LESSONS FROM A ROAD TRIP

Karratha to Perth: 1600 kilometres.

Date of son and daughter-in-law’s wedding: slap bang in the middle of the school holidays.

Length of time we’ve had shiny new SUV: two weeks.

Of course we drove.

The plan was relatively simple: we’d bundle ourselves into the car, blast through the 11-hour drive from K-Town to Geraldton in a day, stay overnight, then hit Perth on day two. Coming back, we’d take things slower: stop at Geraldton again, stop at Carnarvon on day two, get home on day three. Take the time to see a tourist trap or two on the way. We’d have Lord 15’s best mate in the car with us, so turn the trip into a bit of a sightseeing experience rather than a race. And with the extra space we’d have, and the lack of a luggage limit, get some big-arse shopping in in the meantime.

And so we did.

Along the way, though, it turned into an important rite-of-old-man-passage. Because I learned some things, and those things are going to herald some changes. But here’s the biggest:

 

There’s very little about Perth that I actually miss.

Okay, obviously I miss my adult kids, and my grandkids. But the truth is, Aiden’s a grown-ass man, with a (now) wife and life of his own.

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Grown-ass man and grown-ass wife, with not-quite-grown-ass-baby-bump we’ll get to meet during the Chrismas holidays.

 

Erin’s at Uni, and head over heels in her first adult relationship. Cassie’s almost thirty and she’s made her own life choices. And they rarely initiate contact with me, unless it’s for something very specific. They’re leading their own lives. And, as is the way, I’m now pretty much just an accessory to those lives. I’m no longer central, and honestly, I rarely was anyway. And this is the 21st Century. We talk on Discord. We play games online together. We Skype. We text. We’re in communication in so many more ways that used to be possible that we’re not apart: we’re just not together.

As to the rest of it, I can’t point to a single aspect of Perth life that I miss.

Actually, no. That’s not true.

Kebabs. I hadn’t realised how much I missed kebabs. I had one, and it was like unlocking a foodgasm. Other than that, we didn’t eat anywhere that I cared to think about once we left. Eating out options are pretty rubbish in Karratha, although the Indian place is better than any Indian place I’ve ever eaten at bar one. Which means we cook all the time, and there’s no type of reasonably-priced food in Perth that tastes better than the Italian we make at home, the Chinese we make at home, the burgers, the fish and chips, the pick your poison… so no.

I don’t miss the cold. I don’t miss the rain. I sure as living fuck don’t miss the traffic.

I’ll admit to losing my shit at Elizabeth’s Bookstores, and Quality Comics, and the Lego outlets. But that’s more a case of opportunity + cash = browse-a-fucking-rama. And, truth be told, if you give me those circumstances I’m like the Incredible Hulk on a sugar rush: we get back to Perth every six months or so, and I can hoover up enough to keep me going for the six months in between. (Except for graphic novels. I read those buggers like I eat chocolate bullets– by the handful). And yes, K-town shopping isn’t the most expansive in the world, but here’s what I’ve noticed: it forces me to work out what I really need, rather than what I’m simply buying on a whim. And for the rest, well, online shopping recognises no distance.

And I know the counter-argument could include the greater entertainment options, and cultural opportunities. And you’d be right, of course, except: I spent 40 years in the Perth region. To a certain extent, I’ve done the cultural opportunities. I’ve travelled throughout the South West so often I can drive to individual houses in most country towns without needing a map. Museums, libraries, cultural centres: yep, yep, yep. Festivals? Sure, except I never really went as often as I thought I would. The Writers Festival I’ll give you. But the Fringe, the Arts Festival? Yeah, not really. Ditto concerts. The cinema?

 

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Okay, we did do AQWA, and it was great. And given how often we go, it’ll be great in 2035, as well. 

 

Try not to look like an Irwin. 

 

Let me tell you: we’ve got a cultural centre in K-Town better than the one in your town. Guaranteed. And it functions as a cinema. And it’s got a bloody good library. See, there’s regional, and then there’s regional. And when you through $50M+ at a regional arts precinct, you bloody well make use of it.

