Fatal Joyride

Fatal Joy Ride

This story starts on 07 February, 1928, when a group of men and one woman who were partying in Babinda, North Queensland (Australia) went for a midnight joy ride that was to turn into a fatal event.

The story starts earlier in the afternoon, around 4pm, when Felice Groppi, an Italian immigrant living in Cairns picked up his friend Eva May Clarke, and another man he didn’t know –  Jim (James) Hood – to take them back to Babinda.  They met up at the Federal Hotel, where Felice was enjoying a “Portagaff”( old school word for Shandy – beer and lemonade).

Jim grabbed a handful of roadies – six bottles of lager – for the drive.  In those days the trip would have taken several hours, given the conditions of the roads and the vehicles there were around at the time.  These days, it’s 30-40 minutes.  Along the way they pulled up at Woree for more drinks, before driving on to the Aloomba Hotel for a quick session there.

Moving along, their next stop was the Fishery Creek Hotel – where they stopped for sandwiches and a few more drinks before their last stop:  Mrs Cattana’s Restaurant in Babinda.

By this time, it was eight or nine o’clock, and they stayed for about half an hour at the restaurant before Eva and Jim decided to call it a night.   Felice took them home, then returned to the restaurant, and stayed for an hour or two listening to the phonograph and talking to his countrymen.

At around midnight, four of these countrymen – Luigi Scarabosio, Enrico Arecco, Cesare Poppini, and Gio Battista de Martin asked him to drive them to Miriwinni.

As they got into the car, Felice claims that Battista suggested they, “… get some girls.”  However, they only drove to Eva’s house, and only she joined them.  Felice had been driving Eva around for several weeks before this incident – on day trips, and a double date with another couple – and I doubt he was willing to leave her at her house with this “Jim” if you ask me.  We’ll never know for sure.

Eva climbed into the back seat with Battista, and two of the other men; the other sat in front with Felice, and they headed off towards Mirriwinni.  They sped down Munro Street, past the home of Acting Sergeant Peter Gaffey, who caught a glimpse of the party as they drove past.  He was already awakened by their loud voices a few minutes earlier as the boys got into the car and headed towards Eva’s house.

A few seconds later he heard the horn of a motor car sounding and men talking very loudly.  Gaffey thought a fight was on, so called Constables Buckley and Von Hoff and went towards the bridge.  He sent Constable Von Hoff for the Ambulance and a doctor, just in case.

A shocking sight greeted Gaffey at the bridge.

He saw a car in the creek, turned upside down in 18 inches of water.

He saw Eva (aka Eva May Darada), lying on the bank of the creek at the Mirriwinni end of the bridge.  She was lying on her back and appeared to be dead; dressed in a singlet and very short skirt, with shoes on and no stockings.

He saw Battista lying on his back, about three yards away.  He was groaning, and appeared to be in great pain.  He was dressed in trousers, shirt and boots, and Felice and two other Italians were attending him.

As he had approached the bridge, Felice was dodging the potholes – and judging from the skid marks, he wasn’t being slow or careful about it.  I dare say he was in a hurry to unload his passengers to have Eva alone.  Or perhaps there was a little too much flirting going on in the back seat? As he got onto the bridge he claims he saw a horse ahead. He was driving on the left hand side to avoid the horse, which was coming towards him.  The front left hand wheel of the car went over the bridge, Felice tried his brakes, but it was too late.  The car fell into the creek.  It turned upside down and they were all under it; Battista and Eva being caught and pinned down.

They tried artificial respiration methods on Eva, but Dr Kennedy examined her, and pronounced ‘life extinct’.

Battista was taken to the Babinda Hospital.  He died from his injuries.

Felice was charged with Manslaughter.

Two weeks later, he appeared in court.  Given that Felice appeared to be driving recklessly, the fact of his sobriety was touched upon in during the session.  Interestingly, Acting Sergeant Gaffey, stated that he saw Felice very soon after the accident, and although he seemed ‘very much excited” and witness could smell booze, he did not think Felice was ‘under the influence’ saying,  “In such cases as this the Italians were particularly excitable and nervous.”

A camper by the name of James Collins said that he was camping on the bank of Babinda Creek and was awakened by the sound of a motor horn, and screams.  He went to the bridge and saw four men trying to lift a motor car which was overturned in the middle of the creek.  Some of his mates came down and assisted the others to lift the car.  He did not notice any  horse about during the whole time he was there, but did notice the fishtailing skid marks in the mud before the bridge.

All Felice’s fellow countrymen – through their interpreter, Miss Mary Della Vecchia – backed up the story about the horse, and confirmed that Felice was sober.  Except for Cesare Puppini, who said he was asleep and did not remember anything until he had his head buried in the sand.  What?  He fell asleep in a matter of minutes in a car that was fishtailing?  More likely, he was not prepared to lie in court.

