Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social or anything, but perversely I am sad that the restrictions for COVID19 are being lifted. I have been enjoying my State-sanctioned semi-solitude. I had a perfect mix of interactions with others and being allowed to retreat all worked out.
It’s a selfish stand, I know because I wasn’t all that disadvantaged by them. I kept working through the whole time, was able to get out and exercise and had a steady stream of activities to keep me occupied. I was not affected by the great toilet paper shortage or scarcity of other items due to some uncanny coincidental forward planning. I didn’t have kids to home school. I didn’t get sick. I had already planned a low key year. I did miss seeing my grandson and daughter, and that’s about it. One other big regret was not being able to attend my good friend’s funeral at the end of April.
At work, I was able to be proactive and not reactive. Every item on my daily to-do list was crossed off, and I left at a reasonable time. I didn’t have students to discipline. The parents I did talk to were appreciative and not berating me for dealing with their children.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-social but with most of the teachers working from home, the constant stream of interruptions to solve other peoples’ problems dwindled to next to nothing. They return en masse this Monday, bringing their problems with them. (11/5/20)
A rumbling low-level of anxiety is beginning to penetrate my calm as the invitations to “catch up now that we can” are starting. It’s not that I went out partying every weekend anyway but having to stay at home, HAVING to be cocooned because I was told to, gave me a legitimate reason to stay quiet and at peace.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I don’t want to see people, but this time to be slow, deliberate and self-sufficient was tantalisingly comforting. The bluer than blue skies have already started to brown over as more and more people are going about their business.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social, but I have discovered that I am also not pro-social either. When I am with people, I feel on guard. Will I say something stupid? Will I accidentally offend someone? Does my hair look alright? What will they think of me? The internal monologue never ends. Sometimes it’s so noisy I forget to listen to the person in front of me. That voice has been so quiet these last two months. I guess it proves that even though I am friendly, loud, bossy, speak in front of a large crowd etc I am in essence a socially awkward introvert.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social, but I could live in this bubble forever… I think… As long as the bubble had a door. It might be different if I didn’t have the option to leave when I wanted.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am antisocial, but I might re-gig my world a little so I can keep the calm for longer. Please don’t be offended.
Prelude: I don’t know about you, but I need a break from the Corona Virus! I contemplated writing a piece about it and maybe I will later, but for now, I thought I would share a bit of family history. It’s longer than my usual posts, but since some of you are in self-isolation, you’ve got more time!
My mum (Hi MUM!) has been working on the family tree for many years. My cousin, Jenny, is the resident genealogist in our family (Hi Jenny!!) and has put together lots of facts and dates etc. In 2017, I started working on a fictionalised version of one of my ancestors. I didn’t get far. It’s not finished, and one day I will get back to it.
The long-story-short is that my great-great-great(?) Aunty Eliza had a baby when she was very young, and the family passed it off as her mum’s. Sarah Anne was a business woman and had a thriving company in Sydney that made embroidered regalia for military uniforms.
Firstly, I include an email sent to my mum to get more information. It was written when I was in transit to Israel. It sets the scene and then follows “Chapter 1” of the story. It needs a lot of work and is definitely a draft. I hope it makes sense!
When I was sitting on the plane, I re-read the history you had written about Sarah Usher. I thought there were some good angles for a few stories there, but the one that stood out for me was William, Eliza’s illegitimate son born in 1874 and “adopted” by Sarah and Charles. Do we know any more about him? When did he die? Did he have any kids of his own? What happened to Eliza? Did she go on to have any more kids?
It’s a fascinating angle coming from it with 2017 eyes. I wonder if they just pretended it was Sarah’s baby or was Eliza acknowledged as the mother? From what you wrote it would appear not. You’d think people would work it out. Frank was born in the same year…did they try and pass them off as twins?? Wow! I wonder where you would find out this stuff from. Sarah also had her last baby at 45! Old even by today’s standards but I guess in the absence of contraceptives, not unusual.
I wonder what sort of relationship William and Eliza had? I wonder if Wilhelm (who presumably skulked back to Germany) knew him. I wonder if he had other children? Children that perhaps could fight William in WW1. Do they not know who impregnated Eliza or did they just try and cover it up. Was Wilhelm a sexual predator or was Eliza a saucy young minx?
In the absence of facts, I am just going to make up a story! BUT I would like it to be “based on a true story” story. Any extra info you have would be greatly appreciated!
I wrote this on the plane and sent it once I arrived in Israel. Feeling creative at 11000 metres over the Himalayas!
