Rottnest Winter

Three women with a median age of fifty go to Rottnest. Essentials have been packed. Bewley’s tea, a stainless steel teapot, Borsin cheese, bottles of Pinot Gris, my preferred washing up liquid and scrubber, the Tefal pancake pan, the Global knife.

We take various half-finished craft projects and yet started ones. C. is the aficionado of all things textile and while A. and I are less skilled, we are no less enthusiastic. C. has hot machine washed and caused the felting of op-shop jumpers of various colours – a teapot cosy will be hand sewn and embroidered from these.  A mish-mash of wools are brought – these will form many various crochet hexagons for the purpose of ? That’s not the point. It’s the doing. The luxury of hours and hours of doing without interruption from the word “Mum”.

Children and partners have been dispensed with. Mine are overseas. C. and A. have teenagers and they have been left to cope, or else. Skill-up kids.

A. is making a blanket for her one-day house in Brittany. Little strands of sky blue wool mark the squares her partner has knitted. Like my knitting project, hers has mistakes – the odd dropped stitch, wayward yarns. We don’t know enough about knitting to know how to fix errors, so we just carry on knitting. One of C.’s tasks this weekend will be to show me how to pick up a dropped stitch.

In the South end of Thompson Bay, known as Nappy Alley, we three settle into our chalet. No nappy duty for us. Even the sound of children is something of an anathema. We have a room each. A. makes sure each bed has its plastic sheeted mattress covered by the blanket before it is remade for extra comfort. We have enormous bags with hardly a thing in them. I have brought a hot water bottle, but the weather does not require it.

There is time for walks, and even swims (dunks really) and more than enough time for craft. A. and C. even do a water-colour each and manage to play scrabble at the same time as knit. We cover our faces in papaya peel-off masks. It does nothing to appease the wrinkles. We exfoliate with loofas. For breakfast we have pancakes with thin slices of green apple and honey yoghurt. For lunch we have tomatoes and asparagus on toast spread with Borsin.

On the sunny patio we drink Pinto Gris. We attempt to nap but simply end up fighting with our blankets.

On the third day A. goes back to the mainland since her job won’t let go.

C. and I go to the shop for one more bottle of Pinot Gris and some smoke salmon to put in our fritatta. The shop is largely deserted, as is the whole island. We are at the counter waiting to pay. A middle-aged woman in front of us has purchased a souvenir plastic place-mat of Rottnest (the kind of thing you can’t imagine buying), but instead of exiting, she wanders back into the store. She is short and round with a full length black skirt and comfort sandals. She has a blonde bob and a perplexed look on her face. She shuffles, like the signals her brain gives her feet aren’t quite strong enough. We are both turned to watch her. She is that kind of person. Is she lost? Is she not sure how to exit the shop? We are both observing her and smiling at her ineptitude when we notice her large pink underpants appear from beneath her long skirt and fall, in an ankle-hugging way, around her sandals. What do you do when you see someone’s underpants slip down? You look away.

We leave the shop and sit outside on a bench to discuss the woman and her underpants. Fifty something with no elastic. We feel a mixture of girlish giggling and pathos.

I remember being a child at school with underpants devoid of elastic. What horror! Firm one minute – sprung elastic the next. A tight-fisted gripping of the cotton beneath the skirt. A staying at your desk as long as possible. A cursing of the inequality of dresses and skirts. A strange waddle on the way home. But your mother sorted it for you. Those one were chucked out. Stupid pants!

Miss Falling Undies emerges from the shop. Her dignity is recovered, but something has gone on in the shop afterwards. She has lost something? Money perhaps. She sits on a nearby bench with another woman, older and a potential big sister or even a mother. The older woman has white hair and a sensible perm. She has slacks on. She’s cross. The older woman is saying, This is why no one can be bothered with you… The underpants woman sits facing her looking glum. She’s heard all this before. She has no defence. Her bottom lip is pouting, her eyes cast down and she looks like a six-year-old being told off. No one can be bothered with you.

I wonder did she remove the knickers, ball them up, and put them in her bag? After all the skirt is long. Did she hoist them up in the cereal aisle between the Weetbix and the Nutrigrain? What kind of holiday is she having whilst being chided by a relative? Can she tell her rebuker she needs new underpants now?

I see a red post box and think how if my mother was alive I would be compelled to send her a postcard. She would like to hear the story of the woman whose underpants needed new elastic.




Tally Ho


We are on our way to the airport discussing the derivation of the word tally ho. We all thought it meant a flourishing, extravagant Goodbye, said with an English accent and a grandiose waving of the hand. Graham is reading from the iPhone – to teach us that it is what is shouted when a fox is spotted on the hunt. It is also an expression that was used during the Second World War when enemy aircraft were sighted by fighter pilots. These days it might be used by pilots as a response to air traffic controllers letting them know about air traffic in their vicinity.

I am delivering my men to the airport to set them on their journey to New Caledonia. There, they will sail with two others; another man and his son. I do not know what it will be like. I have hopes for fine weather and smooth seas. I am already wondering if Jasper has enough socks and whether his father packed any singlets.

I took no part in the packing. I didn’t want to be the one to forget something. Hence I am sure they have left something behind.

But they are not travelling to the end of the world.

Socks, I am guessing, can be bought world-wide.

The drive to the airport via Leach Highway is mind-numbingly depressing. It is about the worst possible view of suburbia. Full of semi-industrial warehouses and garage-like shops. Full of mechanics for high performance vehicles and fork-lift operators. Sidewalks unused, the slabs lifting. Delis selling Chico rolls. Past broken down houses with washing lines strung with FIFO fluorescent work shirts. It was out here somewhere that Dad spent a week in a transitional facility on his way to the nursing home. It held the demented and therefore had a series of high security hoops one needed to jump through to get in there, and to get out again. It had that Cuckoo’s Nest feel about it and the smell of boiled broccoli. Dad hated it and was perpetually packing and trying to figure out how to order a taxi to take him home.

