Sunday, 30 November 2008

Who's a Big Sook, Then?

There is a Problem Person in my life. Fortunately this PP does not visit very often, as I do not cope at all well. At present I am trying to change the interaction, but with no success so far. We were to have talked recently, but it just did not happen. In part this was because I was too nervous to  say to the PP let's do it now. I just waited, and it never happened. Then I was away for several days, and in fact PP left the country early. So now I am having to try and do it by letter. Even doing this makes my blood pressure plummet, gives me sleepless nights, and the shakes. I have taken advice from lots of people on how to do it and what to say, and while they have all been supportive and helpful, I am sure that inside they think I am really hopeless. This is  because firstly, these friends and family are not sooks, and secondly, it is not THEIR problem. Other people's problems are always easier to solve. It is a bit like how easy it is or would be to bring up other people's children (especially teenagers).

I WILL send off this letter, and having done that I will probably shake non-stop waiting for a reply. I think basically PP and I just don't like each other, and because PP is a step-relation, we are stuck with each other. PP thinks I am frosty, I think PP is extremely rude to me, but in ways which could only be countered by my making a protest. I feel this puts me on the back foot. Being assertive is what I am not very good at, and while it would be wonderful if I could change this, I wonder whether this would be possible so relatively late in life. Can the grandmother change her spots? I do so envy those with the capacity to put their position frankly and to insist that notice be taken of  what is said. I'd like to get out of victim mode: it is not a good place to be.

While I did the grocery shopping this morning, my mind harped relentlessly on the issue. When I recollected my childhood, my upbringing and my schooling, I realised (anew) the enormous emphasis on obedience to legitimate authority - parents, priests and nuns, teachers, older people, submission, politeness, never contradicting and never answering back. If these rules were breached, retribution swiftly followed. You certainly did not answer your parents back. We were taught to consider other people, and to do unto others as you would be done by. This developed a very strong social conscience, and emphasised justice, fairness and equality as important values in our society.

But learning how to resolve conflict was not considered important. Girls especially were expected to be submissive in their relations with men. I remember my father saying to me that if there were quarrels in a marriage, it was the role of the wife to give in and to heal the quarrel. It might not be fair, he said, but it was a fact of life. And of course religious teaching insisted that wives be subject to their husbands. At university I read a lot of sociology and psychology books to give me more understanding of 'the nature of women'. Pretty soon I reached the conclusion that these books and their authors were fundamentally mistaken. Their views of women were based on their own fantasies. I did not recognise their description as matching the reality of women, and when I discovered the writings of Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer, it was as though at last someone was speaking the truth - describing things as they really were. My friends and I discovered women's liberation, through which so many reforms for women have been achieved.

But in the personal life, becoming assertive remained very difficult. In the problems in my first marriage, there appeared to be no solutions. Assertiveness, pretending the problems did not exist, quarrelling, being very loving, or whatever - nothing made any real difference. And in the second marriage, the spouse has what often appears to be a sublime indifference to any needs but his own. Steering an independent course, and meeting my own rights and needs, is generally not easy - but often manageable. But coping with conflict and being assertive remain for me incredibly difficult. But how did I come to put myself in these positions, not just once, but twice?

I hope that by finally sending this letter, and by taking a few other tactical steps, things might change. Then I might finally get some sleep.


Thursday, 27 November 2008

Dead Sewing Machine Society Membership Growth

Why do I think Marvin K Mooney, Will you please go now?

The Time had come. The Council was having one of their extraordinary rubbish collections. I had not known about this, but when I went outside last Sunday, to walk up to the local second hand market and see what was worth adding to my book  collection, I happened to notice large piles of rubbish/ex-beloved possessions festooning the footpaths. So naturally I wondered how not to waste this opportunity.

I added the broken pieces of the frames I used years ago for silk painting, various pots, and other miscellaneous junk. Then I bethought me of my sewing machine.

This genuine antique was more than 30 years old. I used it to make curtains, the occasional dress or outfit for the female Persiflagettes, and to replace zippers, or to take up hems. I even made a couple of cushions covers, and a witch's cloak. The trouble is that the more I sewed the worse I got. This defies both logic and general human experience. For example, the more I cooked and kept house, the more I improved, and the more I read the more I learned. The more I worked the better the job. So why was sewing the exception to this? Even thinking about this is depressing. It was so frustrating. 

