Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Monday, June 27, 2011

A few photos

I have been here a week, so I thought it was time to put some photos up. But what have I been up to?

I have been staying Essex with my Godmother (the one who rescued me).

We went on a tour of some Essex Villages. 

Yes, people actually get to live in these places!

Went to see the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. And the Essex Guitar Orchestra

Had fish and chips with mushy peas at Leigh-on-sea.

Took a long slow car journey to Dorset. Saw ponies, foxgloves and more beautiful villages.

Visited my aunt who lives in a care home on the edge of the New Forest and caught up with an uncle I haven't seen for years.

I also spent an inordinate amount of time in the Ilford library - in search of my non-salubrious heritage.

My dad had always told the story of a bomb blast that knocked him off his feet while at school. Hundreds of bombs fell on Ilford during World War Two but with the few facts in my possession and the assistance of the local history librarian we have identified the incident it was and his school. I want to write a short story based on some of his wartime memories and this incident will be pivotal to the narrative (at least, I think it will). 
Of course, I could have just picked an event - any event - and written the story. But that's not the way it works for me - hence my time in the Local History Reading Room.

Round and round the roundabout ...

England has roundabouts. This week, I drove from Essex to Dorset and I've lost count of how many roundabouts I passed through. This is probably because I went round most of them more than once.

Now before you say I should have been prepared for differences in travel conditions (or maybe even that I shouldn't be driving in UK at all), I would like to point out that I was prepared.

Even before I boarded my twenty three hour flight to London (yes, London! I have to pinch myself - I am back in the UK), I had printed out maps and directions to every probable destination. Jet lagged and almost sleepwalking, I caught the tube to Holborn, lugged my case up multiple flights of stairs and boarded a Central Line train to Liverpool Street  (the station has been done up, by the way - it looks very nice). From there I boarded and Essex bound train and managed to stay awake long enough to disembark in Chelmsford.

At this point, I pulled out the Google Map I had printed prior to departure. Walking down Victoria Street, I turned left onto Duke street, passed Marks and Sparks, Boot's Chemist, Lush, Debenhams and a roll-call of other English retail names, found Tindall's Square, and crossed the aptly names stone bridge.

I stopped.

According to my directions, Thrifty Car Hire should have been on the right.

It wasn't there.

I walked back and forth, scratched my head, retraced my steps. Still no Thrifty Car hire. Or phone. Yes, that's right my Optus phone plan with global roaming wasn't working. Neither had my clock switched over to GMT. Not that I needed a clock. Scurrying feet and shuttered shop windows told me it was getting close to home time.

Only, I was along way from home.

At this point, I encountered a couple of police officers. I told them the address: 372 Baddow Road. Showed them my Google map.

They shook their heads.

'No,' they said. 'It's right down the other end of Baddow Road.'

'But ... how long is Baddow Road?' I tried to keep my bottom lip from trembling.

'At least a couple of miles,' they said. 'Do you have anyone you can contact?'

Well, of course I had someone I could contact.'

But no phone.

I made a dash for the Vodafone store and managed to squeeze under the roller-door just before it crashed to the ground. But by the time I made my purchase and installed my ten pound SIM card, it was too late to call Mr Thrifty Rent-a-car. He had gone home.

It was time for plan B. Fortunately, I have a godmother in Essex. She came to rescue me.

Now, in addition to my inaccurate Google map of Chelmsford, I had also printed out a map and directions for my trip to Dorset. But I wasn't taking any second chances. When I picked up my hire car the following morning, I asked if it came with a Road Atlas.

'No,' they said, 'we don't provide maps.'

'Well then,' I said, 'perhaps I'd better hire a Nat Sav.'

'Sorry,' the man shook his head. 'We've run out of those.'

'Never mind,' I said. 'I have Google maps on my iPhone.'

The problem with Google maps, I have found - quite apart from the fact that it is sometimes glaringly inaccurate - is that it require a navigator. Someone to say, 'take the second exit off the exit roundabout,' while you keep your eyes on the road. If you don't have that, you're in for a long journey.

Google maps gave me an estimated travel time of two hours and forty seven minutes to drive from the village of High Easter to Walkford, on the south coast. But, if you don't have a navigator, you have to pull over all the time (which is simply not allowed on the M25). Added to which there are the aforementioned roundabouts, or double roundabouts, that look like diagrams for DNA, and have more appendages than Eency Weency.

Hands gripping the wheel, you enter a swirling vortex of British motor vehicles, and pray that you are in the right lane. You circle, once, twice ... sometimes even three times, looking for the name on your Google directions. It is not there. Google and British Roads haven't communicated. Meanwhile, you are driving round and round and round.

