ten days

One year. Feels like ten days.

Missed, loved, cherished.

I don’t know if it’s linked but I have simply had nothing to say, much, since my Dad took his hot air balloon ride, first into the sky and then into the multiverse.

It must have been all about him … I don’t think he’d mind.

The good news is creativity takes the same amount of forms as the multiverse; it’s infinite. Well, that’s my guess, I could easily be wrong. If not, it could be a theory.

I hope you are all well! I am and have been – which is the past in reverse, sorry – even without a word to press. If my guess is right, it’s all because of the creativity and the multiverse.

One thing about guessing; it takes the pressure off having to be right. If you declare, up front, “it’s just my guess” or something equally unanimous, people are more likely to assume you know what you’re talking about.

One of the inexplicable things about the multiverse is it is law unto itself, which partly explains everything. Luckily, it is joyous law, a good one, a multiverse where all in the same day, if not the same hour – well, maybe in the same hour but perhaps not all in the same breath – we can, at once celebrate and grieve and open our hearts. Open them to the unknown, especially the unknown in ourselves. That’s exciting. Hearts generally are, my experience is they offer up treasures.

And all on a daily basis.

But where was I? … Trekking through this multiverse, poised to discover that my writing, the things I want to write,

that everything that is important, and everything that is not (for example, the ridiculous) is all about love.

It’s purely subjective.

But I hope you have lots of it in your life.

My beautiful father. With love.

Obituary:http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/obituary-fred-stephens-pioneering-surgeon-and-cancer-crusader-20160219-gmy9ox.html

Photo:http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/north-shore/last-resort-cancer-treatment-pioneered-by-surgeon-fred-stephens-to-be-brought-back-after-20-years/news-story/d2a021e7dd8511a877f7c9f2b97a843f


Gardening for another world

My cousin is one of those people that fall into the category of being beautiful inside and out. She’s like a movie star, looks-wise, like Hollywood old and new; her looks transcend eras. They say physical beauty doesn’t last but when it transcends eras, like Joan’s, that’s quite a long time.

Here is a short description of what she looks like because amazingly, the snap we took of her on the day is terrible.

Joan has thick, raven hair with a few streaks of grey in it now, although no-one is counting. And she has vivid blue-green eyes like her Dad’s, offset by olive skin. I got my my mothers skin, which is Scottish and my grandmother’s hair, which is red. I have blue-grey eyes, like a Viking; they look green if I am lying on the grass. I so don’t look like my cousin. We are both tall though.

And this may sound a bit closeup but my cousin’s bone structure is also flawless, I mean, you can look but I’ve not found any flaws, perfect symmetry. I nearly wrote symphony then and that still would have been right.

Out of the thirty cousins of us, she has taken all the looks. Well, she was given them, it wasn’t her fault.

She also has a beautiful heart. She was given that too.

If I was her, I think I’d be some kind of monster, all those looks. But she’s not interested, I don’t think she even knows. Instead, she’s busy planting jonquils in her uncle’s grave (my father’s) because she passes it on her way to see her father. Her father resides in the same resting place as mine. I say resides but I mean the “residing” mortal coil of yore. Those quotes are mine. They don’t really mean anything.

It’s a big resting place.

Anyway, I think she felt sorry for Dad because his grave looked like a wasteland. There has been so much going on, nobody has been able to do anything about a headstone. So she planted some jonquils. She popped them in the wasteland.

That started the whole thing off.

“Would it be okay to plant some bulbs for your Dad? We did it for my Dad and it looks lovely!” she wrote. “Here are some photos” but all I could see were a few rocks and some gravel.

“Oh my goodness, Dad’s grave …” I thought because we had done nothing. Because at unexpected times, I feel him very close therefore I’m pretty sure he’s not in the ground; I don’t know where he really is, it is not possible to know but what I mean is, when you think you’re sure he’s not in the ground, you can tend to forget that he actually is. By “he” I mean, his “residing mortal coil of yore.” Those quotes again, just ignore them.

