Central – that has changed a huge amount since I last was there. I was only just pregnant with Archie, so over eight years ago. I dropped the dry cleaning in, found a pharmacy for the aforementioned herb extract. Walking round to find somewhere to get the battery changed, I got completely lost; asked for help, got misdirected out of one building and into another. Then giving up altogether, as I was heading out (in a huff) to get back to work, I walked right into the stand and got the battery replaced.

Then … I got lost coming out the car park, had to do a U-Turn on Elgar Road.

I should be able to book my flights tomorrow, Ian is off to the funeral director now. That might help, as I feel a bit lost and in limbo still.

I ate lunch today

Which is an odd thing to be proud of, but I do have a tendency to not eat when I get very anxious or stressed. My throat closes up and I have to force food down me. Last night I had some soup, a real tangy miso and mushroom (new flavour from La Zuppa that I’m loving). I managed a mandarin for breakfast, have eaten my smaller than normal lunch and just had a cup of tea with a chocolate protein bar. We’ll think about dinner when we get to it tonight.

After three days at home blowing my nose like a trumpet and with aches and pains all over, I went back to work today. HR were very sweet, “Are you sure you want to be here?” ‘Yes please. I need something else to think about’. BossLady and I have already had a conversation about my going back to the UK for Erika’s funeral; the lady who was covering my role immediately before I arrived will back-fill, so I also don’t need to worry about it all falling into chaos while I’m out.

I know I’m going to feel sad, lost, angry and so on. Grief will do that to you. But s0dding hell, last night was hell. I went to the spare room in the end. If it wasn’t my legs twitching, which wakes me up, I’d be dreaming so vividly I’d wake up. Maddening.

I’ve got Jasper stuffed in my bra today. Erika gave it to me when I left the UK, ready for my long journey. It’s a thumb stone, polished so you can put your thumb in a smooth groove and fidget with it. Jasper also came into theatre with me when I had my C-Section. I don’t particularly do crystals per se, I like them as aesthetic objects, but it was one of the things I thought of would be easily portable, a comfort and reminder whenever I felt it. Normally I’d put it in a pocket, but I’m in a skirt. Yes, I have several of them.

I’ve caught up with my emails; as in, they’re sorted, categorised and I’m working through them. BossLady’s inbox is going to take more work, she’s practically full so I need to do a major archive operation and plough through them.

I’d love to go to the gym, or for a run, but swimming with Archie last night before his lesson, (read splashing about and playing) was hard work. I’m as weak as a kitten :/ I’ll start again from the weekend. I can’t do everything.

One day at a time.

My Furriner, Mon Bears

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but my sweet girl has gone, Erika.

She was the person I called when my first marriage imploded; and for the first time in her life had her phone on so she could hear it.

From her cancer diagnosis to her passing was just over two weeks. I am broken. I can’t imagine what her husband Ian is feeling. We’ve been swapping messages, yesterday I spoke to him and again this morning when he told me, apologising he had to break it to me over the phone. In his voice, it sounded like a weight had been lifted as she was no longer in pain, but as he said – it’ll soon be replaced by the other weight of loss.

When I whizzed back to the UK for my brother’s birthday, we went out for the day. Reconnected, laughed, laughed, laughed.

I first met her in the staff room at work, she was sat down looking shell-shocked; she’d just come back from Canada after burying her father. I didn’t know, but told her she looked like she needed a hug, so I gave her a hug. She later told me that I kept her going.

I hope she knew how much she and Ian kept me going. Opening up their home to me when I was homeless, letting me stay there rent free to get myself back on my feet again. Helping me pack, move, cheering me on when I got a new job.

She’s been one of my best friends for over twenty years, from her stripy socks to her rabbits, I’ve got so many memories, thank goodness, who am I going to message whenever I watch the Princess Bride? All I think about when I think about her is love, she gave so much love to everyone – from her Zumba classes, to her neighbours, to her crafty buddies. She radiated love and light everywhere she went, everyone loved her. Hubs and I have one wedding album, Erika put it together for us. We’ve never needed to make another one.

She and Wiz wanted one photo with me when I got married to Hubs, we pulled it off. Wiz peeping out over my shoulder, I was worried I’d fall off, but Erika was holding me firmly, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.”

 

My leaving speech

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For those of you who don’t know me and are just here for the food, welcome! I’ve been here at Council for a while, almost exactly six years. Not as long as some of you; but to others I’m like the Oracle of Delphi. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll know someone who will. 

