Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Three Things Not to Take Chances On

OK, pardon my grammar – the three big things on which you cannot take chances...I have come to believe there are three things in life that aren't worth taking chances on: a doctor, a hairdresser and a motorcycle mechanic.

Sure, when you're new in town you have to shop around a little, but seriously, these are three essentials that you must find quickly – and once you've found them, never let them go!

I'm still searching on the doctor front. I found a good GP several years ago, but you have to make an appointment with him about a week before you know you're going to be sick. I was inherited by my current “close to work” GP when her predecessor moved interstate, and I don't care how close this one is to work, I'm not going back to her – talk about hopeless! Then of course, there's a GP I would trust with my life – but he's a bike friend, and there are some things you simply cannot ask of someone you go on rides with or have coffee with.... There are Some Conversations you Should Never Have:

“So, great ride last weekend, hey? Um.... I have this boil on my arse/haemorrhoid/nasty rash...”


“You know, I think I'm due for a pap smear. So, you doing the Snowy Ride this year?”

And then there's the hairdresser thing. When I lived in Sydney I moved to a different area and had to start the awful shopping-around-for-a-hairdresser process. One bloke I went to was so determined to “bring out my feminine side” that he cut, bouffed and blow-dried my short hair well beyond reason, and I left the salon looking like I had a goldfish bowl on my head. I headed straight for the ladies' loos and stuck my head in the basin before I could drum up the courage to be seen in public.

If my current barber (it took me so long to find him!) ever tries to leave Canberra there will be Big Trouble!

More important than all these things, though, especially if you're a motorcyclist (and one who doesn't know a lot about the workings of a motorcycle) – is a good mechanic.

I do a lot of miles, and I do a lot of them on my own and a long way from home. I need to be able to trust my bike. I need to know it's been well looked after and in the best possible condition to do what I will ask of it. As I am mechanically inept, I would never trust myself to work on my own bike. One of these days I will do a proper “basic bike maintenance” course, but until then...

I hit the jackpot with my mechanic. When I got my first bike I asked around the Canberra bike community, and I kept hearing the name “Bruce.” I heard a couple of other names as well, but they were on the other side of town, so I thought I would give this Bruce a go. I'm so glad I did.

That was three and a half years ago. Three bikes ago. About 100,000kms ago. That's about 8 minor services and 8 major services ago. That's maybe 2 chains and sets of sprockets, a couple of sets of brake pads, and 10 rear and 6 or 7 front tyres ago.

I can't calculate the amount of good advice and important knowledge I've picked up by hanging around at Bruce's, talking bikes. Sure, they pick on me and put my helmet up high when I leave it there – and I've copped my fair share of good-natured ribbing whenever I've needed some minor repairs after a stupid low speed drop... My favourite was after a drop on wet grass at Wandiligong, in Victoria. I hunted around on the grass for the small triangular piece of fairing that had broken off, and handed this precious little jigsaw puzzle piece to Bruce on my return.

“Yep,” he said laconically, “no worries. I'm used to gluing this bike together now.”

When I drove a car I always thought of a mechanic as a technician, but I've come to think of Bruce as a friend. I phoned him from a public phone booth hundreds of kilometres away to ask for his advice once when the bike seemed to be running rough. When I see something called “Bruce” on my trips I take photos of it for Bruce to stick up in the workshop. Whenever I call by on the way home from work to have some minor tweakage done, or to ask for bike advice, Bruce will always have a chat and offer lollies, or biscuits that his mum or his daughter have baked.

Tonight I got a phone call from Bruce. He'd heard I'd had a bit of a setback with the healing of my stupid broken foot, and he rang to see how I was. See – that's priceless!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Unco Betty gets Co!

Everyone who knows me (and a lot of people who don't) know that I'm unco – it's been a fact of life since I was expelled from kindy-gym at the local church when I was about 3. I couldn't do bunny hops over one of those balance beam things. Yes, embarrassing but true, and it set the scene for things to come.

