Great Days

The last couple of days have been good days. Well, great days really. Which is surprising because the days before were not.

They were just like a lot of days we all have. Days you’d rather forget. Days when you doubt yourself and everything you’ve become.

Days when you look in the mirror and wonder when you got so lost you’re not even sure you want to find your way back.

When I started to work on becoming a writer, a real writer, not just someone who had a drawer full of poems and stories that no-one would ever see, I told everyone – including myself – I understood rejection.

I had no idea that it actually hurt, physically hurt, when people said thanks but no thanks. They really do say that. And they’re telling me my writing isn’t good enough.

That for every ‘not bad’ there would be a hundred ‘not right for us’ or ‘thanks for contacting us but we’ll pass this time’ e-mails and letters.

You don’t notice it at first. The little leaks in your self confidence. They’re like the cam belt in your engine, wearing away – then boom. Engine blows up, car, well time to get a new one.

It sounds so self pitying. It was.

Then I tried for a guest blog spot I really wanted the other day. I sent it off, expecting to get the ‘thanks…’ e-mail. I did, but they asked if I wanted to rewrite it and send it in again.

Yesterday they said thanks. Nothing else, no maybe next time, just thanks, that’ll do. I felt like Babe for a minute there.

Then I got a little excited. Two littles actually.

This morning I got up to deal with a neighbour who had torn out my hedge when I wasn’t looking. Expected a battle. Instead I’m getting a new fence – for nothing.

Can you see where this is heading?

Off I went this afternoon to my local writers group. After a month struggling with chapter 6 of THE BOOK, I put it aside and started chapter 7 instead – yesterday.

These ladies are good, really good writers, and I knew I had to have something. Chapter 7 is almost finished, and for a first draft it’s making me happy.

I am feeling the contentment when I get home. Checking my e-mails there was one there from a poetry magazine I had submitted 3 poems to a while ago, hoping 1 might be accepted. I didn’t want to open it and ruin what was.

I am so glad I did. They want all 3 poems. All 3.

GREAT DAYS.

And I remembered something. Something I’d forgotten on the other days.

Why we have the other days.

They turn good days into great days.

The Letter.

Mum

Hello Mum,

Each day there is a moment, and in that moment, I find myself talking to you. Unquestionably a one-sided conversation, it soothes me to imagine you hear it, as it eases me imagining you out there, watching, and guiding me.

I lived with Dad once you left. He wasn’t equipped for the erratic behaviour a 12-year-old can manufacture in less time than it takes to breathe. Thank God he was the sturdy stoic type; it’s probably what saved him from a long list of stress-related complaints. Living with Dad taught me about independence. He was a busy man; work, bowls, drinking with his mates left little time for supervising a daughter, so I learnt rapidly to look after myself.

I didn’t finish high school. At the time, I couldn’t see the wisdom in having an education. I’ve come to realise teenagers of every generation can be short-sighted, but at that stage short skirts were essential, as were boys and partying. Besides, having spent less time in school than out of it, there was little likelihood I was going to pass any exam.

If there had been a test in forgery, I’d have got A’s. In important matters I was diligent, I spent days getting Dad’s signature just right – It took years for him to find out. When he did, he sat on the end of my bed and cried. Nothing else he could have done would have punished me more than those tears, but it was not enough to change my behaviour; as I said, boys were more important, and the important boys spent their days at the beach. School never stood a chance!

I did ultimately revise my estimation on education and its merit. So far, I’ve revisited the schooling system twice. Well, let’s be honest, I was pushed. It was either retrain or become one of those who bemoan the unjust treatment life has accorded them. Bitter and twisted as I can be – on occasion – that didn’t seem the best method to survive.

I live in New Zealand now, so Kiwi jokes are no longer considered funny, and all windup toys to do with sheep go straight into the bin. I left Aussie bound for the northern hemisphere, hmm, makes you wonder about the validity of those women navigator slurs.

I got married along the way. Yes. Me. Married. Just once, that was sufficient to put me in counselling for years. Like all good love stories, our eyes met should say it all. But, like all good love stories, the truth is a little different. Our eyes did meet, in a hotel in South Africa. He was getting his  bath plug from the office safe. No more need be said about the type of hotel it was.

