Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In the festive season

This Christmas we were alone. It was sad to be without any of my children, grandchildren, and brothers and sisters. Next year, I am resolved, it will not be like this. Dr P has no Christmas sentiments, but I do. The Christmases of my childhood and youth come to mind, and I recall the nativity of Jesus Christ, as well as the Christmas gifts, Father Christmas and the excitement and delight of the children, and the coming together of families and friends. I hope that the relentless and rampant commercialisation will not totally swamp and overcome the reasons that Christmas Day became a cause for celebration.

My older sister M, who has been ailing for some time with what appeared to be varying and confusing symptoms, has finally been diagnosed with a form of dementia. She is not old. While there is a certain relief that a diagnosis has been made, this is very bad news. Her illness seems to have reached the stage where it has started to gallop, and the rest of her life, for however long, will be difficult for her and all her family. Her family is upset and angry, blaming the doctors, as well as the sisters who tried to get better medical help for her. This is very understandable, but wrong, as it was not an easy or obvious diagnosis.

In many ways her life has not been easy. While her marriage is a happy one, the rural community in which she lived was not very open and welcoming, and there was a distrust for and scorn of city people. She had to overcome the tragic death of her fourth child. Then, to great joy, another son was born. The family had to fight dreadful bushfires several years ago, and suffer the awful drought which still continues.

I feel desperately sad. While we have never been very close, even as children, she is my sister, the oldest of the seven of us, and the only person left who has known me for my whole life. She was, I think, jealous of me, and naturally concerned to maintain her position as the eldest. As a child, I did not understand this: she was older, and better at everything than I was, and of course I admired her and looked up to her. While we share many interests, especially a love of music, our temperaments are very different. In recent years we have been closer, but have seen each other rarely.

And at home here, Dr P becomes more shaky, feeble and forgetful, and we wonder what lies ahead of us.

I want to be with my own kith and kin. I don't want to live the rest of my life apart from them. Blood ties are so strong, so important.

My youngest sister P will be here for a few days, and then probably my second daughter and children will follow. This will be treasured time for us all.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Less is more: the fewer the better

If there is nothing else to grumble about, it is always possible to discuss misuse of language and bad grammar.

A pet peeve of mine is the misuse of 'fewer' and 'less'. The other day at my least favourite supermarket, I noticed a sign inviting customers with 'less than 12 items' to use the quick check-outs. If I'd had a texta pen handy, I could have corrected this, but alas, I did not, and what is more, my strict upbringing, which emphasised consideration and respect for others, would have prevented me from writing on someone else's property. (What a pity all those graffitists did not have this sort of upbringing.) Strangely enough, when I consulted one of my few books on the English language, there was this very example quoted. For some reason, I do not have a copy ofFowler's Modern English Usage, but I just now noted in one of the bookshops' pre-Christmas blurbs that there is a new edition. Now there is a good Christmas present idea! We would not want too few copies to be sold.

Surely it is my bounden duty to to try to educate the masses, wherever some or all of them can be found. I am unlikely to buy a loud hailer and take to the streets, the newspapers regrettably seldom, if ever, give space to my thoughtful, considered and invariably correct opinions, and Dr P already knows and agrees with my views on the correct use of language, grammar, spelling and punctuation. (We have delightful coses together pointing out the egregious errors of others, and pounce with glee on the far from few errors so frequently made by those expert practitioners of the English language and the art of communication, that is to say journalists and television reporters.)

I need to have fewer things bugging me, and there will be less weighing heavily on my chest once I get this written. Although this post might well be less fun to read than usual. On the other hand it may be possible that few other writers could express it so well.

Simply put, 'fewer' is not as many as. 'Less' is not as much as.

I have noticed that fewer and fewer people can understand this distinction. Here are some practical examples, which may or may not express my own views.

Are people less intelligent, less well-educated or just less sensible? Do fewer people care about this issue? (I noticed in an article in The Australian recently that someone kneeled down.)

If our borders were more secure and our policies harsher, fewer boats carrying asylum seekers would set out for Australian waters. If this country had more boats patrolling the seas, there would be less chance of foreign boats reaching Australian territories.

Mass vaccination campaigns have resulted in fewer serious epidemics. Now that fewer people are vaccinating their children, diseases such as whooping cough have become more rather than less prevalent. Fewer people would catch such diseases, and fewer lives would be lost if all babies were vaccinated.

I should buy fewer books, as I have so many of them already that there is much less space available on the shelves.

Fewer resources are available for our public hospitals, and it is less easy to get prompt medical attention.

If there were fewer cars on the roads, air pollution would be less. The tempers of motorists would be less frayed.

If climate change is in fact happening, there will be less rain and less water available. Without adequate water less food can be grown.

