untitled

Thomas. Thomas. We have to go.

Wind rolled through the trees and the canvas stretched and vibrated against the ropes. Her head swam.

Thomas.

Thomas grunted, half-turned; exhausted, he didn’t wake.

Thomas!

The air inside the tent was cold and she shivered. Her waters had broken, the blankets were soaked. She was glad little Frankie was at Drapers’. She reached clumsily for her coat, swallowing down fear. The baby had moved this morning but not since. Now this. Her stomach heaved and she quickly turned and retched into the sheets beside the bed, the sour smell stinging her nostrils. She closed her eyes, breath ragged, head swimming. She clutched at Thomas’s shoulder and hardly unbidden, she remembered the others. Two tiny souls, each had come, had come all the way, and each had died in that moment. She closed her eyes, tried to fight it, tried to fight the anguish, but the tears welled of their own. Her grip tightened on Thomas’s arm. And then –

A high-pitched keening, wailing above the sound of the wind, riding the pain of the first contraction. Her fingers bit into Thomas’s shoulder; awake now, alarmed, he came to, to the sharp odours and the cold in the tent, his wife in pain.

He reached for her free hand; with his other, he dragged her coat around, put it about her shoulders, not moving from her grip.

Mary, he breathed, and if there was hope and despair mingled in the hoarseness of his voice, in the way he held her, she did not hear it, she did not feel it.

The contraction stopped; the wind drew back; silence. Only their breathing making a sound. She felt his hand move to her face; he felt the hot tears on her cheek.

Can you move?

Could she? She took a deep breath, testing her swollen belly, nothing more rushing from her. She nodded. She stopped nodding; the dizziness and nausea overwhelming.

He wrapped her closer in her coat, folded the blankets around her. He found the ragged towels at the foot of the bed.

Take these, he said Where’s your bag?

She looked toward the corner of the tent. They’re near the chair, she thought. He followed her gaze to the pile in the corner.

I’ll warm the car up, just wait, and he was at the tent flap when he stopped and came back. He took her head in his hands and held her eyes with a firm gaze. She could feel the rough skin of his hands, wanted to meet his gaze with strength. She took a breath. He kissed the top of her hair.

It won’t be like last time, he said. It won’t be like the last time. Then he pushed apart the flaps and went into the black night.

Like the last times, she whispered.

She may not have been building fences today but she was no less exhausted. She let her eyes close – just for a minute. She did not hear the car start; did not hear him come back to her, did not feel his arms slide under her, or place her on the cold backseat, did not feel him pushing the blankets close. It was blessedly dark and she was lost.

She came in and out on the long drive to Colac, but she did not see the dark shapes of the trees bending under the wind, wild, chasing them along the black strip of highway. She did not see the shape of Thomas’s face, a black silhouette against the lights on the road.

No.

She came out the other side, and saw instead the broad green stretch of bank that stretched down to the river. It was Spring along the Ovens and it had come in vibrant greens and tiny white jasmine. The water was clear, the air was clear. Delirious, she breathed it in, one more time, again, from the clear blue sky. It was marvellous. He walked ahead of her; he held the basket, the rug over his arm, and he held out his hand to her.

I can’t have you falling down this slope, and he’d winked at her. His voice, deep in its Welsh accent; she would never tire of listening to it. And when he sang, like they’d sung at home last night: she, at the piano, he at her left, laughing down at her as she played. Mother, Margaret, Agnes, their faces and voices blurring in the lights and the raucous noise. She joined in the chorus…run, rabbit, run, rabbit

Out of the darkness of the front seat: Mary? Worried, concerned. Why Thomas? Why are you worried? It’s a beautiful day, she wanted to say but couldn’t make the words.

She decided not to talk and followed him, down the bank. Across the grass. To the water’s edge.

They would start a family when he got back, he said. They resettle soldiers, Mary, when they return. We know farming. This will be what we do, and his voice faded from her ears but she went on watching him speak, watching his lips move. She knew all these words for they had spoken them to each other so many times since that day in September. They had become part of her and him; their bargain. The words in her ears, the letters in which he’d committed them to paper. But the pain, Thomas, she whispered and she stirred and shifted and moaned against a new contraction. Again, the silhouette, unseen by her, looking at her. Mary, he said again, louder, hoarse, but she couldn’t hear a thing, only the voices on the bank of the Ovens, only the voices back in the front room of Templeton Street, whispering with Margaret, as they stayed awake long after dark. For Margaret was loved by Jack and they would wonder together about things they could never ask Mother, things Agnes had told them instead. Her cheeks felt hot. She reached out to hold Margaret’s hand, for she could feel her tears…were they Margaret’s tears? but her hand touched only the back of the vinyl seat and Margaret whispered and was gone. She was alone again, with the pain, in the dark and the worry of losing him to Egypt and the deserts.

