The Covid-rollercoaster continues to find new ways to make life fun for all. On that uncertain landscape, disrupted holiday plans are really a comparatively minor glitch. Even so, the past week turned out to a bit more of a challenge than we expected as we navigated our very own version of Covid-glitchiness.

To be fair, we’ve been remarkably fortunate here in Western Australia so far. Unlike Victoria, New South Wales and (recently) the ACT, where Covid-consequences have been rife, people within WA have (mostly) been free to wander-out-yonder in their ‘backyards.’  And, with no adverse border conditions in place between WA, the Northern Territory and South Australia, we decided that it seemed like a reasonably safe bet to plan a trip that included travel through all of them.

After all (and with apologies to Dr Seuss), with brains in our heads – and feet in our shoes – we can steer ourselves in any direction we choose. What we came up with in the end was a cunning plan that involved a plane, a train and an automobile: we’d fly to Darwin, hop on The Ghan, adventure through Katherine (enjoying the Nitmiluk Gorge cruise off-train experience) and Alice Springs (with the Mount Gillen helicopter flight add-on, just for the fun of it) in the NT. We’d arrive in Adelaide after 3 days, just in time to pick up a camper van for the next stage of the journey.

This would involve nipping into the Barossa Valley, dropping past Port Augusta, stopping in Kimba (halfway across Australia) to visit its Big Galah, then heading towards the WA border via Ceduna and the Head of Bight (such views, apparently!). After crossing the Nullabor (to ‘baptise’ me as a real West Australian!), we’d head home via Esperance, the new Wellington Dam wall mural and so forth. This sounded nice and flexible and the camper meant we could stop wherever / wherever we felt so inclined. Hi-ho, adventures!

So leave was arranged, pet sitters organised, bookings made, and deposits paid. With every state having its own rules and regs around Covid and border control, we also had to apply for Northern Territory and South Australian border approvals, as well as a G2G pass to get back into WA. The approvals and relevant apps then had to be loaded onto our phones for ease of access. Sorted – or so we thought…

As is the way of these things, however, just days before we were due to leave, two new cases of Covid emerged in Katherine. A collective groan from all and sundry as we heard that the first case was a fully vaccinated person in Katherine (who initially tested negative for Covid, then positive 4 days later), the second a close personal contact, and both were infectious in the community for several days. None of that boded well for our trip.

Every day friends asked us whether we were still going / would the borders stay open / would the trip go ahead / would we lose our deposits – and so on. With no crystal ball readily to hand, no formal mandate from the WA Police regarding border closures and no notification from various hire companies that the trip was cancelled, we just thought good thoughts and pragmatically hoped for the best.

We ensured there was plenty of dog food in the house, had our fabulous pet sitters Jess & Chris round for afternoon tea and a catch up on the latest dog feeding regime etc., paid the balance on each leg of the trip, packed a laptop in case one of us ended up having to work remotely, booked an Uber and, at last, headed for the airport – appropriately masked.

Four hours of Business Class relaxation later (thanks to frequent flyer points) we landed in Darwin, where we turned our phones back to this charming message from the WA Police:

Your G2G Pass application: This means you are not permitted to travel into Western Australia.

Application status:UNSUCCESSFUL
Reason for unsuccessful application:Travel from/via Northern Territory

The full implications of this message were unclear, other than that our previously ‘successful’ applications had been revoked and that we’d need to reapply for WA border entry when we got to Adelaide at the end of the week. All we could do was to claim our baggage and, as per advice from authorities, make our (still masked) way directly to our hotel.  There we stayed, venturing precisely nowhere until the morning in order to limit any possible exposure – even MenuLogging some pizzas rather than trying to hunt down a nearby restaurant. Many good thoughts were thought and Zen moments attempted as we waited, hoping like crazy that the other shoe wouldn’t fall…

Zen contemplations, Darwin

In the morning, we masked up, checked out, hopped into a taxi and headed over to the Hilton – the designated pick up point for The Ghan. As it turned out, the train had had some sort of issue just out of Adelaide and been delayed for many hours, which resulted in it getting in to Darwin later than expected. For us, that meant a few more hours hurry-up-and-wait, so we had a leisurely breakfast at the Hilton, used the facilities and chatted to other Ghan-hopefuls. We were finally bussed out to the rail passenger terminal at midday, about 20km out of Darwin. We were on our way…

But no, another surprise awaited us there: more cases of Covid had come to light in Katherine and the town had gone into a snap lockdown. This meant that our scheduled stop there was cancelled. Instead, we would continue on straight through to Alice Springs, which would actually make up for the late departure and result in us arriving there more or less on time – so there you go: swings and roundabouts!

