A Safari Ride

January 6th, 2014  |  Published in Writing

Admittedly having one of those birthdays ending in a zero, coupled with my first ever skin diving experience at the Great Barrier Reef, last year was somewhat scary; little did I know that I was going to top it one hundred fold, and turn 2013 into one of the scariest years of my life. But, before I tell you the details, I must mention Sooty & Sylvester, because without their recommendation to indulge in an Arabian Adventure, I would never have had that model-like pose (posted earlier in the week) or this story to tell…

It is Dec 30th, and along with another fellow Australian (John from Canberra) we are ready and waiting at the Sheraton when our driver Ravi arrives for our early morning safari adventure. Before we all scramble into the awaiting Landcruiser, Ravi  mentions that anyone over 65 (of which there is one, but who will remain nameless) will be required to sign a waiver later on in case of any pre-existing medical conditions. He also adds that there will be other safety details to go over when the “group” gets together.

John hops into the front passenger seat, Allan and I hop into the middle-back seats and introduce ourselves to a young couple (Emma and Duncan from Yorkshire) already occupying the very back seats. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, we lunge into the Dubai traffic.

“Hope you didn’t have a big breakfast this morning?” Ravi calls out from what still seems to me to be the passenger side of the car.

Emma confesses that she and Duncan had overindulged in cocktails the previous evening, while the rest of us confess that we hadn’t overindulged in our prepaid unlimited buffet breakfast.

Thankfully Ravi fumbles with the radio dial to replace the doof doof with something a little more subdued, but what a shame that the nine o’clock news is in English.

“Most road fatalities in 2013 were due to lane changing, speed and inattentive driving …” comes over the Dubai airwaves. Emma and I exchange fervent glances as we start to weave and swerve into the left and right hand lanes – without indicators. What other traffic?

Unfortunately the danger factor gets worse as we leave the city streets, because we now have the speed/tailgating contingent to contend with as Ravi throws his hands up in the air while boasting about the biggest and best of this and that. We are all strangely quiet and grim faced, even Allan.

Miraculously we reach the camel farm in one piece, but not before we scream into the sandy area doing wheelies to get along side what soon turns out to be our “convoy”. We wait while the air is let out of the tyres, and suddenly I decide it’s time for me to let out some air.

“Are you going to drive like that … you know …  over the sand?” I ask Ravi “because if you are, I’m going to stay put right here.”

“Oh no mam, you’ll be very, very safe with us … we are very, very experienced. And, we do have plenty of drinking water and sick bags in case you need them.”

I am not convinced, but I accept that I probably don’t have a choice. However, I still have one more pressing question.

“Are they any toilets along the way?” I ask, dreading the thought of a full bladder added into the mix.

“Sorry, there are no toilets mam.  It’s probably best you go now behind the sand dunes over there … but don’t worry … I’ll take you myself” he adds, before making a public announcement to the whole group to see if anyone else needs a toilet break. There are no other takers, so I clamber in the front seat next to Ravi and off we go up and over and down the dunes.

All this bouncing around is not exactly helping the cause, but suddenly my own personal safari ride stops and it’s up to me to find a suitable place to squat in the sand (thank God for yoga), even though I’m somewhat hindered by  a long scarf, a long top, and tight pants. However, I must add here, that this position does help one to get “well-emptied” as it were, and I feel almost human as I jump in next to Ravi ready to rejoin the awaiting six other Arabian Adventure 4WD for our dune buggying adventure. And now the really scary part begins…

“Why do we need to travel in a convoy?”  Duncan asks, in his thick Yorkshire accent.

“It’s safer this way” our driver explains. “You know, in case someone gets into …” But the rest of his answer is lost as we slip and slide towards the bottom of a dune, gazing ahead in amazement at the size of the one ahead of us.