Since then I've fallen off things, tripped up things, slipped on things and been bamboozled by things – dancing, swimming, aerobics. I was always the leftover who was grudgingly taken last onto a tunnel-ball or softball team during PE class. I didn't even get to earn the label 'wallflower' at school dances – I used to hide in the dunnies until the band went on a break!

I ripped my leg open on the frayed end of the Tarzan swing – a huge steel cable in the bush near where we lived - as I tried to fly gracefully from it, aged 8. I dangled from a cliff with my head in an ants' nest during an abseilling stuff-up, aged 14. My first “solo” (as opposed to tandem) skydive ended badly when I fell over on landing and nearly dislocated my shoulder, aged 30-something.

It took me hundreds of attempts to learn to drive, and millions to learn to ride. Sometimes I still fall off.

Over the years I've had to learn to laugh at my unco-ness, so as to get in first. Better that I laugh at me before everybody else does.

So I'm not sure what I'm going to do now that these weeks on crutches have honed my balance and coordination to a state approaching “normal”. Five weeks of dodging power cords, homicidal cats and “stuff” on the floor; five weeks of negotiating stairs, (both up AND down); five bloody bloody weeks of attempting household chores on one leg...

Today I achieved a level of coordination hitherto only dreamed of by my notoriously clumsy self - and officially dropped the “Un” from “Unco”. It wasn't easy – but I did it. Success is sweeeeet!

The thing is, I really really needed to change the sheets and wasn't prepared to wait for yet another week. I've had enough of the piles of stuff on the doona – books, clothes, crutches, potato chip crumbs, telephones, “stuff” that I need at hand - not to mention the cat hair on the doona cover.

So – I removed the piles of stuff, removed the sheets – then thought “What the heck!” - on a roll, I removed the woollen underblanket and mattress protector. I even turned the mattress (yes I did! Queen sized mattress, if you please, all by myself, on one leg!) I got all the bedlinen to the laundry without incident. For each of four loads of washing I negotiated my way, with the laundry basket full of clean wet stuff, down the back steps (4 of them) and along the garden path. I hung all that stuff out without dropping anything – and then a few hours later, did it all in reverse, with clean dry laundry. I did not trip, fall or wobble. I neither stumbled nor bumbled, and I'm feeling rather humbled! No – no I'm not – I'm smug! SMUG, I say! I'm so smug I'm about to explode with it! I'm sticking my rude finger up at unco-ness, muwahahahahahaha, and not walking into a pole or falling into a hole while I'm doing it! Look mum, no hands!!!

(...and now, in a very small voice...) I'm exhausted!

Monday, 16 February 2009

It could be worse.

I'm sick of these crutches and I'm sick of my stupid broken foot and I'm sick of myself.

It all came to a head on Friday – CT Scan time – the moment of truth. I was so certain that tiny chip of bone would have glued itself back. Violin music – Betty throws away crutches with a cry of joy. Gracefully, like a very graceful gazelle with an extra helping of grace, she bounds away to the bike shed in slo-mo, smiling beatifically.


It doesn't appear to have healed at all! Not one bit! Four weeks of pampering the stupid foot, keeping it wrapped in cotton wool and fibreglass, babying and cossetting it as if it's made of the finest, most precious and fragile crystal has done nothing! NOTHING!

The backslab cast has gone, in its place a gigantic and heavy “moon-boot” that holds my foot at a different angle. I look like a Transformer. No weight-bearing for another 2-3 weeks. All for a tiny stupid chip of bone aboutthe size of my little fingernail.

This awful shattering of my hopes broke my heart and my spirit. I came home from the hospital in a taxi - $46! - and cried. I mentally slapped myself about a bit and “got on with things” - getting the laundry basket to the laundry, for a start.

I don't know what happened – but I went over backwards, like a big miserable sack of poo.

And that was what brought me undone: the reality of several more weeks of this crap, of being dependent on others, of being unable to sit in bed with a nice cup of coffee, and of being unable to ride my bike – being out of control and powerless - not to mention the whopping bruises that appeared after this latest fall.