We spent the next six months crammed with 19 others on a bright orange truck. We travelled north on dusty roads until no quantity of scrubbing would remove the grime. Rationing water, digging holes to shit in was expected, but falling in love was a shock. God, he was beautiful! Tall, blonde, slender, and with an accent that made my fingers actually move to touch him. However, being the perverse young lady I was raised to be, I resisted all attempts at romance for a good month. But while I had perversity on my side Willem possessed perseverance. Let me illustrate; where the jungle met a shanty town, he managed to find a French restaurant. I’m serious, white table linen, silver cutlery, crystal glasses. The food was awful, and we ended up discarded by our taxi driver in the bush. But what I remember most is the warmth from his hand when he slid his fingers between mine.

He was the first person who didn’t have to, that loved me – really loved me. Perverse, bad-tempered, impulsive, insecure, it didn’t matter. He was there, beside me, behind me, fighting for me, fighting with me, loving me. We had fun roaming the world. Through Africa, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, we kept looking for the place to stop.

It’s the little things I remember now. Teaching me to ride a bike in the football club parking lot, curled up in bed talking and sipping Baileys, the sight of his hand cradling our daughter’s and son’s heads minutes after they were born. These are the moments I choose to embrace, the memories I choose to pass on to my children. For, like many other love stories, the ending sucked. While it started in a burst, in dying it went quietly.

At the finish we lived beside each other without ever touching, both too afraid in case we’d see pain in the other. Like polite strangers conversing for the first time, calmly arranging the end. The leaving was a relief.

The reality of life as a solo mum was however, quite different to the romanticised version I had envisaged during those last months. Days were about staying busy. As long as I kept moving, I felt safe. Safe from those moments where your hands begin to shake or your back seems to lose its ability to keep you upright, safe from the incessant dialogue that echoes in your head about your ability to cope.

The children’s bath-time became a long and unhurried ritual in the evenings. Storytelling could be prolonged with a little effort on my part. Night-time wasn’t safe you see. It was so quiet I could hear my breath, and that meant hearing the echoes. Those hours I filled with too much alcohol and too many sad songs. When the tears came, they left my skin sticky.

Those years were busy. Afternoons spent trying to offer advice about homework, Saturday mornings on soccer fields that all looked the same, cheering whether they won or lost. Late night TV on weekends watching infomercials on how to obtain a six pack stomach in minutes a day waiting for the phone to go so I can play taxi driver.

Education comes in many formats. In the years between then and now, I’ve learnt a great deal. As well as the mundane things in life, such as how to change a flat tyre or a blown fuse, there have been bigger lessons. I know that there are always going to be problems, as there are always solutions.

I know that there is little I would change. The face you see in the mirror depends on experience. I’ve often wondered what face you saw when you looked in the mirror Mum, and what you’d make of mine. Would you like what you see? What I can say to you is this, it’s what I wanted, and it’s what I chose. But the 12-year-old left behind that night – she hopes you approve.

Your daughter.

Me

Using Cliches and ‘Having A Ball’

Dyed in The Wool

(I had so much fun writing this for my writers group – and watching the horror on their faces as cliche after cliche tumbled out of my mouth until they realised I was doing it intentionally)

“Mary, show me your hands, I want to know now girl, do you have green fingers?” Mary’s mother asked. Mary kept her hands out of sight.

“What in tarnation? Cool your heels Mother,” Mary replied.

“Don’t try your smoke and mirrors trick with me,” her mother waved her hands. “You’re growing like a weed lately, and I’m pinning my hopes that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. So, if you’re headed the wrong way down a one way street I want to nip it in the bud.”

“There’s no time like the present to tell you this, I don’t see eye to eye with you on many things, this included. You can hope against hope mother but I am not following in my father’s footsteps.”

“Darling, before you were a gleam in your father’s eye, I knew that I’d have a long road to hoe with you. Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’ve said it time and time again, the times, they are a changing. Life will show you that what goes around comes around. I don’t intend to have a cow over this, but I’ve had it up to here with your shenanigans.”

“For Pete’s sake mother, there’s no need to pop a vein. You’re getting a bit long in the tooth to work yourself into a lather. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail you’ll be pushing up daisies,” Mary’s mother strode toward her until Mary was backed into the corner.

