NYWF 2015: The happiest time of the year is here agaaaaaaaaaain

It’s that time of the year again, when the decrepit old cow that is the city of Newcastle is covered in a fresh infestation of young writers: The National Young Writers Festival.

This year is probably my tenth year of attending the festival in some form – I’m writing up a kind of review, a kind of nostalgia trip for my Cliffwalk event on Saturday morning, where I go through the memories that remain from ten years of writerly festival fun. I goddamn love this festival, and I’m so excited to go again. It’s insane to me that I’ve been going for so long. Here’s my oldest photo of me at the festival.

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Look at all that hair. Look at the youthful optimism in my eyes. And now look at me.

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This year I’m doing a bunch of cool things, the details of which will follow. We’re bringing the dogs up again, considering Ernest was the goddamn star of last year’s festival. I’ll be launching (AGAIN) A Man Made Entirely of Bats, which has always been a dream of mine – having a goddamn book at my favourite writers festival. Pretty spiffy.

I also can’t stop thinking about the fact that my friend Kat Muscat won’t be there. NYWF has always been our time – considering she lived in Melbourne and me in Sydney, it was the one time a year we were guaranteed to spend time together. It seems unfeasible that I won’t catch her walking down Hunter Street, or catch her eye across the room. This year’s festival has been dedicated to her, which is so suitable, considering she represented so much about what NYWF is.

Anyway.

Here’s the things I’m doing!

subbed in: XXL | Foghorn Brewhouse | Thursday, 2 Oct, 7:30pm

Reading some cool INTERNET LIT with some COOL FOLKS. This is gonna be a party.

Walking Tour: Clifftop Tales | Starting from Staple Manor, 48 Watt Street | Saturday 3 Oct, 9.30am

I am basically recollecting all over the goddamn place. Ps, I have never lived in Newcastle.

Short Stories | United Services Club (aka GUN CLUB) | Sunday, 4 Oct, 4.30pm

This was gonna be a panel with Jack Vening, Abigail Uhlman and me, but Abigail dropped out, so now it’s a conversation/ continuation of the greatest romance ever told. Me and Vening are going to talk about short stories and make too much eye contact.

Late night readings Breakups and Breakdowns | Royal Exchange | Sunday, 4 Oct, 10.30pm

I’m gonna read a story!

Hope to see you there!

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Clitfingers

I read this story at The National Young Writers Festival this year, during the Late Night Reading event. It was such a super cool event. Clitfingers can also be found in my book A Man Made Entirely of Bats which is coming out in March 2015 through Spineless Wonders.

‘Seen her? Yeah, I seen her. That is to say, I saw her. Dame was six foot sexy, with legs all the way from her hips to the floor. Yeah, legs like a newborn deer, like Pinocchio on stilts, ya dig? What was she wearing? Little red number that clung to her like a thirty-year-old nerd to his parent’s basement. And shoes – stilettos you could trim cheese with. What? You know, trim some cheese to put on the little round salt plates? Crackers? I call them salt plates. Was she wearing gloves? Yeah, she was wearing gloves, black satin gloves from her fingers to her elbows, real classy. Why you asking? She owe you some money?’

No, she didn’t owe me money – more like the entire State of New York. But this latest clue means I’m getting closer, tracking her down, zeroing in. And when I find her, it will be time for her to pay the piper. And by the piper, I mean the First Bank of New York. She’ll also have to account for all the hours and gastric pain she’s personally cost me.

That last witness I talked to worked the 4 am shift at the local casino, meaning I that was trekking through the streets as the sun rose sluggishly over the city. I know how you feel, pal, I said to the sun, on the account of how tired I also felt. The sun didn’t answer – but does it ever?

By the time I got back to my shitty motel room, my mind was buzzing with everything I knew, buzzing like a swarm of bees who had been evicted from their box thing, the box where they made their honey, like bees that had been evicted from their honey box. Yeah, buzzing like that.

There was no point even pretending to sleep, and I felt that my relationship with the bedbugs had grown a little one-sided, so instead I sat at the desk looking at photos of her and chewing on coffee beans.

