Thursday, 31 March 2011

Vale Miffy

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
                                                             -- Dylan Thomas --

My dear, feisty, cranky, demented old cat, Miffy  – whose name was really the splendidly Welsh Myfanwy – did the good Dylan Thomas thing today, and raged against the dying of the light.

Who was I kidding with my wishy-washy dreams of a peaceful, dignified end for a grand old lady who has terrified vets in her long, cranky lifetime? Miffy died as she had lived – with a snarl on her lips, and a fight on her paws. That’s probably how she’d have wanted it if she’d had enough of her mind left to know what she actually wanted. 

Dear, dear Miffy. When Pete the Vet made a very kind house-call to enable her to exit this life from a comfortable spot in her own home, she demanded a blood price. There was a brief moment when I thought I must’ve made a terrible mistake – and that Miffy was not ready to go – and that will probably niggle at me for a long time. 

The bowels that no longer hung on, even as far as ‘Poo Corner’, behind the armchair; the complete lack of customary catty toileting fastidiousness; the late night confused yowling; the daytime confused yowling; the weird behavioural loops… as I cuddled my growling cat in her last moments, and said  choked words of farewell to her, I tried to keep those things in my mind.

But I still felt like shit.

I'm sorry, Miffy. Deep down, I think we both knew it was time. Goodbye, my dear old friend.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Jamberoo Hoodoo

 A few years ago I went to Jamberoo with some bike friends. We were caught in a severe thunderstorm along the way. It was terrifying.  The next morning, the ride on slippery, skinny Jamberoo Mountain Rd was shrouded in thick fog – and terrifying. We also got word that our friend Deb had had a nasty off on her big BMW 1150GS on dirt, and was in a bad way.

This weekend, Deb and I, and some other friends, decided to give Jamberoo another go. It’s a beaut little town, after all; very picturesque, and with a great pub.
 Photo source:

I should’ve taken notice of the ‘signs’ though. I reckon there’s a bit of a Jamberoo ‘hoodoo’ going on.
  • The previous weekend, the weather was bad enough for the treacherous Jamberoo Mtn Rd to be closed by a fallen tree and a road washaway
  • 3 other riders pulled out during the week.
  • On Saturday my basketball game started nearly 15 minutes late – that’s a first!!! – and I’d forgotten to pack my reading glasses and toiletries - so much for leaving on time.
How many more ways could the universe have said “maybe you shouldn’t go on this ride”?

We’d agreed beforehand, because of the road closure,  that we would go via Kangaroo Valley – a beaut road. HOWEVER, Brian phoned our destination pub and was told the Jamberoo Mtn Rd was actually open – so hey, we rejoiced and decided to go that way after all.

Except it wasn’t open, and we only discovered that when it was well and truly too late to go any other way. We were stuck with the Macquarie Pass – the road I had said “I would prefer to avoid”.

Motorcyclist survives Macquarie Pass plunge (Illawarra Mercury, 16 March 2009)

Four survive after car rolls off cliff (ABC news, 10 May, 2009)

I’ve heard horror-stories about buses/trucks having to do three-point turns to get around a couple of the corners. I’ve heard of people simply going over the edge.  I’m not that much of a ‘corners’ fan, to be honest…


WTF happened? I don’t know. Mark doesn’t know either, and he was riding right behind me. 

On the second hairpin from the top – a steep, decreasing radius turn, I was probably doing 15kmh. A small group of Harleys rumbled and spat uphill in the opposite direction. 

Here are some pics to show you how heavily trafficked this deadly bloody turn is.
 Next thing I knew, my bike was almost on its side , heading downhill and for the opposite side of the road, the concrete lip barrier and the million-foot drop. I hung on for dear life, but when the bike hit the barrier I was dumped, hit the back of my head on the ground and came to rest a couple of feet away, past the beginning of the Armco barrier beyond the tree. The bike must’ve bounced up, headed over the concrete barrier, caught the tree (see pic) with the front left side of the screen, and bounced off. It flipped back onto the concrete barrier and lay there suspended, trickling radiator coolant onto the concrete barrier. The front wheel dangled over the drop, while the rear wheel dangled above the road.

  Here’s why I’m the luckiest motorcyclist in the universe:
  • Neither my bike nor myself went over the edge.
  • Total strangers Russell and Jamie – a young pair of trail-bikers – appeared a moment later with a trailer.
  • At the same time, the tail-end Charlie of the Harley riders – an OMCG on a club ride, by the way – pulled over and rendered assistance. Four strong blokes recovered my poor dead bike from the brink, bent forks, bent frame, smashed fairing – but miraculously, NO BROKEN LEVERS – and securely strapped it between Russell & Jamie’s bikes on their trailer. Our OMCG friends continued on their way, and Russell and Jamie delivered me and my bike to a service station at Albion Park, about 10kms downhill (thanks heaps, guys).  It would spend the night there.
  • Maureen in the ‘support vehicle’ collected bruised and battered Betty from the servo and we limped to our accommodation, while
  • Mark rode back up the bloody Pass and back to Canberra to pick up his van, which he then rode back down the bloody Pass to Jamberoo for the night.
  • My Ventura Bag, which was ripped off the rack by the impact of the crash, contained, amongst other things, 56 Year 10 essays, which I had optimistically taken away with me. They could so easily have ended up hundreds of feet below, at the bottom of Macquarie pass, never to be seen again (come to think of it, so could’ve I).
By Sunday morning every part of my body had seized up, and every step hurt. I wasn’t much help collecting the bike from the servo. In fact, I was no help at all. Apart from that, I was starting to feel the need to pee, and it was a long, slow, painful 100m or so hobble to the toilet.

