Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Abroad thoughts from home, again

Back home, I have mixed emotions, as usual: wishing it could have been a longer stay - like another fortnight - with time to do more and see more people, thus not being so peripheral to the lives of the various relations, and perhaps having time for some touristy things as well. Having a luxury apartment, garden and car there would help. But I miss my husband, and my own home.

Melbourne was lovely. It is such a pleasant and amenable city. While they all complained about the traffic, it is easy to get around. I had two days with Stomper and her family. She is such a good and loving mother, so involved with every aspect of her children's lives, and enjoying them so much. The boys are delightful,well-behaved and affectionate, and play happily together. I listened to Cherub's reading homework, and was most impressed by his ability, and the evident thoroughness of his teachers and their methods. He is only six, in his second year at school, and can work out such words as whales, population, migration, information and slithering, and understands both vowel and consonant combinations. How gratifying to have such charming and talented grandchildren.

Stomper then rushed off to Craft Camp, and I moved to Sister 2, C, mother of five and grandmother of 10, soon to be 11. I saw the two latest grandchildren, who are nine weeks old. The second of these is apparently carried about for most of the time, and consequently has not learned how to settle herself to sleep. As a result the entire household is subsisting on very little sleep. (The grandmother and great aunt do realise that One Must Not Interfere, whatever the temptation.) The baby slept on my shoulder for about 40 minutes, while I tranquilly stroked her back (doubtless contributing to the problem) enjoying the delightful feel of a baby snuggling into my shoulder.

When I contacted an old school friend, she dragged me off to celebrate the school's feast day. She and I were friends from our first year at school for the whole 12 years, but we see each other very seldom now. Last year's class reunion spurred me to renew contact. It was the first time I have returned to the school since I left it all those years ago, and that I have sung the school songs again. The school is much larger now, with excellent teachers, facilities and opportunities for the students. I asked my class mates whether we had heated classrooms - I did not think so, and the resounding answer was No, and we recollected suffering severely from chilblains.

The wedding, later that day, was beautiful, and watching the love, trust, devotion and hope between bride and bridegroom (my nephew) was very moving. My two youngest sisters became dissatisfied with their choices of attire, and went home and changed before continuing to the reception. It was the first time that all seven of us were not together for a family wedding, and we felt our sister's absence.

Much as I love being away, and seeing all the family, it is good to be back in my own space. Dr P managed well, which is a relief, says he missed me a lot, and that SD1 and grandson B1 called in each day. Reunions are lovely. When I arrived I was greeted with a plaintive statement from Dr P that he had no TV. That was the first thing I sorted out. Literally. The instructions for the TV, which live in a green plastic folder of the Officeworks variety on the coffee table next to Dr P's chair, somehow found their way into the newspaper recycling bin (?). Fortunately it was possible to retrieve them before the garbage collectors arrived. I chucked out all the dead flowers, cooked a proper dinner, did lots of washing, and restored order. Normal service has been resumed. We have been back to the audiologist, who reinforced the message to Dr P of always wearing the hearing aid. So far Dr P is in Meek Mode. We shall see.

Already I have seen my GP, and arranged to have an ultrasound of my sore hip, which is not much better than when I arrived home from Italy six months ago. The ultrasound will probably be followed by an injection of cortisone, which is likely to be absolutely excruciating. I had one such injection umpty years ago into a calcium deposit in my shoulder, and the mere recollection makes me shudder. However, if I really want to get to Spain later this year, such things must be endured. Italian resumes this week, the choir is starting our next work, the night is clear, the moon is full, and it is time for bed.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


A quickie post. I am off to Melbourne tomorrow, wondering what possessed me to book a relatively early flight. I am almost at the organised stage of packing. Well, no, not really, as all the clothes still have to be sorted out, but I am charging the iPod, remembering the charger for the camera, have made lists of the medications to pack, printed the boarding pass, and have a load of washing on. I phoned Dr P's Sydney daughter, SD1, and asked her to check him each day, and gave her all my contact details. All his food choices have been provided. Etcetera.

My second daughter and children have been here for the past four days. We had a good time together, (except for Dr P. whose tolerance level is fairly low, but he coped, and has cheered up now that they have gone.) They have been to the Powerhouse Museum, ridden on buses and ferries, had a couple of swims and have played in parks. It is so interesting watching the ways children interact with each other at parks, and how they manage to make friends while they play. Even if they start off shy or grumpy sometimes, they mostly manage to settle down and play happily.