A few days later, I’ve left New York entirely. I’m standing in a bank somewhere in North Carolina, confused and whispering sweet nothings to my ulcer. ‘You be cool, ulcer,’ I murmur. ‘Just, calm down and I’ll buy you something nice.’

The bank manager, who looks like he would have had a pretty cool solo song about domestic duties in Mary Poppins is mopping his forehead with a big bunch of tissues. ‘It was her. It was Clitfingers. She’s the only one who could have cracked our safe so easily.’

I grimace, as I have to concede his point – the crime does entirely match her MO. But why here? Why this stupid little town in the middle of nowhere, NC? Frampton barely had enough people to warrant a bank, let alone the kind of trappings that Clitfingers was accustomed to. No penthouses, diamond shops, high society laundromats or fat pig livers delivered directly to your home. There wasn’t even any frozen yoghurt, only politely affluent suburbia complete with high schools and movie cinemas a decade out of date.

‘Don’t worry, sir,’ I mutter to the bank manager, straightening my tie. ‘The FBI has their best man on the case.’ I was talking about me.

Three weeks later and Clitfingers has disappeared off the face of the earth. I’m drunk in the kind of shitty bar that families bring their children to. There’s way too much light everywhere. People are giving me sidelong glances, even though I’m just sitting here, nursing my coconut rum. I’m thinking Clitfingers might have lured me to North Carolina on purpose. I’m thinking that my quest to bring her to justice was doomed to fail. I’m thinking that I don’t like the smirk on the bartender’s face every time I order another coconut rum.

‘Howdy,’ asks some open-faced, friendly guy who has taken a seat at the bar next to me. He is clean-shaven, and has wholesome wrinkles around his eyes – the kind you get when you smile at children or pick hay from a field. He is perusing the menu. ‘Jimmabel, darling, I’d like a … hmmm, I’ll have a small beer thanks. How’s your mama? Good, excellent.’

I rolled my eyes as he conspicuously enjoyed his tiny beer. I loudly swilled my rum.

‘Say, Jimmabel, you know who I saw the other day? Tina Fairchild, you know, old man Fairchild’s daughter. Didn’t you go to school with her?’

He looks across at me because I have just dropped my glass. Clitfinger’s real name is Tina Fairchild.

Later on, everyone is gathered around me, listening to the biggest gossip this town has ever had.

‘So you’re saying little Tina is a world renowned thief now?’ asks a local farmer called Teddison.

I’m sure that hearing about a former resident who’d become a notorious bank robber was making for a better story than whatever usually passed for news around here.

‘There more than that,’ I interrupted, tapping my glass lightly. ‘You see, we were once partners at the FBI together.’

‘The FBI has partners?’ questioned Jimmabel.

‘Yeah, like Mulder and Scully,’ I explained impatiently. ‘Anyway, we were the best, solving crimes left right and centre. But more than that – we fell in love. And love has a way of making things go twisty, twisty twirly. Anyway, long story short, there was an explosion that blew all the skin from her fingertips, making them one thousand times more sensitive, and now she uses her sensitive fingertips to break into safes. They’re so sensitive they can feel the minuscule clicking that the safe makes.’

The bar fell into a shocked silence, and I realised I’d done that thing where I’d told the story way too fast to make it seem plausible.

‘Umm, well yeah, anyway, that’s why she got the name Clitfingers, because her fingers are as sensitive as a clitoris.’

‘It sounds like you’re chasing her … because you’re in love, boy,’ said Teddison.

‘No, I’m chasing her because she betrayed me,’ I grumbled darkly. ‘It’s revenge.’

‘All love is revenge,‘ said Teddison sadly.

Later that evening, I stood atop the roof of the local school, my gun pointed at Clitfingers, aka Tina Fairchild’s, aka my wife who I hadn’t seen in over five years.

