Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: cycling (Page 1 of 2)

Some unexpected developments on the job front

You apply for a job, not just any job, a dream job in a library close to home. You pull out all stops in your application, co-opting your colleagues into editing and checking your resume and selection criteria. You are offered an interview and, though your daughter is in hospital awaiting surgery, you manage to attend – and answer the questions. In fact, you think the vibe was positive. You were right. The following week you receive a phone call. Congratulations, the guy on the phone says we’d like to offer you a position. Start dates are discussed, details checked with HR. Yes, you’ve done it. You hug the triumph to yourself in satisfaction. You talk to your current employer. Though you are supposed to give a month’s notice, they pull out all stops to ensure that you can start on the date indicated. You tell your friends, family, start to get excited. Your long-haul commute will soon be a thing of the past. You will be able to cycle to work, meet your husband in a trendy bar on Sydney Road afterwards. You will have flexibility. Ample opportunity to return to Wales. You think you are lucky. Too lucky. You think somewhere in your youth or childhood you must have done something good.

Then the second phone call comes, a week before the anticipated start date. Your job offer is being inexplicable, shatteringly withdrawn. You hang up the phone in disbelief. You try to make coffee but your hands are shaking. For some reason you can’t stand still. The reality begins to sink in. You think my God, I’m not a librarian anymore. With that the tears start. You sit with the dog in your lap and let them flow. Once the first wave of shock passes, your mind springs into action. You email your original employer. They are shocked, outraged and sympathetic on your behalf. They make phone calls. The stops so recently pulled out are jammed back into place. But of course none of your colleagues know this. When you arrive at work on Thursday morning they think you are leaving. They have made you a banner. Pob Lwc! It says in Welsh, Good Luck, Liz! You have to blight their well-wishes, tell them you might be sticking around after all. They are incredulous, enraged, and, underneath it all, a teensy bit glad. They never wanted you to leave. You think maybe they have a point. Maybe you already work on the best library service. When they ask if you want the banner taken down, you say, hell no, I’m claiming that luck after all.

PS. This is not a blame and shame exercise. Just my writerly attempt to come to terms with the situation. So, if you want to comment and know of the libraries involved, please don’t mention them by name. 🙂

Blog nine o Gymru – life in the stiwdio

I have been in Wales two months. It’s time I told you a little about my role at Stiwdio Maelor. Established in 2014, the stiwdio provides low cost accomodation for artists and writers to take time out of their busy lives in order to be refreshed and inspired to create. Situated in the historic slate mining village of Corris, Maelor has three apartments – each with a bedroom and a studio – a shared bathroom, kitchen and a common room. It also has a single bedroom room for the volunteer coordinator (which is me).

As an introvert, I wasn’t sure how I would like living in what is effectively a shared house. But sharing a house with artists and writers has its benefits. Firstly, they are not here to socialise. Secondly, when they do come out of their rooms, it is normally to talk about the creative process. The remainder of the time, they are roaming the hills looking for inspiration or holed up in their studios painting, writing, drawing, stitching or sculpting.

We have had six artists through the stiwdio since I arrived at the end of July. The last two, Cindy and Erin from Florida, helped me revamp my web page, design new business cards and put up with me ruminating about whether or not to buy a yoghurt maker. Sometimes, of an evening, we would go to the pub and anti-socialise together. It was like having a holiday with two best friends I didn’t know I had. The place is quiet without them.

Speaking of WIFI, let us move onto my daily routine. It starts, with what I have now dubbed the seeking signal pose, a stance half way between supplication and a Kundalini yoga sequence. It involves bracing myself, leaning out of my bed and holding my phone up to the window in order to get a signal, then ducking back down beneath the covers to check my Facebook feed. Of course, standing on the pavement would be more effective. But I’m not sure if Corris is ready for me in full length thermal underwear (yes, and, it’s only summer), my tufty morning hair, and a plum coloured satin dressing gown that I picked up from the local charity shop.

My studio work involves cleaning and changing the bed linen when new artists arrive, receiving enquires from future residents, sending out information, and keeping the webpage updated. In between, I have been working on my manuscript and trying to speak Welsh with a many people as possible. We have a Welsh chat group every Tuesday morning in the local Institiwt, and have started a Welsh language dinner for the learners in the village. I am also attending Merched y Wawr twice a month. Joining a Welsh chapel is also on my list of priorities. But it hasn’t been easy to get away during our month of open studios. Meanwhile, I have been attending the church in the village. This week. Welsh classes have resumed after the summer break. I now have weekly homework to complete and, as Veronica has re-claimed her car, my trip to Machynlleth (closest town) also invloves a bus ride with my dirty washing.