The Ghan, Alice Springs

It was a relief to finally settle into our tiny-weenie, cute-as-can-be cabin (with its equally cute en suite). Dumping our bags, we headed down to the lounge car for drinks and socialising before lunch – and the food and drinks just kept on coming! The train was only at about 1/3 capacity (as a result of NSW and Victoria cancellations) and the group in our section bonded quite quickly. About half the people were from WA, one from Brisbane and the rest from South Australia. Lots of shared stories and laughs and a stunning sunset – a good evening after such a ragged start.

We woke at about 3am to find the train stopped in the middle of nowhere; I’m guessing the absence of the soothing clickety-clack train sounds is what disturbed us. There we remained until sunrise (about 5am), before carrying on towards Alice. About an hour later there was an announcement: many apologies wrapped around the fact that South Australia had closed its borders in response to the Katherine outbreak and that only SA residents would be permitted to cross the NT/SA border; our border passes had been revoked and all non-SA passengers would have to disembark in Alice and make their way home.

Consternation ensued. More announcements. More apologies. Breakfast. More announcements. Assistance with arrangements, if required, etc. At the end of all that, we a) didn’t get to go on our fabulous helicopter adventure in Alice, b) didn’t get to spend our last day and night on The Ghan, c) missed lunch completely, and d) and had to cancel our camper van pick up in Adelaide. We DID get to a) hurry-up-and-wait a whole lot more, b) let our pet sitters know that we’d be back a whole LOT sooner than planned, c) scurry to find a flight back to Darwin and then on to Perth, d) find a hotel to spend the night in, e) reapply for returning-resident G2G pass back into WA and f) load the WA Police home quarantine tracking app – with facial recognition – onto our phones (!) 

Many hours and much anxious waiting in various places later we finally landed back in Perth, went through border control, grabbed a taxi home and  entered 14 days mandatory home-quarantine. We’d been gone for 4 days and it felt like the full 14! The longest not-exactly-holiday we’ve ever been on. The dogs were delighted! I’d guess it felt like 14 days to them too 🙂

Checking in with the G2G Now app is now to be part of our daily routine until 4 December. The app info says it’s “quick, fun and easy” and, whilst I agree with the quick and easy part, fun it decidedly is not. Our phones sound a raucous and persistent alarm when the app wants to ‘see’ us – this happens once a day at random times, different times for each of us. We then need to open the app and allow it to take our photo and check our location. Yesterday mine was at 5pm, today 8am – both times causing me to leap to my feet and to go phone-hunting! By the end of 14 days I’ll have even more sympathy for Pavlov’s cat!!

Meantime, we’ve undergone our first Covid tests (nasty!) and received confirmation of negative results. Hurrah! Test #2 will be on Day 12. Until then we hurry-up-and-wait some more, but at least it’s at home and not in hotel quarantine. BoyChilde and his lovely lass dropped off some milk (to the gate), along with chocs, biscotti and fresh cherries yesterday > champs! We have access to grocery deliveries and a well stocked freezer, the pool’s at a very pleasant 30 degrees and the sun’s shining – so our trials and tribulations are minor.  AND I’ll be able to get some work done on my ‘round-to-it’ aka my mosaic mural project, which might even be finished by Christmas, thanks to all this!

As Dr Seuss says, “Out there things can happen, and frequently do, to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along, you’ll start happening too!

From time to time I drop into the local cinema on my way home from work on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s half price movie day and I take a chance on whatever turns out to be on offer when I pitch up. It’s a pretty random thing to do, but that’s part of its appeal and I’ve ended up seeing a number of films that I would almost certainly not have gone to see intentionally. The bad ones are improved by an ice-cream, the good ones leave my mood improved no end and the challenging ones make me think. Sometimes they make me cry.

This was one of those weeks. The film was The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins as the main protagonist (Anthony) and Olivia Colman as his daughter (Anne).