Chapter 1: Eliza’s Baby
On 1874, two babies appeared in the Hund* household. Only one of them was welcome. At forty-five, Sarah Anne Hund (née Usher) gave birth to what would be her last child – Frank. Her oldest daughter, Eliza gave birth to a bastard called William. An illegitimate child. An embarrassment. A poorly kept secret. William Hund became his grandmother’s son.
This is William’s story.
By the time Eliza was 16, she knew she was clever. Not just clever-for-a-girl but clever. She helped her mum in the regalia workshop, ordering notions and materials. Organised and meticulous, great lists of mental arithmetic didn’t phase her. Writing work orders for the seamstresses was a doddle. It wasn’t hard. It was, in fact, boring.
So boring, she longed for some excitement. Of course, as things turn out even back in the 1870s, a girl looking for excitement doesn’t usually have to go too far to find it.
In the summer of 1873, when Uncle Wilhelm came to visit, things perked up for Eliza. Wilhelm, her father’s youngest brother, was handsome and dashing, his clipped German-tainted English so refined and intoxicating to a clever young woman looking for more out of life.
It turns out she was not as clever as she thought because by April she had missed two of her monthlies and she was pregnant. Marrying her Uncle was not really an option. By May, her mum asked her directly. In the days of washing out menstrual rags, there was no hiding anything in a household as crowded as the Hund’s on Cleveland Street.
Wilhelm was sent home. Eliza was banished to an old friend of Sarah’s in Braidwood for her confinement. VOILA, in December 1874, Sarah magically had another baby. A delayed twin to her own Frank. Of course, no-one was fooled. All the family and neighbours knew who the baby really belonged to, but officially it was Sarah and Charles’ baby. Baby number 13.
William should have been the lucky first child, but he ended up at 13th. His mother’s search for adventure had led him up the garden path.
Frank and William grew up as brothers. The tension between their sister and their mum did not go unnoticed. The fiery glances, the cold shoulders, the unsaid words kept everyone on edge.
William was clever too, although most of the time he stood in Frank’s shadow. Frank was always first. First to get the best bit of the lamb leg. First to get the juiciest part of the pineapple. Frank never realised, but William always noticed.
Frank was Mama’s favourite. William didn’t know why or what he had done, but as the years progressed, he learned to live with it.
Frank and William grew up. They married. They lived their lives as best they could. And in 1907 their whole world turned upside down.
Frank was appointed as executor to Sarah’s will. As they were going through all the papers, things started to get a bit complicated. Frank found his birth certificate.
Mother: Sarah Anne Hund
Father: Charles Friedrich Hund
Other children: There were his brothers and sisters, all listed but not William.
And then he found William’s certificate. He had to look at it twice.
Mother: Elizabeth Hund.
Other Children: None
At thirty-three, William discovered Frank was not his brother but his Uncle. His sister was his mother and his mother, his grandmother. His world fell apart.
In my mind, the story will end up with William fighting his German half brothers in World War 1. There will be tension between William and Frank. Not sure what else will happen… yet….
* My mother’s maiden name has had a few iterations. Originally it was spelt HUND, then Hundt. Then it was changed (unofficially) to HUNT by some of the family to make it more respectably British. Then sometime after WW2 it was changed back to Hundt.
If you live in Australia, you will get at least one 50th birthday present – guaranteed! Your bowel cancer testing kit will turn up in the mail! I put my first “gift” on the shelf and left it there for the next two years until I got another one at 52. I chucked the first one out and replaced it on the shelf with the new kit. After a few more weeks, I decided that it was probably a good idea to just get it over and done with.
There was no reason to delay, and I am not sure what my aversion to doing it was. I am not the squeamish type, and I KNOW early detection is essential. My tests at 54 and 56 were both negative, but this time round, one of my samples came back positive.
My GP and I discussed my risk factors and decided that I could afford the wait to get a place at the local public hospital rather than paying for a private hospital. I filed my papers and went on the waiting list. Now 5 months after the results and 2 months since my specialist appointment, I have my date for the “procedure”.
The positive result surprised me. My family has no history of cancer. Plenty of other things like Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, narcolepsy, dementia, haemochromatosis but no cancer!
I have always been a healthy eater, and over the last 2 years have been actively creating a healthy gut by feeding my gut bugs plenty of plant-based food, exercising, reducing my alcohol intake and reducing stress. My gut should be singing with good health!
Given I have yet to have the test, my gut may be very healthy indeed! What follows is a blow by blow real-time account. Don’t be prudish, this is what being older than 50 is all about! I am grateful I live somewhere with good free healthcare!
