Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Falling down

Dr P fell over in the kitchen this afternoon. A cockroach ran across the kitchen floor, he tried to hit it with the fly swat, and fell. He was unable to get himself up, and nor could I get him up. I tried to get him into a kneeling position, so that he could get some leverage which, with my help, would get him to his feet, but he seemed unable to do so or to figure out the technique. He wanted me to ring his daughter so she could come over and help hoist him up. That could have taken some time, so instead I went into the lane, where some builders are working on a neighbouring house, and asked two of the men to help, which they very kindly did.

Dr P banged his arm and it bled a little, and fortunately he did not seem too shaken by the fall. But he should know better than to lunge at a cockroach.

Tonight he fell again. This time we were able to get him to his feet without having to call for help. He tried to carry his plate to the kitchen - something I always do, so I wonder why today he thought he could manage it. When he called me I was upstairs changing my clothes, as I was going to a concert. Naturally I stayed home, but if it had happened five minutes later I would have been gone, and he would have had to press his panic button. He took his blood pressure and that was normal, and he has gone to bed, rather shaky and subdued. He needed comforting and reassurance. It might be a good idea to take him to see the GP.

It is a worry. He is so heavy that it is extremely difficult for me to get him off the floor. When his legs gave way about four years ago, he fell and hit his head on the door jamb. I managed to get him up by using the computer chair, and then pushed him around. I had already arranged to see the GP that day about his condition and increasing weakness, and following my visit, he called to the house, and had Dr P admitted to hospital by ambulance. As he could neither stand nor walk, a laminectomy was necessary, and he was in hospital and rehab for a good six weeks. Various modifications were made to the house, such as handrails, we subscribed to a panic button service, and later had an inclinator installed. However this year he has become increasingly feeble, and tonight seems somewhat confused from the falls. What will happen and how will we deal with it? This sort of slow decline is awful.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Stages of aging

Last week Dr P went off to play bridge. Usually he gets a lift from friends, but that morning the friend whose turn it was to drive rang to say she could not drive him home. I had other engagements that day so was not available for chauffering duties. She and I urged him to get a taxi home, but he decided to drive himself. He set off. I felt rather anxious.

Just after 10 am he rang to say he had had an accident. He had been turning into an area of the carpark which led to a small parking area near an entrance with a ramp, which enables people to avoid having to climb the stairs into the club. Despite this bridge club being full of elderly people, there is no lift. Dr P's foot hit the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and the car hit the concrete wall.

Fortunately he was not hurt, just rather shaken, and went on to play his bridge. His kind partner drove him home. He has now decided not to drive any more, and once the car has been repaired he will give it to his grandson. For some time now he has not wanted to drive, and when we go anywhere together, or if he has a medical appointment I drive him, and accompany him to the appointment, and participate when necessary.

Along with everyone else, I am very relieved at this decision. Using taxis will cost him much less than registering and insuring a car, and it is much safer. He was not driving well, but was not amenable to persuasion to abandon driving. Understandably he was reluctant to abandon his independence, and to acknowledge yet another limitation of old age – he is almost 86 – but it seems that old people can get quite mean, and that he begrudged paying the cost of a taxi. Often he just won’t listen to reason, and he is used to having a servant class available to him, and I am the latest – probably the last – in a long line. He can be extremely stubborn, impervious to argument, and ready to shout people down. I do not want to be totally at his beck and call, and want to be able to lead my own life.

And yes, old age can be a real bugger. Dr P's old age shows itself in lack of mobility, severe forgetfulness, which necessitates constant repetition of everyday facts and arrangements, worsening deafness with consequent difficulty in conversing with family and friends, various health issues, the needing of frequent naps, the rigidifying of attitudes, and a far greater dependence on others. It is harder to maintain cheerfulness, and impossible to live life as before. I do sympathise and feel sorry for him, and do all I can to help, but it can be very frustrating and difficult. Although in many ways he is very generous, he is often very selfish.

A couple of years ago I read David Lodge's book Deaf Sentence. Lodge is quite deaf himself, and in this novel deafness is central to the plot. He writes 'Deafness is comic, as blindness is tragic.' Deafness, he says, might arouse pity, but not terror. He quotes Milton's Samson 'O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon, /irrevocably dark, without all hope of day' and offers'O deaf, deaf deaf' to illustrate the fact that deafness does not have the same pathos. While the blind have pathos, and there are visible signs which reveal their blindness, he says that 'we deafies have no such compassion-inducing warning signs' and indeed provoke irritation rather than compassion, because people must shout and repeat themselves constantly when trying to communicate with the deaf.

