Sunday, 30 May 2010

The joys of a cooking binge

Saturday was spent cooking and preparing for friends coming for dinner. There is something special about cooking for friends - so different from the routine question of what to cook for dinner each day, out of the fairly limited range of dishes that Dr P will eat. He eats ham, eggs, cheese, pureed soups, bread, fruits, frankfurts and sausages, and likes sweet things. He cannot cope with anything chewy. He is actually a sore trial to a dedicated cook, although to some extent he has been introduced to a more extensive range of recipes.

I often wonder how people get to be so fussy, and why so many of them do not grow out of it. There must be many books on the subject, mostly aimed at mothers who are doing their best to educate their reluctant offspring into accepting a variety of foods, but who probably almost go mad with boredom because of their children's refusal to even taste anything different. Unless, of course, that something is sweet.

My own children were not too bad, and naturally I take some credit for that - fair enough when you consider how much a mother is blamed for any of her children's shortcomings. My mother used to cook and puree vegetables for the baby of the day, and I used to think how revolting this seemed, and assumed that no self-respecting baby would accept it. But they did, and lived to tell the tale.

My first child was breastfed for nine months, and was started on solids when she was about four months old. The baby health sister was a very sensible woman, who advocated a very gradual introduction of solids, starting with rice cereal, and new foods and tastes were introduced one at a time - apple, pear, prunes, apricots. Egg yolks were introduced slowly, once a week, and then a couple of times a week, and egg whites were not introduced until much later. Food with lumps was accepted rather slowly. Nuts were not given before the age of two, to avoid allergies, or choking. However she knew she'd like icecream. We took her out one day when she was about six months old, and she saw a child with an icecream, and reached for it!

Much the same system was used for the second baby, who was somewhat fussier. Unfortunately I could not breastfeed her for very long, and she hated the bottle. Nor would she accept the bottle from anyone but me. She did not like egg, and by the time she was about 18 months old ate only a fairly limited range of food. The baby health sister - a different one - was horrified to learn she was still having a bottle, and recommended she be taken off it. So this was done, and at the same time her older sister's bottle was also removed. (There seemed no point in revealing this evidently shameful detail.) The fussiness did decrease gradually. Neither daughter was very keen on vegetables, but I myself was not convinced that vegetables were very nice. Seeing other young children eating salami, avocado, or other raw vegetables, in time I became more adventurous in my offerings.

It does seem that real hunger is a great incentive to try new foods, and I am always amazed when I see the frequent offering of food to children at all hours of the day, in the street, on the buses, the supermarkets, etcetera, apparently believing no child of theirs could possibly manage without food for a whole hour, and I wonder whether they ever get really hungry. However, it is a long time since I was a practising mother of small children, and what would I know now anyway, being now a mere grandmother! My son, who was the fussiest eater of the three, and who avoided vegetables with unconcealed dread and loathing, was transformed in his late teens, owing to relative poverty, and the maturing of his palate, into a non-fussy eater. Such maturing seems to happen in the late teens. Suddenly previously recalcitrant and stubbornly fussy eaters become willing to try Asian foods, strange vegetables, and before you know it, they are urging you to eat sushi with lashings of wasabi. Yes, it is true, this really happened.

My second grandson is a wonderful eater. If anyone was eating something different in front of him, he'd assume that he would like it, and would think it only fair that he should have his share. He'd try anything. His sister is not quite as good, but is still quite impressive. You have to catch her at the right moment though - if you miss that moment she goes off the boil, and requires the full range of sneaky and subtle grandmotherly techniques. (Yes, despite my lesser status, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.) But what is it with children, this horror of eating the crusts on bread? Do they really think that crusts are pure poison?

On Saturday night I cooked spinach soup, osso buco, saffron risotto, and pavlova with berries. All those present ate everything enthusiastically. No one turned up their noses, or said they hated spinach, or whatever. They even intimated they they would be happy to come again, and eat whatever was offered. It seems that fussiness is essentially a condition that afflicts little children. With rare exceptions.

