Sunday, 31 January 2010

Dealing with bureaucracy and finding solutions

One day this week, at 8 am, when I had just stepped out of the shower, and was still wriggling into my underwear, the telephone rang. It was one of my old friends, Sheila. She was in a tizz. She needed some help. She had lost her passport, she thought, and had it cancelled. Soon after, she remembered she had put the passport into a zipped part of her handbag, not the compartment she normally used, and forgot having done this. She could not have the passport re-activated – oh no – so had to set about getting a new one. The ‘lost’ passport was issued less than two years ago, and, as they are issued for 10 years, she thought that the old photos would do. Oh no. New ones were required. As she is going on a trip to Egypt in a couple of weeks, getting a new passport was an urgent task. She needed me to verify her application and to endorse the new photograph. She lives in a small town south of Sydney and travels here by train.

We arranged she would come to my house when she had done all the necessary things specified by the passport bureaucracy. In due course she arrived and we set about all the paperwork. I had to declare how long it was that we had known each other. It was 34 years and 11 months. Yes, you have to specify months as well as years! Just as well she remembered the date, as I was somewhat vaguer. Signed, witnessed, lunched, etc. All she then had to do was to submit the application, and then collect it when it was ready. And she had to get a new visa from the Egyptian Embassy.

So, 34 years and eleven months ago, we met. While I did not remember the exact date, I remembered the occasion. She got a job where I worked, and it was my responsibility to train her. She is a person who radiates character, personality, forcefulness, intellect, charm and humour, and is able to make lifetime friends within minutes. Around her, people are like flies to the honey pot. She is always interesting, enormous fun, politically committed and knowledgeable, and very erudite. We discovered within a couple of hours on that first day, from her surname, that we knew of each other’s families, and had very similar backgrounds. She became my own lifelong friend within minutes, and we became friends with each other’s friends. Although we now live in different cities, and see each other less frequently, the friendship is as strong as ever. She visits Sydney regularly, and we have beaut long lunches from time to time.

Sheila was divorced with four children, and brought them up with very little financial or other help from her former husband. It was a struggle. She worked full time. Her husband at one stage applied for full custody of the children. No, he did not want them to live with him or to be responsible for the day to day care, he just wanted the existing arrangement to continue, whereby she did all the caring, all the work, and paid most of the costs, but he would exercise control. She fought him in the court, and the case attracted amazement from the legal practitioners, many of whom turned up to watch, and she won. Her ex-husband continued to give minimal financial and other support, and never abandoned his appalling chutzpah.

Her eldest child and only daughter died at the age of 18, just after she had finished her year 12. She collapsed on the aeroplane on the return trip from a month’s visit to her father in Indonesia. She was immediately rushed to hospital, and never recovered consciousness. Sheila was telephoned, before the flight landed, and flew immediately to Sydney, and she was with her daughter when she died a few hours later. The day she phoned me for help was the anniversary of her death. No wonder she was feeling extremely fragile and fraught.

When my marriage broke down, she was one of the friends who supported and helped me, day in, day out, never too busy to listen, to support and commiserate. This miserable business dragged on for almost a year before the separation, and was not the only dreadful thing to happen that year. She has an inexhaustible fount of compassion and concern for others. If anyone was in trouble she’d listen and help. She was an expert reference librarian, and a mentor to many colleagues.

When her children were older she began to travel. Her first trip was to France, to celebrate the bicentenary of the French Revolution. Having resorted to crafty activities as past of my recovery from the disasters of matrimony, I hand-painted a t-shirt for her, with essentially Australian idiomatic slogans translated into fractured French, such as ‘Being here is better than being poked in the eye with a burnt stick’ (I cannot remember how we translated that one into French) and ‘Ne venez pas le prawn cru avec moi’. She wore it in France, and got a lot of looks, questions and propositions, she said. She’s as game as Ned Kelly. Her travels now concentrate on those parts of the Middle East where writing developed, as the development of literacy is one of her major passions. Several years ago we found we had coincidentally booked for the same trip to Italy, and we had a great time together.