The conditions were perfect for a big fat panic attack, yet when it hit it still took me by surprise (yes I am a froot-loop), and I was suddenly gasping for air, crying uncontrollably and looking for tissues and my mobile phone. My nose started bleeding, my heart raced at about 200 beats per minute and I knew I was going to die – even though, rationally, I knew I wasn't.

My mate Clem saved me with a well-timed phone call that located my mobile phone and distracted my panic-ridden self from myself. I don't even remember what we talked about, but suddenly I could breathe again. Phew. Thank [insert higher power of choice here] for mates and telephones.

Saturday was shite as my body recovered from the massive adrenalin dump. Wan and washed-out, I slept a lot, and couldn't drum up even the ghost of a smile. Me and my stupid moon-boot retreated under the doona and stayed there.

What I hear from some of my biker mates is “pull yourself together” - and I wish I could, but panic has its own rules. See (and this is very very important) – since I was raped, motorcycling is what has enabled me to pull myself together and give me back a sense of control. Take away my 'medicine' – my ability to get on the bike for a bit of road therapy – and I'm up shit creek without a paddle. When panic hits and I can't ride away from it, it just has to take its course, and no amount of well-meaning advice will help. Yes, it sucks. I'm working on it. I'm lots better than I used to be.

BUT – it's Monday now. I'm well rested and a kind of equilibrium has been restored. I can think of lots of ways that this could all be worse.

I could have two broken arms as well, and an itch at the end of my nose. And be living in the middle of nowhere – somewhere off Woolies' grocery delivery route.

Or this: I could live in a 2-storey house, with only one loo at the top of 20 stairs, at the top of a cliff that's only accessible by scaling a thousand stairs hewn into solid rock and guarded by dozens of psychotic homicidal cats a lot like Oscar bin Laden – and have a head cold and a perpetually snotty nose…or even worse, diarrhoea.

Or – and this one is very very serious, and puts my crappy situation into perspective: I could be one of the hundreds upon hundreds of Victorian bushfire victims who survived the fires but lost absolutely everything and now live in a tent city with absolutely nothing, wondering how the hell to rebuild family, life and community.

I'll stop moaning now.

Red Cross Bushfire Appeal

Friday, 13 February 2009

A new adventure - shopping!

I started online shopping reluctantly several years ago, ordering hard-to-get books from Amazon. I progressed to a few small but excellent eBay purchases (the cost of the postage from the UK for my bike leathers was more than I paid for the leathers themselves!) and then bought the odd fado CD (fado not being hugely popular in this country, finding my fav fadistas in the local Music Shop isn't easy). More recently I've found some brilliant bargains on the Catch of the Day website – my favourite being the cases of rather good red wine that come up now and then (hic!)

I've never really taken to buying my groceries online, though – until now.

When I was a high school teacher I used to think there was something a bit therapeutic about wandering through a quiet, child-free, uncrowded supermarket late in the evening. All those lovely orderly rows of goodies, well-behaved and silent... Now that my bike is my only mode of transport, night-time grocery-shopping (particularly in winter) isn't the fun it used to be. And of course, doing it all on crutches and with NO means of transport – well, that's actually NEGATIVE fun! I attempted it a few weeks ago in 35 degree heat and had to be rescued by a man on a recumbent bicycle, who walked my heavy backpack up the hill for me while I sobbed uncontrollably. How embarrassing.

Last year when the wheelchair man fell on me and my hamstring snapped off my bum, I took advantage of online grocery shopping in a very small way. Just as well really, or I would've starved to death, as I was pretty much housebound for almost a month. I didn't really get into the spirit of it though - perhaps I was in too much pain – or perhaps I was spending all my food money on stuff like MRIs and surgeons' appointments.

And of course, my lovely daughter drove me shopping occasionally in her held-together-with-duct-tape deathtrap of a car, making a point of smirking at me (she's evil like that, bless her!) She had visions of a long-distant future and was unable to resist the line “Hmmm.... and so it begins...” as I hobbled like a 90 year-old to the car and took 10 painful minutes to manoeuvre myself into it. Hag.

During this current period of incapacitation, though, I have embraced Woolies' online grocery shopping like a long lost friend. In fact – I'm becoming obsessed!