Alas, my daily task is to cook for one such exception. But tonight he ate, without complaint and with evident appreciation, chicken with coriander leaves and Asian ingredients. There are more ways than one of killing a cat, and although you can't lead a horse to water and make it drink, you can play wily beguily with an adult.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Amazing deficiencies in retail world

Taking advantage of having to go to the city recently for a physiotherapy appointment, I did some shopping. Before proceeding to the all-important task of buying my granddaughter a birthday present, I did the rounds of the cosmetics counters. All I want is a purple lipstick. A really truly PURPLE lipstick!

Some years ago my needs for purple lipsticks were easily met. I had an expensive one and an el cheapo, artistically named Number 11, which cost about $3.00. The expensive one was discontinued, and the replacements did not look as good. The el cheapo continued to be available, but it was not sold at most pharmacies. Periodically I’d find a pharmacy which stocked the brand and the colour, and would replenish my supplies. The price increased to $5.00. A bargain!

And then disaster struck. Number 11 is still sold, BUT they have changed the colour into a not very interesting pinky mauve.

Never mind, I eventually thought, I will see if I can contact them on line, since I could not find them in the telephone directory. No luck there either. I am reduced to a stub of one lipstick, and about half a lipstick on another, and I do not know how I will cope when they are all used up.

In the course of my quest I have sampled quite a few related shades and colours, and alas, none is quite right. I have bought more el cheapo brands, and have had to discard most of them.

On the way to the children’s wear department, I weaved my way through all the cosmetics counters, seeking help, which turned out not to be helpful. I braved both expensive cosmetics brands and the cheaper, although not necessarily inferior varieties. Nothing. Niente, nada, nulla. There are reddy-purples, pinky purples, browny purples, mauvy purples, bleached looking mauves, but a good clear purple, midway between blue and red – not even a hint. Total cosmic void, total failure.

You would think that at least one firm could include such a colour, given that there are often between twenty and fifty possible shades and colours from which to choose. Where is the justice in this world? How does it happen that such simple feminine needs are excluded from the universe? Evidently purple is not for everyone. BUT IT SHOULD BE! Given that purple is very fashionable at present, the lack of matching lipsticks is both strange and sinister. It smacks of conspiracy.

I blame the colour-blind men who run cosmetics companies.

Here is my collection of failed purchases of lipsticks which are just not right. My perfect purple one is in the middle.

This photo should demonstrate the need for a real purple lipstick.

I made my way to the children’s wear department to find the birthday present. Finally, it seemed that success had crowned my efforts in the birthday present department. Pink was not the predominant colour. There was choice! I sent my granddaughter velour pants and a hooded top, in a most glorious shade of blue, and a purple long-sleeved top. But even here, things went a trifle wrong. Her mother had already bought her the exact same blue velour outfit, so the one I sent needed to be exchanged. Alas and woe.

I used to think I was a good shopper.

However, I did come home yesterday with a very fetching light purple woollen jumper, which went some way towards soothing my bruised and battered psyche. But the problem with the lipstick remains unresolved.

Monday, 10 May 2010


Last week we had an ACAT (Aged Care Assessment Team) visit. A very pleasant and intelligent young man interviewed Dr P and me about his overall condition, our needs, prospects and what services are available for us. The paperwork was completed and approvals given for access to various services, such as low care respite accommodation.

Despite his fairly extensive memory problems and his limited mobility, Dr P is doing well. He can subtract rapidly, and answered all questions accurately. He is not showing signs of dementia. I did not think he was, although there is occasional confusion, possibly mostly related to the memory failures. He must have felt fairly relaxed about the interview and assessment, as he admitted to a couple of problems and needs, and to wanting solutions for them. I had, at the last moment, wondered whether I should invite SD1 over to participate, but did not. This was the right decision. Dr P would probably have been less forthcoming if she had been present. Embarrassment in front of daughter was thus avoided, which is a good thing.