“Are you fair dinkum, child?” Her mother’s face was beginning to redden. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap. That was what my dear mother always said. At the end of the day it appears she had the right end of the stick, show me your hands. I’ve caught you with your hands in the cookie jar this time.”

“Just a second Mother, you have had a stick up your arse ever since Father cashed in his chips. You’ve been trying to hang me out to dry at the drop of a hat. Come hell or high water I’ve had it up to here with you. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Anyone would think I just fell off the turnip truck the way you talk to me; you’ve jumped the gun once too often. My bags are packed and ready to go. The ball is in your court, do you feel me mother?”  Mary still kept her hands behind her as she yelled, but before she could fly the coop her mother grabbed her arm and yanked it forward.

“Gadzooks,” her mother exclaimed. “You’re dumber than a bag of hammers, standing there acting cool as a cucumber. The bottom line, Mary, is you can bet your bottom dollar that in due time all will be revealed. Wake up and smell the coffee girl, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. You gotta stop taking the easy way out. Instead of seeing the glass as half empty you need to see it as half full. Child I wasn’t born yesterday. I knew it was you. You’ve been as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof ever since I mentioned that someone had made out like a bandit with my savings. I just needed to see it for myself.”

Mary’s eyes looked everywhere except at her mother’s face. “I’m sorry as can be Mother. I wasn’t trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I’m under the gun, that’s why I took it. Cecil says if I don’t return the money real soon there’’ll be hell to pay.” Sheepishly Mary put her hands out. “It was real smart of you to catch me out like you did. Green dye…whoever would’ve thought.”

“Girl, with bad apples like Cecil you’ve gotta read between the lines or you’ll paint yourself into a corner. Okay. No use crying over spilt milk Mary. Two heads are better than one so let’s see if we can’t kick that scallywag to the kerb.”

“Mother Cecil wasn’t born yesterday. He’s as sharp as a tack when it comes to money.” Mary hung her head in shame.

“Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today I always say.” Her mother threw her arms around her..

“It’s time we gave Cecil a dose of his own medicine. I’ve sweated blood squirreling that money away. Perhaps we should go the extra mile and call your Aunt Bertha in. Ain’t nobody who can deliver a knockout blow like Aunt Bertha.”

“Oh Mother, I was so out of whack, hiding it from you. I’m sorry,” she said.

“Don’t get your knickers in a knot. Time for you to hit the hay I think. Things always look better after a good night’s sleep. Put it out of your mind, I’m all over this.” Mary hugged her mother, then pulled away. “You go get some zzz’s. Sleep tight Mary.”

“I will Mother. You too, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Smiling for the first time Mary ran up the stairs.

“You’re about to meet your worst nightmare Cecil,” Mary’s mother whispered under her breath.

Motorsport New Zealand and the Ordinary Man

Earlier days…

The sun has set, the car stops, lights bouncing around the sky, you stumble from your car intoxicated. You falter, on a high you never knew was possible.  No, this is not another tale of a drunk driver; this is how Ian Carroll felt when he finished the International Rally of New Zealand.  After four days of mechanical setbacks, bad weather and skirmishes with fences, when he and his Mitsubishi Lancer EX reached the finish line and the adrenaline stopped flowing he literally fell out of the car.  Thirty-third across the finish line, that’s not bad for the boy who drew fat wheels on pictures of cars at a country school in Taumaranui.

Watching his grandfather race boats in Wanganui began a lifetime obsession in fast cars for this farm boy.  Landing his first car upside down in a ditch didn’t discourage him; Ian went on to purchase his second car, a Ford Escort.  It took a year of work before he was ready for his first event; a gravel sprint up a country road, where a fence got the better of him and he was hooked.

Taking a week off work is not the way to endear yourself to your workmates, but that is exactly what Ian did when the pull to repair the damaged Escort was too strong to resist.  Ian managed to walk away with slightly less damage to his own body.  Fate can be kind.  “That was the worst accident, for the car, I have had,” said Ian, able to smile at the memory.  His crash tally stands at 24 in his rallying career.  While at the moment recovering from his latest accident–his ankle badly damaged this time–there is no talk of stopping.  Work has already begun on the next Escort.

So what do you think is it that drives a man from one race to the next?  In spite of evenings spent at a rugby field, practicing nighttime pit stops in preparation for a rally or hours testing a scuba diving tank to see how many times it can operate an air jack for the car, Ian’s devotion to his sport is visible for all to see.  Having been a passenger myself at times when he has raced, I wasn’t surprised when he told me what compels him to continue: “I like to compete, but the big thrill is to cross the finish line.”

