It’s as though we’re all little red engines…

A Kite at sunsetThe summer solstice has been and gone, and now the days are getting shorter. But not for a while, not worth talking about. Here in Australia the year is coming to a close. School’s out until February, everyone is on holidays and there’s nothing on TV. It’s as though we’re all little red engines, fighting our way to the top of the hill – and when we reach the pinnacle, we sit back and gather our collective breaths until the end of January, when we plummet over the edge and into a new year of toil.

It’s a time to reflect on the year that just hurtled past into history. With each passing year the days seem shorter, as though they’re being blue-shifted as they approach. Maybe they do. So what happened apart from living? What were the highs and the lows?

Well, in January ex-cyclone Oswald combined with a high tide to cause minor flooding in our coastal town. Mind you, the owners of some of those houses wouldn’t have said it was minor, nor would the beachside businesses. Tonnes of sand were scoured from the beach, sending whole swathes of the casuarinas in the sand dunes crashing. Our beach was a mess – but the council cleaned up the debris and the beach recovered. Not the same of course. Nature doesn’t work that way.

The next momentous event was Frank’s arrival in Australia. Frank is my late sister’s Australian husband. When my sister died last September in the nursing home in NZ where she and Frank had lived for the last four years, we attended the funeral. Although the couple had lived in NZ for forty years, they had no family or close friends and Frank expressed a wish to return to Australia. Of course, we agreed to organise that for him. A simple transfer from a NZ nursing home to an Australian one. Equally of course, it was easier said than done. You can read all about it here. Eventually, the weight of bureaucracy exhausted us and we accepted the only way forward – bring him to live with us for the time it would take to get him assessed and transferred to an aged care centre. It should only take a week or two.

Thus began the worst six weeks I think either of us have endured for a very long time. Apart from having to fight the bureaucrats to have him recognised as an Australian citizen, we had to put up with his nocturnal habits, trying to get him to shower etc etc. I never could see myself as a nurse, and now I’m convinced I was right.

Just before Easter, we settled Frank into a very nice aged care centre nearby. Pete and I partied like it was forty years ago. But that wasn’t the end of the saga. Frank had mentioned once or twice that he wanted to go to Victoria, where he was born and grew up, and where he had family. In the home, he kept saying he didn’t want to be here in Queensland, swearing at the staff, demanding to know when he was going to Victoria. So I contacted his sister in Melbourne and we agreed to get him transferred. It took a few (seemingly endless) months, as his behaviour deteriorated and I became increasingly reluctant to visit him, but at last a vacancy came up. The party we had after we put Frank on the plane to Melbourne was almost as rowdy as the one at Easter.

We’d decided not to go overseas this year. A friend had gone to live in Broome on the west coast of Australia, so we decided to drive over there in our brand new four wheel drive and see a bit of the vast brown land. Just a few days after we waved a fond farewell to Frank, we left for Broome. I’ve blogged extensively about the trip, which, as with all these things, was ups and downs. The highlights were Nitmiluk, Horizontal Falls, the Abrolhos Islands and Esperance. My biggest regret was being unable to catch up with family in Perth. I had hoped to spend some time with nieces I hadn’t seen for nearly twenty years, and at least say hello to my brother, who was battling lung cancer. But Murphy stepped in and arranged for me to catch a cold when we got to Perth, and we agreed it was best I keep away.

We got home in September after a five week whirlwind race around Australia. I went out whale watching (of course) and then tried to settle back into the discipline of writing. I’d published Morgan’s Return, the sequel to Morgan’s Choice, before Frank arrived to disrupt our comfortable existence. Now I found it hard to come up with ideas, and even harder to apply myself. My arrangement with a small publisher had fallen through and I’d had to self publish all my titles. Sales dried up and with them, my confidence. But I pushed on through and released a new Morgan Selwood novelette (short story), Ink. I had an unfinished sequel to Black Tiger (White Tiger) and forced myself to get on with that.

Then news came through that one of my nieces in Perth had collapsed and died. She had never been particularly healthy, but the death was sudden and totally unexpected. She was only fifty-five. We weren’t close but I’d spoken with her regularly since my brother was diagnosed with cancer, sometimes on the phone but more often through Facebook. So young. So sad. So untimely. It rocked me back on my heels. So many of my close relatives have died in their fifties. I shared some thoughts here.

My birthday came and went, as it does when you’re in your sixties. Nobody cares, least of all me. I’m just grateful to have made it this far. It was an excuse to buy hardbacks of Sir Terry’s latest book, and the latest Science of Discworld. Sir Terry has Alzheimers, and I’m sorry to say it’s beginning to show. He’s about my age, too. Far too young to be afflicted by that scourge. Oh, and I have a little motorbike. Pete bought a second hand Postie bike from the people next door, and he’s doing it up as I write. I’ll be able to pootle off to the beach or the shop, leaving him with the car. That’ll be fun.

Not too many weeks after my niece’s funeral, I received a phone call that my brother had fallen over, he was in hospital and in a very bad way. My nieces called me from the car, on the way to his bedside. He died before they could get there. My brother never married and my nieces had taken care of him for some years, ever since my sister and I had left Perth. It wasn’t an unexpected death and I was glad he went that way, not gasping his life away on a respirator. But I did regret not having seen him in Perth. I was also very grateful for all my nieces had done for him over the years.

So… here I am at the end of the year, contemplating the beginning of the new. From a writing point of view when I look back I haven’t done too badly. One long novel, one shorter novel and one novelette. It’s not as if I’m making any money from it, but that’s not why I write. It keeps my mind active and it keeps me off the streets. But I need to regroup and refocus. I’ve signed up to a couple of developmental courses for January. Let’s see how it goes.

Apart from that, I’ve been alive for much longer than most, I have reasonable health and all of my faculties. I still take delight in nature, astronomy and technology. I do not despair of this generation. They will cope with the hand they’ve been dealt, as we did before them. And when I look back at the “good old days”, I remember a few things that weren’t so good.

I’m not much good at giving other people advice about how to live their lives, but you could do a lot worse than thinking on the Desiderata. Here’s a link to the poem. I have it hanging up on a wall in my house. I commend it to you, and wish you all the best, wherever you are and whatever you do.

2 thoughts on “It’s as though we’re all little red engines…

  1. Diane Nelson

    That’s a lovely, albeit sad in spots, recollection. I look forward to more tales, more astute observations and, most of all, more photographs of your beautiful seaside and the wondrous creatures who inhabit it.

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