Love and Horror in the Office

sky

(Trigger warning: contains child-abuse)

Jaws drop, heads lower, expletives bounce off the personality-free walls of the Local Authority office. Not a single Social Worker in the room can believe what they are hearing, and behind the curse words are distressed hearts. You see, trauma travels between and within us.

It’s 4pm on a Thursday and two Duty Social Workers are in the midst of a search for a foster carer for an eight year old girl who needs to come into care that same day. A Safeguarding Manager across the aisle is on her mobile to the Safeguarding Social Worker out at the girl’s house. Other workers at rows of desks carry on their phone calls or writing reports. It could just been seen as a ‘typical day in the office’.

The dropping jaws and pierced hearts are in response to overhearing the Manager’s conversation, a one-sided debate which implies that the police want to take a different legal route to get this girl into foster care, one other than immediate removal.

The lowered heads are silent statements of “what more evidence do they need?!” The referral was harrowing, inhumane, heart-breaking. An eight year old girl locked in her bedroom, made to toilet in a litter tray, forced to scrub it clean, every door inside her house locked and alarmed, light-globes removed, punishments of endurance. Dark, horrific prison; a faeces smelling bedroom and urine stained little girl, quiet yet articulate, with too-thin legs. This: her family home, her only experience of what life is.

Every worker in the room had felt their skin crawl, their stomach churn, and there was multiple responses of “I’ll take her home”, the urge to wrap her up in a comforter on a safe sofa immediate around the office.

And yet, questions by the police as to whether to issue emergency protection orders the same day?! They have their legal logic. Still. Jaws dropped, expletives bounced.

The Duty Social Workers continue their phone calls to carers to see who could take her in tonight. Their day had already included placing two babies, and a so-far fruitless search for another eight year old who needed to move placements. The list of twenty or so other children in need of care, but not so urgent, sits untouched. The babies were safely en route to their temporary homes, and the focus shifts to the search for the girl. The Manager is heard supporting the field Social Worker to challenge police view, with clear questions of whether back up is needed in the field, are the family looking like they will “kick off”? The office inhales and holds its breath.

The Duty Social Workers simultaneously listen to the Manager’s conversation so they stay updated, while needing to block out conversations so they can focus on finding a safe bed. Emotional and strategic multi-tasking at its best. They begin the child-carer matching-tetris game…considering carer experience, location, other children in the house and their needs. They attempt to unwrap practical barriers and pull out their best negotiating voices. Another worker begins an out-of-county search as Plan B. Nobody wants this girl to move too far around the country, but available carers are thin on the ground.

The Placements Manager is asking for updates every half hour, as he will need to give approval to fund an independent fostering placement if no Local Authority carers can take her. One of the Duty Social Workers feels the heat of her other cases breathing heavily down the back of her neck, solicitor emails with updated court deadlines fly into her email inbox and she turns off her email notifications to lighten her own breath.

The office chocolate tin is quickly emptying.

If you walked into that office, all you would see is ordinarily-looking adults sat at computers, typing away or on the phone, the occasional blue or bright pink hair in the sea of auburn, brown and blonde. If you could mute the room like a television you could be fooled into thinking that these folk were pen-pushing, paper-shuffling, risk-avoidant, pension-waiting, Local Authority clock-watchers, abundant cogs in a paper-chain of red tape.

But they are far from that.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, if you lift the volume, these people are agents of love in a world of horror; people who face others’ pain daily and come back for more, their motivation strengthened by the simple fact that they may be able to do something to help girls like that, anything at all. Like, by working with the police to remove the girl to a safe place, or by calling every possible foster carer until a warm safe home is found.

This time, the Duty Social Workers get lucky, the third local foster carer called can take her, at least for a week while a longer term option is found, and extended family members considered. The police issue the emergency order, and the girl is driven to a foster carer’s house later that evening. She is somewhere tonight where they will offer her a night light if she wants it, clean sheets as a basic, and the chance at recovery.

The office exhales, and heads lower this time in relief.

This little girl is somewhere safe tonight.