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As you all know, I am guaranteed to cry, so let’s just accept that now and I’ll muddle through this as best I can. If all else fails, I’ll do an interpretative dance.

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This is going to be hard for me to do, because as some of you know, working at Nillumbik nearly broke me and my marriage to Dan. So here are some memes to make you laugh through this bit.

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Working as an EA or PA, your life is dependent on the symbiotic relationship you have with your Manager.

Three weeks after I started working here, I met with CC and Mr T, lately of this parish, to ask WTF had I done? I’d left a job I loved, with colleagues I loved to work closer to home and was working for someone who did literally nothing and also had no idea how to mange anyone. When I asked ‘How are you today?’ his answer would govern my whole day.

Somehow, I muddled through, joining committees and starting up AdminChat, offering help across the organisation where I could so I had stuff to do to fill my days. My mental health and in turn marriage began to suffer. Several people along the way helped hold me up, not least J – whose opinion of me i valued over everybody’s else on the Management team, and still do. When R left, J was asked to step into the role; at our first meeting, he said ‘I’ve never had a PA before, what do I do?’

J’s life is compartmentalised into work and home; he’s cautious about letting life spill between the two. J is also not the most loquacious of people, so we worked our way out of how to work together through Doctor Who (I’ve met two of them) and working through issues logically and systematically as that is how our brains work.

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Officially I’ve lived in Greensborough for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else since I left home twenty five years ago, I’ve moved house over twenty times.

When you look at my CV, it can look like a shemozzle too, because I’ve done there, been that, living in a seaside town, being a chamber maid is a rite of passage; I’ve been a bar maid, worked in a warehouse; I’ve even done silver service, although not successfully. I’ve worked in retail, including a book shop (so – no I didn’t take home much money); memorably opening at midnight for the release of the Order of the Phoenix which may or may not have caused a sense of humour failure when I was still in the shop 18 solid hours later. At that same bookshop in Winchester, played it cool and chatted to Colin Firth about Rohinton Mistry’s books. I may or may not have photocopied his EFTPOS receipt for his signature. 

 

I worked for the Civil Service in the UK over three different training camps. Spending the longest time at Army Training Regiment, Winchester one of their basic training camps. I looked after A-Squadron; supporting a Major, Captain and two Warrant Officers in the office, and six other Captains with their staff as they trained the recruits. Across the camp, every two weeks, a new intake started for the twelve-week course, a sausage factory of people turning into lean, green, fighting machines.

[There is a point to all of this, I promise].

I sat in a little office with D, the payroll clerk for the unit, the two of us surrounded by paper, listening to Radio 2 all day. Recruits would arrive, followed by greats sheafs of paperwork. They’d either stay and create more paperwork that would continue to follow them through their careers: or leave and I’d have to generate and process their discharge paperwork, closing their files. This was also where I watched my signature get smaller and smaller as I signed my name hundreds of times a day.

D was painfully shy; he wouldn’t even blow his nose in front of me – he’d always excuse himself to the bathroom first. Can you imagine him being in a room with me for eight hours a dayThe poor boy.

Watching Pass-Out parades of recruits every other Friday was both joyous and heart-wrenching at the same time. It was a whole festival to celebrate the hard work they’d done, with the recruits doing various displays to show off their fitness, skills and confidence to family and friends. Just after 12pm, family and friends would sit down in bleachers, staff would appear from all over the camp, leaning over the back wall of the seating, listening to the excited murmurs underneath us. A full marching band would put on a display, assemble at the back of the square, then the Sergeant Major would shout, “By the riiiiight! Quick, March!” The drums would start and the recruits who’d changed into their second dress, all polished boots and brass buttons, would march on to the parade square.

I’ve worked here for longer than I’ve worked for anywhere else. The job I had the longest before now was at the Sovereign Centre; everything I learnt about team work stems from working in that busy leisure centre. 

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Staff training sessions were a hot mess of hangovers, running scenarios with casualties all over the building, most of us in hysterics and us practicing CPR until your arms were on fire and knees your have given way. I learnt more about customer service and tact and diplomacy by rebooking over a thousand children into swimming lessons, navigating the endless expectations of their parents and the children’s diary commitments, until (unbelievably obnoxious serial complainant residents) arrived in my inbox.

But I’ve been on poolside and fished people out. Knowing that if you have to go in for a rescue, your colleagues would have your back to clear the pool. 

I’ve done CPR and broken ribs to keep someone going long enough for an ambulance to get to them. 

I’ve taught ladies to swim, who thought they’d be the ones looking after handbags for the rest of their lives. 