But the letters had come. The war kept on but the letters kept coming. Each one a blessing, an assurance, each one bringing her closer to her end of the bargain. I’ll be too old, she said to Agnes, but Agnes turned away.

The reverie broke and a searing pain dragged her back to the car and she moaned, biting down the pain. Breathing ragged, she blinked. The street lights flickered past as they raced up Manifold St.

Camperdown? Camperdown?  But he didn’t hear her.

She could see his haggard face in the flickering of passing lights, Shadow, light, shadow, light, shadow, light.

She closed her eyes. She’d let that face down. She was probably about to do it again.

Still the war kept on, but his broken body had come home to heal on a hospital ship; El Alamein had yielded him up. His battalion had gone on to New Guinea.

They are dying from Malaria, he’d told her. She knew what was coming. They’re still fighting, he said. I can’t quit on them now.

The trials took him to Queensland, where he would be injected with the disease that would affect him all his life but she had no choice but to watch him walk away, do his duty once more.

Thomas, she called as the car wound through the dark bends of Pomberneit, but she’d only murmured and he couldn’t hear her all the way in Queensland.

I’m so tired, she whispered to the back of the seat, and she slipped into unconsciousness.

Older women than her had given birth and if Agnes cautioned her, it didn’t matter; she had every confidence rushing home from the doctor that day, and found him milking. She stopped at the door. He looked at her, saw her blush and rose clumsily from the stool. They stood for a moment and all the years and the letters and the hopes seemed to hang suspended between them. His face, then! She blushed for days afterward and how happy she felt! She wrote Margaret, and Mother. Agnes. Through the summer, Margaret came, and they waded in the creek in the fading light of summer like children.

The baby stopped moving. In the last long days of February he was taken from her and laid beside someone she didn’t know, someone he didn’t know; in a place she would never find. She would never hold him in her arms. Still. Not breathing. Not for so long, days. He arrived in a sea of pain and guilt and blurred madness. Agnes came. Margaret was there. But Thomas she couldn’t face. He came; he tried to bury his face in her hair. She felt his body heave with unshed tears and was mortified; she turned away.

She’d let him down.

Yet she would do it again.

She stayed with Agnes for the confinement this time, her second chance; but it didn’t matter. And this one a little girl! Laid away again, she would never know where. They would have called her Joy. The weight of failure pinned her down, even though she got up to move mechanically through her days, a ghost or wraith, Thomas hardly knew which when he described her to the pastor. The pastor knew Mary and he felt their anguish; he did what he could. He arranged for Frankie to come to them, a tiny baby boy with the fairest of hair. After all, a baby was what she wanted; the men agreed.

But they never spoke about what she wanted. She just had to go on. She worked in the cafe. She managed the farm. She was a good mother. Devoted. Dutiful. Responsible.

She came home a third time, same news, same wanting, standing before him. She hardly knew how to meet his gaze. Such a strange mixture of hope and despair and resignation. She felt this baby grow like she had the others, felt it grow strong, traced the outline of the little fists or feet that pressed against her from inside. Did her share of the work, looked after Frankie, put on determination –

The bright lights of the hospital woke her and she cried out under the glare as a new contraction took her body like a vice. She saw Thomas shouting into the doorway of the hospital, she saw his breath condense in clouds in the air, his hair in disarray, the worry in his face. He pulled her door open and his stricken face hung over hers as he pulled her carefully from the car, laid her on the guerney. Her eyes on his face, and there were orderlies pushing her but he held her hand and her gaze until they got to the doors, until he could go no further, and she was alone again with her end of the bargain.

 

It would be some hours before the wind calmed and the night was still. A grey dawn had arrived, resolving her third round of pain and the agony of pushing; yet even as it was over, and even as the head nurse had held her hand and stood for brief moments to stroke her hair – she found she couldn’t fight it rising: hope. A glimmer. She gritted her teeth, tried to steel herself, to push it down. Exhausted, wracked with pain, it was now, in this moment, that she would live or die.