Your Happy Place

flowers

“Take a deep breath and go to your happy place” he said in a voice with more gruffness than the words suggest, while placing an oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. My darting eyes caught sight of the thick black tattoo along his inner forearm, and as I attempted to focus on the lines of the tattoo to make out the meaning, my inner mind’s eye tried to focus on my future happy place of the Greek Islands…. azure sea dreams floated by. The anaesthetic must have kicked in, as the azure mixed with the tattoo and then my happy place morphed into oblivion.

Gone.

Outer world gone.

Inner world gone.

Pains gone.

Not nirvana.

Not anything.

…..

I wouldn’t call it ‘waking’, coming out of anaesthetic. It’s more like…’remaining’ yet with your eyes slowly opening. Then closing. Then opening. The white ceiling blurs, the oblivion sits within you still, body thick and motionless. You know you are awake, while images do not make complete sense and the people are all the same yet different. This feels far from my happy place. Yet also, feels like nothing.

‘Waking’ to the sight of the tattooed anaesthetist in a white formal dinner suit significantly added to my disorientation; dapper. What has happened in the last few hours? I glance down to see if my outfit has changed so dramatically, am slightly surprised to see no ball gown. I respond positively when he asks me if I feel ok before he exits swiftly. I had been last on their ‘standard procedure’ list this evening, and he clearly has some place to be.

My eyes drop and lift repeatedly, heavy. Words from the nurses float about me, gossip of Yeovil and their thoughts of the anaesthetist’s wardrobe change. They confirm during a handover that my procedure went according to plan, ‘textbook’.

Relief amongst disorientation.

Wherever I am now, I’m better.

Fears of irreparable insides subside.

The familiar face of Katie, my prep and recovery nurse, smiles down at me, enquires how I am. I manage a warbling “good” and a grateful “no” when she asks about feeling nauseous. “I can’t see the outline of anything”, I manage. She re-assures, “that’s just the anaesthetic, it will pass”.

Her reassurance has been unwavering since I met her six hours earlier. The word trust floats through my mucky mind, behind closed eyes, along with words like droopy, drugs, dapper and ….blah. Perhaps its the drugs influence, yet I start to feel strong feelings of universal love for reassuring nurse Katie, twinned with a fuzzy insight that its probably a good thing my mouth is compromised and cannot instigate words, saving me from embarrassing confessions of inappropriate love.

Take a breath and go to your happy place…

Is my happy place a sun-drenched Mediterranean island where skies are clearly defined and love is freely confessed? A place where reassurance is a constant kindness and the egg and cress sandwiches are organic and cut into small triangles, made with care by another?

Some time later the sweetest of sweet student nurses, Isaac, gently removes the final drip line from my hand and confirms the discharge plan. He wisely advises me to accept the kindness of others. I exhale, handing my recovery-drug-filled bag to my ever-kind-patient-pal-Roz, her hand out-stretched to carry whatever needs carrying. We leave this mixed up happy place, and head towards my happier place, home. The Greek islands are not too far away.

Take a breath, and go to your happy place. It could be anywhere…

Devotion

Nan

I am her kin and her descendent, her daughter’s daughter and no less.

She followed him to the grave, she did. Six weeks gone, she knew he’d be pacing the heavens, his transparent fingers pining for her, still living. I wonder if he tried to hold her hand while she lay in that bed, impatient to keep the love story going on the other side, frustrated in death that his hand held no power, plummeting straight through her. He must have roamed those corridors all forty two days, devoted and unseen.

Yet, she was always going to go in her own time, in her own way, choose her own last breath. She was in no hurry; she knew he’d still be there, pacing, loving; an impatient love he had, her’s so measured. His devotion fed her calmness, created it perhaps. She took her time to say goodbyes, such grace, such slender gentle hands which never lost the kindness or the colour, right up til final breath.

I am her kin and her descendent, her daughter’s daughter and no less. Though, some days I lose my grace, some days my tenderness. Some days I wander hallways and feel impatient and unseen. I understand his pacing, his insecurity, his loss; understand his grasping for you, craving for the calm you breathe. He couldn’t bear to lose you, so he gnashed his false teeth silently and held on tight to air; he waited faithfully.