I drive a Toyota Corolla, which uses less petrol than many other cars, especially four wheel drives.

The more I say, the less my husband listens.

Older people and little children are less able to tolerate severe heatwaves.

If people in Western countries ate less food then there would be less obesity.

The outsourcing of jobs overseas may result in there being fewer jobs available here.

There are many fewer children per family now than there were one hundred years ago.

Are footballers kicking fewer goals these days compared with the great players of the past?

These are but a few examples. May I rest my case?

And don't get me started on the all too frequent use of object pronouns instead of subject pronouns. (Her and Brayden got kicked out of the nightclub. Me and him finished the HSC recently. Her and Abbott are emerging from the Party Room now. Yes, this last really was on the TV News, as it happened.)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Out! damned spot: the hundredth post

If my count is correct, this is the one hundredth post. Having observed the centenary posts on other blogs, I felt it should deal with a special subject, so have been trying to think of one. Alas, in such cases, the Muse slips away and hides, emerging only while I sit on buses, am in company, unblessed with writing materials, or when I am deep in my dreams, which are evanescent. I am doomed to be a prosaic person.

So here I sit, home from the dermatologist's, who has excised more of my bottom, in case the melanoma had started to scatter cells about. Dr P is at bridge, so there is tranquillity in the house, and I am taking advantage of that, and of the effect of the anaesthetic. In a while it will start to hurt, they say. I got there and back by bus, with no ill effects, and bought myself some sushi for lunch.

The dermatologist complimented Dr P on his powers of observation, in noticing the melanoma. She and her assistant proceeded to inject local anaesthetic, and then started work, kindly asking me could I feel anything, like cutting. Yes, I could, so more anaesthetic was injected and away they cut. Was I a redhead, they asked? Apparently redheads are more sensitive to pain. So there you are, my daughters.

It is a curious experience, somewhat de-personalising. I was lying on my front, and of course could see nothing of what they were doing. They worked away, conversing together about Christmas, daughters going to the beach, the weather forecasts, and foods the doctor could not longer consume because they gave her migraines, while I lay there log-like, breathing softly so as to remain as relaxed as possible. And not to wriggle!

Apparently there will be substantial bruising: women, especially fleshy ones, are more prone to bruising, and they warned that this excision will give me more pain that the first. When they had finished they showed me what they had removed, and it is the size of two small walnuts. I am to apply cold to the afflicted part, for ten minutes per hour for the rest of the day. On the way home I bought a heat/cooler pack, which is now freezing in order to be applied as soon as possible. I intend to treat myself very kindly for a few days and not to gad around. The stitches remain in for a fortnight, which takes me into the period between Christmas and NewYear. My GP's practice will be closed, so it will be necessary to take myself off to the local hospital, and I hope there are no real emergencies when I go. There is to be another pathology test. I am glad there is nothing major wrong with me, as every procedure has cost more than $300. I hope the Medicare rebate is a significant amount.

So, back to blogging. It has been a positive thing to do, and has helped me deal with minor irritations, some very sad and painful griefs, and many of the problems in my life. It has enabled me to hear the voices of others, to expand my world, to get more balance, and to realise anew how interesting, and, in general, how good people are. And to learn how better to get to know people, and to be more open, which, in my life here, away from my blood family, has been a very restorative thing. The year has been both interesting and difficult, and I feel that I am now better able to deal with things and to be assertive in a more positive and less negative way. I have tried to write so as to show my better and not my worst side, and this has been a good discipline: not to give vent to dislike or hate, and to enable me to free myself from being a victim drowning in a mire of self pity. The years ahead are likely not to be easy, as Dr P's age and feebleness increase.

To those who read and comment, I appreciate you all so much, and send you my profound thanks, best wishes for Christmas and New Year, and lots more blogging contacts in 2010. I will be blogging again before New Year, but this seems a good moment to review the year and to consider the good with the bad.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The call from the doctor

Yesterday, as I was about to leap from my seat and dash for the bus, there was a phonecall from the dermatologist. According to the pathology report, the tissue excised from my bottom a week ago was an early melanoma in situ. Which is what I thought it would be, despite the optimistic reassurances of the doctors not to worry, as it did not look as though anything was wrong. Next week I am to have a wider excision, in case cells had started spreading, but this is mostly a precautionary measure.

Nevertheless it made me feel somewhat buffetted by fate. It is my third melanoma and my fourth cancer, and I wonder how many more might be waiting for me. How did I manage to get a melanoma on my bottom, which as far as I know has never ever seen the sun?

So I regret to admit that yesterday I wept a few tears and indulged in a good dose of self-pity. Today I feel more cheerful, but wish I had family here to get me there and back, and to hold my hand. It is not a good time of the year to have a sore bottom for another couple of weeks.