People I worked with at the Sovereign Centre came to our wedding, I still email and message D and other people I worked with at the ATR. Also at our wedding were a couple who gave me a spare room rent free for a few months when my first marriage ended. I spoke with Furriner on her first day back at work after burying her father, I walked into the lunch room and unknowingly, I told her she looked like she needed a hug, so I gave her a hug. I reciprocated the love and care my best friend W gave to me in entrusting her two children to me after we met on poolside over twenty years ago, and made her Archie’s god-mother. His god-father is Hubs’ best friend, who joined the Australian Army on the same day as Dan, again over twenty years ago.

Here we come to the point of all this.

I share these memories of my life with you, because people you meet at work shape your lives in hundreds of ways, day in, day out. I lived in Winchester, working at Waterstones and the ATR for just a couple of years; can you imagine what I’m going to be able to tell people about working at Council for six years? What we’ve done, built, created, the people we’ve helped along the way?

At my interview, I said I wanted to work for Council because I firmly believe we provide services, opportunity, art, facilities for people who want to access them, but don’t have the money to. But I’m done with residents complaining because they think moving a car park would ruin the aesthetic of a playground; or residents complaining because we take time out to celebrate IDAHOBIT, health initiatives, prevention of violence and that is before we get to the Not In My Backyard NIMBYish attitude of people who want to subdivide their land to make money, but don’t want their new neighbours to build on it.

But, I still believe that and I’m proud to have worked here. But now I’m prouder of the friends I’ve made that will be with me for life.  

Surgery recovery

The days are melding into each other. Some days I sleep, some days I don’t. I have visitors that I have to book in, because doing too much tires me out more than I thought it would.

I’m not doing much reading, my plans for a 100 books this year are up the wahoo by now. I can’t concentrate on the words, or I find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again.

I have churned through TV and movies though; Stranger Things, The Fix, and The Cook and The Chef, Nigella and Rick Stein on SBS on demand.

My periods have been the bane of my life pretty much since they showed up. After a buffet of medications, trial and error (including two mirena implants) on 8 April I had my long-awaited hysterectomy. I was first on the list for Simon’s afternoon surgery, went into theatre about 1:30pm. I can remember crying from a mixture of relief and happiness as I was put under.

After that, time is relative…

Random photos on my phone while I was still groggy, show I got taken to the ward about 5pm. Hubs and Archie came to visit, I was in pain, but while I sat up in bed eating I FaceTimed them to show Arch I was feeling better.

About an hour after that, I barfed my food back up again. It was the single most easiest vomit I’d ever done, I know – TMI, but it was instrumental in pain relief as it meant I got a second bag of tramadol :D I was helped by the nurse on shift overnight, Olivia, who helped me tidy myself up and clean my teeth. My tummy settled and Olivia and another nurse gave me some morphine tablets. I put my audiobook on, earbuds under my pillow and an ear plug in and I got three straight hours of most excellent wafting.

In the morning I was visited by Simon and two of his doctors who showed me the requested photo of my uterus, (huge, chock-full of fibroids) all three inspected my wounds. I staggered to the bathroom, had a shower, sitting down in a chair, but still bliss; my dressings were changed and I was sent home. Less than 24 hours after surgery.

I was sent home so quickly, the physiotherapist missed me completely. The social worker managed a corridor conversation with us to make sure I wasn’t going home on my own, this was interrupted by the pharmacist who took my prescription and told us she’d meet us at the pharmacy. The Mercy oncology department (don’t stress, Simon is a specialist in difficult cases) have decamped to another part of The Austin while plumbing works take place in the Mercy tower; they’re the only department that can be transferred into and out of the Austin. All the preemies, OBGYNs and other specialised lady-bits doctors and departments have been moving up and down the tower floors while the works take place. The ward the oncology department are working from is in the Harold Stokes tower, basically I was on was on the other side of a large hospital. I was as weak as a kitten and my insides felt like they were falling out, there was no way I was going to be able to walk to the car.

Aman, a lovely porter who also refilled my water jug first thing in the morning, took me to the pharmacy in a wheelchair. Hubs got me the hard-drugs from the pharmacist and Aman popped us all in the lift. I managed to get from the lift to the car, then thought ‘Oh shit’. My mouth was dry, I felt dizzy and really quite awful.

We stopped at the 711 around the to get me some water, I swallowed some pain relief and sucked on an anti-nausea pill then Hubs gingerly drove home. For a 20 minute journey, it took hours. Getting out the car my lips were blue and teeth were chattering. Archie took my shoes off, I crawled into bed and stayed there for two days.

