Tuesday, 22 June 2010


All is not well at Casa Persiflage. We have been invaded. Evidently rats have been visiting us. Shades of 1984 and Room 101. I have never had rats before, although years ago we had periodic invasions of field mice, which we managed to overcome by means of cats and traps. But RATS! Sheer horror  filled my innermost and sensitive soul.

One morning last week I came downstairs to find a loaf of raisin bread had been gnawed - plastic bag, and all. The next night there were pieces of the lid of a plastic container scattered about the bench, and there were further attempts the following nights. I taped up a gap in the laundry wall, where the hot water pipe goes through, but the invasions continued. Dr P and I, united in fear and loathing, agreed that a pest exterminator must be summonsed forthwith, and forthwith turned out to be yesterday. I was away for the weekend, but on my return found rat droppings on the stairs and in various other places. Erk! While away, I bought more plastic storage containers and glass jars, and spent yesterday morning making sure that nothing in the pantry could be got at by moths, cockroaches, mice, rats, or by any other creature or beastie. I tell you, the wildlife in this city is extremely varied, not very lovable, and evidently came across with the First Fleet.

When the rat man came, it turned out that this house lacks a manhole (but evidently not a rat hole) and he could not work out where the rats were managing to enter. So, at further expense, he laid a bait trap, which is sitting behind the dishwasher, and we are to wait and see. This morning I found more rat droppings. All of this aroused even more feverish hunting for means of ingress. Late this afternoon I discovered that Dr P's wheat bag was full of chewed holes and that there was wheat scattered about. The bag was made of heavy fabric, and it is not pleasant  to think of those teeth at work. Into the bin with the wheat bag!

This afternoon, while relentlessly and anxiously prowling around the house, it suddenly occurred to me to check the surrounds of the flue of the wood heater, which we have never used.  Yes! Yet another of the slapdash, careless and inexpert tradesmen who built this house had cut out an oversize hole for the flue,  and there was enough space there for creatures to get in - and (I hope) out.

I got to work again with the duct tape, and hope that no more evil creatures will get in. Then I will hire someone to come and seal off these holes permanently. Avaunt, you blind and malign fates.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

A litany of being and doing

When I arose yesterday morning it was in the expectation that it would be a nice clear day during which I could get done everything I needed to. Ha! Caring, bureaucracy and the filling out of forms is my lot in life.

It was unexpectedly such a busy day. We started rather late, and then Dr P needed help with his showering and toilet. While we were thus engaged a person appeared at the bathroom door. Yes, it was V, SD1, and No, she did not ring first, or knock, she just came inside and upstairs to the bathroom to see her naked father being cared for. I stared! "What's the matter", she asked? She's really sensitive!

Yesterday I told V that I wanted to go to Canberra for the weekend, and could they take over his care? Nice to be told, she said, so I replied I was telling her now, and that if they could not help, I would cancel the trip. Due to a regrettable propensity not to be able to think quickly when put upon the spot, I missed the opportunity to point out that she could not have been told sooner, as she'd gone off for a long weekend at the beach. Half her luck. We then had a discussion about my possible trip later this year. Dr P was extremely forgetful while V was here - I fear that such days are becoming more frequent. Aging can be a very sad process. More and more I miss the man I married.

We need to get a resident parking permit. As Dr P gave his car to his grandson and surrendered his licence, in order to get this permit he needs not only to supply the Council with a copy of his rates notice (I mean, the Council ISSUES the rates notices, you'd think their computer system could match all these things up) but also must make a statutory declaration to say that the household car is owned by me, his wife, and I live here too. They also require a copy of the current registration documents for the car. The statutory declaration needs to be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace. So commenced the search for a local JP, bearing in mind that it needs to be close and easily accessible for Dr P. JPs are not listed in the telephone directory any more, and the Internet proved of little help. However I did discover that you can ring the Attorney-General's Department to get information. I was given names and telephone numbers but no addresses and most of those names were not in the directory. I then found a more extensive listing, but still without addresses. Rather than go into the highways and byways, calling loudly for a JP, I did the sensible thing and rang the office of our local MP. I now know where and when to go. The staff member was wonderfully helpful, and also suggested, when I told her of the burden of all the information we have to provide, and Dr P's relative lack of forms of ID, that we get the ID available from the Roads and Traffic Authority. So we will do that - next week. Apparently identity fraud is rife, and thus, they say, all these questions, forms and pieces of evidence are necessary. Although I still think some of them could be omitted.

All of this took a long time. It was 2.30 before I set out to do the shopping, and called in to the Centrelink Office for an Information Pack. The staff member was very helpful. The butcher asked me how had my day been. I smiled and said, "Not as planned".  He laughed and said, "There's always tomorrow." "Yes" I said, "That's part of the problem."

