A couple of weeks into rehab and the occupational therapist suggested it was time to start thinking about leaving. I wasn’t in any hurry to leave the shelter of the park-like hospital grounds which backed right up to some spectacular cliffs overlooking Little Bay and its quaint little beach. A wind-swept golf-course shared this strip of coast with the hospital and the odd inmate from the psych wing could occasionally be seen shuffling around its barren, manicured fairways lined with wind-shaped and nervous looking trees. I hardly ever saw golfers there. Most days I’d push the industrial weight wheelchair provided by the spinal unit out into this grey-green wilderness, looking to follow the ridges, avoiding gullies and dips where my bed- sapped strength might struggle to drive the chair through. Wading on wheels through thick scrubby rough looking for a vantage point to rest and follow scooting, low flying clouds as they flirted with cresting waters way out to sea. Leave? There was the small matter of where I might go. The Jersey Road garden shed was out of the question. Mine was now a world where wheels had to pass. Clearly I had to have a car. Wheels beget wheels. OK. Now I could think about cars for a bit that’d take my mind off the unpalatable process of dealing with an institutionalised mind uncomfortable with its imminent release and exposure to the outside world. My new broken body was only a few months old, I could barely understand its mutterings and grunts, it was strange, it hurt, my legs had quickly shrunk to skin and bone. It was like a disgusting, rather embarrassing relative who completely ignores your sensitivities as he pursues his monotonous and completely uninteresting agenda. I must either learn to educate him or just get used to it; it was going to follow me everywhere this mutant body, like a faithful old crippled dog, farting and slopping its useless dribble all over the carpet. In amongst the other inmates the clumsy gaucheries of my own newly injured body seemed mild by comparison – although comparison offered small comfort. Mine was a minimalist adjustment when compared with those unfortunates whose spinal lesion was located a few vertebrae further up the spinal cord. With a break low down in the lumbar zone it was really just the legs and plumbing affected. Once your thoracic vertebrae came into the picture the paralysis crept higher encompassing more and more of the body’s internals until those with neck breaks, the C zone, finished up with dysfunction to arms, breathing apparatus … a very complicated affair requiring a small army of carers just to recite the ABC. There was a fourteen or fifteen-year-old boy in the bed next to me, sweet lad, he’d dived into some shallow water, a popular method to achieve quadriplegia, and was stuck. If not forever then for as long as his poor body could survive. But a few beds away another boy came in with a neck break, fully paralysed. After the initial spinal shock wore off, a couple of weeks or so, he started to get significant function return. A month later he walked out. It’s a cruel place, a spinal unit. Especially for those like the boy in the bed next to me, watching, watching. A function not in any way impeded. My mother died from the complications of a spinal injury. She’d been in hospital for a couple of weeks and was beginning to get some return as spinal shock retreated. Unfortunately for her – and for those who loved her – some major breathing problems sapped her vital forces and she died. Lying in bed at the Prince Henry hospital in Sydney I had plenty of time to think. I remembered traveling out from Beirut to visit her in Zahlé ten years earlier. And the inner wrestle I’d had with my eighteen-year-old conscience which was determined to take the blame for my mother’s death and its dire consequences. The production of a some bad poetry offered slight consolation for the mind’s dour acrobatics. Soon though, a muting shroud descended on the matter dragging it all into the unconscious. Now, myself crippled, I considered that in some weird, entirely logical way, I had engineered payback for the selfishness which had mutilated the lives of many people. True or not matters little. The labour of the mind’s subtle and incessant invention of meaning is breathtaking. And always, we seem to be at the centre of the affair, believing in the intrinsic importance of our being. Another cruel illusion, but when your point of view is located in a body, oddly true. We are, after all, like the bowl of water in which a reflection of the sun may be seen. So there can appear to be as many suns as there are bowls filled with water. We know there’s only one sun. But your point of view will determine whether you see a single sun or the multiple reflections – both are true. And in each case it’s the same sun. The para with the dox, fox, socks. Would you? Could you? On a train? In the rain? Is there a point to the pain? Many hours may pass in a hospital bed in contemplation of such matters. Then at night dreaming, and something beyond dreaming would fill the void. By then my body was well settled, not much pointless pain, and the docs had prescribed me no drugs. After ten weeks or so of an uninterrupted occupation of the same bed you become very familiar with the surrounding detail, the myriads of tiny holes in the ceiling, flaws in the plaster, the smell of fresh paint lifting off the doors, a spider up in the corner slowly rotating around its territory… the world seemingly fixed. Sure people come and go, some talking of Michelangelo, mostly though, the sounds from the human world slowly distill into a soft-focus hum with only occasional bursts of burnished excitement, tinkling clicks of steel on steel punctuating antiseptic air, the routine sounds of the cleaners sweeping, vacuuming, wiping. The tea-ladies and ‘would you like some biscuits darl?’ All of this the mind neutralizes. Eventually nothing’s happening. Maybe there’s a mechanism in the brain which fires off when there’s inadequate sensory input. Like a sinking ship excites the call to abandon it and head for the lifeboats… Do we have a lifeboat? This is one of the great questions, for the most part answered only after it’s too late to do anything about making sure it’s shipshape and ready for a journey across uncharted seas. Certainly many esoteric religious practices would suggest we do. Tibetan monks and others are fond of locking the more ambitious devotees in a dark room in a bid to release higher order experiences. Obviously I was no Tibetan monk, in spite of earlier inclinations to join up. And I was making no conscious efforts to escape my newly crippled body; I was resigned to my fate. I’d had some practice in resignation. Like going to boarding school, never my idea of a good thing to do but that was the order of those who cared for me so, get on with it and don’t bother whingeing. But in this instance escape I did. Over three nights, the experiences escalating in intensity as I journeyed, flying in over vast, magnificent, shining landscapes, as if on a magic carpet, to land amidst strange mute beings, uncanny, all with the same face but of varying ages, from toddlers to geriatrics all walking like crabs on a slow march to the sea. None of these human-like forms could see me as I walked amongst them. And then, further on, monsters – that could see me. Great fearful creatures, giants of terror, the malingering stench of burning metal all about them but whose ferocity was inverted when I realised, somehow, they were my own fears personified as I reached out to embrace their hideous flesh. Their transformation cued a deeper, richer vision in space, pure empty space but feathered with fine, almost translucent constructions, tier upon tier brimming with a congregation of vapours, splendid, delicate and refined, all gathered for some feast, some celebration. As it turned out the celebration was to be mine. I was escorted by three men, old, wise and silent towards a crowd cresting a low hill in the middle distance, their festive sounds wafting in on an unfelt breeze. It became clear I was being brought forward to meet my future wife. This was a marriage. I could see her towards the centre of the colourful crowd, now almost close enough to identify facial features. At that moment a strong tug in my chest and from behind dragged my head around and I saw the planet Earth, full and majestic sitting in space and about ten times the size of the moon as we see it from Earth. I turned to my escort and said “I’ve got to go now”. Nobody objected. I turned and moved without thought towards this jewel hung in black space. It rapidly increased in size until the point at which it filled my vision; In the same moment I opened my eyes in the neurology ward of Sydney hospital and became aware of an extraordinary wide spiral force descending to a point in my chest. After a few moments this spiral subsided, completely taken up into what seemed to be my solar plexus and I began to weep. For love. I had returned but was now saturate with love. For the next week I lay embalmed in a living breathing love which transformed all about me into magical beauty. The daily sounds of the ward were rendered symphonic. The cleaner and his vacuum machine orchestrated a rhapsody from paradise. I wept. And I wept. For love. After those three nights there were no more journeys into space. Years later, reading Carl Jung’s biography, Memories Dreams and Reflections, I came upon a description of an experience he’d had, also while his body apparently slept, of a marriage. He described this as the union of his male and female components. I understood then that what I’d experienced was a process born of the collective imagination common to all human beings, enabling our transcendence to higher forms of life. In another language, say you happened to be a 14th century Italian poet, the whole experience might have looked like a journey from hell (monsters) to purgatory (mute walkers) and then into heaven (marriage). It looks like this transition is a standard feature of the human body; it’s our lifeboat. Some call the site of this transformation the astral body. Ever since, using the ways of others and in my own way I have sought to nurture an understanding of this exquisite thing. But I’ve not been able to repeat the dose. There lingers the strange intimation that our sense of time is in no way a constant, but rather a construct of the temporal mind; we occupy for a lifetime this place, but this higher life, this transcendent being entertains another schedule where one hundred years on Earth is but a second or two. The memory of the love which filled my being remains. The feeling itself frequently fires off, sparked by some gesture, some moment. But I know now what love is. It is the quality of our Being. Back on Earth apparently nothing much had changed, this experience had been and still was inside me and aside from an occasional slightly bewildered looking nurse briefly distracted by a weeping patient, all was undisturbed by my adventures in the beyond. Outside, the crows were still carping at each other in the fig trees; people still sat in the park looking at each other while they ate their lunches and the radio station had no reports of my story. I had to get with it. I had to buy a car. A canary yellow Valiant Charger was the order. V8 power. Compensation so I thought for a significant diminution of my own motor power. It had only two doors which made it ideal for a paraplegic. I could exit the chair, transfer to the passenger seat then scramble over into the driver’s seat, tip forward the back