‘Tina, you bitch! You bitch, I hate you!’ I screamed into the wind. It was raining fitfully and only a nearby streetlight provided enough illumination to see her. Her face was shadowed and a long trench coat billowed around her. I’d practiced this speech so many times, developed the perfect pithy one liners, but now, here in the moment, all I could do was swear incoherently at her, screaming into the night sky. I wanted to tell her how unfair it was, that yeah, I might have cheated on her, one time, but that didn’t give her the right to ruin me, to get me fired from the FBI, to leave me without even saying goodbye. I didn’t care about the fact that she was an international jewel thief. All I cared about was the shame.

‘Tina, we’re going to talk about our relationship now,’ I said, motioning with the gun.

She sighed and languorously removed her gloves. Pink light glowed from her sensitive clitoris fingers as she levitated into the air and flew away with a sonic pop.

I didn’t know clitorises could do that.

BATS

 

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: NYWF 2014

The National Young Writers Festival 2014 starts on Thursday, and I am ultra excited. This year will be very different as we will be bringing our dog Ernest, soooo that’s going to be amazing, but also I don’t know how well he will go at attending panels.

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Ernest is named after my favourite play The Importance of Being Ernest and also Ernest Hemingway, who Bridget loves with a fiery passion.

 

I’ve been to NYWF for many, many years now, and it has never failed to be a magical time. There is also some kind of weird curse, where I generally have a weird illness that I’m suffering from, such as the time I had shingles on my leg and had to stick it out of my sleeping bag for the cool air to caress. I am hoping that this year’s curse is fulfilled by my weird stress acid stomach ulcer thing, which means I’ll probably not be drinking coffee?

 

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This photo is from SEVEN YEARS AGO at NYWF.

 

Anyway, the program looks absolutely BANANAS this year, and I’m so excited. Bridget has already been a giant dork and drafted up an itinerary and already I’m sad about some of the things I’ll have to miss because I don’t have a time-turner. Also, if you want to see me do things, I’m involved in the following events:

IS JURASSIC PARK A THING THAT SHOULD REALLY HAPPEN?

Bridget and I are the affirmative for this debate, and we really have something very odd prepared, so I think you should come.

MY FAVOURITE IS PROBLEMATIC

I will be continuing my NYWF tradition of talking about the TV show ‘Friends’, in this case, how I love it, but how it has some godawful aspects.

WHY ROMANCE IS HERE TO STAY

Putting on my Momentum hat and facilitating this panel about the romance genre, with two wonderful panelists.

My first jacket (Or the time I went to the Arctic and burnt things)

I read this at The National Young Writers Festival 2013 as part of the ‘First Time for Everything Event’ which was maybe my highlight of the festival? Who knows.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my time on this moist round planetary mass that we affectionately refer to as ‘Earth’ or sometimes ‘The fantastic spinning volcano orb’, it’s that everyone has a weakness.  A weakness that we can identify and exploit for business reasons.  Now I’m not talking exclusively about Limpy Joe and his shattered femur – sometimes a person’s weakness is less obvious, and less awesomely accessorised by a sword-cane. A weakness can be a soft spot for corn-based foods, a hatred of tight hats perhaps. For me, it’s a psychotic desire to own pretty jackets. You’re probably saying ‘plenty of people like jackets, just the other day I wore a jacket to work, Patrick, you’re a fool, I won’t stand for this, I won’t stand for the beautiful lies coming out of your vile yet enticing face-hole.’ And you have a point, my pompous hypothetical friend. Lots of people wear jackets – it’s one of the top five established garments. Number one is pant. But few people lose their entire shit immediately when confronted by jackets like I do. I am normally a mildly fiscally responsible person, due to never having much in the way of fiscals, but I have, and probably will again, spend every dime I own on a neatly turned lapel, leaving me without the ability to pay the rent or feed my cry hole.

