Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Cooking for the fussy eater

My mother had her seventh baby when I was about 15, during the summer holidays, and while she was in hospital I managed the household. The task fell to me rather than to my older sister because she was training to be a nurse, and in those days the trainees lived in the nurses' home attached to the hospital. 

I woke early on the day the youngest baby was born, to the sounds of the washing machine pounding away, and my mother doing things in the kitchen. I staggered out bleary-eyed. What are you doing? I asked. She said labour had started, and to be quiet so that my father would not wake. Once he knew, he'd want to take her to the hospital. It was too soon to go, and there were things she wanted to get done beforehand. She'd started the load of washing - a daily task - and was busy preparing a rice pudding. My father loved his puddings. Rice pudding, sago pudding, bread and butter pudding, and lemon pudding. He tucked into them happily and then say, "Not bad what there was of it - such as it was!" Apart from the lemon pudding, I thought the rest of them were quite disgusting, and fortunately was not compelled to eat them. We had tinned fruit instead. But while Mum was in hospital my father ate that reheated rice pudding, night after night, until it was all gone. 

My father woke up at his usual time, and sure enough insisted on Mum going to the hospital, where she gave birth to my youngest sister later that afternoon. In those benighted times mothers were not sent home a day or two after the birth, but stayed in for perhaps ten days and then went to an aftercare place as well. We'd been farmed out to friends and relations when the other babies were born, but this time everyone stayed home and I managed the house. I knew basic cookery. Roasts, chops, steak, boiled vegetables, chips, etcetera, and I could manage basic housework - although I think I washed the floors and the toilet only once! I can't believe I managed everything, but I must have done. Once Mum came home with the new baby I did less but still did a lot of the domestic work.

When I was married, I was not daunted by domesticity. Although not a Domestic Goddess, I felt competent. I had The Women's Weekly Cookery Book, which I still use from time to time, someone had given us a casserole cookery book, and I had recipes from home written down. We started off with the usual chops, steak, roasts etc, but gradually I tried different recipes. Although I was working full time, and quickly became pregnant - and very nauseated, the modes of thinking were such that the domestic tasks naturally fell to me. My husband said he hated doing dishes! (Did he think I liked doing them? I am sure I would have washed many more thousand dishes than he would have done. I used to come home from university late at night and then do the washing up for at least eight people.)

But I did enjoy cooking. We had no money to spare, entertainment was scarce in Canberra in the 1960s, and so we saw friends at weekends, taking it in turns to have dinner at our houses, and, being young brides, the wives liked to try new recipes. We gradually learned new dishes. Mastering the Art of French Cookery became our bible. We ventured into Italian food. There was a brief flirtation with fondue, but it was very overrated and pretty dreary stuff. Cheesecakes became fashionable desserts. We then discovered curries, using whole spices rather than curry powder. That led to cooking Asian food from many countries. As my daughters grew older, we cooked together, although the younger one protested about the Chinese recipes. But I was a good cook, with an extensive library of cookery books.

The years passed. Along came Dr P. He has very strange food  tastes. I blame it all on the fact that when he came to Australia at the age of 14, he was immediately sent to an agricultural boarding school, and I can just imagine the standard of the food. Probably all pure slop. And I don't think he was ever taught that it was polite to eat what was put before him on the table. Although he liked Chinese food, and curries, most recipes I offered were deemed unsatisfactory. It was a sad trial to me.

Left to himself, he would eat eggs, cheese, ham, potatoes, pasta, and continental frankfurts. (The smell of them makes me gag.) He likes cauliflower. (Ditto.) I have learned to cook cauliflower cheese.  Pea and ham soup is a favourite. He did, and still does to some extent, fend for himself.  He can't cope with steak any more. The food has to be soft.  I do most of the cooking now.  

Tonight we had rissoles with mashed potatoes. A smash hit. Sigh. 