You don’t really forget but you also don’t rush. Which meant my Dad had been in an unmarked grave for a while now. Well, ever since he first went. I don’t think he’d mind. I heard it’s normal. But it sounds horrible in print.

Here’s a sort of mitigation list because of the horrible sound of the print above. I am writing it purely out of compulsion.

Firstly, there are things to sort out when someone slips away. I’ve had nothing to do with any of them but other members of my family have.

Including this: on the boardwalk of a beach near my father’s house is a new courtesy chair with a plaque on it dedicated to my Dad. It appeared few weeks ago. It’s the beach where we all grew up, where we all learnt to swim. I even went to school there, at the beach. I don’t know what I did to get so lucky. The view was such a relief in economics lessons.

Also, last month, an obituary to my father appeared in the big newspaper, a full page tribute. Full page apart from a column at the top with “the things that happened on this day” in history, column.

That took our breath away. So did the chair. My Dad would have been so surprised although I don’t know if people in the other world know about things ahead of time. I’m positive he would be very grateful though.

There, that’s the list. It’s a partial one but better than nothing, even though I’m not in it at all.

Through all that, it meant my father was still in a wasteland.

So Pete and I acted, gathering together two buckets of homemade worm compost, two bags of shop bought soil, a car boot full of gardening equipment, lots and lots of Spring bulbs and seeds and my lovely cousin Joan who met us at the resting place. Some of the equipment was useless but we took it anyway, Pete insisted.

And now there is a beautiful Spring garden, all for my father.

There is not that much to see. The bulbs and other flowers are still asleep and will come out in Spring which is pretty close. We just have to get through Autumn first, then winter. Actually, we have to get through summer first and foremost. It’s still right here, hot and sunny, as if it was December. Last week we had about three cool days which turned out to be a trick. But it had everyone pulling woollies out of storage and packing up shorts and t-shirts to throw them to the back of the wardrobe.

Now we are all pulling the t-shirts and shorts out again, feeling like a ship of fools.

Anyway, whenever Spring comes and it could come at any time, it could even be next, my father’s grave will billow forth in a palate of sky blue, cloud white and sun yellow. That is the colour scheme: sky, cumulous cloud, sun.

We packed them in: daffodils, jonquils, hyacinths, ranunculus, anemones, star flowers. In total over seventy flower beginnings. Plus Joan’s original four jonquils.

At some stage in the year’s cycle, it will look glorious. It might even look like heaven on earth.

The only exception to the colour wheel are a few of the hyacinths which are crimson red. Sometimes when you put an extra colour in, a colour not in the colour chart for example, just a flash of it, it can make the other colours look even more so: so more blue, more white, more yellow. Well, that’s the theory. Don’t go by it though, it’s just my theory.

If there are no flowers yet to see there is something to read. Sweeping across the top of the garden is the word “love” written in big, cursive lettering. I wrote it in white gravel I took from our driveway. It’s written large because I always fill the page in my artwork, that’s been the one, consistent comment.

Reading between the lines, it says: someone precious is here, even though there is no headstone yet.

Sheilagh wrote straight away.“Well, we certainly won’t do any tomb-stoning until Spring has sprung!” she said. But I had to look up the word “tombstone” to see if it was awful, I mean gloomy. It’s not, it’s just another word for headstone.

The morning we went down, Pete had bought some passionfruit from the market. He said they were for my Dad.

“How are you going to give them to him?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I just thought he’d like them” said Pete.

“Maybe you can offer them energetically” I said, and held out my arms and hands with nothing in them to demonstrate. “Like this …” It wasn’t very spiritual.

“Maybe.”

I totally forgot about them until we came home. Most of them were still lying in the fruit bowl, waiting for Pete to eat them. He’s a bit like my Dad, he loves passionfruit.

“I gave one to your Dad” he said, splitting another one open to slurp.

“You did?”

“Yes. I put it in the soil.”

“When? When you were planting the bulbs?”

“Yes” he said.

Sometimes you think you know how lovely someone is. Then they go and plant jonquils for someone or do something equally lovely that has nothing to do with you and you just learn about it. Like pass a passionfruit to another world.