“He’ll really have to gun it to get up here” says Allan, as though that’s going to make me feel much better. In fact, it has the reverse affect, and I want to get out and run to join the wild deer wandering the dunes. But no. It looks like I’m stuck with as I witness the 4WD directly in front, jump about a metre into the air. Not surprisingly we follow suit, crashing over the top before coming  to a screaming halt at the bottom. Was that Emma or Duncan’s head smashing into the roof, or was it the chassis completely collapsing beneath us? Fortunately Emma’s squeal assures me she’s still alive, and seeing we’re moving again, I assume the body of the vehicle is at least partially intact.

“I think it best to keep your eyes shut” Emma suggests as sand covers the windscreen before falling back from whence it came. I take Emma’s advice only to find that it doesn’t make a scrap of difference, and immediately go back to my own self-preservation strategy – pretending that our 4WD is NOT doing the same as the ones out in front. And somehow it works!

Suddenly the vehicle directly ahead stops on a strange angle, and as we swerve to the side to miss sand flying in all directions from its spinning wheels, Ravi explains they’re bogged, and that help will need to be called in. I don’t bother to ask what this means, because by now we are crashing over the top of yet another dune,  only to be met by a lonely desert plant directly in our path as we begin our descent.  Once again, sand shoots up and over the whole windscreen, but miraculously (after a major leap to the side) we remain upright, and to give credit where it’s due, I must admit that Ravi’s ability to stop a complete roll-over here is amazing. And thus, while we continue to lurch and perch randomly across the dunes, I continue to pretend that the crashing and crunching isn’t as bad as it seems, although when we pass a little kid from another 4WD vomiting into a sick bag, perhaps I am not quite so sure.

Eventually we come to another screaming halt, but this time Ravi says that we are alighting so we can take some photos.  Although my plan had been to take photos along the way, how could one hold a camera as well as gripping a rail, the seat in front, etcetera? Nevertheless, we now have the chance to snap away to our heart’s content, and Allan takes the aforementioned photo. We also have a chance to kind of re-adjust ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally, for the next part of the journey…

“Make sure you fasten your seat belts” (as if we needed to be told!) Ravi reminds us before we take off again in leaps and bounds for the next session of skimming above, and across the ridges of high dunes, middle-sized dunes, and baby-sized dune; that is, until we reach a substantial clearing with a flock of ibex. Ravi lets us know it’s time for more photos as well as a refreshment stop. We have the choice of water or soft-drink, but we opt to share the latter as Allan admits that he’s not feeling the best. Funnily enough, this makes me feel a lot better and at last I think I’ve got my head around the whole thing. Well almost.

“How much longer long to go?” I overhear John ask.

“Oh, we’ve finished the main bit” Ravi replies.

“Thank God” John says, and quietly admits to me that he’s had enough. Whew! Now I don’t feel half the scaredy cat I thought I was. Well that is, until I hop back in for the trip back to civilisation, and the lane swapping, madness starts again … and my memory returns.

“What’s the speed limit?” I finally ask Ravi. We all learn that in Dubai, 80kms means 100kms, 100kms means 120kms, and 120kms means 140kms. And yes, the latter is us!! Not surprisingly we choose to ignore this revelation, and somehow our tongues now loosened, we non-drivers begin to chat about anything that will take our minds off the vehicle we are tailgating – at no more than half a car length! We discuss the cost of living, the price of houses, the demise of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, the rise and fall of Maggie Thatcher, and the inevitable position David Cameron faces in his minority government.

Finally the speed lessens, but the lane-weaving remains until we arrive on the doorstop of a hotel.  I turn around to say goodbye to Emma and Duncan, but they are already getting out from Allan’s side. Oh my God, it’s not our hotel, and we still have to endure another five minutes of you know what!

I politely shake Ravi’s hand as we clamber out, but I am not perhaps overly gracious. Nevertheless, there is an “upside” to all this – it completely cured my jetlag, and in case you’re wondering, we never did get that “safety talk” or glimpse the “waiver form”.  But then who cares? We survived, and it only took a couple of days for the aches and pains to subside, but the story will remain with us forever.