I am her kin and her descendant, her daughter’s daughter and no less. Whether by design or divinity, its definitely not sheer luck. My slender hands are a given, are with me everywhere. The remainder I keep on seeking – the kindness and the grace, the calm and the devotion, and all the tenderness. My colour shifts with every mood, by subtle measurements. Yet I will let my body curve into another, allow love lines to form, leaning back to back or spooning, holding hands while we are living, devotion til my final breath.

I am her kin and her descendant, her daughter’s daughter and no less.

2016 took many…

wales.png

2016 took many.

 

What if I die here tonight.

On this sofa, curled up warm, fire on, Wales guidebook on the table, next to an unanswered handwritten letter, one mug, one plate, one mince pie gone from inside torn up Christmas paper. Shoes scattered, luggage ignored, phone with pending messages laying where it fell.

 

What if I die here tonight.

To be found in two days time, cold despite the room hot from electric flames, mince pies tasting of osmosis decay, letter still unanswered, Wales still unexplored, a phone with distress inside, new messages now unanswered.

 

What if I die here tonight.

What would I leave behind and what would i never get to do?

 

I’d never get to love more. And well, that would be the biggest shame of it all.

 

So…I’m not going to die tonight…well, I’m not you know…and neither are you. It’s just not our time yet. {Touches wood and hurls hope and gratitude towards the heavens} So, more love it is! More passion too! Let’s answer the handwritten letters, call and visit those friends and family and that divine lover, eat all the mince pies, drink from all the mugs and keep loving as much and as more as we possibly can.

 

Yes, 2016 sadly took many. Yet it did not take me, and it most certainly did not take you!

 

Happy New Year – 2017 Year of Passion xx

Crumbling Sintra

“I am as ornate as I am strong” – say all the doors and door handles and walls; twelfth century paint peeling off fraught wrought iron lion door knockers.

Mmmmmm this place is so lush and beautiful.

Can you see the art of it?

Doors crumble while tourist buses rumble on.

With warm crisp summer mountain air every dislodged footfall has history which we dream through. The cacophonic tourists are tossed around by tourismo-machismo men, launched into tiny tuktuks, climbing up steep hills to magnificent monasteries, adding to the art of it.

Foreigners keep the place alive, while those local souls departed an age ago remain nestled in the tunnels of the chapel, chilling the spines of curious tourists stumbling upon them, who quickly back away without turning when the cool of their death wakes them in the face; they know better than to meddle. Instead they retreat to the beauty of the outside, of greens, of turrets, of tiles, of waterfalls gliding over Moorish blue, the humans eyes wide with the love of the lush, welcoming warmth back to their sides.

Sintra, you’re beautiful.

The souls of many to here have climbed.

sintra

Sintra, Portugal

Passionfruit and Demons

me

“Go underground, sit silently with our passions and demons”, said the Facebook post by Wanderlust. “Turn inward” it suggested, as it romanticised this, the shortest day of the year, Winter Solstice. It made me stop with those words. Our passions and demons. My passions and demons. Your passions and demons.

Passions and demons.

It’s uncanny because three nights ago I tried to sit quietly with my demons to better understand them…and ended up writing about passion. About passionfruit.

With it being three nights shy of winter solstice it was a bleak evening, with a deep black darkness smothering the hills and valleys around here, and the grimness had been seeping under my skin slowly but surely. There was a half moon, perfectly formed and perfectly fuzzy, hiding half of itself behind a thin layer of demons, the remainder barely visible through the cloud.

A friend had suggested earlier that evening (or afternoon, its hard to tell), that the solstice is the time to delve into the shadow self, see what meaning and guidance it can deliver before a re-birth of light. So I thought ok, I’ll try this. C’mon demons, let’s play! C’mon shadow self, I thought, I want to know you, I want to hear your insight, I want to see how my demons can guide me. Then surely we can all return to the light for another year please, brighter and wiser like the good pagans we are.