Late last night I wrote my Italian homework. Strangely enough, it was reasonably free of errors. Well into the small hours last night, despite my being so tired, sleep did not come. I lay awake for hours, while the traffic continued, young men rode skateboards along the road, talking loudly, and causing a neighbouring dog to wake and bark for ages in protest (quite understandable, I was tempted to bark myself), then Dr P set off his panic alarm button, the phone rang and I had to check his well-being.  It is amazing how well you can function, at least for a short time, on about three hours sleep.

As usual it was a great class. I was in no great hurry to get home afterwards as SD2, the WSD arrived today for a high-powered conference. She and her sister came here for lunch and unfortunately were still here when I returned. Very little conversational interchange occurred.

I have to say that all the Aged Care people have been terrific, very helpful, prompt and very useful. So too was Centrelink, and my local MP's office staff. I am most impressed. When I read day after day of the manifold deficiencies of the government and the administration, I get rather sick of all the whinging done by the newspapers and others. Some appreciation of what government does for people would not go amiss. I sometimes wonder, with all the complaints and criticisms, whether they all want a dictatorship. It bears remembering that when many of the services we now expect as our right were enacted, there was bitter opposition from the conservative parties, who loudly proclaimed that the sky would fall in, the economy would be ruined, and that the unworthy would unfairly benefit. For us, the provision of aged care services is a great help, as, like so many others, we do not have a great deal of family support here. I do not live near my family, and of Dr P's four daughters, only one lives in Australia, and her support is not an unalloyed joy or blessing.

My lovely son and I talked last night, and he cheered me up considerably. On Friday I will be OUT OF HERE. My step-family can have their father all to themselves. There will be no step-daughters around. Instead, children, two of my very own. And grandchildren, two thirds of them. Friends. Peace, tranquillity, sympathy. Blessed relief! And probably extremely cold weather.

Good things happened today. The baby of my nephew and his wife was born, a boy, amid great rejoicing. My sister is beside herself with joy and excitement. This is her first grandson.

Monday, 14 June 2010

At weekends the pace of life slows somewhat – not that my life is as busy as in the days when the family was young, and I worked, but, as they say, work expands to fill the time (and energy) available. Dr P was about to run out of one of his medicines, and instead of telling me this on Saturday, he waited until Sunday, when our chemist is closed, and because of today's public holiday, I had to go further afield. My little expedition included a gentle stroll to the local shops, the St Vincent de Paul shop and the second-hand market.

Vinnies has lots of cheap books, and is worth visiting regularly. It is mostly very popular fiction, but it is surprising what is to be found – sometimes quite old books turn up, there is a scattering of biographies, some old travel books, and this and that. I picked up an Anne Tyler book, and went on to the market, where there are lots of stalls with books. Two more books leapt into my hands, one a Spanish grammar, just in case I manage to do a bit of study before going away later this year (fingers crossed and all going well)  and the other, found while browsing through the offerings of one of the larger stalls, on  LM Montgomery and the Anne of Green Gables books. It is lovely. As I paid for it I talked to the stall-holder, who has a bookshop in another suburb, about children’s books, reading, and the delights of finding books for children. Such casual, and almost accidental conversations add such joy and interest to life. All of a sudden things of common interest are discovered, and there is a meeting of minds.

The market is always very crowded, and since the completion of a new playground at the school, all the little kids have lots of fun on the equipment. 

Looking at the array of goods on sale at the market made me think of our lives, the passage of time, and of our mortality. Where did all these goods come from? There are old clothes, shoes, toys, books, old and new jewellery, china, silver and glassware, ornaments, rugs, cloths and embroidered doileys, new socks, old furniture, mirrors, Indian jewellery and very smelly incense, wools, cotton and buttons, old magazines, prints, photos and posters, plants and flowers, and food. There was an old National Geographic, from 1935, which featured Italy and its then colonial possession Eritrea. Where has this magazine been all these years? How did it come to be on sale? Did anyone buy it?

Does all this stuff come from regular house-cleaning and tidying, moving house, from the elderly having to move into aged care accommodation, or from the distribution of possessions of those who have died? How many objects come from what is left over from bequests and inheritance, categorised as stuff nobody (in their rights minds) would want. But you can’t just throw it all away, you can hear people think, someone might want or need it.

Then my mind turns to what will happen to all my things when I die. Will my children want any or all of them? Would they have room for them? There has been a bit of sighing and rolling of eyes when I have mentioned this subject in the past. There ensue careful explanations of how tastes change (ie, would not want any of this lot)  or laughing rebukes about not being so pathetic, Mum. 