The Mazda RX7

And he would know. He hasn’t always made it across the finish line. In 2002, competing in his faithful companion of 18 years, a Mazda RX7, Ian was forced out 2 days into the 5 day Targa Rally.  So what happened?  He ran out of spare parts.  Motor sport is unpredictable, but there is always the next race and always another car to rebuild.

So what’s next on the agenda?  Ian has his sights on the next challenge, the Targa again.  “I hope I have learnt from the past and make it through to the last stage this time,” Ian told me.  Watching him work surrounded by metal, grease and rubber, I can’t help but think it doesn’t really matter whether he finishes or not, for at that moment he reminds me of a bird in mid-flight, wings motionless, solely enjoying the ride.

When you have to go, you can’t be fussy…

Abelard struggled through the tavern. Each step was difficult as he felt his bowels rumble in warning. He sucked his butt cheeks firmly together and prayed he would make it through the mass of tightly packed bodies. The heat from the crowd gave the tavern a sickly moist aroma. Discretely passing small flourishes of wind to relieve pressure, he was confident no-one would correctly identify him as the culprit. He headed for a door by the side of the bar.

Abelard started down a long hallway with doors lining both sides. He politely knocked on each one and called out a hello before opening them.

“Damn it,” he muttered in disappointment as none of them were what he was seeking. At the end of the hall he opened the last door. He groaned when he saw that it was a stairwell.

“Bloody hell, doesn’t anyone need a toilet here.” Taking a deep breath and clenching his arse a little bit more, he began to ascend. He paused at the next landing to pull his handkerchief out and dab his face.

“Right, hang on just a bit more,” he said. “Bound to be one on this floor.” Yanking the door open he shuffled sideways from one side of the hall to the other, no longer bothering to knock before he looked into each room. When Abelard came to the end of this hall his shuffle had turned into a sideways skip as he tried to keep his legs together from the knees up. The pressure was now almost unbearable, and his hair was hanging limp from sweat.

In the end room he finally found one. Slamming the door shut behind him he hobbled painfully towards it. Lifting the lid Abelard was devastated when it wobbled. He realised that it wasn’t connected properly.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” he was crying as he spoke. Through his tears he noticed it was perched on a hole cut to its shape. “Bugger, it will have to do,” he mumbled to himself.  “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. He hoped whoever came to finish the job wouldn’t mind too much, but he was nearing insanity with need. He unzipped his pants and pushed his buttocks together with his hands as he manoeuvred himself onto the seat.

“Ahh. Ohh. Thank Christ.” Abelard’s head dropped into his hands as his bowels opened. When he was finished he used his handkerchief and dropped it down the hole. He listened by the door before opening it and peering out. Satisfied that no-one was in the hall he stepped out smiling and closed the door quietly.

“Now lad,” he said to himself. “Time to go back downstairs and have some fun.” Abelard strutted as he took the stairs two at a time. Before re-entering the tavern he adjusted his attire as he preened about in front of a full-length mirror.

“What the hell.” The tavern was empty. The music from the jukebox bounced off the walls of the empty room. “Hello,” he called out. “Where is everyone?” From behind the bar he saw two eyes staring at him.

“Where’d everybody go?” he asked. The eyes scanned the counter top before their owner placed his hands on it and pulled himself erect. “What happened?” Abelard queried. The eyes’ owner looked surprised at Abelard’s appearance.

“Where were you?” he asked Abelard

“Pardon,” Abelard replied.

“Where were you?” the man asked again. “When the shit hit the fan.”

The Gorillas of Virunga National Park, Rwanda

“Shit! Someone help me out, please.” My right foot feels like it is being sucked through a straw. Thick mud is gripping it tight and the small sapling I grabbed hold of broke off at its base. No help there then.

“Jo, what the hell happened?” Philip stopped laughing when the mud-ball I threw hit him in the chest. At least it made me feel better.

“What do you think happened, moron? I’m stuck. Now give me a pull.” The rest of the group are gathering, so now with eight faces peering down on me, no real help being offered, my mood is getting sour. Ten minutes later, I’m muddied but on hard ground again.