Hard to say. It seemed difficult to sew a straight seam. I never acquired a dressmakers dummy, so the fitting of garments was somewhat haphazard. There was no dedicated spot for the sewing machine, so I had to use the dining table, and inevitably would have to put the sewing away so we could eat at night. Life got  busier, the children grew, I worked part time and studied. But essentially I just did not sew very well. I Lacked Talent. Sob.

The final straw came when I was trying to make a blouse for myself. I got through quite a lot of it, then realised I had not cut out the facings. So I grabbed a piece of fabric and cut them out. The piece I used turned out to be one of the sleeves. Damn! I said to myself that obviously God did not want me to sew, but instead wanted me to help others earn their living that way. So I stopped, desisted, ceased, etcetera. Apart from the odd repairs.

I got the machine out a couple of months ago to sew something or other, and the beast's engine refused to go. Dilemma! What to do? For this genuine antique, it did not seem worthwhile or cost-effective to get it repaired. So I put it away for  while to let my sub-conscious make the decision. Which it did. The machine has now gone to Janome Heaven.

Yet I have a certain regret. Somewhere inside me lurks a person who wants to do crafty things. I have a large stash of fabrics, which I still hope to use one day. Are there others out there like me? There are silks, cottons, woollen fabrics. Bought in the days when good quality and attractive fabrics were relatively easy to find. I don't want them all to be wasted. I will have to find a dressmaker.

My treacherous mind is still whispering to me that it would be a good idea to buy a new machine. I could hie me over to Chatswood and go to the shop there, and allow myself to succumb to temptation. Probably if I did succumb I'd have to smuggle it into the house, as the spouse does not understand at all this sort of irrational female impulse.

All you crafty bloggers out there - what would YOU do?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

My garden

For most of my life I have had large gardens. As a child I used to wander around the family  garden, checking what was in bloom and admiring the tiger lilies. I have always loved plants and flowers. In my first garden we started off with a new house and new block, and apart from the weeds, it was bare. But we did have a large gum tree.

In those days, forty years ago now, the Government encouraged the greening of Canberra by allowing every household free plants from the Government Nursery. You were given ten trees and forty shrubs. It was fun making an expedition to the Government Nursery in Yarralumla, and choosing the plants. There were some very ordinary species, such as cotoneasters,  but there were some beauties as well. Native plants were becoming more generally available, thanks to the influence of garden landscapers like Edna Walling. The National Botanical Gardens were opened about 1970 by the then Prime Minister John Gorton, with possibly his wordiest and most convoluted speech ever, and these gardens displayed native plants in all their beauty. We quickly became very keen on the native Australian plants, the eucalyptus varieties, the wattles, callistemons, prostantheras, but kept our love of non-Australian plants as well.

Canberra has a difficult climate, with hot dry summers and very cold winters, occasionally even snowing, and with temperatures well below zero at night during winter. I know this probably sounds pathetically mild to non-Australians, but for us here it is a cold climate. While Canberra was being established, the Government Botanist did a lot of work to try and establish which plants could tolerate the climatic extremes, and he did very well. Canberra is now a very beautiful place, with the trees and shrubs now mature, and springtime is a time of great beauty.

So back in the 1960s and 1970s, I watched my little garden grow. I'd always loved camellias and azaleas, so had a  few of those, and we also planted a lot of bulbs. Roses, alas, were never successful for me, possibly because I could not resist planting around them. I planted a little patch of low growing plants underneath the clothes hoist, and got very upset when one of my daughter's friends decided to pick a bunch of flowers, and thus halved the size of the plants. My children knew better than to go picking flowers without permission and supervision!