Each week my orders become bigger and better. After yesterday's delivery I am a bit nonplussed. What on earth possessed me to buy 3 litres of grapefruit juice? When oh when will I use up 3 slabs of silken tofu before its use-by date? As for the 10 litres of soda water, entire kilo of chicken breast fillets, four jars of coffee and three dozen tins of diced tomatoes (ok, I exaggerate – it was only 1 dozen)...

Next time I shop I will do it before I open a bottle of that excellent aforementioned red wine from the Catch of the Day mob!

There are some things I will only buy in very small quantities, to tide me over, say, till I'm able to go to the Asian specialty shop for the really good Jasmine Rice I love so much. And I haven't quite been able to trust a stranger to test my melons or select my salad leaves...

I just make a shopping list and key in my details, and some kind mystery shopper actually does the shopping for me, bags everything up, and a nice young red-headed fellow drives it to my house in his refrigerated truck, during the 2-hour “delivery time-slot” that I have specified, puts it all on my kitchen bench and lets me pay with my EFTPOS card – and the cost of this very convenient service is a mere $13!

It's magic. AND – (but wait, there's more!) they give me little pressies; freebie samples of things – it's fabulous! So far I have stockpiled 5 little tubes of toothpaste that will be perfect when I can finally head off somewhere on the bike again; several of those faddish tubes of instant coffee, and a few packs of dog biscuits. (The fact that I don't have a dog is irrelevant – the boys next door do!)

Oh dear – my name is Betty and I'm a shopaholic...

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Another tale of life on crutches - beating the heat


It's true. Heat can drive a person insane. I'm living proof.

There is no escape from it. It just IS - like a wall of something inescapable - or a cocoon - or a bloody bloody SHROUD - heavy, energy-sapping, HOT and EVER PRESENT. It's made me cry more than once as I've sat here in front of a bloody fan that only blows hot bloody air at me. One of my panic-triggers, since the attack in 06, is feeling trapped - and this heat has me on the edge of tears and the brink of panic constantly.

I've told myself not to be such a wuss. It hasn't helped. I just got cranky with myself for being so hard on me, and didn't talk to myself for at least half an hour. Then I got lonely. The cats are no company in this weather. They're trying to kill me. They sprawl in doorways, trying desperately to get a breath of cooler air, and refuse to let me past. When I hop over the top of Oscar bin Laden he waves his paws at me and yowls in a mean way.

I am a woman on the edge, I tell you, BECAUSE I CAN'T COOL DOWN!

I've done all the standard things, right? Closed windows, shutters, curtains and blinds. I am living in airless darkness and the house is practically hermetically sealed to keep the heat out. It's a whole 5 degrees cooler in here than it is in that furnace outside. Not good enough.

The pathetic back-slab cast on my ankle, and the compression stocking and bandage mean that my foot is probably a million degrees hotter than the rest of me - and that doesn't help my mood. Surely such heat can fuse broken bone? If I leave it on for another 5 minutes will my fracture be healed? Can I throw away those stupid crutches? Can't I take that bloody cast OFF?

Well, I can. To have a shower or a bath. Then it goes back on again. All up, the entire operation takes about 5-8 minutes of sweat-inducing contortion that isn't worth the toll on my fragile mental state.

SO - this afternoon my heat-addled self rebelled. I ran myself a cool bath and manoeuvred myself into it, with the wrapped and damaged foot dangling over the side of the bath. BLISS! I took my "nose-bag" with me - it's a cloth shopping bag that I hang around my neck at home to carry stuff in - mobile phone, bottle of water, cup full of ice-cubes, clean clothes, paperback, crossword book, camera...

...And it was the coolest, most pleasant half hour of the entire day!

And then I had to get out.



Dammit, I worked up yet another sweat manoeuvring myself out of the damn bath. There is no escape from this relentless heat!!!

Thank goodness for the Christmas pressie my mate Jude gave me - ostensibly to cool me down at work whenever the hot flushes turn me bright red. It works just as well when I'm sitting on my bed with the fan aimed squarely at me, trying to beat the heatwave.

Damn you, heatwave *whimper* I will not melt!