We did all the form-filling-in, with Dr P helpfully admonishing her not to do X, Y or Z, and then went off for several hours to have coffee and lunch. She rang a couple of days later to let me know the result. The new passport had been issued, she was able to get a new visa for Egypt with no trouble, AND despite the insistence that a new photo was essential, the passport used the OLD photo, endorsed by someone else, while the passport application has me as the guarantor of the application! There was obviously some confusion and a few mixed messages within the passport office. Let us hope that all is well that ends well.

Don’t ever lose your passport. Replacing it will certainly accelerate the aging process.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The day takes on a life of its own

Sometimes a day turns out to be quite different from what we intended. Today was such a day. I don't remember exactly what I was proposing to do, but the day unfolded otherwise. I made it up as I went along. Go with the flow.

Yesterday I had occasion to look for various cleaning substances, which are kept in the cupboard underneath the sink. The cleaners had once again slopped dirty water from the bathroom floor onto the pale cream carpet of my bedroom, and thus I had to find the carpet shampoo in order to scrub the carpet. The inside of the cupboard was wet, so I had to take everything out, and clean and dry it. The wetness persisted, and I discovered that the plumbing connection for the new dishwasher was leaking. Oh dear. I set off to the shop to let them know of the leaking plumbing problem, and George rang me this morning, and said he would get the plumber to come this morning. Instead of embarking on whatever I thought I might do, perforce I had to sit around at home and wait. Naturally the plumber did not arrive until after midday.

So to fill in the time I did a January thing, which was to sort out and organise all the recipes which I had cut out of newspapers, magazines and printed from the Internet, over the past umpty something years, and stick them into a recipe folder. If I were technically competent I could have scanned lots of recipes and put them into a data base, but that sounds like sheer torture. A friend does this, and annotates her database with notes on what she served to whom and when, but she has a husband who knows what she is doing and who just loves computers, fiddling around with them, buying more and then transferring this and that from one to the other. I am not like that, and nor is Dr P, who always had staff to do everything for him. (Now he has only me, which shows how you can come down in life.)

So I sat at the table, with all the recipes, the recipe folders (where you can paste your own) with scissors and glue, and set about creating order from chaos. What a calming experience it was. Dr P read the paper, we chatted away together, and I got it all done. It is, I might add, quite difficult to find a good recipe folder, but I found one a couple of weeks ago and my heart brimmed over with contentment of a kind.

Many of the recipes were really old, so old in fact that whatever fascination it was that led me to select them had quite evaporated, and so a satisfying pile of rejects grew. Other recipes sounded nice, but I decided that I was never really going to try pomegranates. But all the lovely Italian biscuit recipes got neatly pasted into the folder. Tuscan ricciarelli biscotti, made with ground almonds, sugar and egg whites, are absolutely delicious, if you like almonds, and my collection of recipes derived from various Italian cookery books and the Internet. There are variations in the quantities of ingredients and the cooking techniques and baking time, and I love to peruse the variations and work out my own preferences.

Going through all those recipes was really a re-visiting of parts of my life, and a recollection of many mostly forgotten things. There were relatively few cookery books when I was first married, and I still have the Australian Women's Weekly Cook Book - and use it for quite a few things. I now have a very large collection of recipe books, some of which I never use, although, you never know, some day I might...

Then I got around to copying some of the recipes which I had got from my mother. These had been copied onto 5 x 3 inch blue cards, and had somehow survived all these years. There were recipes for Anzac biscuits (I have a better recipe now), Melting Moments, Queen Cakes, now known and madly popular as cup cakes, Lemon Delicious Pudding, Boiled Fruit Cake, and Pasty. I found an old set of instructions for feeding a ginger beer plant - but it lacked the formula for the plant itself. I remembered that the sheet of instructions came with a plant, which you fed until such time as you made ginger beer. I made several batches of ginger beer, which were excellent, but then there came a day when my then husband, bare-chested, reached into the cupboard to pull out a bottle, and it exploded, all over him and all over the floor. Somehow I never got around to making any more ginger beer.

Some recipes I evidently knew so well that I did not write down the cooking time nor the oven temperature. The little cards have now gone into the rubbish. The recipe folders sit smugly and demurely on the shelf, the kitchen was tidied up, and finally Steve the plumber arrived.