Preparing for your colonoscopy
There is a two-day preparation process. The aim is to clear out your bowel so that the colonoscope can see what’s inside your large intestine with an unobstructed view. The hospital or your doctor will give you some laxatives and tell you when to take them.
Two days before the procedure
Today is white day. My diet is usually a rainbow of plant-based foods. This made the list of allowable foods very unpalatable and alien. You can only eat white or yellow food. No seeds, no fibre, no colour! Only dairy products, boiled eggs, white fish, boiled chicken, boiled potatoes, stewed apple. Ewwwww! All washed down with plenty of fluids. As I ate my white rice with boiled eggs, I apologised to my gut bugs. Sorry fellas! You’ll be going hungry too! No fibre left over for you to munch on today! I got some yellow Gatorade in readiness for tomorrow.
At least I’m not hungry!
The day before the procedure.
NO SOLID FOOD today!
Only clear liquids. Tea without milk, coffee without milk, clear apple juice, Gatorade that’s it! I started to feel light-headed by 12:30. MAN! I was hungry!
Since my procedure is set for the morning, my first dose of PicoPrep is scheduled for 2 PM. I took the afternoon off work because I had been told some horror stories about the rapidity of onset. The Picoprep didn’t taste too bad. It was gritty and akin to drinking chalk, but it had little flavour. I sculled it down in one go and sat down to wait.
And I waited!
…. And waited!
As a good scientist, I took notes of my observations. Nothing happened till about 17:30. Two trips to the loo but things seemed “normal”. This is not too bad, I thought to myself. I waited some more and then the shit did hit the fan! Perhaps not the literal fan, but you get my drift!
Gosh, I feel like I am going to turn inside out.
My second dose of Picoprep is due at 20:00. Could there be anything left? This time it was harder to swallow. The novelty had well and truly worn off. I stopped feeling hungry, and I felt a little shaky.
After midnight it’s Nil by Mouth!
Day of the procedure
I slept better than anticipated, although, I needed to dash to the bathroom a couple of times.
Ten minutes after arrival, I was taken into the admissions area where my blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate and oxygen saturation were checked after answering the usual questions of name, date of birth and why I was there. The nurse and I had a chat about whether or not we had met before because she said I looked familiar.
Within 30 minutes, the anesthetist came and inserted a cannula in my hand and asked the same questions again.
Thirty minutes after that, I was taken into the procedure room, and the sedative was given through the cannula and an oxygen mask applied. The next thing I know, I was being shaken gently by the nurse, asking if I was OK, back in the recovery area. I could have gone to the moon and back for all I knew!
No pain, no discomfort, only a little temporary disorientation. Once my vitals were re-checked, I was moved from the bed to a comfy recliner where I was given some food and a cup of tea. My goodness that plain cheese sandwich tasted good!
The doctor who performed the procedure told me he had removed two polyps, and that I had a few diverticula, but nothing really to worry about. I will meet with the gastroenterologist in three weeks for the follow-up.
Another 40 minutes later my brother had dropped me home, and it’s all over. I’ll do as instructed and take it easy for the rest of the day, no driving, no making important decisions, no cooking(??). So here I am, in front of my computer chatting with you folks!
This friendly chap tells you how to do the poo test
If detected early bowel cancer can be treated in up to 90% of cases.
Talking about poo and having a flexible tube inside your intestines may not be a sexy subject to talk about, but neither is dying from bowel cancer. If you have access to early detection tools like the one offered in Australia, take it up.
Enjoy your birthday gift!
MARCH 2020 UPDATE: I had my follow-up with the gastroenterologist yesterday. During the procedure they removed 4 polyps (not 2). All but one were of no concern. The fourth one was of a type that can become malignant but is VERY slow to develop. I have to go and and have another colonoscopy in three years….so no rush!
It’s funny how your memory gets sparked and where that memory will take you. Down rabbits holes of forgotten actions, people and secrets.
When I saw words Ob-la-Di-Ob-la-Da tattooed on the arm of a colleague, it made me fly back to 1969 when I was in Year 3, eight years old, blond and tiny. It took me back to the time when eighty students crowded around a TV borrowed from the local department store to watch the moon landing. It took me back to playing elastics and jacks. To skipping ropes and sour milk.
Those particular words from that jaunty little Beatles tune brought back a mix of fun, embarrassment and guilt
The Fun Bit.