Reviews describe this film as Hopkins’ performance of a lifetime and a ‘devastatingly empathic portrayal of dementia.’ I found it beautiful – and desperate – and heart breaking – and confronting – and altogether too close to home. The overwhelming feeling was of watching a mind coming undone, experiencing Anthony’s increasing confusion and disorientation and never knowing quite what’s real and what’s not. It was unsettling, to say the least.

MiL often tells us that she finds her life both frustrating and confusing. She says she feels unmoored, as though all her familiar anchors are drifting out of reach – or are no longer recognizable. We nod sagely, sympathise and support, feeling that we understand – at least to some extent – what she means. Having read up on Alzheimer’s disease, we know it progressively destroys memories and abilities and that it’s irreversible. So her feelings aren’t unexpected.

But this film put some of those conversations into a more relatable context. Writer-director Florian Zellar catapults the audience into experiencing Anthony’s shifting realities with him – both those inside his head and in the world around him. We end up about as confused as he clearly is as we all try to make sense of the conflicting situations and information. It was uncomfortable. As was the realisation that my ‘understanding’ of MiL’s situation is, at best, limited.

On my way home, Dylan Thomas came to mind. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night,’ he says. And I couldn’t agree more. Anthony’s almost violently expressed frustration and fear, confusion and uncertainty seemed all too reasonable. He should rage, rage against all the points of light going out for him, day after day, leaving him less than he was.

Any day in which MiL feels connected to her life in some way, rather than a confused passenger waiting for the right stop, is a good one. And no matter how pragmatic I am, how full that half-full glass can be made to seem, it’s a desperately sad thing to watch dementia claim someone dear to us.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

Earlier this week I was chatting to BronS at work about websites, blogging and inspiration. I had just finished read Americanah by the fabulous Chimamanda Ngoze Adiche and was rhapsodizing (a bit), which launched us down the rabbit hole of discussing books and authors. It turns out that Bron’s a freelance journalist / book reviewer and met Chimamanda many years ago to review her first book, Purple Hibiscus. Synchronicity, much? Anyhow, by the end of our chat I’d made a note of another Nigerian author (also interviewed by Bron!) and now can’t wait to read Chris Abani‘s memoir.

But back to websites, blogging and inspiration. Bron had come along to learn how to set up a wordpress site, but was a bit hesitant. So I showed her mine as an example of not-too-hard. This in turn led us to talking about blogs, blogging and inspiration for content – and somewhere along the line I confessed to having lost ‘the spark.’

I hadn’t actually articulated this to myself until that moment, but it just came tumbling out. I heard myself tell her about my head being so full of things relating to MiL, to ageing and dementia and support, to how the family copes (or doesn’t) with her day to day incremental loss of self, that when I sit down to write it seems that’s all that’s there. “Since I’m pretty sure no-one wants to read about all that, I’ve mostly stopped writing,” I confessed.

Bron’s response was, “Just write about it anyway! You might be surprised at what people will find interesting.” And of course she’s right. I wrote a whole book about hips and suchlike just to get that saga out of my head – and this is really not that different. It won’t change anything (as far as MiL goes), but perhaps it’ll be cathartic and get rid of at some of the noise rattling around in there.

There are so many things about ageing and working with seniors that could be explored while I’m about it, actually: the lady at the pool who has a 104 year old mother, whom she describes as ‘a heritage attraction in her own right’; another pool-friend who has an 88 year old live-in MiL with terrifying teeth and no English; how so many seniors feel increasingly invisible and sidelined as they age; or the marvelous realisation that age provides the freedom to ignore many of the protocols that previously seemed to rule our lives. And so much more.

Thanks, Bron – I’ll give it a go. Watch this space, folks – and tell me about your experiences with ageing – or the aged.

Meantime, to quote one of my favourite authors:

All this and more.

Woke up this morning, smiled with the rising sun, two little birds pitched on my doorstep… singing sweet songs of melodies pure and true, saying, this is my message to you

Who knows why Bob Marley & the Wailers popped into my head this morning – perhaps it’s because I’ve been trying to learn to play it on my uke. Or perhaps it’s because the birds really were singing – and whistling – and laughing (this is Australia, after all!). Although, when I opened the blinds, there were more than two and they were in the trees, on the wall and on the power lines, not the doorstep.

Looking out at the front garden, the canna lilies captured my attention. These stunning yellow flowers on their tall stems, surrounded by lush leafy foliage, bobbing cheerfully in the morning breeze, brought an instant smile to my day. The smile – and its source – made me think of DaughterDearest. Whilst cannas probably aren’t her absolutely favourite flower, she’s the reason we have them growing (so prolifically!) in our garden.

