Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Let there be lights.

It will be an early morning tomorrow as the electrician is coming at 7.30 am. 'Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, your country needs you!" was the refrain my father used to rouse us each morning. We all really hated this morning ritual, as well as the way he'd fling our blankets off us - in those days rooms were not heated, and it was cold and miserable in winter (but not like Edinburgh at present with all that snow). In those days we suffered from chilblains, a complaint I have not heard of for years. How we suffered. Nowadays the cold is welcome - and last night it was cool - and it rained, hiding the full moon. Tonight it shines clearly.

On Friday night I went to a concert with a friend, who had won two tickets. I had to do the driving, to a place out of my comfort zone (which includes 99% of Sydney). We got a bit lost, but found our way eventually, and a parking space just near the church. I parked carefully, then got out to see how much room I had at the rear of the car - about 5 centimetres. All throughout the concert I wondered how on earth I was going to manage to get the car out of that space. This worry distracted me somewhat from the truly glorious choral church music of Tudor England, and the wonderful singing.

Afterwards, we found that the car behind me had moved back. No problem. We got slightly lost again, but got home without mishap. Although it was late, there was Dr P, sitting in the dark, watching TV. The lights had gone out, but not the power. He can't remember where the torches are kept, nor the candles or the matches, and although the standard lamps worked, he is too shaky to go around the house in the dark. Having located candles and torches, and noting that it was only the lights which had gone out, I checked the fuse box, and flipped the fuse switch. However, the lights went out again the other day, while I was home, and it made a sparky hissing sound. A bit scary.

Thus the call to the electrician, as it seems that there is a problem. Once upon a time such things were the domain of the male, but not here, not any more. We need some halogen globes replaced, the glass in a light fitting broke overnight some weeks ago, the sensor on one outside light has developed a will of its own, and the other outside light is dangling haplessly from the wall. So it is high time the electrician came and attended to all these things. He has promised to come early so I can get to my Italian class by 9.30. He will probably have to make a second visit.

Today was the last of one of my two Italian classes. My friend Nora gave the argomento on designer clothes, the ubiquity of fake designer clothes, and fashion and how to look good. Somehow we found ourselves wondering how you say in Italian 'tidying up the loose ends'. It seems that knitting Italian style does not result in wool ends having to be sewn in! From there we moved on to the problem of bullying in schools, and in one particular case where the principal seems to be avoiding taking any action. It is a worrying phenomenon. I wonder how much mobile phones and Facebook have to do with such social problems.

Afterwards Nora and I went to a nearby dressmaking and alterations place, where I arranged to have some beautiful purple silk made into a jacket and pants suit for the forthcoming family wedding. It will be done in time, and I hope it all works out. Like lots of women, I have a stash of fabrics, which are brought out periodically, gazed upon, and regretfully put away again. Perhaps if my weight had not been steadily increasing, the fabrics would have been turned into clothes, but because of the desire and intention to lose weight, it has always seemed a shame to use the fabrics on large clothes. That silk, and its friends, have been waiting around for a good fifteen years.

Dr P's daughter called yesterday, and I have organised for her to take over care duties in a few weeks when I go to Melbourne for a family wedding. The next sister, the WSD, ie the problem one, to whom I wrote a year ago in a futile attempt to improve relations, arrives on Saturday morning. Cordiality, hospitality and dignity will, I hope prevail, and I have had fewer sleepless nights than in the past. It will be an interesting week. My second daughter will be here overnight on Saturday, and the Easter eggs and hot cross buns are ready and waiting. I am one of those purists who will not touch a hot cross bun before Good Friday, nor contemplate such a monstrosity as a chocolate flavoured bun. The fact that they have been on sale since January fills me with angst.

Happy Easter to all. I will be playing a lot of Bach.

Monday, 22 March 2010

What did you say? I told you so.

As might be obvious, Dr P is a man of strong will, somewhat disinclined to accept suggestions (helpful OR otherwise). In the last year or so, as he has become more dependent on me, I have become rather more assertive and insistent. Needs must. What a pity it has taken so long. In fact, it does seem that my being more assertive has made life together more pleasant. He likes feisty people. (So why did he pick me?)