This trek was starting to feel like wasted effort. Since our early morning departure from the Volcanos National Park, we were engulfed in green, and before the day had a chance to warm our bodies, our group headed into the jungle shadows. Branches and leaves deposited their loads of morning dew, and yesterday’s leftover rain onto my clothing. Combined with sweat from hours of walking, my body is feeling the chill. At least it matches my temper.

As only our three guides had any idea where we were, I was stuck following the leader’s grey jacket. Wherever it went, I did too. Under the jungle’s canopy I was surrounded by a landscape of greens. Underneath, the deeper greens faded into almost black, moss-like and velvety, blending with the shadows around my feet. The next layer up was a mixture of lighter shades marbled by the meagre sunlight that made its way down to us. Those slight openings provided our only warmth.

The path we were following began disappearing under a layer of bushes. Almost immediately, Greyjacket as I had named him, held up his hand, and began making odd throaty sounds. Theses were low and deep, and rolled rhythmically from his mouth. He continued making these sounds as he pointed out a track to the left of us. The narrowness meant falling into a line behind each other. Being straight behind Greyjacket, I almost fell when he reached behind and grabbed my elbow.

Suddenly level with the guide, I looked around, and on my left I saw him. Nothing would have prepared me for that first sight of seven hundred pounds of absolute power. Facing sideways he is a dark mountain against the greenery, his head a weathered carved summit peak. Leaning forward on his arms, body sculpted and magnetic, his muscles ripple under his fur, an undulating mass of brawn. There’s no sound other than the crackling of the vegetation being squashed under him. In that moment no other creature exists in my world. His name is Mrithi; in Swahili it means successor.

Mrithi

The silver oval on his back is prominent as Mrithi moves to distance himself from our small group. The sight of his back haunches heading away seems like a statement of our worth in this place. ‘Kiss my arse,’ he seems to be saying. Nearby, a female gorilla is nursing a tiny helpless scrap of fur. GreyJacket continues to grunt, click and murmur in a regular rhythm as Mrithi sits close by the nursing female.

Mrithi Keeping Watch

“Come, come,” the guides wave us on another path. These men’s ability to find firm ground to walk on is amazing. The whole area seems to have been converted into a large green trampoline for the gorillas to play on.

“Jesus, this is amazing,” my boyfriend of a few weeks says. His Dutch accent normally makes my fingers move automatically toward him. But now, God, I wish he’d be quiet. I need the silence, so I can frame this piece of time. Not just in my mind, but in my skin.

On each side there are groups of gorillas. Adolescents playing together, tumbling, and tackling each other, nearby, older, more sedate ones are lying under patches of sunlight. None seem bothered by our proximity. I’m beginning to understand the need for the repeated instruction we were given earlier to avoid challenging them with eye contact; it is difficult not to stare. Eventually we reach an area that ends in a small courtyard of leaves.

On a raised pedestal sit a mother gorilla and child, eyeing us as if we are the exhibit. One arm folded across her belly, the other bent to lean her head into her hand. An expression of patience emanates from her dusky brown eyes, as she inspects this bunch of unkempt humans before her. She makes me feel like I’m back in the neighbourhood Catholic Church; sunlight streaming through the large stained glass window making Mary’s eyes even more knowledgeable. Nine-years-old and believing that Mary’s eyes saw through to my heart, and knew the worth of it. As with Mary, here in this moment I know absolute acceptance, as her dark eyes find mine and hold me, gently but unwavering.

Mother and Child

Huddled like a shy toddler, the young one’s hand twists and twirls the hair on his Mum’s belly. Innocent tawny eyes watch from under a mantle of thick dark hair as the little one appears to listen to the guide’s noises.

“S a boy…see, little boy. No, no, stay.” The young one’s inquisitive nature takes over and he begins playing to the rapt audience in front of him. He cheekily pokes at the guide, even running his finger inside the collar of the grey jacket. Tugging away, he pulls the guide closer till he is able to fondle every part of his head. One eye still on those of us further away, he begins to plant kisses on Greyjacket’s forehead.

“Oh. Oh wow.” In moments of awe, there’s nothing so good to utter as a cliché, or something you’d say in year six.

Time is limited, we are only allowed an hour amongst them. It had seemed enough time when it was all an abstract idea. Now I realise what the old saying, time is relative, means.