I don't think I am a very good cook any more. There is too little customer satisfaction. If I do cook steak, the smoke alarm is likely to go off - the exhaust fan seems ineffective. When friends come to dinner, the menu is rather limited. Apart from Dr P's idiosyncracies, one friend does not like garlic. Another can't eat chillies. Some are very picky about their vegetables. And so it goes on. Food tastes seem to vary according to generations. Two of Dr P's children are vegetarians. Some days it all seems too much effort. But then other days I have a really good cooking binge and it feels great. The glory days briefly reappear.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

That bloody woman again!

Dr P rang the WSD this morning, and had the phone on speaker. Thus I could hear both sides of the conversation while I whizzed around doing other things, such as energetically pruning the Chinese star jasmine. She said they were thinking of visiting Australia in July or August, but that they were never going to stay at his house again, as I had made it quite clear they were not welcome to stay. When they had finished the call Dr P told me of their possible visit, but that they would not stay here. 

I told him that it was not true that I had said they were not welcome, that I had never said that, but if they stayed elsewhere, it was probably just as well from his point of view, because these days he does not find it easy to have people staying in the house for very long. He agreed. She evidently thinks that having her to stay is total bliss for him.

What a liar she is.  

I have been doing quite well in ridding myself of the toxic effect of this woman, but do feel churned up again. But I am not going to let it get to me. I will content myself with having a little growl about it here. I will be very happy if they stay elsewhere. It would be easier all round, and I will go and see my own family, who are much nicer people, with qualities such as kindness, thoughtfulness and unselfishness!! Quite unlike her!

My psychologist, the week before last, read my letter to the WSD, and her reply. She said that my letter was excellent, and that the reply was childish and petulant, and had not addressed any of the issues in my letter. She also thinks Dr P ought to be on my side a bit more. I agree, but I am not going to push this one. No one likes their own children to be criticised or vilified, and it is natural to defend your own kin. He knows full well that she is difficult, and has always been so. It is not necessary to rub it in. He needs me more than he needs her.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

A violent world - my Sunday afternoon

On Sunday I flew to Adelaide to stay with my recently bereaved friend. Dr P decided he would drive me to the airport. He chose the old route through Newtown, which has traffic lights every block or so. Naturally we encountered red lights 75% of the time. But he saved the $4 toll.

It took nearly twice as long to get to the airport, so I was feeling rather tense, as I really need to be early for flights, rather than just on time, or, heaven forfend, being late. On the approach to the terminals we noticed that all the cars and taxis were banked up, and that there were Australian Federal Police cars in evidence. We could not see very far head, and had no idea what was causing the delay. Having moved only a few metres in five minutes, I was getting very anxious, burst into tears (not a popular move) and then noticed that passengers were getting out of the cars, and walking towards the departure terminal. So, being in a bit of a state, I jumped out too, and joined other people trying to get to the terminal through the car park. We were not permitted to enter the terminal at the departures level, but had to go to the lifts, descend to the arrivals level, and then to go upstairs to departures. None of the Protective Services men appeared to have any idea of what was happening! You'll have to ask the Qantas staff, they said. Dodging the police cars driving past, with their sirens blaring, we got inside the terminal, and went upstairs, to find the economy check-in area taped off. We'd heard a policeman say it was a crime scene, but there was nothing to indicate what had happened. I managed to check into my flight and to get to the boarding gate two minutes before boarding commenced, and then flew to Adelaide, still not knowing what had happened. At no stage did Qantas give any explanations. The planes stuck to their schedules, but many people would have missed their flights.

I rang Dr P to let him know I'd arrived, and he then told me about the horrific bludgeoning murder of a man associated with one of the two bikie gangs, who'd been on the same flight into Sydney. In full view of passengers and staff, with apparently no immediate action from the security staff, men seized the steel bollards used to form check-in queues, and bashed the victim's head in, while horrified and helpless people watched. It seems that some of the attackers just left the area and caught taxis. What a world we live in! 

