Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Friday, June 29, 2012

Dw i wedi gorffen!

Dw i wedi gorffen yn barod - I am finished already! Roedd y stori yn gwych - the story was wonderful. Doniol iawn, iawn - very very funny. Dw i ddim yn gallu aros i darllen y llyfr nesaf - I can't wait to read the next book.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hospital days

I came to hospital on Wednesday morning with my iPhone, MacBook, and a few Welsh books. I expected to be home by dinner time. But, after taking my obligatory $280.00, the Doctor at Knox hospital said 'we'll be admitting you, Mrs Corbett.'

'What?' I said. 'As a day patient?'

'No, Mrs Corbett. Face infections are serious. We will operate in the morning.'

It is now Friday and I'm still here, in room eighteen, of the Risby ward, with a dressing on my face and my arm hooked up to an IV tube. But now the pain is gone the whole thing is starting to feel kind of luxurious - like being on an airplane. I have a postcard sized portion of space. A buzzer. An overhead light and all my meals brought to me on a trolley.

What more could I ask for? I even get to spend the whole day in my pyjamas.

As I'm heading to Aberystwyth in August, I have been using the down time for a bit of a Welsh language revision. I have my SSiW lessons and flashcards on my iPhone. Season one of Gwaith Cartref on my MacBook. And plenty of Welsh books and dictionaries. This morning I finished reading my second ever Welsh Language novel: Parti Ann Haf.

It's a small book (not a full length novel). Published especially for language learners and reluctant readers. It tells the story of a single mum called Ann Summer who takes on the job of a party planner. It has all the essentials of a women's feel good story, strong female friendships, growth in self-knowledge, and an unexpected love interest. I read with a kind of wonder and amazement. Not so much at the story as at the fact I was reading and understanding it (albeit sometimes with a dictionary). I never thought I'd be able to communicate in a second language. But here I am, in Knox Hospital, doing it. Some of the paragraphs even came easily.

At lunch time, the nurse came to change my dressing. 'How's it looking?' I asked. 'Do you think I'll be able to go home soon?'

She pulled a dubious face. 'The Doctor said IV for a couple more days, at least.'

So, what could I do? But smile and pull out my next book: 

Blodwen Jones a'r aderyn prin. If it's anything like Bethan Gwenas' last book, it will be hilarious. I only hope I won't be in hospital long enough to finish it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bates' Salve

Way back in the last century, when I was a child, my brother suffered from boils. Unfortunately, for him, our dad had also suffered from boils in his childhood and, despite certain significant medical advances (like antibiotics), he knew all about treating them.

'No need for a doctor,' Dad would say. 'We'll use Bates' Salve.'

Bates' Salve was a small, brown lipstick sized remedy that Mum kept in the bathroom cabinet. At the first sign of a boil my brother would brother would be made to lie on the bathroom floor and submit to its treatment. Why the bathroom floor? God only knows. It was the scene of many such family operations. I spent many a nose bleed with a wad of tissues in hand and my back pressed flat to the floor. The ceramic tiles had a delightfully cooling effect and, as most of my nose bleeds were heat related, it seemed to do the trick.

Anyway - back to the salve.

Picture this scene:

My brother writhing and sobbing on the bathroom floor. Dad striking a match and holding the salve up to a flame. The Salve 'hubbling and bubbling,' molten globules dropping onto a clean white bandaid.

'The hotter the better,' Dad always said while mum held my screeching brother down.

(Somehow in my memory Dad always rubbed his hands together cackling gleefully, at this point, though he really was the mildest of men).

Personally, I'm surprised my parents weren't reported for child abuse. My brother's shrieks must have been heard all the way down the street. But those were the good old days and such things went unnoticed. Besides, looking back, I'd have to say in some strange way the Salve seemed to work (probably due to a significant amount of lead oxide in the preparation). Within hours the boil would develop a horrible mustardy yellow head. My brother would then be forced kicking and screaming onto the bathroom floor again.

Cleaning the boil was always Mum's job. She'd been a nurse before having children and didn't mind a bit of puss. After she'd squeezed and disinfected the area, Dad would light a match, smearing the next lot of salve onto a bandaid, and the whole process would start over, until, in the end, there was absolutely no possibility of life beneath my brothers scalded skin.

Why am I telling you this? Because I too have developed a boil. It started Thursday, as a tiny infected hair follicle (yes, a nasty hair has taken to growing on my cheek). On Friday, I remarked to a colleague. 'I've got horrible blind pimple on my cheek.' I went to bed early. A firm adherent to the cult of beauty sleep.

Saturday, I woke to a swollen left cheek.

'Face infections can be quite serious.' The Doctor said. 'I'm glad you made an appointment.'

He prescribed a course of antibiotics. I followed his instructions precisely. Sunday brought no relief. By Monday my face resembled a scene from the Elephant man. Another Doctor. Another set of antibiotics. Still no joy. My cheek looked like Kilimanjaro. Tuesday, my daughter had an appointment at Centrelink. An important, employment related appointment that couldn't be missed. I applied foundation and hoped no one would notice the volcano forming on my cheek.

'Gee thanks for coming,' my daughter said, her eyes full of sympathy. 'If I had that on my cheek, I wouldn't have left the house.'

On my next doctors appointment the GP called a plastic surgeon.

'I have a forty-seven year old woman with a boil on her cheek.' The Doctor said. 'I think it needs incision and drainage.'

'No point ringing me,' the surgeon's crisp, no nonsense voice echoed down the line. 'Send her to Accident and Emergency. If it's not better in a few weeks, I'll clean it up properly.

'But…' I tried not to wail. 'I'm going to the UK in a month.'

The doctor gave a horrible bland non-committal smile (I think they learn them in medical school). 'Let's hope it's cleared up by then, Mrs Corbett.'