My class was preparing to sing Ob-la-Di-Ob-la-Da for the weekly assembly. This was a BIG deal! We had been rehearsing with our hip and gorgeous teacher Mr Chinner for weeks and weeks. Our class, 3A, were doing a new song! A chart-topper! Not a choir of screeching descant recorders, but a grooooovy Beatles hit! It was a top-secret mission. We were not allowed to tell anyone! We were asked to bring a towel to wear around our shoulders like a Mexican poncho.
The Embarrassing bit.
Because I was small, I was scheduled to be in the front row. Because we were sworn to secrecy, I didn’t tell my mum why we needed the towel. Thinking it was for art clean-ups, and without a better explanation from me, she gave me a faded tatter of a towel. When Groovy Mr Chinner saw my faded rag, I got relegated to the back row. I couldn’t see over the tops of the bigger kids. My bubble was well and truly burst. I felt humiliated by my family’s lack of bright Mexican-like towels.
The Guilty Bit
In the same class, but in a different episode, I am simultaneously ashamed and amused to confess that I committed a fraudulent act. Our class had been chosen to go on an excursion to the Herald’s newspaper printing factory. Only 25 could go although our class had 43 students. In the spirit of fairness, Mr Chinner decided to pull the names out of a hat. As the names were called out, the lucky ones were clapping their little hands with glee. In the middle of all the excitement, the end of the day bell rang and the draw was not completed. It was declared that it would continue the next school day – Monday. I was heartbroken that my name had not yet been called out and even back then I realised the odds were not looking good.
When we returned after the weekend, Mr Chinner admitted he had forgotten to write down the names of the children who had been pulled out and no longer had the strips of paper. He asked us to raise our hands if we had been selected.
A few classmates put their hands up confidently. As I looked around at the remaining faces of my peers and saw them faltering. They either couldn’t remember or they didn’t seem too fussed about whether they went or not. I took my chance, I shot my hand in the air. Mr Chinner wrote my name on the list.
For the next few days, I expected to be challenged. For someone to remember that my name had never been called out and that I was a fraud, that I had lied. No one did. I went on the excursion and had a fabulous time. This is only the second time I have revealed this story! The first time was to the tattoo owner! (Sorry mum another thing you didn’t know!)
I guess Mr Chinner could still be out there. I have never forgotten him. He was young in 1969. Perhaps he’s out there, somewhere between 80-100 years old, thinking about his time as a teacher. I know he won’t remember me. There are too many children that pass through a teacher’s life. Even so, Mr Chinner, I apologize for my deceit.
As I look back on him and the lessons he taught us, I realize I don’t remember the specifics of one single scrap of the maths or spelling or grammar he may have taught us.
On Friday, I posted about my feeling of foreboding as we approached a weather day that would bring worst-case scenario conditions to the south coast of NSW. It was going to be hot, windy and with low humidity. I hoped that somehow, the (actually) reliable Bureau of Meteorology had got it wrong.
The temperature on the fire ground near where I am stationed varied from 34 to 44C. The prediction for wind speed and humidity were on course. Penrith near Sydney, would, by the end of the day, record the highest temperature in the WORLD clocking up 48.9C (120F)
The mood in the EMC started off tense but confident. Calls came in at a steady but manageable pace. The Comms team had time to make coffee or grab a comfort break without interrupting the necessary logging of team movements. At 11:30 the pace began to speed up. The 000 call Centre began diverting two or three messages at a time, then four.
By 12:30 we were not keeping up with the computer logging system and it was causing frustration when it “refreshed” at frequent and more inconvenient intervals. By 13:15 it was totally unmanageable. Thank goodness for pen and paper!
The EMC staff and volunteers hummed with a beam of activity focused on the goal of getting resources to the spot fires that were beginning to break out. The pattern of multiple calls for nearby locations broken suddenly by a call from a more distant area. Flying embers were doing their evil work. Flame heights were getting higher and higher. Twenty-metre sheets eclipsed by 40 to 50 m monsters.
Then the dreaded message
RED RED RED
Significant fire impacting Bendalong Road
Get the (water) bombers NOW!
Close the road!
The room became silent, people clustered around the comms station. The wheels ticked and the orders came
Get everything up!
People in their colourful tabards went about their duties calmly but quickly. No-one ran, no one panicked. They were trained for this. The police organised the road closures, the aviation ops team launched all available assets and fire crews were diverted from other positions. If the fire travelled too far from Bendalong Road, the township of Tabourie Lake would be no more.
Then a few minutes later
No other radio call can stop a room dead in its tracks as quickly as these words do.
A crew was about to be overrun by fire.