She closed her eyes.

The way it goes: the doctor helps you have the baby. The doctor gives the baby to the nurse. The nurse takes the baby from the room. An unlucky nurse comes to your side, arms empty, arms by her sides. Comes to tell you.

Comes to tell you.

Mary.

Mary, can you hear me.

Mary.

She hears her name again. There is a muffled sound. This is the moment.

She takes a breath.

She opens her eyes.

 

 

uni study: S3, Ep1

The exciting and shiny start of the new Uni year is beckoning (no, really – you should see the trailer) and so my sister Teri and I have resumed our Saturday morning I’ll-study-better-if-I-have-someone-to-study-with sessions at her Uni’s library. (Please don’t tell anyone – I’m an interloper here.)

So: time to get serious about study. Today’s session began with a discussion on whether or not Eva Peron was actually called Evita and if not, where did ALW get the name from and what does it mean, and if we don’t find out can we go on? (No. Teri is not studying the musical – she’s ‘just’ going to Melbourne next weekend to ‘just’ see the musical. Nor am I. Studying the musical, that is. (Or going to Melbourne. She never asks me anywhere.) (Don’t argue, Teri: Coldplay.))

Today I am pretending to get into my HR unit readings. In the singular paragraph of “Critical Issues in managing age diversity” that I have managed to read this morning, I found out that Some Elements of the HR industry actually and really classify me as an older worker.

Part of me might have died but definitely all passion for study is consequently temporarily suspended until I resolve the Evita question .

She might have been christened Maria Eva (according to both the most-likely-real and the most-likely-forged birth certificates cited), but she was, in fact, known as Evita. I guess like a familial nickname.

Eva died at the age of 33, a breath-taking inspiration to her people, but also having managed to classify herself in the middle-aged worker bracket and, considering who and what she politically championed, I wonder how she would have felt about that? And, if she’d lived to approach ancienticity (i.e. 45 years or older), would she have taken on those HR elements that begin discourses with “If one accepts the view that older workers are valuable…”?

Bring on more of this HR!  said…

Alas, Bill. Two business units this trimester. What have I done. How like a winter will your absence be….

 

10:15 278

Of the hundred thousand planes that will leave the earth tomorrow

There will be one on which you will stow

One on which you will go

to the sky

and to your dreams

and to the rush that you crave –

But for God’s sake, Dave.

It’s true – I wish you had stayed

a tiny wee armful

who I first knew by the feel of your foot;

who I first met that day in Camperdown,

when in my arms they gently put you down;

(when on that same day they finally said you’d be ok);

who’s first look for my face

left no space

for anything but the sensation of giving all of me over to you –

And look what you do: you take my heart and my throat and all my new grey hairs and you jump out of a plane.

For God’s sake, Dave!

But you know I think you are crazy and wonderfully brave.

10:15 278

not a new year resolution

Recently rendered mentor-less during an ‘it’s not me, it’s you’ PD episode (making my Top 5 list of Best Professional Moments Ever), I have lately begun annoying the crap out of friends, family, and luckless baristas by moaning about the unbearableness of the assumptions and premises of economics (ceteris paribus, naturally), the ignominy of western capitalism and the awful logic of working through a business degree to cement your appeal as management material with a fancy piece of paper. They would point to their glazed-over eyes if they could, but they need their hands to cover their ears to block out the wailing:  ‘what should I dooo?’

I swapped from a B Comms to a B Arts/B Business degree based on some career advice I will always acknowledge to be sound and logical, except that putting logic, economics and Bron in the same sentence is unfamiliar territory for me. And in the beginning I was able to think, ‘hey, this is ok’ and ‘hey, look at that, a credit’, before something started to feel a bit off: ‘wait, what? what did they just say about assuming people make rational economic decisions?’. Very hard to go back to the economics books after you begin to think this through and never mind that you hit Model Western Consumer Status in only five days before Christmas. All that cooking you did? All that wrapping and giving you did? You now know how to reduce it all to a mid-point formula, calculate consumer surplus amounts (or in my case deadweight loss) and you can draw the corresponding demand-supply graphs to go with it (yes, you’re right, it will only be that one credit). You are able to sit down with a pencil and paper and calculate rather accurately what price unmoved stock might be dropped to on Boxing Day, while at the same time have a good hard think about the opportunity cost to you of wasting time on such calculations or the enjoyment you’ll get from watching any cricket that is playing.

