December 16, 2012

Life Balance Sheet for 2012


  • the unexpected recovery of a friend from a near-terminal illness
  • the graduation of all the medical students I taught 3 years ago - a very proud moment
  • taking the first steps towards a relationship with long-lost nieces
  • the discovery that casual acquaintances with similar interests can provide even more comfort in times of  great sadness than friends with different interests


  • the unexpected deaths of one dear dog and two dear friends
  • the unexpected and abrupt termination of a 30-year close friendship
  • the end of an immensely satisfying 4 years of teaching medical students
  • the discovery that unsolicited appreciation seems to be out of style

Outlook for 2013

  • an essential change of direction in personal life and employment
  • details as yet unknown, but hopes are high for a far better year all round, and a full box of crayons ...

I'll be watching this space.

September 13, 2012

Farewell My Friend

Bye-bye Thika. You didn't quite make it to 12 years of age, but you gave me many times more than 12 years of love, laughter and loyalty. Not to mention a life-long battle of wills.

Thank you for sharing my life, my bed, my walks, my couch, my dinner, my tears and my joys. Thank you for being hilariously imperious and being able to give A Look which even non-dog people could recognise.

Thank you for bringing joy to others with your dear puppies, and for giving Mukela an everlasting hope that you might come back into season one day.

You will meet many relatives at the Rainbow Bridge, including your sister who went just a couple of days ago.

But the biggest, loudest, most joyful reunion will be with your great-grandma Mzuri - your teacher, your pal, your puppy-washer and so often your pillow. How much, how very very much do I hope to see you together again.
Thika (L) as a youngster with Mzuri (R)

July 05, 2012

Another Slice of Life on the Midland Train

More glimpses into another world, thanks to the Midland train.

Tonight's journey was a feast for the senses ... and the soul.

A few seats away, a rather inebriated middle-aged man was playing unidentifiable but mournful-sounding tunes on his guitar, accompanying them in a loud, unintelligible warble, while his more sober friend sat cross-legged on the floor opposite, swaying to the music and performing yoga-like moves with his arms and upper body.

Next to me, a large and unkempt young man was hunched forward, muttering to himself and sloshing his can of soft drink over our feet as the train lurched. Every now and then he would undertake a vigorous exploration of an ear or nostril, wiping any discoveries on the leg of his liberally stained tracksuit pants. Even more memorably, he would lean heavily against me or his other neighbour every few minutes to lift a buttock and allow a very fragrant fart to escape. I'm at a loss to explain why the other passenger didn't move, or why nobody commented. It would have seemed "rude", I guess.

My reason for staying put was on my other side.

A young and heavily pregnant woman had struggled aboard with a young child in a stroller and holding another by the hand, and I'm glad to say they were offered the Priority Seats. Their clothes, shoes and the stroller itself were very well-worn but clean, and the mobile child remained fairly quiet and seated during the journey, in wonderful contrast to many passengers of his age who are allowed to swing on the poles, run around, climb on the seats, shout and generally do what they like. The boy in the stroller looked older than his brother, but it soon became clear that he had a major disability, with his head constantly lolling forwards and his hands picking aimlessly at his clothes.
But the image that will stay with me is of his mother gently stroking his hair away from his face every time he slumped forward, causing him to raise his head and flash a wide, delighted smile at her and the world in general. It simultaneously warmed and broke my heart.

So I could not possibly have moved from my malodorous neighbour without appearing to be moving away from this Aboriginal family, and I would have been deeply ashamed to appear so offensive.

It does us all good to suffer a little transient discomfort while being reminded of the infinitely more difficult path others follow every hour of their lives.

June 15, 2012

More Slices of Life on the Midland Train

About 6 months ago I wrote about some of my experiences on one of the suburban train lines here in Perth. I explained that this particular line  "runs from Midland, in the east, through the city to Fremantle, on the coast. It takes about an hour, with many stops, and along the way passes through suburbs covering a very wide range of socio-economic levels."

It continues to be a valuable source of learning about other lives ... and my own.