Yet I want my family to have my things, partly because there are many lovely things, and partly, I suppose, because of the fear of the extinction not only of my mind and body, but also of the memory of me. I want  my descendants to handle things which were mine, and for them to bring me to their memories. Those few things I own which came to me from my parents or grandparents are precious to me on that account. My father’s tub chair, which I have had repaired and re-covered. My grandmother’s locket. Pearls which were my mother’s. The tablecloth my grandmother crocheted for me as a wedding present. A few embroidered pieces of linen. Books which were owned by my father. A standard lamp. And there are also a table and a sideboard which I bought from my inheritance.

Of course, if no one likes any of these things, they can be sold, or given away, and I will never know. What you don't know does not hurt you, so they say, although many of us have real difficulty believing this adage. It is hard not to imagine our spirits keeping an eye on what goes on in the land of the living, and thus being distracted from heavenly bliss, purgatory or whatever. Surely there is some shrieking from above not to get rid of this or that precious object. As well as helpful advice and comfort.

In the meantime I am doing some cleaning out of Dr P's study. (He has the power of veto.) All his old family photos (ie pre-me) have now been gathered together and put into a plastic box, so that at any time he and his children can have a look. My own photos are mostly in albums, and today I rediscovered photos from my childhood. My older sister and I had given each other copies of whatever we had - I am so glad that we did this. It was a bitter-sweet experience to see them again today.

This week I watched a programme about a National Trust historic house in the UK – Calke Abbey. It is preserved as a rather decrepit property, because nothing in this house was ever mended, repaired, or thrown away. The house is absolutely full of things. You wonder how they lived. It is preserved now because it is part of the history of the family and of the nation. The National Trust has not followed its usual policy of  repairing, as Calke Abbey does not fit the usual pattern of grand historic houses, dripping with wealth, luxury and self-indulgence. For example, a statue of a dog had a damaged leg, and was propped up on a matchbox. The matchbox was thrown away, and an identical matchbox had to be found and put in situ. You cannot be too accurate!

As a person who is passionate about the study of history, I want to keep learning as much as possible, and I want future generations to know the past, ours and that of other peoples, to know how we lived, what we thought, what happened in our times, to know our problems, our faults and virtues. To preserve our humanity. To preserve knowledge, and understanding.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

New ways of frittering away spare time

When I travel to my classes and lectures I go by bus. Today the time spent on the bus was longer than usual, because the bus, and all other traffic was held up by a march and demonstration by workers and unionists in favour of equal pay for women. While equal pay generally applies, there are many jobs predominantly done by women. Their wages are significantly lower than those paid for male-dominated jobs. These workers have a good case. Many of their jobs involve caring - for children, for disabled or for others. Our society needs such people - but nonetheless does not pay them well.

The march took me back to when I first joined the workforce, when female rates were much lower than male rates. The rationale was that men supported their families - although women supporting families somehow were never paid the male rate. After my graduation I joined the public service, working in the National Library, where the majority of librarians were female, but the senior positions were generally held by men. Married women could not be permanent employees, nor belong to the superannuation scheme. Equal pay was brought in by the ALP government elected in 1972, and permanency for married women was brought in sometime later. Of course, many jobs are now no longer permanent. I worked part time for years, and could not join the superannuation scheme until I worked full time, and as a result my superannuation is not enough to live on independently. There are still many people whose lives were greatly affected by the mores and the discriminatory laws of the past.

My spirits improved along with the weather. The sun has been shining. But it is cold now, even in Sydney. Winter is really here now, and last night, for the first time in years, I wore pajamas to bed. This was not a pretty sight, nor a good idea. The pajamas were a gift from an airline, of the one size fits all variety, and whoever designed them evidently failed Elementary Fashion Design. The pajama experiment will not be tried again, because the legs roll up to the knee, and this is uncomfortable. I can think of better things to do in bed than to yank down the pajamas legs from knee to ankle. Yes, OK. I was actually thinking about sleep.

While selecting the pajamas from the dim recesses of drawers which are full of old clothes which are never worn but which might come in handy some time, I came across some silk pajamas which originally I bought for hospital when I had surgery for breast cancer. These silk pajamas will probably go to Vinnies now, as they do not fit me any more. Back to the light cotton nightie.

Dr P had a doctor's appointment this week for his Vitamin B12 injection. Getting him there and back is almost fit stuff for a documentary. While we were there I asked our nice GP whether it was appropriate to apply for a Carer's Allowance. This pays a small fortnightly sum to the carer. He agreed it was. Having downloaded the form, of over 20 pages, I sat down to fill it in.