And right there is the moment when you say to Yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ You stand up, your chair falls backward, you put your hands to your head and you let out a primal yell! You sweep the pencil and paper off the table and you resolve to –

Wait. Starting to sound like a New Year Resolution. And you see, it’s not. I don’t want this to be in danger of petering out in the February wastelands of lost inspiration – it needs to go the distance! This is a broader issue, an issue of personal direction: I might have worked out where I want to go in life.  What I want to be if I grow up. (I could be here, people! What relief my family must feel! Yet I completely get the skeptical looks from resigned but supportive friends!) I’m going back to the original source of motivation for study.

Which, in case you missed it, has very little to do with economics.

Happy New Year!

and we’re here again.

Current motivation status:

Swan Dive

I managed to complete and submit my last two assignments, spectacularly making the deadline by 44 seconds. Got decent feedback and good marks, and for five complete minutes, indulged in doing a happy dance and high-fiving. Motivation seemed fully restored. I spent the sixth minute searching diligently for my Media Student’s Book: I was back, I was totally going to DO tbis.

At 7 minutes 12 seconds I remembered some sheet music I wanted to get hold of. At 9 minutes and 40 seconds, I’d found a 1940s baby grand for sale in Newtown and was getting piano-moving quotes via email.

Skip forward to yesterday, Sunday, and I was beginning to feel uneasy about the focus I needed to get my next assignment done. Where had I put it? Due this Friday at 11.59pm, I am to write a 1500-word essay discussing how ‘News and Current Affairs are entwined in social media and celebrity culture’. Time to knuckle down. I informed the house that All Bets Were Off, No One Was To Talk To Me, and It’s Everyman For Himself in terms of eating/laundry/household issues and/or upkeep. There were essays to write.

I’m proud to say I achieved the following:

  • Every item of clothing/bedding/incidental linen in the house that required washing (about two weeks’ worth) – not only washed, but line-dried, pressed, folded and put away.
  • Bed linen changed.
  • Grocery shopping done.
  • Meals prepared for the next four days.

And one media article opened and partially read.

I’m so proud of myself right now.

sigh.

 

 

Motivate me. Please.

swan dive

noun, diving

1. a forward dive in which the diver, while in the air, assumes a position with the arms outstretched at shoulder height, and the legs straight and together, and enters the water with the arms stretched above the head.

verb (used without object)swan-dived, swan-diving.

  1. to perform a swan dive.
  2. to decrease suddenly and decisively; plummet. (e.g. Bron’s motivation to complete assignments swan-dived after the super-duper Simon Winchester incident.)

Motivation crushed by super-duper lecturer, who asked the unbelievable: ‘who wants to be a writer when they grow up?’

In a series of supposedly painful and frustrating online university study events, the motivation of Bronwyn Hughes to complete two of her university assignments has been bludgeoned into unconsciousness by a series of allegedly limping lectures endured in online delivery mode.
  • mature-age online university student can’t take it anymore
  • ‘if the lecturer says ‘super-duper’ one more time…!’
  • forks mysteriously disappearing from towns en route to New England region

When Walcha police asked her to give a statement, Ms Hughes was barely coherent. ‘Give me the forks back,’ was the only thing they think she said after they confiscated a bag from the boot of her car.

Thehughesmuse approached Ms Hughes’ colleagues, who were somewhat puzzled about the situation. ‘Was it something about…something about the lecturer? Saying ‘super-duper’ constantly, or something? I wasn’t really listening, sorry,’ says fellow geriatric person, Her Friend Terri Farrah. ‘I think it was something about Simon Winchester,’ said M, who has asked for her identity to be concealed. ‘Or was it something about growing up?’

Long-suffering partner Scott refused to speak with thehughesmuse. A spokesman for the relationship advised that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as are the dogs and the cat.

The spokesman was, however, able to clarify that after two semesters of listening to lecture audios recorded live in class, and unable to hear the mumbled responses to questions put to the class, the final straw was the TED lecture given by the esteemed Simon Winchester on his approaches to Story Design.

After viewing the TED lecture, reporters at thehughesmuse have established that motivation has most likely been traumatised due to unfortunate timing. Ms Hughes, a devoted subscriber of the Betoota Advocate and The Chaser, regularly enjoys various Trump-satire pieces and had recently finished a most excellent Booker Prize-winning novel by Paul Beatty. To hear Simon Winchester talk about becoming a citizen of the U.S.A. (instead of Britain, or anywhere in Europe) because, apart from that business in the 1860s, ‘America does unity really well’, appears to have done it.