This week, I did the bus run for the first time. I borrowed a small suit case and got my clothes to the laundrette, then dashed across the road to the supermarket. I quickly worked out that my groceries we’re going to be heavier than my clean laundry. I loaded the suitcase up with food, my three reusable shopping bags with clean clothes, and turned up at my first Welsh class looking like a bag woman. Trudging back through Corris that later evening, bags bugling, suitcase over-loaded and my back pack stuffed to the brim, the local cafe owner said: ‘Let me guess, it’s washing day?’

I have been trying to exercise regularly since arriving. So far the weather has been kind. I have been doing a short jog to Aberllefeni (go on, say it) every couple of days and some longer walks in the hills around Corris. Today, for the first time, I rode my borrowed bike to Machynlleth. I’m not sure how practical this will be as a transport option when the weather sets in (not to mention, the hills). But this evening’s ride was glorious. I had to stop half way along the route while a farmer herded his sheep into a new field. I got chatting to his wife while we watched them pass. I told her I was from Australia and that I was a Welsh learner.

Yn wir!’ Dwedodd hi wrtha i. ‘O’n i’n meddwl dy fod ti’n Gymraes.’

Ann her name was. She keeps ieir (hens) and, from that kind utterance, I am claiming her as my new best friend.

 

Blog eight o Gymru – a London interlude

On the 1.06 Arriva train to Shrewsbury, when the guard came around, I held up a handful of tickets. 'Excuse me. I think I might have to change trains. Can you tell me in where please?

Yes. Certainly. The guard took my tickets and started shuffling through them. I saw his eyes widen, the nervous swallow of his throat. 'It looks like you're on the 1.06 from Machynlleth to Shrewsbury, the 2.33 from Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton, the 3.20 from Wolverhampton to Stafford, and then the 3.42 from Stafford to London Euston.'

'Ahh…that's why the tickets were so cheap?'

'Yes. But look, I've put them in order for you.

***

Following Google maps from London Euston Station to the St Pancras Renaisance Hotel with my handful of return train tickets, a borrowed suitcase, my cheap blue Kmart backpack, and slightly muddy Blundstone boots, I stopped in front of an impressive red-brick, turreted edifice: St Pancras Renaisance Hotel. I checked the email itinerary. It seemed to be the right place. I looked down at my boots. Hmm…maybe I wasn't dressed for this occasion? As I approached the glittering glass doors the concierge was clearly of the same opinion. He swooped down on me.

'Good evening, madam. Can I help you?'

'Yes. I think, I'm meeting my husband here.'

***

Approaching Drury Lane Theatre to a Saturday night performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I briefed Andrew on our seats.

'I booked them at the last minute. I couldn't stomach £95 a ticket. We're in the top balcony. RESTRICTED VIEWING. The website said we might have to lean forward occasionally.'

We climbed up and up to our seats. After we had finished staunching our nose bleeds, I said: 'Well this is nice. If we lean forward, we can almost see everything. But…I'm glad I didn't choose the seats that said: RESTRICTED VIEWING – POLE.'

The young couple who had chosen POLE were clearly of the same mind. As soon as the lights went down they scooted across to a better position. We joined them. After that, we really could see almost everything.

***

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. I said: 'Why don't we hire one of those Santander Bikes and ride along the Regent's Canal?'

'Good idea.' Andrew agreed.

So did most of Greater London. Those who weren't cycling were walking – along the same tow path. It was narrow. I had visions of myself shooting off the edge and sinking to the bottom of the canal with my iPad and iPhone (do I hear a collective shudder). We got to Regent's Park. I said:

'Perhaps, it's time for lunch?'

'Yes.'

'We just have to park these bikes.'

But here's the thing about London bikes. They don't come with a temporary bike lock like in Paris. You have to find an empty bike dock. In our case, two empty bike docks. But it was bright and sunny and most of Greater London also thought lunch in Regent's Park was a good idea. Google told us we should have downloaded a Santander App. But I'm on a pay-as-you-go phone plan and Andrew is on an Australian phone plan. So, this wasn't an option. We decided to cycle back to our hotel.

'We can ride in the bus lanes,' Andrew said.

'Are you sure?'

'Yes.'