The TOILETS OUT OF ORDER sign brought me undone in a way that a near-death altercation with a tree, a concrete barrier and several hundred feet of long drop hadn’t. The cleaning lady, seeing my distress – I was howling in a dreadfully pathetic and desperate way: “But I can’t walk any more and I need to peeeeeeeee” retracted her “There’s a Macca's about 5 minutes down the road, you’ll have to go there” and instead handed me a wad of loo paper and pointed me in the direction of the men's urinal.

‘Maybe you can squat over the trough, love – it’s flushing ok.’

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my injuries were such that I couldn’t have squatted for a million dollars. How the hell does one pee standing up when one can barely stand anyway?

I did it. I managed not to pee all over myself or make my injuries worse, and found myself very close to the hysterical giggles that inevitably follow hysterical sobbing in such a bizarre situation. What an adventure.

Fast-forward to Goulburn police station, where I reported the accident, and then Calvary Hospital, where I was given some painkillers and a pat on the head. My middle-aged bones remain sound, my kneecap is attached and unbroken,  and apparently the pain in my groin is nothing more serious than a strained muscle. I will be very colourful in a couple of days.

Crutches hired, I was home sweet home by about 5.30. 

In one sense it was one of the crappiest weekends ever. Weirdly enough, though, it was also very life-affirming. I’m a lucky, lucky woman.

But I think I’ll give any future rides to Jamberoo a miss.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A (shaky) Tale of Two Countries

On 22 February, Christchurch, that most English of New Zealand cities, behaved most un-Englishly. It did a shake, rattle and roll routine that left scores of people dead, and thousands homeless.

Here in Australia the horror was metaphorically and literally a bit close to home. Aussies and Kiwis, while we poke fun at each other all the time when things are going well, are really pretty close. Some of us, like me, even have family over there on the other side of the Tasman Sea.  

Even though, like me, he’s a Pommie by birth, my dad, who’s in his 70s now, has spent more of his life in Christchurch than anywhere else on earth.  He’s officially a Kiwi citizen, a Cantabrian, and a resident of that grand old lady city, Christchurch – she who has so recently been brought to her knees by the greater power of Mother Earth (and that’s been one helluva mother-daughter stoush, I have to say!)

I’ve avoided blogging the whole Christchurch earthquake thing, probably because I have felt it from such a personal angle, despite being across the Tasman. Besides, I’ve been part of the chain that’s been busily passing messages between family members here and in the UK. 

But now it’s time. Over the last few weeks I’ve made many phone calls to my dad. He and Diana were rendered ‘earthquake refugees’, without power or water, not knowing whether their home would stand, be condemned-but-habitable, or condemned-and-get-out-now-coz-it’s-unsafe. They still don’t know. At the height of the awfulness, they had to abandon their home - and their traumatised cats - for a while. They’ve stayed with my youngest brother and his lovely wife in another part of town, and also with Diana’s family in faraway Nelson (which sounds like a lovely spot) but are now back home and sleeping in their own bed , despite continuing aftershocks, while they await the engineers’ pronouncement upon the stability and habitability of their home. 

“Come back to Oz, Dad,” I’ve said, more than once since the first very nasty Chch earthquake back in September 2010, and about a hundred times since the latest shake-up. “You have family here – and no earthquakes.” His response?

"Canberra? Bah! Too many bushfires! Brisbane? Floods! And then there are snakes and poisonous spiders! No way, Australia’s too bloody dangerous!"

Ah, Kiwis – shaken but not stirred.

There have been some amazingly heartening developments in amongst all the doom and gloom. Armies of uni student cleaner-uppers have been working around Christchurch, digging tonnes and tonnes of silt from people’s homes, gardens, streets etc. Random people from all over the place have converged on Christchurch, shovels in hand, keen to help wherever they can (many many thanks to the wonderful-but-anonymous people who, out of the blue, helped my brother and a mate of his clear the liquefaction damage from Dad & Diana’s house).

New Zealand is an amazing place. It has a disproportionately massive heart, perhaps because it’s really so small in international, as well as geographical terms. It still has an enviable 'community' feel. 

Despite Christchurch’s own straitened circumstances, New Zealand was one of the first countries to offer help to Japan after the devastating  earthquake & tsunami that hit Japan's east coast on Friday. That selfless response made me a bit teary.

You see, I have a Japanese connection, too. I spent 1977 living and going to high school in Mito-shi – in Ibaraki Prefecture – as an exchange student. My host families and old school friends are all there, in a place that copped a hiding on Friday from that bloody tsunami. As I have gradually and foolishly managed to lose touch with my Japanese friends and families over the last 30-odd years, I have no way of contacting them, or knowing whether (or how badly) any of them were affected by Friday’s unimaginably awful disaster.  It’s a feeling that niggles at me and makes me feel uneasy, unsettled – guilty, even, because of the lack of contact.

Something in particular that’s stuck in my craw, though, since then, is this: 

Only two days after the Japanese quake disaster (and OMG, that news footage is bloody terrifying) I am getting streams of jokes about it on my mobile phone.  I’ve yet to get one about the Chch quake. I’m still trying to think it all through – why do people feel that it’s ok to make jokes about the Japanese situation, but not the Christchurch one? If, as so many people say, humour is such wonderful medicine, why are we leaving our Christchurch cousins out of these bleak, 'healing' earthquake jokes, hmmm?

Oh, maybe that sort of humour isn’t quite so funny after all, when you’re talking about something  close to home. Maybe it’s only jokeworthy when it happens to people who don’t look like us; to people who don’t speak our language; to people who were our enemy in a fucking war that finished a couple of generations ago.

Oh dear, I’m having a rant, aren’t I? Maybe I'm being oversensitive about it, I don't know. Am I? The more I think about it, the crankier I get *sigh*.

Japan, my thoughts are with you.