The questions they ask! Other than those providing details about the extent and level of care needed, they want to know whether you are Australian born or not, and all sorts of other things, the necessity and relevance of which are questionable. Dr P was born in Austria. His family was Italian, but his mother went to Vienna for the birth. The form requires you to list all countries which the person for whom you are caring ever lived in. Now I have no idea how long Dr P was in Austria before his mother returned home with him. Probably several weeks at most. She is long dead, he was a baby. No one else knows. They would all be dead too. Then they want to know the date he arrived in Australia. He knows the year, but not the day or the month. He cannot remember, and it is the least of the things he can no longer remember. It is more than 70 years ago. Who cares? They want to know the airline or the name of the ship on which they travelled! They also require you to list the countries outside Australia to which you, or the person being cared for have travelled for short trips. For goodness sakes!

Many years ago there was a proposal to create a system of national identity card. This was seen by the then Glorious Opposition (since returned as another possibly less glorious opposition) as a fundamental breach of and invasion of our liberties and right to privacy. If I remember rightly, the bill never came into effect because the Senate had the power to disallow the regulation fixing the commencement date of the legislation. It was careless drafting, and since then the commencement date of legislation is part of the act. So what happened? We do not have an ID card, and by default the driver's licence has become, to all intents and purposes, an ID card. But not everyone has one.

Dr P surrendered his licence last year. His passport lapsed some years ago. I cannot find a copy of his birth certificate. The only forms of ID that he has are his Tax Assessment notice, and his naturalisation certificate. Thank heavens. But what happens to the elderly, to those who do not drive, or who have no passport?

Now you would think that in these days of data sharing, computers and the like, that if they did really did need such information, they could check the tax records and the births, deaths and marriages, files, etcetera. Government departments routinely do data matching on the passengers on all sorts of things, including airline flights in and out of Australia, to pick up travelling patterns and coincidences, so why am I required to spend all this time providing information about myself and my 86 year old husband who is an frail aged person requiring much care? I am tempted to contact my local MP about this, if I can summon up the energy after filling out the form and seeing the doctor again to get him to complete the form for the medical report.

Tomorrow we will be visited by someone from the Aged Care Provider. Unfortunately, Dr P took the phone call making the appointment and although he noted down the date and time, he cannot remember the purpose of the visit. We have had a physiotherapist visit, but Dr P is reluctant to do the recommended exercises.

At the end of next week J1, (SD 2, the Wicked Step Daughter) will be visiting. They can all play Happy Families. I hope to go to Canberra and thus we can all avoid each other's contaminating presence. My breast can fill with parental and grandparental fervour, and there are all sorts of enjoyable things to do there.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Not exactly scintillating

It has not been a good week. All sorts of things have made me angry and miserable. Memories of my past pound at me incessantly, and are difficult to banish. Everything that happened last week gave me a bad reaction, and it feels as though I surface to gasp for for a little air, but to no avail. Perhaps I let myself sink into these memories and reactions. Consciously, I do not want to. Maybe I have a very stubborn and relentless subconscious. I hate feeling like this. I want to cheer up.

A physiotherapist came last week and tested Dr P, and told him to do a couple of simple exercises. Surprise, surprise, Dr P is not doing them. I tell him if he does not do them he will be in the old people's home before he knows it. Prospects of present pain are evidently more powerful than a dire and dismal future. I hate feeling that I am nagging, and that I am almost required to nag. The physiotherapist will be here again early tomorrow morning, to assess Dr P's getting out of bed.

Dr P's blood tests show he has deficiencies of both Vitamin D and B12.

Having to repeat everything about four times gets very tedious.

By what strange quirk does it happen that Dr P remembers that that a timer bell has gone off, tells me so twice, but forgets my reply?

There was an influx of Dr P's family this weekend. One of the overseas daughters was here for the weekend, and her sister and family came to visit too. Such visits give me even more things to brood about.

It was my daughter's birthday on Sunday. Yet again I was not there to help her celebrate.

My brother has prostate cancer. It is apparently low grade.

My older sister M, the one with dementia, rang me up to wish me a happy birthday. She sounded quite cheerful and lucid, but my birthday is not for another month, just before hers. Does she think hers is in another few days, I wonder?

Sister 3, A, is waiting to become a grandmother, and is both anxious and excited. She will assist with the labour. The baby is due tomorrow. It is apparently a large baby. I am crocheting a cot blanket, which won't be ready in time, and indeed, I am not sure that it is the sort of thing my niece-in-law likes. I will send a photo so they can decide, and if they don't like it I will put it aside for someone else.

It rained for most of the week. While this is a Good Thing, and we need the rain, the dams need more water, etc, the absence of sunlight keeps the spirits low. Just ask the Swedes. The back door swells with the water, despite having been fixed, and we cannot use it.

God give me patience, I cry, but so far it has not arrived. I need to get out my bottle of blessings, and count them.