We rode in the bike lanes. I think it was allowed. I think London Cabs might also have permission to use the bus lanes. There were quite a few of them. It seemed everyone in Greater London had now left Regent's Park and were whipping past us in cabs. Those who couldn't get a cab, were thundering past on huge red double decker buses. As I pedalled along Marleybone Road with with my cheap blue Kmart back pack and my Blundtsone boots churning like windmills, I thought: it's possible I'm going to die here in London.

***

I didn't die. I'm now safely back in Corris. I had a lovely time in London. Thanks for coming Andrew Corbett.

 

A week of small things

Last Saturday, I told my husband I wouldn’t be speaking English and spent the day chatting in Welsh on Skype, doing SSiW lessons, and listening to Radio Cymru. It was a long, intense, surreal kind of day. As daylight gave way to dusk, I took the dog for one more walk around the block and had the strange sensation of Welsh words jostling to the front of my mind. I thought, this is weird, totally weird. I wonder if anyone else is preparing for Dysgwr y Flwyddyn like this? As I walked around the night black silence of an empty house, I thought: maybe not?

Maybe this is a little crazy?

I didn’t progress to the final round of Dysgwr y Flwyddyn. In retrospect, I never was a serious contender. But I managed to bag myself a greater prize at Welsh class the following Tuesday evening. I had been teaching the beginners class for a couple of months and, on rejoining my intermediate class for the first time in ages, I felt seriously out of touch. But my brain was still in the curious Welsh language hinterland that my day of intensive preparation had produced. I pulled out a stack flash cards and said:

‘We are going to use these images as a springboard for discussion.’

An hour and twenty minutes later, we were still taking. In Welsh. It was the first time any of my classes had broken through the barrier from lessons to conversation. Riding home that night under the rainbow strobe of city lights I thought:

Yes, yes, yes! This makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Thursday, I found myself working a regular library desk shift. From amid the general queries about what book came next in a series, relevant school project materials, and technological issues, came a rough, half shaven, probably-from-the-local-council-estate man, wanting information on butterflies. Not general bookish, kind of information either. Butterfly man wanted to identify a chrysalis he had found and determine when, exactly, his buttefly would emerge. I directed him to the relevant library shelf and helped him connect his tablet to the WIFI. But armed with information and connectivity, he saw no reason to exclude me from the ongoing excitement of the his research. In the course of his hour long residency at the information desk, snippets of butterfly man’s story also emerged. In between serving customers, I marvelled at this socially and economically disadvantaged older man who clearly hadn’t thrived in the education system, rediscovering the wonders of the natural world.

On Friday evening, I visited mum in hospital. She asked me how my Welsh language competition had gone. ‘It went well,’ I replied. ‘I spoke quite fluidly. But I didn’t get through to the final round.’

‘Why not?’ mum asked.

‘Well, I think, perhaps, my Welsh wasn’t good enough.’

‘But you’re my daughter! You can do anything.’

You’re my daughter…

I couldn’t help reflecting on mum’s comments as I lined up for Saturday’s how to be a barrista course. Maybe this attitude lay at the root of all my naive overconfidence? Thinking I could write a novel? Learn a second language? Start teaching it before I could even speak it fully? Believing I could compete against Welsh people in a Welsh language competition. As I looked around the class of wannabe barristas among whom I was the oldest, tallest, most English-as-a-first-languagest, I thought:

Maybe I’m out of my depth here too?

Over the course of the day, my initial suspicions were confirmed. I could set up the machine okay and produce esspresso shots with a nice crema. They tasted good too. I made the mistake of drinking far too many early on. By the end of the day, my class mates were decorating smooth coffees with spirals and seagull patterns while, with my hands burned and my heart racing and my over-caffeinated nerves jangling, I was still struggling to create the requisite micro foam. ‘You’re doing well.’ I said to the girl next to me. ‘Do you work in a cafe?”

‘I have.’ She said. ‘But not as a barista. What about you?’

I looked down into my jug of frothy over boiled milk. ‘I work in a library. And teach Welsh as a hobby. I think that’s where I belong.’

PS: If you’re a cafe in the Corris area, please replace that final sentence with:

But once I get the hang of this I’m going to be the bomb! 🙂

A sobering week for Melbourne cyclists

This has been a sobering week North of the Yarra with yet another cyclist doored (allegedly), and flung in under the wheels of a passing vehicle. Unfortunately, this accident was not an isolated incidence. This 1.7 km stretch of Sydney Road has one of the highest crash rates for cyclists in Victoria.