Apparently at present there are some hours available for home based respite care, so it may be possible to get someone to be in the house while I go to my regular activities. Whether or not Dr P will be happy about this when it comes to the crunch is perhaps debatable, but it is worth a try, and could well make him feel more secure when I am not home. Part of the value of all this is to be better prepared for our future, both psychologically and physically. I do not feel quite so alone and unsupported. There is little that needs to be done inside the house to make it easier physically for Dr P, as house modifications were made after his spinal surgery about five years ago, and then another couple of years ago. But if there is need, I can arrange for additional domestic support.

All this made me feel quite encouraged. Then on Friday Dr P had a medical appointment, and getting him there and back was difficult, and required plenty of time. Naturally, although there are many disabled parking spots close to hospitals, there are even more disabled people needing them. Lots of sick people are around, all day, every day. That is normal life, around there. I dropped Dr P off and parked the car. Even to get to the clinic was quite a long walk for Dr P. After the appointment he had to have a blood test. When we had finished at the hospital, I went to get the car, leaving Dr P on a bench outside. I had to wait to get into the small area where you can pick up people. People and cars are coming and going all the time. It is busy, and it takes time. As Dr P neither saw me arrive nor heard me toot, I had to get out of the car, go to him and help him to the car. I then got abused by a taxi driver, who thought he'd been kept waiting too long. It made me incandescent with rage, so I yelled back at him, wished him many bad things and called him a bastard.

We'd left the house at 9 am, and by this time it was midday. On the way home we stopped to do some food shopping. Dr P could not manage at all well, and got very shaky. This time, instead of abuse, there were many spontaneous offers of help from people, but I had to truncate the shopping and get Dr P home. He is sympathetic, and appreciative of all I do, but I still feel furious and think many bad thoughts.

Since I wrote this, Dr P today told me he cannot remember meeting me, or our marriage, or practically anything else about us. Nor can he remember the births of his children. I wonder whether these memory failures are temporary or permanent.

The weekend was quite pleasant. A friend returned early from her trip to New York. She came round for dinner on Saturday night. Then there followed the usual post-being-at-the-pub carousing outside. Blokes - why is it always blokes? shouting and singing football songs, in the very wee and small hours. I gnashed my teeth, and did my best to close my ears.

On Sunday I made quince jelly, and an orange and almond cake. It is enjoyable having a cooking binge. A more essential task was sorting out the myriad bits of paper which arrive, settle in one's house like fruit bats, and then - some at least - mysteriously disappear. I cannot find the things I needed, only things I do not need. How God doth conspire to fill my time. If the deity would only conspire to make me better organised in the first place I would truly give thanks.

One last thing. It was borne in on me by a comment that not everyone knows the meaning of the word furphy. The OED does not list it. It is regarded as a slang word, although to my mind it has passed beyond the realm of slang. It comes from the name of one of our noted authors, Joseph Furphy, who, under the nom de plume Tom Collins, wrote the early Australian classic Such is Life.

Furphy means a stupid rumour or a baseless and unfounded idea, something raised as a possibility or prospect, without there being any basis for it. This is from the ABC's Kel Richards:


I’ve spoken before on WordWatch about furphy – the Australia word for a false or unreliable rumour.

I remind you of all this now because of a new book that’s just been published

In the First World War the firm of J Furphy and Sons operated a foundry (in Shepparton, Victoria) from which they supplied a line of water carts to the Australian Army. These (inevitably) became the place where diggers gathered and gossiped. The name Furphy was prominently printed on the back of each water cart, and became the name for the unreliable gossip and rumours exchanged there. I remind you of all this now because of a new book that’s just been published called: Furphy: the Water Cart and the Word. The authors are John Barnes and Andrew Furphy. (The latter, I take it, being a descendent of the original Mr Furphy.) The book claims to challenge common misconceptions, and to give a (quote) “full and authentic account” of the making of the legendary water cart – and of the word it inspired.

Watching democracy

Dr P and I spent most of Friday watching the BBC World News report on the UK elections. Being political junkies from way back, with a combination of practice and theory, there is nothing like an election to get our blood stirring and the mind whirring. We always watch election days, despite having retired. It was, we thought, a good coverage, and it is always interesting to watch the workings of another country's democratic procedures and practices. By the end of the day's viewing everyone looked so tired, as they had been up all night, it seemed. Now negotiations are taking place between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. We await with interest, even though we are far, far away.

