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Friday, February 4, 2011

A king, commoners, and a tortoise

Tuesday, 1 February 2010. 7.00 am

We’re overlooking the sea at Sapphire Beach, just north of Coffs Harbour. Friends have loaned us this spacious house for a few days. It has everything in it we could wish for in our circumstances, with three levels of living space, and a pool just outside set into the balcony on this floor. It was very generous of them to do this for us, especially at this time.

   The sun is now well above the horizon. I look out across a neat green lawn and dense tropical beach trees - palms, coral trees and others I should be able to name, but their names escape me. The sea is calm. I can't hear it from inside but if I sat on the balcony I would. Yesterday in the afternoon there were white caps as the sea breeze came in. All coastal people know the change in colour of the sea through the day. It's best in the morning. Just about everything on the beach itself is best then.

King Parrot
   Ah! A beautiful king parrot has landed on the balcony rail. Its colours are glorious - salmon-red and brilliant green. It looks perfect, flawless, like it's had a manicure and just put on its best outfit. A wonderful sight.

   For me, life has become just that bit more difficult. I find it hard to believe how quickly physical deterioration has set in. My left side brain function seems to be shutting down. Imagine a hose, with a sprinkler attached. It's been on full force. But every minute of every day, someone is turning the tap off a bit more. The hose and sprinkler haven't changed - the water is just not getting through. The sprinkler looks a bit sad.

   That’s what it feels like. To get on and off a chair is a huge effort, let alone pull the chair in or out from the table. I have been doing exercises with my arms, body and legs to try to combat this feeling of terrible weakness. They do good in other ways, but aren't much help for the big tasks. Not the right side ones, anyway.


Let’s lift the atmosphere a bit, with an excerpt from Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book.

Unsuitable Things

A woman with ugly hair wearing a robe of white damask.

Hollyhock worn in frizzled hair.

Ugly handwriting on red paper.

Snow on the houses of common people. This is especially regrettable when the moonlight shines down on it.

A woman who, though well past her youth, is pregnant and walks along panting.

It is unpleasant to see a woman of a certain age with a young husband; and it is most unsuitable when she becomes jealous of him because he has gone to visit someone else.

An elderly man who has overslept and who wakes up with a start.

An old woman who eats a plum and, finding it sour, puckers her toothless mouth.

A woman of the lower classes dressed in a scarlet trouser‑skirt. The sight is all too common these days.

A handsome man with an ugly wife.

Back to 21st Century from the 11th.... but I love the fact that snow on their houses is just too beautiful for the commoners. They don't deserve it, so she thinks. For her, beauty = truth. I guess that depends on one's definition of either!


The owners of this house have a child with some physical disabilities. It’s certainly an ill wind that blows nobody good, and so it is in this case, because it means a lot of thought has been put into designing this house to make it easier in every way to look after a such a person and make it easier for that person, of course. Thus it makes it easier for this somewhat disabled person as well - me, I mean. This level of the house has easy access. The pool is on this level. There's even a chair on a hoist so that the person can be lowered into the pool and raised from it. But right now it's not working. That’s OK. We’ll get round that, as the belt said to the trousers....

View from my chair - hear the whipbirds?
I can hear whipbirds in the heavily wooded area between this house and the beach. On our way down here we stopped at the top of the big hill at Dorrigo and were on the edge of the subtropical rainforest there. There were many whip birds in the bush nearby. I had either forgotten or didn't realise that they lived right down here in the scrub on the beachfront itself. It's an exotic sound. The bellbirds sound great too, in the Dorrigo subtropical rainforest.

   When I hear such birds I wouldn't be surprised to hear a howler monkey as well. Sorry, wrong jungle. Wrong part of the world. Still, it’s a nice thought. Hey, have you ever listened in the background of some overseas B-grade movies at their jungle sounds for Africa or South America? They stick a kookaburra in there. I guess the exotic effect is what they’re going for, but the kookie would be a bit surprised to find himself in that sort of jungle....

   Funny that. I always think of a kookaburra as male, but half at least have got to be female. It’s that raucous laugh. No lady would behave like that in public, you’d think.

   I haven't tackled the pool yet. Tracey and Christian swam in it soon after we got here. It's fairly small and deep and clean, but I will probably have trouble getting in and out of it. Well, out of it more than in, I am sure. Each day my body feels as if the law of gravity has altered and it is increasing at a rapid rate. Things are heavier to pick up, and I am more clumsy. Occasionally my right hand fingers don't release from something unless I look at them and tell them to do so. And I get so damned weary so quickly! But being in the pool will be nice. It should be like how a tortoise feels when it makes it back into the sea from the land, and the water takes its weight. That must be a glorious feeling for the tortoise. Turtle?

   I always thought that the difference between a tortoise and a turtle was that the tortoise has four legs and the turtle has front flippers. Hence the tortoise is likely to be much more a land creature than the turtle. But someone said that was wrong. I’ll check it out. Wikipedia provides a consensus view. Very democratic. What is decided to be right is determined more by the majority than the expert. That’s rather like life, really....  [Later: OK, I know the difference now... Look it up if you feel the urge!]

   I’m not detailing the problems I’m experiencing just to complain or feel sorry for myself - I’m just trying to say what's happening here, in complete honesty. I’m still fortunate in many ways and I know that well. I have little physical pain - just inconvenience more than anything, and frustration that things often don't work as I intend they should. And especially the extra work it places on Tracey – that drives me bonkers because some of those things are so petty, so easy and simple, until I try to do them for myself.

   I have got to change to a different chair and table to type this. This chair cuts my circulation to the right foot seriously through the back of the right leg, and the right foot’s now swelling. It hasn't been doing that.

8.30 pm

Wow! Next to relate a wonderful experience, and you don't realise exactly how much you're missing until you have it back, even for a little while. 

part 1 | part 2 | part 3


  1. I am waiting eagerly for tomorrow!! So glad you went to the coast and through that wonderful landscape along the way. The endless folds of the hilltops at Dorrigo, looking down from the top of the world - then down the mountain through the rainforest -then the scented,gorgeous Bellinger valley - then the seaside!

    I love your writing, it should be a template for anyone, because of the 'just right' inclusion of different aspects - description, commentary, questions, humour, and the levelling accounts -that's the word that comes to my mind - of how your body is changing..but I don't like that part.

    Must say that Sei Shonagon has a very poetic sensibility, even if it does reveal some attitudes that shock our modern minds! That whole idea of truth as beauty opens up a very big realm of thought.

    Thank you for this!

  2. Thanks for the kind comments, though they are much too generous re the writing style, which is very lazy. And thanks to Tracey's photography, I was able to put up another picture [above]. Enjoy it. We surely did!
    The drive down to the Coast down the range is magnificent, just as you described it so beautifully. It makes me think of Thomas Hardy country, but it's not.
    More to come.


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