There have been letters to the papers, saying bitterly that the security staff harass car drivers when they drop off or pick up passengers, and are so busy checking people's shoes and confiscating nail files, or (plastic) crochet hooks, that they are oblivious to more serious risks. Probably now security will be even more unpleasant for ordinary people just wanting to catch their planes, and then come home again.

Last time I flew, I had forgotten to remove  my nail files, so they were confiscated by the Virgin staff, but on the return trip by Qantas, yet another nail file got through unconfiscated. Naturally, as soon as you get on a plane, you break a nail, and have to resort to carrying emery boards. Once upon a time you could knit,  crochet or embroider while flying, but no longer! What do they do with all the nail files? There must be a mountain of them somewhere! Do security staff have shares in nail file manufacturing companies?

I still cannot comprehend that a man was murdered in full view of people at the extremely busy Sydney airport. How do people convince themselves that they are entitled to wreak such violence? How do we change such attitudes? I am sure stricter security won't solve the problem.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Downsizing - the wardrobe, not the body

Every so often it is incumbent on a person - generally a female - to rationalise the contents of the house. And so it happens with me. There are periodic outbursts of the urge to  clear out the cupboards. One such urge hit me this morning. I have obviously reached the the age  when this sort of urge seems more compelling that the urges of the past. But hey!

The urge often strikes just before visitors arrives, and SD3 arrives tomorrow. Her bed is made up, the fridge is stocked, and apart from that things are fairly organised. 

Clad only in the shorts and tops I wear to the pool, for some reason I surveyed the contents of my wardrobe with a discontented eye. Things had to go. So some of them have.

I love clothes and when I contemplate my past wardrobe, it is quite fun, because I had some lovely things. In those days I was slender and easy to fit. No more, alas. In my teens my mother had the deciding say in what I wore, and none of us had all that many clothes. I had a lot of hand-me-downs from my older sister, who has dark hair, eyes and skin, and who looked good in colours that looked awful on me. Mum tended to think in brown, which is possibly my least favourite colour. My view is that anyone who looks good in brown will look absolutely fabulous in any other colour. It gradually dawned on me that I looked better in blues, green and turquoise shades. Yellows and orange also suited me, and in my early married life, these were the colours I chose. I made quite a lot of clothes, and because I was a standard size, the patterns generally fitted quite well.

We had some wonderful clothes designers way back then, in the 1960s. Fabrics were fun, the mini skirt came into fashion, and perhaps legs may have been gazed on more than breasts. Prue Acton and Norma Tullo designed fabulous clothes, and as I generally bought at sales, I became quite well dressed - not fearfully expensively. The clothes were so pretty. Stomper still has one of them and it still looks gorgeous. Dazzling colours, zigzag stripes and a plunging neckline, a culottes skirt, and closely hugging the figure. I wish I had a photo of me in it, but would settle for one of Stomper (hint hint).

As time went by my skin tones changed. The bright greens, golds, yellows and oranges nolonger suited me. The purple stage had arrived. Soon I was bedecked in all shades of purple, mauve, blues and jades. These are the colours I still wear, and I love them.

Unfortunately, as I put on weight, and got older, some of the clothes no longer fitted me and had to go. But it is not easy to farewell pretty clothes, or to acknowledge that for one reason or another, they just don't look good any more. They have been lurking in my wardrobe for many years, and periodically I have weeded the wardrobe, but there have been many clothes I just could not bring myself to part with. Maybe I never will.

I had a lot of clothes made by a friend who was a dressmaker and designer, and that solved some of the problems of buying ready made clothes. We were both silk painters at that stage, and Helen knew of fabric wholesalers, and I got into the habit of buying fabrics to be used one of these days. I still have most of these little stashes of fabric. Helen moved into designing and producing baby clothes, which were just beautiful.

