Some bits from a speech … published here by request … longer than usual, more local than usual, more personal than usual … but it got some laughs … and that bottle of pink bolly raised $2500.00! … with my finest compliments to the women of Nhulunbuy, North East Arnhemland, Northern Territory, Australia … enduring despite the odds ….
Thursday a week ago I decided to tidy out my knicker drawer … just opened it and threw every thing out onto the bed – great armfulls of underwear …. Slung onto the doona for sorting, chucking and a general downsize ….
And I stepped back and looked at it … the pile, slung across the bed – and there it was … like a scatter plot graph … my year in industrial strength, reinforced, double gusset beige.
Good Evening Everyone and welcome to the 2016 Womens Christmas Gift Exchange – our very own version of a mini series where Survivor meets Jingle Bells! …we’re here tonight for Round Number 5 – thanks as ever to Rachel …
Its perhaps worth a moment right here at the beginning to reveal to you just how we end up here. About mid August I get a text from Rachel – it’s a little set of antlers and a question mark. It says, clearly “Well, are we going for a gift exchange number 5 or what?” What she really means though is “TaIk me out of it, please.” I reply back with a little red laughing Santa, which suggests “OK” but really means “Don’t be ridiculous. Get over it Rachel! Its too hot, I’ll still be fat, someone will still buy bath salts and pretend they cost $50, there won’t be a hairdressers appointment for love or money, all the good ideas for costumes are already used up … the regifters are still out there, and really, I think the place is over it …” She gets my fat Santa text and thinks it means “OK …” So she replies back with a picture of a little sprig of holly … and a little laughing elf – and I think it says “Yeah, you’re right, I was joking! Lets just have lunch and I’ll regift you some bath salts!” Four hours later, there’s a date, a venue, Kel has booked her flight, ten hours later, the catering team is in place, and twenty four hours after that, its sold out.
We’re so lucky we understand each other!
Luckily, though, I did manage to locate my favourite Christmas knickers in my clean out … and they seem to be doing the job tonight. I found them buried deep in that pool of reinforced beige on my bed last Thursday week – a little glimmer of red and green and a wee snip of tinsel – and they made me smile – because they meant that Christmas was near and maybe that meant that my very bleak beige year was coming to a bit more colourful end.
When I cast my mind back to a year ago, its like another world to me …. We’d just come back from 6 months overseas, my husband was recovering really well from a tiny stroke, after spending 8 days in a French neurology unit with a view, Leonard Cohan was still halleluhahing, Bowie was still resident at ground control, my gin and tonic phase had barely started. We still had a big newsagency and a newspaper and I had my own doctor. A flight out seemed affordable and my good mate was the local member! Donald Trump was still just a joke, Aleppo was still standing, Brexit wasn’t even a word and neither was “democracy sausage”. People were still eating fruit as fruit, not taking it in a Jetson’s style capsule-like medication. There was no turmeric in any soy decaf skinny latte anywhere in the world … And we were here, celebrating “the afterwards” , thinking that things had settled a bit and that we had a bit of certainty after a fairly tumultuous time. Every reason to feel a bit content, a bit smug, a bit settled – —- well I was! A year ago, I weighed 92.1 kg and sat at a table surrounded by some of the finest women I know. It is a fact that these are the only two things that remain the same!!!
Because along rolled 2016. And if there was a time when I needed my double gusset, super stretch, reinforced beige knickers– then this was it!
Oh, don’t get me wrong! There were some exquisite pieces strewn on that bed in the scatter plot graph of my life!!! – a few aspirational numbers, made of silk, satin, gold thread and impossibility! A slinky, silky navy blue and white dotty pair – still with tag – that made it clear that Elle Mc Pherson’s Bendon concept of XXL was just a wee bit different to mine !!!
But they were there, popping in the sea of double gusset super stretch, gut sucking beige!! … and giving hope!
Like always, the view from up here is quite astounding – the old hands are still here, some of us for the fifth time … others are brand new – to the event or to town… we welcome you – with love and open arms as you join us in the wave of renewal that we must believe in. Lets face it, we can now boast a boutique newsagency, there is – blessedly – a psychologist with a queue, salads with soul and an allied health centre that represents giant strides into the future. The range of champagne available continues to grow, the coffee is excellent and there, and despite the dollar fright, planes are flying …. And to a schedule of sorts.