This all started when I was eighteen, and on a jaunt in the city with some of my new university friends. Everything was fresh and startling, and I was enamoured by catching public transport and drinking midday beers and feeling fresh spring breezes on my stupid innocent face and also having friends for the first time ever. We spent the day browsing shops in Newtown, and at one point wandered into a place called Gallery Serpentine, which was full of elaborate Victorian era goth frocks. At this point in time I earned my coin by folding cardboard boxes in the loading dock of Target Miranda, and assiduously trying not to get involved in the crime ring that operated from it. Money was not a plentiful thing in my life, the cardboard box folding industry being a skilful job with few rewards. So it was with great surprise that I walked out of that shop fifteen minutes later with a beautiful Victorian Priest’s coat that had cost me five hundred dollars.  It was a full length jacket, which flared out slightly at the hips, with a high collar. If you can’t visualise it, think of what Professor Snape wears in the popular Harry Potter movies. Now you also know what I dress up as for Halloween every year.

But at that point, suddenly deprived of my ability to pay for basic essentials, I had to somehow validate my impulse purchase. Since I already knew there was a vast dearth of Victorian weddings for me to officiate any time in the near future, and since I also possessed a flagrant inability to travel back in time, this meant I now simply had to wear my ridiculously formal coat everywhere. Starting with my very first university house party on the upcoming Friday night. I felt there was certain symmetry to wearing my first expensive article of clothing to my first ever house party, proving that I had no idea what the word symmetry means.

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The party was at a sharehouse nicknamed ‘Gaynor’, a clever reference to the fact that it was a house on ‘Gaynor Avenue’. Gaynor was the quintessential sharehouse – large sprawling rooms in various states of decay, rumours of a ghost, a certain odour, a tobacco stained roof. Once I spilled an entire bottle of red wine onto the carpet, and when I came back with some paper towel, I couldn’t find the stain. The carpet was… thirsty. It was the kind of house where once I went over and one of the hosts was super excited about a roast dinner he was cooking. The whole place smelled amazing, as he’d been slow roasting all the meats and vegetables in the oven for the majority of the day. Finally that night, we all crowded around in anticipation as he opened the oven and pulled forth the tray, only to discover that somehow, in a mystery unsolved to this day, a basketball had melted over the top of the roast, ruining the entire meal.

But none of this had happened yet. It was my first house party, and I entered it dressed like a scary penguin, armed with two bottles of Passion Pop. Immediately I discovered one of the greater faults in my long list of ‘why it is a stupid idea to wear a $500 jacket to a house party’. And that was the fact I was terrified of getting it dirty. Someone reeled towards me, splashing red goon with wild abandon. A giant naked man, smeared head-to-toe with blue facepaint tried to hug me. Later on I held my friend Jimmy’s hand as he peed in the middle of a freeway, and managed to avoid him getting run over by a truck, or worse, wee-wee on my coat. I soon lost all sight of having fun, and instead viewed the party as an elaborate scheme to ruin my coat. I was like a mama bear, protecting her baby bear that she really couldn’t afford in the first place.

As you have predicted by my sneaky ‘smoking gun’ writing technique, I later drank those bottles of Passion Pop. Now, I’m not saying that I can’t hold my alcohol – eh, I can’t even lie. I’ve never been able to hold my alcohol. I got spectacularly drunk. And the majority of the rest of the night comes mostly from corroborated sources, who delight in telling this story over and over and over.

At some point, it became increasingly obvious due to the large line of people with giant inflated bladders, that somebody had locked themselves in the bathroom. After a bunch of hollering and knocking, it was decided to knock the door down. This was unsuccessful.  Then my friend Willis was taken outside and boosted through the window, ignoring its protective layer of glass. Once Willis dodged the razor sharp panes and extricated himself from the sink, he discovered the bathroom had been transformed into a place of rare horror. Judging from the descriptions, it sounded like someone had gone to great pains to vomit on every surface available. The floor, the walls, the mirror, the toothbrushes. That someone was me, and I was passed out in the bathtub.

There are people at parties, who no matter how drunk they get are still great forces of organisation and sanity. One of these people decided they had to get me out of my vomity clothes. My shirt came off, as did my shoes, but when they got to my pants, they discovered I possess a kind of unconscious kicking instinct. In the face of such stout opposition, they very rightly gave up, leaving me facedown, half naked in a bathtub in the middle of winter, junk exposed, unconscious.