In the end you guess. Indicate. Take the second exit, on the first roundabout, drive down the road until you find a wayside stop, pull over, check the little blue dot on your iPhone, only to find you have taken the wrong road. It was the first exit on the second roundabout. You turn back. Yellow plated cars flash past, seismic lorries toot, you hunch forward, a scream rising in your throat, and swing back out into the swirl of traffic, praying you are in the right lane - this time.

It took me two hours to get from Chelmsford to the M25. Six hours to get to Walkham. My uncle was worried sick. The B&B had all but given up on me. At breakfast the next morning (full English - bacon, sausage, mushroom, eggs, tomatoes and toast) the B&B lady said:

'You're very brave driving all that way by yourself.'

'Yes,' I nodded, munching my toast and trying not to think about the return journey. I had another word in mind, one starting with S and ending with P. I am not doing that journey ever again. Next time I will catch the train.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spring in a winter garden

You have this trip planned. A great big scary trip that involves international travel, research for your novel, staying in a cottage on the Lleyn Peninsula, and speaking Welsh on a daily basis. You have been planning the trip for months - but to be honest it has been in your heart for many years. Only this time you'll be travelling alone for the very first time - no organized eldest daughter to hold your hand, no husband to take the slack.

A big, bold solo adventure - you swing between terror and elation with pendulum regularity.

Still, there is no real cause for concern, things are progressing at work. If you busy yourself like a bee right up until departure day, you might manage to get everything done. You are up to lesson twenty two of Say Something in Welsh, and have started tuning into Radio Cymru. Added to which, you've made final payments on your accommodation, photocopied essential documents, ordered one or two books from Amazon.co.uk - to save postage, you tell your husband wide-eyed. You are saving him money! You have even booked a show in the West End.

You are organised - so organised, nothing could possibly go wrong.

On Wednesday, you wake up with a sniffle. But it's nothing to worry about. Just because you come down hard with every cold, doesn't mean it will happen this time. On Thursday your muscles are aching. But, no, you can't afford a day off work. You take a few paracetamol and a bucket of vitamins. It's okay you tell everyone. Nothing to worry about. You're just a bit below par, that's all. It'll pass.

Friday, hits you like a wrecking ball. You are held to the bed by a six strong arms. For some reason, no matter how hard you you struggle, you can't face the day on two legs. You call work, agonising over everything you are not getting done, and wait for the paracetamol to take effect.

Your weekend passes in a haze of wretchedness. You miss coffee with friends and going to the movies, and, to be honest, you don't really care, you are too sick. You wonder if this is the start of a new pandemic. 

Monday, you are no better - by Tuesday you feel like your face is going to explode. Somewhere in your vitamin C, zinc and echinacea soaked existence, you remember there is a medical profession. You make an appointment and drive yourself up to the clinic. 

'Hmm ...' the Doctor shakes his head. 'A sinus infection. We'd better get on top of it. This could stop you flying.'

In the car, you can barely stop yourself from howling. All that practice, all that hoping and dreaming, threatened by a set of blocked sinuses. Still, it's probably for the best, you console yourself. You're too administratively challenged to travel alone. You'd leave your laptop at a bus stop. Or drop your iPhone over the rails of the Princess Pochahontas river cruise. And as for learning a language - who were you trying to kid? You'd be completely tongue-tied - like in your year twelve Japanese exam. Spend the fortnight be lying to your family, while secretly speaking English the whole time.  

Then, as you trudge up the driveway you see it. You stop, closing your eyes, and press your aching eyelids - take another look. 

Yes, it really is there. You are not hallucinating - a lone yellow daffodil in an otherwise winter garden.

Picking your way across the lawn, you hear the the crunch of old leaves under-foot. Bending low, you touch a finger to its nodding head, marvelling at its tapered stem and delicately bevelled trumpet. Then, for no reason at all, you find yourself smiling - at this tiny hope of spring that has come to you completely out of season.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Important medical information

I didn't write this. It was one of those pesky little 
forwards that you're not supposed to read at work,  because they 
are generally very funny and waste oodles of staff time.

This one wasn't funny - I saw as my finger hovered over 
the delete button.  It was deadly serious.  So serious, 
I decided to post it on my blog. I mean who says blogs are 
simply frippery? 

Who says they can't carry a health alert the may 
save your life? 



This has been  passed on from an ER nurse and is the best 
description of this event that she had ever heard. Please read, 
pay attention, and send it on!                  


I was aware that female heart attacks are different, but this is the best 
description I've ever read. 

Women and heart attacks (Myocardial Infarction).  Did you know that 
women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when 
experiencing heart attack .... you know, the sudden stabbing pain in the 
chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest & dropping to the floor that we 
see in the movies. Here is the story of one woman's experience with a 
heart attack.

I had a heart attack at about 10 :30 PM with NO prior exertion, 
NO prior emotional trauma that one would suspect might've brought 
it on.  

I was sitting all snugly & warm on a cold evening, with my 
purring cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend had 
sent me, and actually thinking,  'A-A-h, this is the life, all cozy 
and warm in my soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up.