After threatening disciplinary action for behaving like a prat and issuing a directive to remain focused, Ms Hughes’ managers have issued a statement saying they offered advice on considering alternative study options. Their fear is that this advice has fallen on deaf ears.

The spokesman has advised that while an extension has been granted until this weekend, the hours are counting down, and it is far from certain if motivation will make even a feeble recovery from this alleged nightmare in time to submit something, or indeed, anything.

 

*The author wishes to note that the works of Simon Winchester are considered, by the author, to be pretty good, and that if it weren’t for his stories in the prescribed reading list, she would already have despaired and applied the forks.

the devil’s in the detail

‘Santa’s Sweat Shop, Nick speaking.’

‘Nick, it’s Luc.’

‘Luuuc! Wassgoin’ down…’

‘Nick, don’t be a jerk.’

‘…down there in Hades?’

‘Nick, for crying out loud, I’m calling on business.’

‘Luc, I’m in the ‘nice’ business, you’re in the ‘naughty’ business, I’m not sure it’s ‘good’ business to take what you’re selling.’

‘For crying out loud, I’ll hang up, and you won’t know how your ridiculous new app is going to screw everything for you on the 25th!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘And all those piddly little brats will miss out!’

‘Miss out on what?’ demanded Nick.

‘Your app’s stuffed, Nick.’

‘And how does the Lord of the Underworld know about my app?’

The line went dead.

Probably too far, Nick admitted to himself, settling back down in his chair to call Luc back. Thing is, he never could resist winding him up. Patiently he tried to redial but no luck. He put the receiver down and began to flip through the papers on his desk, looking for Luc’s number. ‘Rudy!?’ he called out, moving books, sifting through drawers. ‘Rudy, have you got a minute?’ he called again, a little louder.

Still no answer. He pushed up from his desk and walked to the doorway, and shouted ‘RUDY!!” at the top of his lungs. At almost the same moment, Rudy appeared in the doorway, right under Nick’s nose, holding his hand over the mouthpiece of his mobile. He glared darkly at Nick.

‘If you call me by the name of that stupid red-nosed git of a reindeer  of yours one more time, I’ll–’

‘I’m sorry,’ Nick said, and managed to look contrite and sound sincere at the same time.

The elf handed him the phone and said, ‘it’s Luc. There’s some problem with our code.’

Nick took the mobile. ‘Thanks, Rudy,’ he said innocently, and closed the door on the frustrated tantrum of his 2IC.

Nick sat back own. ‘Ok, Luc, sorry about before.’

‘Are you going to listen to me?’

‘Of course!’

‘Without being a jerk?’

‘I … Luc, you take all the fun out of things.’

‘You know, you treat your staff like shit.’

‘Rudy? He’ll get over it.’

‘Fair warning, Nick. He’d jump ship if I offered him a job.’

‘He–’ sputtered Nick.

‘Warmer climate, better hours–’

‘Luc! Shut up! What’s wrong with the app?’

‘Ah, so now you want to focus.’

‘Just tell me what’s going on.’

‘I’m not done having fun with this.’

‘LUC!’

Luc laughed down the phone.

‘I will hang up on you, now, dammit!’ Nick cried, frustrated.

‘No you won’t. Not until you know what it’s about.’

‘Fine.’

Luc’s tone changed slightly. ‘Just remember – what I tell you, I tell you only on the condition that you keep me out of this.’

‘“Keep you out of this”?’

‘Yeh. My name is not to be mentioned in any connection with this.’

Nick stifled a laugh. ‘Ok,’ he managed.

‘This is not about me doing good.’

‘Sure.’

‘It’ll ruin my reputation!’

‘I’ve got your back.’

‘I need your word!’

‘Okay, Luc, I promise! It will be my official line: the Prince of Darkness had nothing to do with saving Chris–’

‘NICK.’

‘All right, all right, I’ll stop, I’ll stop.’

‘You have to be the most frustrating human being of all time!!’

‘After the Mansons, though, surely.’

‘I want to speak to Rudy again!’ Luc yelled.

‘His name’s not Rudy,’ said Nick, feigning hurt and offense on Rudy’s behalf.

‘I don’t care WHAT his name is, he’s the coder, you need him to fix this!’