Now this is where things begin to get weird, and where I begin to remember stuff again. I woke up, and I was cold. I was shivering violently, my face pressed against something icy and white. I raised my head as much as I could, and saw only whiteness stretching out infinitely in front of me. With all the sexy power of hindsight, I now realise I was simply looking at more bath, but in my inebriated state, I decided that what I was looking at was the vast snowy wastes of the arctic, or perhaps the Antarctic, I couldn’t remember the difference. How did I get in the Arctic? Why was I naked? Why did everything smell of bile? These are all excellent questions that I didn’t bother to think about due to my fear of dying from hypothermia. Now what happens next I can’t justify with any sort of logic, but I can only ask, what would you do if you were suddenly dying in the arctic? A little bit of empathy, please. Because with great difficulty, I managed to find a lighter in my pocket, and proceeded to set my own hair on fire. It wouldn’t catch – so twisting my body around, I saw my saviour hanging on the wall – a roll of toilet paper. Let’s ignore the incongruity of toilet paper hanging in the arctic – let’s ignore it, because I have already set it on fire. It quickly spread to a pile of magazines and gross urine splattered books and old toilet rolls. The fire might not have generated enough warmth to save my life, but it did create enough smoke to alert the rest of the party who then came in and rescued me, or as they saw it, stop the drunken psychopath from setting things on fire.

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The next morning I glumly helped mop up the vomit, sweep up the shattered glass, scrub the burn marks from the wall and help re-screw the door onto its hinges, and amongst all the devastation and filth, untouched and pristine in a neatly folded pile, was my jacket. My stupid, beautiful, jacket.

NYWF 2013: The most wonderful time of the year.

I love NYWF. And so does Shalane.

I love NYWF. And so does Shalane.

 

Hello jerks and jerkettes,

Just a quick note to say that if you are coming to TINA or the National Young Writers Festival this long weekend, there are plenty of times where you can come and see me do some sort of thing. Really, I’ve kind of over-committed, it’s a bit dumb. Let’s break this down:

Thursday 3rd October:

Launch Launchpad

Relaunching The Sturgeon General along with a whole bunch of quality publications, I will be saying a thing and then introducing Jack Vening and his talented mouth-words to speak at ye.

Friday 4th October:

Sick As

I will be reading a story about being sick with some other writers, I hear on good authority someone is writing about sperm. I am writing about spiders.

First Time for Everything

I am super excited about this one, I’m reading a story with some absolutely hilarious people. They are:  Ben Jenkins, Tom Ballard, Jessica Alice, Seaton Kay-Smith, Alexandra Neill, Dan Ilic, Patrick Kelly, and Nick Sun. God damn this is going to be good.

Saturday 5th October

Too Close For Comfort

A panel where I am talking about collaborating on artistic projects with someone who I collaborate in the bedroom with, if you know what I mean. Actually our desks are in the bedroom too, so that is where all the collaboration tends to happen. Collaboration. Cahoots. We should use cahoots more often.

Sunday 6th October

Funnies Workshop

In this workshop, me and Sexy Tales Comedy regular Daniel East try to teach some tips about how to write comedy. It may or may not involve us laughing at our own jokes and high-fiving each other. Most of the slots for this are already booked up, but you can email them by following the link.

Late Night Reading: Good Neighbours

I loved the Late Night Readings at the last two NYWF’s, so it’s great to be involved again. I will read out some sort of thing.

Please come and say hi to me, I am sometimes awkward and standoffish, but that’s because I am probably just scared of you looming over me, and you just need to bend down and let me sniff your fingers and then I’ll be your friend.

Necrotic Flesh


This is a story that I read at 
Project 52’s
 Story Club, a fantastic event where people read amazing things at your faces. It occurs every month, much like my feelings of inadequacy!

EDIT: I recently read this story as part of the ‘Sick As’ reading at the National Young Writers Festival 2013, which was an absolute blast.