Dr P's car has been repaired and has been handed over to his grandson, along with all the paperwork. So that's that. The grandson, B1, has done very well in his exams and is to do his honours year in development economics in 2010. On Sunday there is a Dr P family lunch at our place. I have flagged some time off to visit family once the P family is back from their overseas jaunts and summer holidays.

I am off to a group dinner with Wednesday's Italian. It should be fun. I can't get to the class next week because of my prior engagement.

I have had two very embarrassing to self senior moments this week. Firstly I mistook the starting time for the opera, and missed the first half hour. (So did my friend.) The next night I turned up two days early for tonight's dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant, it was crawling with official looking people and TV crews. You had to fill out a form so that if you were filmed the TV crew could identify you! It turned out that Master Chef was cooking there that evening, with the contestants doing the cooking, and the restaurant patrons invited to pay however much they thought the food was worth. At that stage a nasty suspicion crept inexorably into my mind.... and sure enough I had stuffed up. I did my best to melt surreptitiously into the night. I hope they do not recognise me tonight - I would die of embarrassment.

A good week, yes?

Monday, 7 December 2009

High praise again to Pinchgut Opera

About a year ago I wrote about Pinchgut Opera's production of Charpentier's David et Jonathas (Oh Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay! -Wonderful Pinchgut Opera). I have attended every one of Pinchgut's productions since they started in 2002, and wouldn't ever miss them. The operas, by Purcell, Handel, Charpentier, Rameau, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, and Mozart, are seldom or never performed here.

Pinchgut uses the Sydney's Angel Place Recital Hall. This is a lovely venue, with a good acoustic, but it was not designed for stage productions, so Pinchgut and their designers have had to be very clever and creative in the staging.

I have just seen this year's production, L'Ormindo, by Francesco Cavalli (1602-76). The libretto is by Giovanni Faustini. I'd never heard of the opera, and Cavalli was only a vague name to me, despite my passion for early music. However, Grove regards him as the most important opera composer in the quarter-century following Monteverdi.

L'Ormindo is a total contrast to last year's opera. First produced in Venice in 1644, it romps through desire, sexuality, frustration, the plight of being married to an old and impotent king, the determination to take pleasure and not to allow 'love' to interfere with pleasure. It ends with true love triumphant (of course). It is essentially a comedy, and very tongue in cheek, mocking all the platitudes of love, although it has a truly affecting death scene with the most-heart-wrenching high violin music. Of course, they are not really dead: they, and we, only think they are! While the cast is small, each character is well-written, and given a goodly amount of music and acting.

Due to various circumstances, I missed the first half hour of the opera. Fortunately I had earlier downloaded the libretto and read it at home, to get my head around the old-style Italian. Just as well. It is a very sharp, very witty libretto, quite cynical about human behaviour and sexuality.

As ever, it was a most enjoyable performance, with wonderful singing, acting and staging, a great orchestra. Imaginative surprises abounded. Pinchgut reaches an extraordinarily high standard, and long may they continue. My slight reservations are that the opera is not emotionally engaging (apart from, as noted above, the death scene) and the music, while pleasant and enjoyable, cannot compete with the other operas Pinchgut has performed. But all in all it was a great night.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Too much noise


Especially in the city, which is where I spent several hours today. My friend the bell ringer and I met for our monthly lunch, during which we regaled each other with the significant events of the month. She showed me her photos of her recent trip to Queensland to look at fossils, and told me the horrific story of one of her grandsons being attacked after he finished work and was robbed, badly stabbed and bashed by, it turned out, recently released violent criminals. I told her about Dr P's car accident and his falls, and we discussed the increasing delights of the aging process. We had a good time - we always do - but decided not to go to that cafe again, as it was too noisy. We can cope with other people conversing, of course, but they put some noise on, of the sort that made conversation very difficult. We asked them to turn it down, and they turned it down a smidgin, but then it crept up again. Now we have to find a non-noisy cafe. Not easy.

Afterwards I set off to do some Christmas shopping. I went to Myers and I am by no means sure that I can tolerate another expedition there. The reason is that noise level inside is just frightful. Of course, ground floors, with all the tizzy jewellery, cosmetics and perfumes, not to mention the perfume piranhas trying to take a bit out of your person or your purse, are hideous places to traverse. Every single section pipes or blasts different music (???) sorry, very loud noise with lots of thumps, bangs and wailings. The ears are assaulted from all directions and one noise becomes indistinguishable from all the others. We have only two ears, for goodness sakes, and they are not wired separately.

