Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Death Notices: Vale Audrey Oldfield

From time to time, as I browse through the newspaper, I look at the Death Notices. Not because I am expecting to see names I know, as, being relatively new to this city, I don't know many people. However, as part of my fascination with language and its usage, I began to note how infrequently the occurrences were of 'Death' and 'died'. These days people pass away or pass away peacefully. Or birth and death dates are given, without any actual specifying of the death.

Yesterday as I browsed, one name stood out. The death notice was that of Audrey Oldfield. She was a scholar and researcher, a member of the Australian Society of Authors and of Womens Electoral Lobby. She wrote a book on the history of the female franchise in Australia, Woman Suffrage in Australia: a Gift or a Struggle?  published in 1992 by Cambridge University Press, as part of a series entitled Studies in Australian History.It is an excellent piece of work. I own a copy, which I pulled out to have another good browse through it.  She dedicated the work, I discovered, to her grandchildren, in these terms: "A generation which will learn that their mothers, as well as their fathers, made Australian history".

Of course, the female franchise is a fascinating subject, as are most aspects of the struggle for equal rights for women. When I consider the manifold and numerous injustices and inequities perpetrated against women, I still seethe and rage. Women in the English legal system had no legal existence, and thus the very notion of their being able to vote seemed a contradiction in terms, a great nonsense and an appalling and outrageous attempt to overturn divinely ordained and eternal prescriptions.

Oldfield gives a concise and comprehensive history of the condition of women in Britain, the USA and Australia, the development of theories about women's rights, from Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, the American feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott before moving on to the Australian colonies from the granting of self-government and then to the federation of Australia, which came into effect in 1901. Section 41 of the Australian Constitution provides that no person entitled to the vote in any of the states may be deprived of that right in federal elections. Because South Australia and Western Australia had legislated to give women the vote, women could not be deprived of their vote in elections for the Commonwealth Parliament.  The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 established a uniform franchise for Commonwealth elections. Thus women obtained the vote, although Aboriginal natives of Australia, Asia, Africa, India (but not New Zealand) were excluded, a dreadful injustice not rectified until very many years later. Oldfield disputes the notion that Australian women were granted the vote as a gift rather than through significant and intensive arguments and campaigning - although she notes that in one way the female franchise was a gift as of course women had no power to enact it themselves.

Having done quite a lot of work on Australian electoral history and law during my working life, I feel very strongly about the fundamental importance of a fair and honest electoral system. By and large we have such a system, and we are very fortunate. Such equity has not come about by chance, and it is important that we celebrate, treasure and preserve it.

We owe gratitude and thanks to such scholars as Audrey Oldfield for her work in this area, and accordingly I pay her my small tribute.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Sorting out lives and getting things done

If only! How much easier it is to sort out life when that particular stage is well and truly over. However, it really is a matter of thinking 'If only I had done this, or that, things would have been different/better.' Whatever.

I would like to think I can manage my life better these days, now that I am somewhat older than 59a (thanks Isabelle, you youngster over yonder) but such improvements are faltering, few, and on the fringes rather than on the central issues.

As I am, perforce, having to be more active and decisive, perhaps it will be possible to convince myself that the worm has turned, that intelligent decisions will be made, and that my cringing and non-assertive aspects of personality will wither away, allowing a transformation to shine forth and bloom.

Before I went away, I issued a general directive to the dearest and the nearest. 'Sack the cleaners' I said. I was not happy with their cleaning, and they had cut corners and ignored past requests to do this, that or the other. On my return this injunction had been avoided. You might think that the powerful personality of Dr P would happily have taken action, but No. He did not feel he could do it.

So it was up to me. My stomach heaved and my heart pounded as my mind rehearsed the action: how to phrase it, what reasons to give, whether I could bring myself to do it. Surely Dr P would and could do this little thing for me, the darling of his life, his wife, lover, friend and carer? After all, said my suddenly burbling subconscious, he's  the Man, and Men are supposed to do this sort of thing. Not little, feeble, helpless women. (What a pathetic subconscious you are, I told it, to be giving in to untold centuries of conditioning like this.) My stomach still heaved away, but as the cleaners were leaving, I seized the bull by the horns, bit the bullet, put my shoulder to the wheel, to coin a phrase and put it in a nutshell, as they say in the classics, and told them that we did not want them to work for us any more, as Dr P is not well, and I had to make all sorts of arrangements.