So far is evidence for the crown was concerned, the only fact that could be established was that an accident had occurred.

Felice was acquitted.

And that’s where this story would have ended.  Except for social media in 2013.

Babinda Kayak Hire received a request from Marta in Italy, though their Facebook page:

“Hello, you know better than me your river. I have a pic. in which is possible to see the car that fell from a bridge in 1928. In that accident died my great-grandfather. Someone of you can recognise the exact place? I know that he died and was buried in Babinda cemetery 7 Feb 1928. Is it possible that he is still in the graveyard? I thank you in advance if you can help me. Bye”.

The guys from Babinda Kayak Hire searched the Babinda cemetery, but couldn’t find any grave for her grandfather.  They posted the story on their Facebook page, and that’s where I come in.  As an avid researcher of north Queensland history for the novel that I’m writing, I knew where to go to find information.  We sent the story back to Marta, and have since received a further letter from John De Martin:

“To the wonderful people of Babinda Kayak, to the lady by the name of Debbie, I want to thank you all for providing us with informations and court documents, about the tragic death of my grandfather Gio. Battista De Martin in 1928. We cannot thank you enough! I have always known here in the USA how wonderful Australian people are,and why so many Italian immigrants chose your country to make a better home for their families! If anyone,( if his grave still exists) could provide, Marta or me with a picture of his gravesite,it would put closure to this tragic story. His 88yrs.old daughter could see where her father is resting in peace! Thank you! God Bless your country. John D.M.”

As much as this post is about the story, I am hoping that anyone who reads it and lives in that area of North Queensland could have a look through the local graveyard.  Maybe he is buried in Mirriwinni, or Innisfail … or Ingham?  Do you know anything about the De Martin family? Do you know anyone who (like me J) love to troll graveyards, and perhaps could have a look?

Please help us solve this mystery!

***************************

As for Felice – The only other information I could find is that he was a Cairns Taxi driver, born in Villa, Italy.  He had been in Australia for 18 years at the time of this accident, and applied for citizenship  (‘nationalisation’ in those days) in August 1928.  At that time, he was living in the Federal Hotel in Cairns.

On February 24, 1931 Felice was charged with being the driver of a motor car “at such a distance from the car to prevent him having full control over the vehicle” He pleaded guilty to this charge and was convicted and fined.  [Don’t ask me what this charge means!!]

Sadly, it adds credence to the saying about history repeating itself.  Drinking and reckless driving still claims many lives, and it appears that 100 years ago things were not much different.  People were not much different.  Roads were not much different.  Cars were not much different.  Drinking was not much different.

Is There a Ghost in My House?

ghost

This is a long post.  Get yourself a cuppa.

I’ve been seeing dead people all my life.  But the most intense contact I ever had with those of the afterlife was when living in a house in Gleeson Street in Hermit Park, Townsville.

My dream home!

I bought this house in 1993.  Being an older part of the city, the house was possibly built in the 1920/30s.  It was originally a two bedroom cottage with a wide veranda down one side and across the front.  The veranda had long ago been built in, creating a lot of extra space in what was otherwise a fairly medium sized home.

I bought the house from a very old man, Mr Brown, whose wife had died some years earlier.  His children had grown up in the house and now had families of their own, and had decided it was time for him to go to a nursing home.

My heart jumped with glee when I saw 16 Gleeson Street for the first time.  I knew it had to be mine.  There was an odd welcoming feeling.  It was as though the house chose me, not the other way around.

The floors were covered with 1950s vinyls, and the kitchen and bathroom fittings were in their original state.  The tongue and groove wall and ceiling boards were all either rosewood or silky oak, languishing away under layers of discoloured paint from the same era.

I got to work straight away – tearing away floor coverings, painting cupboards, walls, ceilings – every inch of the old paint was scraped away and replaced with my own palette of muted greens and creams to brighten up the home.

The hard floors underneath the old vinyl polished up magnificently , and the internal Oregon pine doors were stripped back to reveal their majestic grain.  Both bedrooms had silky oak stained-glass French doors leading out to where the veranda once began, and once they were acid-bathed, they were the envy of all.  .

Although the house embraced me from the outset, the neighbourhood wasn’t flash.  There was a block of flats directly across the road, which housed the street’s undesirables.  At least once a week, there was either loud music, smashing bottles or the piercing screams from domestic violence.  I saw this right from the beginning, but I was drawn to this house in a way that I was not going to let party people keep me away from it.