What had happened to cause the leak was that the hose extension he had to use had to be squeezed through a narrow space, and tiny holes happened. He had to go away and get another hose extension, the same one, as it transpires that it is the only one available (that does not sound right, does it? the material must be very fragile.) To fit it in properly he had to cut a hole in the cupboard with his jigsaw. All seems well. It is necessary to learn a new way of stacking the dishwasher. The new refrigerator is great, and Dr P's inevitable complaints are dwindling.

Friday, 22 January 2010

All the things that happen in a week

Our friend BB died from her cancer a week ago, and her funeral was yesterday. It has been a sad week. She and Dr P had known each other for many years and were very fond of each other - and I loved her too, notwithstanding knowing her for a shorter period. She was a warm and affectionate person, with a feisty and generous spirit, a good sense of fun, who had a deep and active commitment to civil and human rights and freedoms. She lived a good and worthwhile life, and she made the world a better place. We mourn her with tears, and remember her with joy.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the death of my friend J, who, along with his wife M, I loved so dearly over the many years of our friendship. M has been brave and wonderful all this first difficult year. We have been in constant contact, and will talk tomorrow.

Being married to a much older man, whose friends are of his vintage - and it was a good vintage too - and having lost two of my dearest friends in the last two years, my thoughts do turn to dying and death. They turn to the aged, too, and the quality of life when physical feebleness overcomes the spirit, and when mental powers fail, such as the short term memory, as with Dr P, or dementia, as with my older sister. Possibly because I have had several life threatening illnesses, and because I value honesty and realism over pretence and avoidance, I do not shrink from death and dying. I believe I can be both lovingly and practically helpful. Not in all cases, of course, but I am not afraid of the situation.

What I find more difficult is the frailty and feebleness, the deafness, and the forgetfulness, and , in Dr P's case, the inability to consider other people, and to be unselfish. And I wonder whether I can cope. Will I have the necessary strength, goodness and patience? I often doubt it. Will I have to abandon my interests and activities? Will I survive? What will my own old age be like?

None of us knows the answers to these questions, but they thrust themselves at me, each and every day and night.

The innocent mind..

My last post but one provoked a comment in Chinese, which naturally I could not read. While puzzled, I thought no more about it until I started browsing other blogs. In the comments somewhere, I forget where, I came across a reference to Chinese comments, and an explanation. Then the penny dropped. Of course, it was one of the words in the title of that post - the word starting with ab. I had better not use that word again.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Hippy birdie 2 ewes, and a fait accompli!

Part 1

Dr P celebrated his 86th birthday yesterday. His daughters rang and emailed him, and I put on a birthday lunch at home for him. He enjoyed it very much, and we all had a great time. He goes out so seldom these days, and it was good to see how the company of old friends and a little social frivolity restored his spirits. I shopped on Sunday and then started cooking. Our friend KP, who was my dear friend Viv's partner, came from Canberra late on Sunday, and he helped me next day. In order to fit ten of us, we brought a small table downstairs. What with Dr P's stair lift to dodge, this was by no means easy, and I could not possibly have done it myself. KP also went out and bought bread and coffee, which I'd forgotten.

I made a pavlova for dessert. Everyone loves pavlova! There is never any left over. Generally this is pretty easy to make, but this time the eggs would not separate. Four out of five eggs misbehaved, and so I had to go out and buy more eggs. Then I had all the cracked eggs to use up, so made an orange and almond cake. Evidently the cake needed more egg white than it got, as it did not rise well, but it tasted fine, and is all gone now. I meant to take photos but did not manage it, despite the camera sitting handily nearby. The table was lugged back upstairs. Going up is much more difficult. An extra male helped, but he's 80, and has a pace maker, and scraped his arm, which bled quite profusely, and I felt I should not have let him help. I wound up with a sore shoulder. Then I drove KP to the airport.

Neither of us needed more to eat. Just as well. My dash was done for the day.

Thus we were all cheerful and happy for what the next day was to bring.