So, there you have it. This blog is a world-wide internet appeal for a warm, brown, sweet-smelling stick of Bates' Salve. I know there have been medical advances since the 1940's. But they don't appear to be working on me. If anyone has a stick in their bathroom cabinet, please let me know.

Otherwise, I'll see you tomorrow in Accident and Emergency.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A defining moment.

My first ever British passport. It feels like a defining moment.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Careful Words

This story appeared in the recent edition of Boroondara Magazine. A few people were even kind enough to say they enjoyed it so, I thought, maybe I should put it up online. I mean, not everyone is lucky enough to work for City of Boroondara. 

Dw i'n gobeithio eich bod chi'n mwynhau y stori, hefyd - I hope that you enjoy the story too.


It was a Sunday afternoon, just like any other Sunday afternoon at Balwyn Library. Return Chute overflowing. The Internet playing up. Kids wanting help with projects. People photocopying, reserving books, playing chess, and browsing the magazines.
We also had a man cleaning the table with his sock.
‘I’m an artist.’ He held out a pencil sketch he’d copied from one of our folios.
‘Yes, it’s lovely,’ I said. ‘But you really can’t—.'
Naughty,’ he rocked back and forth, clutching the paper to his chest. ‘I went over the edges. But I’ll clean it up.’
I looked down at the pencil square outlined on the table. ‘It’s fine. Please, don’t worry. The cleaners’ll do it later.’
‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘My mess. I have to fix it.’
I took a deep breath, noting the rhythmic sway of his body. The deep lines of anxiety creasing his mouth. Where to begin? I could explain that taking your socks of in the library was inappropriate. As was wetting them and cleaning a library table. But reason doesn’t always work when a person is unwell and, if this man did have a mental illness, trying to make him stop could be far more disturbing to him, and others, than a bit of sock-water on the table. Besides, I could always come back later with Ajax and a sponge.
I chose the latter course, pushing my trolley down into the sciences, passing books on solar systems and science experiments—sound, light, heat, and magnetismfollowed by a string of unfathomable chemistries, until I reached the six hundreds. Health. I stopped, checking my notes.
The catalogue indicated two books, Advanced Breast Cancer, and Coping with chemotherapy.
‘Just diagnosed,’ the elderly man had said on the phone. ‘We’ve been married thirty-six years,’ he paused, clearing his throat. ‘The Chemo should give her a few more months.’
I found the Advanced Breast Cancer book. But the other title wasn’t on the shelf. I checked the trolleys. Not there either. I sighed. For some reason, recently returned items often fell into a black hole. I’d have to organise an inter-branch transfer.
Back at the reference desk, my colleague, Jonathan, was a man under siege. Five or six people waited in line while a man in a tweed cap explained he wanted ‘manly books, about men, doing manly things.’
Smothering a smile, I slipped into my seat. After a series of nods and gestures, the line divided and a slight, elderly woman stepped forward. Her hand shook as she slid a scrap of paper across the desk. On it, she’d written four carefully chosen words.
May I borrow book.
Right, I thought. This could be tricky. I glanced back along the line. No folded arms. Or hard thin lips. Good, we had time.
‘You can,’ I said, nodding. ‘But you’ll need a library card.’
She leaned forward, her dark eyes intent. Then with an impatient click of her tongue, she shook her head.
‘Card,’ I held one up, ‘to borrow.’
Ah. Yes. A wreath of smiles. She knew about those.
‘Have you got ID?’
‘ID?’ She repeated the unfamiliar word.
Yes, yes. She fumbled about in her handbag, eventually producing a burgundy passport with a familiar gold crest and the words, Peoples Republic of China emblazoned across the front.
This wasn’t an uncommon situation. Libraries are often the first port of call for international students. How they know about us, I’ve never worked out. Personally, I suspect someone in customs give them the nod. ‘Get straight down to the library,’ the unsmiling, uniformed official says. ‘They’ve got books in Chinese, and English as a Second Language materials.’
So they come in the boldness of youth, bearing passports and rental agreements, to join in the library in their polite classroom English, and to marvel at the wealth of available resources.
But this woman wasn’t a student. She looked well into her seventies. Was she on holiday? No, I didn’t think so. More like a new permanent resident. Something in the straightness of her bearing told me this was an act of quiet desperation. Yet, for all its difference, her need was as simple as the man who’d wanted manly books.
Something in her own language.
I typed her name and birthdate into the system. The passport was a start, but not enough. I needed a current address for a membership, preferably on an official document. But how to explain these requirements?
‘Your address?’ I tried the most obvious question. ‘Your house? Where do you live?’ 
A crease formed on her brow. Perspiration beaded her lip. This could take ages. I glanced back along the line.
I love the public. They fight over the computers, evade library fines, cut pictures out of the magazines, and complain regularly. But other times, they get it just right. This afternoon was one of them. As I scanned the row of waiting faces, there wasn’t a single raised eyebrow. Or scowl of impatience. Only a quiet recognition of courage. They were on our side.
‘Phone number?’ I held an imaginary handset to my ear.
Oh, yes, definitely, relief flooded her features. She opened her purse and pulled out a business card. 
‘My son,’ she said, pointing to a name and address. ‘With him, I live.’
I looked at the business card. It was dog-eared and generic, not by any stretch of the imagination an official document, and I certainly shouldn’t have taken it as proof of address. But I joined the woman on the strength of that card, and let her start borrowing.
But it was only later, after I had sponged the sock-man’s table and organised an inter-branch transfer for the man whose wife had breast cancer, that I realised she’d left that scrap of paper on my desk. It was nothing much, only a crumpled sticky note. But I slipped it into my pocket, thinking of desperation, courage, and the whole messy business of serving the public, summarised in those four carefully chosen words.