At this point, depending on your point-of-view, it would be easy to start a rant about inconsiderate motorists, inattentive cyclists, or careless drivers. But this would be unproductive. A man is dead. For his sake, we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Obviously, the situation on Sydney Road is complex – you have a narrow road, cars, cyclists, trams, on street parking, not to mention the many traders who rely on regular through-traffic. Clearly, greater minds than mine are working towards a solution. But as someone regularly cycles that section of Sydney Road, I thought I’d throw my wishlist into the mix.

  • No parking on this section of Sydney Road. Or no bikes on this section of Sydney Road. You can’t have both. The road is too narrow. Personally, I’d ditch the parking. It would help cyclists, trams and motorists. No doubt the traders would have something to say about this.
  • Better driver education – and not simply in realtion to door opening. I almost got cleaned up at a roundabout the other night (let’s not get started on blokes in four wheel drives). If I hadn’t been taking my usual precaution of not assuming cars will obey the law, I would also be lying in the morgue. A series of TV adds maybe? To alert drivers to the rights of cyclists on the roads?
  • Compulsory bike education for cyclists. When I started riding, I did a Cyclewise training course. In addition to basic road rules, how to signal and make hook turns, I was taught to look inside parked vehicles and pass with ample clearance, not to duck in and out of the parked cars, to take my place in the car lane with confidence, to wear reflective strips at night, and to use adequate lighting. Many cyclists ride as if unaware of these basic rules.
  • New cars built with cycle awareness alarms. Remember the days before beeping cars and microwaves? When it was possible to leave the fridge open all night? What about backing into a car space without accompanying audio assistance? It is possible to build warnings into vehicles. Why not do so for cyclists? Some sort of alert before people open their doors? A side mirror camera?
  • Better lighting. The main reason I ride Sydney Road is for safety. This sounds like a oxymoron. But only two years ago, a woman was sexually assaulted and murdered off this section Sydney Road. This makes me wary of using the Upfield bike path at night. I love my night rides along Sydney Road – the lights, cool air, crowds spilling onto the streets around pubs and restaurants feel. However, there are plenty of on-road bike lanes on the back streets. I have purchased a better front head-light for this purpose.
  • Educate taxis. Look I don’t want to sound peevish. But it simply isn’t appropriate to pull over, double park and talk to your mate on Sydney Road. The only time I’ve ever slipped on a tram line was trying to negotiate a double parked taxi.

Representatives from VicRoads, Yarra Trams, Public Transport Victoria, Moreland Council and Victoria Police met with Sydney Rd traders, bicycle users and residents groups have met in the wake of the tragedy. As a result, speed limit Sydney Road will be reduced to forty kilometres per hour. Speed humps will be installed and some parking spaces removed. City of Moreland, will also proceed with its plans to upgrade the bike path. Let’s hope it will be enough. That Alberto Paulon has not died in vain. For his sake, and for his family’s, for all future cyclists, let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again.

 

An Easter without offspring

Biskit's 'Great Escape' is becoming a regular part of our holiday routine. At some point during the bag filling, gate opening and car loading, he works out we are going away. He slinks about with his tail between his legs waiting for a chance. Our journey always starts with Andrew announcing. 'Your dog's gone, Liz.'

To which I reply. 'Well I'm not going on holidays until we've found him.'

We always end up leaving late.

I'm not complaining. I like the way new rituals replace old ones and, as this would be the first Easter Andrew and I have spent alone, since Jack was born in 1985, it was comforting for Biskit to set the ball rolling on an otherwise untrodden course. We had no chocolate, this Easter. An absence of noisy debate. And warmth – seeing as I have given up camping. We were not huddled around a campfire. It was bliss. And odd. Here's my wrap-up of events.

Accomodation

We stayed in Queenscliff, a seaside town at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It was hard not to think about my novel as its narrative finishes shortly after a ship bearing it's fictitious characters enters Port Phillip Heads. I enjoyed seeing the fine mist over the morning sea, the low lying, sandy peninsulas, pincered around the bay like a crab. You'd be excused for thinking I'd engineered the location to suit my mood. The truth is budget and availability dictated our choice. Andrew says I have an uncanny knack for finding accomodation that is not quite good enough to be expensive and not dreadful enough to be miserable. The general result being a quaintly eccentric kind of bungalow with clean but not too modern facilities. This one happened to be in Queenscliff. Among the features holding this particular cottage back from its five star rating being the owner's possession of a dynamo label maker and the amateur art work adorning its walls. After realising the paintings were all done by the owner, I said to Andrew. 'That's it. If my novel doesn't get published we are buying a cottage, calling it a B&B and pasting excerpts all over the wall. Then some poor dab will be forced to read my work.'