Part 2

The purchase and installation of the new refrigerator resembles an Icelandic Saga in length and complexity, but fortunately not in bloodthirstiness and slaughter. As I recounted previously, I made a unilateral decision, and announced it to the domestic and general populace. The former protested and the latter cheered vociferously. (How else do you cheer?) Having missed out on the special, and because of the Christmas - New Year hiatus in purchasing frenzy, I had to wait. Finally it was organised to happen today. Dr P had a soft post-happy birthday moment and agreed to a new dishwasher. Instead of agonising about whether he really meant it, I resorted to the use of cliche, resolved to strike while the iron was hot, and hied me to the shop forthwith to organise and pay for it all. The dishwasher was added to the purchase. As it was on special and installation was free, it was a very good deal.

The installer arrived first to inspect the plumbing situation (parlous) and I emptied the cooking implements from my cupboards. He looked quite amazed at their number and variety, and I said rather feebly and defensively that I enjoyed cooking.

Then George and his little mate arrived with the truck and it all started to happen.
First the old fridge had to go. My sister assures me it was 32 years old and I believe her. No sentimental feelings arose, rather hearty cheers.

Here it is, still packaged. The fuchsia got a bit bashed around by it.

Here is George and his mate, with the dishwasher, and some of the packaging.

Almost in.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

The blokes finished the cake, and pronounced it good.

It only remained for me to put the cooking equipment back in the cupboards, and to fill the new refrigerator. Oh, the simple pleasures of life! I never imagined that filling a refrigerator could be so satisfying. You can see what is inside it. It is easy to reach everything. I am even tempted to photograph the interior. Dr P came to inspect it, and perhaps even he secretly admired it.
What is more, it does not make sudden loud and alarming rattles. And the dishwasher is very very quiet.

We had soup for dinner, in front of the TV. After dinner I finished the ironing. Now it is time for Superwoman to go to bed and REST!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Degrees of abnormality, or things that will probably make my daughters groan 'Oh Mum!'

Evidently I deviate from the female norm. Naturally as a person who has always felt resolutely and absolutely female, this suspicion, presently hardening into an unpleasant certainty, is rather distressing.

So how do I know I am abnormal? That is easy - a statistical analysis and comparison with the females in my family. Now admittedly, I am the oldest of those who have visited me recently, but after all, I had ferociously painful periods, have been married twice, had six pregnancies, have borne and breastfed three live children, and have had breast cancer. So you would think all these things would certainly make me qualify not only as female, but also feminine. What is more, I am adamantly feminist, and have been so since I was a tiny child, when I discovered that women were excluded from becoming members of the clergy, and that it was only the males who did all the magic bits. At the age of five I said 'That's not fair' and have never had cause to change that judgment.

It seems that there are distinguishing characteristics which I lack.To wit, and in random order:
  • I have never shaved my legs. The hairs on my legs are fair, not very many, soft and not at all obvious. When in my teens friends started shaving their legs I observed that the hairs grew back dark and thickly. I did not want that to happen to me, so refrained from shaving my legs. There has never been cause to regret this decision.
  • Nor have I had my eyebrows plucked or shaped. They seem perfectly ok to me. Perhaps I was just lucky. Yesterday I was astonished to discover that the daughter of my sister-in-law has opened an eyebrow shaping business and is making money from it. What is more, it seems that three of my sisters, and at least one daughter have their eyebrows shaped and eyelashes tinted.
  • I have never had a brazilian, or had my pubic hair removed, other than when I was giving birth, and perforce was shaved, for no good or adequate reason that I could see. I am horrified by the notion that any body hair, female or male, other than on the head, is totally disgusting.
  • I have never had a fake tan. My fair skin remains that way. Going orange does not appeal to me.
  • I do not teeter along in high heels. While in my giddy youth I did wear high heels they were much lower than is now considered fashionable. Years of discretion have taught me that they are bad for the feet, and unsafe at any speed.
  • I dress in clothes that do not show my underwear. Indeed, the very thought of my underwear showing is deeply distressing. I keep wanting to tap young things on the shoulder and to whisper discreetly ' Dear, your bra straps, panties, bum crack, or whatever, are showing'. Of course, I don't do this, but oh, I want to, so much.
  • My main form of entertainment is not reading about or watching celebrities. In fact, were I to be a contestant on Hot Seat (?), I would fail at any question relating to films, TV or pop music. (This is not necessarily something to skite about. It is more that my head has room for only so much.)
  • I have never had a tattoo.
  • My ears remain unpierced.
However. I do colour my hair, wear makeup, like clothes, read fiction by female authors, can cook, have meaningful interfaces with people, and growl savagely at sexism whenever I encounter it.