So, you know, I simply don’t miss the place. Which means the second lesson:

 

I’m not leaving Karratha any time soon. 

Lord 15 is this close to transitioning into Lord 16, and to entering senior school. If all goes according to his plan, he’ll be heading back down to Perth in just over two years to take up a place at University.

 

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This is pretty much exactly the phase he’s in, where being with me is concerned…

 

Luscious and I will be on our own at that point. We’ll be faced with a decision: stay in Karratha, where we earn good money and live a comfortable lifestyle (Hell, I’m writing this in a very nice hotel room at our local Best Western, just because it’s a long weekend and we decided to spend it on a staycation, because we could); or go back to Perth, where Luscious would have to find a new job that would immediately lose her more than 5 grand a year in location bonuses, and I’d be stuck with my thumb up my arse because who wants to employ a guy in his fifties who’s spent the last 5 years working part-time and who doesn’t want full-time work anymore, anyway?

Write your answers on a brick and throw them at a mirror.

We’re at the cusp of our fifties. We’ve spent two decades (and more, in Luscious’ case) not putting money away because we’ve thrown it all at family. We’ve got, at best, fifteen years to fund our retirement. Because we’re in the North, we’re living in subsidised accommodation while the house we own in Perth pays for itself through rental income. We can travel from our house to the school where we work, to the gym, to the swimming pool, to the shops, to the cinema, to the art gallery, to the theatre, to the best restaurant in town, and back home — and still have change left from ten kilometres.

I’m an author. Where I live literally doesn’t mean a bloody thing when it comes to working as an author.

What do we have to leave for?

 

This is the lifestyle. It’s up to me to fit into it.

I want to lose weight. I want to go back to study. I want to go back to writing. This is where I live. This is home. If I’m going to achieve anything, from here on in, it has to be as a Karratha resident. And while that may seem obvious, we came here with the idea that we would stay for three years, to see Lord 15 to the end of Year Ten, and then we would decide where we went next. Psychologically, there’s been a reticence to commit to long-term plans, because there’s always been the possibility that we would have to undergo the upheaval of returning to Perth again.

Well, we’ve decided. We’re staying. There will be no upheaval. No more uncertainty, no more prevarication, and no excuses. Whatever I do, I do from here.

 

Karratha may be great, but its medical practitioners are a pack of shaman.

Before I engage in too much of a K-Town lovefest, there’s one aspect of life up here that is far from up to (and oh, given the anecdote I’m about to tell, how ironically must I use this word….) scratch. Here’s how it went down.

It’s January 2020. I’m having some trouble with my left ear. I’m feeling painful pressure. It gets hot, like, really hot. It itches. I’m experiencing bouts of loud tinnitus, and occasional dizziness (Mind you, I’m old, broken, and 900 kilos overweight: half of everything makes me dizzy…). I can feel something, well, moving— a circular tickling sensation, like little legs scrabbling for purchase.

There are two main surgeries in town. I go to the first of them. The doctor takes one so-quick-even-I’m-a-little-taken-aback glance at it, and nods wisely. Nothing more than eczema, he declares. It happens up here — dry climate and all that. Prescribes some drops, tells me it’ll clear up in a couple of week.

freeman

Voice-over: It did not clear up in a couple of weeks.

 

It’s been a month. I decide to head back to the other surgery. The doctor takes a look. Takes another look. Nips out to talk to the pathology people. ‘Taint no eczema. What it is, is what we all hoped it wasn’t when we read the phrase ‘like little legs scrabbling for purchase’. It’s little legs, or more accurately, the round white ass-end of a little body. A little body that has been busy burrowing into the upper reaches of my lughole since the doctor told me it was eczema a bloody month ago.

The pathology people sit me down and try to flush it out. If you’ve never experienced an ear flush before, imagine someone shooting hot water up your head handle with a military-grade water pistol from a distance so close even a stormtrooper only has a 20% chance of missing.

It. Doesn’t. Fucking, Tickle. is my point.

