In praise of small towns

By Laurel Wilson

I may have said (some dozens of times) how much I enjoy living in the lovely little Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny. We moved here nearly 14 years ago, having had enough of the noise and hassle of the big city. In looking for an alternative to the often indifferent and isolating city suburbs, I told Bob that I wanted to live somewhere that, if I fell over in the street, people would not just ignore me and/or walk over the top of my prone figure. (Photo Qld Health Dept)

Fortunately, neither of us has actually fallen over in the street (though we’ve had our share of accidents – see below). However, we did recently witness an unfortunate who tripped over one of the bollards which are strategically placed to prevent cars from mounting the footpath when parking in the peculiar ‘back in’ manner that prevails in Maleny. The unfortunate trip-ee had barely hit the bitumen before at least three people rushed to her aid and helped her up, having ascertained that nothing more serious than a few bruises and hurt pride had occurred.

In general, we’re both country bumpkins and prefer the P&Q of small town life. Not that it’s ever boring – if so inclined, it’s possible to go out nearly every night of the week and on weekends there is often an ‘approach-approach’ conflict trying to decide which attractive option will win out.

Take this coming weekend for instance. The local Film Society is showing not one, but two films at the Maleny Community Centre on Saturday 16th April – a matinee with the film ‘Tanna’ – ‘a classic tale of forbidden love’, set on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Then at 6pm, you can get a light meal, catered by one of the several local restaurants, followed by the film ‘Looking for Grace’.

If music is more your thing, you would regret news of the demise of the iconic ‘UpFront Club’. However, it is understood that the café will soon re-open under a new name and new management, but with an indication that music will play an important role. Meanwhile, local music promoter Paul ‘Richo’ Richardson is bringing country music stars Kevin Bennett, Lyn Bowtell and Felicity Urquhart to the local RSL hall on Saturday night.  There’s also a Ukulele festival on all weekend at nearby Kenilworth.

Market-goers are well catered for also. The Blackall Range growers’ market at Witta, a few kms out of town, is on the third Saturday of every month, while the RSL is also the venue for the weekly Sunday morning market.

Visitors and locals alike make good use of the Maleny Volunteer Information Centre (to use its full title) to find out about local events and ‘things to do’ in general. The ‘Info Centre’ operates out of a ground floor shop at the Maleny Community Centre, which is in the main street. I volunteer there a couple of times a month and it’s always enjoyable to let visitors know about the many attractions and activities in the area.

For a small town, facilities are quite impressive. We are lucky to still have a local hospital – the Maleny Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. (It would be a foolish bean-counter who tried to close this hospital, on the grounds of ‘efficiency’. Malenyites are sometimes divided over what is good for the town, but this would be one battle that would surely unite the place).

The hospital offers 24 hour a day accident and emergency services, along with medical, palliative care, pharmacy, and a rehabilitation unit. And it still has a kitchen, making meals for the patients as well as for Meals on Wheels.

Bob and I can both vouch for the fine level of care and attention we received there – Bob after his argument several years ago with a small but upset Red-bellied black snake and some years later with an even smaller, but much nastier critter – a paralysis tick, to which he had an allergic reaction. Just prior to Christmas a couple of years ago, I misjudged my footing, fell down some steps and rammed my head into a door frame. All three incidents occasioned visits to our local A&E, where we were treated very promptly and professionally.

I have a small role to play in our local Meals on Wheels organisation, so am occasionally at the back door on the way to the kitchen. There’s a blackboard and chalk outside the door and various wits are known to add droll comments, sometimes about issues of the day (e.g. ‘go the Blues’) sometimes just something to bring a smile. On one day the question at the top of the board was “What makes you happy?” The board was nearly full with several responses, so I reckon that says something pretty positive about the staff at the hospital – a random sample:

“Going on a long walk”; “Being married for 40 years and still in love”; “Music” (I wonder who wrote that?); “Beating the boys at cards”.

A picturesque area, lots of local walking tracks, mild climate, a house close to town, good neighbours, several friends in the local area, a wide variety of activities and within an easy drive to the beach, or even Brisbane, when we are so-inclined. That’s why we love living in this small town. (The nasty little biting ticks and the loud, love-struck Channel-Billed Cuckoo, with his persistent one-note call, are just there to remind us that nowhere’s perfect…)








Bedside manners

Bedside table – Photo by Bob Wilson

So I’m visiting John in hospital and it’s just as well I didn’t come the day before, he says, because he was in a world of pain. Knee operations are like that. Hospital rooms evoke all kinds of memories, most of them not very pleasant, even a private room with a TV, telephone and a view of the painless world.
John was telling how his daughter phoned on his world of pain day to see how he was. The phone, on the bedside table, just out of reach, rang and rang. Somebody had moved the bedside table so they could set up the contraption that monitors one’s vitals.

Where are the inventors?