At the bag drop a couple have opened a bulging pink suitcase to take out stuff from it and jam it into another. To close it again the boyfriend must kneel on the lid while the girl fiddles with the zipper. At every counter someone is trying to waggle their bags through despite their extra kilos. But this is a budget airline and if your bags are over-weight they will make you pay.

I say good bye here, before the security, because otherwise I will need a pat down. The boy, who never hugs, seems sad to be leaving me. He puts his arms about me, more than is usual for him. He even lets me plant a kiss on his neck, which is now where my lips come up to. I watch him as he makes the metal detector ping. Back through and take your belt off young man. He wears his Lamonts yellow beanie, rescued from the recycling bin, before it went out on the verge. Lucky. It is the vision I will carry of him through the next two weeks. Smiling back at me. Bye Mum.

I am on my own.

I have no partner, no son;  no one to cook for, to pick up from school, to wash and to clean for. I have no schedule to keep other than my own. I can keep writing all through dinner time. I have no mother, no father. No mother to care for. No mother to visit, to sit with, to look through gossip mags.

Before she died, my mother had been frightened of the idea of Graham and Jasper going off sailing. I don’t like to think of them out on the ocean, she would say. She didn’t like risk. I can’t bare to think of an ocean with waves and swell and them upon it. If she was still alive I would visit her now to tell her they got off okay and then again tell her each and every day that they were still okay. Whether I knew it or not. She would ring me for news. I would ring her back. But the phone will not ring, and if it does, I will not need to answer it.

I have a dog whose nails are clicking on the floorboards as he senses it is about school pick-up time. He is ready to go get Jasper from the Arts Centre. It is his routine and he knows it in his cells. He comes into the study and looks at me. He wags his tail, brown eyes saying let’s go already. He stands by the desk and shakes his body. He stretches. But I do not have to go. I can keep writing despite the dog’s misgivings. I do not have to get up in the morning. I could, if I wanted, spend all day in bed. I could start drinking after lunch. Murphy, baffled by my not leaving my desk, wanders back out. Back in. Back out.

Graham has left the dying roses on the table, with an instruction not to move them. They are from my mother’s funeral. Later they may become a picture. One day it may hang in a gallery or on someone’s wall. For now they are dropping their leaves, slowly one by one, and their pink rose petals turning brown. I wanted to ditch them when he left but he has said to leave them, if I could bare it, for another two weeks, till he returns. What state will the water be in then? Already it is swamp. I wanted to get rid of them to spartan the table and perhaps make space for felt-making. But I will leave the roses till he gets home…




Hawaii – Part 5

We drive on towards Volcano and the National Park, where our accommodation is on the outskirts. It is getting dark and the place is hard to find. The Crater Rim Cabin is cute and neatly done out. The hosts, Barry and Jim, are rightly proud of their redwood cabin in the lush tropical garden. Barry greets us like royalty, shows us around inside and is impressed with the manoeuvrability and compactness of my chair. He wants to hear how his place compares with the Cliffhouse and is eager to tell us he offers chocolates too. That we never met the hosts he believes is an oversight- for greeting the guests is why he runs his accommodation in the first place. We note the tea towels under the appliances and between the saucepan and their lids. It is here that Jasper discovers Frosties.

That night after dinner at the Thai restaurant we drive out to the viewing platform to see the distant glow of the volcano. It is orange like fanta, fizzing and smoking in the distance.

The next day we explore the National Park and Jasper completes a work sheet that will result in him becoming a Junior Ranger and getting a badge. The promise of the badge makes him realise he has lost or misplaced his badge from Pearl Harbour. He becomes sulky in the way he does when he loses something he has coveted – and somehow it becomes all about the lost thing. As the mother always asked to carry and look after the stuff it irks me that he has not looked after it in the first place. I can see it in my mind on the back seat of the last rental car. The car that no one can remember checking for lost things. Who knows where the thing is? We will all be forced to look for it to rid Jasper of that face. Let it be a lesson to you to look after your own things. Look after your damn things.

In the afternoon the boys do a hike across an extinct volcano crater, stepping lightly across honeycomb rock. I watch video footage of Jim in the 1980’s at the height of his volcanologist career as he leaps about filming rivers of lava – getting the shot. I watch whole landscapes change as lava engulfs them, whole townships disappear. Some residents slice their house in two and take it away, other evacuate and let it be consumed. From the cabin I can see Barry working alone in the garden. He works with a shovel diligently, swiping away mosquitoes as it gets darker. I can’t help but imagine he is digging a grave in which to dispose of the Jim we have not yet seen. Then we meet Jim and learn Barry is slowly ridding the garden of a noxious plant.

Returning the hire care we check on the possibility of locating the missing Junior Ranger badge. Not likely. On the flight back to Honolulu the woman next to me tells me her husband is heavy. She has his ashes in her carry on luggage and is taking him back to Wisconsin. She has fibromyalgia and is too weak to do her seat belt up – perhaps I can assist her she asks.

The last two days in Waikiki we must spend without Graham as he meets Jon to organise the final preparations for the sailing trip to Samoa. We are staying in the Sheraton with its generic resort feel. The days are stretched to breaking point with boredom. Even Jasper is over the whole affair. Over the pool with its slide and landscaped fake caves and rock pools. Over the room with its myriad of channels. Over the marbled shining shops with trash. Over the super air-conditioned malls and hotel rooms. Over the thin as sticks Japanese and fat as butter Americans.

We buy a ukulele for Jasper and I to share and go to lessons in a shop in the foyer. We watch King of the Hill and Tron from the double bed in the hotel room. If I smoked cigarettes I couldn’t do it in the hotel but it is the kind of thing I feel like doing while looking out from the balcony at other bored persons on other resort balconies.

Jasper and I get a taxi to the yacht to see the boys off. Already the men have a smelliness about them. Already without shirts, leaping skilfully on and off the yacht. The boat looks sea worthy, ready with lots of diesel tied to the deck. Jasper gets a tour of below deck but within minutes claims to feel seasick. Farewell photos are taken. Jasper has a final swim with Graham before we say good bye. In the last embrace his body is cool from the ocean, wet and smooth. I miss him already.