But evidently I fail abjectly and humiliatingly at both popular femininity and trendiness. I must be an object of scorn. There is no hope for me.

Women must spend pots of money on all these 'beautifying' treatments. It makes me wonder. Why?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snippets from an exhaustive photographic record

New Year's Eve. Enough of night time images now, until I find someone with enough time and patience to explain my camera to me. As it happens, I am floundering through the instructions from the additional telephones I bought at the sales. Having to re-enter all the phone numbers is a pain. There does not seem to be an option for 'Enter next contact'. No, it seems that for each contact it is necessary to re-enter the menu. What a pain. Especially after having got the phone home, having opened the box and discovering that there were no phones or bits thereof in the box, and having to return it to the shop next day. Such trivial events do a lot towards frittering away what I stubbornly insist on regarding as my valuable time.

My sister P and her daughter. There is quite a lot of red hair in my family, but it does not come from my genes, nor from my sister's. I could have sworn that my sister is/was shorter than me, but either I have shrunk, she has grown, or the camera lies. And how she bred that tall daughter is a wonder - both parents are short. That is my tiny garden in the background.

My second daughter and her children arrived before P left, so we all had an exciting drive to the airport. There have been quite a few deaths over the holiday period from rather horrific road accidents. It is hardly surprising. I drove at the speed limit and almost everyone passed me. And they all run red lights too. Sydney drivers are aggressive and dangerous idiots.

Here is my granddaughter on the ferry on our way to the zoo. By popular vote we decided not to brave the traffic, but to travel by bus and ferry. Decidedly much more fun. Jessica is wearing one of the dresses I gave her for Christmas. She is a very girly girl, wants to be a fairy princess who does ballet, and she adores bling, and swirling skirts. She can flounce and swirl to her heart's content in this dress. (I think the headgear spoils the effect somewhat.)

As soon as she arrives as Casa Persiflage she fiddles with all the ornaments, moves them around, and then rushes upstairs up to inspect my jewellery. Nothing is private! I gave her a tiny round pendant of Venetian glass, which is visible in this photo. She was thrilled. I don't think girls of four ought to have too many trinkets, but she disagrees. Her grandmother is a softy.

My grandson is enjoying the ferry and admiring the view.

I was taking lots of photos of the harbour, the bridge and the Opera House when a couple of American tourists from Chicago offered to take one of all of us. So here it is. After this, my daughter took over the photographic work, as she is so much better at it. My camera is nowhere near as good as her SLR digital one, and thus there were frequent lamentations about all the things she could not do with mine. But hers is very very heavy, and we had children with a propensity to nick off to supervise, so did not need heavy burdens.

Entry to the Taronga Park Zoo is so expensive that everyone pays by credit card. I had never been to the zoo before. It is huge, and on a beautiful but very steep site. There are chair lifts to take people from the ferry to the top, so they can wend their way down, or there are buses to the top. There was a very long queue for the chair lifts so we sensibly chose the bus.

We had to go past all the reptiles, which I would cheerfully omit, but then we came to the koala house, and they are gorgeous. They sleep in the daytime. How do they manage not to fall off the branches while they sleep?

Next the turtles.
And after missing out on the seal theatre, but not on the resultant tears, we found the snow leopards.
The animals we all thought were the most fun were the meerkats. I do not know how meerkats fit in to the animal kingdom: they seem to resemble cats, rats, monkeys and sharp-faced dogs!
Naturally after having enjoyed a treat, booty must be obtained. Then we came home by two ferries and a bus. Quite exhausted, but a good time was had by all.
They both had haircuts today before they went home.

Now there is just us. I am tired and enjoying the quiet, after getting all the washing done, and don't yet know if/when my next sister is to arrive. It will be a busy day tomorrow. A handyman is to come and see whether the refrigerator floor space can be repaired, my car is to be serviced, and somehow normal life has to be accommodated as well. We are just about out of food. Dr P needs to be fussed over and allowed some Christmas cake.

I was so happy to have family here with me. Such a good feeling. I am still savouring it.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The New Year: the trivia, the gladness and some sadness.