My grandson is into everything. Not just crochet, but even my sewing things. I bought a blouse at the sales, and recently found some buttons to replace the less than perfect ones on the blouse. I bought two cards of four buttons apiece, and when I got home, there was only one card in the bag. I rang and arranged to pick up the other card, and a couple of days later we managed to get over to the shop, and get them. However, little H, who is an inveterate fiddler, found the first card, cut them all off, put them somewhere, and now they cannot be found. It feels like an Icelandic saga! Drat the boy! I am back to four buttons again, will have to make another trip, after which the buttons are likely to miraculously appear, thus aggravating me even further. Unless, of course, the shop has sold out of these buttons, which is extremely likely. The effort required to rectify this problem is by no means commensurate with its seriousness. Why can't kids leave things alone?

However if this is the worst thing they get up to, I suppose I must be grateful. They also made bead necklaces, assisted by their kind and clever mother. Now, despite not looking for them, I am finding beads everywhere, in the couch, under rugs, on floors, and mixed up with other toys. There are also little wads of plasticine everywhere. But buttons? No.

My daughter stayed until today to pick up from the airport a friend from primary school, who is visiting from Prince Edward Island in Canada. It is about thirty years since they last saw each other, and I think they managed to contact each other electronically through Stomper. Nancy is as lovely as ever. I could not join in all the fun as I had to go and pick up the pants and jacket that have been made for me to wear at my nephew's wedding on Sunday, and had to wait another hour, while the shop fixed various details. On the bus back to the city, my ticket became stuck in the validating machine. I felt very guilty, but the bus driver was kind, soothing and friendly, and phoned ahead to have a man with the keys waiting, after which my mangled ticket was extracted and returned to me. Not daring to insert it in the next bus, I explained it to the driver, and reached home without further ado. The bus drivers are terrific, as a rule.

Time to make the final choice of clothes and see if everything fits into a smallish suitcase. It will be lovely to see Stomper and her family, and everyone is looking forward to the wedding. My nephew is one of everyone's favourite boys. He fixes everyone's computers, too.

Here's hoping Dr P manages all right in my absence.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Bite the bullet, bite your tongue.

Today's little local rag has a story about an Italian immigrant, who mentions what he saw from the ship on the voyage to Australia, while they passed through the 'Great Australian Bite'. (Persons unfamiliar with our geography are recommended to consult an atlas to check the sea south of Australia, and to compare spellings.) When I picked myself up from the floor, I realised that A Great Bite has been occurring here. At least, I did not bite off more than I could chew. Although I did do quite a lot of swallowing.

We have seen the last of J1, the WSD, for the time being. Her husband and children left on Sunday. J2 was in and out, but briefly, and did not stay with us. Dr P's eldest grandchild, B1, turned 21 this weekend, and had a birthday party. The family gathered, except for us. Today his daughters took Dr P out for lunch, and tonight they all came here for dinner, and brought the food. J1 has said her goodbyes. She will be in the country for another week. During her visit she addressed not one word to me about anything relating to my life and interests, nor did she raise anything to do with her father's condition, despite the all too evident physical deterioration and his quite severe memory loss and general forgetfulness. It is very strange.

The past week has provoked three migraines in me, which made me feel rather ill. My daughter tells me to follow my own advice and to let it all wash through me, advice not followed all that successfully. It has been something of an endurance test, and my garment of virtue became somewhat frayed. But it was much better than last year. It stayed polite and reasonably friendly, and I ignored all the things which made me bristle, and even admitted the possibility of my taking things too seriously. I have refrained from making critical or hostile remarks to Dr P. Tonight he made some criticisms of my daughter, which I was able to defuse with the observation that it would not be a good idea for either of us to engage in criticisms of each other's children. He has, I think, appreciated my efforts, and my care of him. Last week he bought me an extremely beautiful string of pearls, a most generous gift. I was thrilled, and it is delightful to have a 'token of his esteem'. He must think I do some things right.

