There are days in winter when the sun sets so quickly that you expect to hear it rend the icy evening air as it falls. I imagined I could hear it over the roar of semi trailers tearing along the highway that B3 and I were valiantly trying to cross in Melbourne’s western suburbs. ‘Coldest Day’ records were being set across the country while we navigated through six hours and 300 something km of connecting trains and busses to arrive here at The Guiding Star Hotel. A beacon of light promising warmth and shelter now beconned to us from the far side of one vast and final intersection and six lanes of peak hour chaos.
“Mate, it’s usually $90 for the disabled room, but we’re giving it to you for $75 ’cause the heater’s broken”. (Thankfully I had heard a rumour of the disabled room’s disability and had packed my own heater!) A fellow wanderer dressed entirely in black canvas and scuffed leather turned a wizened, long haired face to me over his tattooed and beer-bended elbow, and gave me a slow head-to-toe appraisal. Then he offered to guide me to my room. Evidently one of the local wise men, and certainly a good bloke.
I had found this place on-line; described as ‘one of Melbourne’s strangest old-school pubs, set in an industrial wasteland’. What the blurb tactfully omitted to mention was that the Guiding Star is also located snugly beside an abattoir. The smell is appalling: a hideous olfactory beacon, just in case The Star should ever cease to offer its guiding light. But the food was brilliant! Served in the bar, by no-nonsense staff, hospitable to the core. Home away from home!
But all this fun was only the beginning of the adventure. The serious journey would be an inward one, scheduled to begin at 9am the following day.
For some unknowable reason this giant highway intersection in the middle of nowhere has a pub on one corner, the abattoir on another, and a disability showroom on the third. The Independent Living Centre has on display every species of aid from wheelchairs to weighted cutlery. For the purpose of this essay I’m choosing the Attendant Propelled Mobile Shower Commode Chair (item 11:45:037), available in fetching surgical stainless steel and white plastic, as an example of their wares. This accessory makes a robust attack on most readings of the word ‘Independent’. And like so many of the devices on display, its design has a wordless power to chill the core of a man. I realised I had come all this way to voluntarily subject myself to several rounds of intimidation with liberal doses of confrontation and more than a hint of sobriety. One half of my brain was freaked out by the stark medical realties that various items imply, while the other was quietly intrigued by the useful possibilities that various devices might offer. The therapists who were there to guide me through this emotional minefield were, as health professionals always seem to be, dedicated, kind and wise.
I left the centre with a voice amplifier on loan. It’s a small, jet black, understated device. Next to the Attendant Propelled Mobile Shower Commode Chair, the voice amplifier it is svelte and sophisticated; but it is, nonetheless, the first step down a new avenue of assistance. The amplifier works a treat. Its effect is like a cool zephyr in a heatwave, or a log fire on a chilly night. This thing really works! But that’s exactly how I responded to a pair of timber canes a while back (the ones that gave me an air of old world sophistication!), and then my embarrassing secret elbow crutches, and even good old Bugger! Each one was marvelous … for its season. I can’t help but wonder: how slippery is the new season’s slope? Unlike a wheelchair, even a power wheelchair, the voice amplifier is not a common device. I’m sure I’ve never seen one before, and my troubled assumption is that no one else has either. I worry that it will alarm my family and friends.
Guiding stars and wise men appear in the most unlikely places. Sometimes they are sent to us; other times we travel far to find them. Wise men wear odd disguises too, and are found as often among the humble of this world as they are among the great; and at least half of all wise men are women. More I should think.
Guiding stars and wise men. How essential they are on the curious journey of life; and how grateful I am to have found so many of both!