Shelter in place
Activate your fire plans
It was unclear exactly what “place” they were in. As tense seconds passed there was radio silence. Nothing. It was still. The crowd around the radio was leaning in, wishing they could squeeze themselves into the microphone and pull the trapped crew through the airwaves. We waited, hoping to hear something from that microphone. Seconds more ticked past.
The ops manager hailed the crew. Nothing. He hailed again.
A breath sucking pause later and the crew’s Captain responded.
All safe, the fire had passed.
The collective gasp and back-slapping continued for a split-second and then everyone returned to the duties of controlling a huge fire hunting down a town.
Support was dispatched to the crew and apart from a minor burn, there were no physical injuries. By the end of the day, two more firefighters and three civilians had been taken to hospital and two appliances damaged. But, by nightfall no homes had fallen, A few outbuildings here or there, but no-one’s house. (As far as I know)
The relentless heat of the day was squashed by the southerly. A southerly can be a blessing for those hoping to escape the heat of the day but an ill omen for firefighters. The gusty southerly winds that come with the cool front bring thunderstorms. In the microclimate that develops around a firestorm, these thunderstorms form pyrocumulonimbus clouds which rumble like a regular thunderstorm but suck up the embers and dump them down kilometres ahead of the main fire front but bring no rain.
The southerly did come and it did stir up the fire but my shift had ended so I don’t know what went on in the EMC. I don’t know what happened to the crews I had been tracking during the day. I hoped they had got home for a sleep. I hoped no more had been hurt.
I walked around town with my camera in the quiet, eerie dim light as the southerly pushed smoke into the town and turned it into a pool of orange dread. I wandered for a few hours breathing in the smoke, thinking I shouldn’t, but fascinated by those clouds.
I couldn’t sleep. I worried about the people whose fates I had not been able to follow. The ones who had gone to hospital and who were later (unbeknown to me) released to go home to their families. I worried about the team who had been bathed in fire. They might not be hurt but how would their dreams be tonight? Could they rest? Did they have someone to hold them and listen to their story?
As I logged on for my shift this morning, I learned that the two fire fronts north of Nowra had merged and that the southern fire near Tabourie was still active. Crews would need to be in two places at once again.
Today was my last day at the EMC. I’ll drive home tomorrow. The weather was much more benign today. Cool and windless. Overcast with real clouds and not just smoke, the humidity rising to 100%. The fire continued, but today it was not as ferocious. At least it was not hunting towns. It had other assets in sight. We had a full comms team and I probably didn’t need to be there. I’m glad I was. The easier pace allowed me to calm down and get things into a better perspective. Bad things happen in big fires. People do die and one person did yesterday in a fire not too far from “ours”. But today no-one died, a little bit of rain fell and the firefighters got to have a rest. The fire will burn for many more days and it will probably flare up to be another raging dragon unless significant rain falls. I will watch it from afar as others take my place to relieve the local crews who become more and more exhausted.
As I left the Centre, I had to wait as a stream of volunteers from Queensland’s Rural Fire Service unloaded from a bus. Their big boots dragging a little and their full kit bags wheeling along behind them. They were weary but energetic. They’ll get a good sleep tonight and will be ready to assist in the morning. I guess I am tired but that stream of yellow and green, brought a tear to my eye. They’re a long way from home but I bet like me, they felt privileged to be able to help.
If you have been following my blog, you will have worked out by now that I like to keep myself occupied. This past year has been a positive one. In a previous post, at the end of 2017, I listed my Year in Review. I now look back over 2019, and while the list is shorter the year was just as fulfilling. The shorter list is a direct consequence of my daughter’s return to Australia and the subsequent increases in grandma time. I now have less “free” time. That free time has been filled with many pleasant hours spent building trains, telling stories and going on adventures.
The activity that has fallen off the list has been sustained writing. I have not advanced in any of the long-form writing projects I started back in 2017. They are not yet abandoned but very much on the back burner. I have found that I can put in the mental energy to write short blog posts and microfiction, but the characters from my longer stories don’t have enough time to wake up and let me know where they are up to.
So what did I do?
Continued with this blog, adding 127 posts.
And all the associated research, writing and photography that goes into those 127 posts.
I entered six writing competitions and about seven photography competitions – still not a winner but participation is the goal.
Made and sold copies of a 2020 calendar
Perfected designs for tea cosies and doorstops
Completed 16 of the 60 things on my 60 for 60 list. (better get cracking on that one but see my post on the Year of Zero for an update on that)
Had a garage sale with friends
Renewed my first aid certification
A short online course on SEO.
Participated in a rescue competition with the NSW SES
I did three photography shoots for other people, including one with studio lighting. I think I can now start asking for money for this type of work.