Firstly, a potential fairy tale.
There has to be a story here. I understand why someone might wear fluffy pink slippers to the station on a cold morning, but wouldn't you notice that one had come off?
Perhaps this is a Midland version of Cinderella. 

Back on the train:
     One day there was a disheveled middle aged person (common), 
                  of indeterminate gender (uncommon), 
                             muttering constantly (common), 
                                        and frequently spraying a powerful deodorant all over him/herself and nearby passengers (unique).

Another day, the train was in entertainment overdrive. 
  • A very large man opposite (wearing only a vest and shorts) was listening to his very loud portable radio tuned to the racing. I bravely asked if he had earphones. Guess. 
  • So I moved away, only to get hit on the leg by a ball being thrown back and forth between 2 very loud children standing on the seats. Apology from them or their mother (yelling angrily into her phone)? Guess. 
  • My ears and temper were both suffering by now, so it was just as well a very loud evangelist was marching up and down, up and down, shouting that redemption was nigh. I could only hope.

And another fairy tale to finish ...

I was on the last train to make it through before a fire closed the line, so I knew nothing about it and went to work as usual. 
Many hours later, on the way home, I arrived at a darkened station with no-one in sight, but as I stood there wondering what was happening, a train pulled in to the platform, so I got on. 

In fact it was the first passenger train to get through in the whole day, so I had my own private carriage for the 40 minutes to Midland, even though it stopped conscientiously at all the intervening (and completely empty) stations.

I confess that I narrowly resisted the temptation to move to a different seat every 30 secs, or to swing my way along the hand rails, and contented myself with waving regally to the non-existent bystanders, a bit like this:

April 14, 2012

Wendy Walking Wednesdays

Another friend has been taken by cancer. Too suddenly for us, but thankfully quickly for her. It is still too soon for me to do more than copy what I will say at her funeral next week:
For those who don't know me, my name is Amanda, and Id like to share with you a few stories from my friendship with Wendy. 
We met about 7 years ago in an aquarobics class at our local physiotherapy centre, and for a long time the only two things I knew about Wendy were that she played the violin in a local orchestra and missed her husband a lot when he was away. That might sound odd, but I can remember exactly when the physio mentioned that, because up to then most of the women I'd known didn't much mind at all when their husbands were away! Later I saw for myself how close Wendy and Arthur were, because she often used to arrange an outing or come around for company when he was away, even for just a long day. They also managed to spend months together in the same car, travelling around Australia, and still be speaking nicely to each other when they got back. A eye-opener for me, and completely wonderful.
During a year or so of aquarobics classes I got to know Wendy a bit better, and eventually I asked her if she wanted to join me on some of my regular bushwalks. She was only free on one morning a week, and so began a tradition that lasted for several years - the Wendy Walking Wednesdays. We covered an awful lot of ground, on various bush tracks in Kalamunda, Gooseberry Hill and Lesmurdie. For the first year or two their dog Digger often came along, as did my girl Thika, and it was a sad day when Digger was no longer around. As I huffed and puffed my way up the hills, Wendy would teach me about wildflowers and tell me about various adventures and exploits during her active Guiding years. It was always hard to picture her abseiling down a cliff, because from the beginning to the end of our walks, she looked neat, well-ironed, and above all, clean and perspiration-free - all in stark contrast to myself!
For many years she carried a sort of small woven dillybag over her shoulder on our walks. She must have been very attached to it, because she kept using it despite the fact that stuff often fell out, including her keys (which on one occasion were lost forever). We once found a half-dead long-necked tortoise miles from water at the top of a hill, and she put it in that bag so we could try to get it down to Piesse Brook. It must have felt better by the time we reached the top of Hummerston Road, because it climbed out and fell onto the road with a thud. She put it back in the bag and held the top closed from then on, but we were hugely relieved when we finally reached the water and it swam off.
Our most exciting walk was about a year after we'd met, when I slipped down a gravel slope and landed awkwardly. I still feel bad about the very rude word I uttered, because I don't think Wendy ever swore, but I assured her that I'd just twisted my knee. I said I wouldn't be able to walk all the way back up the scarp, so Wendy went on ahead until she could get a phone signal and call someone to meet us at the road, about 2 kms away. I somehow managed to hobble along behind, but I wasn't game to tell her until almost 2 weeks later that in fact I knew at the time that a bone in my lower leg was broken! By then I'd been trapped in my house for 10 days, unable to get my wheelchair through the front door, so Wendy came around with a picnic lunch and managed to get the wheelchair out onto the verandah. I will never forget the completely marvellous feeling of being outdoors and in the fresh air again. 
I have so many stories about Wendy's kindness and understanding, including the time she took me clothes shopping (which I loathe with a passion). She told the shop assistant "I won't be able to keep her in the shop for more than about 10 minutes, so get cracking!" The assistant wisely did so, and I left with my first new clothes for years. 
But I'll finish with her contributions to my 50th birthday. The year before that, on one of our walks, I mentioned a trip I had heard about which went to Iran, and I felt this might finally be my chance to see Persepolis, a lifelong dream. It was a scary prospect, and very expensive, but Wendy solved my dilemma with a simple question: "Will you always wish you'd gone?'. So I went, and it was absolutely, 100% worth it. I might have missed it but for Wendy. 
Two days after I got back it was my birthday, and Wendy made me a cake decorated with the most beautiful and life-like WA wildflowers made from icing. They are an exquisite reminder of her talent, her love of nature, and above all her friendship to me. I am now giving them back as my tribute to her, and I hope you get the chance to admire them too. In order to display these flowers today, I've had to use my non-existent craft skills, but I know that despite the amateurish results, Wendy would have made me feel I'd done a great job. That was another of her gifts.
Thank you, Wendy, and thank you to her family for giving me this chance to share part of a friendship which changed my life in so many positive ways."
Vale, dear Wendy. 

