Writer’s Routine

 

The alarm announces the day with an irritating excuse for an uneven melody. Perfect because it works. Five a.m. and the long days journey into night begins. No light yet, just the stirring sounds of workers reluctantly preparing for a repeat of yesterday.

The dog lets out a barks of frustration as a lone male walks in front of the house. The thought of breakfast breaks through the befuddled mind as it fights the urge to remain inactive. No bouncing out of bed to meet this new day. Slow right sided roll to the edge of the bed, then an arm thrush to stagger into an upright position. Unsteady gait, a balancing act on an imaginary tight rope, undignified thrusting of one then the other leg into the opening of a pair of shorts. The engine needs time to warm up.

The early morning pre-dawn air is thick with moisture as he walks up the stairs to the kitchen at the back of the house to prepare the breakfast. Two bowls of cereal and three cups of coffee begins the ritual. Pairs of eyes stare into miniature screens to peruse any information that has made a difference. The sounds of eating, ironing and bathroom duties reverberates throughout the house as time watching becomes increasing paramount.

Six a.m. is the deadline for departure, to be met by most members of the household except for me. The first sliver of tropical light dances over the surface of the weatherboard houses. Wave goodbye, watch the car disappear around the corner and like a recluse retreats to the sanctuary of electronic aids of information and creativity. The door is firmly closed and locked to shut out the increasing active outside world.

Time marches on, an active mind makes it fly along, an inattentive one grinds it to a halt. Reflection and mulling leads to periods of both. Hours can turn into minutes or minutes turn into hours; the dice of daily fate decides. Thus is the meanderings of a reluctant scribe.

Inspiration flows like a creek bed in a dry country; flood or drought with zilch in between. The tap is either on or off.

Working feverishly on the keyboard, thoughts to bytes building upon themselves creating layers of stone to support the complexity of ideas that form the structure of a new story.
Otherwise, lying on the bed watching the mosquitoes circling the room wondering which one will attack next.

Ten thirty and the next pattern begins. Showered and prepared to enter the outside world of predictable chaos. The ebb and flow of unbridled emotions a constant in the background during the walk from one sanctum to another – the coffee shop. Twenty minutes of automation, one foot in front of another, no thought involved, a well ingrained path in the memory of routine.

Sanctum Two, the weigh station, the second home of possible creativity. Coffee and cake, the fuel needed to plough on through a very long day.

Fleeting moments of conversation coupled with reading and writing; the pattern never straying too far from the original. Struggling to avoid the pitfalls of staying relevant to the world of the reader, staring and thinking, examining every nook and cranny for inspiration.

Twelve thirty, work completed, uncompleted or not started. The dice only knows;
automation takes over again.

Inner sanctum one has changed shape and form by the afternoon light. Neither comforting nor reassuring, but a place that separates the outside world from the existential self.

Period of satisfaction or despair, the struggle continues on and off until five pm when the routine of others intervene. The need for sustenance brings with it normality as daily events are discussed around the table. Writer’s inspirational thoughts and ideas simmer in the background all but forgotten.

Domestic duties prevail until seven thirty. Propped up in bed, no television, nor radio for distractions, just the electronic companion which screen dimly lights the four nondescript walls. Ideas surface without warning; being prepared to grab and mould them when they do is the key. The search never stops, the peak is never conquered, good is never good enough. Productive or not, the end comes when the writer no longer needs this day but yearns for the next.

 

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The Nectar Of The Gods

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What makes a good wine? Ask a dozen people and get a dozen answers. I’ll state from the very onset that I have very limited knowledge about wine, no connoisseur here, I only drink the stuff, so that puts me with the 99% who haven’t a clue either. Am I qualified to make comment then? I think so, because it’s the 99% that drive the industry. For these people only one criteria that matters – liking the taste or not.

I was brought up in an area surrounded by some of the better wine growing districts in the world. (The French might not agree.) Neither of my parents drank alcohol, so it wasn’t until I became an adult that I started drinking wine. Beer and spirits never appealed. One you had to drown in lolly water to make it drinkable, the other was bitter and bloating. Wine is neither. After developing a palate for the reds tannin in preference to the mostly sweet whites, I found red to be the most satisfying to consume. By volume, it doesn’t bloat and usually complements the food I ingest. A glass of Shiraz goes down well with a McDonalds hamburger! (Philistine I hear you scream.)

This brings us to last night. Our friends invited us for dinner at their place and I was specifically asked not to bring a bottle as the host had a cupboard full that needed to be drank. Been given the honour of deciding what to drink, I inspected the 10 bottles on show and earmarked 2 for immediate drinking. Both were close to 10 years old. One of those, a Merlot 2005 from my old home town was opened first.

As most of us know, proper storage of wine is critical if you want to create the conditions necessary for it to reach its full potential. You couldn’t imagine a worse case scenario in this case, storage in a non air-conditioned room standing up right.

My worst fears were realised when the cork started to disintegrate during removal. In fact, it broke in two and I could not get enough purchase on the remaining cork, so I did what any good wine expert (cough,cough) would do… use a knife to push the recalcitrant cork fragments into the bottle.

Finding a tea strainer and plastic container I filtered as much of the floating cork particles from the wine as feasible. Two attempts later, all of the contaminate was removed or as much as the naked eye could tell.