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Workplace Bullying

December 8th, 2013  |  Published in Writing

Dominating characters commonly referred to as bullies, have been around since I can remember, yet in my naivety I thought (and hoped) I’d left them behind in the school ground. But alas, I was wrong, and the longer I have been part of the workforce, the more I realise that the adult version of self-glorification is alive and well, screaming for attention to be taken seriously. Perhaps it’s time to redefine the parameters within our workplace culture and question accountability (or lack thereof?); the hierarchical management model (what level-playing field?); victim-blaming (could that be “projection”?); and tackle abusive yet commonplace (even socially accepted?) behaviour. So herewith a few lines from my book The Other Side of the Ledger where a one-directional “abuser” lurks in the background.

P28 - The inevitable buzz and hum of the day rises as the “team” arrives and says their good mornings. It’s Virginia’s turn today to warn them that their leader is in one of those moods and that it’s going to be one of those days. One of those days where everyone feels as though they’re walking on eggshells; waiting for inevitable cracks and slippery yolks to coagulate and congeal like an ugly shadow; an ugly shadow that casts doubt in the individual, creates disharmony in the team, and undermines the corporate structure …

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Hello Mr Lion

October 2nd, 2013  |  Published in Writing

“Hello Mr Lion – how are you tonight?” Jemima says in her very best voice, hoping that Mr Lion will move ever so slightly so she can cross over the bridge to the fairy house.

But Mr Lion doesn’t move, so Jemima takes a big breath in and squeezes past him, feeling the touch of his fur brushing lightly against her night-dress and tickling her bare arm.

She glimpses the cold water swirling under the bridge, but keeps her eyes on the moss-covered path as she edges her way across. The old tree creaks like a witch in the wind, and an owl hoots from somewhere in the pink sky, but Jemima is not afraid. She has been here before – lots of times.

Her first visit is so long ago she can barely remember exactly when it was. But she still vividly remembers the deep-seated scariness and excitement she felt as she trampled slowly up the overgrown path to the old front door sparkling with all the colours of the rainbow, and the little windows with their spider like curtains blowing in the wind.

And, how could she ever forget her first fairy encounter? Whereas nowadays it’s different, because all the fairies know her name and she knows theirs, yet she never knows who will greet her or what’ll happen when the door opens and she enters their fairy world.

Once Jemima’s finally crossed the bridge, the crunch of fallen leaves under het feet alerts the fringe dwellers she’s passing close by their havens. Mrs Squirrel squeaks out a little cry of recognition at the sight of the floating night-dress, while Mr and Mrs Frog and family look up from the lily pads and check out what the commotion’s about.

“Hello Mr and Mrs Frog” Jemima says in her most frog-like voice.

“Croak, croak” Mr Frog replies, unaware his mouthful of insects are fleeing for their lives. Jemima’s sure she hears the little creatures thanking her as she watches them merge into the multi-coloured sky while she continues to make her way up the well-worn track through the undergrowth.

It looks like those clouds are about to burst forth from within, Jemima muses to herself, and then indeed, heavy rain drops begin to fall. Suddenly the whole place comes alive with fauna of all shapes and sizes seeking refuge, and Jemima nearly trips over the throngs in her rush for shelter. Then, just as she’s about to reach the crumbly old front porch of the fairy house, a flash of lightening spears the sky like a friendly warning about the crash of thunder ready to crackle high up in the heavens.

Jemima stretches up to the shiny brass knocker on the old wooden door, confident that one of the fairies will appear within seconds.

Knock, knock. No response, so she tries again. But there’s still no fairy in sight, so she starts to call out their names in-between the shortening gaps of lightening, thunder, and rain.

“Sassy …Missy …Susie …”

“Jemima – is that you?” It’s a familiar voice, but it’s hard to pick to whom it belongs above the deafening downpour.

Jemima makes another attempt to bash the brass knocker, but it’s as though it’s not there, and within moments, the whole scene begins to fade into a colourless nothingness.