My daughter and her two children were here for a couple of days and left this afternoon. We have had a full house. It was good having my daughter here, not only for our enjoyable and loving time together, but also because she bubbled away with her step-sisters and helped keep the conversation flowing. The grandchildren were a great joy. They behaved very well: we baked a Berry Spice Cake, a nice easy recipe which uses melted butter, has to be beaten for only two minutes, and cooks quickly. Cooking together is great fun. For much of the day we played with plasticine, and it was surprising how absorbing they both found it. A plethora of little creatures now adorns the house. The children even decided they did not want to go to the park that day, something which is usually essential, as we have no garden space, and it is easy for littlies to become stir crazy. Yesterday we all went swimming, and today we had coffee and gelato, and chatted to a couple of women, who were visiting our trendy area, our famous cafe, and a very expensive dress shop. One woman wore a very sparkly purply/brown necklace, which aroused cries of admiration from little Jessica, a bling and frills sort of girly girl if ever I met one, and the woman kindly allowed her to try it on. What heaven!

Her brother, on the other hand, is made according to the traditional recipe, and his heaven turned out to be the acquisition of a kerosene lamp from our second hand market yesterday, and the arrival today, while we were at the park, of a man in a Green Machine which cleaned paths. The driver showed him all the bells, whistles, knobs, buttons, gears, lights, hoses, and brushes for a good half hour. Total bliss! Obviously he has the potential to become a well-rounded human being, as he also wanted to learn how to crochet, and sat for quite a while diligently manipulating hook and wool.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

That which we call a rose

Never let it be said that life is generally free of complications. Making generalisations is a thing fraught with peril, and laden with clichés. Nonetheless, let me wade in.

Is life simpler for the male or for the female? Or is this simply a very stupid question? It probably averages out fairly equally. In one respect, however, males have a kind of advantage. It is one which is firmly founded in history, and in the many centuries during which women were the legal possession of fathers, brothers or husbands. It shows up still in surnames. Children bore the names of their fathers. Sons kept that name. Daughters' names were changed when they married, upon which event they became subject to the legal authority of the husband instead of the father's.

When I was a young woman, about to embark on matrimony, thinking and assuming that we would live happily ever after in blissful togetherness, one option never occurred to me. It was accepted that upon marriage, the woman lost her own name, aptly (probably for the most part) known as the ‘maiden' name. When the newly wed wife signed the marriage register, it would have been, for most women, the last time that name was used. People would laugh tolerantly if a bride accidently signed her old surname. It was a sign of the newness of the marriage. After a short time, the woman became accustomed to her new name. It was deemed an honour to bear someone else’s name, a symbol that the woman now belonged to another man, that possession had passed from father to husband.

Occasionally, maiden names were required for official purposes such as upon registering the birth of a baby.

So my name changed. Twenty years later, the marriage broke down – irretrievably, as the parlance goes - and my husband left me. Several years later I obtained a divorce. My name remained the same, though. It was a strange legal requirement that the marriage certificate was required to be sent to the office and surrendered. If you wanted it back, you had to pay for it. It seemed an outrageous requirement, given that whoever registered divorces had official access to the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Despite this, Officialdom rubbed salt in the already exceedingly raw wounds by requiring the surrender of the document which certified that your marriage was legal, that (in those days) the children of the marriage were legitimate, and that the surname was your own. I sent in my marriage certificate, as required, and paid the fee in order to have it returned to me.

I did think about changing my name back to my ‘maiden’ name, as was becoming more common, but decided against a change, in order to appear related to my children, who were still at school. It would have been a hassle to register a new name on the house title, at work, for my driving licence, and passport. Of course, a man never even had to consider such issues: he just continued as before. Occasionally such petty injustices made me growl.

When Dr P asked me to marry him, I gave some thought to the question of changing my name to his. He did not mind, and left the decision to me. I decided to keep my existing surname. My reasons, other than that of retaining the same surname as my children, were that I was known by that name professionally, and that changing my name to his could have resulted in a perception of bias or conflict in loyalties in my work.

While we lived in different cities, being together mostly at weekends, having different names mattered very little. Since living in the same house in the same city, quite often some explanations are made. Friends of Dr P’s tend to refer to us as a couple bearing his name (which is not Persiflage). Sometimes when I telephone friends and give my name, the message is as Mrs Dr Non-P is on the phone. When I send greeting cards to people, I use my name, or both our names. We get by, and basically the outside world copes. I use the title Ms, and use Mrs only when necessary to keep it simple. But it is amazing how, after all this time, the simple fact that we have different surnames, escapes general notice and acceptance.