Electoral machinery and systems are always fascinating. I think Australia's systems are generally pretty good, and that our electoral machinery and administration are good and competent. I am a great supporter of compulsory voting. It does, I think, give people a sense of ownership of the political process and its results, and it leads to more of a consensus in the overall parameters of policy and administration. Major parties, and others hoping to increase their share of the vote, usually strive to avoid deep divisions in the body politic, and in Australia there is generally a popular acceptance of compulsory voting, as a civic duty. Our election days have something of a festive air to them. I know that some opponents of compulsory voting bleat on about the frightful assault on their freedom of expression by being compelled to vote, but I think this is such a furphy. There are plenty of restrictions on people's actions imposed by governments, they do not cause the heavens to fall in, and the benefits by far outweigh the disadvantages. (It would actually be easy administratively for provision to be made for genuine, rather than cannot-be-bothered voters, to register as a conscientious objector, and thus be exempt from the general public duty to vote.) When you consider the many years during which poor and ordinary people were (and still are, in many countries) deprived of any political representation and civil rights, and the lengthy and extensive struggle to achieve full adult franchise, it is appalling that some people are prepared to abandon such rights.

In countries with low voting turnouts, it is easy for the interests of the non-voters to be excluded from the political agenda. They can safely be ignored. This has been the case in the USA. Turnout in non-Presidential election years hovers around 50 per cent, I believe. Apparently turnout was quite high in the UK for this election, from which I gather that there had been a decline in the last ten years or so.

My preferred voting system would insist on compulsory voting, with optional preferential voting. Australian federal elections and some states have full preferential voting (NSW and Queensland have optional preferential voting). Preferential voting was introduced to maximise the vote of the conservative parties, and being able to transfer the full effect of a vote to another party gives that voter two bites of the cherry, and is in effect a weighted vote.

Other virtues of our electoral system include compulsory enrolment and regular updating of the electoral rolls, and regular redistribution of electorates, with a requirement that there be permitted only very small deviations from the electoral quota.

I hope that there is no rushing into the adoption of a proportional representation system, and that there is a careful examination of how PR works in other countries. The Netherlands, Belgium and Israel, for example. Small parties advocate PR, as it would increase their influence, and of course, larger parties are not so keen, for the same reason. Self-interest should not override the general welfare, or promote special advantages. It is an important principle that any electoral system should be balanced in its effects,and that the representation, or seats won, should be in proportion to the number of the votes cast for them.

Best of British luck to them all over there.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Glory days of yore. And it's a boy!

The saga of the buttons surely deserves to be recorded in full. I managed to get some more mauve buttons while in Melbourne, thanks to the combined efforts of daughter and sister, in driving me around. Once home, I discovered what should have been slightly more obvious, that the buttons were too large for the buttonholes. There is now a surplus of over-large mauve buttons in the house. Off to search for buttons yet again. It is amazing that finding small mauve buttons can be so difficult.

Finally I found some at Lincraft yesterday, and sat upon my couch, full of resolution and determination. Replacing buttons is not a quick job, but I sat patiently, sewing diligently, and managed to sew on four buttons. Then along came Joe, aka Dr P, who had more important things in mind for me to do, which meant that all I'd mentally scheduled to be done before choir did not in fact get done. Button sewing on will be resumed shortly.

In yet another fit of zeal I thought I might have a go at the new sewing machine, and use up a piece of fabric and make a cushion cover. With a zip. I had bought a zip, something which should have been easy enough to do, she snorts, but the shop was out of zips of that particular size and colour, so yet another search expedition ensued, this time successful. When I went to find this zip, nonchalantly and carelessly dropped somewhere or other, it had disappeared. Woe is me. Now it will be necessary to hunt for it, doubtless meaning that there will be a BIG tidy-up.