It is indeed quite unfair, but very true. My voice is soft, it makes me hoarse if I have to shout, and it is amazing how quickly my mood changes from kindness and helpfulness to irritation. I remonstrate with myself constantly 'Control your temper! He can't help it!' But he could at least use his hearing aid! Then I get depressed, thinking that these should be my good years, and, if I should outlive Dr P, I will probably have become so decrepit myself that I won't be able to have any fun or do anything, and there will be no one to care for me. That is no way to live, so such thoughts must be banished. And the decision to stop driving is a good one.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Profound disquiet arises in my breast

As previously noted, I occasionally watch crap TV, something Foxtel is very good at providing. Last night Dr P and I watched a documentary on plastic surgery, by Louis Theroux. Talk about creepy! It was set in California, and the programme gave the viewer to understand that plastic surgery is a pretty routine event there. Young women, who probably have not yet given birth, turned up in droves to have breast implants, liposuction, nose jobs, and nips and tucks all over, it seemed. There were also a number of men who had upper arm muscle implants as well as implants in their breasts to make them look more muscular. I thought they looked really weird. The separation between the breasts/chests looked very unnatural and strange. All the patients/customers babbled on about their self-images and self esteem, and how important it was for them to look as 'good' and 'hot' as possible. Louis Theroux himself underwent liposuction and emerged looking rather pleased with his improved body image. It all made me feel quite sick. The doctors interviewed did not seem to have any worries about their own bodies and faces, and believe me, they were no oil paintings themselves.

After watching all of this, and wondering what the world is coming to, I went to the website of a plastic surgeon, who is the son of friends. His practice seems to be predominantly breast implants, the cost is $8000, and there are glowing testimonials about the doctor, the staff, the care, the surgery and above all, the results. There are before and after photos of the breasts (but not the faces). There were mentions of how they had always hated their breasts, and again this reiteration of the importance of body image to their self esteem.

It makes me feel quite sick, for various reasons. I really hate to think that some doctors concentrate on this sort of surgery, probably, of course, because it is so financially rewarding. We think of doctors as being good people who care for others, heal them and save lives. At least, I suppose, they are not engaged in violent crimes, drug peddling, swindling people or dishonestly cheating them and destroying lives, like many other rich and successful people. But all the same most plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons does not seem to me to be improving our society.

Perhaps women are particularly vulnerable to the media and business manipulation and social pressures to conform to artificial notions of beauty and thinness. There is such constant emphasis on the female body, and what seems to be an incessant pounding of images, advertising, and stories, that young women in particular evidently increasingly feel it is normal, imperative and their entitlement to undergo botox injections to stop the appearance of aging, and to have breast implants, so they look 'hot,' and can wear plunging necklines revealing their nice new albeit artificial D cup size breasts. It is as though many women cannot apply rational thinking processes to their body images. The notion that an unaltered body is beautiful and worthy seems to be disappearing.

What are we doing to our young women? How can we better protect them?

And why are breasts described as pert or perky?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Balls in the air

Oh bother! I have had to cancel the computer appointment tomorrow, as I had forgotten that I had been invited to go to a concert tomorrow, and had double booked myself. I have yet another physiotherapy appointment in the morning before the concert. In the afternoon Dr P has to be taken to see his GP. At least I can defer lugging the computer into the city on a bus.

Last night was choir practice and we finished very late. The work we are singing is a Bruckner Mass, which I sang years ago, and decided that I did not care if I never heard it again. There are some lovely bits in it, but most of it is fairly so-so. It is also very hard on the voice, and in one part we have to sing eight bars of high A's, before moving on to some high Bb's. We did these parts a number of times last night and I came home barely able to squeak. The concert is next Friday evening, and we have dress rehearsals on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I have another physio appointment on Tuesday morning, and one of my twelve nieces plus a friend is arriving that morning, to stay overnight, and then take off to see more friends in Sydney. It will be lovely to see her, but it will not be possible to spare her much time. And I realised that it will be impossible for me to get to the other Italian class late Tuesday afternoon. Oh woe!

These days we lead a fairly quiet life, as Dr P's age, deafness and lack of mobility make joint social events increasingly rare. While he still reads the newspapers and watches the news, he no longer reads books and his short term memory is very bad. He won't go to films any more because he cannot hear the dialogue. It is sad when life contracts in these ways. I miss the man I married. What with the classes, choir, the lectures and lunches with friends from time to time, my life is fairly active still. There are days when Dr P looks as though he feels rather neglected (not true) and this makes me sad. I am not yet prepared or ready to have my own life contract in the same way, but there needs to be a balance, the balls have to be kept in the air, and I do not want to become merely a domestic slushy.