Helen made this jacket, with a matching skirt (which I just managed to delete from this post),

and also made this, in the same fabric with different colours. They don't fit me now, and the styles have changed. They would make wonderful patchwork or parts of quilts, perhaps.

I was  very fond of this dress, but even when it fitted me, the last time I managed to lose weight, it did not look right.

I wonder whether, when these all arrive at Vinnies, whether anyone will choose them, and enjoy them the way I did. There is quite a lot of space in the wardrobe now, but I could, and probably should, have been a lot more ruthless.

Now if only I could have a go at the contents of Dr P's study....
What I really need is more bookshelves. When I look around the house I
have to admit that I could not fit in any more bookshelves. This simple fact does not stop me from adding to the book collection. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Being kind to Dr P

I softened. Dr P is playing bridge today, and did not want to drive there. He is feeling too old and not confident any more. I gave in and took him there, because he is old and feeble, and does not get out a lot these days. I have been out a lot recently, what with all the choir practice, etcetera, and felt I should be amenable to his requests. But I don't want to have to spend too much time chauffering him around. I batted away all the comments about my under-used TomTom. It is under-used because I seldom go anywhere that I do not know the way to. Sydney geography and traffic are loathsome. They are so unforgiving. A friend is driving him home, so I don't have to make two trips. Just as well. 

This was my first trip to this location. After I dropped him, I turned on the TomTom but turned left too early, or something, and before I knew it I was on a huge road without exits, through bushland, which sure enough was leading me towards TUNNELS (aarrgghh) and the Harbour Bridge (nearly as many aarrgghhs). Not feeling confident about getting into or off the dreaded tunnel, I turned into the first available little street, and consulted the street directory as well as the TomTom. Of course I was miles out of my way, and when I found my way I backtracked so as to go the way I knew. I know I am a sook about driving in Sydney and struggle personfully to overcome my phobias, but I could do with fewer sneers from Dr P (who is himself afraid of flying). Many times, it seems, he makes himself feel good by denigrating others, and sometimes it makes me feel like hitting him on the head with a frying pan. Softly, of course.

Naturally this all took time, and so I missed the time which would have been dedicated to having a swim. I am waiting for a phone call from one of my sisters, so if I get out for a swim it will be late in the day and the pool will doubtless be filled with many heaving and splashing bodies, which I will have to dodge. And quite possibly I may lose the impetus to get out there and swim.

Tuesday is my free day, and I wanted to use it for computer work, transferring information, doing some tidying up, and preparing for the busy days of Wednesday and Thursday. I have to read some Dante, put the sheets back on the single beds before SD3 arrives. The other appealing thing about a free day is being able to spend it exactly as the mood strikes you. I wish I could just decide to comply with requests and not feel grumpy about it all.

As it is, I now feel as though I want to eat fried Vietnamese spring rolls, icecream, cake, chips, nuts and biscuits, and to have a cappuccino. I will settle for the cappuccino.

When I was thinking in yesterday's post about the toxic effects of bad relationships, I forgot to mention an interview by Margaret Throsby the other week with a specialist on aggression. He mentioned the aggression of excluding people. This, in my experience, was a large part of the problem with the WSD. It turns you into a non-person, and is very hard to counter. Unless you withdraw, which is what I did, but it does not really work. Countering this is something else I need to think about and learn.

Having let off steam, I will now turn to more pleasant and relaxing pursuits.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Anyone got a magic wand handy?

This weekend almost every family member I telephoned was out, and so I have missed the usual contacts, and feel rather cut off. Finding a good time to ring is not always easy. The children are busy at weekends, one of them  is out teaching most nights of the week, and dinner time is inconvenient for those with little children. My sisters were not answering either. Dr P carries on if I ring interstate in peak times, and so I try not to do it very often. 