So, considering I was on my own with two young children, one of the first things I did was install steel grids across the windows that stopped anybody from climbing in – whether we were out or at home.  It was a good idea, too, as there was more than one occasion where I belted an arm coming through the window next to the front door, trying to open it from the inside.  I had also installed deadlocks on all external doors, so they wouldn’t have gotten in any way.

I thought all the security that I had installed was the reason that, every time I came home to this house, I felt my children and I were extremely safe and secure, and we could relax and enjoy our home undisturbed.

I was so wrong on that point.

The Children Know

Although I loved our new home, admittedly there had been a few things going bump in the night that unnerved me.  Several times I had heard the back door shutting firmly in the wee  hours of the  morning.  My son was a sleepwalker, thus every time I heard the door closing, I leapt from my bed and raced to his room to check on him.  I started double checking the deadlocks every night.  The door was always closed, and the deadlock always on.  I would go back to bed, and hear the door shut again within half an hour.

Some mornings, the kids would get up before me, and prepare their own breakfast.  I considered this was the reason why all the kitchen cupboard doors were left open by the time I got up.

One day I asked them, “Would it be too much to ask you guys to close the cupboard doors after you’ve been in them?

They looked at each other and shrugged, “They’re like that every morning, we figured you were leaving them open to get rid of the paint smell or something …”

Before it became the TV room, the original second bedroom in the house was to be my daughter’s.  Although she never said anything, she always seemed nervous as I tucked her in.  Within a few weeks, she started wetting the bed.  Somehow I knew something was frightening her.  So I moved her out to share the enclosed veranda room with her brother.

In fact, a friend of mine slept in that room, in my daughter’s bed, whilst my daughter was staying at her father’s place one night.  My friend also wet the bed.  She apologised, and said she’d had the most disturbed, sleepless night of her life.  I thought she’d just had far too much to drink.

There were two antique silky oak bed frames left in the house.  They certainly fitted into the décor that I was establishing there, and the design of the bed incorporated framing for mosquito nets.  They were perfect for my children.  In previous homes we had always had insect screens on the windows, but here we didn’t, as the windows were all casement.  The kids seemed to like them, particularly the novelty of the mosquito net on the bed.  My daughter settled back into a normal sleep pattern, with no incidents of bed-wetting, now that she was only a few yards away from her big brother.

One day, by now a few months after moving in, I was hanging out the washing in the back yard, and my son was playing nearby with his toy cars.  He watched me hanging up the clothes.

“Mum, where’s that nightie that you wear when you come to check on us every night?”

“What nightie?” I asked, scanning the line for this item of clothing. “This one?” I pointed to a sleep shirt that I used to wear.

“No, that long white one, that goes down to the ground, with sleeves had come down to your hands, and it comes up to your neck.”

It was not me checking on them.  He was describing the kind of nightdress that an old lady would wear.

I got rid of the silky oak beds.

The Cleaning Lady Quit

There was a really sweet young woman who used to come and clean for me on Wednesdays.  One day she came to see me at my work, looking a little pale.

I am so sorry about the broken plate in the lounge room.  I don’t know how it happened, but I’m happy to pay for it.” she told me.

That’s ok,” I said, “ the plate belonged to the kids’ paternal grandparents.  It was very old – a Royal Doulton piece – so I doubt we could replace it even if we wanted to. I’m really curious, though, as to how this plate was broken.  It wasn’t left near an edge at all.”

The plate had been sitting on the top of a large rosewood entertainment unit, standing against the wall.  The unit was around 80cm from front to back, so it couldn’t have fallen over the front of the unit by itself.  I figured she had moved it for dusting, and somehow dropped it in the process.  At the time I was renovating the room, and there was no carpet on the hard floors.

She went suddenly green around the gills, and looked at the floor, avoiding my eyes.

Look, I really don’t want to say this, because it sounds stupid, but … I think your house is haunted.”

She told me she had been dusting in that room, and moved on to my bedroom.  As she started dusting the dresser, she heard a crash and went to investigate.  The plate was lying in the middle of the wooden floor in two pieces.  It had somehow jumped from its position at the back of the entertainment unit out to the middle of the room.  She had tears in her eyes from fear, and told me she felt she was being watched the whole time she was there.  She heard things moving in other rooms as she worked, and kept thinking someone else was in the house.  I assured her she wasn’t crazy, that I was aware of a presence in that house also.

She didn’t want to clean my house any more.

Meeting Mrs Brown

Instinctively, I knew that the being moving around in my house was Mrs Brown.  Something told me she was connected to one particular room that would have originally been a bedroom, but which I was converting into the TV room.  I finished the renovations in that room –the walls were painted a lovely muted avocado green, the ceiling was painted fresh cream, and new pale green carpet was laid down.  All the furnishings were red – I had a special couch and arm chairs made to fit into my colour scheme.  I called it my ‘Rose Room’. Although I had spent a lot of effort (and money) on the decor of this room, after the kids had gone to sleep at night, I couldn’t sit there and watch television alone.  I read a lot of books in bed.