Three weeks later, all the work I’d done leading up to the surgery was worth it; I’m walking and recovering well. I am listening to my body, if I do a bit too much it’s counterbalanced out with a nap. I’m not in any pain and already my energy levels are improving. I’ve still got a few weeks off work to carry on resting up and I’ve got an appointment with a trainer at the gym the week after next. I don’t want to go charging back to the gym, I need an all-round, gentle program to get me back to fitness.

The pathology results came back as benign, Simon called me himself to let me know. I really couldn’t have been in safer hands. I’m going to miss hanging out with him every six months.

Work in progress

Sooooo, I learned that I do not honour or am proud of being sober yesterday. We had our Book Club break-up at a wonderful private house in Camberwell. We mooched around the garden, took masses of photos and were offered lemonade, fizz and Pimms. I asked for lemonade.

I got this.

Then my glass was empty, it got refilled with fizz and I didn’t say anything.

Then I asked for a glass of Pimms, because I’d already blown the week out the window.

Sigh.

I don’t got this. Today I looked up AA meetings. I need help as this is bigger than I can handle. :/

—o0o—

In other news, a friend at aforementioned party, took a photo of me that I posted on Instagram and Facebook with the following caption:

Those of you who know me, know I struggle with what I look like. It’s rare for me to have a candid picture taken of me that I like. But I love this one!
#bodydysmorphia #mentalhealth

I’ve had some messages come through about what Body Dysmorphia means, so I’m going to try to explain it; as best I can. I was in Wiltshire when I was diagnosed, so about 2001? I have hid the diagnosis, because like many mental health issues, I was ashamed of it. Only a few close friends, and I mean close, know how much I struggle with what I look like. Some days, it’s so bad, I can only do my make-up looking in a compact mirror, because then I don’t see all my face at one time.

I’m getting ready to go to work, or on a night out and I look at me in a mirror; I take care over my appearance and think, “that ain’t bad”. Then I take a selfie, because I don’t think I look too bad, and WTF is in the camera? Or someone else will take a photo and WTF is in the camera. Some photos of me will never be on my timeline, because WTF is in the camera. So far, so normal, right?

I have also been the height I am since I was 12 years old, I towered over people at school. On my first day at high school, I was told off for not telling someone the way to a classroom, because I didn’t know it. The teacher thought I was being difficult? a bully? obnoxious? who the hell knows.

I would sit down next to girls my age and feel huge next to them. I was taller than them; sitting down on anything, my thighs were bigger; my hands were bigger, I bit my nails through nerves. I took up so much space compared to everyone else. I’m lanky, gangly, walk into things all the time, stooping to try and hide it; so now at 43, my shoulders hurt.

My feet are bigger than my husband’s. I remember so clearly at junior school, one of my favourite teachers trying to address the problem of people picking on me by standing me next to the smallest girl in the class (hello Sophie if you’re out there). Talk about exacerbating the problem. It took a full meltdown for him to understand the impact of him slipping my shoes on to take the rubbish out before he understood how fragile my f*cking feet make me feel. Feet! I am so proud of them because they’ve taken me round endless KMs of running in the past few years. I’d no sooner got rid of one duff nail when Archie trod on two more and I’m waiting for them to grow out, so I’m still trying to hide my feet.

What with being mistaken for a boy for most of my childhood and teens, the feet, the entirely too big, too tall, not girly enough, short hair because it was easier while I was in a swimming pool all the time; who I am, what I look like, got warped along the way. What I look like does not match expectations and people have told me so, all my life. It’s gotten to be so normal for me, even if in reality most people don’t care, but that’s the thing with BDD, depression or anxiety, what you tell your brain make no difference, one iota.

Because the voice in your head is so loud, it deafens out everything else.

I completed a Mental Health First Aid course today, (I am aware of the irony). But you see, I’m perfectly placed to do this, because I know people. I pick up signs when you’re not 100%, I ask questions, peer intently at them, check in on you, because when you’re hiding in plain sight – I see you. Coz, I know all the secrets about appearing normal; functioning when you can barely function or hold it together.

The alcohol thing? Self-medication, because if I’m buzzing, I ain’t feeling the weight of perception on my shoulders. Perception to be all things to all people. Perception that I’m not enough. That I’m less than. That my make-up isn’t on point, as I’ve not contoured correctly, (really? ffs). That some days I can barely move from my bed because my soul hurts. That some days only the thought of Archie means I hold it together, because I don’t want him to be the child that grows up without a parent. That I am sick of people talking over me when I’m trying to say something.