Many years ago, when we first settled in Perth, DD discovered yellow cannas in a friend’s garden and promptly ‘souvenired’ some to plant at home. We moved house twice more after that and, each time, she dug up some of the canna rhizomes and replanted them into the new garden, where they took off without any hesitation.

Cannas aren’t actually lilies at all, but are related to ginger and banana plants. Their rhizomes are edible – although DD has researched this and tells me they need to be boiled or baked until slightly translucent. Possibly not my first food choice, but good to know. These glorious plants are survivors, thriving wherever they land, flourishing and making the best of whatever space they have available. No wonder they bring her to mind!

This set me to thinking about other people in my life and whether I associate any particular flower with any of them – and, yes, I do.

BoyChilde has had an ongoing love affair with cosmos for most of his life, having discovered them growing wild on family camping trips when he was quite little. These hardy little plants flower along the roadsides and in spring and again in autumn in many regions in South Africa. The pink, white and cerise (dark pink) flowers are so ubiquitous that many people consider the plants native to South Africa, although they actually originate from South America. The flowers symbolise order and harmony, are considered to be synonymous with tranquillity, peace, harmony & love, and are the flower for BC’s birth month. Coincidence? Hmmm…

This brings me to Sibling#1 – when she was a sweet young thing, carnations were her flower of choice. But when I think of her, it’s proteas that come to mind. These plants are native to South Africa, although they belong to the same family as the Australian Banksia. They symbolise ingenuity, diversity, transformation and courage – all of which is spot on. They’re also beautiful, have a heart of gold and perform well in wide range of conditions 🙂

Finally, BFF loves sunflowers, although for me she always brings frangipani to mind. I must admit that the first time I really paid attention to the beauty and fragrance of frangipani flowers was when I saw them in BFF’s bridal bouquet and, in edible form, on her wedding cake. Since then I’ve seen her grow these tropical tree/shrubs from cuttings and supervise their replanting; I’ve learned that they’re surprisingly easy to grow and, just recently, that they symbolise devotion, positive energy, strength to withstand tough challenges.

So, does this mean that the flowers we relate to – or relate others to – can somehow provide insights into a person’s character? I find that implausible. And yet… in the four instances I’ve sited, it works. Perhaps just the eye of the beholder?

A couple of years ago I wrote about how much I enjoyed my parents reading to me when I was little and the impact that had on me – both then and in later years. One of the outcomes of being read to from as early as I can remember, and then being taught to read pre-primary, is that it seemed logical to teach my own children to read before they went to school. Since I’m not a teacher, it was a learning curve for all of us! But that’s a tale for another day.

To start with, DaughterDearest and BoyChilde were subjected to being read all the usual baby books, toddler books, books beyond their understanding but important to me, and more.  J and I made up stories for them too, ruthlessly pillaging some of our favourite SF of the time and embroidering it to make it child-friendly and relevant. Those stories all started with ‘once upon a time’ and were all packed with derring-do, mystery and adventure. Story time was fun for everyone!

So it was no great surprise when, once reading was conquered and writing whole sentences emerged, DD started to put her own imagined worlds and adventures down on paper, drawing pictures to accompany them and then reading these increasingly elaborate tales to us. Later she took to writing poetry as well, some short pieces and some epics, all fired by her need to express and unpack her internal worlds. I’ll be a writer one day, she told me.

But of course she already was. To be a writer all one really needs is to write – and write – and never give up. And she never has. There are countless notebooks full of poems, sketches, short stories, novella length tales and more. DD has read widely and still does, and over time has found a rhythm and style that suits her chosen genre. Conquering the writing marathon of NaNoWriMo three (or more?) times encouraged her to be more disciplined in her writing practise, but it wasn’t what made her a writer. To quote DD, “I’ve been creating stories since before I could read – and learning to read only encouraged me!”

And the result? Well, her fans (including me) are marking time while we wait “patiently” for book three of her first published series. Yup – there are two e-books out there already, folks, just waiting to be feasted upon. They’re modern fantasies (with a fairy tale slant) and terrific adventures, full of mystery and intrigue, magic, friendship and a whole lot of that there derring-do!

Give them a go and let me know what you think. Hey, let her know what you think! 🙂