A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion, 
when you've been in a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich and 
washed it down with a dash of water, and that hurried bite 
seems to feel like you've swallowed a golf ball going down the 
oesophagus in slow motion and it is most uncomfortable. You 
realize you shouldn't have gulped it down so fast and needed 
to chew it more thoroughly and this time drink a glass of 
water to hasten its progress down to the stomach. This was 
my initial sensation---the only trouble was that I hadn't taken 
a bite of anything since about 5:00 p.m.

After it seemed to subside, the next sensation was like little 
squeezing motions that seemed to be racing up my SPINE 
(hind-sight, it was probably my aorta spasming), gaining speed 
as they continued racing up and under my sternum (breast bone, 
where one presses rhythmically when administering CPR).

This fascinating process continued on into my throat and 
branched out into both jaws.  

'Aha!! Now I stopped puzzling about what was happening.

We all have read and/or heard about pain in the jaws 
being one of the signals of an MI happening, haven't we?  
I said aloud to myself and the cat, 

'Dear God, I think I'm having a heart attack!' 

I lowered the footrest dumping the cat from my lap, started 
to take a step and fell on the floor instead. I thought to 
myself, If this is a heart attack, I shouldn't be walking into 
the next room where the phone is or anywhere else ... 
but, on the other hand, if I don't, nobody will know that 
I need help, and if I wait any longer I may not be able to 
get up in moment.

I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked 
slowly into the next room and dialed the Paramedics ... 

I told her I thought I was having a heart attack due to the 
pressure building under the sternum and radiating into my jaws. 
I didn't feel hysterical or afraid, just stating the facts.  She said 
she was sending the Paramedics over immediately, asked if the 
front door was near to me, and if so, to unbolt the door and 
then lie down on the floor where they could see me when 
they came in.

I unlocked the door and then lay down on the floor as instructed 
and lost consciousness, as I don't remember the medics coming in, 
their examination, lifting me onto a gurney or getting me into their 
ambulance, or hearing the call they made to St. Jude ER on the way, 
but I did briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the 
Cardiologist was already there in his surgical blues and cap, helping 
the medics pull my stretcher out of the ambulance. He was bending 
over me asking questions (probably something like  'Have you 
taken any medications?'' but I couldn't make my mind interpret what 
he was saying, or form an answer,  and nodded off again, not 
waking up until the Cardiologist and partner had already threaded the 
teeny angiogram balloon up my femoral artery into the aorta and into 
my heart where they installed 2 side by side stents to hold open my 
right coronary 

I know it sounds like all my thinking and actions at home must 
have taken at least 20-30 minutes before calling the Paramedics, but 
actually it took perhaps4-5 minutes before the call, and both the fire 
station and St. Jude are only minutes away from my home, and 
my Cardiologist was already to go to the OR in his scrubs and get 
going on restarting my heart (which had stopped somewhere between
 my arrival and the procedure) and installing the stents.

Why have I written all of this to you with so much detail?  
Because I want all of  you to know what I learned first hand.

1.  Be aware that something very different is happening in 
your body not the usual men's symptoms but inexplicable
things happening (until my sternum and jaws got into the act).  
It is said that many more women than men die of their first 
(and last) MI  because they didn't know they were having one 
and commonly mistake it as indigestion, take some Maalox or 
other anti-heartburn preparation and go to bed, hoping they'll 
feel better in the morning when they wake up ... 

Which doesn't happen.   

My female friends, your symptoms might not be exactly 
like mine, so I advise you to call the Paramedics if 
ANYTHING is unpleasantly happening that you've not 
felt before. 

It is better to have a 'false alarm' visitation than to risk 
your life guessing what it might be!

2.  Note that I said ''Call the Paramedics.'' And if you can, 
take an aspirin.  Ladies, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! 

Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER you are a hazard 
to others on the road.

Do NOT have your panicked husband who will be speeding
 and looking anxiously at what's happening with you instead 
of the road.

Do NOT call your doctor -- he may know where you live 
and if it's at night you won't reach him anyway, and if it's 
daytime, his assistants (or answering service) will  tell you 
to call the Paramedics. He doesn't carry the equipment in 
his car that you need to be saved!  The Paramedics do, 
principally OXYGEN that you need ASAP. 

Your doctor will be notified later.

3.   Don't assume it couldn't be a heart attack because 
you have a normal cholesterol count. Research has discovered 
that a cholesterol elevated reading is rarely the cause of an MI 
(unless it's unbelievably high and/or accompanied by high 
blood pressure). MI's are usually caused by long-term stress 
and inflammation in the body, which dumps all sorts of deadly 
hormones into your system to sludge things up in there. 

Pain in the jaw can wake you from a sound sleep.

Let's be careful and be aware. 

The more we know,  the better chance we could survive.