I didn’t cry once!
And I still have a demanding full time “real” job
And I spent plenty of time with family.
Goals for 2020
I have set out my goals for 2020 already. They concentrate on my financial future so there will not be any travelling, paid for courses or big purchases. I will get my side hustle happening! (You are all my accountability partners!)
On the non-financial goal side of things I want to learn how to meditate correctly, complete at least 25 more of the modified 60 for 60 list, and reduce my impact on the world by wasting less and reusing more. I will continue to keep fit, look after my gut bugs, write, and take photos of what’s in front of me.
The big, overarching goal is to inspire some other old chooks like me to get out and have a go!
I am still not sure what made me look up at that particular moment. I guess something must have caught my eye. With more than 40 years driving experience under your seat belt, you remain alert even when you are admiring the broad, rugged landscapes of Harris Island.
But look up, I did. Just in time to see the large white SUV, which was the second car behind me, pull out onto the other side of the road to overtake. At the same moment, the car directly behind me also pulled out and accelerated rapidly.
“No! Mate! No!” I shouted at the silver car “Don’t!”
The small silver car slammed into the side of the larger, white car, and became airborne sailing over the top of the white car, rolling over and over again. It dropped into a gully next to the road. I didn’t see it hit the ground, but when I did see where it had come to rest, I could tell from the dug-up field, that it had skated on its roof across the rock-studded grass. The white car spun on its wheels and ended up facing the right way in the correct lane, front tyre punctured, passenger side caved in, airbags fully deployed
It all happened in a fraction of a second, but as people say, it seemed as if it was in slow motion. Every nanosecond etched on my mind.
I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and grabbed my phone from the charger. I opened the boot of the car and fished out my first kit. The one I had brought in case I sprained my ankle while hiking.
As I jabbed 999 on the phone’s keyboard, I thought to myself “I don’t have enough Bandaids for this accident. Those people are dead for sure.”
“Ambulance, Fire or Police?” the calm female voice said at the other end of the line.
“Ambulance and Police,” I said, already fumbling with my phone to put it on loudspeaker, so I could use the Emergency App to give my location.
“Which one first?”
“Ambulance, I would say. I have just witnessed a serious road crash. My location is XYZ”, and I gave my coordinates, reading from the screen.
I ran down the hill, the tiny first aid kit tucked under my arm.
I got to the white car first.
“Are you hurt? Any injuries?”
“No,” they both said, “We are OK, just a bit shaky.”
“Stay in the car,” I said, “I have called an ambulance.”
I turned to see a young man and woman crawling out of the silver car and watched incredulously, as they scrambled up the embankment.
“Come! Sit!” I said, sizing up their injuries. Scratched hands from the broken glass. A large graze on his temple. Cuts to her shins and shredded tights. Both had dilated pupils and were rambling on about what had happened.
“I just didn’t see him!” the young man said.
They were in shock.
I passed my assessment on to the calm lady who was still on the other end of the phone.
“I’ll send two ambulances,” she said. “it will be a while.”
I pulled out a gauze pad from my kit and told the girl to hold it on the largest cut on her shin. The blood flowing freely from the cut, making it look more gruesome than it was.
“Press hard with this,” I said, “what’s your name?”
“Where are you hurt, Joanna? Is it ok if I touch you to see if you have any injuries?
“My back and neck are really sore.”
“I imagine they are! Can you just stay really still for me?” I draped my one, silver blanket over her shaking body and asked her to breathe with me. “Nice deep breaths Joanna… Slow down, slow down… you’ll be Ok. The ambulance is on its way.”
By this stage, some other people had begun to pull up.
“Do you need help?”
“Yes, I do! Do you have a blanket?
The Dutchman nods.
“Get it, and wrap this fellow up. He needs to stay warm.”
“What’s your name, mate?” I asked the dazed man.
“You’ve got a bit of a bump on your head there John! Can I have a look at it?”
I took another piece of gauze from the meagre first aid kit and pressed it against his bleeding head.
“Can I help? another voice said from the crowd. “I am a navy medic.”
“Take over here, mate, you can do a better job than me!”
“No, you seem to have it under control.” He walked away and melted back into the crowd.
“HANG ON!!” I thought, “Is there no one here better equipped than me to deal with this? Here I am on the other side of the world in a foreign country being a very bossy Australian telling Scottish people what to do?? Is there no-one?”
It would seem I was it.
The Uncle of the White Car Man (who I now knew was Alex) turned up at my side. They had called him straight after the crash.