An outing! Slumdog Millionaire

On a day when Canberra sweltered in 38C temperatures, looking for somewhere air-conditioned became a priority! My house is like a sauna, and the current heatwave has just about sent me off my trolley.

So - after a ride in Anna's air-conditioned car, and lunch with Anna and Glynis in the air-conditioned Cafe Macchiato, we braved the heat to walk (or in my case, hop) to a lovely air-conditioned bookshop in Garema Place.

The Multicultural Festival is in full swing. I haven't seen Civic so crowded for a long time (I only go there to work!) There was a whole bunch of crazy people milling about in the heat, listening to ethnic music, watching ethnic dance, eating ethnic food from dozens of stalls set up in Garema Place - ugh, the crowds! The noise! The colour! The absolute swelter! The light was so bright and sharp it intensified the heat if that's possible.

I had to escape! Crowds make me feel a bit claustrophobic.

Off to the cafe in air-conditioned Borders, where there was standing room only. No escaping those crowds... The Ancient Submariner met me there and we took ourselves off, via an iced-chocolate in the Canberra Centre, to the air-conditioned (and crowded) Dendy. Where the heck did all these people come from? Where do they hide during the week? I've never seen them in town before...

Anyway - in air-conditioned comfort, we spent a couple of hours watching even more heat, crowds, crush and swelter - but what a treat it was!

Slumdog Millionaire is fabulous: colourful, noisy and filled with contrasts, it's an optimistic fairytale set against an uncompromising backdrop of the reality of poverty and deprivation in modern India, existing (as it does) side by side with formidable wealth.

A friend who spent some time living in Bangalore told me how difficult it was to live in their comfortable foreigners' compound, in a flash house with servants, when a view of the most incredible poverty and filth just outside the compound's perimeter could be had from their window.

I must admit Slumdog Millionaire gave me no desire to visit India. I really enjoy novels by Indian writers - the multicoloured tapestries they weave - the stories leading to stories leading to more stories; the word pictures of the crush and hubbub - the colour, the noise... One of the most evocative bits of scene-setting I have ever read is the opening of The God of Small Things - and Slumdog Millionaire brought together all those elements - wild exuberance, colour and optimism existing cheek by jowl with poverty, decay and corruption - in a very watchable and engaging story.

In air-conditioned comfort - I prefer my swelter on the big screen.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Fun & games with the ACT Health system

See, this is how it's supposed to work:

Monday – have willy willy accident
Tuesday – go to hospital, be x-rayed, get sorted with cast/crutches, be referred for CT scan and fracture clinic.
No weightbearing allowed.
Have CT scan - maybe as long as a whole week later (i.e., accident plus maybe 10 days)
Subsequent treatment dependent on result of CT.

Here's what happened in reality.
Monday – willy willy accident.
Tuesday – go to hospital, be x-rayed, sent home with “sprain” diagnosis.
2 hours later, call from doc in ER – “Oops, I was looking at the wrong part of the x-ray. There IS a fracture. Come back.”

Wednesday – back to hospital. Have a look at x-ray, and the fracture practically leaps out at me and my untrained eye. Get back-slab cast, crutches. Doc says “see your GP in a week.”

9 days later (Friday) get in to see GP. She doesn't know what to do, phones radiology and orthopod, hears “possible second fracture”, sends me home with order “no weightbearing. $68 please..."
GP phones several hours later. “I was supposed to refer you to fracture clinic. Will do that next Tuesday when I'm back in the office. Um, will you phone to remind me?”

Tuesday – I phone. “Oh, it's more complicated than I thought”, she says. "Will you come in on Thursday? I'm not in on Wednesdays.”

Thursday – back to GP. “Oh, now where was I up to?” she says “What do I do next?”
“Referral for CT scan,” I mumble, incredulous.
“Ah yes.” She phones fracture clinic. “This is Dr X” she says (I am seriously wondering by this stage if she really IS a doctor! Only the cream of students are accepted to study medicine, after all.) “I need to refer a patient. Um, how do I do that?”