All this made me feel bad, but also good. It has been done.

Now all I have to do is find new cleaners, get them to come for longer and on a day that suits me. The other major task is to get home based respite care organised. I began trying yesterday but there are (inevitably) other people to telephone, and I need a good amount of time to get all this done. I cannot do it while Dr P is up and around and needing attention and help. It is necessary to have peace and quiet, and to be organised in my thoughts. The bureaucracy and the policies seem very complicated, and I have to take notes, and try to remember who said what. It all makes me feel my own powers are failing, and certainly my memory is not that good any more, and we need me to do this well and effectively. Tomorrow I intend to arrange for the commercial agency which provided the carer during my trip to provide care twice a week in the interim.

Yesterday I went to one of the Italian classes, having got Dr P up, showered, dressed and fed before leaving the house. Although it was choir practice night, I decided not to go, and also did not go to the other Italian class this morning, but did go to the art history lecture. the other thing I did was to get a new head (?) for Dr P's electric razor. His shaving had become a one-sided affair, and when I looked at the shaver, discovered that there was a big hole. When I got home I had to put it all together, and clean it out, and then help with the shaving. This was a multi-skilling experience I could have done without. Friends then called around, and then the day was done. Dr P has gone for a sleep, and I am wondering whether to feed myself, or whether to just quietly starve over a glass or two of red wine.....

Maybe I will have some prosciutto and canteloupe with the wine. I decided, after eating lots of Spanish jamon that Italian prosciutto is the better product. See how travel educates and broadens the mind, not to mention the palate?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

What jet lag does to you

It makes you sleep until 10.15 am, that's what, and the very next minute the telephone rings and it is the receptionist from your physiotherapist, who wonders why you have not arrived for your 10 am appointment. Oh dear.

So here I am back home again, hanging on the the memories, and trying to sort out the jumble of places and images of the three weeks in Spain.

The return flight takes so long that arriving is a true deliverance. The last flight was foul, on an older plane, with incredibly uncomfortable seats, and nowhere to stow my stuff. And this was business class, so I hate to think of the discomforts suffered in economy class. On arrival I was hanging on to the last shreds of a capacity to cope, and it was so good to get home.

Having said that, and despite a happy reunion, reality immediately bashed me in the face.

It is almost 3 am and I was awakened by Dr P, who was rummaging around in the bathroom and looking for orange juice in his bar fridge, for about half an hour. I got him back to bed. He is asleep, but I am awake, with my mind tossing and turning, and wondering how to manage this next stage of life.

Dr P was very glad to see me, very clingy, and very needy too. Everything was evidently managed well during my absence, by the combination of my eldest stepdaughter and her son, and the 3rd stepdaughter, J2, who works in Indonesia. She and her partner took off early next morning for a 6 weeks holiday in South America, and I have seen SD1 only for several minutes when she arrived to take them to the airport, which means that there has been no opportunity for any sort of review (I almost wrote de-briefing - horrid term). The carer I had engaged to come in and help with showering and dressing, and other help as required, finished the day of my return. I gather she 'babied' him a bit, as she is used to severe cases of dementia, but it seems that she looked after him well, and saved his daughters and grandson from having to do the more intimate care. Really though, he just wants me.

My own observations, on this third night at home, is that there has been quite a deterioration in Dr P's condition. He is much more feeble, much less mobile, extremely forgetful, and his concentration is worse. Fortunately he is biddable - that sounds awful, and as though it refers to a very young child. However he has always had a very strong and forceful personality, and, to put it mildly and kindly, was never very amenable to persuasion. Now I am having to tell him what to do and what is going to happen. It does not come easily to me, but I am getting accustomed to it. And I find it so desperately sad, to see this deterioration in a person of such strength and formidable intellect and personality. It must be ghastly to have the actual experience, although in some ways he seems not to be very aware of it. Since the Aged Care Assessment was done in May, the change has become quite rapid.