“Brrrr, brrrr – wake up.” There’s no mistaking her mother impersonating an alarm clock, and no mistaking the thud of reality – her mother peering into the bed and placing school clothes on a nearby chair.

“It’s washing day, so please don’t forget to put your dirty linen in the laundry basket dear” her mother says before leaving to wake up Jemima’s brother down the hallway.

Jemima slips into her clean clothes, brushes her hair and tosses her night-dress and sheets into the laundry basket, making sure she’s removed all traces of fur, fairy dust and squishy insects …

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A Scary Moment

May 7th, 2013  |  Published in Writing

I haven’t really had time to be nervous about my first-ever radio interview, and besides, it’s not going live to air, it’s only going to be recorded. Nevertheless, bumping into Deb O’Callaghan in the passageway is an added bonus.

‘You’ll be just fine’ she says. So off I go, quietly confident that all will be well.

I’m in the studio now. It’s a little daunting, but Deb Banks is equally reassuring as we chat for a few moments about this and that before getting down to business. I nod in approval when she explains I can cough if I feel the urge because she can “edit” it later. Next there’s the more technical side of fitting headphones and adjusting the microphone to suit my voice, and then Deb smiles across at me.

‘We’re ready to record now’.

My heart begins to race so hard it crashes into my lungs, which is just as well really, because suddenly I remember to breathe – well almost.

‘So, Ruth, please tell us more about your book …’ Deb says, but my lips are stuck together and my voice has gone into hiding somewhere down into my nether regions. Or perhaps it’s my ears failing as well? Or perhaps it’s my brain, because now I can’t seem to understand the question. A simple question mind you, that in normal un-scary moments I could answer with authority and conviction, but not here, not right now. Even my well prepared notes seem unfamiliar and foreign, but nowhere near as foreign as the silver and black foam thingy confronting me …

How could a piece of metal wrapped in fluff, be so intimidating and down right scary?

I mean, I’m holding this piece of scariness in my hand, (well okay, it’s sitting on the desk in front of me) and somehow my whole parasympathetic nervous system hits the panic button.  Okay. I know it’s not the sort of scary like when a loud noise makes you jump, or when you know you’re in trouble, or worse still, when you’re faced with your own mortality: and it’s nothing like being alone in the dark. But, nevertheless the fear of the unknown is lurking in the backdrops of the ABC studio, and it is scary.

I look across at Deb, composed and natural, and presumably unaware of my temporary paralysis. I pretend this squeaky little-girl voice belongs to someone else. I am in denial, and immediately block out any thought that someone I know may actually hear this one day. Then, just like that, it’s all over and I am back to me, myself and my shadow. The scary moment has passed.

It’s 8.am about a week later, and still dripping from the shower, I answer the phone.

‘Well done my dear’ a familiar voice says.

It’s my friend Norma calling to let me know that my interview had gone to air earlier that morning. Thank goodness I had slept in and missed it.

There is no way I would ever want to have relived that scary moment …

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De rigueur, par for the course, etcetera

April 18th, 2013  |  Published in Writing

Now while I (along with most baby boomers I suspect) don’t like to admit I’m getting older, I certainly do not consider myself to be getting ancient. And yet, generation X, Y, and whatever the next lot call themselves, may well be correct if they perceive my fumbling with day-to-day 21st Century technology as being old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy. I mean, just look at the language I use! But there again, words themselves can be fickle, as they ebb and flow with generational and societal change …

Of course, one comes across unfamiliar computer-based territory every day that can be avoided, like those new-fangled supermarket self-service check outs, or printing out your own airline ticket. Yet when entering the world of writer, author, scribe, and the self-publishing journey, I find this territory more obligatory and downright confronting. And why is this? All because you have to face the unfamiliar territory of Facebook, Twitter, and enter an alien world of Liking, Posting, and Tweeting. And then, once you enter this domain, you’re still in the dark, with the “not knowing what you don’t know” syndrome lurking in the background as you manoeuvre through endless options and umpteen variations on every imaginable theme. However, added to this mix, I find more subtle influences that redefine, possibly defy, the written word itself.