Beautiful illustration, Pinterest 

A Map for around the Milky Way

 

At eight o’clock, I decide to call. I hate having to ask Sheilagh to hold the phone to him, I hate having to interrupt her. But I want to say goodnight. I don’t care that he won’t respond. I know he can hear me so I just need someone to please hold the phone to his ear.

I call the hospital, not sure if it is too late. They close at eight, which is now or in about two seconds.

The phone rings and someone picks it up.

“Oh, you’re still open,” I say to the woman’s voice at the other end. “May I have room 20 B please?”

There is a pause, just a slight one.

“Who’s calling?” she asks.

“It’s his daughter” I say.

Another pause, this one minute.

“There’s no one there” she says, ” they’ve all gone home… Call your mother” she says, meaning Sheilagh, my step mother, meaning my father’s wife.

“Okay” I say “thankyou very much” with absolute politeness because I’ve got a thing about it but especially anyone looking after my father deserves it.

Except now I know.

“Pete” I say but I can’t finish what I need to express, my thoughts are tumbling out so thick and so fast and Pete hasn’t understood.

“There’s no one there …” I say, but he still hasn’t understood, has ideas about where they might be, why they’ve gone home.

“No”I say because I need him to stop.

“Please, can you just call my sister,” I ask and read off her number.

I watch him dial the number. But there’s no answer, he says.

I don’t want Pete to say anything, to ask me anything. I just need him to keep calling, call someone else.

“Call Sheilagh” I ask and he does but there is no answer there either.

My mind is swirling, running fast through a list of who to call and who not to. Who have I annoyed lately most and can’t? Who have I not and still can?

“Call Rob … call my little sister …” married to Rob. I can call both of them.

But no one is answering.

Email, I think, maybe I’ve missed an email today and so I ask Pete to check my email because for some reason, I need to keep one step back from everything, one step removed from every piece of information.

He picks up my device and scans it. “There’s one here …” and he starts to read.

“Don’t read it! Don’t read it, please! Stop!” I scream. Although he is not reading aloud, his eyes are still focused on the screen so I scream again, “please stop reading! Don’t read any of it, please! I don’t want you to read it! I don’t want to find out through email!” and he puts it down.

I sit where I always sit, or most often, on a chair that I painted and upholstered. It’s placed sort of nowhere in the house, sort of in the foyer although I’m not sure that we have one. We have got a lot of space though. It’s opposite the kitchen and my device sits on a cabinet next to it. That’s why I am mostly always here, because of the device. I am device ridden.

I painted the chair white and recovered it in an apple green, light blue and white fabric. I left the fabric raw around the edges because I don’t know how to upholster – but I figured it didn’t matter if you said you did it on purpose. I think it’s a love seat, it would fit two, very lovingly, but hardly anyone sits next to me when I am on my device. Not unless they want me to bash them with it. I usually like to concentrate uninterrupted.

Pete still has the phone in his hand and is waiting.

“Can you call my sister again, please ?” meaning the first one, meaning my older sister.

Pete takes the phone and walks into the next room, which is not really another room either, just an extension of this one. It’s one, big foyer at our place. That is, presuming we have one.

I watch him hold the phone to his ear, ten feet from where I sit, sort of pacing. And then it answers.

I hear my sister’s voice on the other end of the line, as clear as if I am holding the phone. Then I watch Pete speak.

“Oh hi, Jenny,” he says “we were just wondering what’s going on. We haven’t heard anything and are just wondering …”

“Oh” I hear my sister say, sadly, “didn’t you hear? Dad **** at 5.25 this evening.” 

I can’t write that word. I can never write it, I don’t think. 

But I swear that’s what she said.

I swear that is what she said yet she couldn’t have. It didn’t fit. The words didn’t fit in my ears. I knew he was going, I knew that he had used nearly all the life in him. I knew yesterday that he had had a lovely day, a very special day because he told me, he said so, he was already halfway around the Milky Way but he found a tiny bit of air and mounthed those words, I heard him.