In my experience, spirits generally attempt to contact me just as the light is changing at dusk or dawn.

One Saturday afternoon, after I had finished cleaning the house, I lay on my freshly made bed in my very clean home, and fell asleep.

Something woke me.  I opened my eyes a little.  The sun was setting, and the cool evening was surrounding me.  I heard footsteps in the dining room, coming towards my bedroom door.  I was lying on my side with my back to that door, facing the French doors leading out to the old veranda area.  I shut my eyes again as I heard the soft steps of someone creeping up until I felt them standing inches away behind me.

The first thought that came to my mind was that I had left the back door open when I fell asleep, and now some murderer or rapist was about to attack me.  I kept my eyes closed, and despite my panic tried my best to appear to be breathing slowly as if I was still asleep.  I thought if I didn’t move, whoever was would leave me alone, take my wallet and go.

As my intruder moved closer, I both felt and heard a buzzing/humming sensation along my back.  They were now standing over me, and I felt eyes peering down at me.  I was breathing very shallow, tears welling up under my eyelids until they found a leaky corner to pour out of.  I waited for a hand to grab me, for some weapon to hit me.  Seconds seemed like minutes.  But no attack came.

Instead what I felt was the buzzing/humming move closer and pass through my body, as a spirit walked right through me.  I felt my body rock, as the electrical being actually pulled on my soul as it passed through.  As it let go, my body snapped back like an elastic band.

Then, in an instant, it all stopped.  I opened my eyes, and blinked away incredulous tears, with full awareness that Mrs Brown had come and tried to communicate with me.  She had watched me, waiting for some acknowledgement that I was aware of her presence.  Finally she gave up, and moved as if I wasn’t there, through my body and out the French doors.

I will never forget this experience for the rest of my life.

The Boys Show Their Faces

I started a relationship not long after this, with a young man who very quickly moved in on my life and my home.  He stayed over at nights, and as he started work very early in the mornings, he was usually gone by 5.30 AM – just on daybreak.

One morning just after he left, I was awoken by two young men sitting at the on the end of my bed – one on each side.  I sat up in bed and spoke to them.

We don’t understand – why is he here? ” one of them asked.

Yeah, WE look after you, not him.  You don’t need him! ” the other one implored.

Guys, I know you take care of me, and I really appreciate it.  But you’re dead, and I’m alive.  I’m a flesh and blood human being, and there are certain things he can do for me that you can’t.” I tried to reason with them.

The radio alarm switched on beside my bed, and I woke up with a start.  I walked around in a daze all day after that.

It was too real to be a dream.

The Clairvoyant

One day, a few months later, I was at my nail technician’s salon, and she asked me how the renovations were going, and of course how my new relationship was unfolding.

I told her about Mrs Brown, and the disturbances, which had been increasing of late.  She told me that another client, sitting a few chairs away having her hair done, was a clairvoyant.  She told the clairvoyant only that I was having problems with a ghost in my new home. The woman came over and, without asking any questions, requested that I give her something of mine to hold.  It had to be something very close to me.  I gave her the gold chain with the theatre masks that I had been wearing around my neck for the past eight years or so, which I never took off.

She held the chain for a few minutes, moving it between her fingers and nodding slowly.  Finally she said:

You have three spirits in your house.  One of them is an old woman, and she’s not happy with what you are doing with the house.  There is one particular room that she always loved, and in that room is something pink.  This is what is bringing her back.  Get rid of the pink thing and she will leave.  The other two spirits are young men.  They are not the sons of the old woman, but during their life they were very well known to her.  They are protecting you.  They watch over your children.”

I suddenly had tears in my eyes, and told her about my dawn meeting with the two young men at the end of my bed.  I told her about Mrs Brown, and about the TV room that was so unnerving.

She told me to go home, do some white light therapy, and tell Mrs Brown this was no longer her house and she had to move on.  She said the boys were waiting for someone, and when the time came they would move on of their own accord.  She said as long as I was comfortable with them around, there was no harm in them staying.

The Mystery Revealed

I went home, and was thinking about her words as I watered the garden down one side of the house.  An elderly woman who lived next door came to the fence.  She was a lovely old lady, who had knocked on our door a few days after we moved in to give us a cake she had baked to welcome us into the neighbourhood.