Dr P has taken some unauthorised slices of the second Christmas cake and declared it to be not much good. It was left in the kitchen, and thus a constant temptation. Asking to be eaten, actually. My usual output is generally better, he declaimed. I had a little taste myself, and judge it to be a fairly basic but quite nice fruit cake. To help it along, I sloshed a bit more brandy over it. Mind you, the first cake is superlative and any other cake cannot possibly compete. Cake 1 won't be cut until Christmas Day. In the meantime Dr P will probably continue to hack off more slices from Cake 2, and become accustomed to lesser fare.

After the art lecture today I had coffee with a woman from the choir, who also goes to the lectures. She had her 88 year old mother with her, who is very alert and active despite her various disabilities. It was a very pleasant time, and I hope that a friendship will develop between us. How to maintain and make friends is a subject I have thought about constantly since my move here, and certainly it makes things easier if you stay put in a place instead of moving here and there. When starting afresh making new friends can take quite a long time. It depends on being able to meet like-minded people, and then having the opportunity and time to get to know them. Sometimes it is just a matter of luck: suddenly mutual interests are discovered, or a spark is immediately struck, but usually the process is slow and organic. Choir members are obviously like-minded but what with all that singing there is relatively little time to meet and get to know many of the members.

So the day finishes with optimism.

Monday, 9 November 2009

A saga - making the Christmas cake

Suddenly it seemed time to make the Christmas cake. Although it takes quite a long time, it is something I enjoy doing. For some reason (a genetic throwback?) my children do not particularly like Christmas cake, and anyway they all live far far away, so that Christmas together happens only occasionally.

Last year I did not make a cake, reasoning that we ate it far too quickly and that it would only increase our girth. Last week I decided that yes, I would make a cake, justifying this on the sheer pleasure I get from the process. Promptly, I set about buying the ingredients. First I went to the local health food shop, which had almost nothing, but said they would have more arriving in a few days. Then I went to the local organic food shop. This is a very large and extensive shop, which is wildly successful, and also very expensive, so generally I go there only to buy potatoes or such like in an emergency. They had lots of ingredients, which all looked delicious. But the quantities were all wrong. They came in 200 gram packs, not the 125, 250, 375 or 500 grams which as every cook knows, are the measures generally required for cake making.

Somewhat perturbed but undaunted, I next visited the Nut Shop in the city, which is where I always buy my preserved ginger for the Dutch Ginger cake, which even those who generally affect to dislike ginger (Dr P, et al.) fall upon with glad cries and devour eagerly. It is very easy to make and I am happy to share the recipe.

The Nut Shop is generally full of people buying nuts, dried fruits, fudge and chocolates. As I perused their produce, it was borne upon me that the packaging quantities were all in 200 grams, not 250. I therefore felt seriously pissed off. In order to get the required quantities I would have to buy more than I needed or wanted. This seemed to me to be a despicably filthy capitalist trick. Or an international conspiracy. Or both!

So when did this change to standard packaging weight take place? Why did I know nothing about it? It could have happened any time in the last two years, but if so, why were there no outcries or street demonstrations? Why were cooks all over Australia not protesting vociferously. Was it mentioned on Master Chef? Although I have to admit that the commercial TV stations' programs documenting the manifold injustices of the world might have mentioned it, but I never watch them, so I will never know.

So I had to buy more raisins, sultanas and mixed peel than I needed, but the Nut Shop did sell glace fruit, ginger, nuts and cherries by weight. I still had to check out a couple of ingredients at the supermarket, where the quantity situation was the same. It was, however, most aggravating to have had to go all over the place to buy the fruit. OK, so I am retired, but my time is still precious, and it is the principle of the thing! No one should have to adapt a recipe in such a ridiculous way.

My favourite Christmas cake recipe is from Charmaine Solomon's book The Complete Asian Cookbook, and is a Sri Lankan/Dutch recipe, full of glace fruit, lots of spices and essences, honey, and a jar of Chow Chow preserves, which can only be found in Asian food shops, and not always then. It is necessary to plan ahead for this ingredient. It is a jar of various melons and fruits in sweet syrup. Apparently a substitute is melon and ginger jam, but I am nothing if not authentic, and thus Chow Chow preserves it has to be. I have another two jars lurking in the pantry, just in case there is an international Chow Chow preserves shortage. This cake is absolutely splendid. If the Imam fainted over an aubergine dish, he surely would have expired over this cake.