I knew he was going because I said goodbye, we all did.

But I couldn’t take in my sister’s words. Not Dad. You can’t say: Dad ****. You can’t put those words together, so close. You can’t.

I check, my brain running it over, checking, about five times.

I don’t think I can ever use that word. 

We had a service for him the next week – of course, I can’t say what the service was. I don’t like that word either. But it was beautiful.

I find lots of ways to not use that word. I make them up as I go along. I don’t believe in it anyway; I mean, I don’t feel any end. I don’t know where he is, I only have partial directions: far away and very close at the same time. They’re a bit rough. I wish I had a map.

The day after he went I wrote a post and put it up on Pete’s social medium. I wanted to proclaim the important thing.

The social medium went abuzz. It’s always like that, of course. But this time it was for my Dad.

“Keep talking to him, honey” said my Buddhist friend “he’s only slipped into the next room.”

Beautiful artwork, Lieke van der Voorst

Love & racing


When I arrive, his head is in the newspaper, an inch from it, studying the form. Concentrated, taking it all in, every word, every statistic, working it out.

“You’ve got a visitor” calls Dee, who is looking after him today. The visitor, me, walks in.

“Hello!” I say and he says “Oh!” and his arms reach out but I am afraid I still have a cold and stand back, explaining.

“Oh” he says again, because I do this a lot – no one wants to pass on germs that my father will not be able to withstand but I have taken the scare to heart and according to my inner physician, I am ill with a cold or bug most days of the year and need to be cautious. Which sounds suspicious but I am too on guard to take notice. I would rather be ill but not ill and say hello from the corner of the room or call out from the street than elsewhere or otherwise.

For now, I say hello from the end of my father’s chair and he looks happy to see me.

Sheilagh is at the shops picking up lunch but when she arrives she carries in about fifteen bags of groceries. She plops them on the kitchen floor. “There’s a bit more in the car” she says and runs off to get them.

I start unpacking, bit by bit. I’m not sure where things go but it seems like they still go in the same places they did when I was twelve, when I was fifteen, when I was thirty one and moved back after London.

I find some old fruit in the fruit bowl although I don’t think it was there when I was thirty one. I take it out, just in case and exchange it for bright green and red apples, a small bunch of tropical looking bananas wrapped in plastic (that bit is not tropical) and some nice, yellow pears. There.

Dad is still in the paper, scanning, scanning. The Melbourne Cup, “The Race that Stops a Nation” is on, not now but only an hour away and we are ready. My father is easily the most ready. The three minute race but an all day occasion where pretty hats fly through the stands throughout the day, where the men are suited and dapper, where champagne is the flow of life. We watch from our living rooms or satellite parties and join in as though it were happening in living rooms or satellite parties.

My father scans the horses, jockeys, every statistic. He looks for how many of them have run over two miles. He takes note if they have, cracking the form, weighing up track records, weighing up odds, weighing, weighing, weighing.

The television is on and there is lot to see but so far, not the race.

“What time does it start?” I ask. I should know, I love this race, I love this day, but it always starts at an obscure time, according to my inner time keeper, like three minutes past three or thirty past two and I can never remember.

“The paper’s there” says Sheilagh, “you can look it up.” But such is the iconic sway of this race, even the paper can’t be bothered to state the race time; everyone knows it already, everyone present in this country, we have memorised it from birth. Printing it would be a waste of editorial space.

Dee has finished for the day and gone home and my father, Sheilagh and I gather around the table that has been pulled close to my father’s chair, my father in it. The race form is loose from his hands but close by. Sheilagh has made a salad and bought a quiche from France. The quiche tastes very fresh but it is definitely French. Amazing.

My father eats only a small piece, as usual, whereas Sheilagh and I have two and in my case, I am being polite.

“Would you like a little bit more, Dad ?” It is so yummy, they must have whisked it out here by comet. But with natural politeness he declines. His appetite, among many vital functions, is not functioning vitally. It’s all linked – in a way that would read like a medical search engine so I will not go into it – but while I am prepared for the response, it is still not easy to accept.