For example, up until recently I used my trusty, well-thumbed thesaurus because it was familiar and comfortable. That is, until the day I discovered an online version, and just like that, the words from my1999 version of The New Choice Thesaurus seemed a little flat, even ancient in their last century roots. How on earth could this “miracle” of modernity have been at my finger tips, and I didn’t know about it? I have no idea, but what I do know is that this revelation revolutionised my ability to quickly source an alternative to repetition, recapitulation and reiteration – well almost!

I’m sure (with my newly defined “published author” status) there are countless other time-saving things that I would dearly embrace if someone were to point me in the right direction, because the dilemma I face on a daily basis, is the amount of time it takes one to find these things out on one’s own; or the lack of time that anyone has to show another; or just the lack of time – full stop. But, before I digress into my opinion of how punctuation (and spelling and grammar) may have almost skipped a generation or two, due to emailing, texting, and whatever else I’m yet to discover, I’ll stop, because itwould take up way too much time and space – for now!

Oh, and by the way, “ancient” according to the thesaurus that still sits by my computer on my paperless-desk (not true) is – antique, obsolete or primitive. Whereas the “ancient” I can instantly connect with when dragging my mouse up to my Google Toolbar “Favourites” is – antiquated, outmoded and moth-eaten! Moth-eaten! I think not, but possibly that’s my kneejerk, de rigueur, par for the course reaction?

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The Other Side of Publishing a Book

March 27th, 2013  |  Published in Writing

Let me take you back to when I initially unleashed my intention to write about office culture and workplace experiences in my book The Other Side of the Ledger to my friends and family. Although the majority were very supportive, two of my friends’ responses (who both happen to be published authors) took me by surprise. While I realise that this is not the time or place to repeat their disparaging comments, I can tell you how the legacy of their negativity still lingered, yet didn’t resonate until my book had been written, edited, self-published (by Palmer Higgs), printed, delivered, launched, etcetera, etcetera. And yes, to add insult to injury, I did read Debbie Higgs’ “The Self-publishers Marketing Guide”, but alas only digested the bits I wanted to hear, choosing to ignore stoic statistics or sensible strategies – because they couldn’t possible apply to yours truly. Let’s face it; I was pretty much immersed in a fantasy world awaiting my fairy godmother to wave her magic wand over my writing prowess …

Now you’re familiar with my over-inflated would-be author ego, I guess it’s time to admit how I began to feel more than a little overwhelmed with the huge learning curve I’d discovered on the other side – whether it be the self-published or more traditional path (so I’ve been told) – of publishing a book. A learning curve where caution and old-fashioned common sense appear to be momentarily thrown to the wind as one free-falls (from grace?) when one tries to bridge the generation gap learning about social media, Kindle and eBooks; or floundering in the language lacuna when dealing with designers or distributors; or admitting that there’s a chasm in one’s own marketing ability; or (God forbid) falling into a pit of self-doubt when discovering one’s inadequacy when faced with a pile of books on the doorstep and the realisation it’s up to you (and you alone) to miraculously transport them onto bookstore shelves and book cases across the nation; or dealing with miscommunications and misunderstandings (not unlike those in my book); or having unrealistic expectations. And the list goes on …

But do not despair, I can now tell you there is an upside – it is simply the echo from the other side of the crevice to stop, look and listen, before you try crossing (or burning) too many bridges spanning the publishing track.

In hindsight, perhaps I could have “stopped” a little earlier and “listened” more closely to my pre-mentioned author friends, but then I may have not “seen” my saving grace – namely the amazing support from people I wouldn’t have met had I not begun this process, such as, befriending my editor and her husband; discovering three other recently self-published authors with whom I can now share similar experiences; or the possibility of having enough material for another book – The Other Side of Self-Publishing. Great, it seems my ego is back intact, in anticipation for my next blog about my self-publishing journey…

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