“You need help,” he said. Not a question but a statement.
Thank god, another person willing to lead. “Can you stop the traffic up there. We don’t want to get run over ourselves.”
There was no verge, and we were sitting right on the road.
The traffic was calm and patient. A few people got out to look at what was happening and then returned to their cars. There were offers of food and water for the injured.
“No,” I said “You don’t know if they are going to need surgery. Let’s wait for the ambo’s”.
The quizzical looks reminded me that abbreviating a word and adding an O was a uniquely Australian practice.
We waited. I checked on the two in the SUV again. They were still shaky but definitely uninjured.
My phone rang.
“Harris Police here, can you tell me what has happened?”
“Road crash at (co-ordinates). No major injuries. The traffic is building up.”
All matter of fact, as if I do this every day.
“We’ll be there as soon as we can, but we are already dealing with another matter at the other end of the island.”
It seemed like an episode of Shetland. The majestic scenery was laid out before me. The rocky outcrops, the soaring birds, the inquisitive bystanders. The grey, scudding clouds.
More time elapsed. perhaps 30 minutes, and then the welcome wail of a siren. One ambulance had arrived.
“Ok,” the green-clad fellow said, “What’s going on here?”
“Traffic accident, four people involved the two in the white car are a bit shaky but otherwise appear to be OK. These two, John and Joanna, crawled out of that car (the ambo lets out a long low whistle) and up the hill. They have some superficial injuries (pointing to their legs and hands) but are both complaining of headache, backache and a sore neck. They have been conscious and lucid the whole time. Their breathing has steadied, and they seem to be able to move freely, but I have asked them to stay still. Joanna is the most distressed, but I am concerned about his contusion on John’s forehead.”
“Ah hah…” he said slowly as he put on his gloves.
Shit! No gloves! I forgot to put mine on!!
“How long ago?”
“About 40 minutes?
“Hmm ok. Can you just hold John’s head still while I have a look.”
I cradled John’s head in the way I had been shown in the advanced first aid course I had done.
The paramedic looked at me and said: “Hmmm you know what to do… are you a first responder?”
First responder? I smiled and as a million thoughts went through my head as to how an Australian holidaying in Scotland had taken charge of a traffic accident, was well, not a first responder per se, but certainly a well trained NSW SES volunteer. How do you describe what the NSW SES is? Tick tock tick tock …it all flicked through my mind, and I decided on
“Well, no, not exactly. I am a volunteer in the emergency services in Australia. I have had some advanced training in this sort of thing.”
That would do for the time being. Another ambulance crew turned up. The paramedics decided to treat John and Joanna as having potential spinal injuries, which meant very cautious handling. I helped them strap the two onto spinal boards, and lift them onto the ambulance.
As they departed, I looked at the long, long queues of traffic stretching back on both sides of the road. The white car was still in the middle of the lane, immobile, blocking the traffic. The once patient drivers beginning to get impatient as the ambulance vanished over the hill. To me, it seemed like another accident waiting to happen, as people began to pull out willy-nilly, trying to get past.
In rapid-fire, I said to the Uncle “Contra-flow traffic, ten cars each way. You let ten cars past and then stop them, and then I‘ll let ten go from my end. Do that until we finish. Hold up your hand like this (the stop signal) and raise your other hand to me when you are ready to change over,” I demonstrated a beckoning signal.
I went up the road and waved the first car on. It didn’t move. An older woman in the driver’s seat was slumped over the wheel.
“Oh my god,” I thought, “don’t tell me she’s had a heart attack while we’ve been waiting? And the ambulance has just left!”
I walked gingerly up to her car and tapped on the window. She woke up, startled. I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I had been holding.
“Move on please ma’am.”
For the next 15 minutes, we directed the traffic. I cursed the fact that I was dressed all in black and had no hi-vis, no glowing traffic wand. Not like in the training I had done.
The police rang again. They’d be there soon.
After 2 hours, they did finally arrive. The queues of traffic had gone, the ambulance had taken John and Joanna away. Alex (the driver of the white car) had calmed down, and his Aunty was now just plain angry that the police had taken so long to get there. The Uncle and I were congratulating each other on what a fantastic job we had done with the traffic. It seemed so peaceful.
The police officer began to get my details.
“Hang on a minute,” she said. “I just have to check on my colleague”. He was striding down the road, fishing something out of his pocket.
“It was his first day yesterday.” Eye roll “I just have to make sure he does not breathalyse them without me as a witness.”
She came back to me 20 minutes later and started to retake my statement.
