Ghost Train

IMG_0251

Ghost Train

Old fair grounds, I remember them well, the coconut shy, the dodgems, the swing boats, what the butler saw, the bearded lady, the tunnel of love, the ghost train … with its skeleton that loomed out of the darkness, the spider webs that draped themselves over your face unless you ducked, the witch on her broomstick, cackling, the flashing lights, the eerie voices,  the laughter, the screams …

… I arrived early so I could sit in my usual place. I watched the men enter, tapping hesitant, unsteady, slow, leaning heavily on sticks. I saw the women bald and beautiful , naked skulls hidden beneath hats and head scarves. Haunted looks lurked behind staring, wide-open eyes as the outpatients waited for something to leap out and frighten them, not spider webs and skeletons,  but the ghastly visions of tubes, pills, chemo, needles, all the paraphernalia that tortured them first time round.

The annual check-up seems so much easier. Blood tests, screenings, fervent hopes that the devil in the detail, horned, fork-tongued, cloven hoofed, red tailed, hasn’t been hiding, like a wayward ghost, in the small print of blood tests, scans, urine samples, all too ready to break free, leap out and beat us once again into submission.

The ghost train: has that cancer really gone or could it come back, condemning us once more to hospice or ward, to chemo and radiation, to the knife, or to other things more radical?

I sniff the double hospital smells of despair and ill-health, of hope and cures for all those ills, and I am there again, arms folded across my chest, lying motionless on that moving bed of bleached white sheets, heading slowly into that tunnel that smells of polished steel, where machinery coughs and starts and stops as flashing lights whirl their cadences of kill or cure above my troubled head.

Tunnel of love or ghost train? I guess I’ll soon find out.

IMG_0265

F-F-F-Forgetting

IMG_0486

F-F-F-Forgetting

    The apps and programs that no longer work. The computer files you can no longer access. The photos that vanish leaving a blank space in the album.
Now your memory goes on the blink and you forget faces and voices, friends, phone numbers, addresses, street names, the houses where people live, when to turn, where the best parking spots are, how far you can walk, where you were really going, and what you were sent out to buy.
Snow banks don’t help: that banked-up whiteness, that sticking out of the car’s snout into traffic, that stretch of your neck peering round corners. How many number plates have vanished into those white mists? How many cars? How many phone numbers have you forgotten?
You have forgotten the birthdays of your closest family and friends. When was your father born? When did he die? When and where did you bury him? Did you actually scatter his ashes or did someone else do it for you? When was your cousin born? When did he die? How close were you at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end? What color were his eyes, his hair? Did he even have any, hair, I mean of course?
What happened to that carton of eggs you abandoned in the store? Do you remember buying it, let alone leaving it there? How about your brothers, their faces, the sound of their voices? Did your own voice change when you emigrated?
Have those who live in Australia forgotten that they are Welsh? Do they speak like Australians, now, or do they still have those rich Welsh voices and rhythms that nobody in Wales ever wanted because they made us stand out when we moved, unwanted, to England? How many times have we, the Welsh, heard those threatening words: why don’t you go back home to Wales. Countless times, no doubt. In fact you have forgotten how many and you have forgotten so much.
Do you remember the parking spot in which you left your car? Do you recall your number plate or what model your car is, or what color?
“What day is it today,” you ask, for the second or third time. “I’m sure I know you,” you say to a friend who stops to talk to you in the shopping mall, “but I’m sorry, I can’t remember where we met and I can’t remember your name.”

IMG_0452

Cell Phone

IMG_0135

Cell Phone

    Fingers slip across the telephone key board, pressing  wrong numbers or punching them in in the wrong order. Strange voices reply from the other end. This morning a woman spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand, Then a man came on the line and yelled at me in broken English to “Go away! Go away! Leave alone!” I imagined him tearing the telephone from his wife and berating her for answering this call from a total stranger.

    Often, I am too clever for my own good. I think I recall the right number for a friend, but when I punch it in, I find I have reversed two of the figures. I imagine other people doing that when they call me: “Sorry,” I say. “I think you have the wrong number.” “Is that 472 …?” they query. I say that it isn’t and they say sorry and end the call. Then they call me straight back and get the same answer.

    I hate running through my list of callers to get to the name that I want to call. But that’s what I have to do most days now. At least I don’t run into so many wrong numbers.

    And as for answering the phone … well … I am tired of robot calls, especially around election time. I am fed up with telephone surveys. I am driven crazy by heavily accented, high-pitched voices that call me from overseas, in the middle of the night or wake me early in the morning to tell me that my computer needs repair. “Suh, suh, we have discovered a werry nasty wirus [sic, or should that be sick] on your computer. Give me all your passwords and let me in to your computer and I will repair it instantly.”

    I have had calls from the telly-phony tax men who tell me the RCMP are about to knock on my door and arrest me if I don’t immediately give them my VISA Card number, passwords, and send them, right now, the $7,200 I owe them in taxes. I have grown to loathe the harbor boat hooter that announces I have won a cruise from Florida to Mexico on a super cruise ship …. probably a rusty tug boat that will take me twice around the harbor, be declared un-seaworthy, and leave me stranded, miles from anywhere, and paying a fortune to get myself home … and all I have to do, they say, is … I put the phone down. Click!