The choir had additional practices on Saturday and Sunday, and we got through a lot of music. Some of it is rather difficult. Actually most of it is difficult, but at least we have sung the  the Mozart Requiem before, and it is a matter of getting it up to speed, and polishing and perfecting it. Parts of it are being taken quite fast, and I found myself muttering that it is not a bloody horse race. We worked very hard and all of us were very tired by Sunday afternoon. Our concert is on Easter Saturday. On Saturday night I went with a friend to an excellent Musica Viva concert - she had won two tickets and invited me along. 

Yet another graffiti was perpetrated on Friday night, fortunately not very large. I was outside with the scrubbing brush bright and early, and the early walkers almost tripped over me as they came around the corner.

As I set off to the bus stop on Wednesday morning I encountered four young schoolgirls in the lane running off our back lane, who were in the process of doing a graffiti on someone's garage door. I gave chase, but they got away - I can't run as fast as they can. These girls were on their way to school, and looked as though they were still in primary school. Little brats! They need a good spanking, and hot tar poured onto their iPods. Or onto their long and lustrous locks.

With some friends I am spending some time in helping another friend draft a document to go with an application. It is a complicated situation, which I won't describe, requiring special consideration due to unusual circumstances. It makes us all realise how difficult it can be to deal with a bureaucracy, especially when there are very difficult personal family situations.

On Wednesday I will be discussing with the psychologist what happened with my attempts to improve the relations with the WSD (SD2). My level of tension has risen in anticipation of describing the account. When I swim I imagine I am washing away the toxicity, and this does help. But I feel rather more fragile. I tell myself  have been working through the things which needed to be done - I am having computer lessons, am learning slowly, and am close to ensuring email and computer privacy - except I am still confused about moving information from one user to the other, I am swimming, and continuing to pursue all my interests, and to see friends. Probably next week will be a better one, if I can work through the issues as planned. SD3 arrives on Saturday, and then I go to Adelaide on Sunday to visit my friend, while she looks after her father. 

There is progress, inevitably slow, in personal change. Oh for a magic wand, or the good old-fashioned miracle. We'd all like that. I bet Kevin does, although all the ranting Rudd revilers would hate that to happen.

Dr P is acting as though he is being neglected. He needs some TLC, it seems, the poor love.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Street art - Ha! Some reasons for hating graffitists

Here are photos of the graffiti which have been placed on the walls of our house in the several years since I bought a digital camera.  The one on the left is last night's effort. Fortunately it was not very large, and it was still fairly fresh. Sounds like a dog's turds, doesn't it?

When a new one appears I clean it off immediately.
This can take quite a long time, and is a strenuous and difficult task, especially in the summer. I simmer and I seethe as I do it. It erodes sweetness of character, and breeds biliousness and acidic reactions, and poisonous thoughts of revenge.

It is often impossible to remove the scribble completely. If it is not removed shortly after it was done, it gets much harder to remove. The graffiti remover stuff must be sprayed on, given a moment to work, and then cleaned off. Of course, the graffiti paint then runs down the wall. For some reason it seems to become more resistant to the cleaning chemical, and is very difficult to eradicate. The wall then has to be sloshed with water. You need to use rubber gloves, as the chemicals cause skin damage. It is probably extremely inadvisable to ingest the spray.

It is generally done at night, and I have reached the stage that almost the first thing I do each morning is to check whether any new graffiti have appeared. All too often there is. Possible the local school children do it on their way to or from school but often the culprits seem to be visiting vandals who blitz in and deface numerous houses in many streets. One night I went out to a concert and on my return home at about 10.30 pm I noticed yet another offering - so there I was in the dark, with my chemical spray, buckets and Dr P's old undies, cleaning it all off.

Our street gets done regularly. An old lady of over 90, almost blind and quite feeble, lives in the house across the lane from ours. Her walls and garage door are permanently defaced.
I don't understand why the perpetrators think they are entitled to go around doing this stuff - nor why the spray paints are evidently so readily available. 

