Today I helped put my aged grandparents into the secure dementia ward where they will live out the rest of their lives. I learned this handy tip for all those with elderly relatives: do not visit without reading material. Hard as it may be to simultaneously block out the repetitive, demented calls of “Where are you, whereabouts are you, nurse, where are you?” whilst reading, it’s even harder to retain any of your own natural intelligence without the lurid beauty of D.H. Lawrence, or the savage humanity of Malcolm Knox. There are no books in the ward. How could I have been so remiss? Even people who only partly remember who they are need books, even if only to look at the pictures. Perhaps a photography book of flowers or exotic birds would break up the unmitigated blue of the hospital grade linoleum, bed rug and curtains.

At first the place seemed quite civil; there were grassy hills outside the windows, and an Antarctic documentary on the television. But the sounds of the British narrator weren’t even coming close to blocking out the constant refrain of my Nana’s new neighbour: “Whereabouts? Whereabouts, whereabouts, mar, mar, marshmallows. Nurse?”

    “Polar bears are twice the size of tigers,” the narrator told me, but my mind is not so large, and I needed somewhere ‘pre-created’, somewhere much nicer to slip away to while my Nana ate her mash and ham. After lunch there were Christmas carols, with a jolly chorus of “Where are you, whereabouts, whereabouts?” And my Nana put on her ‘show’ – Oprah.

     Brain, I thought, brain! where are you? Whereabouts? Oh, think of Xanadu and Khubla Khan, cling to Erik Satie, and Pablo Neruda, and even whinging old Jane Eyre.

     On the way home I visited their house to pick up some old clothes from the swinging sixties (to use for fabric, not to wear; Batik moo moos are not one of those fashions that come back in) and some pot plants. And there it was. In the bottom of the cupboard. It was heavy, and the dustiest thing there. It sat in its own black leather briefcase behind a pile of boxed reader’s digest compressed novels (which remained in their original quaint packaging with a floral mug and book in each carton). And I opened it. Oh lovely. Oh joy. A portable goddamn typewriter. A Corona, last patented in 1917, made in Brisbane by Stotts Limited (305 Queen st). Someone’s left brushes in the box to clean it with.

     It’s black, and sleek and masculine; it folds away and is possibly even useable if by some godforsaken chance I can get ribbon for it (perhaps to enquire at Stotts Limited? I think the Bank of Queensland that resides on 305 now would be unimpressed). It smells of must and suitcase, and metal, and it’s wonderful (don’t tell my laptop); and absurdly, this little relic negates worries I had about my grandparents. Its time has passed, and it is fragile, but I’ll oil it up, and I’ll press the keys to make words that are strong and coherent.

(P.S. My fave lurid and beautiful D.H. Lawrence quote comes from The Plumed Serpent, “He pulled rhythmically through the frail-rippling, sperm-like water, with a sense of peace.” Bah, Lawrence, how you do make me laugh.)

Lurid yet beautiful moo moo material

Lurid yet beautiful moo moo material

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