Ever the grumbling philosopher, I used those futile searching minutes to reflect on the past, and how some things Have Changed For The Worse. Once upon a time most women sewed, knitted, crocheted, embroidered and mended. Haberdashery and fabric shops abounded. Large department stores like Myers and Buckleys had extensive fabric departments, and the choice was beautiful. There was certainly an excellent choice of buttons.

Slowly, things changed, while I was not watching closely. Then all of a sudden, fabric and haberdashery shops became endangered species. So did wool shops. Well, for me, that was not too bad, because, like the Egyptians of old, I used the good years to acquire and conserve some rather nice fabrics and lots of wools, mostly mohair, which is incredibly beautiful, but alas, hardly suited to the Sydney climate. At one stage I patronised wholesale fabric businesses, as I used to do a lot of silk painting. There are still many rather lovely fabrics waiting for a good outfit and a competent dressmaker, to adorn a body which has regrettably acquired too much flesh and lost much of its former - well, glory is too strong a word, but let me just describe it as having seen better days. Anyway, once the years of famine arrived, I was able to see them out comfortably, reassured by the existence of my surpluses.

I gradually stopped painting silk when I moved here. I'd lost my captive market of the workplace, and, being extremely non-entrepreneurial, was not up to trying to have stalls at local markets. Hand-painted silk is out of fashion now, and most of the dyes are past their use-by date. The frames have disintegrated. I had nowhere in this house to set up a workspace. The table was too small, and the sink and laundry troughs were made out of that horrid porous white plastic which absorbs even simple stains like tea leaves, necessitating the use of what advertisements disapprovingly describe as 'Harsh Cleaners'. Such as straight bleach. By the time I managed to replace the kitchen sink with a stainless steel one, it was rather too late to resume production. That sort of work needs to be done constantly, in order to maintain and improve skills, and to keep developing creativity. I loved doing it, but once Dr P came on the scene, even before I moved, it became more difficult. He'd want to watch TV while I painted. There I would be, delicately and dexterously painting in some fine detail, and just as I was about to put brush to fabric he'd say something in his loud voice, OR there would be the sound of gunshots or explosives from the TV. I'd jump, risking total artistic disaster. There was, shall I say, a certain incompatibility. A couple of rolls of silk still linger in the cupboards, and I have a few pieces of fabric which could be made into something or other. Except I never did manage to sew fine silk, the machine would always chew it up somehow.

There seems to have been a resurgence in crafts and sewing, but the variety of fabrics is not as extensive as in the past. Synthetics have replaced natural fibres, understandably enough, but I still love natural fibres, the cottons, silks, linens and woollens. They are so much more comfortable and beautiful. Synthetics are for bras, raincoats, and stretchy comfortable pants.

Today is my granddaughter's fifth birthday. If I were better organised, I would have bought fabric and pattern, and whipped her up a little something. Whipping up days occur but rarely, alas. Instead, she will probably have to make do with something made in China. I hope to find something in blue or purple. There are far too many clothes for girls made in nasty fabrics in lurid and unpleasant shades of pink and so I hope to go against the trend.

This morning I had a cortisone injection into my sore hip. Everyone who has had such an injection has described in gross detail its excruciating pain. But I was given a local anaesthetic, so mine was quite tolerable. It is apparently advisable to take things quietly for the rest of the day, so here I sit, instead of dashing off to the usual Thursday activities. Instead I did chores such as picking up a mended piece of footwear (a Croc? a plastic thing Dr P wears, which looks hideous), the drycleaning, a prescription, bread, and coffee.

Of course, writing all of this means that button-sewing-on has yet again been deferred. But I digress. Is there a genetic predisposition towards digression and delay, I wonder?

The recollection just blew into my mind that in the glory days of yore, I did not enjoy sewing very much. What was really depressing was that the more I sewed, the worse at it I became. After using a sleeve to cut out a missing piece of facing, I retired from the fray, bitterly reflecting that generally, the more you practise something, the better at it you get - eg, working, cooking, housekeeping, etc. When this does not happen, it gives one pause for thought. That blouse never did get finished.