Exercise – of mind and body

A strange feature of our child free lives is that Andrew and I are both pursuing an intentional level of fitness. Andrew's being far in excess of mine. This week he:

  • Rode to Lorne and back twice (180km)
  • Ran a marathon (as you do)
  • Went on a couple of 10km runs

I, in turn:

  • Did two 8.5 km runs with small intervals of walking.
  • A 40km return bike ride to Ocean Grove
  • An 11km walk
  • And an afternoon cycle from Sorrento to the end of Point Nepean and back.

I did far less exercise than Andrew but I can assure you I ached and complained the most. What more can I say? Some patterns are set in cement. While Andrew was competing in his individual man iron-man contest, I did some late-night, lazy-pyjama-morning bouts of reading. Here's my list:

  • The secret life of bees (magical and uplifting)
  • The kite runner (stark and strangely grounded)
  • The Welsh language: a history (riveting – no, I'm not joking. I couldn't put it down)
  • Aspects of the novel (a bit dull – I started this book ages ago and vowed not to let it defeat me)
  • To kill a mocking bird (I read this in school – it's way funnier and wiser than I remembered)

Outings and Purchases

It wouldn't be a holiday without outings and purchases

I went to the National Wool Museum in Geelong (while Andrew trawled the junk shops). This marked an intentional beginning to the research phase of my next novel. Through, I'd been to the museum before and, in truth, I started the research an age ago. This time, I am almost at a point where I can keep going forward. Most of the information at the wool museum referred to an era later than my mine. But sometimes, seeing the way an industry has developed helps you to know what wasn't in place in the beginning.

We caught the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento and cycled to the end of the peninsula. I had forgotten about the extensive fortifications built at the end of Point Nepean. Either Melbourne was in grave danger at some point in history or we had an inflated view of our importance in the overall scheme of things. I suspect the latter, as many men in uniform were involved. And that, in case you missed it, is my ANZAC reflection.

I bought a new pair of jeans (size twelve, slim fit, and yes, I'm boasting), two novels for my nephew's birthdays (which were back in January), and some Australiana type gifts for our trip to the UK in July (no, I'm not excited).

 

Now being a story teller I like to bring things back to full circle. You can therefore imagine my delight when I came across a fluffy white dog on my final afternoon jog. He had long silky ears like Biskit's and the same off-white colour with a hint of rust showing through his recently clipped coat. I saw his owner standing at the base of a hill hollering. The dog stopped, looked back over his shoulder and, with a cheeky white flick of his tail, scampered along the path, leaving his owner no choice but to lumber along in pursuit. I laughed. I'd played this game before. Only, today, I wouldn't be on the losing side. I waited for the dog to stop, cock his leg and glance back over his shoulder. Before he had a chance to resume his miscievious dance, I scooped him up. He didn't resist. He'd played this game multiple times too. With a resigned doggy sigh, he settled under my arm in a Biskit sized shape and permitted me to jog him back to his owner.

'Thanks.' She bent double puffing. 'I don't know why he does it.'

'Me either,' I said, passing the dog over. 'But I've got one just like him, back in Melbourne. He thinks it's a game to run away.'

 

Life in Limbo – while my novel is being assessed

So, the first fortnight was a novelty. I sent my manuscript off to readers. Wrote a review. Re-drafted a short story. Attended a Pitch Perfect session at Writers Victoria. Updated my novel's synopsis. Tried to come up with a stunning hook line. Failed. Multiple times. First drafted a query letter and then…sat twiddling my thumbs. Oh, I know, I'm supposed to write something else. Something new. And I will…next week. But I also need to wind down because I've been pushing myself pretty hard and, once I receive feedback, it's going to start over again. With this in mind, I have called the last two weeks down time.

Down time! So, what have I been up to?

Well, I've done a heap of errands – been to the optometrist and the audiologist, had the dog clipped, booked a dental appointment, taken my mum to buy a fridge, considered new heating options for the house, started making flash cards for next term's Welsh classes and…. What, cleaning, did I hear you say? No, that would involve a personality change. But, I have to say, if this silence goes on too long weird things may start happening.