Jasper and I have shave ice and walk slowly back towards our hotel. On the way we visit the huge shopping mall that is a reason why some people like Waikiki. We find a Barnes and Noble and Jasper is excited beyond belief. He has inherited my love of  bookshops. A man sits in the coffee shop inside the bookstore with his headphones in, a large bucket of coffee in front of him, and a pile of beads and jewellery making equipment with which to work.

I am sick on the final day and Jasper must amuse himself most of the day in the hotel room. He manages to do this with a cardboard tube, paper cups and a few toys -pretending to annihilate an imagined enemy with explosions and all manner of arsenals. We make numerous trips to the laundry on the 18th floor, bless the Sheraton for its infrastructure and its fully functioning disabled room and take more immodium than is good for you. I locate the previously disappeared and now magically returned Pearl Harbour Junior Ranger badge and receive suitable accolades.



Hawaii – Part 4

We fly to the Big Island. I am pleased to finally be able to pronounce a place name. We collectively decide that I would never be able to live on Kauai because I cannot say it correctly. We are sad that here there are no free roaming chooks which give an island that run down, lay back feel of Kauai. The inter island airports are small and have a sixties feel. The furniture is retro cool, the floors spanking polished vinyl.

In Hilo we are on a mission to buy Graham’s Kanile’a ukulele before finding the Cliff House further up the coast. Hilo has a rundown, Cuban feel to it. The weatherboards are harassed and shops disheveled. Flaky paint and uneven sidewalks. No Honolulu high-rise, no condos. It is altogether a different, better feel than Waikiki.

The music store is perfect. A ukulele paradise. Floor to ceiling instruments. The storeowner has a sister who lives in Fremantle. He has been around. He’s played and drunk with ACDC, back in the day. Now he’s sober. He advises on the best instrument for Graham while we all have a strum and a pluck. A concert Kanile’a is chosen made of solid koa wood.  He restrings it for a left-hander. We ask him for his recommendation for somewhere to eat lunch and have a great meal, although slow, at Ocean Sushi in Keawe Street.

We have a bit of a drive to the Cliff House in the Waipio Valley. The drive is lush and tropical, a reminder of Northern New South Wales. We collect the keys from the Art Gallery and make our way to our accommodation down a grass driveway, past another house and a paddock with two chestnut horses. The host has prepared the house with fruit and chocolates and a pantry with many essentials. The view is so magnificent that we decide to stay in for dinner and cook on the BBQ. We ring Richard, the owner, and he suggests we drive into the town shop for some Spencer steak. After all the Big Island is known for its ranches and herds of beef cattle.

The house is all-alone on the cliff face. It stands on stilts, a twelve-step haul for Graham, but is on the level once inside. A verandah faces the ocean and the sitting room has an enormous six-foot square window that frames the Pacific Ocean hundreds of feet below. Whales can be seen often from this vantage but we are staying at the wrong time of year. There is mist and storms further out to sea and the horizon is smudged and indistinct. There is the distant sound of the ocean on the shoreline below. The valley is an ancient, sacred place for the Hawaiian people.

We feel privileged and lucky to have found this special place. Everyone who stays here feels the same. Reading through the visitors book are the oohs and ahs of welcomed travellers. Graham is straight away on his ukulele. It is an instrument suited to him. Easy to hold, to carry, to transport. It makes you smile. It is happy, joyful, friendly. Jasper is writing an adventure tale, based roughly on the travelling he has done so far. It has vomiting in it.

We have homemade fruit salad for breakfast made from all the in-season fruit left to us by the owner. Pawpaw, pineapple and banana. We are driving today around the Northern part of the island and will check out some beaches. First Jasper and Graham do a hike down to a black-pebbled beach while I read Joyce Carol Oates in the car. I watch as car after car stops and people pile out to do the trek and then return sweaty and red faced an hour or so later. We have lunch in a small town, green mango salad and chicken kebabs.

The beaches give the impression the hotel and condo complexes that line the coast privately own them but they can be accessed. We can get reasonably close and then Graham piggybacks me the final way across the sand and into the ocean. It looks like he is about to dump me on a rock submerged beneath the surface as my unspectacled eyes detect a dark shadow. But then a mottled head appears and we realise we are right next to a giant sea turtle slowly making its way along the coast. The ocean is clear and warmer than we are used to back home. The swell is gentle and mild.

The sand cannot compete with the pristine whiteness we are used to and take for granted. Here the world is new, geologically speaking, and the sand still fresh from its volcanic beginnings.

We check out some other beaches and stop on our way home at an art gallery to see a famous painting by Herb Kane of Captain Cook and his landing on the Big Island. We stop at the supermarket and are appalled at the lack of quality fresh produce, but then again we are only in need of Spencer steak, potatoes, onions and red wine before driving back to our cliff house for another night of BBQ and ukulele on the verandah. Jasper has made friends with the horses and we need a carrot to hand feed. A horse quality carrot can be purchased, luckily. As well as the much needed exercise notebook to write his adventure story. Leaving the car park the Stop sign reads Whoa.

We leave the next morning and on the way out of town have the local Hawaiian donuts so heavily commented on in the guidebook and visitors book. Plain with cinnamon sugar voted best.

We are heading for Volcano, the other side of the island, and are going to stop at Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook met his death. We take a long road down towards Napoopoo pier to a car park where some locals have kayaks that they hire out to tourists. Kayaking across the bay is the only way to reach the secluded spot where the Hawaiians bludgeoned Captain Cook to death and where also some of the best snorkeling can be done. Jasper is both cautious and eager. You can see the tug inside him. Yes I want to see what Dad’s talking about, his interest in Captain Cook’s voyage spurred on by recent readings on this Hawaii trip, but the look of the choppy ocean in the bay and the dots that the kayaks turn in to as they disappear across the water holds his enthusiasm back. But Graham gives him no time to focus on why not. They are out of the car, they have warm gear in a waterproof bag, and they are off.