I must now reactivate the Aged Care Assessment process, and try to get urgent home based respite care. We do have an entitlement, but I think this needs to be made an urgent case. If this is possible, of course. While this takes place, I will call the agency who provided the carer during my absence, to continue the care for the days when I go to my classes. That would enable me to get out of the house punctually and not to have to worry too much.

I do not think there will be much help forthcoming from my eldest step-daughter, although one can always hope. She and her family will be away for six weeks from Christmas, and we have no other support available, other than a couple of friends who might call in from time to time.

While Dr P sleeps for much of the day, and has a Panic Button to press for emergencies, there is still the worry that he might fall. He apparently had one fall while I was away. If he falls, it would be difficult for me to get him to his feet, as he is a very big and heavy man, and I am small.  This is a real worry.

All the experts say it is important to 'lead your own life', and this is certainly true. What is also true is that things will become progressively more difficult.

Time to try and get some sleep.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Almost on the way

Here I sit at Barcelona airport at a proper computer, rather than the iPod which has been my electronic connection to far far away for the last three weeks. It is a relief to be able to use more than one finger to type, and to see a whole line at a time, and to know how to correct mistakes.

As our group left the hotel dark and early this morning, I exchanged email addresses with one of the group. Now the iPod has this clever trick of guessing what you mean, so that errors can readily be fixed. Not having worked out how to reject suggestions, I had a lot of trouble enetering ´wa´which the iPod insisted meant ´way´.

Will any of the group meet each other again? It was a interesting and pleasant group, and conversation, and laughter never flagged, despite the tiredness which afflcted us, and the travelling respiratory germ. This travelled around the group, and once within a body, it hunted around for vulnerable parts. Mine is lingering a little, but I had only one rather miserable day, most of which was spent on a bus, which doubtless helped in the general transmission.

Enough of germs.

We spent our last night at a guitar recital in a gorgeous concert hall, lavishly decorated with horses plunging from the sides out towards the audience, an impressive organ, decorated frosted glass windows, and a general ornateness. We sat upstairs, on chairs, carefully arranged so that it was possible to see through the gaps. The guitarist played all the lovely Spanish guitar music, and finished with a melange or medley, selected, almost, it seemed at random, of the classical pieces, interspersed with the Beatles, the James Bond theme, Deep Purple, (I was sitting next to a relatively young member of the group who explained all the pop tunes to me) and numerous others, while the guitarist looked about him in a puzzled way as though searching through the ambient air for whatever he was really supposed to be doing. We all loved it, it was totally brilliant.

Then back to the hotel, to finish packing and to get as much sleep as possible before our early start.

Yesterday we went to the Picasso Museum. He is not an artist I am very fond of, but the early works were interesting and demonstrated his technical competence, and there was a fascinating exhibition of Picasso and Degas, comparing and contrasting their treatment of women washing, and dancing. We also saw Picasso's variations of Velazquez's Las Meninas, and these made me feel rather queasy. Seeing so many Velazquez paintings in Madrid was a wonderful experience.

Earlier we had visited Barcelona's Cathedral, which I loved, an austere Gothic building, immensely high, and with such old looking stones. There is a lovely cloister with a garden, fountain and a pond with a whole flock of geese. no one seems to know why there came to be geese kept here, but they are certainly a great attraction. They demand to be fed, with many aggressive honks and thrusting of heads towards the enarest hands.

It is time I had some food, so Adios. I hope that there will be a substantial Bienvenido on my return.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Has the microwave improved the quality of life?

Here I sit in the Barcelona hotel lounge, listening to the piano as I sit slowly typing with one finger, hoping all the while that I make fewer typing mistakes than in my last post. Five of us went out for dinner. This is always a gamble for the traveller, who can feel increasingly hapless and helpless as time goes by. Tonight two of us chose chicken, which tasted twice cooked, as well as inadequately reheated in the microwave. Whatever was done added nothing good to the quality of the food. Oh well.