In the meantime, I've been having fun. What kind of fun? Well, I'm a librarian so, let me tell you, it's been pretty wild. I've been:

  • Reading Kate Mosse's, Citadel
  • Catching up with some out-east friends
  • Having dinner with my lovely daughter
  • Browsing social media
  • Reading a heap of blogs
  • Creating a couple of new Pinterest boards
  • I also started planning our thirtieth wedding anniversary holiday.

Here's how the itinerary is looking so far:

Week one: South Wales with my cousin while Andrew flies around Europe doing the day job

Weekend one: meet our Australian, British migrant friends in North Wales

Week two: a week in London with Andrew working and me staying in his ritzy hotel (yes, I know. Someone has to do it). I'll visit family during this week and, of course, soak up the London atmosphere.

Week three: a holiday in the Cotswolds. We have booked a quaint cottage and made enquiries about bike hire. We intend to spend our time pedalling between pubs, ploughman's lunches and picturesque villages.

Week four: Andrew will head back to work while I attend a Saysomethinginwelsh bootcamp in Tresaith. During this time using the English language will be banned as a random group of Welsh learners seek to exist purely in Cymraeg. It could be a quiet week but I doubt it. Something tells me there will be heaps of silly mistakes, red faces and shared laughter.

Week five: join Andrew for a week in Paris.

Aside from this, my limbo weeks haven't been without feedback. My youngest son, an avid historical fiction reader and one of my assessors sent me a lovely text:

Hello Miss Doubtful. Just started reading your book. First observation. You can write.

Let me tell you all those months carrying him, all those hours in labour, all those nights without sleep, all that post-natal depression, all those winters dosing him up with ventolin we're cancelled out in that one tiny SMS moment.

Two other readers have also finished the manuscript and are staunchly claiming it wasn't boring. One of them, my dear friend Denis who writes fiction, teaches literature and is an all round confidence booster is going to walk me through his recommendations over the weekend. Then, it's simply a matter of finishing Citadel, reading my new book on the history of the Welsh language and…waiting for the other readers to get back to me. I can't beg. That would be unprofessional. But…I do hope it will be soon. Otherwise, I might be might be forced do something radical like Spring cleaning.

Nah, only joking. I have a short story to write and a couple of interviews to complete.

 

A general rant about trams, drunk drivers and respect for commuter cyclists.

I'm a law abiding girl. Especially when I am on my bike. I almost never ride on the footpath. I don't run red lights and I always give way to the cars on my right. Why? Well the answer is obvious. It's me against the machines. I don't need to tell you who would come off worse in a collision. But there is another more idealistic reason for my sticking to the rules.

I deserve the respect of other vehicles.

Unfortunately, this respect is sometimes lacking. I learned this, the hard way, at a back street round-about.

The drunk old man in the clapped out sedan gave every appearance of stopping. But at the last minute he lurched through the intersection. I couldn't stop. Went sailing over his car bonnet. When the ambulance arrived I was pronounced unharmed. But the paramedic took one look at my middle-aged mum face, wicker basket and red polka dot helmet and thought she'd give me some advice.

'Perhaps you should ride on the footpath.'

'No.' The other paramedic snapped back before I can answer. 'She shouldn't have to ride on the footpath.'

'It would be safer.'

'But she wasn't doing anything wrong.'

The first paramedic shrugged. 'I'm just saying…'

'I can't ride on the footpath.' I found my voice. It's against the law. When I'm on my bike I'm a vehicle. I'm governed and protected by the Australian road rules.'

So, respect. That's where am I going with this people. And the Australian road rules. Or, more specifically, the ones pertaining to Melbourne tram users.

Let me give you a brief explanation.

In Melbourne we have trams. They run on the roads. In some instances there are small platforms for commuters step onto. But mostly when a tram stops, cars stop and tram users walk across the road to the footpath. A vehicle failing to stop could kill someone.

The tram system works well. Most people know the difference between a designated platform and an 'on road' stop. The system breaks down on Royal Parade.

Royal Parade is an odd thoroughfare. Four lanes in the middle, two wide, grassed and tree'd traffic islands, and then another lane each side. The trams run in the middle lanes. Their stops are on the traffic islands. The bikes paths are in the outer lanes adjacent to the footpaths. In my understanding, tram users have right of way in the middle lanes. They step onto the road. But they are supposed to cross the outer lanes at the traffic lights. If they do, bikes and cars are obliged to stop for them.