News flash! The 11th grandchild of Sister 2, C, was born in England, at home after a 45 minute labour and 12 minutes after the midwife arrived. The first baby was also born at home after a labour of one hour. This baby is a healthy boy, named after his maternal grandfather. The gender balance has tilted slightly - 8 girls and now a third boy. We are all thrilled. The proud grandparents depart for the UK on Monday.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Dizzying moments

I have had dizziness three consecutive morning. The first time it was only for a few moments, as I arose from the floor after doing some exercises. The next day it lasted longer, but I recovered quickly. Yesterday was worse, and it took a couple of hours before I was able to stop clinging on to the furniture. This is not at all like me, and I feel somewhat indignant. My blood pressure is perfectly normal. The dizziness has diminished considerably, although I still feel woozy, and am creeping around rather carefully. Dr P is a bit concerned. We can't have both of us incapacitated. There is not much food in the house. We will have to use up whatever is in the freezer.

On Friday I'd intended to do the grocery shopping. Instead of whipping out early, I hung around because Dr P wanted to get his hair cut. However he has had a few bad days and nights with nerve pain in his leg, and did not feel up to an expedition. This has been happening more frequently, which is a worry. He is very stoical about it. I'd probably be writhing around moaning and groaning, but he doesn't. Just the occasional gasp, poor love.

So instead I did some ironing, and then went off to meet my friend M the bell-ringer at the Art Gallery for lunch. She told me all about her holiday with her family in Queensland, where they were to look at fossils and other pre-historic wonders, but instead, being near the Diamantina River and its catchment areas, they found themselves unable to get to practically anywhere because of the huge floods caused by torrential rain. Most roads were cut. These rivers, or their dry beds, flow through the dry centre of Australia, and eventually reach Lake Eyre in South Australia, which is about 15 metres below sea level, and is a desert. Aeons ago these rivers drained into the sea. Although Lake Eyre is a dry salt pan, it has had water in it temporarily in recent years, such as in February 2009. Travel companies are busy advertising trips to see Lake Eyre in flood, as well as all the bird life and the sudden flowering of the inland. I am so tempted to go! It may never happen again in my lifetime. To see some photos, go to

A BBC programme was re-broadcast here recently, Britain from Above, which was fascinating. I'd seen it before, but sat there riveted for each episode. All the footage from the air was fantastic. Even Dr P, a global-warming sceptic, was impressed by the sight of part of the coast of Norfolk being washed away at a very rapid, measurable and visible rate. One part of the programme discussed the huge floods which occurred not all that long ago (vague-speak for can't remember when and cannot be bothered to look it up). It made the point that so much of Britain is covered by houses, buildings, roads, carparks etc that natural drainage cannot happen as it did in the past. Here, we have a lot more space, but it is extraordinary to see the extent of the floodwaters when heavy rain does occur. We are not exactly complaining, as we have had such severe droughts. However, when we all visited Sister 1, M, in early March, there was extremely heavy rain that weekend, which washed away and damaged the railway track, as well as many concrete railways sleepers, waiting to be installed, which each weigh about 400kg, and this disrupted the return trip to Melbourne. The dams filled up overnight, and lots of fences were damaged as the water could not get through the foundations.

After our lunch, I went to the Archibald Prize exhibition, which, for some strange reason - on a Friday afternoon - was just packed. I squeezed my way through all the crowds, dodging from portrait to portrait, and found most of them disappointing. There is a great passion or fashion for huge heads, and it seems that very many artists work from photos. In my view it does not generally make for good art. The winner of the Archibald Prize, Sam Leach, also won the Wynne Prize, which is for landscapes, and his winning picture is substantially a copy of a work by a Dutch artist Adam Pynacker, with various details omitted. I happened to know this painting, as it was shown and discussed last year in the art history lectures I attend at the Galllery. Leach calls it 'referencing', and is open about this habit, but the description beside his painting seemed to me fairly coy about the copying and not truly open. Once the 'similarity' between the works was given publicity, there was a bit of a stink about it, but the judges decided not to change their decision!