The next house was part of a medium density housing project, intended to be a community of like-minded people, with common facilities. This also started out as 72 new houses, and thus landscaping and paths had to be done from scratch. The project ran out of money. It seems the architect was not diligent enough in his supervision and the builders less than scrupulous in their respect for the ownership of building materials and value for money. Thus things like paths were left undone, and the community had to resort to working bees, where we laid brick paths on sand, using wedge shaped kiln bricks, and planted a lot of native plants in the common areas. Otherwise we would have had to trudge through mud indefinitely. Individual landscaping around houses was the responsibility of each household. It took a long time to get our garden established, as my husband, while keen to do the community work, was averse to doing anything around our place. However it did gradually get done, with some fancy landscaping by one of the neighbours who was a landscape architect. Because our house was on the edge of a block of five conjoined houses, we were able to spread out and create gardens in all directions. 

Eventually I had a lovely garden, full of natives, camellias, azaleas, bulbs, perennials, numerous trees, shrubs and herbs, and a vegetable and herb garden of sorts. I spent a lot of time in the garden. We had plants flowering in all seasons.

After the marriage ended I stayed in the house, and continued the gardening. But eventually, some years after re-marrying, I left Canberra and moved to Sydney.

We live in the inner west, and around here gardens almost don't exist. And plant varieties are limited. There are frangipannis, lots of bougainvilleas in glorious colours , Chinese star jasmines, murrayas, agapanthus, quite a few dreary palms, and a plethora of gardenias. Sydney gardeners like to prune severely. Understandable, as everything grows here like green bay trees, but there is not much else to be said in favour of the rigorously and religiously shorn look. In fact, in the apartments complex opposite, they come and prune every month, starting at about 6 am (along with the aeroplanes flying directly overhead, so don't even think about sleeping in...) and suddenly all the plants have a rounded and shorn appearance.

Our house had a plunge pool when we bought it, and after a while we filled it in and I turned it into a garden. It is not very big, possibly two by three metres. But into this space I have crowded:
Four camellias
2 azaleas
Several agapathuses
a Chinese star jasmine on the trellis
2 gardenias
2 hydrangeas
a kaffir lime
and a bay tree.

It is not rational to overplant like this, but so far it looks quite good. 

The garden is divided into two parts by steps coming from the garage to the back entrance of the house. There is a small clothesline on the other side, and two small garden patches. I have a curry tree, a lemon verbena, an osmanthus, a sacred bamboo, some day lilies, another Chinese star jasmine, rosemary, daphne, and some very invasive alstroemerias - the red and green variety. They are beautiful but don't make good cut flowers, as they drop sticky bits all over the place. Recently I yanked out huge handfuls of them, but evidently I missed a lot, as they are flowering as though they had never been disturbed. Even the man of the house noticed and admired them but he likes any red flowers.

So far, this garden has thrived on competition. Just like the way the free market is supposed to operate. I fondly hope it continues to do so. And the market, of course. But at the moment it looks as though I need to get out there with the secateurs. The bay tree is now taller than I am and I think it has suckered again. I know they can be pruned drastically, but I just hate to do it. 

Out the front there is an extremely tiny space, but I manage to grow another rosemary, lemon grass, lots of parsley, oregano, thyme, and a couple of rather pathetic Iceberg roses. Occasionally I would plant something with flowers, but generally these would be stolen within a couple of days, so I gave up. I have a small cumquat in a pot, but it suffers from the hot sun and irregular watering. Fortunately down the road there are several large cumquat trees on the street and I manage to harvest enough of the fruit to make cumquat marmalade.

I really miss my large garden in Canberra. It has been seriously affected by the drought, and possibly neglected as well. Perhaps one day I might manage to have a real garden again but I will probably be so decrepit I'd have to hire a gardener to look after it.

One of the pleasures of reading blogs is seeing photos of the bloggers' gardens. I read of lily of the valley being a pest. It was something I never managed to grow successfully. I have a friend in Canberra who manages to grow it, and also real snowflakes. Sigh. But she is English and knows about these things.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

My father

Today is the 20th anniversary of my father's death. He died at the age of 77, five years after his retirement as a judge. As he lay dying his second wife and his children were with him constantly. He died quietly, courageously and uncomplainingly. There are worse ways of dying than being surrounded by those you love. 

My father was a good and most admirable person,  eminent in the law, and in Catholic Action in Melbourne. He was one of the founders of the Campion Society, which he and a group of friends formed in the early 1930s, and which led to the publication of The Catholic Worker.   This small journal achieved a wide circulation for many years until it became a major critic of B A Santamaria's The Movement. This courage and intellectual honesty led to the Catholic Worker and its contributors being ostracised to a considerable extent in many Catholic circles, but my father never lost sight of the essential nature of Christianity.