Yesterday he had an appointment with an audiologist, and we have come away feeling rather better about the world, and what is left to us of it. The audiologist managed to get him to insert the other hearing aid, which Dr P had insisted would not go into his ear. Somehow or other it went straight in. He gave him a hearing test, and adjusted the hearing aid to give him overall better hearing. Dr P has lost about 50 per cent of his hearing. By the end of the consultation, both the audiologist and I were able to speak to Dr P in normal to soft voices, and he could hear us! All that has to happen now is to keep the hearing aids - both of them - in his ears, and let his brain adjust to having sound in both ears. We are going back in a month, so there is an incentive to Keep At It. Furthermore, he does not need to buy a new super-duper hearing aid yet. This is indeed balm to the thrifty soul.

I should have got him there sooner, of course, but could not face the battle. This time Dr P accepted it all quite meekly and mildly. Of course, having been a doctor himself, he knew perfectly well that the audiologist was right. This morning he put in both hearing aids without having to be reminded to do so. I am still speaking loudly to him, and he winces. He is playing bridge today and it will be interesting to discover what the experience was like.

I have been advised to note various things about Dr P's ageing process, and the deterioration in his memory, so there is an accurate record. There have been quite a few changes in the last 6 months. It is now necessary to help him be better organised, and to devise ways of overcoming the problems of the memory loss, and difficulty in concentrating. Where did he put his visa statement? Is there enough money in the account to pay for it? This year he had a a lot of trouble doing his tax return, even with an extension of time for it. As well as forgetfulness, he is becoming somewhat confused about his finances, so an eye must be kept on that.

Yesterday we did a bit of tidying of his desk. This has always been a total no-go, verboten, keep out, MYOB, don't even think about touching anything sort of area. I tidied so much we filled a waste-paper bin, and was able to wash the surface of the desk. Of course, I am not as organised and methodical as I might be. I'd blame the ageing process if it were not for the fact that my deficiencies go back a long time, and I am in fact much better than I used to be - shamed into it by Dr P's superior practices. All the same there is now a much greater need to become more systematic and organised, and to watch very carefully. I need to remember to buy a notebook in which to record observations. Another excuse to go to OfficeWorks.

Stationery shops are wonderful and enticing places, full of products no home should be without. Little sticky notes, notebooks, highlighter pens, tags to stick on the music scores, memory sticks, magazine boxes, and the like. It is possible to while away significant chunks of time in such shop, and to spend far more than planned. Afterwards, of course, comes the hard work of sorting and filing. Those lovely coloured plastic folders are such a help. Once the decision is made as to which colour to use for each category, and to be able to remember the decision and stick to it, that is.

We have had a week of visitors, with SD3 staying a couple of nights. She is now in her house on the south coast with her partner, and various other family members will gather there. The WSD is to arrive on 3 April, and the rest of her family will catch up with her later. I am struggling not to feel sick about that visit. My second daughter will also be around at the same time, for her photographic work and for me to mind the children. She and my granddaughter were here overnight on Saturday. Poor little Jessica had a virus, and a high temperature, so she fluctuated between lassitude and high jinks. As they do. We had a very pleasant time together, the illness notwithstanding. Lots of cuddles, and chats. Lots of love.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

I spy with my little eye

In between taking Dr P to his diabetes doctor this morning, and ringing this afternoon to arrange an Aged Care Assessment Team referral for him, I hied me to the optometrist to get my eyes examined. The good news is that my right eye can still see well, despite the shortsightedness. And I do not have glaucoma. The bad news is that there are baby cataracts forming, and that the sight in my left eye is significantly worse. The other bad news is that, yes, I do need new glasses, and so Costalot Eyeshop is charging me a lot of money. It is a funny thing: the eye examination is billed to Medicare, but the frames, the glasses and the lens, after the rebate from the private health insurance still cost heaps.

It is a similar thing with hearing aids. Why, when computers, iPods, phones etcetera are now so relatively cheap, should glasses and hearing aids still cost such a huge amount? Presumably because there is a captive market. I am taking Dr P to an audiologist soon, and hope a new hearing aid will be more successful than the one he uses now. He cannot get one hearing aid into the ear, and his use of the other one is intermittent, at best. Which I find most aggravating, being no good at shouting loudly. Shouting loudly makes me feel very bad tempered.

Never mind, Dr P will pay for my new glasses. He has pots of dough, unlike me, and I am a very cheap form of labour. They say the labourer is worthy of the hire, and despite the Howard- Abbott attempts to deprive labourers of their rights, I still believe it. And I certainly labour.