Taking my turn, I hand my camera off while I do the touristy thing, slowly moving into place in front of the platform, smiling the obligatory smile while one of the others snaps away. Wet and dishevelled, it takes awhile to realise what is happening. His small hand found its way into my hair, his palm coming to rest on the back of my head. Gentle fingertips feeling the contours, as if I am some fragile creature he is examining. Leaning back, I lay my head into his palm, like a lover seeking his caress, feeling the tiny ridges on his fingers.

The trek back to camp is quiet, each of us holding onto that hour as we walk away from the dappled clearing with all its shades of colour. Soft shades that emphasise the peace we found here. Peace however, is a transient thing in the jungles of Rwanda. No-one is safe, not even those with the eyes of a Madonna.

Mrithi died from a gunshot at the age of twenty-four in the hazy dawn hours. His body was left whole and untouched, except for the bullet holes where his life escaped from him. He could have lived to forty. Perhaps one day, I’ll trek back in search of another clearing. If I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll see Mrithi’s successor.

Mrithi

The Graveyard

It’s early. Twenty folk of various ages and nationalities, one broken orange Bedford truck and trailer, a cattle track, and a graveyard in Tanzania are my companions. It’s hot in or out of the sun. How hot is difficult to say since our thermometer blew up, but sweat runs from under my breasts leaving lengthy ruts in the dust on my stomach.

The heat brings a quiet with it, as the varying complexions among our group seek shelter. Some assemble in the back of the truck; others lie on camp beds under dispersed trees lining the track. Even those busy with engine repairs do not disturb the heaviness of the heat. We’d not chosen to camp here; our truck had simply decided to stop.

Graves line one side of the track. There are no orderly lines of uniform headstones. Instead there are small groupings, distinct but not separate from each other. They are marked by simple stones, or carved wooden adornments. Up close, these are delicately intricate. Although unable to decipher what is written, the deep scoring has been done with precision, and leaves you with a sense of solicitude.

A sound like thunder, but softer and more consistent, announces the coming of a hundred or more large beasts with curved horns and one hump, dragging a dust eddy with them. The orange Bedford stops them. Huddling together, the front ones refusing to get near to the truck while those in back push forward, they form a huge jam of bellowing beasts.

At the back of the herd, amongst the churning air and floating pieces of earth, a tall and slender Masai appears. His skin is a buffed black mirror, brightly reflective. Moving among the cattle, his voice clear above the noise, they quieten as he speaks.

One piece of cloth is wound around his frame, a dark, worn, red colour, matching the colour of the earth under us. Long hair is pulled back from his face with plaits and beads. Bracelets sit above his elbows. Beads ornament his neck, and beat against his chest as he moves. About his waist hangs an earthy coloured woven belt, from which a large straight knife dangles.

“It is not usual for people to camp beside graves,” is his first comment.

“It is not by choice,” our driver Gus tells him, explaining our break down.

“Why do you travel here? It is hot, and there are no hotels.”

“We are travelling north to Europe.”

“Mmmph. I would like to travel to Europe, but not like this.” He waves his arm to indicate our camp.

Some of our group try to take his photograph. His body language underlines his verbal, “No photos!” One girl, an Australian, keeps trying. So quickly I don’t register the movement, he has his knife out, its point resting in the curve between her nose and lip. Again he requests no photos. At this, she puts the camera away, and the knife returns to his belt. Except for the expression on her face, it is as if the moment had never happened.

Returning to the problem of the cattle, he asks for our help in moving them past the orange monster. We arrange ourselves around the truck, forming a barrier between it and the cattle. Moving back among them he uses sounds, and a long stick, to encourage them to go forward. He is taking them to the local market for a monthly sale. Once the front of the herd passes the truck, the others move to quickly join them.

While the cattle continue ahead, the Masai rejoins us briefly, and he farewells all twenty of us individually.

“I hope that you are able to leave before I return,” he says. “It is not good for people to camp beside graves. It disturbs them.”

Teenagers – A Generation Apart

My beautiful daughter and handsome son !!