As we spoke, she could see I was troubled, and asked me what was wrong.  I felt really awkward talking about ghosts; nobody ever believed me.  But I found myself saying to her:

I don’t know how you feel about the subject, but if I was to tell you that I think Mrs Brown is still in my house, would you believe me?

The old woman laughed.  “Of course I would, she loved this house.  It was her pride and joy!  I have no doubt she is reluctant to go!”

I asked her where Mrs Brown  had slept.  As I suspected, it was in my Rose Room;  where my daughter and my friend had both slept so fitfully.  In fact … my neighbour believed she actually died in that room.  The ceiling of that room had been painted pale pink,  Mrs Brown’s favourite colour.

So I asked her if she knew anything about the two young men.  Her face went white, and for a second I thought she would pass out.

Oh, my goodness!” she exclaimed, “Of course, yes!”

She was so shocked, she had to hold onto the fence to steady herself.  She then told me that Mrs Highett, who lived on the other side of my house, had lost two sons at an early age.  One of them was killed in a car accident, and the other one – she couldn’t remember exactly what – had had some sort of illness that claimed him in his early twenties.  Both boys were always at the Browns’ house playing, and were apparently very close to Mrs Brown.

They were there.  Watching me.  Watching my children.  They had told me that morning.  It wasn’t a dream at all.  They were waiting for their mum to join them from next door.

Life Goes On …

I didn’t know whether to cry or to feel sick, or both.  I went inside the house and stood in the Rose Room, and looked up at the ceiling.  My  freshly-cream-painted ceiling was … pink.  The colour underneath had leeched through my new paint.

I repainted.  The colour came through again.  I did the white lighting, several times, and begged Mrs Brown to move on.  But I don’t think she ever did.

A year or so later I was transferred to Brisbane with my job, and I rented the house to friends.  They left within months.  The place was creepy, they said.  I put the house on the market, and it sold quite quickly.  I heard several years later that those owners, also, left due to the eeriness of the place.

Apparently the next owners didn’t mind.  Or perhaps Mr Brown and the boys’ mother had also gone to join the lost souls in the house, and they’d all gone to a better place.  Either way, they kept the house for a long time – even going further than me by cutting out walls.  I bet Mrs Brown didn’t like that at all!

Still every time I visit my home-town, I’m tempted to knock on the door and ask if they, too, had met their otherworldly guests.

Russian Soul

In July 2004, I flew to Saint Petersburg to visit one of the dearest people I know on this earth, Angela Malkova.  Angie was one of the first real people I met in Melbourne, and I was devastated when she had to return to Russia following the collapse of her engagement to an Australian guy.    But, thank goodness she was sent back, so I could visit her there.  It remains one of my most marvelous travel memories.

PeterhofIt was summer, at the time when the skies never go black at all during the night.  It remains a pale bluish hue from 11pm to about 4pm, then it’s daylight again.  I rode in black taxi’s and ate real Borsch;  I visited the Peterhof by boat;  went out to a lake with Angie’s friends to sunbake and play; toured the Hermitage; and bought suspiciously pirated latest release DVD’s from underground kiosks for a few Aussie dollars.

I went to a night club where it’s Christmas eve every night, next door to my favourite – the bar where every night was New Year’s Eve.

I was blessed by a Russian Orthodox Priest, who had come to cleanse Angie’s home after her mother recently passed away;  toured a sad but beautiful graveyard; and bought the  hand made lace curtains that still hang in my bedroom today from an old lady in a street market.

But, although these are all wonderful delights, nothing comes close to the spiritual experience I had there.

For three months before I went to Saint Petersburg, I had been suffering bronchial problems.  I had been sleeping in an upright position, so as not to drown in my sleep from all the fluid in my lungs.  I really was in a bad way.  Angie told me not to worry – she would get me healed after I arrived.

So it was that Angie took me to visit Viktor.  Viktor had traveled and studied in India, and was some kind of guru.  Angie, and her flat-mate – Tania, visited Viktor several evenings every week for some sort of spiritual healing lessons.

We did some sort of tantric dancing, followed by laying of hands.  Angie told Viktor about my chest problems, and that I had trouble breathing at night.  Viktor said that my energy was blocked, and that he would fix me up.  I lay on a mat on the floor while Viktor connected my chakras in silence.  I closed my eyes and had distinct visions – that are still in my mind’s eye today:

I was standing on a cliff edge, looking down across a large body of water towards a rugged, barren island.  I flew towards the island’s rocky peaks, but halfway there, I dropped into  the water and lay on the bottom facing upwards.  Sunlight was twinkling through the water above me.

Then I saw a young boy, wearing a Scottish flat cap.  He was standing with a small red wheelbarrow, and holding a book open in his hands.  He looked at me with a gentle, sweet smile.  He wanted to give me the book to read something.  But the vision was pushed aside by a disturbing vision of a stern Russian man’s face.  He was scowling and angry, and looked very much like Carl Marx.