Then there is tea, with little cakes, presumably from Paris, but nobody is ready for the cakes and my father says he will have his later.

At three o’clock, or thereabouts, we see the jockeys line up. The horses are jostling in their stalls. We are waiting for the sound that signals the great start but my father has found the form again, has it in front of his eyes and is working it.

“Dad!” I say but he doesn’t hear me.

“Fred!” Sheilagh calls and with a swoop, whisks the page from his grasp, afraid that he will miss it.

And just like that, they’re off! And it’s so exciting, it always is. I hope the horses like it because is infectiously thrilling. We try to keep up with who is ahead, who is ahead now, but the names and jockey numbers keep tumbling back and forth like coloured silks in a washing machine, swish, swish, swish.

My father solves the problem by going back to the form, until Sheilagh discovers him and makes him put it down again. She doesn’t want him to miss anything, she says. He’s been up since early this morning preparing for this.

In the end, which is only three minutes later, one of my father’s horses comes in second but a female jockey makes Australian history by coming in first, also only the fourth ever female jockey to (beat the odds and) enter the race.

Everyone is happy.

It is just before rush hour so I need to go. We haven’t had much of a chat, my father and I, the race stole his attention but that’s okay, somehow it has made it nicer. A few weeks ago he sang “Old Man River” to me over the telephone from the smallest room of the house. Quirky is the new normal.

More lately, meaning over the last two weeks, it has become an extraordinary effort for him to simply maintain awareness. His strength is sapped by a physique that is running out of supplies. How he manages to keep so sweet I have no idea. Everything is a challenge, he is uncomfortable. He maintains his being with the help of forces I cannot see.

The next day I call him to debrief. The female jockey has stolen the nations heart, her story pitching straight at our shared feelings love and courage and battling it out.

“The first female jockey to ever win” he tells me, proudly.

“Yes” I say “it’s amazing.”

I listen to him share new information, new history. Then he asks about the garden, a return to the familiar things he knows, to family, love.

The Fairy Bridget and the Kookaburra, by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite 

The enormous sweetness of small things

 

The sweetness that he brings to all things is unfiltered; every action, every interaction, every utterance. It is nearly all there is and it is everything.

“Just a second …” he implores from atop a mountain of soft pillows, beneath a mountain of soft blankets and duvets, (everything is soft) trying to put his good hearing aid in place (the other one got dropped and only transmits news from Mars.) It takes a full minute to get the hearing aid place, a minute and a half in total because he was struggling at the beginning. But I am not going anywhere. Where would be nicer than here?

“Now” he says, grateful for the waiting, “how did you sleep?

“Great!” I say and he looks happy.

“How did you sleep?” I ask

“I slept okay …” he says yet I detect a drollness between the lines, almost inaudible but there. I think it is in the way he rounds his words.

“I didn’t fall out” he continues, “so that was good.”

“Well, that is good!” I confirm and he laughs.

The news is conveyed as a small miracle, like someone who has gone to the supermarket to for honey – and finds a jar.

Sheilagh lies awake beside him, listening in, letting him do the talking. When she does speak, it is to suggest a hot honey and lemon drink, which is their morning ritual, but I put it down to sheer coincidence.

“Yes, please” says my father and Sheilagh rolls over and is up, gone to make it.

“Did Pete sleep okay?” asks my father because it wouldn’t be a normal conversation without him asking if Pete is okay/slept okay/how Pete is.

“Pete slept very well.” I say. “I was just going to make us some tea but I thought I’d check on you first. You’re still here, so that’s good!”

“Yes!” says my father.

Sheilagh returns with the honey and lemon drink and my father, who is lying on his side, reaches out for it. His movements are slow, like a snowman coming to life, his arm stretching in slow motion toward the bedside table for the drink. Somehow he is able to drink it lying there on his side although it is a little too hot so I add some cold water.

“Thankyou” says my father and continues to sip it sideways, atop the pillows. He is so comfortable atop these pillows, underneath these blankets, in this bed, he says.