He was a decent, honourable and generous man, with a formidable intellect and learning  and a very wide range of interests. He bore no grudges. He loved his wife and family of seven children.  We remember him with love, respect and admiration of all his abilities, achievements and above all for his fine character. I remember his great support and love for me in my time of greatest need.


Singing The Messiah last night was wonderful. It is glorious stuff. Handel wrote such amazing music, and it is such a joy to sing. The whole audience stood for the Halleluia chorus and then applauded enthusiastically. We all sang well, even with a touch of can belto. I had to withdraw from the choir's previous concert, as a nasty and persistent germ had rendered me voiceless, and it took a good six weeks before it started to recover. This time it is only my sore feet I have to worry about.

Now I am playing Leonard Cohen as I write. He also gets straight to the heartstrings, even though I don't understand the words.

I came to singing relatively late. Although we all sang at our convent school, and enjoyed it, once I left school I did not sing for more than twenty years - that is outside the house, as I certainly sang along with the opera in the privacy of my very own house. Part of the reason for not singing was that I did not think I had any musical talent. My sisters and I (there are five of us as well as two brothers) learned piano, and the sisters all had some talent, but not me! My fist piano teacher used to rap my knuckles with a piece of dowelling when I played the wrong notes. Eventually the teacher advised my parents to stop wasting their money. As I loved music I then took up the violin. I was not much better at it, but I loved the instrument, and enjoyed the lessons a lot more. But at university, when other students joined choirs I thought the music was much too difficult for me.

What got me singing was the breakup of my marriage. I was almost destroyed by this, and it took years before I started recovering. One effect of the breakup was that I was unable to read, and reading had always been a great pleasure. So I turned to other pursuits. My youngest sister got me involved in silk painting, and much to my surprise I turned out to do it well. And I joined a small singing group. At this stage I could barely remember how to read music, so I was a very slow learner. Soon I wanted to sing more classical music, and joined an adult group which was an adjunct to a musical education organisation for children and young people, run by an incredible gifted and energetic musician in Canberra. Before I knew what had hit me we were singing Purcell, and, what's more, performing it in a concert. The next thing was that this group formed the chorus for a production of Handel's opera Hercules. We had to move around the stage of the Canberra Theatre Centre wearing Greek style masks, making appropriate  gestures, while singing eight (!) very long choruses from memory. Fugues, to boot! It was scary. But after that I knew I could do anything. I progressed to un-auditioned choirs and then to auditioned ones, and singing quickly became an immensely important part of my life and one of its greatest pleasures. My voice is essentially untrained, a soprano, with a clear pure tone, and I like the sound of it, although, when I used to walk along the street singing softly to myself, my embarrassed children would beg me to desist. But mostly, singing is physically pleasurable. They say it releases endorphins. That has to be right. After choir, everyone goes home feeling very happy.

My choral experiences include singing in the Sydney Opera House, for the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, various mass choir events, and competing in the ABC choirs competition (unsuccessfully).  I have also sung in small choirs, a capella style. They have all been wonderful experiences. And it also taught me that the more you do of something, the more likely you are to improve. Having a passion for music and singing has given me so much. Singing in choirs is becoming increasingly popular. Probably this is increasing human happiness. 

So many people say they can't sing, or have been told not to sing. That is so wrong. I think we can all sing, just as we can all speak, and learn. We need to sing. Too many people never get the opportunity.

And the Leonard Cohen CD has just  started playing Hallelujah.....

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Are women stupid?

I often wonder whether women really are stupid. Often the thing that gets me wondering is the sight of women teetering around on high heels. 

I readily admit that I am past the age of high heels, and have been for many years now. Orthotics are essential, and so is my foot physiotherapist, the charming and wonderfully competent Nick. It has taken nearly two years to recover from a stress fracture which happened when I fell up my dining room stairs, and then I compounded the damage by playing with my daughter's dog and playing chasey with the grandchildren. It got to the stage where I had trouble walking to the bus stop. Now, with my feet fortified by constant treatment, acupuncture, exercise, heel lifts, orthotics and probably the most sensible shoes on God's earth, I watch women wearing the most ridiculous shoes, and wonder why they wear shoes which will only damage their feet, and which surely could not be remotely considered comfortable. Why, oh why?