I opened my eyes and looked at Viktor – who had his eyes shut, but a serious look on his face.  He was concentrating very hard.  We finished, and Viktor asked Angela to translate what the visions were that I had.  [How did he know?]

I told him, via Angela’s translation, about what I had seen and he nodded knowingly all the time.  He left the room and came back with a book.  On the cover of the book is that exact water and island I had seen in my vision.  I couldn’t stifle my surprise when I recognised the picture.  “That’s it!!” I exclaimed.  Wow … it really was exactly the place, and certainly no place that I had been or seen before.

Lake-Baikal-russia-ice

Viktor had been away visiting  Lake Baikal in Siberia.  Lake Baikal is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water, and thought to be the world’s oldest lake at 25 million years.  The water is eerily clear, and reportedly the most pure water on the planet.  It is referred to as the Holy Sea, Sacred Lake, and Spiritual Waters, and is a mecca for spiritualists the world over.   This lake was on the cover of this book he now showed me.

He smiled and told Angela “Yes, she is a very old soul.  She is from the Lake.”

Apparently, there is a belief that original life came from this lake.  There were an original “tribe” of spirits who left the lake and spread themselves all over the world.   And I was one of them.  I have great spiritual powers, and am a healer.  People’s lives become better when I am part of them.

[I always knew I was different …]

He was as excited as I was at this discovery, and he seemed very pleased to know that I was living in Australia.  At the end of the world, Australia is the one place that is going to be saved, they informed me.

And before the skeptics of you ask – no, he did not ask, nor was he given, any money.

He had no idea about the boy, the book and the wheelbarrow … or the scary face of an old communist that pushed it aside.  I’m still open to theories about that today.  Feel free to leave me your interpretations on my blog.

I have come across “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams – and wonder if I should sit and contemplate this poem further:

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens

I am embarrassed to admit that I left there nonetheless quite skeptical, and when we went back on the third evening, I had lost interest completely.  I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be kidnapped, as I was such a treasure.  Russia’s like that, you know.

I wasn’t kidnapped.  I made it back to Zurich at the end of that week.  Back to clean streets, clean food, and mass capitalism.

AngieAndTania

I look at a picture I have of Angie and Tania standing in the street, holding bunches of flowers they had bought from poverty stricken old ladies at the train station.  Everything about this image is simple, and humble.  Their clothes, hair, lack of makeup, and the forest-picked flowers … but regardless of what little they have, their souls are richer than anyone I’ve met in the western world.

Angie disappeared from my life not long after this visit.  Last I heard, she had again been refused an exit visa from Russia, and was working as a translator/usher on the Trans Siberian Express.   I miss her, and think about her very often.

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering …  in all the years since that time, I have NEVER had a recurrence of bronchial asthma or anything even remotely resembling chest congestion.

AngieAndMe_Russia 2004

Dodging Golf Balls and Cows in the Swiss Alps

I was staying in Schweiz (central Switzerland) with a friend who was living in a tiny locality of Einsiedeln – ironically called ‘Gross’ – back in 2006.   Population was around 50, and there were only a handful of streets.  He commuted to Zurich for work via park’n’ride for over 1.5 to 2.5 hours ever day – but the view from his gingerbread house made the long trips more than worthwhile …

Pascalsplace0001

I had arrived in Zurich after the usual l-o-o-o-ng flight from Australia only a day before, and was extremely jet lagged.  But the opportunity to foot it up a Swiss alp is not to be sneezed at, regardless of the state of body or mind – so when he suggested that’s what we would do the next day, I was in.

It was a drizzly and cold Sunday morning.  We packed water bottles and cameras, and drove south from Gross along the banks of the Sihlsee, eventually stopping at a small carpark, which seemed to me to be in the middle of nowhere.

The air was so fresh, my lungs were dancing in my chest.   I could have burst into song:  THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUSIC!!!! but my hiking partner was somewhat extreme conservative central Swiss, and spontaneous outbursts of childhood musicals were not likely to be smiled at.  So I just stood there, with my song expanding inside me like a gum bubble, sucking in the moist, sweet air.

We started walking towards the base of the mountain, and I came across this sign:

YbrigGolfClub Sihlsee

It basically says:  Caution! Flying golf balls from the right.  Please go through quickly. No standing still.  Hilarious!  We had to cross the fairways of Ybrig  Golf Club to go up the mountain.   We had an interesting time dodging balls as we crossed on the way up and back.  The golfers didn’t care if you were in the way – they just played through as though you were just a bird that would jump out of the way.  Friendly …

Regardless, it was an alpine wonderland. It was like walking in a rainforest – drizzling  lightly the whole time.  Pine trees and typical European forests snuggled around us, whilst up ahead you could easily see the rocky, barren peaks – where not even the hardiest of flora can survive the extreme temperatures.  Soft, fluffy clouds bounced along the treetops, looking like custard sliding down a Christmas pudding.