I thought the din might decrease on the higher floors, but this did not happen to any significant extent. Microphone-amplified voices offering specials hailed the hapless shopper. I struggled through the children's wear section, in order to buy a baby present for my latest great-nephew and a dress for my granddaughter, and then tried looking at radios, stereos and their ilk. Big mistake! To the general noise level is added the sounds coming from about one hundred TV sets, with all their flickering images. Any possible ability to choose something vanished. I quickly admired the Apple display and then started looking at cheap digital cameras. My poor ears were then assaulted by a high-pitched alarm sort of sound which no one seemed interested in turning off. I fled and took the bus home.

I seem to remember that marketing research shows that if people are bombarded by lots of noise, flashing lights, confusing displays and designed difficulty in reaching the desired part of the shop, they get bemused, and fall into a trance-like state which makes them more susceptible to advertising and to impulse buying. Lifts are not easily seen or reached, and it is difficult to go anywhere in a straight line. Indeed, I remember in New York in the late 1980s department stores were arranged so that it was necessary to walk in a diagonal direction, and it was very easy to get lost. Department stores in Australia adopted this design arrangement soon after. I hate it.

Was there not some legislation years go to protect people from too much noise? Was it repealed? Does it not apply to shops? Why are shops allowed to blast loud music not only inside their premises, but into the streets and arcades as well? All this, and traffic and building construction noises too! In not too many years from now there will be millions of not-so-old people with severely damaged hearing - and the most likely consequence is that the noise levels will rise even higher. With a bit of luck I will be dead by then, but I am tempted to sit somewhere with a ghetto-blaster and play Wagner or Mahler at excruciating levels. Payback!

On the bus I thought I should check whether I had any phone messages. Myers had been so loud that hearing a phone in my handbag was an extremely remote possibility. Sure enough, Dr P had phoned and left one of his more charming messages. Someone called around earlier in the week wanting to check the energy efficiency of the house , so I agreed they could come today at 2 pm. What with taking Dr P this morning to get pathology tests done, and doing some grocery shopping while I waited for him - all before breakfast, and then dashing out, I forgot this appointment. Dr P was very shirty about it all. It was certainly my fault, but not the end of the earth. There was not a a lot of milk of human kindness on offer at our house just then (see how today's experiences have affected my style of composition) and then his daughter, SD1, rang and she proposed and he agreed, without any reference to me, some sort of family lunch at our place the weekend after next - 'they' would bring the food! Is it too much to expect that I might be a part of these discussions and arrangements without having to make an issue of it? Do I live here?

The migraine started. I took myself off to bed, but could not sleep, because of feeling disgruntled. So I sit here, letting off steam, enjoying the peace of the night.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Meaningless and meandering musings

Having done a little blog browse, and admired the absolutely gorgeous full moon - for once not obscured by cloud, I am not yet quite ready for bed. Today I had a piece cut out of my bottom, but am told it is unlikely to be a melanoma. It was cut out because I have had a couple of melanomas in the past. It has been stitched, but is not sore. Clever Dr P found this little spot - it was not in a place I can see easily, not that I spend a lot of time looking at my bottom, which is not as pretty a sight as it may once have been. Sigh!

I had to dash off early from this morning's Italian class to get to the medical appointment, and needed to take a taxi for the last part of the trip in order to arrive on time. The taxi driver filled me in on his negative views of our Prime Minister, and I did not bother responding with a similar but succinct and accurate analysis of the new Liberal leader, as I could so easily have done. You can only do so much in a five minute taxi ride, especially if you have given him the wrong street number...'Oh', he said, 'You should have told me the name of the premises.' Yes, well! I plead mild stress.

On the way home I did a bit of shopping for Dr P, and paid the council rates. Exciting stuff! Excited by the probability of a greater life expectancy, I ventured into the garden and lightly pruned the African daisy, which seems to think it is both able and entitled to crowd out all the competing vegetation. I then carefully examined the kaffir lime, to calculate the low probability of its setting any fruit. There are a couple of microscopic fruits which might survive another few days. I don't know why none of the fruit sets: the tree grows frenetically, and it gets lots of TLC.

News flash - the clouds are appearing and doing their best to obscure the moon.

Yesterday I was to have taken the computer to the city to the Apple Store to have a Genius look at it to see whether something needs fixing. It is very sluggish, and would not burn a CD of my photos. There was a problem in ejecting the CD, and I had to read the manual. I had to abandon the effort to take the computer to the city, as it is just too heavy, awkward and difficult to transport. All the connections had to be reinserted, of course, so I had to crawl and wriggle around the floor and the back of the desk to retrieve and reinsert them. It felt at least as heavy as my suitcase for the Italian trip was. Now I will have to get someone to make a home visit. Or buy a new computer.

Now there is a very tempting thought!