of the passenger seat and after folding the chair up, drag it in behind. Too easy, as they say. The hand-control dude had whacked in a heavy-weight construction which today would never pass muster having a huge chunk of sharp metal stiffly occupying a good deal of the space where knees normally live, just under the steering wheel. Had I ever encountered an immovable object at any speed whatsoever, it would have made an absolute, if painless, mess of my already sad and senseless legs. That didn’t happen. Another quaint feature, this one I ordered, was for the throttle to be controlled by a motorbike twist grip. A sentimental nod to my biker days. Oh foolish boy. The travel required on a car throttle was significantly longer than on its two wheeled cousin, the effect of which was to require a huge amount of twisting should I require some sharp acceleration. With eight voracious cylinders burbling along the temptation came up quite a lot. I was at risk of dislocating a shoulder to get a kick out of old Emma. Yes I’d named her. Eventually the twist-grip had to go after I’d snapped the throttle cable for a second time stranding me in the overtaking lane. It was replaced by an inelegant, but highly efficient, cable-free push-pull system. Now a manboy might set some rubber into the bitumen, should he be so inclined, and have no fear of looking like a fucken idiot who decides to overtake and then half way there gives up. Too embarrassing and not a little deadly dangerous. My enthusiasm for cars was not merely the product of need. It had started early, probably learned from my father who’d owned a cute little Fiat whose roof could roll completely back allowing me to stand on the back seat, my head high above the windscreen, watery-eyed into the future; that was when we lived in Indonesia. Then a Jag, a Humber Super Snipe and a racy Fiat 600D in the Congo, the car I learned to drive in. Then the fated Vauxhall VX490 in Beirut. I was old enough then to be aware of his thinking about cars. He considered getting a TR4. That sounded like a great idea to me. But the family man took the decision - it was the Vauxhall. My first car was a VW beetle. I bought it in Townsville to drive across to Darwin. Owned it for three weeks. After the 1972 back-break I started with the Charger, Hey, changed up to a Holden Sandman (wodawanker), went OS and bought a Volvo stationwagon in Sweden to do Europe and the US. Sold it back in Oz and went a little Ford something. That was too tinny. Driving up to Mullum from Sydney one day with Carol Ransome in the passenger seat, talking ten to the dozen, a strange manoevre by a young guy in front had me all over the road and side swiping him as I tried to slip by…felt like we were in something made from alfoil. After that went for a BMW and then a Honda Prelude which drowned in a Mullumbimby flash flood one night. Swapped that for another BMW. Decided it was gutless and then began my affair with V8 Commodores. I’ve had four. The current one, a VT, I’ve had for ten years. It’s a beauty. That’s it for cars. My son, who displays no lust for things to ride or drive and so obviously inherited none of his dad’s inclinations there, has latterly expressed an interest in the VT ‘when you’re finished with it’. Should be a classic by 2020. In my view, the best-looking Commodore they made. Equipped now with a car, a crappy wheelchair, two full-length calipers and a set of Canadian crutches I was ready for my new life. But where was this new life to unfold? Within the business of a rehab hospital, little thought is given to much beyond the immediate, so I hadn’t been overly concerned about my post-hospital destination. Until two weeks before D day when the lovely Maggie strolled into the ward with her little tacker Jesse, he whose bedroom I’d painted prior to his coming out. She suggested that if I had nowhere else to go I’d be welcome to come to theirs. Her husband, Vern, would install a ramp up the back steps and a hand grip in the shower of their Paddington house. Magnificent generosity from people who hardly knew me. This was a realization of a dream I’d had a few times in which I’m walking in space and each step appears to be into the void but at the last second a slab of stone appears to support the weight of the body. Humbling and joyful. Around this time the question of money arose…how was I to pay for stuff? Vern had a solicitor who he said could handle the affair for me. But before he came on the scene I’d had some communication from my erstwhile employer, Superstar producer, Harry Miller, who sent one his flunkies with a note requiring my signature, absolving him and his company from any responsibility for the accident. A more naïve party than this writer you’d be hard-pressed to find; I looked at the document with an open mind. Vern on the other hand had more nouse and told me to tear it up whilst offering some damning descriptors for the man who would even contemplate containing his own insurance premiums and leave a crippled worker without support. So Vern summoned up his solicitor who handled my finances up until the time of the settlement. The process took a couple of years and after all hospital bills and his fees were met I received $140,000. I was never completely satisfied with the outcome because the settlement was basically a workers compensation award. No consideration was given to the negligent circumstances which had made the accident possible in the first place. This outcome was engineered by the barrister who was to represent me if the matter were to go to court. He argued the cost of the case would chew up any advantage gained by making the negligence case. I was advised by G.Cowley, the solicitor, and his appointed barrister to settle. I did.  
No Man’s Land
next top home painting prints writing cv about contact