I listened hard to the silence for a message. I sat in the quiet, sank into the emptiness. Yet the darkness gave me little. The silence even less. Except a total awareness of how deep the dark could be, and stronger motivation to seek out light!

I started writing. I wrote about passionfruit tart, and home, and Ed Sheeran, and fairy lights and eating take away food. I wrote about sofa-beds and facials and singing loudly while driving and leaving the toilet seat up. I wrote about passion, and passionfruit, and passionfruit tart.

There were no demons to be seen. Not on that night anyway. Unless my demon is the darkness itself, and passion is my release from it. Release through passion and passionfruit tart.

My passion-fruited demons.

Happy Winter Solstice x

The Muddy Duck

IMG_1083

“What’s in a name?” I asked myself as I drove along a dreamy, curly English road called Sally In The Wood, through the forest and straight along past the Muddy Duck pub.

These names entertain me as I settle into life here in Bath, Somerset, England. With their entertainment comes also relief, recognition and comfort. The relief and recognition is brought about by the fact that they are not numbers, like many of the other roads here, so they quickly embed themselves into my memory. It is taking some time for my non-numbering brain to remember which road is the A360 as compared to the A361 or A330.

But ask me where Sally In The Wood Road is and I’ll show you the way, just past the Muddy Duck pub, it circles Monkton Farleigh along the River Avon, with sweeping views over Bath, arriving leisurely into Bathford.

The comfort may come from the name itself, which brings only fond memories of my dear friend Sally. Her name evokes only warmth and positivity and therefore driving along Sally In The Wood makes me inexplicably happy.

Do you have words like that? Names which have never been tainted with conflict or heartache, just brushed with love and integrity.

Hold those names sacred.

I begin to think more about names and what they evoke in us – foreign names which lure us towards them.

Sadly, a short trip to Croatia to visit a friend didn’t eventuate this European summer. The desire to meet my Aussie-Croatian friend there was washed with exotic names and the imagined experiences we would share. Would I have been drawn so strongly to a town called T35 instead of Dubrovnik, or T350 instead of Split? My friend’s heart, hilarity and bear hugs are enough to draw me in, yet imagine the added pulling power of a surname I still struggle to pronounce.

Hold the exotic sacred.

Where would we be in this world without names like Calcutta, Timbuktu, Slovenia, Bolivia, Wagga Wagga?

Where would Bath be without it’s history of the Romans regularly bathing here to give it it’s name?

Where would I be without the Muddy Duck pub along Sally In The Wood?

Lost probably.

Liquid Amber Leaves

liquid amber

When a place is new to us, all our senses fire up. Transitions are addictive like that.

I ran through crunchy liquid amber leaves today, kicked them higher than the uncertainty I was feeling. It brought me confidence and calm.  Somehow.

Have you ever moved cities? Or just moved house? Each change we have in life grows us somehow, but there is often some friction en route. My most recent move has been fairly friction-free; a few red-herring hurdles but nothing too mean.

I’m living in Melbourne now, an ‘experimental’ few months in this fair, funky city. I am living south of the city, in Elwood by the bay. Between my house and the bay there is a canal. Its perfect for jogging or strolling along to get to the bay.

What’s most beautiful about this canal is not it’s arching autumn red and orange-leaved trees, or chilled out noisy ducks and birds, or even it’s buff joggers pumping up the energy with ipods and pbs. What’s most beautiful is the stories which are literally chalked up along it’s edges. Beautiful snippets of people’s lives have been captured and written into specially placed bricks every fifty metres or so. Tiny memories from locals of Elwood, artistically captured by a feel-good council.

Pauline Thompson was one such local, she has a few memories etched into the bricks, like “I used to swim with dolphins at Elwood beach” and “my grandfather used to lower me down here to catch worms. When it was time to get out, I’d hang onto the edge of his fishing rod and he’d haul me out”.

There is a number of them I have paused at as I wander, and today this memory from Isabella Dorfman stopped me: “Every day we meet our friends and walk to the sea. This experience always brings back memories of the Ukraine and the transition to a new life made in Elwood”.