‘Fix what??’

‘The code in your ridiculous ‘Xmas Wish’ app, Nick, or whatever the hell you’ve called it. It’s not working.’

‘The app the kids are using? How do you know it’s not working?’

‘Because all the data, all the wishes from the kids are re-routing to my server. I traced it back to the code in your stupid app.’

Your server?’ Nick asked, unbelieving.

‘Yes. My server. The Hades server.’

Nick smiled. ‘And you’re worried about this because…?’ although it had already dawned on him that he knew the answer.

‘Because the kids won’t get their pr–’ Luc started shouting, before abruptly strangling himself into silence.

Nick laughed loudly down the phone line. ‘So!’ he shouted gleefully. The Hedon of Hades has a soft-spot for kids at Christmas!’

‘NICK, you bast- ‘

‘Now, now, Luc, we should keep this PG. We are talking about the kids, after all.’

‘You annoying jerk, you–’

‘“The Devil, making sure kids get their gifts at Christmas”,’ Nick laughed even harder.

‘Just remember you promised you’d keep me out of this!’

‘I – I know,’ Nick wheezed, tears streaming down his face. ‘I can’t believe I did that.’

‘You promised!’

‘I did,’ Nick grinned. ‘I promise I won’t tell anyone that you were involved in this.’

There was a pause, and then Luc said, ‘thanks, Nick.’

‘I’ll keep your ironic beard and topknot out of it, too.’

And somewhere in Hades, a mobile phone smashed against the floor before landing in the eternal embers of damnation.

a day at the spa

It had been some operation, the robb’ry came off rather well

They’d beat the teller to it, she’d no time to sound the bell

The bag had filled with money, wealth like nothing he could dream

And in his eye did Savvy Jacky sense a little gleam

But then all hell had broken loose – the guns! The shouts! The noise!

He spun amidst the wreck and smoke to look for all his boys

He saw them, cowering, on their knees, their hands behind their heads

He saw him then, a hulk and towering: ‘I’ll take that, thanks,’ Nick said.

 

‘Nick!’ He cried, and lion-like, he bellowed out his rage

His mouth a snarling rictus, the lion seething in a cage

For trapped he was, his armless men sat helpless on the floor

Without their guns all they could do was watch Nick out the door

‘With all that lovely money,’ Trev would later on lament

And Ed and Nige and Morris, they all knew just what it meant:

The promised break, the trip away to sunny old Marseilles

Was now a dream in ashes: the Boss was cancelling today.

 

In the other room they heard him speaking on the phone

The details of the refund struck, the holiday all gone.

They heard him say goodbye, they heard him moving to the door

Cast down and in their cups their eyes remained upon the floor.

Savvy Jacky saw his boys had given in to drink

He took in their glum faces, and he paused for time to think.

He had a heart, did Savvy Jack, and it told him what to do:

‘I’ll cheer you up, boys! Yes I will! A spa I’ll take you to!’

 

If skeptical they started out, they all soon changed their tune

They were massaged, hot-rocked, sauna-ed , they all had facials done by noon.

Indulged, relaxed and manicured they were feeling at their best

They all agreed glycolic peels is what they should do next.

‘But first,’ Jack said, ‘a mud bath! That will really do the trick!’

But not another step they took, for there stood their nemesis: Nick.

Nick paled beneath a kiwi mask, a towel trembled on his head

He clasped his robe together, and was clearly filled with dread.

 

Not a word was spoken, all were rooted in their place

Every breath was held and shock was plain in every face

The tableau, still and frozen, might have kept on without end,

Until blithely and oblivious into the scene came Glenn.

‘I have those oils you asked for, Nick,’ he said, obsequious.

‘I’ll leave them in your room for you, you’re in what? Number 6?’

 

The tableau smashed, and they all broke and dashed away as one

Glenn was rattled to his knees, an oily mess and stunned

He watched them bolt across the spa, he watched them jump the chairs

He watched them pushing through the place, he watched them with despair.

By now the frantic group of men had reached the narrow stairs

Grimly keeping hot pursuit they bolted on in pairs.

Nick and Jack were at the front, Nick’s elbows working hard

A good one got Jack in the ribs; Nick jumped on by a yard.

 

But in his haste he clipped the last step at the very top

He crashed down hard, he hit his head, it brought him to a stop.

Breathing hard came Jack and Ed, they landed several kicks

Nick’s torso only saved by Trev, who yelled out, ‘this is six!’