Unless your job is romping joyfully with puppies in a bouncy castle made of heroin and boobs, everyone has those days where you just don’t want to go to work. Maybe there’s a heavy workload and tight deadlines. Maybe you drank seven bottles of wine in the park the night before and yelled at teenagers about Captain Planet. Maybe the moon is out at the same time as the sun, and that makes you grumpy – and a bit scared. Regardless of the reason, one of the best ways I’ve discovered to overcome this funk, is by thinking back on the most horrifying jobs you’ve ever had. Not just the dull monotony of your high school fast food experience or the casual awfulness of telemarketing. I’m talking about that one workplace that isn’t so much a memory, but more of a deep pain that you carry somewhere in your ballbag. The idea is that this experience was so utterly soul destroying, that whatever you are currently undergoing feels like a jaunty walk through a cupcake.
For me, this was a summer job that my uncle kindly got me at a retirement village in North Sydney. Thin decrepit skeletons shuffling around and smelling of death and whisky – and that was just Milsons Point. No one really needs me to explain why a retirement village is upsetting, unless you are the kind of person who is uplifted by the idea of a place where people slowly lose every memory dear to them before dying. But I thought I was prepared for that level of sad. I’d practiced my understanding face in the mirror and developed a soothing tone to speak with, inspired by that movie The Horse Whisperer which I’ve never seen, and fundamentally misunderstand. And yes, these people were old, batty and sad but what I didn’t bank on, was the fact they were old, batty and sad rich people.

Much like a pickled onion, rich old people are like them. My primary job, after washing industrial loads of dishes, was to serve food and then remove the scraps. Sometimes I served tea. As a polite young man bought up in a house and not by sea-wolves, I felt infinitely qualified to do this. According to the aged tycoons populating this village, not only was I unqualified, but my method insulted every dead Anzac. Like in every ABC period drama ever, I would be sassed by old ladies for serving tea on the left side rather than the right, or not bowing as I exited the room or not pointing the multi-coloured mush they ate towards the sunset. Furthermore, because they were cashed up and possessed only a tenuous grasp of time, the majority of the residents drank like Hemingway all through the day. Or perhaps because they were old and in a retirement village, they knew exactly what time it was and not one fuck was given. While this might sound fun to you, this just means that when I served breakfast at 7am, many of the old people were a horrifying mix of fighty drunk, shouty drunk, sad drunk and most disturbingly, amorous drunk. And as anyone who’s worked in aged care knows, the delightful myth we propagate about old people not having sex is completely made up. In fact, there’s a huge problem with the spread of STI’s in old folks homes. But I’m not even talking about that – they can do whatever they want to each other. But because they all are stinking drunk, mostly blind and I am kinda pretty – I had to fend off the inappropriate gropings of old men all day. One dude motioned me over, got me to bend down, and then whispered in my ear

‘I can see your nipples.’

The worst thing was, after that I realised that he could actually see my nipples, as my shirt was indecently sheer.

There were of course some lovely people there, who were always perfectly delightful and polite. There were also the genuinely mad ones. Only two are really worth talking about. One was a lady named Beryl, who no matter what, always looked absolutely immaculate. Pearls, dusty mauve Chanel suits, a perm that could repel bullets. She also wasn’t allowed cutlery, because she tends to go for the eyes. When I served, she would sit bolt upright in her chair and stare unblinkingly at me, only her head moving fractionally as she tracked me around the room. Her mouth would quiver slightly, due to the intensity of her frustrated rage.The other was a lady named Fran who adamantly claimed she was a Polish princess and would make ‘special tea’ out of pot plants and pot pourri. I liked her a lot, because while she was off in a whole other world, it was a great world and she was happy there. Also, there was the outside chance that she was a Polish Princess, and she might leave me her castle in her will.

All I’ve done so far is set the scene. I’ve created a challenging ambience, a shitty backdrop to stage an amateur musical society’s version of ‘Cats’ on. Because while getting up at 4am every morning and coming to this place was depressing and hard, I was getting paid for it and I thought I could deal. Until Olga happened.