She faxes fracture clinic referral to fracture clinic, gives me CT scan referral. I hop back to work, my new Schwarzenegger shoulders bulging. At least she had the decency to bulk-bill me for this totally unnecessary non-consultation. Another Medicare rort... No wonder the country's going down the toilet.

I phone CT bookings. “You have to fax the referral through to us”. WTF? So I do. Just as well I'm at work, where there's a fax machine, and not at home. “We'll phone you with a booking time,” she says.

Friday (accident plus 19 days) I phone CT bookings. “Nobody's called me yet”. Clearly, nobody was going to either – at least, not in a hurry. On the other end of the phone, the bookings clerk scrounges around looking for my referral. “Ah, yes, there it is.” They make a booking for me over the phone. First available appointment is next Friday (accident plus 26 days). I can't help myself.

“Wouldn't it have been more sensible if the ER doctor had organised all this in the first place?” (thinking to self that in theory I might've already been able to throw away the crutches by now if that had been the case – oh my bruised and aching hands/arms/shoulders!)

she says. “I wonder why they didn't?”

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

My Big Exciting Life as an Author

Hang on while I pull my tongue out of my cheek.

I guess you need to be a really famous author, like JK Rowling, to have a big exciting life. For the rest of us, there are some big exciting moments – like the one where you get a call or an email or a letter from your agent telling you that something you wrote has been accepted for publication – or your first glimpse of your book on a shelf in a shop (wow!) - sprinkled very unliberally amongst the hours and weeks and months of writing in the wee hours, in between going to your day job, cooking the dinner, running a household and all those other things.

And then there's writers' block. Aaaargh!

When those ideas start to flow though..... mmmmmm, it's sweet!

Some little-known authory facts about Sue Hines, totally unfamous author:

I've had a go at writing a couple of Mills & Boon romances, tee hee. Both were rejected, but by crikey I had fun writing them!

I have a pair of flannel PJs that I call my “author pyjamas”. I wrote my third novel, The Water Boy's Story, from my bed, wearing those pyjamas. I also wrote several short stories while wearing them. They are enormous, and the elastic in the pants has seen better days – but they are truly inspirational and I will not not NOT chuck them out! So there.

My first novel, Out of the Shadows, was not allowed in the library at the school where I taught, because it was about teen sexuality – it had (gasp) lesbians in it! When it won The Family Award for Children's Literature (older readers), though, it was deemed acceptable – and a copy duly appeared in the school library.

I do my best writing at about 4.30am.

I'm horribly undisciplined. I don't like to plan a novel. I like writing to be an adventure. If I know where a novel is going to end up I can't see the point of making the journey. It's a bit like riding a motorcycle, where the journey is the thing, rather than the destination.

I've been stuck in the middle of a particular project for over 5 years. Now that's what I call writer's block! Thing is, I'm too stubborn to abandon it. One day I'll finish it!

As well as the teen novels I've written, I've also written short stories for women's magazines and some short stories for primary school readers. They were great fun, and I'd like to do more writing for younger readers.

I prefer to work on one project at a time. I'm a bit linear.

I wrote a picture book about motorbikes. Difficulty finding an illustrator means the project had to be shelved – temporarily. Again, I'm stubborn. One day it will see the light of day.

I get heaps of ideas, and write catchy sentences and phrases in my head when I'm riding my bike. Sometimes I pack the laptop and take off for a writer's weekend somewhere coastal. My idea of heaven.

I'm really cross that The Water Boy's Story, WHICH IS A REALLY FANTASTIC READ BY THE WAY, has been so hard to find in bookshops. Seems like the only way people can get it is to order it in at the shop, or get it online. Grrrr.

Being totally unfamous means I get to play around with different forms of writing – different genres and different audiences – I bet poor JK Rowling was Harry Pottered half to death! I think I would've got awfully bored if I were her. Oh dear, I suppose I'd better put another bloody Quidditch tournament in... sigh... Still, all those zeroes on the end of her royalty cheques probably made things a little more bearable!

I share my name with Sue Hines, who is a well-known Melbourne publisher. It makes me laugh when people think I am her. I wonder whether anybody has ever thought she was me?