They are dumped in the ocean off the jetty and are paddling. Jasper sits in front, Lord Muck and Graham paddles from behind. I watch as the orange boat bobs along across the bay. I get a wave. Beside me in the car park various pick-ups come and go. Locals have a few kayaks they must try and rent out in between beers. More men, more beers. Special hand shakes. Fuckn this, Fuckn that. Board shorts, cap backwards, tight brown belly. Islander life. The man who Graham got his kayak from comes to check on me, like he’s concerned for me amongst the swearing locals. Xcuse me Ma’am, you ok? Just checking on you. They are not doing much trade with their kayaks. They sit in the open tray of the pick up. Mother fuckn Billy the Kid. A postcard is handed around and a discussion about how he died ensues. Burps like a blocked drain clearing.

I watch as kayaks returning come into focus. I can detect two paddlers. Not them. Eventually I spot them, making good ground across the choppy water. Yes they stood where Captain Cook fell. Snorkeling was luscious. Fish with yellow and blue stripes. The monument to Captain Cook had been defaced….

to be continued…


Hawaii – Part 3

At night a gecko barks.

Another thunder storm. All night. Heavy rain. We wake up and worry about our helicopter flight booked for later in the day. We remember to wish Jasper a happy birthday. Nine. There are lots of low hanging clouds obscuring the tops of the mountains. We take the road to Lihue and continue on to Popiu Beach. Here Jasper can try out snorkeling. It is windy and warm. Life guards sit atop their towers. One, as brown as gravy, offers us the use of a beach wheelchair. But the water is rough and not inviting so I will sit out under the beach shades and watch.

The boys disappear under the surface.

The wind picks up a beach umbrella and tumbles it over the sand. It is caught, one handed, by a man as it flies past. He gives it back to its owner who has come chasing after it. He takes it back to its rightful spot and again pokes it in the sand. It doesn’t want to stay. He must hold on to it. But he will not give in to the wind. The flimsy rainbow coloured brolli turns inside out but still he refuses to take it down. It is not providing shade. He sits determinedly on his deck chair, gripping the umbrella pole.

Other beach goers congregate in the communal shade of the beach shack and a couple preparing their assault on the sand pack their belongings into their bag after changing into their bathers in the toilets. A man says to his wife, “Don’t lose my teeth out of there. They’re zipped in the side.”

By the road side are Tsunami warning sirens.

The boys emerge from the sea having seen an eel slithering through rocks and numerous fish.

We are killing time before the helicopter flight. Walking by the ocean that has been browned by the recent heavy rain and run off from the rivers.

At the helicopter reception we watch a film on safety and then we head out to the airport where our chopper and pilot awaits. We are directed on board. Jasper will have a window seat and I will be next to him and Graham on the other side. Jasper seems sedated by the anti nausea tablet we have given him. Uh oh. The chopper takes off and arches over the airstrip, Hawaii Five O style. Every motion picture with helicopter vision in it comes to mind as we swoop along. Apocalypse Now. We have headphones on and communicate with each other and the pilot. In the background there is a sound track of ephemeral music to add to the viewing pleasure. Our pilot gives a commentary. After the recent rain the island’s waterfalls are abundant and everywhere are silver streaks of water coursing down the steep slopes. We hear how a single family, the Robinson’s, own one third of the island after an early purchase from a Hawaiian King and how their commitment to conservation has meant it has remained unspoilt and undeveloped. The Napali coast is where Pirates of the Caribbean is filmed and we weave our way in and around canyons and gorges. Like a marble in a wine glass the pilot rotates the chopper to gives us a three sixty view. The steep cliffs appear covered in soft green moss but really it is trees and bushes we are seeing from a distance. The pilot tells us how the Hurricane of 1992 blew down all the chicken coops and since that time the chickens have run free. After the hurricane not a single leaf was left on a branch and the entire island was brown.

Jasper is pale and sighing. I know he isn’t feeling good. The pilot has already told us of the whereabouts of the comfort bag. I ready it. Up comes the fried chicken from the take out. He will not want to eat that again. I am trying to keep one eye on the scenery, afterall it is costing us $250 each as well as hold open the vomit bag and hand out wipes. We are nearly at the end.

Jasper says he still had a good time, despite the nausea.

For Jasper’s birthday dinner we go back to our favorite Baracuda but it isn’t as good as it was the first night.

Next day, we drive out to Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. Tourist buses snake up the hill side and oversized Americans struggle up the paths to get to the look outs. We are listening to IZ, Somewhere over the rainbow. From a viewing platform we watch as white tropic birds sail the current winds of the canyon. The canyon, unlike the Grand Canyon, is green and lush, but lacks the spectacular jaw dropping surprise one feels when coming across the Grand Canyon’s gaping enormity.

On returning to our beach house we discover that Goong Goong has died. Opening the emails I read from the top and mistakenly get a message from my sister giving instructions for the funeral parlour before I read the email telling me of his death. Of course it cannot be a surprise. Only this morning before leaving the house and once again checking emails for news of him we all remarked how odd it was he was still alive. Jasper said, believing it to be possible, perhaps he will hang on to you get home Mum. He’s pretty strong, is old Goong Goong.

I have no tears. I ring my mother. I cannot remember what I say to her. I think I say I am sorry to be away from her, for her sake. I tell her if she needs Lisa to come she must ask.

We head out to dinner at the Dolphin for Alaskan crab, white grilled fish and sushi. We talk about Dad and toast him. In the distance is the sound of the river, hurtling by, so alive, so free and full of force. Water is a vivid reminder of life and energy and now a reminder of death too. We toast him for his dependability, his devotion to us, his small family. Like a loyal dog that doesn’t much care for outsiders but is warm and tail wagging with ones he loves. We must brave the road again because of the lack of footpath. Imagine being run over now.