Half way up the mountain, we saw another warning sign:

Scwarzwald Hike

This one seemed obvious – “Warning – Cows on the road?”  I asked.

“Sort of. It says “No responsibility is taken” he replied.

“No responsibility for what?”

“For anything the cows might do”

Concerning …

Up the road a bit, we came across cows with huge bells around their necks … how ‘Heidi’ can you get?  They were so different from Aussie cows. Not skinny, or Brahmans bred for the Asian market … these were the sort of cows you find in a ‘Milka; ad.  They wandered freely along the roads, munching on lush grassy patches between the forests and the tracks.  So sweet were their faces, I found it hard to believe they could cause any harm.  Until they started following us as we left … and getting closer …   I started wondering if they were going to push us off a slippery slope somewhere.  Sweet, my arse!  These cows were territorial.   I turned and yelled “Raaaaaaar” at them.  But they just continued closing in.

Fortunately we came to the end of the bitumen road, and they stopped.  I’m sure I heard one of them laughing at me.

Scwarzwald Hike2

I know why.   It was a tough uphill walk facing me.  At 1,000 meters above sea level, it was half the distance before altitude sickness kicks in – but I was feeling it already.  Maybe it was just a combination of jet-lag, excessive beer drinking the night before, and my body’s overall preference for sea-level.   And the track was as slippery as a water slide seasoned with dishwashing liquid.

Scwarzwald Hike4

It really didn’t help that I was wearing the only pair of casual shoes in my suitcase.  A pair of Nike runners.  Great for dry roads, but useless in soggy uphill alp situations.

The track became something only a mountain goat might entertain as a pathway, and once the angle of the climb got to around 80 degrees, I had to give up.  My hiking buddy left me there, gasping for breath and clutching my chest to stop my heart bursting through my ribs, and continued to the top.

After catching my breath, I slipped and stumbled back down the track and sat looking at the cows again until he returned, smugly criticising my lack of stamina.  I’m a city girl who has sat on her corporate arse for decades.  He trained as a rower for the olympics.  Bully for him.

But between you, me and this blogpost – the Aussie country girl was a lot less scared of the cows …

An Essay on Time …

spiral_clock

Time is tight.

We think we have time on our hands, until time runs out.

Procrastination is the thief of time.  So keep time up your sleeves, just in case.  You can make up for lost time, though, so don’t stress over it.  In half the time, you can have a whale of a time, if you put in the time and effort.

Time is precious!  Time works wonders.  Time heals all wounds. Time is money.  You can actually live on borrowed time!  Ah, to have time in a bottle!

Times are a-changing, too.  You can have a good time, or a bad time. You can have a rough time, or the time of your life!

There’s  a time and place for everything, and no time like the present to get things done. I hate being pressed for time.  All time should be quality time, I say!

It’s high time we stopped wasting time. But time we enjoy wasting isn’t really wasted, is it? Aren’t holidays wasted time?

These days we’re all racing against time at some time or other … nevertheless we inevitably run out of time.  We never seem to be in the right place at the right time!

It’s only a matter of time until we have all the time in the world, though.  Time flies – and in no time flat, you realise that time (and tide) wait for no man.  So if the time is right, and your time’s up, it’s time to call it a day.  Timeout.

Thanks for your time.  It’s time to run. Tempus fugit.

Levelling Up

image

I decided long ago that I would no longer age. I “Level Up” now.  Each year conquered, I view as simply another level. This way, aging is less  daunting.

It’s not that I really care about the number. It’s just that everybody else does.

I am convinced that agism is the new homophobia.  People don’t give a rat’s about your sexual orientation any more – but gain a few creases on your face, or let your grey roots pop out to see the sunshine, and suddenly you become both controversial and obsolete at the same time.

In that respect, agism is probably worse than homophobia, or even racism, for that matter. At least if you were somehow different in skin colour or partner preference, you were somewhat of a threat to the norm.  When you start showing your age, people just overlook you. You cease to be relevant. You disappear.

This is even more prevalent in this modern era, where preteen girls are sporting makeup, and mini versions of fashion meant to highlight the assets of young women. Poor kids.  They’re obsolete by 25 these days.