Trouble is, the tram users don't know the rules. They spill across the outer lanes as if they have just stepped out of a tram. Never mind me, with my middle-aged mum face, wicker basket and read polka-dot helmet. It's as if I don't exist. They stride out in front of me when I'm pedalling at full speed. Mostly, I manage to stop. Let's face it, no one wants a bike accident. But, one day, I might not be able to. And I don't need to tell you who would come off worse in that situation.

So, if you are a Royal Parade tram user, be warned. If you know a Royal Parade tram user tell them I'm out there. And if you are a commuter cyclist, share, like, re-tweet this message.

We deserve respect on the roads.

 

A strange, surreal week involving long awaited goals and archaic parish practices

This week has been a big one. So, big it's interrupted my blogging schedule. What? You didn't even notice. I have, in fact, been dancing with the devil.

Here's how the week panned out.

Saturday – I flew to Adelaide for the fiftieth birthday of a friend. Andrew had been working in Chicago all week. So, I met him at the airport. I managed to get through security without ringing alarm bells. Checked my bags. Didn't think I'd left anything behind. Though, when I met Andrew in the Qantas club lounge, he said. 'Gee. You're travelling light.'

'Yes,' I said, glancing at my bags. 'It's only one night.'

When the flight attendant called our flight, I gathered my belongings. That's when I noticed my back pack was missing. I made a piston-hearted dash to security, praying it would be safe in a cupboard somewhere nearby.

It was.

I filled out the necessary forms, showed ID and tried to make knowledgable comments about the contents of the back-pack. This was where I started to come unstuck. I told the man I had a power board in my back-pack, forgetting I'd transferred it to my Crumpler earlier. The man gave me a dubious glance. I started babbling. 'There's a cooler bag in there (don't ask) and a red toiletry case and my hearing aid drying out kit and…

The man held up a silencing hand. 'The cooler bag's enough,' he said, 'you're cutting into my lunch hour.'

At this point I was feeling pretty rattled. When Andrew announced he was ducking into the loo before boarding, I followed. Through one door. And another. Right until I caught sight of the man at the urinal. Andrew heard a gasp, he told me later. The sound of doors banging. When re-united, he shook his head and said. 'And you want me to travel to Europe with you?'

Monday – Andrew headed off for a week long hiking trip in Tassie. After I'd dropped him at the airport, I started typing like a woman possessed. Went to my writing group. Announced I would finish the re-draft of my manuscript the following day. Received all manner of appropriate, writerly encouragement.

Tuesday – I wrote like the devil was on my tail. Didn't quite get to the end of the final scene. With about five hundred words to go, I pedalled off to my Welsh class. Now normally, after class, a few of us have a drink in the bar of the Celtic Club. When my friend, Dai Tren, asked if I'd be staying. I said, no, in Welsh, I had only about five hundred words to write and I was going home to finish. At least, that's what I thought I said. From the incredulous look on Dai's face, I knew this wasn't the case.

'What? You only write five hundred words a week!'

I pedalled home with Lucifer still on my tail. At around midnight, I finished the final, polished five hundred words of my novel. I wanted to jump up and down. Shout. Break out the champagne. But…you know, it was only me and my dog. So, I did the next best thing. Wrote on Facebook. And Twitter…and any other social media outlet that would let me.

I didn't sleep much that night. I hovered like a star on the ceiling of my delight.

Wednesday – I edited the first five chapters without a hitch. They were brand new. I had decided, early on, to start the re-draft in a completely different place. I'd sweated blood over those early chapters. But they were in pretty good shape. It was the next chapter, chapter six, that caused a surge of panic. You see, sometime, while re-drafting I've learned to press the delete key. How to re-write without hanging on to favourite paragraphs. This chapter was my first unlearned attempt at this process and I saw with crushing certainty that it needed radical work.

My heart started to pound at this point, I kid you not. How was I going to hold my head up? I'd told people, I'd finished. This would take days to re-work. I calmed myself by journaling. Threw in a bit a of cognitive therapy (as my medical man in a cardigan would have recommended). Realised, I might not finish the edits this week. And that it didn't matter. I went to bed almost sure of how to proceed. More journaling at dawn (who'd ever write a novel) and I knew exactly what had to be done. I banged those three re-written scenes out in a few hours. You see, I've learned to kill my darlings with the unflinching nerve of a sadist

Thursday – I realised the devil wasn't such a good dance partner. I started to restore a bit of calm and order to my life. So much calm, that I failed to notice the address of our Vestry meeting. Rode all the way to the Vicarage, only to find the meeting was at the church, about five hundred metres from my house. Okay, so maybe there was a bit of demonic pedaling at this point. But, hey, it was a good workout. And we prayed before the meeting. So, I'm exorcised.