It was cold. The wind had picked up, and I was busting to go to the toilet. While caught up in the middle of the emergency, I had stayed calm and in control. The only thing I could think of now was not wetting my pants in front of this police officer.
I told her I needed to go.
“Go down the road to the Youth Centre. It’s just around the bend here. Tell them the Police sent you. They’ll let you use their loo. Wait for us there.”
“Right yeah sure,” I thought. But sure enough I said the police had sent me, they let me use their loo and now more comfortable, I sat on the car bonnet and waited. Another 15 minutes later, the Police pulled up at the Youth Centre, and I gave them my statement.
It was now three and a half hours since I had looked in that rear-view mirror and I was finally on my way again. Cold, hungry and thirsty. However, my overwhelming emotion was pride! I had done good! I had stayed calm. I had been useful! I had used the training I had been given through the NSW State Emergency Service to render first aid and direct traffic. I might be a bossy Aussie, but who bloody cares! On this day, at that moment, I was the right person at the right time, and I helped people. Really, really helped them.
Punch the air, Old Chook! Today you were truly invincible and very visible!
The NSW SES is a volunteer organisation which has jurisdiction over storm and flood events in New South Wales, Australia. In some rural units, they also look after road crashes. I have been an SES member for nearly 5 years. I have been trained in many aspects of emergency management. You can read about the SES here. It’s a government-funded body and one of the things I really love about Australia. We look after each other!
Several weeks ago, I reported that I had very carelessly lost Iain, my wee travel companion. I surmised that I had perhaps left him on the rooftop of my car while I packed my things or that I had simply left him on the rocks at Salen Jetty.
While devastated by his loss, I found another travel companion, Iain mac Iain. His black watch kilt and shawl at odds with the Royal Stewart tartan of his “father”. But hey, you have to make do with what you have, and I had a very generous donation of black watch tweed from my Airbnb host in Lewis.
At the Kylie Concert
In the gardens of yet another castle!
Hoping to get lucky!
Iain mac Iain was a valiant replacement. Forever seeking out his father, befriending other seemingly lost or abandoned travel mascots, he made it home safely to Australia after spending the better part of a month in Scotland. He had some grand adventures and has appeared in many unknown facebook posts as he was included in other people’s family snaps.
I sought the help of the good people of Salen Jetty. I messaged the shop as soon as I realised he was missing. We stayed in contact and finally the day after I flew back into Australia an Iain- sighting was made on Facebook! True to his armoury loving-self he was found sitting on top of a canon! My Salen Jetty shop contacts were quick to claim on my behalf.
Now, three weeks after that first sighting he is here with me in Wollongong, Australia having a grand reunion with his dad! After an awkward handshake and a few minutes of small talk, it was man hugs all round!
Thanks to the power of the interwebs and the friendliness of a small community, we have been reunited! If you are ever in Salen Jetty, please drop in on these good folks, tell them you read the story of Iain and thank them on my behalf!
Thank you also to my friends who have joined in on Iain and Iain’s journeys, we’ve had some fun!
My muscular travel companion is lost somewhere after only a week of travel. We were having such fun too! I can’t be certain but I think I left him on the car roof at Salen Jetty. Perhaps, I just left him on the rocks staring out to sea. I did not realise until I got to the Glenfinnian Memorial and discovered he was not in his little carry pouch. I presumed he was on the front seat of the the car. A thorough search showed no signs of him. I messaged the owners of the shop at the jetty to no avail.
I was devastated. Close to tears. He may have only been a plastic action figure but he and I had made a connection. Well, the connection was really with my friends who had been commenting on his daily antics. That was the connection.
The connection with the travelling strangers who saw me taking the photos and joined in on the fun.
The connection was with the young hitch hiker I picked up near Bunessan on the Isle of Mull. When he got in the car and introduced himself as Iain, I had a hard job not choking on my laughter. I then of course had to explain why him being Iain was so funny.
I seriously thought about coming home. What was the purpose of my journey without Iain? He and I had been preparing for this trip for months. The rational side told me to get over myself.
The question of course is do I try and find a replacement? An Iain the second, son of Iain? The second Cheif of Clan Mangerton?
Will Iain return? If you know someone currently travelling in Scotland share this post and ask them to return my lost Iain of Mangerton. Please spread the word. Someone has him? Someone must be holding him for ransom?
Of course, he may have slipped through the stones we touched at Kilmartin? I half expect him to turn up on the front seat of the car at any moment.
PS: Please ask around your networks – someone in the world must have him? Last seen at Salen Jetty near KILCHOAN on Sunday 23 June 2019.