I cringe when I hear people over 40 facing redundancy, and they’re spouting the standard lines fed to them by those banal outsourced HR consultants, brought in by management to convince them their life is about to take a wonderful turn. Bullshit, it is.  These HR zombies are akin to disaster cleanup crews, so that the doors can open tomorrow without having to step over the debris.  The bald truth is, despite your years of experience, if you don’t have contacts in high places, you’re embarking on a heart-aching, gut-wrenching couple of years of anguish and uncertainty.

The zombies start out rebuilding your CV, and one of the first things they tell you is to cut out all but the last decade or so of your work history. It’s not relevant any more. Too ancient history. So you manage to snag an interview, and some 20-something kid shuffles uneasily in their chair across the desk. They were expecting someone younger, based on that work history. Someone without creases.

Then there’s the birthday minefield to tiptoe through.  Well-meaning younger friends say “It’s just a number!” with awkwardly disguised sympathy for what they perceive as an ailment, rather than an achievement.

Older friends, on the other hand, buy you a birthday card with an obscenely large number printed on the front … or even worse, one of those “I’m 40 (50, 60) and FABULOUS!” badges. And they insist you wear it.  They hug you in congratulations, but inside they bear a devilish grin, and rub their hands together in glee.  Now they don’t feel so alone and pathetic themselves.  These ones say “Welcome to the pension club!

Stick your pension club. I got me a lot more living to do.

No, I don’t do birthdays anymore. I just level up.  I know how the world works,  new wars don’t scare me into foolish political decisions, and interest rate changes don’t find me giving a shit about my diminishing bank balances.  I welcome every year’s end with smiles, pride and peaceful knowledge.

… and more creases. X-)

Today I went shopping …

Today I went shopping.  Nothing marvelous about that, I know.  But usually when I go shopping, it’s last thing on a Sunday night, or 7pm some evening after work.  The routine goes something like this:  Race into Coles (I know, I hate them too, but they’re everywhere and open all the time), grab a basket (try to find a clean one), throw in bread, milk, meat and a few veges, work snacks, use the self-checkout and race out again.  It’s a dull chore

Today there was no such rush, since I quit work last week.  I love doing my own scanning, and my own bagging, so I headed over to the self-checkout.  I like to take my time organising things into appropriate categories, and bagging them accordingly. Today, for the first time in decades, I had all the time in the world.

We still get free plastic bags in Australia.  Go to Europe and Tesco just flicks your goodies through the scanner and leaves them piled up on the counter.

First time that happened to me, I was in Freiburg, Germany.  I didn’t have a lot, but it was certainly more than I could fit in my pockets.  I paid the checkout chick, and she gave me a receipt.  Then I stood and looked at the pile of groceries, as she just started flicking the next person’s stuff through after mine.

I gave her a quizzical look.  She responded with “Gehts und spacken sie unter inten” … or words to that effect.

What?  Where’s the bags?  I have to do this myself??”

She was not amused and raised her voice.  “Spacken hoonten shmeeren vassen!!”

I was staying in Freiburg with a Tunisian guy, whom I was tutoring through his exams/assignments for his degree in Tourism and Event management.  I had met him some years before at a hostel in Freiburg where I had gone to boycott Christmas.

The hostel had put on a German movie in the common room and I sat in the second back row of the makeshift theatre.  I had been learning German for over a year before I first traveled there, and was keen to see if I could keep up with the movie.  I couldn’t.  It was crap.

Just as I was about to give up and go to bed, a rich, Arabic voice whispered into my ear “Want to get out of here?”

I turned to see if the picture fit the voice.  In the dim light,  I was met by a seven-foot, attractive young man with olive skin, dark hair, and brown eyes that sparkled with the changing light of the screen.   “Hell, yes!” I whispered back.   It was one of many expressions I had to explain to him for years after.

We snuck out of a side door, and went down to the local pub to partake of the local brew.  I found out this amazing Tunisian spoke seven languages fluently.  It was the first of many lessons in humility I learned travelling the globe.

Now, three years later, we were shopping in that same city. The German-seasoned Arab  and me.  Just as he had saved me from the dull movie, he stepped up again, tutting and shaking his head, produced a back pack, and loaded up the groceries.

We left with the German checkout chick scowling at my stupidity, me muttering about bloody scabby Germans not even providing grocery bags,  and the Tunisian telling me off for being a spoilt Australian.

How are you goin’ there?”

I looked to my side and there was a Coles service lady looking at me like I was handicapped and required assistance.

I’m fine, thanks

Oh, ok.  I just thought you  required some assistance to finish up.”

I realised I had been staring at the scanner, reminiscing about Freiburg, and the stunning Tunisian.

No, I was just distracted a second.  But thanks for the bags.

She looked at me like I was not all there.

For a few seconds, I wasn’t.

Salem_14May2013Blog