We want an early night because our plane leaves early from Lihue in the morning and we must make the 45 minute drive to the airport and return the hire car. But we have locked ourselves out of the beach house. We had two keys and one was initially hidden outside but because we didn’t want to forget to replace it in the morning I put it in my bag and my bag is now locked in the house too. I blame the stress of my father dying. Graham’s iPhone with all the rental details is locked inside too. The Californians that rent upstairs are out. It is raining. The road is full of mud. We huddle under the carport and imagine what it might be like to spend all night here waiting to get inside. Graham does a reconnoitre around the house trying to ascertain if we can get in. It is too secure. He goes across the road to see if we can access our email from another tourist’s computer and hence find the owner’s number to ring her. We know she doesn’t live in the village but I recall reading an emergency number on an email. Our upstairs neighbours return but their key doesn’t fit our lock. I ring a trusty school mother knowing it is 3pm Perth time and give her my hotmail details so she can search my email for the owners details. I think I tell her my father has died too. Saying it is like trying it out.

Do you remember saying “I’m a virgin”?You only get to say it for a short time with any feeling. With any real impact. To the boy that will take that virginity from you and perhaps to a few prior you don’t give it up to. My father’s died is a bit the same. It is a short lived sentence. You can’t really say it to strangers. If you do they offer their condolences and you automatically say it’s okay, like it’s not their fault. It’s not what you mean. You want to thank them for their sympathy but instead you say it’s okay. Like you might to a waiter who is apologising for bringing you burnt toast. There never seemed the right time or the right someone to say, “My father’s died.” Perhaps it would be something that just swirled around inside my head, that I said to myself till I believed it. Knew it had happened…

to be continued…






Hawaii – Part 2

The beach house at Hanalei is serviceable. It is one street back from the bay and an easy walk to town. The bathroom is smaller than we expected and, because of the positioning of a vanity, I will not be able to get into the shower . Somehow I blame Graham for this. There is thick spongy carpet (his fault too), mats everywhere and bulky furniture. The bed is made up with dark brown sheets. You guessed it. There is no tea. All of which ends up making me sullen and sulky. Luckily there is another shower in the carport- of the outdoor variety – but it’ll do. And I can make it to the toilet.

We walk into the town. There are no footpaths and so we are on the blacktop, but there are few cars. What traffic there is is enormous and clearly very heavy. Squashed flat chicken, squashed green frog – suggesting the road is not safe for smaller less visible beings.

The town is just one main street and touristy, but backed by a mountain laced with waterfalls and covered in dark, luscious forest. The top of the mountain gets lost in the clouds and mist. We have a drink at a bar where a man plays the guitar, while still managing to watch the ice hockey game on the TV screen. Two televisions at either end of the bar; one with the hockey, the other with rodeo, hijack most people’s attention, but he plays on, robotically.  Afterall he isn’t even inspiring himself. We go elsewhere for dinner; to the best restaurant in town – Baracuda. It is tapas style and really good. The chef has moved here from San Francisco. We eat pork belly and Greek style donuts for dessert.

The next morning we realise that overnight Osama Bin Laden has been killed in a raid in Pakistan by the Navy Seals, Unit 6. His picture is on the front page of the newspaper and the headline reads DEAD. It could have read “Got ‘im”. Graham plans a picture of Jasper holding the paper in front of his chest in a mellow street in Kauai, where news of Bin Laden’s death couldn’t seem less important.


Graham and Jasper will go off hiking a trail at the end of the road and I will stay in the beach house, reading Joyce Carol Oates’ memoir, “A Widow’s Story.” In it, after the sudden death of her husband from E.Coli pneumonia, she grapples with her loss. It is the kind of writing I like. Unhurried, clear and to the point, but open and honest, not scared of itself. She worries and prods. Over and over. She tells of their close lives; enmeshed, embedded, despite the fact that he never read her work, ever. “but he did not read most of my fiction and in this sense it might be argued that Ray didn’t know me entirely – or even, to a signifigant degree partially… For writing is a solitary occupation, and one of its hazards is loneliness. But an advantage of loneliness is privacy, autonomy, freedom.” I think of Graham and his failure to get around to reading so much of what I write. It heartens me that I am not alone in this and that it is not a marker of a doomed marriage. Afterall it doesn’t bother me – but rather frees me. For concern for readers is a writer’s death.

Intermittently I turn on the TV to see what the news is saying about Bin Laden but there is only so much American patriotism one can watch. Only so many times you can hear a force described as “elite”. Bin Laden’s killing could be the saving of Obama’s presidency as commentators show him with furrowed brow, behind the scenes and praise his cool headedness.

I go into town and over hear a man on his mobile talking to his doctor. An MRI has revealed bulging discs in his spine. He tells his doctor of his excruciating pain whilst bending forward. What a holiday wrecker. If I was Joyce I would insert an exclamation mark here. I order a Mango Madness smoothie for lunch from the organic shop. It is impossibly thick and takes a lifetime to suck through the straw and  I hear another Californian having an exasperated work conversation on his mobile, pacing around the grass outside the lunch bar. Chickens peck and rake at the lawn around him like he is phoning from chook yard. Some people just can’t leave their lives behind. And yes, he has reminded me, I must ring home too.

I speak to Mum. She can’t hear me. I am shouting. How’s dad?  Because you can’t really shout, Is he dead yet? Yes the Royal wedding was marvellous. Simply marvellous. The best television she ever saw. Dad is just the same. Yes we’re having a wonderful time. I envy the writer overhearing me.

I begin to wonder how long he can go on like this. Could he survive the entire time we are away?

The boys return. Their walk was long and semi strenuous. They swam in pristine water at the end of the trek and made beach scultpures with rocks and pebbles.  We go to our local beach for Jasper to try out the surf board. But the attempt to surf is short lived. Jasper’s not really the type to enjoy the surge of instability the lifting wave gives the board. Dumped a couple of times and bedraggled he drags the board back to the shore. Instead he invents a game involving explosions, bombs, shootings, fist fights – but it is all imaginary and the outward effect is of him hauling and flinging himself in the breaking waves, running through the foam breakers and collapsing on the water as if he is throwing himself onto a bed.  A man walks the beach with freshly woven green straw hats. He stands in front of women in Brazilian bikinis, while they lie on the sand, doing his best to make a sale.