February 19, 2012

Memoria ligna

Translation: "memory trees".

I took these photos on a walk this morning, but I pass these and similar trees every day. They are types of eucalyptus, and their bark is always evocative, for me.

About 15 years ago I lost a very dear friend to cancer while she was in her early 40's. She was a shining star in my life, and taught me far more about living life to the full than I can ever hope to put into practice.

For many years a noted breeder of both Great Danes and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, her house was arranged for both these space-occupying breeds, with stable doors between all the rooms so that the dogs could see what was happening while being prevented from drooling all over guests, each of whom was offered a small towel, just in case.

Her rambling garden was open to the public because of her imaginative interlacing of David Austin heritage rose bushes with Australian native plants. She also had a Welsh Mountain Pony who could hold a beer can in her lips and drink from it with noisy satisfaction.

Sue was a breathtakingly talented artist, whose works sold out in the few exhibitions she bothered to attend. I cherish the one painting of hers that I bought, but her charcoal sketch of my own dogs is one of my most prized possessions.

She was an immensely memorable hostess, and I have admittedly hazy recollections of a number of long afternoons under her garden trees, with an assortment of friends and a succession of bottles and plates of food appearing from nowhere.

We all have faults, and hers was an inability to finish a conversation. A trademark departure involved her husband Bob sitting in the car tooting the horn half an hour after they had both said their "final" farewells.

She also had the enviable knack of instantly understanding what someone really thought about an issue. This could be a little unnerving, because we like to think our less charitable thoughts are private. Case in point: my brother is a terribly successful corporate lawyer who has a very unfortunate tendency to condescension. When I graduated as a doctor, Sue's comment was "Well he can look down his nose all he likes, but he'll never be DOCTOR Anybody". Indeed.
In the same vein, she famously asserted that I only became a doctor to annoy a particularly cliquey dog club of which we were both members at the time. Almost true.

I miss her a lot.

Not long before she died, she said how much she wanted to visit my bush property and paint the wonderful bark of the Wandoo eucalyptus trees. She never made it, so every time I marvel at their patterns, I remember my friend.

Vale, dear Sue.

Laugh, run free, enjoy your departed dogs, and have some chilled strawberry champagne ready for me when I get there.


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