Well, I know the answer. They want to be sex objects. They think their legs look sexier if they are wearing high heels. The higher the better. And preferably shoes which squash the toes and endanger the ankles. All so men can perve on them and their bodies.

It is hard to run for the bus, or to chase your runaway kid when you are wearing high heels, and you stand a good chance of tripping on stairs or on uneven footpaths (which abound in Sydney). They will damage your feet and give you years of pain and discomfort. 

Don't get me wrong. I do understand the desire to be attractive to males, but it would be good to see some rationality come into the situation. Why do so many women not ask themselves why, if something were a good idea, men were not doing it too? Do men deck themselves out in silly and dangerous shoes? Not on your nelly! (Similarly, if housework and child care are such fun, how come more men aren't doing more? Yes, I know, someone has to do these things.)

And can anyone tell me why it is fashionable to wear clothes which display a goodly amount of your underwear? The exposed bra strap look! Wow! 

Your latter day grumpy old woman hereby signs off, to totter upstairs to rest the feet and the brain. Goodnight!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Sheer ignorance tries again

Ages ago I did a post, and then forgot how to do it all. I could not remember my password. And I was too embarrassed to ask for help. Having just looked at this blog, to my amazement I found two comments, one from Guess Who, Stomper Girl. Hi there. How did you find me? And I don't know how to put photos in, or pretty art work. So it is all boring typing, so far.

At present I am feeling so technologically challenged that I am tempted to buy another iMac, so I can get the help package. It would be an expensive way of getting technical help, but adult education classes seem to ignore the Macworld and just teach Windows. Hiss Boo! But I have found some friends who have Macs and they are COMPETENT, and willing to help, so soon they will be busy helping.

One of these friends I met while serving on a jury last year. We have kept in touch and are good friends, even managing to meet in Venice late last year. We were amazed to find we had a lot of things in common. We both learn Italian, and sing in choirs, are mad on opera, both have iMacs, and we were both librarians. Would you believe that in one jury of 12 people, selected at random, using numbers rather than names, there were four people who were learning Italian and who sang in choirs? Now my friend and I go to the same Italian class on a Friday. It is miles, sorry kilometres, out of my way but the teacher is wonderful, and so I catch two buses to get there. We are hoping that the class will continue next year, but it seems we will have to make our own arrangements with the teacher, as last week we were too few and next year's class got cancelled. We all think we are very interesting people, and we certainly never run out of things to talk about. We take it in turns to write an argomento on a topic of our choice. While it can be difficult to think of a topic, it is very good for us all to have to do it. I can rest for a few weeks as I did mine last week, on capital punishment - the Bali bombers having been executed.

I am just home tonight from choir. We are singing The Messiah on Friday night, so have had two rehearsals this week. It is a glorious thing to sing, but very long, and standing for such a long time gives us all very sore feet. I am hobbling around, or will be once I get off the computer. The performance is sold out, and our soloists are really good. The bass aria The Trumpet Shall Sound is still playing itself to me. I was standing about a metre away from the trumpeter, which was total bliss. What a fabulous instrument it is. Dr Persiflage won't be going as he is Not Musical. Although actually a couple of months ago he demanded rather plaintively a CD player of his own so he could play music to get him to sleep. So now he has one, and in a way he is now being force fed classical music.

Actually, having a good sing is very good for the psyche. Tomorrow I am going to a concert by Hesperion XXI,  a wonderful Spanish group which specialises in (mostly) baroque music. Their music goes straight to the heart.

It has been a very busy week, which I like. Next week I am meeting a friend who has just returned from a month in New York, during the election campaign. Like most people I know she is absolutely thrilled by Obama's victory - and relieved that at least for now Sarah Palin won't be in federal office - and she has lots of scathing things to say about the American electoral system and the low turnout due to the voluntary voting system and the fact that all the arrangements being made by the states. But she had a fabulous time in New York and  did hundreds of things. I wish I had been there!