It was the word ‘transition’ which held my attention, imagining Isabella moving from one country to another, under circumstances unknown, and how she must have hurtled herself over many high hurdles to eventually settle in her ‘new life made in Elwood’. More captivating is the fact that there is activities in the new space which connect her directly back to her old space, walking to the sea reminds her of Ukraine. It’s as if her legs hold memory which her mind alone could not muster.

Elwood is a vibrant Melbourne suburb, so many miles from the Ukraine. There is wooden clad cafes with jittery smiling baristas, whipping up tea-inspired cocktails, ‘chai-tinis’ , while black and white John Lennons on canvas chaperone all the leather jacketed young locals on Tinder dates. Yet within this world Isabella Dorfman finds memories of the Ukraine, as she strolls from the cafes along the canal to the sea.

It takes just the tinniest of similarities to trigger our memory gene. The walking wakes her past, shuffles it into the now and gives her life a storyline, the snippets of her life are no longer disconnected, rather they become always relevant and bleed into her life eternity.

Now, each time I kick the crunchy liquid amber leaves I wonder if Isabella Dorfman does the same.

More Elwood Canal Memories

“One day when my son was riding home from school, he swerved and went hurtling into the canal. He hurt his arm so we had to get a chair and lower it into the water so he could scramble out” [Katie Ragheb].

“There used to be a swamp here. My father was paid to light kerosene lamps along the edge so that drunks and cows wouldn’t fall in. The next morning, before he went to school, he would return and blow them all out” [Don Taggart]

“Leaning on the rails of the canal bridge reminds me of my childhood on the Murray River” [Helen Graham]

“There have always been dreams for the Elwood Canal. In the 1800s they wanted to transform the waterway into a little Venice and have gondolas plying up and down the canal” [Roslyn Blackman]

Be Vulnerable, Be Love

adelaide

It occurred to me recently that vulnerability is where the deep love is.

Go with me here…

Do you remember that feeling of being totally utterly vulnerable? That moment you allowed another to hear the hidden whispers of your heart and hoped to hell they liked what they saw, or at least slightly understood the rumblings. These vulnerable scary moments can occur on a small scale and on a frighteningly life changing scale.

And here’s the thing…in those moments of terror and vulnerability, we have a choice. We can choose to fall towards and into the vulnerable hole or run like hell to our comfortable donnas, bury our heads between the sweet soft pillows and wait eagerly til the moment has passed.

I would encourage you to fall in. Go towards the dark cess pool of fear and you will, if you look, see love.

In that split second before your sweaty palms open the front door to a potential new lover, you can hear love loitering. In that heartbreaking moment you say goodbye to a friend who has died, you will be smothered in deep profound love. In that nerve racking second when you hear the word redundant, you can paint a larger future full of new love.

When we retire from work, when we quit a job without another to go to, when we discover we’re pregnant, when we suddenly are no longer pregnant, when we sign the divorce papers, when we propose in a restaurant. When we swipe our eftpos card and hear the tone of rejection. When we have no idea in which direction to go. When there is no map.

In all of these moments, when our hands shake and our hearts rise up, these are the times to be love.

Being love enables us to connect with others inside the vulnerability. To look that lover in the eyes, both of you being fully seen by the other and therefore able to drink in more. And that is what will pull us through this crazy vulnerable life – having no map together.

So, go ahead and fall in. Jump in, dive in, swim through it. Be vulnerable: be love.

Armour Dresses

“Where’s your armour?” said the morning as it laughed in through the window and ravaged my alarm, “you’ll need more strength today”.

“What’s that? You left it in the afternoon of yesterday?! But today there is that child, the one without a home. He is lost again. Oh! And that, last year’s trauma to be tested and poked all over again. Please, tell me of your heartache and the times you most unravelled”.

“Where’s your armour? Gather your strength please”. Today; and then again, the sunshine creeping in.

With each snooze the morning blasts reality across a bed I made myself yet cannot lay in.

Slip on a dress, a new one; floral armour or pokadot strength?

 

-for my colleagues, the strong