At night the thunderstorms come, heavy and pounding. There is the crack of thunder and the flash of lightening bursting through our sleep. In the morning we are woken by bird song and see Red Crested Cardinals hopping about the garden. More waterfalls cascade down the mountain and white tailed tropic birds sail high in the curves and crevices of the mountain.  The water sodden hill side is like a billowing ballgown, with its green velvet folds and waves. We meet the two couples who are staying in the flat upstairs. I have a conversation, in the car port over the washing machine, with Tom and learn how he works for Campagnolo (explains the cyclist’s calves) in San Diego, how he grew up here with his parents who built this very house hoping to retire here before his dad, who was an eminent cardiologist at UCLA, got early Alzheimer’s and died prematurely.

Back in the town centre we watch a dog nearly get run over and killed on the main street. A group of boys straggle behind trying to catch it, but it keeps its distance. It veers away from them, dangerously close to the road again, tail tucked beneath its belly. We have gone to the shops to buy motion sickness tablets ahead of the planned helicopter flight tomorrow for Jasper’s ninth birthday. Jasper gets a super hero sticker from a vending machine and the dog appears. It won’t come to Graham and tries to follow two girls leaving the shop, but they get into a car and it is alone again in the car-park. We call it to us and it begins to follow us away from the road into the safety of  an alley way. It likes small boys. It wants to be close to Jasper and sidles close to him and gives a tentative, small wag of its tail. We talk softly and calmly to it. A black guy approaches and we ask him if it is his dog. No, but he is following it too. He is trying to get hold of it, he says, but it takes off when he gets close. I think it is fearful of men, I say. It likes girls and children. It continues to sit beside Jasper as he strokes its head. The black guy is called Gerard. He kneels and beckons the dog to come to him. But it has glued itself to Jasper. Another man, watching, says “Careful, you’ll get bit.” The dog is stressed; yawning, licking its lips, grinning. We tell Gerard that we’ll keep it here if he goes gets a lead. He lopes off. When he returns with a rope we tie it around the dog’s neck and the mongrel is his. He had a dog once, good one too, but it got lost in the bush and he’s bin looking for a new dog. This’d be a good dog, he reckons. So this is how you get a dog in Kauai – just find one in the street and get a rope on it. We feel good about the rescue from the road, the wet night and pleased for Gerard to have a companion. He says he is going to buy it some food and we ask him what he is going to name it. We suggest Dingo…

to be continued…

Hawaii – Part 1

With my father on morphine we leave for Hawaii. I know it looks bad. I know he is dying and, hence, I will not be there when it happens, but I choose to go all the same. I have many reasons, (or excuses), in my head and they all seem reasonable to me. I have a living family to think of. I have a nine year old boy who cannot go to Hawaii if I don’t, because without me there will be no one to bring him home. Graham is sailing from Hawaii to Samoa and so will not be accompanying us back to Australia. I have to go. There is no insurance to cover the loss of the fares. My father would want me to. My mother gives me permission-of-a-kind with the statement – It’s up to you and your conscience. If you can live with it, go.

Maybe I have no conscience. Of course she wants me to stay, but she would not say so outright. I tell her I feel bad about leaving her, on her own, as he dies. She tells me how when her own mother was dying, my sister and I were under five. Her mother’s two sisters were by her bed, day and night, and wanted her there also. But when it came to tea time, she said she needed to go home. She had young children to think about, a husband, a family to care for. Those were her priorities now and she went. Her mother died that night.

Tomorrow we fly out to Sydney and then Hawaii. Today I want to be with him as long as I can. Another mother has Jasper.

Mum goes to the dining room for dinner. I am pleased to have some time in the room with him on my own. There are things to say. I hold his hand. It is cold and bony, the skin is papery. “It’s okay to go Dad. Go now Dad. Please go.”

I wanted to say it. To give him permission to leave us. To tell him we’d be okay. Of course afterwards, long afterwards, even now as I write this, there are other things I wished I had said. People always say you should tell them you love them. I didn’t say that. I guess I took it as understood. I should have thanked him. I should of told him he’d done a good job, because that is what drove him the whole of his life. In my head I hear him saying. “If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly.”

My last words to him as I put a hand on his stubbly chin and rubbed it was, “Goodbye Dad. You be good.” A perfunctory instructive.

It was something I used to say to him often as I left him under hospital care. Like leaving a dog in a kennel. A “No barking” type instruction.

If he could hear me I wanted him to be comforted that it was business as usual. That I would see him soon.

Of course I knew, or should have known, that that would be the last time.

And then there was the relief. Relief at knowing I would not have to sit and do a vigil. For watching dying is hard. Escaping overseas meant I would not have to do it. To be there at the end is gallant and brave and somehow considered the right thing to do. I had been watching him die for months. Being present at his actual last breath had lost its significance to me. I felt relieved to not have this final duty to do.

I think, with disdain, the emphasis people put on the moment of passing away. Like being there then will make some kind of difference. Dying, like birth, is something you do alone.

The Occupational therapists at the nursing home deliver Mum a “dying basket” containing a fancy tea cup and saucer, a battery operated candle, tea bags, a mini long life milk carton and a packet of Wagon Wheel biscuits. We don’t have a kettle in the room to make tea, so much of the basket is pointless. We look through it together vaguely bemused by its contents. Why Wagon Wheels over Tim Tams? Who made this choice and why?

My mother, despite Dad’s dying, was bewitched by Kate and William’s wedding. It was the best television she had ever seen.

We flew off.

It is raining heavily as we leave the Honolulu terminal to catch a cab to our hotel. It is tropical rain. Fat warm droplets. There is a queue of happy travellers waiting for taxis to Waikiki. At Hotel Renew our room is not ready and so we leave our bags and wander the strip. It is touristy, of course. Beach sand has been trucked in. But the waves still break in long foamy rides. Beneath a statue of a Hawaiian king homeless people congregate. A sign lists amongst the Do nots; No shopping trolleys, No horse shoe throwing.

Resort style hotels hug the beach, invading and overtaking it. Their bars and beach chairs own it. Gardens are lush and tropical with paths weaving through them. At the Moana Surfrider we are drawn to its old style colonial elegance. Its rocking chairs. Its white washed boards. Two men play guitar and ukulele, and sing while a woman dances the Hula. Jasper has a tropical drink with a cocktail umbrella and chunk of pineapple.