‘Noo!’ Nick groaned, ‘it’s mine!’ he cried, but no one heard his pleas

Morris held him, Trev bent down and frisked him for his keys.

‘Here, Boss, it’s your due,’ Trev said, handing them to Jack

Jack shook Trevor’s hand: they’d have their treasure back.

 

And when the door swung open on the scene in Nick Bane’s room

He felt a lifting of the pain, a shifting of the gloom.

On Nick’s bed sat Jack’s own bag, the one they’d filled with money

The one they thought would take them to the lands of milk and honey.

The reverie was halted by the moaning of his rival

He thought it prudent not to stall, but focus on survival.

He looked around his team of men, he saw their glowing faces

‘Trev and Morris, Nige and Ed, now we can go places.’

 

And go they did, with one last kick to quiet Nicky Bane

Heading to the airport, for the plane to old Marseilles.

Cooinda Terang and The Little Acorn Cafe

For a great cappuccino, you need to head to The Little Acorn Café.

It is Friday lunch time in the small country town of Terang, Victoria, and I am happily seated at a table by the window in The Little Acorn Cafe. While enjoying a delicious cappuccino, I look around at the fresh white walls, wooden floors and the vintage chairs and dining tables set before a fireplace. I hear happy and relaxed conversations all around me. One of the staff comes over, and with a big smile, introduces herself and asks if there is anything else I need. I smile back: this is a warm and welcoming place to be.

While The Little Acorn offers a tasty and healthy light-lunch menu, spoil-yourself homemade-slice options, and fantastic, friendly service, what sets this cafe apart is the story behind how it came to life.

Now a vibrant part of community life, The Little Acorn was once the long-time dream of carers and staff of Cooinda Terang, a disability services provider for adults and their families in the surrounding communities. In line with the Values and Mission Statement of Cooinda, the café is a social training opportunity for its residents and participants. Cooinda staff work alongside participants, supervising them in a range of hospitality tasks, including preparation, plating up of food, making coffee, operating the till, waiting tables, setting up and cleaning up.

‘The café is all about giving participants the chance of working in and maintaining a place in their own community,’ says dedicated café manager and long-time staff member at Cooinda, Jenny O’Keeffe. ‘This is all about participants feeling valued and respected within their community and having a chance to do the same things other people do.’

Cooinda’s participants were enthusiastic about the café. To ensure opportunities were available to all, a roster was developed, and participants given the flexibility to choose their activities.

As part of their training, all staff and participants have attained a Level 1 certificate in food safety and food handling. Tasks are assigned based on what participants can do, not on what they can’t do. Once a participant is able to do a task, they are given an opportunity to try something new. ‘No greater importance is placed on one role over another,’ says Jenny. ‘The focus is on increasing personal and living skills in the kitchen, as well as their social skills working with customers of the café.’

The Little Acorn café came to life through the efforts of the Cooinda team and the Cooinda Board of Management. The idea for the café had been on the drawing board for some time but when the lease on the Maternity and Child Health Services building came up, they could turn the idea into a reality. With the full backing of the Board, an application was made to council for the lease and upgrade of the premises. ‘The Corangamite Shire have been very supportive of the initiative that provides an opportunity for Cooinda participants to have valued roles within their community,’ says Cooinda CEO, Janice Harris. ‘We have only had positive feedback about the food and hospitality but also the “vibe” of the café as being a positive and welcoming atmosphere to be in.’ In a generous move, the local council agreed to waive the rent for the first year of the lease, helping to offset start-up costs. This has been particularly helpful, as no assisted funding is available for the project.

Local businesses such as the Terang Op shop, Terang Co-Op and Western District Employment Access have also made significant donations toward establishment costs, giving the café its initial boost. Since opening in mid-December 2016, The Little Acorn is run as any other café business is run, relying on trade and sales and a strong customer base. Being situated in the main street next to the local playground, and with an abundance of passing trade, business has been picking up, and things are looking good. ‘This wouldn’t have happened without the support of the Terang locals,’ Jenny says, adding that the generous spirit of the community has made all the difference.

The strong links with the community extend into the retail space set aside for craft work and locally-made produce, and the works of local artists hang on the walls, all for sale. Students from the local high schools studying hospitality also have an opportunity to work at the café, gaining valuable social and operations experience in a café environment.