Olga worked in the retirement home as a nurse. Nurses are generally the most bad-ass, tough as nails, admirable people in the world. Olga was something else entirely. When I think of Olga, she’s always smoking the bitter end of a cigarette. Even though I understand that she couldn’t have been smoking inside, the complex pit of wrinkles and deep yellow stain that took the place of her mouth seem unimaginable without a cigarette in it. Olga had an accent which I can only describe as ‘generic Russian spy’. And she was the most depressing woman in the world. Perhaps because of the constant imaginary cigarette or more likely due to the sheer unholy weight of melancholia physically weighing her mouth down, Olga only ever spoke in clipped sentences. And it was awful.

‘Good morning Olga, how was your weekend?’

After waiting just long enough to make you think she mightn’t have heard you, she would exhale a long breath of stale smoke and then look at you from these dull, yellow eyes. Oh, and I apologise to the entirety of Russia for my attempt to mimic her accent.

‘My weekend was… not distinguishable.’

‘Bye Olga, I’ll see you tomorrow.’

‘Perhaps… perhaps you will.’

Olga got into my head in a bad way. I started having nightmares about her looking at me and saying things. I’d hallucinate her dry, joyless cackle. She was one of those people who only laughed when there was bad news. One day I was serving a resident tea and blood started gushing out of this old ladies mouth. I was horrified, and ran to get the nearest nurse. Unluckily it was Olga, who listened impassively as I explained the horrific nature of the medical emergency, took another drag on her cigarette, meditated silently on the problem and then while stubbing the butt out on the window pane, said ‘Ah, she always does that. I’ll get to her in a minute.’

By the time I came back, another nurse had tended to the woman, and I discovered the problem was actually a minor dental issue, rather than the lung rupture or heartsplosion that I’d diagnosed her with. But my problem with Olga and the job wasn’t just making me depressed and dispirited – I was scared. I developed an eye tic and once woke up in the night and vomited randomly after dreaming of Olga doing the crossword. I thought that maybe I’d calm down over the weekend, but knowing that I’d have to go back for another week of terror kept me sleepless and nervous. My skin went an interesting shade of translucent.

As I went in to work on the Monday morning, I honestly prayed that the train would derail itself or the place would burn down or my eyes would start bleeding spontaneously just so I wouldn’t have to go through with another week. I’d never felt so bad in my life, my fear and depression seemed to be manifesting at this early hour of the morning as some kind of feverish fugue and prickling pain in my neck. And when I got into work, one of the nurses, a lovely man who was saving up to buy a $9000 kareoke machine because why not, looked at me and kinda screeched,

‘What the hell is that on your neck?’

I’d thought I had a rather vigorous pimple, so was understandably abashed when he called over all the nurses and doctors to have a look at it. When I kept protesting that I was fine, he looked me in the eye and said ‘Listen, if there’s one thing you learn to spot a mile away when working in this place, it’s necrotic flesh. And that’s what the wound on your neck is.’

It turned out that I’d been bitten by a White Pointer spider, whose bite actually kills off your flesh, a bit like gangrene. If not cut out and treated with antibiotics, even the smallest bite can actually spread and kill you. If I get stressed, sometimes you can see the place where the bite was on my neck. So, it turns out that it wasn’t just my emotions that were making me feel bad, but also a bunch of poison. Things had gone from bad to worse, no?

But actually, the point I’m trying to make, that I’ve laboriously made my way to, is that the moment when I was told that I had to go to hospital instead of working at that retirement village, was probably the happiest I’ve ever felt in my entire life. The most pure explosion of joy to have even been transmitted to me via the medium of speech.

 
I HEART POISON.
And that’s the lesson I want to impart to you all. A rare glimmer of hope in the seething pit of hardship that we call existence. Miracles can happen. Good things happen to good people – and also to people like me. I want you to go forth tonight with the knowledge that next time something awful happens to you, when you’re in a horrifying position that seems inescapable, you too might be lucky enough to get bitten by a flesh eating spider, which will somehow solve your problems.