My knickers though, are a little bit Ouija board …. a little bit Nostradamus – and even my favourites have made me quizzical this year. I doubted it at first, but indeed, the usual front and centre became side and back, there was just a disarming sense of gusset stretch and something not quite right in the left leg elastic ….
My husband’s French brain blip had morphed to reveal a rare, difficult to spot, on the march, malignant tumour hiding deep and dangerous in the small intestine. I watched him put his hand over his mouth during that late afternoon phone call from the surgeon and knew that we’d be needing a little bit more than good elastic. What happened next was swift and decisive – and we owe a life to a couple of young, clever, attentive, local GPs – and a genius surgeon.
I do not for one moment think that I sit alone on the edge of this cliff – there are women in the room tonight who are acutely aware of the gut wrenching, life changing, ball busting sting of words like chemotherapy and radiation – the way that those regimes rip at routines, bank balances, habits, plans, life and love. Its us who have to learn on the hop how to tell the children, how to make it the best it can be despite the hell of it, how to keep hoping when really it feels a bit like The Somme. Andy bought a black toothbrush, and steeled himself stoically for survival, directing every breath and every step and every morsel of his being into emerging from the chasm. Whilst he is in survival mode, I sit … very alone … and watch him … I silently sift through the scenarios, wander trough the what-ifs, calculate the consequences … just me, because for him, there is no energy left to contemplate the future. These treatments are poison at every level – diabolical things that offer little and take big.
And so perhaps it is right that tonight we will launch the 2017 Relay for Life. The master, Fiona Pearce is here tonight and will once again be at the helm of this extraordinary event. Every dollar raised next year will be used to support research and services – services that I now know first hand – like the Alan Walker Cancer Centre and Barbara James House in Darwin. All I can do to make this disease go away is chuck all the money, time and capacity I can at events like Relay, and encourage everyone to do the same. Later, Rachel will auction a bottle of Bollinger Rose – and the amount raised here tonight will open the 2017 account. Dig deep, hey … even I might manage a few laps next year. I think I held on to a redundant pair of Lorna Jane lycra something just in case – and it would be funny.
My good friend Lynne Walker is a woman of exquisite elegance and taste … rarely stretching, I am sure, to utilitarian undergarments – but hey, life’s a bitch, politics is a pile of shit … and I reckon she has grabbed a few pairs of big girls knickers and set a new standard … the dignity, courage and resilience that she has shown in the months since August have been extraordinary, whatever your politics and whatever your opinion. And I pay tribute to her for it from this stage tonight.
The grief that I hold for my dear, dear friend Anne Maree who died after a short sharp battle with breast cancer nearly 5 years ago has settled now to a “sometimes sadness” that dwells quietly now in my heart. Her 53rd birthday came and went last week and I am thankful for my quiet, eventual acceptance. I posted 53 little sunflowers on her facebook page …. And they said “my heart is healed.”
I have worn my grief very publicly especially from this stage, and the sharing of it here with many of you has helped – hand in hand with the passage of time – to enable me now to think of her, and simply smile.
There were many lessons for me in 2016. Foremost, a clear message that I should never, ever go on a theme park ride. Never, ever again.
I did once, at Waterbom Park in Bali. My husband felt it would be a great joke to coax me off the lazy river – and in to Hell. We both knew it would end badly … he giggled like a demonic child as we plummeted together – one raft – all ¼ tonne of us – down those loops and crashed, upended, into the pool. I hit the bottom, the screeches of on–lookers blessedly muffled by the bubbling water and the pounding of my heart in my head. My Pandora bracelet took the blow – it snapped and the charms – my life – scattered like bird seed across the bottom of the whirlpool and beyond.
My pride is still there, smeared across the bottom of that pool – but bit by bit, with persistence, an emergency shutdown, 18 Balinese, 4 Dutch and an American, we retrieved every single little charm.
A message perhaps – we collide, we ricochet and ping, people help, we laugh – eventually – and it all comes back together – dinted, bruised, but whole – and still able to tell the same story.
Merry, Merry Christmas!