‘It is wonderful to see the sense of community here at the café,’ says Jenny. ‘The customers have come to know the participants personally, there is a real community connection. I’m so proud to be a part of this café and this community, and the opportunities given to our participants.

‘They have got their wings and they are flying.’

it’s not you, it’s me…me and my amygdala.

img_0038

So I rock up to my barista and order my large cap, and toast with a tiny bit of vegemite. The coffee here is perfect, the service outstanding, and as I glance at my watch, I don’t know whether to sigh or smirk about being on time for my meeting. I choose to sigh happily and move out of everyone’s way.

At about the 8-minute mark, hipster-suity-groover guy rocks up and orders his coffee and same toast as me. Yes, that’s right. You can see where this is going. My happy barista man calls my name – ‘Someone’s toast is ready!’ I turn to grab my things, move back toward the counter – and before Hipster-Suity Guy’s coffee is even ready, he casually reaches over AND GRABS MY TOAST. Seconds later – wait, I’m not finished shouting: SECONDS LATER, HE HAS HIS COFFEE, THEN HE’S GONE!!!!

To know me is to concede that on a good day, parts of my nature are loveable, but today you’re pretty sure how shit is going to go down. But what if I surprise you? That’s right: things have changed and we are now familiar with the Amygdala Impact.

No matter our individual, or even collective thoughts on how we’ve evolved, we can count on the amygdala to keep us in touch with our Inner Primitive. Or as I affectionately think of him: my Inner Cyberdyne Systems series T-800 Model 101 Amygdala Terminator. The T-800 Amygdala controls the fight or flight instinct, scanning the environment for risk and danger five times a second – that’s right, FIVE TIMES A SECOND – and [analysing it through the super-high tech, military-grade, optical-screen of death] generates cortisol and adrenalin as required. Saving our lives since the Dawn of Man, the amygdala is a compact yet superior survival system, responsible for getting us out of the way of woolly mammoths, errant (or malicious) spear throwers and alerting us to problems that might affect our remaining with the clan. (Because that used to be a Thing.)

Crucial to the continuation of the species, it is one of the strongest drivers in our physical makeup. It is instinct. It’s why we’re here today. And it has this habit of overriding everything.

Now, back to today. It’s February 2017, and waiting for hipster-suity-groover guy’s toast, I have to tell you I don’t see many woolly mammoths about. Unless I’m particularly careless or stupid, or (thanks Pauline) consume too much sugar, there is no immediate threat to my survival past morning tea. I live in a modern family and haven’t sufficiently upset them or any members of my extended family to the point where my position in the clan is at stake. Overall my chances of continuation are pretty good. So. Why? Why the tightness in the chest? What the rush of heat? Why am I ready to go White Crane on hipster-suite-groover guy?

While our pre-frontal cortex is taking all this in, taking it’s time at a rate of 300 million Thinking Bits per second (hmm. What just happened?), our T-800 Amygdala has sorted shit out in a mere 20 million Outraged Symbol Bits (&%$@#**!@#$ etc), and stands up and shouts,

  • THAT WAS MY BREAKFAST!
  • I AM STARVING!
  • AND LYN WILL BEAT ME TO THE MEETING!

New Bron is now equipped with means to have a go at muffling the T-800 Amygdala. She clamps a hand over the speaker system. Smiles for the lookers-on. ‘Nothing to see here’, her smile says. She hisses at the T-800 Amygdala to go into standby mode for a minute, and proceeds to consult the pre-frontal cortex, posing the T-800 Amygdala’s responses as questions, and looking for positive directions in which to re-think things:

  1. Yes. That was my breakfast. But perhaps hipster-suity-groover works for Medicins-Sans-Frontiers and he had to rush to the airport. You could have just saved lives!
  2. Your survival is not contingent on the turkish toast. You’ll probably make it to morning tea. Except you’ll end up with hipster-suity-groover’s toast, so…
  3. Look, I really don’t have an answer to this one, you’re incredibly childish, so…you’re on your own. (Ok, I deserve that one.)

The trick is to remember that you have to work pretty hard to overcome your amygdala’s response. With practise you can. Try it this way:

Identify and label your physical response. (Tightness in the chest, nausea; the name of any karate poses you assume.)

Trace these physical responses back to what you are thinking. (Injustice, starvation, going one-up at work.)

Now: involve your pre-frontal thinking man/woman by asking questions. And think in terms of the positive.

 

With thanks to Sandra Wood for making a difference.