I'd love to pour hot tar on the mobile phones and iPods of the graffitists. Surely they could not object to reciprocal vandalism. Apparently if the graffiti is cleaned off immediately, the graffitists are deterred. I can't say I have noticed!

While I am so unpleasantly occupied in cleaning it off, lots of people walk past, and make sympathetic or helpful comments.  Graffitists  are seldom caught. Some of them allege that graffiti is an art form. Nothing remotely artistic has ever appeared around this area. 

Recently a girl got sentenced to a prison term for a graffiti offence. Of course, there were immediate protests that such a sentence was barbaric, unjust, etcetera. And the usual claims came out about graffiti being an art form which most of the mug public are simply too moronic and intolerant to appreciate. That's me all right. In my view graffiti are quite simply blots and blains on the urban landscape. 

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Bus drivers and travelling in the city

Yesterday when I got onto the bus to go into the city, the bus driver asked me which street he needed to use to get to the city. Considerably startled, I told him, and we had a bit of a laugh. He said he had not done this route for several years.  Then I sat down next to an attractive young woman, who asked me why the bus driver has asked me. I told her it must have been because I looked as though I had been around for a while! The young woman and I kept chatting. She had a lovely Scottish accent, but I had no idea from which part of Scotland. She had been in Australia for a couple of years, and was returning to Scotland soon. The trip to the city is quite short, so we were not talking for long. She got off the bus at the first city stop, and walked out of my life. I wished we could have talked for longer. She made me think of Isabelle

I enjoy the occasions when passengers fall into conversation with each other. I sat down beside a woman once and spoke to her. She recognised my voice - we had known each other since childhood as our parents were lifelong friends. We were most surprised to encounter each other side by side on a bus. 

Frequently you overhear other conversations - about working in a shoe store, complete family histories, buying and selling houses (very Sydney), politics, sport and idle chit-chat. These are somehow so much more interesting than the interminable mobile phone conversations that everyone on the bus is forced to endure. Probably this is because you hear both sides of a conversation rather than the one-sided talking on a mobile phone. On one occasion a young woman had an extended conversation with a friend, and confided to her - and thus to all and sundry, that she was pregnant. It was a weird experience - we all knew she was pregnant, but she was telling the friend that she had not told her family yet.

Because I travel by bus several times a week, I watch the bus drivers, and think about them a lot. They are such a good lot of people - both men and women. Occasionally you encounter a grumpy driver, but for the most part they are competent, efficient, pleasant and helpful. It is not an easy job, it seems to me. Sydney traffic is rather hellish at best. The roads are crowded, motorists regularly speed, won't let others change lanes, or force their way in, and run the red lights. Lots of people don't know exactly where they are going, or quite how they are going to get there. They are constantly asking for directions and help. And the drivers give it, pleasantly and courteously. I admire them greatly. They help keep our lives and society civil, friendly and helpful, and make people aware of each other. Public transport is not merely a matter of moving people around.

There is a bus to the Art Gallery, which leaves from one bus stop in the city, does a loop to the Art Gallery and then back to the city to a different bus bay for the return trip to my suburb. Confusion arises when passengers do not realise there are two separate stops - one for coming and the other for going. It could be better signposted. Today, as I went to the Art Gallery for the lectures on the Baroque, a woman on the bus asked the driver where he was going. He very kindly let her off as soon as he could, so she did not have a very long walk back to the other bus stop. The drivers don't get paid all that much, and I reckon they should be much better rewarded for getting so many people around the city safely. At least passengers do seem to appreciate the drivers, and thank the drivers when they alight. It is a pity you can't thank the train drivers.

What with the computer classes, the physiotherapist, the two Italian classes, the art lecture and a concert, I spend a lot of time on the buses. It is much easier than driving around the city, cheaper than driving, and I am not clogging up the roads. In fact I use the car quite infrequently now - for shopping, choir, to get to the pool, or to drive Dr P occasionally. Bus travel is much easier. And it is good for me to walk to the bus stop.