We are all rather tired and almost ready to go home. This, surely, is bad. We have walked a lot and my body is protesting. I am developing blisters on my toes and my hip is sore. Too easily I get lost.

However, never let it be said that I am not having a good time. True, the weather is not wonderful. It is overcast but at least is not rainy. We spent some hours at the Museum of Catalan History. All very interesting, although cast in very general terms. Catalan is used extensively and it seems a mixture of Spanish and French, making it possible to guess quite a lot, but just as often I do not have a clue. And I wonder to what extent it benefits a nation and a people to split off from the rest of a country and, in a way, to fracture and break off from the whole. While I can sympathize with the desire to preserve ethnic origins and history, there are losses too, and the more extensive bonds and connections can be endangered and lost. Catalonia could probably survive, even prosper, as an independent nation, but I do think that wider ties, historical links, are important and should be valued. I know I speak as a citizen of a young country without severe divisions, but to me the preservation of a common history, language, literature and political ethics is immensely important.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


The end of the trip is rapidly approaching. Why does time seem to race at such an accelerated rate? It has been a busy day. We left Madrid at the crack of dawn, so it seemed, in order to catch a train from Atocha station for Barcelona. This is our last city so inevitably thoughts are beginning to turn homewards. Naturally none of us slept well last night and thus are not at our sparkling best.

Most of our time in Madrid was spent in galleries and so I have little sense of Madrid as a city, except that it is large and well laid out with wide streets and splendid parks. The streets are crowded and everyone enjoys the street night life. They all smoke much, and there seems to be more smoke than that created by the Great Fire of London. And nobody moves aside for anyone - you just have to get out of their way, while they head straight for you. How come they do not bump into each other all the time?

We had long days at the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum and El Prado, which were both amazing and fabulous places which fulfilled all my hopes and wishes. The Reina Sofia, where we saw Picasso's Guernica, was disappointing, as to my mind and tastes the art was greatly inferior to what we had seen in the previous two days.

After our early start and journey on the very fast train, which was great - and why can we not manage to build one on Australia - we were taken around Barcelona to see La Sagrada Familia, which is quite extraordinary and inspiring, and then to Guell Park, also fabulous, and then to look at various others including El Pedrero, an apartment building which apparently almost bankrupted its owners. It was amazing from the outside and from  its high and windswept rooftop, but it seemed to me to be a strange combination of Dr Who, Disney, Star Wars and other digitally created structures, and it was all in muddy ochre-ish shades. We saw the apartment, and by the time I got out I was almost writhing with distaste and unease. I hated it. By this stage, having been up since 5am, we were almost dead on our feet. Oh it is hard work being a tourist, and all those other tourists are pests and menaces, who insist on posing for their photos on the aisles of cathedrals or other places, where they get in the way of ordinary mortals.

As a major disadvantage of using an iPod to write blogs is the use of only one overly large finger, and the not knowing at any stage quite how to undo anything. So I stop asap, and crawl into my bed, rejoicing in the fact that I will not be doing any more handwashing.  Spain is wonderful, apart from the endemic smoking and the crowds, and the people are terrific. I would love to return .

Friday, 8 October 2010

Another parador in Segovia

It has been a long day from Salamanca to Segovia. Oscar, our Spanish driver, drove us for most of the day, stopping at Tordesillas, where Juana, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabel, who inherited the crown of Castil when Isabel died, lived for more than 40 years. She is supposed to have gone mad after the death of her husband, Philip the Fair, but he sounds like the sort of husband who would have driven any woman mad, well before he died. Poor Juana loved him desperately, but he screwed around something chronic, so they say. She travelled around Spain with his coffin, opening it frequently to gaze upon his corpse, for three years, and then was under virtual house arrest for the rest of her life. I´d like to know more about this unfortunate woman, but the books were all in Spanish.

Then we went to La Mota, an impregnable castle, where Cesare Borgia was imprisoned for some time before managing to bribe a guard to help him escape. He died in a minor skirmish not long after his escape. Having seen this castle, it became clear that other than by bribing someone, there was just no way out. We learned all about fearfully thick castle walls, and deep dry moats, so as to withstand cannon fire. Following that we inspected another even more impregnable castle at Coca. Learning more about the past, while keeping relatively abreast of current affairs and wars, really rams home the reality that people can be very violent indeed and seem to have relatively little reluctance or hesitation in slaughtering each other. Depressing, really!