Now comes yet another fascinating insight into the wonderful world of statistical analysis. I had glasses as a child, as my eyes do not focus together. I see separately out of each eye, instead of their forming the one image. I was an adult before I realised that this was so. It must have been a very obvious defect. My parents took me to an eye doctor, who prescribed glasses. He kept asking me could I see the end of my nose. I'd look through one eye, and could see the side of my nose, and then would use the other eye to see the other side. It never occurred to me that the real question was could I see the tip of my nose. No, I never could. Later I realised that the question asked might not be how the question was understood.

According to Antonello the eye person (I cannot remember his professional title) only 3 per cent of the population are afflicted with this particular defect, and of those only about 6 per cent have the bung eye throwing out to the left. I am just lucky, hey? If there is a family history of the condition, the chances of inheriting it are higher, but as far as I know, none of my descendants have it. That's good. This eye problem means that I focus very slowly and ineffectively. I have never seen a shooting star. When anyone shouts 'Oh look!' by the time I look, whatever it was has vanished. There is probably no end to the problems I could attribute to this eye defect.

When I was aged about seven I had eye surgery to tighten the muscle behind the eye. This could not change the way the brain chose to let me see, but the eye wandered far less, and the operation made a cosmetic improvement. In those days, you stayed in hospital a long time - possibly ten days, and all this time, my eyes were covered, so I spent the whole time in absolute darkness. This meant I called out to the nurses a lot for attention. It must have created a nuisance, but they were very patient. I remember coming out of the anaesthetic and that my eye was very painful. How I spent my time, I don't recall, but it must have been a dead bore, and I have always hated not having anything to do. I suppose I must have talked to the other children, but cannot remember whether my parents visited me. Visiting hours were not extensive, and small babies and toddlers were not permitted visitors, as 'It only upset them'.

This theory, as put into practice in those days, always struck me as appalling. When my sister Anne was born, the sixth child of the family, the fifth child, my brother Paul, was only two. He was put into a mother and baby care institution while Mum was in hospital, and NO ONE at all was allowed to visit him. When my mother and the new baby left hospital, they stayed at the same institution, which also provided post-hospital care for mothers and babies. Despite them all being there, she was not permitted to see her little boy. Nor was the rest of the family. When, about three weeks later (in those days there was none of this sending mother and baby home after a day or so, before the milk had a chance to come in) my brother was brought home, he was a child totally changed from the happy, charming, funny, loving and lovable little boy he had been. He was sad, withdrawn, did not recognise us, and unsmiling, and quiet. He is the only one of the family never to have married or to have children, and lives in a house he co-owns with a woman, and they have nothing in common. It is rather sad and lonely, I think. He suffered from the other family defect of scoliosis, and had surgery for that in his teens, necessitating 6 months in hospital in plaster with a steel rod in his back. Family was able to visit him only once a week.

I always remembered the effect that being removed from his family had on my brother, and resolved that I would never subject my children to that social and emotional deprivation. When I needed surgery when my son was little, I waited until he was old enough to cope without me for a few days. And I feel intensely that mothers and babies should not be separated when the babies are very young.

There is a very moving part in one of Margaret Drabble's earlier novels, The Millstone, which is about an unmarried mother. This was set in the days when unmarried motherhood was generally seen as disgraceful and scandalous. For the mother, of course, not the father. When her baby is born, she learns to love. Her baby needs surgery and when the mother goes to visit her baby after the operation, she is not allowed to see her. Hospital policy. She has to resort to hysterical weeping, as a result of which she is permitted to be with her baby. Only one other mother was allowed this privilege. I remember clearly the emotional impact of this part of the book, and my recognition of the experience. Things did change, and had indeed changed by the time this book was published in the mid 1960s. When my youngest sister was six months old she had emergency surgery on her bowel. By that stage little children were permitted visitors. But is it not strange and dreadful that such an institutional policy persisted for so many years?

Physical sight is one thing. Emotional and psychological sight is quite another.