There’s a small fortune to be made for someone who invents and promotes a bedside cabinet suited to the largely bed-ridden. It may well be that someone already owns the patents or has actually produced a prototype. They would go well in hospitals.
The standard hospital brand tends to be a metal box on castors, usually with two (lockable) drawers and a cupboard to store your clothes, shoes and toiletries.
What is really needed, if you happen to be supine in bed and unable to roll over and reach out, is a bedside table that will come to you. I’m not an inventor, designer or cabinet maker, but I envisage the patient with a remote control pressing ‘turn left’ and with a barely perceptible whir, the bedside table obediently turns so it is facing the bed. The patient presses ‘rise” and the table rises, until the patient presses ‘stop’. ‘Open top drawer’, and the top drawer slides open, to offer an array of things one might need: reading glasses, hearing aids, wallet, mobile phone, private medical insurance card.
Those of you quick on the uptake will immediately see the broader commercial opportunities of such a user-friendly bedside table. The home model would have a built in power board for mobile phone, e-reader, MP3 player or whatever gadget you keep in the bedside cabinet that might require recharging. Ahem.

But isn’t that dangerous?

At this stage of musing it is important to note the debunking of the myth that one risks brain cancer by keeping a mobile phone next to the bed. The ABC’s Catalyst program is under attack for a program this week linking Wi-Fi and mobile phone use with brain cancer. According to the Australian government’s radiation safety agency ARPANSA, there is “no established evidence” that low levels of radiofrequency radiation from these devices cause health effects. The Conversation, an excellent source of analysis by academics and journalists, asked experts for their opinions.
If you search ‘bedside table’ you will find hundreds of designs (and prices) but nearly all follow the basic principle of a night-stand – a vertical cabinet with two or three drawers or two drawers and a cupboard. Once you’re in bed, only the top drawer is easily reachable and of course every time you lean over to look for something, there’s a risk you will knock something off the top (where many of us keep things like books, reading glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, a glass of water, e-reader, wallet, and so on – not unlike the illustration above.
The smart bedside table would have a tissue dispenser built in to the side (also touch of a button) to free up space on the top of the cabinet.

Bedside cabinets for the ages

Bedside tables (the typical bedroom suite comes with two), are not designed with age groups in mind.
The 18-35 groups could get by with a wooden chair, on which to place current reading (e.g. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, On the Road by Jack Kerouac), and the essential accoutrements of the young and impulsive. The 36-49 groups used to favour clock radios so they could get up with the lark listening to classic FM. These days it is likely to be a smart phone alarm and an MP3 player programmed to play your early morning playlist. Books may include: The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Povey or conversely, Summer on a Fat Pig Farm by Matthew Evans.

We elders need a lot of space on the table top. There’s the aforementioned hearing aids, a glass of water (to drink), a glass of water (for our teeth), one or even two of those Monday to Sunday prescription boxes so you don’t forget to take what the doctor ordered. There’s often a torch so those of us with cataracts don’t walk into walls or doors.
The over-65 top drawer is likely to contain a plastic folder with five or six prescriptions repeats, boxes of medications, tubes of ointment for various aches and pains and itches, several old watches, cufflinks (who wears cufflinks?), pebbles, feathers and shells collected from the last beach walk, a Swiss army knife, a pedometer with a flat battery, hearing aid batteries, a scattering of coins, a few buttons that ought to be in the button tin, the thumb splint from last time you had a bout of tendonitis, a well out of date asthma puffer, a well-thumbed copy of Meditations for Men Who Do Too Much, five bookmarks and a card with all your pins and passwords disguised as telephone numbers.

How are we doing so far?
The second drawer of your typical bedside table might be the place you keep bulkier objects like a wheat bag (put in microwave for 40 seconds and apply to aching body part), the leather writing compendium a well-meaning friend gave you for your 21st birthday and which you cannot bear to throw away, even though it is a mid-20th century curio containing five old address books and a Valentine from 1974.
The bottom drawer is where you should keep a pouch containing important personal papers so you can grab it and run if there is a fire.
If your bedside table has a bottom drawer or a cupboard, you could try a psychological experiment: Every Sunday night, list everything that has happened in the news this week that you don’t want to think about and lock it away.
A year later you can read these 52 pages: Cardinal Pell. Who was he again? Oh, the asylum seeker babies. The Hague ruled on that, didn’t they? Anyway, they all went live in New Zealand.
A cluttered bedside table can be a trigger for allergens. At least once a month you should throw everything on the bed and give the cabinet a jolly good clean. Then put back less stuff. Go on, you can do it – who needs two watches that don’t work, an empty floss container or a tube of Dencorub with a 2009 use by date?

Why bedside tables, Bob?

Some of you might wonder why I didn’t write about asylum seeker babies or Tim Minchin’s song about the cardinal, or that proposal by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – (journalist Paul Syvret called it a ‘brain fart’) – to turn age pension payments into a loan, repayable on the sale of the pensioners’ home.

As you can clearly see, especially if you zoom to 200% and examine the photo above, I had other things on my mind.