The day before yesterday I chopped up all the fruit. It takes quite a long time, but in its own way is quite a soothing activity, and my mezzaluna makes it quite easy, rocking away at all angles across the fruit on a large chopping board. The mezzaluna does need regular washing, as all the sugar in the fruit makes it very sticky. The mixture then is marinated overnight in brandy.

On Sunday I set about the making of the cake, in a relaxed and leisurely manner. What does take time, I find, is lining the cake tin, and as can be seen, I don't get this quite right. The paper has to be cut to the appropriate size, fitted, fastened and buttered. There was only just enough brown paper left, and today I had to buy some more.

First the batter is mixed. The recipe requires 12 egg yolks and six egg whites. Here is the batter
with the fruit added. It is a stiff mixture so I use my lovely Huon pine spurtle to mix it in thoroughly.
The cake is large, so the average Mixmaster bowl is not quite large enough.

Just for general information, here is the recipe,

and the lined tin.
The six egg whites, stiffly beaten, and then folded into the mixture. Again, the spurtle works well.
But hands are required to get it well mixed.

Here it is in the cake tin, ready to bake.

I cook this cake at 130 degrees C for four and a half hours.

Here is the cooled cake. You can see the little dents in the shape, signifying domestic authenticity, and not some automated factory process.

It is now wrapped up and hidden. Dr P seems not to realise that it is a Christmas cake, and thus not to be hacked into bits for his immediate delectation. In some respects I am happy to take on the role and responsibility of a domestic dictator.

However, there was some fruit left over.... so here is the chopped mixture for a smaller and lighter cake marinating away there. Tomorrow will be another busy day.

Today I did some general food shopping and visited the health food shop there, which had all the fruit in the (formerly) standard quantities. Too late for me and my cakes this year, but I will know where to shop next year.

And there are six surplus egg whites to use up, so it looks as though I will have to cook a large pavlova.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Incompetence - don't laugh too loudly

The little technical problems of life - how bothersome they can be. Especially when I find out there was no problem - just lack of comprehension and common sense on my part.

I thought I had a problem with my mobile phone. When I went to type in what I thought was the text box, all I got was numbers, accompanied by a semicolon. Not letters. The phone is relatively new, an el cheapo, bought as a stand alone, and not part of a plan.

I found the instruction booklet, and looked carefully through it. Instruction books are written in simpler language these days. All the same I could not find anything which addressed my problem. Oh damn, I thought, I am going to have to find the receipt, go to the retailer and explain the problem. My heart sank and I felt very daunted. I went through all the possibilities I could think of in the phone's menus. Nothing worked. Should I reset everything? Surely this would not be necessary, as who knows what other problems would occur? Or, I thought, I'd have to ask my children. They, of course, all live in other cities, and might have sniggered at me and said 'Oh Mum!'

So I took the phone with me when I went to the shops yesterday, and called in at a Vodaphone shop. The man fiddled around for a couple of minutes, and then told me that what I have to do with this phone is to enter the number the message was to be sent to before I tried to write any text. So simple. My old phone, a genuine antique if ever you saw one, which has been handed on to Dr P, did messages the other way around, so my mind had not contemplated the possibility of a different way of doing it. It is the same brand of phone, after all.

It is all a bit worrying when you consider that I am the technical expert in this household. And that I gave technical help about her mobile phone to my bell-ringing friend last time we met. We are having lunch together today so we can laugh about this humbling experience.

The computer has been very sluggish for a while, so I have finally got around to making an appointment to get it looked at by a Genius in the Apple Store in the city. This means unplugging the computer and lugging it into the city by bus, hoping that I don't drop it, and that I manage to get a seat in the bus. Fortunately the staff at the Apple Store are very kind, patient and tolerant, and since they introduced their technical help and education system, quite a few 'older' people (ie over thirty) now regularly go along to learn more about how everything works. (Although I would like to eavesdrop on their lunchtime talks and hear some of their horror stories about the average idiot user.) I had several sessions before I bought the iPod, and, as I am considering buying a new computer, I will be able to book in for lessons about it all, so as to make it all easier.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Titles and forms of address

Today’s lesson deals with the continued use of archaic, outmoded and grovelling forms of address and tiles. It is time to consider their appropriateness and to rethink their use.

Here are some titles which really aggravate me. There are probably many others.