“Sheilagh” he asks, sideways. He cannot easily roll over so he asks from the side of the bed, calling out to the other side where Sheilagh is snuggling up. Soon they will go back to sleep and so will I. It is early. Only Pete will get up (permanently) to go to work because he is the only one who is not retired. Eh-hem.

As for my father and Sheilagh, they catch up on sleep they lose in the wee hours when my father needs to … well, do the same. Sheilagh wakes up to help him because my father can’t do much of anything on his own anymore. I have never seen someone so tired or so happy.

The good thing is most of the furniture is electric so he gets rides to go up and down in bed, on his chair, everything. Electrical is the vogue of the house.

Other nights, a carer takes Sheilagh’s place. My younger brother stays over most Thursday and Fridays nights because he is already a night owl and a 2am wee break is like day-time to him. It would probably only be interrupting his lunch.

“Sheilagh” my father is asking. “You used to give me one of those bent straws” he says, at angle to me and the drink. The cup is upright in his hand but because he is sideways, it is not working that well as a drink and he has remembered about the bent straws.

“Do you still have those?” he asks.

At another angle next to him, Sheilagh’s smile, silent and full of warmth, conveys that she does and I offer to get them since I am the only one standing.

I find them in the pantry, grab one and on my way back, drop in on Pete, across the hall. The walls are thin enough and he is close enough to have heard the conversation.

“Hi Sweetie” I say. “Would you like a bent straw in your tea?”

“Yes, please” he says and I take the straw in my hand into my father with the news that Pete would like a bent straw in his tea, too.

On second waking, Pete is gone and Xen has arrived, full of love, to take over from Sheilagh for a few hours. My father is still asleep.

Sheilagh is in the living room. I find her sitting by the table with newspapers. Morning is pouring in through the windows from the bay and lights the room perfectly in beautiful, early luminescence.

Quickly, we get to talking about the operation my father needs and which the surgeon has reluctantly confirmed. It’s tricky: cutting open his hairline across his skull, under local anesthetic.

Sheilagh has her face toward the light, exposing her thoughts. If just left, the situation could easily become worse. It is impossible to know what to do. The choice is stark.

I pop in to see my father once more before I go. Last time we talked, he said he didn’t want to end up with a tomato on the top of his head. Now, when I bring it up he says he is not worried about the hospital trip, he is only worried about his knee (which makes him afraid to stand) He is not confident of conveying this to the nurses.

Of the of the tomato, he only says: “I suppose it could be my brains.”

“Or your sense of humour …” I offer.

As I leave, I hear Xen trying to gently persuade him to maybe let her shower him, which has a marvellous restorative effect-  but my father turns her down with equal gentleness and perfect politeness.

“I don’t think so” he says with perfect politeness.

“I’m just so cosy here” he says, from the side and I know it is true. “It’s just so cosy in this bed. I don’t know why anyone ever gets up.”

“That’s what I say to Pete” I say and my father just catches it. I am pretty sure he wishes it were different, for Pete’s sake.

Later, I learn the shower went ahead as Xen planned. “She waves her magic wand over him,” says Sheilagh.

Beautiful artwork by Magaly Ohika

The Dali Lama next door

In these parts, when the sky crackles and chops with the sound of helicopter, you know something is up. “A bushfire or an accident on the highway?” you wonder, hoping neither, craning your neck, arms folded, pacing a stretch outside your house, your neighbours dotted up and down the street doing the same because the best view of any arial expanse is street-wise. Now you are part of a congregation.

Many times, I have longed for it to be a runaway criminal, a bank robber in striped pyjamas with bandits mask and a sack-full of jewels over one shoulder.

Once, it was Prince William and Kate, all the way from Cambridge which they now own, but that was a one off. I mean, they could come again, they may do and they would be very welcome. But I never imagine it is them returning for a second visit when the helicopters start up. It would be my last thought.