Off to bed now. Last night I slept but little, fretting over the latest indications of Dr P's increasing feebleness. Hence getting around to requesting the ACAT assessment.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Fiances, fiascos, fame, fantasies, furies and futility

There seem to be a lot of fiances about these days. I am not sure whether the females sport engagement rings, but it seems that generally they are called fiancees as a polite, or rather, euphemistic way of indicating that they are shacking up with someone with whom they are having a sexual relationship, devoid of blessing or benefit of clergy or state. Not that I care particularly about this. It is the glossing, the padding, the pretence, the euphemisms which give me the pip. Despite our sexual freedom and abandonment of inhibitions, we refer to fiancees rather than mistresses - except of course in the case of tycoons, whose mistresses add glamour to their self and public images. If people want to cohabit, fine! It is when it is dressed up as 'an engagement' that my hackles rise, and I can feel new ones growing by the minute. They too are rising.

An engagement used to signify a formal and public commitment to marry. Now it seems that engagements drift on indefinitely. Not like in times of yore when people lived at home until they could afford to marry, and engagements did continue for years because the couple could not afford to marry. Now, it seems, people indulge in serial engagements.

It makes me feel rather bemused. I wonder how many engagement rings are acquired over the years? It brings back the memory of Scarlett O'Hara, when she agreed to marry Rhett Butler asking for a diamond ring, a great big one, and then receiving a ring with a diamond so large that even Scarlett suspected it of looking vulgar.

I used to work in an august and revered institution representative of the people of Australia. Ruby and Doug worked there too. They had been a de facto couple for years. Then they decided to get married, and all of a sudden they became engaged. We were all rather startled by this, but I see now they were actually trendsetters. Little did I know.

For the past few days the commercial media has been breathlessly reporting a saga concerning an 'engaged' couple. He is a cricketer, whose name I forget ( I try not to remember sporting details), who flew home from New Zealand, abandoning the team, to be with his fiancee, a model called Lara Bingle. I think she starred in a tourism ad a couple of years ago, asking potential travellers where the bloody hell were they (they should have been touring Australia, it implied). I think the Poms took offence, (possibly they disapprove of bad language?) and we were not too impressed either. On such issues fame is made.

Anyway, Lara has long blonde hair, which, in times of emotional crisis, she can flick over her face, thus thwarting photographers (isn't that euphonious?). The media is breathlessly debating whether or not she knew another man was married before they had sex (on a non-engaged basis) and he took a nude photo of her which was subsequently published. It looks now as though the engagement is over, as things are being moved out of the apartment lived in by the engaged couple. This story has headed the commercial TV news for days now, but all she has to do is tell the media the answers. Letters are being published in the daily rags about whether or not Michael should have stuck by his cricketing mates, instead of putting his personal life first.

This story is getting more attention than such trivial issues as whether the Commonwealth should take over the administration of hospitals, etcetera. It is not really more interesting, in my view.

It is enough to make me go upstairs and read a book. Science fiction or romantic fantasy? Or both?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Swirling thoughts and mixed emotions

My three younger sisters and I spent several days visiting our older sister, who has dementia. The gathering of the sisters is now over, we are all back home, picking up all our usual threads of life. We arrived at our sister's farm on Friday and returned home on Monday. There are so many experiences, emotions, thoughts and memories that I do not know where to start. While wanting to write, it seems essential to let things settle, and thus, perhaps, to lose some of the immediacy and reality. Dot points occur, rather than complete thoughts. There are things which must remain unsaid.

What stands out for me is, essentially, a deep sadness, arising from our sister's illness and frailty, and our worries and doubts about whatever remains of her life.

MM looks very frail. Seeing her was a shock. Her husband and son brought her to the station to meet us all. My train arrived half an hour before the other one. I had not expected to see her until we arrived at the farm, and the sight of her in a wheelchair, looking so frail and aged, brought a rush of tears to my eyes.

We had all brought food, to provide all the meals during our stay, and to allow us to spend the time talking and being together. The second youngest sister, AM, who is a nurse, devoted herself to being the main carer, and MM's husband could thus attend to his work as well as to her care. MM needs help with showering and toileting, and she cannot walk unaided. Her balance is very poor and if she stands she is likely to topple over. She was much more lucid than we expected, and better than she had been a month ago. She always had an excellent recall of people, events and conversations, but this is no longer so. Her memory has huge holes in it now.

While she was mostly quite biddable, and accepted our care, especially that of AM, there were times when she became embarrassed and annoyed. At times the dementia became evident, and this was distressing. A hand extended to prevent her from falling can be interpreted as assault. And the old dynamics of the relationship, unsurprisingly, appear to be unchanged, and remain painful memories.