Last Wednesday I betook myself to the local hospital to have my stitches out. Despite being told there was a two to three hour wait, in fact I was attended to sooner by a nurse who removed the stitches. I can now reveal that there was high quality suturing of my bottom. My sister P took a photo so I could view it myself. I am much more comfortable now.

Now that the New Year is upon us, the streets are quiet, there are few people around and the traffic is less. This is a great contrast to New Year's Eve. Sydney goes a bit berserk, as each year there is a big fireworks event around the Harbour Bridge. Thousands gather on the many vantage points along the harbour foreshore, from quite early in the day. Many stay on for extensive carousing and celebrations. The TV networks announced breathlessly that TV coverage of the fireworks would be broadcast to 147 other networks. Wow.

Our house is near the water, but faces to the west and not towards the bridge, although up the road the next little intersection is on top of the hill, and the view goes straight to the bridge. Much closer and better views are at the end of this little suburb's peninsula, where the ferry points and parks make good places in which to gather, picnic and wait until the fireworks. There is a short display for little children and their families at 9 pm, and then a longer display at midnight.

The suburb is closed to non-resident traffic from 3 pm. Barriers are erected, and police check credentials of those coming in by car. Lots of people walk in, or catch buses. A steady stream of people passes our house each New Year's Eve, carrying their eskies, blankets, folding chairs, and adding to the festive air.

Dr P sees no point in a personal viewing of the fireworks, claiming that it all looks better on TV. As this view is completely and absolutely wrong, it is ignored, and he is left to the solitary enjoyment of his TV. I go out and watch.

This New Year's Eve I did in fact have family here. Having pointed out, in sad and injured tones, to various members of the family, how infrequent had been their visits, and how long a time had elapsed since the last one, a sort of collective guilt afflicted them (about time, too!) and my youngest sister, her daughter and the daughter's Mexican boyfriend drove here together. We have had a lovely and busy time together. My niece and her boyfriend are off and out each day as well as far into the night, having fun and exploring beaches, but my sister P and I have been hanging out together, doing a modicum of shopping, some cooking, and we even went to see a film. Yesterday we went to the Art Gallery and overdosed on art.

Friends live close to a park on the foreshore, and on New Year's Eve made their parking space available to me, so P and I drove down, and had fun watching the 9 pm display. P thoughtfully removed a nearby quantity of dog turd, which had been ignored by yet another responsible dog-owner, thus saving several people from putting their feet in it. I tried the fireworks setting on my new camera, but there are no shots worth posting. I really should read the instructions in the camera manual, instead of just stuffing up the practical photography. P and I walked up to the intersection to watch the midnight display and to greet the New Year. We did not get much sleep that night, as revellers walked past for hours, making a certain amount of noise.

Today they are all out on an expedition to the Blue Mountains. I stayed home as yesterday's jaunt had given me a sore back. Also, I needed some peace and quiet, having become less accustomed to having people to stay. It has been raining, is wonderfully cool, and there was a lot of washing to do. I took Dr P to hospital, to visit a dear friend who has cancer, and whose chemotherapy treatment was so very severe that it has had to be suspended, if not ended. She is cheerful and positive, but this cancer will kill her, probably sooner rather than later.

My (pre) New Year's resolution is to buy a new bottom mount refrigerator, to replace the horrible antiquated, dilapidated, and partly broken one with which I have put up for 20 years. At random intervals it shudders and emits strange noises. By leaving the firm decision until after Christmas I missed out on the good specials on offer, but I can never take such action in a hurry, especially when there is strong opposition from 50 per cent of the household. I remembered that when we moved here, there was something nasty about the fridge space. As it was far too heavy for me to move by myself, my niece and her boyfriend tugged and dragged the old fridge from its space. It was a horrid sight. The sides and top of the fridge were filthy, there was dirt, fluff and what looked like a disintegrated substance. We cleaned it all out (they certainly earned their keep) and discovered that the tiling did not go all the way back to the wall, only halfway, and the back half was on a chipboard floor, which was rotting. Before the new refrigerator arrives I must get the floor repaired and tiles laid. At least when the new one arrives, I will not be embarrassed by the filth beneath the old one.

I think I earn my keep, too.