Sometimes, in fact, too often, someone has trekked too far into the bush. Then the sound crackles all day and night, especially at night because the choppers have infra red, heat sensitive lights that only work in the dark, although I’m not sure how they distinguish between a large wombat, for example and a small bush walker, someone from a country whose residents are mostly small, like … I don’t really know but I’m thinking of the difference between a large wombat and a smallish, adult person and it is not much.

Anyway, I am sure they know what they are doing. I mean, it would be a surprise for a wombat to find itself winched to safety in the middle of the night when it was only out picking berries, for example.

In that case, you have to wonder whether any of these examples are worth it, but I’m sure the training is not wasted.

When the sound is at crescendo, you go to sleep with it – brrr, chop, grunt, grunt, grunt – you wake up to it. “Have they found them yet?” you wonder. It must be agony for the loved ones.

Sometimes, the same noise is merely your partner.

Today, however, the helicopters are here for a small miracle: the Dali Lama is here. The real one, the one with the giggle. Almost unbelievably although it is true.

Last night, we all slept under the same blanket of stars, a small blanket, particular to our street and a few others, more a like rug. I’m sorry for sounding so exclusive but I’m trying to lap up the fact that the Dali Lama is here, not only here but five streets from our house, five hundred paces from the letter box.

It seems so unlikely but maybe that just goes to show. It seems even more unlikely given that when we learned of his visit last year, we assumed he would be in the big town, which is small, not even a city, so even this was a surprise. So far, everything is, starting with his agenda and finishing with his sleeping quarters. Neither of us gave a moments thought to that.

Just now, returning home from shopping, I was unloading the car, going to and from it and the house, when I thought I heard an echo of a mutter coming from around the corner. On closer listening, I realised it was the sound of a chant, floating over the valley, probably only five streets away.

I dropped the rest of bags inside the front door and got back into the car. My only abiding thought: I want to go to that sound, and I can!

A minute later I was there, to be met by a small and dedicated political protest group who had set up chant.

“Oh, that was the chant” I thought.

A couple of policemen in fluorescent jackets crossed the road to survey the scene which was only me as I was the only newcomer. Nothing else much was happening so I turned the car around and started back.

And then I saw a peacock.

Suddenly, it was there, ambling down the same street on the footpath – an enormous, dazzling, blue and green bejewelled bird, looking to cross the road.

Two passers by on the other side of the road, one holding a bunch of daintily, knotted grass which made me think they had been to the Dali Lama, had slowed to guide traffic around the bird, the man gently shooing, trying to make it walk a bit faster.

I pulled over, thinking to help from the other side of the road.

“It’s not a lyrebird is it?” I asked because lyrebirds are native to Australia and similar to peacocks but smaller and with less vivid colouring.

“No” said the girl and we all three wondered aloud the same and only question, ” What the …?”

With the peacock safely over the road and waddling in the direction of the Everglades gardens, the most spectacularly beautiful sanctuary it could have chosen, we got to chatting.

They had come from the Dali Lama’s talk. And I don’t know whether it was that or the mountain air or whether they were just super lovely and sweet but I was so happy to be part of the new little group.

I remembered that I had been to see him in London many years ago and told them how we all waited with baited spiritual and serious breath in some landmark London building right in the centre of the city but when he walked on stage, he was nearly bent over double and giggling.

“He did that here!” the girl said and pointing to her friend, said that somehow, he had got stuck right at the back of the room, right in the corner and while everyone was peering at the stage, waiting for His Holiness to come onto it, he suddenly appeared at the back, right behind her friend, saying “Hello, hello, hello!” and smiling and giggling. Then he spotted the top-knot, pony-tail on the top of her friend’s head, and pulling at it gently, started asking “what’s this, what’s this?” all the while smiling and giggling and pulling at his hair.

As far as this piece goes, I had only got as far as the title and now there is a peacock.

Meanwhile, my amazing leonine father continues to surprise as well; he is very loved in his personal kingdom and so well looked after. Some days, it occurs to me that he may have found the elixir to life but that is unlikely. At any rate, he’s very happy and funny as ever, which is all any of us could want.

Beautiful illustration, myvintagebookcollection by Art Seider (1963)

The Dali Lama, tibetanreview