Being a teenager is often a bewildering and complex time in a person’s life, as much today in the 21st century as when I experienced it in the 1970s. There are new experiences to make sense of, hormones to deal with, and boundaries to test and expand. It can be a time of immense fun with parties, concerts (good music being a pre-requisite, of course) or just hanging out with friends, on the other hand, dealing with personal safety, sex and drug issues can be perplexing and difficult. Although there will always be similarities, as each new generation evolves, they face challenges and experiences that those from the past have not encountered. That some experiences such as personal safety, music, drug usage, puberty, and sexual awareness are pertinent to every generation is true; nevertheless, there are challenges in these experiences that are generation specific.

Safety is an issue that is of more concern today than for teenagers 30 years ago. Sydney Australia, where I grew up, was an exciting place to spend your teenage years. My friends and I felt safe to roam, people were friendly and we enjoyed a good deal of freedom. Days were spent at various beaches, while at night we cruised the streets. Moving from one pub to another, often using our thumbs, hitch-hiking being the favoured means of transport.

The innocence and freedom that my generation took for granted 30 years ago no longer exists. Although my teenage daughter enjoys the relative safety of growing up in a small rural community in New Zealand, she is aware of the need to consider personal safety issues to a far greater extent than I ever was. She wouldn’t consider hitch-hiking anywhere, as she has told me frequently: “That is just too dumb a thing to do Mum.” Stranger danger is something we now drill into our children; even kindergartens operate programmes to educate those as young as four on this subject.

In the seventies, as well as today, music formed a platform for teenagers to express themselves. The seventies was a time where some truly great music was born. Glam rock appeared with bands such as Queen, rock was taken to a new level with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Joe Cocker. Musicals took on the new era, with the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar and the infamous Hair, the first stage show to have full-frontal nudity, bringing with them controversial change.

Another controversial teenage issue has always been experimental drugs usage; however, teens today are more at risk than my generation was. While marijuana, LSD and speed were readily available in the 70′, today’s teen are bombarded with an ever-increasing assortment of drugs. As well as what was available to us, they now have everything from the popular so-called ‘herbal’ party pills to the highly dangerous drug P. Sadly today it is not uncommon for teens to have drugs offered to them even in schools, to the point where some teens are routinely drug-tested in schools and colleges.

Puberty has become a dangerous time for today’s teens to negotiate their way through in comparison with teenagers 30 years ago. While 30 years ago we too were concerned with pregnancy and catching STD’s, the teenagers of today also face the existence if AIDS, which has altered the sexual revolution altogether. On the other hand, we now have more sexual education available from many differing agencies. It is no longer considered the place, or the right of parents to be the only ones to teach these matters to their teenagers.

Sex is no longer the taboo subject it was when I was younger; on the contrary, colleges have nurses available to discuss issues. Doctors protect teen’s privacy, making it more likely that they will seek help. Advertising constantly reminds them of the need for them to be safe and protect themselves.

In particular the ‘no rubba, no hubba hubba’ campaign, was specifically targeted towards today’s generation of teenagers. Television and radio programmes, magazines such as Cosmopolitan, as well the internet, have brought sexual issues out into the public arena for teenagers dealing with puberty. And discussions in our house are certainly more open and lively than I experienced while a teenager.

No matter when people experience their teenage years, there will always be challenges. But, so long as the preceding generation is willing to stand behind and be willing to listen as well as offer help when asked, hopefully the good will outweigh the bad. With luck, my son and daughter will also smile when they look back over these years, just as I do.

Aethelfrith

At Degsasten, under a cloud-murk sky

Aethelfrith’s force-at–arms lay quartered on the fens.

Each brave man slept deep.

It was widely understood that on the morrow,

they faced a full company of men-at-arms.

Outnumbered ten-fold on the field they would,

undaunted, face the minions of Aedan, protector of Dal Riata.

Morning came to the land,

Aethelfrith’s warrior-band made ready.

Bending low before their hastily built pagan shrines,

they offered slain beasts, and swore to uphold ancient laws,

would that the Gods were to protect them, and that which they

would fight for.

Addressing the men, Aethelfrith, son of Aethelric, spoke:

“Truth is, even the mightiest man may lay mangled on the battlefield.

Many warriors, valiant and venturesome, went on their way at

Catraeth.

I believe you are a loyal troop. I hold out my kingship, that this

danger we will defeat.

So go ahead with your war-graith and gear,

and you shall be remembered throughout the land as our nation’s

killing-sword.”