Now we are in the parador at Segovia. this is another impressive hotel, with pool and spa, and FREE internet access without passwords. What bliss. There was an email from my daughter, which made me very happy, and I have been busy catching up with a few blogs, although regrettably do not have time to comment. The only disadvantage so far is that in this parador I do not have a double bed.
Tomorrow we see the Segovia cathedral (did I mention that I just love really old cathedrals?)  the Roman aqueduct, and something else, before setting off for Madrid, visiting El Escorial en route. Life is not all bad! It is time to duck off and change into a little something (actually the same little something as last night and the night before) in time for dinner at 8.30. Hola!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

From Salamanca

Alas, finding a computer is not an easy task. We are in  Salamanca at present but leave tomorrow for Segovia, then Madrid, and then Barcelona. We are staying in a parador, a Spanish government hotel, and this one is rather gorgeous, a large room, with a fabulous view of the old and new cathedrals and the city skyline, a luxurious bathroom with TWO washbasins, and a huge double bed.

All is well. The trip is about half over, and suddenly the days are starting to rush past. The group sets out in the morning for the day´s agenda, and then all too soon the time arrives when everything shuts for hours, and there is nothing to do except wander, get lost, or retreat to the hotel and write postcards, or perhaps make an effort to find those things which mysteriously disappear from the suitcase or the hotel room. Somehow I have managed to bring with me two hotel key cards, which fills me with guilt and embarrassment, but which must be an everyday occurrence for the hotel staff.

My Spanish is improving and I can understand a little more, order food, find toilets, and exchange elementary courtesies. My ear is getting used to the sound of it. Spain seems to be crawling with tourists of every nationality, but there are also signs of economic problems, with closed shops and lots of For Sale signs on houses. Apart from one grumpy and rude waitress, everyone has been pleasant, helpful, courteous and friendly, and so far, fortunately, we have felt very safe, apart from one attempted theft of a wallet from a back pocket.

We have travelled from Seville, Granada, Toledo, and now Salamanca, and seeing the countryside has been fascinating. It is a beautiful country, with a fascinating history. From my school days I read Spanish history and biography and have wanted to visit this country.

While I found the Moorish and Jewish sites and palaces beautiful and interesting, I am enjoying the Catholic churches far more, being much more familiar with the history, art and culture. The Moorish and Jewish architecture and decorative styles, while beautiful, are abstract, and convey no meaning to me other than aesthetic appreciation, but the Christian tradition, representational, and dynamic, is part of my history, upbringing, religious background and culture. They remain deeply significant to me. The building achievements are quite amazing. I wonder how people managed to build such high and complicated structures, and what the death and acident rate was for those working on the churches and cathedrals. Looking at the development and changes of artistic styles, and seeing how art was used to educate a largely illiterate population makes me think that much was lost when the paintings were removed, the stained glass smashed, and visual instruction replaced by the spoken word. And the written word, of course, but it is interesting how greatly in the last century with film and television people are returning to visual communications.

I have not managed to make many notes of the trip, being so tired by the end of the day that coherent thought and analysis are beyond me. We are all taking heaps of photographs, and I just hope that when I manage to get them on to my computer, I can remember what they all are.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

These feet are made for walking

Here I am in Spain, and having an excellent time, seeing places I have read about and studied for years. Already we have been thrrough a general strike into our hotel ,no less, and trying to follow the news in Spanish, and not succeeding very well.
The flight was exhausting, and we had a tedious wait in Barcelona. Computer and internet access has not been possible until today and emails to family naturally take precedence, but now that I have found out how to find the @ key, and worked out the foreign keyboard, as well as coping with all the funny Microsoft idiosyncracies, Once I get some more free time, I may yet get to write a post. As there are only three minutes left, and the dinner hour is upon me, so will save all my interesting and insightful comments until the next opportunity.
I am having a really good time.