I ring my mother. She says dad has spoken to her and recognises the nurses. The fact that he is compos mentis enough to speak seems remarkable and I do wonder if she is lying to make me, or herself, feel better. Is Hawaii wonderful, dear? Oh yes, it’s wonderful. For how could you say otherwise? How could you say it’s okay. How my mother would have loved a hotel like this one, I think, while my father would have worried over the price of the drinks and not have let us sit down. I think she is asking, is it worth it? You better be having the time of your life over there whilst all this goes on over here without you.

We are up early the next day to go to Pearl Harbour. We get a private car, a limousine, because it is cheaper than a taxi. Jasper thinks this is what it might feel like to be famous. He sings,” I wanna be a billionaire so frickin bad”…But the car is old and worn and smells like air-freshener covering up yet older, staler smells.  Our driver reminds me of Graham’s brother with his discoloured teeth, his smell of smoke, his rake thinness. His name is K.C and he tells us how you are not allowed to take bags into Pearl Harbour. Only your wallet and a camera. There are lockers at the entrance or he will keep our stuff in his car as he will return to pick us up.

Not having a notebook bothers me. More than leaving my belongings with a man we just met. What if I want to write something down? Denuded of pen and paper, we enter.

Tora Tora Tora, came the call of the Japanese pilots as they realised they had succeeded in surprising the American fleet of ships. The radar that had detected the planes had been ignored because, as new technology, it was not believed possible that the planes arriving across the Pacific could belong to the enemy. The US aircraft were bombed and the torpedoes fired and the USS Arizona and others were sunk, entombing the naval seamen.

A ferry takes us out to the memorial that floats over the watery grave. Oil slicks shimmy the surface of the water and patriots tell how the oil droplets symbolise the tears of the lost sailors. People stand and reflect. I try and imagine the bombing, the chaos.  Sailors were burnt as they fled their sinking burning ships and swam through water alive with liquid fuel. Others wouldn’t have even known what hit them. Standing in sunlight waiting for our ferry to take us back across the water, tears are seen on the faces of burly men.

Today Japanese are common tourists to the site. There seems no animosity here towards them. Then, even more remarkably, for the 50th anniversary of the bombing, some of the surviving Japanese pilots, now simply old small men, returned to hold hands with American survivors of the attack. Embraced they did. That such ferocity and power is replaced with simple solicitude and forgiveness seems odd to me, even if it is admirable. That friends are made from arch enemies convinces me even more of the pointless stupidity of war.

These memorials to lost lives become to me, such powerful anti-war proponents. How could anyone come away from such a place and think it was worth it.

We are bussed to the battleship Missouri memorial. It is where the treaty to end the war was signed. It is hulking and we are ants crawling over and within her. The men that sailed on her love her like she is a home country. They speak of her like she is more than metal. She has a soul.

While Jasper and Graham explore the submarine, the USS Bowfin, I submerge myself in the museum. Headphoned and reflective, I listen to the tales told by survivors of the attack. Before we leave there is time for the shop. We buy replicated newspaper headlines from the day after the attack, as well as a war plane and a pack of cards.

K.C takes us back in the limo. Our stuff is returned to us. The traffic is bad because tonight is the Waikiki Spam Jam. Hawaii holds the record for its consumption of the tinned processed meat called Spam and love it they do. The reception staff at the hotel tell us how much fun is the Spam Jam – all the restaurants will be represented as their best chefs show what they can do with Spam. It does not look good or any more palatable than I had remembered. It is still just polony with goodness knows what in it. People dressed as Spam tins wander the streets. Every conceivable thing can be cooked with added SPAM or else improved by the adding of its flavour- for example – Macadamia nuts flavoured with Spam. Enormous people with oversized plates of rice atop Spam sit on the kerb and tuck in.

We have booked a table at Roys, with pork belly in mind. Pork belly was out and to make up for it they gave Jasper a free dessert – chocolate souffle.

On a small plane from Oahu to Kauai we see a couple who were staying at our hotel. From the moment we arrive on the  Garden Island we see free roaming chickens. Our first is in the airport carpark.

To get our hire car we take a bus to the rental office, equipped with a wheelchair lift. We have an hour’s drive to our Beach house in Hanalei Bay but cannot check in till after 4pm, so there is no hurry.

At the hire car we see the South Americans again. They too are heading for Hanalei. On the drive up we stop at a waterfall and then a small town for something to eat. We order fish tacos that neither Jasper or I like. The wraps are full of brown rice and overcooked Mahi Mahi fish. The coast line is battered and buffetted by strong winds and rough sea. The beaches are closed.

We pull off the road at Anini beach, where the people are rich enough to own polo ponies that graze the fields across the road, and the houses have secluded private gardens that fringe the beach. Jasper gets an Amercian version of a giant Sandwich from an icecream truck. We park under coastal pines with other cars, mainly American pick ups, where poorer locals have parked and congregate around the backs of, drinking soft drink and eating chips. I imagine Raymond Carver lives for them all.  On deck chairs some older fatter types sink into the sand while they read value for money fat fiction. A river meets the sea here and people amuse themselves on kayaks as well as surfing or swimming or stand up paddling. Dogs roam.

Finally at Hanalei we pull in at the beach. Again locals seem to have a section. They drive onto the beach, for what added purpose it isn’t really clear, since the beach is not wide or difficult to cross. Perhaps just because they can. They sit in the tray of the pick up rather than on the sand.

We come across the South American couple again, already checked into their apartment, they have made friends with a local and are sharing his BBq on the beach. A cement jetty with a covered end pokes out the southern part of the bay and I sit out there while Jasper and Graham swim in the Pacific. Others jump off the jetty despite the signs prohibiting it. A mother chastises a child who has dived off.  For what if it was too shallow and she hit her head? The mother no doubt is thinking of me, sitting there like a doomed omen of spinal damage. When the girl does it again, she has her arm yanked on and is marched off. The boys swim out to me and climb up the ladder to join me. A midget teenager, fishing on the jetty, gets his line caught by a surfcat and needs to get into the water on a board to go untangle the line from the boat….