Oddly the wine had little nose. In other words, I couldn’t smell anything that clearly resembled any wine I knew, just a nondescript slightly sweet bouquet. The colour was unusual as well, chocolate brown with a dash of blood red.

All this pointed towards a tasting disaster, but to our utter astonishment it was tasting extravaganza. What a pleasure to the palate, smooth and silky, sliding down the throat, leaving a delightful after thought behind. Even the non drinkers were impressed. And to top it all off, we displayed no after effects the next day.

Perfect!

So it goes to show, in this case what should have occurred didn’t happen.

In the end it’s the taste to you that matters and not any extensive wine knowledge.
Having said all this though, I have recently witnessed wine being mixed with coke! Now there is a limit to everything.

À la vôtre

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Smoker’s Story

I was walking into the bank this morning when I passed a young slender teenager who was looking rather solemn, leaning against the wall with a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth. The image created made me reflect on the previous evening’s conversation.

Whilst sitting around the kitchen table, the talk turned to smoking or to be more specific the health risks associated with it. The topic was very poignant because the grandfather of this particular family had died of lung cancer in his early forties some 30 odd years ago and currently his youngest son is about the same age and a smoker.

As I walk the streets of Sandakan, I often see many young and old smoking. Of course I don’t know the percentage of those who do smoke but I suspect it is quite high compared to other parts of the world.

This is not going to be a piece on ‘stop smoking or else’, but of the choices we make during our life.

In another life, I used to work as a nurse in Adelaide and in that capacity I had to deal with a lot of different people; some pleasant, some not so.

This took place almost 40 years ago. I don’t remember the name of the man central to my story, so for the sake of this tale we’ll call him Harry.

Harry was the sort of person who you could take too almost immediately. Despite his debilitating condition, he came across as chirpy, cheerful and personable. He struck up conversations with almost everybody on the ward. I was 19 and very shy but I immediately felt comfortable in his presence. At the time, he would have been in his early seventies but looked much older. His craggy-character-filled face told of a life of excesses and through his constant stories, obviously one he never regretted. Ever the optimist he refused to look at anything in a negative light. He must have been in excruciating pain but brought an immediate cheer to the otherwise depressing environment of the ward.

You see this particular ward was for amputees. Mostly people who had experienced trauma of some sort, severe diabetics, or in the case of Harry sufferers of PVD or peripheral vascular disease.

Harry was a chain smoker and had been since the age of 12. He loved his cigarettes and couldn’t imagine a life without them. He enjoyed the odd beer or two and smoking went hand in hand with that activity.

I’m not going to go into the intricate details of PVD other than to say the majority of those who contract the disease smoke.

Harry’s feet and lower legs were almost black through lack of blood supply. In other words, his limbs were dying. On this blackness grew large fluid filled blisters that constantly burst giving off a putrid odour whenever the wadded dressing was changed around his ankles.

The afternoon he arrived, the doctors had decided that he was to lose both of his legs above the knee. Harry took the news in his stride and tried to make a joke of his predicament. Everyone was amazed with his attitude, some thought he was in denial.

Harry could not stand to be in bed lying down. He said it was too painful but looking back I think in reality he just wanted to sit up so he could have a smoke. In those days, it was okay to smoke in hospital, so even though he was about to lose his legs through smoking the idea of not having a cigarette never crossed his mind.

You could see he was in great discomfort but he didn’t complain. He lit one cigarette after another deep in thought between the storytelling. This man had been a born entertainer.

Evening arrived and the anaesthetist came to see to Harry and talk about the next day’s surgery. He inspected his legs for a short time and asked to be excused. Soon after a team of medicos arrived and gave Harry a more thorough examination. After a short discussion among themselves, Harry was told the worst possible news. The circulation in his legs had completely shut down. The creeping blackness had now almost reached his groins. There was nothing they could do.

From what I remember Harry wanted to be alone for awhile. For the next half hour his only companion was a cigarette.

Later that night, I happened to go past his bed. I felt awkward and he could sense it. He smiled at me and that helped break the ice somewhat. He started one of his life’s stories, but stopped abruptly midstream and said,

“You know, I have done a lot of stupid things during my life. Things I am ashamed of. But not for one minute do I regret the general direct my life took.
I started smoking as a young boy; stole my old man’s tobacco and rolled my own. You know this may sound strange, but if I had my time over again I would still smoke. I loved it, those around me didn’t, but I did. It’s going to kill me. I can live with that.”

Laughing when he realised what he had just said. The conversation went on a little longer; I don’t remember anymore.

We said our goodbyes at the end of the shift and my parting memory was of a burly man sitting upright in an armchair, eyes fixed on some distant object with a sly almost indistinguishable smile, a cigarette butt firmly fixed in the corner of his mouth.

He died at 2 a.m. sitting in the same position I left him, still smoking until the very end.

One of the night staff told me that the last thing he heard Harry say before he passed away was “They can bury me with a packet of cigarettes; with me in life, a reminder of what killed me in death.” He was apparently chuffed with the idea.

The teenager was still there, cigarette in hand, as I started my walk home. I wonder if he’ll be one of the lucky ones or if it does eventually kill him, accept his fate the same way Harry did all those years ago. No regret?

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