    I think it’s the marketing surveys that really get my goat though. I am no expert, but I have read up on surveys and designed some myself. What I love-hate about telephone surveys is the lack of real choice, the forced direction in which they push you, the pre-determined result on which the designers are fixated. I know it’s a waste of time, but I occasionally indulge: “On a scale of 1-5, where 5 is good and 1 is poor, how would you rate …” I explain that the question and the ratings do not work, but they are adamant that I must answer from 1-5. Yes, they understand that it can’t really be done, but yes, it must be done, because that’s what they are paid to ask me to do.  Click!

    O tempora o mores … the Latin phrase translates literally as Oh the times! Oh the customs! but more accurately as Oh what times! Oh what customs! or yet again, Alas the times, and the manners (Wikipedia). No wonder they call it a cell phone: all too often I feel I am a prisoner in the cell of the telephone system, incarcerated in my love-hate relationship with the cell.

Butterfingers

IMG_0730 (2)

Butterfingers

My fingers turn to butter, but they taste of nicotine, garlic, and soap when I bite my nails. These butterfingers encourage cups to slip, saucers to fly off, run out of energy, stall, and crash to the kitchen floor where they lie in broken pieces, resting in peace, waiting to be picked up, one by one, and buried in the waste bin.

Arthritic fingers, grown clumsy now, struggle with bottle tops and glass containers screwed up so tight they refuse to open, even when soaked under the hot tap. I stick those jars in door jambs, lid first, closing the door with one hand, and twisting the jar with the other. Sometimes it slips and crashes to the floor, often with a portion of the contents spilling out.

I hate layer after layer of plastic wrapping. Flagrant in its defiance, it wages its guerrilla war against these ageing, uncoordinated fingers. I am often forced to use a knife, but a knife can slip or twist so easily. Occasionally, blunt, it will not even penetrate indomitable, multi-folded Saran wrap. So many slips between plate, teeth, and lips. Multiple precious items drop to the floor.

I cannot always bend to pick them up, and I cannot easily grasp them, not even with my new mechanical claw.

Miracles

IMG_0790 (2)

Miracles

Waking in the middle of the night, meandering along a moonbeam, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, managing to pee without splattering the floor, the seat, the wall, or my pajamas, climbing back into bed, staring at the stars’ diminishing light until I manage to fall back to sleep. Listening to birdsong in the morning, walking to the bathroom without bruising my left arm against the door latch, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall and without dropping the soap, drying those parts of my body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between those far-off toes that I no longer see with regularity, pulling my shirt over those wet and sticky patches of skin still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants hanging on to the arm of the rocking-chair so I won’t fall over,  tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows each sock to glide onto my feet, hoping my toe-nails, uncut for so long, will not catch in the wool and that the heel will end up in the right spot, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them, one step at a time, with my stick in one hand and the balustrade in the other … always on guard for the quick, unsuspected rush of the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my cane might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down. The first of today’s many miniature miracles.

Memory

IMG_0437 (4)

Memory

By the time I remembered your name, I had forgotten your face. Then I couldn’t recall why I wanted to talk to you. I trace dark landmarks on the back of scarred hands: blood maps, unremembered, encounters with door knobs and unseen furniture, dust covered photographs, grey, grim, anonymous, hanging on the walls, not belonging in any family album. At night I cruise among islands, emerald green against sapphire seas. Why didn’t I visit these places when I was able to? Golden sand trickles through night’s fingers and time’s hour glass trickles out as stars sparkle and planets dance in Platonic skies. My memory is gradually fading into the distance, like a sailing ship leaving harbour. Each day, I wave another couple of memories good-bye. Each morning I wake unaware of where I have been the night before. It’s not that I sleep walk, just that things pass me by in the blink of a blurred eye. I still track the sails of drifting ships. I think of them as white moths, caught in overnight traps, chloroformed into oblivion, their bodies sometimes soaked in formaldehyde. Occasionally they come to life in the morning, batter their wings briefly against my fingers, leaving them covered with the finest moth-dust, before fluttering away into dawn’s forgiving light. I give chase with pen and paper, the worst of butterfly nets for wild thoughts waiting to be caught, then tamed. I stare at the mesh of the snow-white page and strive to grasp something just beyond my fingertips, trying to decipher it and deliver its message, but I can’t quite remember what it is.

Tall Hollyhocks

IMG_1006 (2).JPG

Tall Hollyhocks

Well, it isn’t quite an English Country Garden, but we now have some tall hollyhocks, and I mean TALL holly hocks. My beloved isn’t short, in fact she’s taller than me, but these hollyhocks are HUGE. Douglas Bader and Reach for the Sky are in a similar league.

IMG_1003 (2).JPG

Six, foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch … I guess that was a week or two ago. Looks like an eight foot, nine foot, ten foot bunch to me right now. Maybe I should write the Hollyhock Boat song. I’d need to get someone else to sing it for me though. Somehow, this is my Island View in the Sun, doesn’t quite cut it for me. And I hope I don’t have to cut them. Not until the snow flies start breeding anyway. And that makes me wonder: has anyone ever actually seen a snow fly? I know I haven’t. But then, I’m just an ignorant immigrant. I am happy to admit it. That way, nobody can discriminate against me.

IMG_1004 (2).JPG

The snow flies? They went that way. This way, that way, all ways lead to the Hollyhocks in Island View. And they are so beautiful. Even painters want to paint them.

20180916_182952_HDR-1_resized

Oops, sorry: that was last year’s. And so was this painting: last year’s hollyhock preserved for ever. Well, I am not so sure about that anymore, either. But well done Geoff Slater. And many, many thanks.

IMG_0206