His/Her Majesty

His Imperial Majesty

His/Her Highness

His Eminence

His Grace

His/Her Worship

His Lordship

Her Ladyship

His/Her Excellency

His Reverence

The Most Reverend

His Holiness

The Honourable

The Right Honourable


Be it noted that there is a certain gender bias in some of these titles. They seem designed to create an aura of grandeur, of authority, inequality, and separateness from others, and may imply both overtly and indirectly that the holders of such titles are more worthy of respect and good fortune than us lesser mortals. However, such titles can also suggest, to put it crudely and unkindly, that the holders are up themselves. My argument is that such titles originated in authoritarian, hierarchical, unequal and stratified societies, and were intended to indicate authority, distinction, royalty, nobility, religious office-holders, and general importance. And to keep people in their places.

Some titles, of course, describe occupations, professions and qualifications, such as Professor, Doctor, Judge, Commissioner, President, Prime Minister, Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition. These do not present any problems. They describe the occupation, office or function, and separate it from the personality.

Titles such as Duce and Fuhrer are indelibly linked to evil and abhorrent people who brought great misery to the world. It is interesting that the Italians no longer use the word Duce (which means Leader). These days, it seems, the word used is capo.

Some people, possibly traditionalists, old fogies or monarchists (the David Flints of the world) are not only happy to retain such titles, but would see them as appropriate and expressing respect. My rejoinder is that there are less grovelling and more accurate ways of expressing respect for a person, or an office or an occupation.

After the French Revolution the general form of address, until the restoration of the monarchy, was Citizen. I quite like this, though the practice seems to have got a bad reputation from the Terror and the Scarlet Pimpernel novels of Baroness Orczy, which sent out a strong message that equality was bad, while aristocrats were inevitably noble, courageous and honest, and could outwit an evil democrat any day of the week.

The Americans seem able to cope with addressing their President as Mr President. This seems an excellent way of giving respect to the office, which does not require or imply any obsequiousness or grovelling. Respect is important, but ought to result from legitimate and democratic authority, responsibility, functions and general courtesy, rather than from the continued adoption of outmoded and ridiculous titles.

Here endeth the rant.

Your humble, devoted and obedient servant,

Her Opiniatedness Persiflage

Monday, 2 November 2009

Things up with which I will not put

Mondays are not always the best day of the week. Often I go to a music discussion group. Dr P often plays bridge. As he does not drive often these days, he is usually given a lift, but not always. On those days I get called to duty. Usually I don't mind, but I do not want to have to do it every week, as my group finishes before his, and I have to hang around. I also often give a lift to one of the men attending the group, whose wife usually has to rush off for more musical duties. They live across the road, and they give me lifts home from concerts from time to time, so it is an arrangement of mutual convenience and helpfulness.

The premises where Dr P plays bridge does not have a lift, and the stairs are steep and difficult. So I take Dr P around the back where there is a ramp. I drove to the ramp area, with my passenger chatting away, and waited and waited. Finally I went back around the front and there was Dr P, with other elderly persons hovering anxiously about him, and he was absolutely livid at having had to wait, and quite abusive, not only because of the misunderstanding about the pick-up point, but also because he had worn a belt which was too loose and his trousers were falling off him. This too was all my fault because I never buy him a belt which is the right size.

Had we been by ourselves I could have dealt with it, but with another person in the car, who is only a casual friend, it was very awkward and unpleasant, and I am still feeling cranky. Having our imperfections both individually and as a couple thus exposed is horrid and embarrassing. I am prepared to take responsibility for my own mistakes and shortcomings, (although occasionally this can take a while) but to be blamed for things such as his choice of a loose belt made me, in my turn, livid. It can be difficult living with a person who never accepts blame or responsibility. Especially because basically I try so hard to be a good person, and to do the right thing, and I have a strong sense of justice. Thus I flare up when an unjust or baseless accusation is made against me.

When Dr P has calmed down I will take all the belts to the nice shoe repairer down the road and get more holes put in them. I have not quite calmed down yet, so it will not be done tomorrow.

Why are stupid things like this so infuriatingly annoying to all concerned?

Anyway I do think I am getting better at handling such contretemps, thanks to all the how to de-angst sessions I have had. I have become more positive and assertive. Part of me feels cross because in fact we have been getting on quite happily and pleasantly.

Tomorrow SD3 arrives for the day, before flying off to her beach house down the coast. So there will be a family lunch somewhere.

As one of the Italian classes is tomorrow afternoon, and it is my turn to present the argomento, I used up all my steam in writing it. The topic is not Music, Steam, Belts, or Pick - Up Points, but the Melbourne Cup. There was a lot of vocabulary to look up. Despite my racing-mad daughter and her photographic talents, little information about a) horses, and b) racing stays in my mind, so I had to look it all up on the Internet. I can say definitely that there is no horse running called Mea Culpa.