When that doesn’t work, worry ensues. The local hospital is rung. They’re having none of it. Royal Perth Hospital is rung. They want me down as soon as possible. An appointment is made for five days hence. Cool. The doctors here have a program for medical flights down to the City. All I need to do is knock them up and get a flight down to Perth. Soon as I can.

Did I mention there was a pandemic on?

There are literally no seats on any flight — commercial or charter — that will get me there in time. I ring the clinic at RPH, and re-book for a time the flight people tell me is available. Except when I ring back, it’s slightly less available than they thought. By which they mean it’s not at all available. Back to the clinic.

Three more times.

It’s now June.

In the end, I tell them fuck it: I will be down in Perth during the July school holidays, anyway. Give me one time during those dates, and I will be there.

They do. I am.

Six months after my first incorrect diagnosis. Six months of the horrible little creepy crawly buggery bugbastard scooping out gobbets of my flesh for its new home and doing who knows what manner of creepy, buggy, ewwwwy shit in my delicate wingnut flesh — undoubtedly involving the laying of eggs and making things necrotic and hatching little crawly min-bugbastards that will inevitably burrow all the way back into my skull cavity and take up occupancy in my delectable brain meat.

Six months.

But I’m finally there. At the Ear, Nose, Throat clinic at Royal Perth Hospital. For my 9am surgery appointment, where I can be knocked out by some really goddamn heavy anaesthetic, and a nice person can cut me open and scoop out my alien invader, and I can get on with coping with the inevitable physical damage and probable hearing loss that comes from having parts of my inner ear sliced to ribbons by nice people.

You can bet I was early.

The surgeon sits me down. He has a look in my ear. He looks again. He nods. He says to me, “Before we go through to the theatre, let me just check….”

He runs through my symptoms. I confirm.

 

huntsman-spiders-australia-01

Who’s picturing something like this, right about now?

 

It’s fucking scar tissue. A small, white, circular nub of scar tissue from a torn eardrum. And I know exactly when it happened — George Thorogood, Perth Entertainment Centre, 1989, thanks very much.

The rest of it? Meniere’s Disease. I’m getting on. I have too much salt, too much caffeine, and too much chocolate in my diet.

I’m on the street fifteen minutes after I arrive.

So, yeah. Perth is good for one thing: if I’m sick, I’m saving up my symptoms for six months and coming down to see a real doctor.

 

Meanwhile, back up t’North, there’s more to see.

One of the greatest joys of the Great Big Road Trip was also one of the greatest frustrations. Namely, we saw a bit of Geraldton, and a bit of Carnarvon, but an extended visit to the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum aside (and holy mother of god, is it ever the coolest place ever!), we didn’t give ourselves a chance to properly explore the lands between Perth and K-Town. There was simply too much driving to get through.

 

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Me, at the Space Museum, while giant pieces of space-tech loom in the background.

 

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Luscious, at the Space Museum, while giant pieces of you know what, I’ll let you figure out the rest of it yourself… 

 

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Also, I worked out how the panorama function on my phone’s camera worked while we were there. It really is the coolest. place. ever.

 

I want to see Exmouth. I want to see Dirk Hartog Island. I want to see Carnarvon properly (and not just because the local Toyworld is the best Lego shop outside of Bricklink, honest…). I want to see Kalbarri, and Coral Bay, and all the other places I spent forty years not seeing because my parents always told me they were too expensive and too far away, and I carried that belief into my adult life, and now, when neither of those things are true, we swept past them because our timetable didn’t permit it.

And I want to turn my attention further Northward, too. I want to see Broome again. I want to see Wyndham, and Kalbarri, and the Bungle Bungles, and all those places so far North they never entered my thinking again.

Western Australia is vast, and I’m in the middle of the vastest vastness it has. I think some wandering is well and truly on the agenda.

 

So, this is me.

Nearly fifty years old. Living in the North of WA. Teaching part-time. And I’m going to be doing it for a goodly amount of time hence.

Whatever comes next, it comes from there.

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