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  • Dougie

Time to make lemonade?

I was born a city boy. And I have grown into a suburban adult, it would seem. Either one, it's clear to me that I do not properly understand the natural world. Although I definitely like it.

We came home from our European adventure to the Canberra winter. Last night it was minus three. Before midnight. Then it turned colder.

When we arrived back at our big bungalow after the holiday Spike's garden looked fast asleep. Comatose is a better word. It remains that way.

There are all those bare deciduous trees; skeletal and thoroughly 'un-Australian'. Spike sees more than I can in this natural turn of the cycle because, for Spike, the very structure of life and the promise of its renewal are revealed. I tend to see the fallen leaves covering ground. And the herbaceous border looking more than a little tired with its frost-burnt, blackened leaves and spindly stalks. The earth is rock hard. There is not one flower in sight.

I can almost hear the universe sigh with weariness then say, "how very, very Scottish and Presbyterian of you, Douglas."

But there is also the riotous yellow of the lemon bush outside our front door. It puzzles me -- the city boy. Don't things bloom in spring? Is not autumn the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" and then we're done? At least until the snowdrops poke their heads out.

It seems not.

I am not complaining, by the way. As Van Morrison said (before he lost the plot and went all anti-vaxxy) ... rave on.

Thank goodness for the lemons. And that thought led me to this one, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

Forgive me. I understand that is such a cliché or what other people might might call a (modern) proverb. But the thing about clichés is, of course, they contain a kernel of truth. And for that factoid we should be thankful.

I wondered where the phrase came from. Naturally, therefore, I turned to Dr. Wiki to ask her. I thought it would probably be described as some ancient wisdom, its origins lost in the mists of time, handed down through the millennia by an endless thread of wise grannies; part of humanity's never ending stream of folklore aphorisms and life-affirming homilies.

Turns out it may be more recent than that.

According to the good (virtual) doctor, the first attributable trace goes back no further than 1915. A Christian anarchist (who knew??) named Elbert Hubbard wrote an obituary of short-statured actor Marshal Pickney Wilder. Apparently Hubbard wrote of Wilder,

He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, Mens sana in corpore sano. His was a sound mind in an unsound body. He proved the eternal paradox of things. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.

So ...

I've had cause to think about that in the last few days. Lemons, the universe, domino theory (and I do not mean the pizza people).

It is not my intention to sound melodramatic. Nor do I mean to be enigmatic (it's just that the details are truly not something upon which I want or need to dwell). And -- as much as anyone can make this bold assertion -- no existential question arises.

I need to make that last point clear in case (in an almost impossible set of circumstances) my mother Betty has started reading these posts. There is no existential question. Not one. None. Ninguno. Nemaye. Geen. Rien. (For the purposes of multilingual crystal clarity.)

But ...

Middle of last week a small human thing broke. That caused some other things to break and/or to border on the edge of being broken. How much exactly will become clear in the next few days. Then we'll do something about it.

Regrettably, however, it is beyond debate that my ordinary wee life is about to be greatly disrupted. And the inescapable consequence of the un-ordinary bits of my life is that C6/7 quadriplegia will complicate and add to the disruption. We'll do something about that too.

But stuff will change. Some things I can do will need to be done differently. Other things I can do -- some of them rather well -- will be interrupted or stopped entirely for two or three months. Those are things I can do nothing about. So we'll work around them. Quietly.

But my newfound incapacity in certain areas of life will affect other people -- it does already. That hurts more than the broken bits.

The only questions -- unfortunately -- are how much, when will it begin and when will it end? To which my best answers at the moment are ... a lot, very soon and as quickly as it can.

This next bit is 100%, I cannot tell a lie, God's honest truth what happened. But -- CONTENT WARNING -- for the benefit of Samantha Connor who complained (not seriously) about my previous one. The nearly-naked Scottish guy makes a return to the blog.

On Tuesday 26th July, the same day my small thing broke, Barbara, one of my friends in Scotland, sent a WhatsApp message to tell us that she and Brian will visit Australia in October. That, right there, would cheer up anyone.

Attached to Barbara's message was a photo from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Be very afraid.

This is (rather was) me in October 1988. I'm at the back end (technical nautical term) of one of those catamaran things that took people to the outer reef, some way off Cairns in Far North Queensland. We went with Great Adventures who may have had the only boat one could get a wheelchair user onto at the time. We visited Green Island (where even now -- 36 years later -- someone still keeps crocodiles captive). Then we headed out to sea.

As far as I could tell there had been few wheelchair users on their reef pontoon before. But it's a big boat. There was a gangway. Which was basically a portable ramp with ridges on it. On the pontoon, however, there were no (hand-cranked) platforms or lifts in those days. So, a man called Ivan or maybe Ivor -- who truly did look like Arnold Schwarzenegger's bigger, stronger, more muscular brother -- picked me out of my wheelchair on his own, carried me down the steps into the pristine water over the outer great barrier reef and, there, I was assisted to go snorkeling.

Born in Glasgow. Died and gone to Heaven.

And your point is what, Douglas?

This, I suppose.

Anyone who has been here before knows my 'shit happens' story. You're probably tired of hearing it.

I broke my neck in 1984. I was discharged from hospital in 1985. Discrimination was literally everywhere. I met some people who were, like me, pissed off at being treated like second class citizens and outcasts which -- in the mid-1980s -- we still were. So we set up an organisation of our own because there were none in our town (the capital of Scotland). We started to shake the tree.

In 1987 my friend Jon suggested I apply to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for a Fellowship which had an open category for study grants in Australia. Any topic as long as the visit took place in Australia's bi-centenary year. I was interviewed by Sir Richard Vickers KCVO CBE OBE (Director General of the Trust and Gentleman Usher to Her Maj.) and a delightful Aussie bloke, who introduced himself by saying "call me Zelman."

Turns out he was actually Sir Zelman Cowen, AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC, 19th Governor-General of Australia. Who knew?

Anyway, despite my lack of attention to research detail, these two thoroughly clubbable retired gentlemen awarded me a Fellowship grant for me and two personal assistants -- one of whom was / is my very dear friend Barbara -- to visit the land Downunder, meet informed locals and ask questions about people with disability and employment in Australia.

And while I was here I went swimming in the Pacific Ocean over a coral reef. With my friend Barbara, who took the photograph.

This was little more than four years after I broke three bones in my neck (not) swimming off the beach at Portobello.


Shit happens. Sometimes the world hands you lemons but not like those growing in Spike's garden.

Which leaves me only with my (not) lemons question. What do I do about and with what was given to me last week, even though I did not ask for it?

Answers on a postcard, please. To "fuck you, universe."

I choose to make lemonade. Or limoncello.

I've made better than both out of worse ingredients before.

275 views2 comments


Jul 31, 2022

I love you Dougie


John Allan
John Allan
Jul 31, 2022

I taught a man to fish............and he made lemonade ! Ungrateful bastard !!

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