Inspired with thoughts of glory the warriors went forward,

young men marching in war-shirts and woven chain-mail.

Some to be tested, their first time as fighters –

having pledged loyalty to their lord of the nation –

beside battle-weary thanes,

together under a blaze of burnished helmets wielding scroll-worked

weapons.

Hard-edged blades designed for death and destruction,

a rose red sea of bladed arms, mirroring the rising dawn.

Aethelfrith, riding forth in magnificence,

the shepherd of his people,

recklessly led his band of retainers into the clash of battle.

They stood four-square, facing their foes,

a blood-lust welling, unleashing the killer instinct

to carry them into combat.

Pushing his mount past his warriors at a punishing speed,

Aethelfrith, brandishing his banner of gold and red called out:

“This day shall Aedan learn we are not to be trampled upon;

he shall not humiliate us in the heat of battle.”

Aedan’s campaign indeed was fated to be overpowered.

Such was the regard that the kinsmen and men-at-arms held

Aethelfrith,

his band of retainers rode in excitement toward Aedan’s force.

The king himself, their treasure-giver,

rode to the fore, fighting fearlessly, dealing death with his hard

edged blade.

The men-at-arms resolve to prove their courage in contest was as

great as their lord’s,

they drew themselves high behind the cover of their shields,

and followed the burnished helmet and war-shirt of their fabled

shepherd into mortal combat.

No coward’s path would be taken this day.

Pouring forth in coats of mail, woven by the smith,

their bloodied weapons sang of victory.

Dealing death at each stroke, unyielding, and roused to a fury,

they struck terror in the enemy.

Blades flashed and slashed, and the fields ran wet with blood.

Each man’s fighting hand came to his kinsmen’s aid, lunging,

every man acted throwing his whole strength into each sword-stroke.

So it must be that men shall act so,

to be at hand for those needful of their strength,

to be inspired by thoughts of eminence,

stay resolute in their defence,

and to bear arms in defence of their gold-giver.

Though the going was heavy,

good men lying dead in the mayhem and horror of the harrowed

field of blood,

the Almighty exacted a great price from Aedan for his wages of war

against Aethelfrith.

Sorrow was to follow Aedan and his retainers,

as they slithered away from the battle-field,

beaten, battered, a broken guard of men.

Favoured by the fortunes of battle,

Aethelfrith cried out to his warriors to return to the

seat of their nation, bringing with them their dead and wounded.

From astride his horse he said:

“Good men, now that the killing sword has done its worst,

and we are not over harmed through

the clash of battle, let us be guided home.”

So they marched,

stern-faced, and battle-weary,

Aethelfrith guiding them the shortest way

They kept to marching order,

their war-graith grimly covered in blood,

ringing out its metallic song as they moved.

Seeing their glittering bawn settled in the dale,

glowing amidst the green glade and timber dwellings,

each man’s heart welled to be granted this sight.

Aethelfrith dismounted;

walking within the walls of his hall-building,

he saw the rich wall-hangings covering the stoutest hardwood

that reached high into wide gables.

Stewards ran between tables and benches

bearing large jugs of ale,

placing cups so that the thanes could quench their thirsts.

Above the great carved throne hung a golden hilted sword,

a relic willed to Aethelfrith from his father, Aethelric.

Beside the great throne’s wooden feet lay Aethelfrith’s two great

beasts, bred only for those of noble birth,

they barked their joy at their master’s return.

Aethelfrith, sad at heart, saw none of this.

He ordered that the news of the battle be carried to those left

behind.

The troops gathered in the great hall. Aethelfrith addressed them,

“We have been victorious and beset Aedan with our small band of

warriors.

Now it comes to us to honour those who did not return.

My loss is as great as some of you.

My own brother, Theobald lay bloodied, his war-gear bought low.

He fell among the great forces he commanded this day.

My pride, my kin, is laid dead,

though I hefted my sword it was for nothing.

I was not to save the blood of my blood.

Let us build funeral pyres for the dead,

Theobald among them.”

Aethelfrith watched as they built the pyres,

Theobald’s stood out among them.

The warriors laid him atop, his torque resting on his shining armour.

Aethelfrith carried the flame,

fumes and smoke swelled;

blazing fires bore company with weeping.

***

This poem was showcased at One Shot Wednesday Week #53