BDD goes hand in hand with everything else I’ve got. But like everything else I’ve got, it doesn’t define me. It makes me, me.

Father’s Day, weekend redux

Had an odd Saturday, on the one hand – excellent as I got to meet one of my favourite humans; on the other sh!t-house because of a poorly managed night out that left me in the middle of a room on my own staving off anxiety. C’est la vie.

On Friday night Osher Gunsberg shared on Instagram he was whizzing into the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, and was doing a signing in the Atrium at 12:30pm on Saturday. I told Hubs I wanted to head into the city to get my book (re) signed, as I’d brought a signed copy from Booktopia.

We headed into the city to watch Archie play hockey, his last session of the season, which means no more running by the Yarra for me on a Saturday for a few months. But I  spent a half an hour there doing the VA thing, supporting a project I’m passionate about. We drove into the CBD proper from South Yarra; driving past Melbourne Football Club training in a park, watched by fans from the sidelines. No extra security in sight, you can’t imagine any club in the Premiere League doing that.

We parked up, and went to get coffees from one of the coffee shops in the Atrium. I ordered a croissant for the boys to share, and a pear and almond friend for me. Both came out cold, which we weren’t expecting (#brrrr), but they were tasty. The boys headed off into the city to a model shop, I sat on a chair and started to read Osher’s book. I’d been saving it since I knew I’d inhale it, and I must say it’s been a PITA having to go to work and do stuff.

Then suddenly there he was. I’ve got an odd relationship with him, he’s a major party of my life, even if he has no idea who I am. I’ve been listening to his podcast since he was still living in the USA, so we worked it out that was five years. I think I was also the only person in the queue who doesn’t watch the Bachelor(ette), if anyone tries to get anything other than sport or cartoons on our TV at home – good luck.

Osher was as sweet and as gracious as he is to his guests on the podcast; he came round the other side of the table to meet us, when I got my phone out to take a photo, whoever was with him (his manager Lauren maybe?), offered to take a picture. For a nanosecond, I hesitated, then put my arms right round him and leant my head against his. We talked some more, he signed more in my book and after saying ‘Give my love to the girls’, I kissed him and left so other people could get a chance to spend some time with him.

I would so love to talk to him for hours though. It’s not like my schwarm for Tom Hardy or George Clooney; it’s more like how I feel about Stephen Fry, Oprah, Cmdr Hadfield, Brené Brown or Mel Robbins.

—o0o–

In the evening, I’d been invited to an 80s night at the RSL with some of the school mums. I brought my ticket from someone I’d never met and arranged to meet people in the foyer at 7:30pm. I arrived to find no-one waiting, and when I posted in the event on Facebook, I then found out that two separate dinners had been organised without anyone asking if I wanted to join either of them.

Okaaaay.

One school mum rescued me, introduced me to a friend of hers who arrived shortly after me and went back to finish her meal. We made small talk, two more people arrived that this lady knew, but I don’t follow the VFL so a lot of the conversation I watched. We went upstairs, I stood there while we tried to work out where to sit or stand, as there was nowhere free.

Texting my running buddy that as it was Father’s Day, I wouldn’t be able to meet with her as we normally do on Sunday mornings; having said that I then messaged ‘I’m not sure how long I’ll be out for. I’m standing here like a lemon with no one talking to me‘ As I typed it, my anxiety bubbled up and within three minutes over the text conversation, I was out the door and heading back to my car.

I wouldn’t mind, but I’d been updating Instagram stories with my exploits as I was so excited about going out with new people. Sigh. Bless her heart, she checked in on me first thing in the morning to make sure I was ok.

I was ok once I got home and talked it through with Hubs. We sat up in bed and read together like the old married couple that we are; I’m currently on American Wife, which is frickin amazing.

Sunday morning we were up and at ’em, outside of bacon and eggs and on the road to Werribee Zoo, we got there early, arriving in time to hop on the first bus heading off on the safari at 9:50. Archie wanted to show Hubs around as Hubs had never been there before. We got up close to the animals, walked round the African part, had a coffee and were out the door in two hours flat. Perfect timing as it was getting busy as we left, we had parts of the zoo to ourselves, talking the whole way round. We saw so many birds too it was wonderful. From Superb Fairy Wrens, to honeyeaters, eagles, kites and little Red-browed finches who look like they’re wearing superhero masks.

I also have perfected poached eggs, I think I’d done them once or twice before this weekend, but Archie and I did some serious YouTube research, cracking the eggs into a tea cup is the way to go folks. It’s amazing how you can learn stuff online so easily now.