To be continued……











Conference Hotel

I wait for the lift. Already sensing it is one of those hotels where lifts move as if in slow motion. You hear it reaching the floor, shuddering in its shaft. You wait for it to stop completely before it opens its silver mouth. Like a yawn. It wouldn’t really matter except that there is a man coming towards me, unsteadily. For him the ground is heaving. He asks me, “Where is the bucket room?” He asks other people as they leave the lift. I pretend I can’t see or smell him. Like dealing with a dog I don’t trust. No eye contact. Never works for drunken people though. He has an empty glass in his hand. Is he looking for ice, or somewhere to vomit?

I enter the lift with a woman and say, “He’s wasted.” Like I am an expert, or I just need to say something to show her I am not with him, that I don’t approve. “Yeah,” she says but not with judgement or condemnation. Just resignation that this is what it’s like around here. Doesn’t bother her in the least.

Everyone here is a little bit on the edge. Like they can’t quite afford the shabby hotel that is definitely overpriced. Like they have to pack in as much drinking before the sun rises. An islander guy with thick muscular calves and a tattoo creeping up his neck asks the receptionist what time she finishes. He wants her number so he can text her and get her to join them after. “Maybe we can hook up.” She gives him a slip of paper and I wonder if she has really written her number down. Is this the way people meet these days?  This Hooking Up business doesn’t sound warm and fuzzy. The opposite of slow. It’s metallic, sharp, easily detached, easily addicted, locked onto too.

I go to breakfast at the dining room. There is a buffet under lamps. The food is shining. All you can eat. Breakfast included. They ask me for my room number. Am I with the poultry symposium? No Behaviour. Animal Behaviour.  But in my head, “What I really like is watching people.” A table of four poultry men in pressed slacks talk about the industry, production numbers, layers, meat birds while I crunch on cornflakes. Someone mentions a troubled teenager but then its back to feed rations and vitamin supplementation. Standing after breakfast, hands smooth down slacks, wipe away toast crumbs. Folders under arms.  Back in front of the buffet a woman says, “it’s good isn’t it?” I smile one of those I don’t think so smiles and she looks back at me disappointed, looking for collusion over stale Danishes. But I can’t stomach silver bainmarie trays of fatty bacon and congealed scrambled egg. Sad rockmelon and even sadder watermelon slices.

It is not a five minute stroll through the gardens of Sydney University, as advertised in the hotel brochure. Being in a wheelchair it was never going to be. It was further, and the terrain typical Sydney – foot high kerbs, for all that rain, and slab foot paths lifted and cracked by tree roots protesting their life beneath the dirt. I am anxious, not knowing the way, and forever fearful at coming across an insurmountable kerb. Perhaps I will have to take to the street with its roaring buses? But for now I am on the footpath, Parrammatta Road beside me, like a fast flowing, thundering river of rubber and diesel. Down hill for a bit, I overtake a man walking briskly with a briefcase. I think being in front of him is good as the road begins an incline. If something impossible is around the next bend then he will be behind me to offer assistance. I rehearse the asking of it as I hear his footsteps and then I am over taken.

Now in the grounds of the University I can slow down, veer onto the road if I must, since cars drive slow within the gates. There are hills to climb. It is humid. I will arrive sweaty.

At the Law Building, where the conference will be held, there are steps, but I trust it is an accessible building, since I have checked repeatedly, and I have been told it is.  An organiser sees me and rushes over to show me the way. Back around, and down this lift, and up this ramp. The lecture theatre is very large and very steep but there are a couple of wheelchair spots at the back that have no seats but  still have little lonesome swing desks, canopying the carpet. The lecturer wants everyone to move to the front and waits for them to oblige. “So we don’t have to strain our necks. You can’t believe how difficult it is to lecture to the back,” she says. So I am left all alone in the final row, like a stubborn child.

On my phone I get a text message from Graham saying Mum has had a period of unconsciousness. It lasted for fifteen minutes, but she is talking and “back” now. Meanwhile the American expert is talking about feeding dogs pate to stop them fretting over storm noise in Florida. “That’s all it takes sometimes,” she says “Black Forest Ham.” And I see pens scribbling.  Anxiety issues in dogs. Solution Black Forest Ham. She solves everything with food treats and Prozac. She thinks Cesar Milan is an abuser of dogs. She is too polite, too American, to swear at the mention of him, but clearly she hates the man. American Behaviourists Most Wanted.

As the conference rolls on, panini after panini, mini eclair after mini eclair, lecturer after lecturer, my respect and indeed my love for Cesar and his methods is eroded by the experts. It’s like discovering the scout master is a paedophile.  They call Cesar’s technique flooding and it is never a good idea.

Out of the lecture theatre I can get away from the icy grip of the air conditioner and suck in the warm moist air of Sydney.  I can see another text.  Mother is fine. Parrots busy themselves at the destruction of nearby trees. A couple of vets have come outdoors to smoke. They hide themselves off in corners, down steps. I wonder if they too lament the loss of love for Cesar.

You can gauge how shabby a hotel is from its corridors and from the walls in its corridors. These corridors are musty and grimy. My nostrils detect the sour odour of vomit. The walls are scratched and stained – how do you spill a drink, or anything, ten feet up a wall, I wonder, as I view something brown near the ceiling? The air smells of smoke despite the rules. No pictures hang. Perhaps they would get nicked.

Late at night noise drifts up from the pool below. I have my window open to avoid using the air conditioner that ends up making the room too cold. I can hear laughing. At night the sounds of people partying by the pool echoes and throbs. Perhaps the bucket man has found some shoeless friends.  At the window I see planes crossing a darkening sky. I can see a tower block of apartments and real lives going on within them. Not just Hotel lives of making a cup of tea and watching TV from your bed. With curtains and blinds open, and lights coming on, the filmic people move about, making dinner, reading the paper, packing a school bag. I wait and watch. Wishing to see an argument, a thrown saucepan lid. Something.