I'm enjoying being parish secretary (although, it could be the end of worship as we know it in the City of Moreland). It's great to be taking ownership of what is happening in our small community on Sydney Road. I sat tapping the minutes into my iPad, in an aura of good-feeling-ness, until, at the conclusion of the meeting, a vestry member passed me the minute book.

'You have to cut the A4 pages to down size,' the vestry member explained. 'And paste the minutes into this book each month.'

I glanced at the Vicar, expecting him to refute this statement. Turned disbelieving eyes on my fellow vestry members. 'The rules say the minutes have to be kept in a bound book,' someone explained. 'It's not much cutting. We print the pages out single sided.'

Now call me naive. But when I took on the role of parish secretary, I imagined typing minutes, drafting letters, archiving official documents. Making a meaningful contribution to the life of the church. But never, in my wildest dreams did I envisage cutting down A4 sheets of paper and pasting them into a book.

It was odd. But, hey, I can do odd for God. I took the minute books, feeling like I'd morphed into a female version of Frank Pickle from the Vicar of Dibley. As I pedaled the short distance home, I found myself wondering when these strange, keep-minutes-in-a-bound-book rules had been instituted. Some time back in the twentieth century, perhaps? Before PCs and printers and desk top publishing? For I must confess, as I laid those minute books on my dinner table, I couldn't help wondering whether, despite losing my bags at the airport and walking into the mens's toilet, I was, in fact too sane for the Anglican communion. 🙂

 

Hanging out – a week in so many words

You've had a momentous January. First, ten days of bronchitis during an extreme heatwave. Second, a week at the beach with a rowdy family group. Whilst there you relax. Clock up thirty years of marriage. You return home and the reality starts to sink in. You haven't been to the gym for two and half weeks. You haven't touched your novel either. Or kept up with the whole social media thing. Added to which, you've eaten way too many Celebration Meals.

You attend a church meeting Monday night. Welsh class starts back on Tuesday evening. You also have your brother staying with you. You know that for missionaries coming home is always confronting. You also know that Sydney Road is nothing like Main Road, Blackwood. So much ink, he tells you with a shake of his head. When did that happen? You try to listen and be sympathetic. You talk about his work. His plans for the future. You have your own ideas but you try to be tactful. You fail. You can't sleep because of this. You go to work exhausted. You are pleased to meet your new job-share partner. But it's hard getting your head together. You deliver books to a local aged-care facility and leave without returning the keys. Drive back. Read the roster wrong. Forget about the afternoon staff meeting. Your new job-share partner asks about your life. She says I get the impression your are a creative person. You think, that's a very generous assessment of the situation.

Despite your inefficiencies, the two of you cover heaps of ground. You feel wasted but you manage to converse in Welsh at the SSIW Google Hangout that evening. Your brother makes a positive comment about your language acquisition. You make excuses about how rusty you are. But deep down you're ginning like a gate at the compliment. You're on the bike by seven o' clock the following morning. You make loads of decisions regarding work processes. You manage to read the roster correctly. And turn up for your desk shift. After work, you catch the train to Flinders Street. Do some shopping. Cycle home in the cool of the evening.

At home, two excited dogs run to greet you. That's right, your daughter's dog is staying for the weekend. You make the mistake of letting the dogs sleep in the house. You wake up around one o' clock to a volley of barking. You fumble for a light, the keys. You put the dogs in the garage. You wake up early, worried about them in the heat. You have washing to do. The dishwasher to unstack. You sigh, remembering all those Celebration Meals. You decide to do an extra BodyStep class. You're hopeless. Someone has to help you adjust your step. You mutter something about having had a break. You shop. Cycle home. Unpack the groceries. Hang the first load of washing. Chop some rhubarb. Unstack the dishwasher. And then you do what you always do. You write something. And once you start writing you realise you're tired. It's been a big week. You drink some coffee. Hang a second load of washing. Unstack the dishwasher. Bring the bins in from the street. You survey the summer parched garden. And promise yourself a lazy evening.

 

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