Thursday, February 23, 2012

Flying, mortality, perspective

A lightning fast trip to Sydney I did *not* have time for, given the terrible juggling of writing and reading deadlines I am trying to wrangle at the moment.

The plane flew in low over the suburbs, not along the coast as I'm more used to: all the little houses lined up, shuddering each time the planes fly over. Taxi to hotel, walk to dinner with colleagues (where I disgraced myself, I suspect, hogging 90% of the gorgonzola pannacotta on our shared tasting plate), walk back, sleep soundly, walk to campus, walk into the beautiful old quadrangle building

for an all day meeting, discussing the government cuts to the organisation's fundings, and cutbacks and suspensions of many of its most useful programs. A 30 minute lunch break — no time for a walk in the sun as I usually insist on in all-day meetings — then back into the air-conditioned, very claustrophobic room. The air-conditioning made a continuous low reverberation, like a car running, that made my brain seem to vibrate, all day. Then at 4, we jumped into cabs then back to the airport. No time, obviously, to catch up with Sydney friends, I'm sorry.

During our dinner I heard about a colleague who'd lost a child in traumatic circumstances several years ago, and the devastation that was still spreading rings around everything. It sat with me all through the meeting yesterday. And yesterday evening as we flew into Melbourne around 7.00pm the flight took us low over a little cemetery. Very small, but the little tombstones so distinctively small and grey in a landscape of houses like the Sydney ones. Cemeteries usually appear as grey blurs from the air, and on google maps, but we were very low, so you could see the miniature streetscapes. I think you fly over another cemetery as you fly into Adelaide. This one seemed particularly small: a little village of the dead under the bustle of folk itching to get out their mobile phones and reconnect with the world.

I drove straight to the school, for a meeting led by its extraordinary principal about a trip he leads to PNG every three years or so. They stay in villages (boys in the men's hut; girls in the women's), and work with communities, and also attempt an overnight 5 hour hike up Mt Wilhelm, comparable to the Kokoda trail (one guide per three students). This trip is not about tourism, or buying souvenirs, nor is it about testing yourself against the elements, it's about building a relationship between the school and this village, and with the students and staff who go.

If Joel goes, he will perhaps be seeing dawn on Mt Wilhelm the day his VCE results come out. Now there's a perspective.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jury service

Write, write, have a little holiday, write, pause to process a thousand emails, write, write, have big ambitious thoughts, have a possibly serious and threatening brush with post-Tamoxifen side-effects, then write some more.

And then, today: jury duty. I've never been called, not once, so was curious, though very scared of getting empanelled in a long trial. In the end, you actually have very little say over what happens. I was in the County Court, a rather nice modern building opposite the old Supreme Court, with 200 others, all under the care of an astonishing jury pool supervisor, who kept us informed, described procedures in crystalline clarity, made us laugh, and took all the uncertainty out of the process. So lovely to see someone loving their job and being great at it.

I chatted to her at one point (my occupation was first listed as teacher of English to non native speakers, and she then changed my "professor of medieval literature" to "university professor) and she had done teaching and librarianship at Melbourne, and had travelled a fair bit too. She told me when she took her husband on his first overseas trip, it was Hadrian's Wall and Stonehenge that really blew him away. There you go, with that medieval stone thing again.

Anyway, the people who had to return from yesterday were being empanelled for a TWELVE WEEK trial. The longest one for us was about three weeks. Were any of us wanting to be excused? As we were waiting, I'd phoned my gynaecologist, and confirmed some minor diagnostic surgery* in three weeks' time, so I felt I could legitimately say I couldn't guarantee to keep that time free.

Then I was called for a shorter, civil trial. Thirty of us lined up to be called for a jury of six. This was after a great deal of elaborate, but also efficient calling and registering of numbers and a lovely old wooden box from which they drew the numbers.

We all lined up and were taken into court. Judge, wearing wig and purple robe; two bewigged male barristers, two unwigged male ones, and two elegantly dressed female associates. The judge explained the case (an OHS one) and read the list of witnesses. We were then asked to excuse ourselves, and a few people did. I bit the bullet and said I was "present." But then one of the self-excusers said she had a holiday booked the same day as my surgery, and she was excused, even though the judge said it was unlikely the case would still be going. But then I changed my "present" to "excuse". I don't want to put off the procedure any longer. We then watched as 12 names were drawn, and the two sides had the change to remove three names (they'd all turned to look at us as their names and occupations were read out), then six were chosen and sworn in, and the rest of us went downstairs.

By then it was lunchtime and so I went out and bought a pair of shoes (I don't normally shop in the city, but it was FABULOUS! so many shops! so many sales! Spanish fabric wedge pumps reduced from $315 to $75!!!). We all turned up again at 2.00, hung around for half an hour and were then let go. I could tell Pauline didn't want to let us go. She was like a great tour guide, or a lecturer, actually. She told me she loves it best when she is managing big groups. She would have been looking forward to tomorrow, when she will have about 400...

Well, I'm glad, now, I don't have to do it, because there is a fair amount of writing to be done. There are three facebook friends all waiting for me to get on with it, so I'm back on to it now.


*seriously, just minor. So far, I have dodged the big bullet that seemed to be heading my way.