Even the members of my family – sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews – have some trouble coping. Wedding invitations arrive requesting the pleasure of the company of Dr and Mrs Non-P. I reply, stating that I, Persiflage, and Dr Non-P accept or decline, as the case may be. Despite our having been married since 1992, it seems the family has trouble assimilating the facts of our different surnames. One sister says that another sister told her that I had changed my name. I tell her this is not so, but it just does not sink in.

Even in 1992, not changing my name required some explanation. People do need to know, of course. With fewer people marrying now, and it having become common for people to retain their own names, whether married or partnered, it matters little. When children are born, then the parents need to decide whose name the children should bear. I wonder whether more children bear the father’s name rather than the mother’s? I bet it is the father's name which is more commonly given to the children.

In Spain everyone bears both the mother's and the father's names. It seems much fairer that way. We are still in a state of social flux, and I wonder what will be the case in a century or so.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Time passing rather too slowly

Dr P's second daughter, J1, aka SD2 or the Wicked Step Daughter, is now here, with her two children, and they are visiting us daily. Having previously stated they would never stay here again, she is staying elsewhere. Last February, after much agonising, and counselling, I wrote to her, in an attempt to improve our relationship. Her response to my letter was hostile, blamed me for all the problems, and did not address any of the issues I had raised.

Last year, when they made their annual visit from USA, it was awkward and unpleasant, but this year I wanted to be more in control and to do things on my terms.Dr P and I had briefly discussed her visit, and I said that they were welcome to come over for dinner, etcetera. I heard Dr P discuss all this with his eldest daughter SD1, who said 'Look, they just don't get on,' and Dr P told her that I 'was prepared to call it quits.' Not quite how I would describe it, but I think the message must have been passed on.

So we smiled, kissed and talked, and it was arranged that J1, SD1 and her son B2 would come for dinner. My second daughter also arrived, and took off to do her racing photography for the rest of the day, returning just in time for dinner and staying overnight. I prepared fish, potato, green, and tomato salads, followed by pavlova and berries, and had made baba ghanouj, and an orange and almond cake. I did my best to be friendly, interested and calm.

Dinner went quite well, ably assisted by my daughter, who chattered away about the mutually fascinating subjects of horses and riding. The next day J1 came over again with her two children, who had just flown in from Perth. They stayed a couple of hours. I'm afraid my tolerance level is being tested as they are such hard work. We have to make all the conversational running, and, as with SD1, there is never any reciprocity of conversation nor any interest in subjects unassociated with themselves. They returned in the afternoon to see old family friends, and stayed for dinner. This morning they came over again, but I cunningly went out to buy some more food, and did not exactly hurry home. They all need quality time together, unencumbered with the Wicked Step Mother. They came back for dinner, but this time they brought take-away for us all.

As my outlets for personal whinging are limited, I am letting off some steam here. I have smiled, been courteous and considerate, and have stayed calm, but it is SUCH hard work. It is unfair and imprudent to be critical of them to Dr P, who is doing his best, asking lots of questions about their lives, and then forgetting the answers, so he constantly repeats the questions. Every conversational gambit seems to reach an immediate dead end. He is trying to talk to the children, but they too are hard work, and probably are bored. They all mumble, so he has to keep repeating his questions to them! Now that I have heard several times a day about their lives, her job, their future plans, the children's education and achievements, I too am bored. Dr P has noted my efforts to be pleasant and hospitable.

J1 has taken absolutely no notice of any of the concerns I raised in my letter. Some of these things may sound quite trivial, but they concern my position in the home, my relationship with her father, and it is hard to see such actions as unintentional or accidental. At each meal she has taken my usual seat at the dinner table. Such seemingly petty actions are hard to counter. Either she is totally oblivious or, more likely, she is doing it to make it look as though I have no place in her father's home. I cannot like or respect her, or trust her, and I am very ready to be critical of her, but nonetheless try to temper my reactions with reason.

It is her total lack of empathy that I find quite incomprehensible, and indeed somewhat reprehensible. It must be very evident to her that her father's memory has deteriorated seriously, and that he is very feeble. Yet she never comments to me or asks anything about his condition, let alone express concern for me and whether I can cope. Because, if I can't cope, neither can Dr P. I just don't understand this.

They will be here in the morning, and probably in the afternoon as well - maybe for dinner again. Then they are going to the coast with her mother to join SD3, before coming back for another couple of days and celebrating B1's 21st birthday. One day at a time. They say all things pass.