Most of our time was spent eating, talking, and watching DVDs of old shows - including many episodes of Father Ted (which they all find absolutely hilarious, but I find it only moderately amusing). The son and his wife and children came around, and we had a wonderful big family dinner. We did a lot of housework, washing and ironing and cleaned all the silver.

We were all glad to have that precious time together. It could be the last time we are able to do so. It was so very sad to see. We wonder for how long the family can manage to care for our sister at home.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Jiggedy jig

Home again, after a busy and happy visit to Canberra, I find it takes me some time to work my way back into my life here. Dr P and I are happy to see each other, all went well during my absence, and SD1 bought him some food, and checked his well-being. I was so rushed before I went that I did not do the weekly shopping. Actually I had to do my argomento for the Italian class, which took hours, and of course I still made lots of mistakes. It is the use of prepositions which seems to trip up all of us, and we have trouble working out which tenses of verbs to use. Then there is the use of the subjunctive. English does not use the subjunctive much, but Italian loves it. All of this sort of thing fosters my conviction that grammar should be taught, as an aid to good and expert use of language and to clear thinking. Although, I suppose that confused thinking has its place in life. (This would take the subjunctive in Italian.) I have not seen the national curriculum yet, but applaud its intention to revive the teaching of grammar. I can go to bed at night and dream of diminished confusion in the use of subject and object pronouns, and in the agreement of subject, verb and object, and such like. And the use of the adverb might be revived.

My argomento was about the film The Young Victoria. Queen Victoria was a most interesting woman, passionate, intelligent, full of complexity, contradictions, selfish, opiniated, with a strong sense of her own importance, and also very emotionally dependent, and especially after Albert's death, very self-indulgent and almost, it seems, determined not to recover from her bereavement. I keep buying biographies of her, and came home from Canberra with yet another. (There is this lovely bookshop which has remaindered stock at delightfully low prices. I came home heavily laden.)

While I enjoyed the film, it falsified some of the history, and this sort of thing makes me VERY cross. Some writers like to write novels according to the way they wished the history had happened, so they go around inventing things, distorting facts, all for their own emotional satisfaction. I am a stickler for truth and accuracy, even though there are lots of events in history which we wish had never happened. But they did happen, and reality needs to be acknowledged, faced and dealt with. Having Albert wounded in the assassination attempt, just to make a romantic point about the shift in the relationship, was quite wrong. He was not wounded, nor was Victoria. It happened otherwise. So there!

Do pardon this little rant, which is not really what I sat down at the computer to write about tonight. Sometimes you never do know quite what is going to come out from your brain via these rather inexpertly typing fingers. As I drove to and from Canberra my mind wrote about all sorts of things, but as often happens when it is not possible to write in the heat of the moment when creativity bursts forth like flowers opening irresistibly, much stuff flows downstream into the sea of unused composition and creativity.

As ever, Canberra was very enjoyable, and I saw family and the grandchildren. The youngest boy is friendly, happy and easily amused. I am not sure that he remembered me as it is about 9 months since I saw him, but he treated me like a friend. I watched the older grandson having a riding lesson, while I brushed away all the flies that hang around horses and their environs. I saw several friends, and Bron and I went to the Australian National Gallery to see the exhibition from the Musee d'Orsay collection. It was very very good, but there was a huge number of people, which made viewing difficult. As I devoted the day to the Gallery, I took my time browsing around. The Gauguin paintings were my favourites, in their use of strong and delectable colours. The exhibition has had so much hype written about it that I was slightly disappointed, partly because of the crowded conditions, but also resulting from my trip to Italy last year, seeing the wonderful gallery at Rovereto. This had a visiting exhibition from Winterthur in Switzerland, from the second half of the 19th century through to the first half of the 20th. Its permanent collection was superb, with many Italian artists unknown to me, and visiting that gallery, known as MART, was a highlight of the trip.

I pre-booked a ticket for the ANG, and to do this it was necessary to use Ticketek. That internet site informed the world that on "Friday's and Saturday's" there were longer viewing hours, and that "Carer's" who accompanied their cared-for persons were also entitled to a discount. You can see why I am cheering about the possibility of grammar being taught in schools. Does no one check such sites? Evidently not the ANG! Shame.

On Friday I am going by train to visit my sister, and the other sisters and I will meet at the station. We hope it will be a good visit for all of us, and most of all for our older sister.