Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Is this really me?

Having been to the dentist this afternoon, there is now a new me. Only in appearances, though. The dentist is quite pleased with himself. It has been quite fascinating observing his ability to make tiny modifications with relative insouciance and enormous expertise. It is good to be with someone who seems to know what he is doing. It may take me somewhat longer to get accustomed to my newish look. Is it better, is it worse, or is there no discernible difference? I am actually hoping no one notices until I am accustomed to it.

It has been a curious sort of day, hanging around for the appointment, and doing other things. I have trimmed the dead bits on the kaffir lime - those I can reach, that is, and I chopped and de-pipped the cumquats I picked the other day from the trees that grow at the other end of the street. Mostly the fruit is too high for me to reach, but what with this week's harvest and the contents of the freezer, there is enough to make another batch of cumquat marmalade.

I made an appointment to see the doctor so as to get all my prescriptions. And I made another appointment with the dermatologist, who removed my latest melanoma more than a year ago. Time for another check up.

Yesterday I had my breast check up. It takes a fair chunk out of the day, and a lot of sitting around waiting. The specialist seems very flat out, and told me he has done more surgery this year than in any past year. I asked was this due to population increase rather than to any increase in the incidence of breast cancer, and he said yes, it was. He was so busy that he had not had time to eat his plastic wrapped sandwich, so what did my hanging around for two hours signify? I must say that the mammogram was one of the least pleasant of my experience. I felt both squashed and stretched, and a bit bashed about. Normally it does not worry me at all, worse things happening at sea, etcetera, but perhaps the shrinkage in tissue resulting from the radiation therapy makes the whole thing a bit trickier.

The disparity in breast size now makes buying a bra a rather daunting process. I have been accustomed to buy bras in department stores, but these days the staff numbers are so reduced it is difficult to get expert help. One has to resort to unfair emotional pressure, otherwise, it would be necessary to get dressed again, ransack the stock displays, and in all probability come away either with nothing, or an unsatisfactory mistake. The previous time I went to Melbourne, my sister, the mother of the bride, took me to a Simone Perele outlet, and I actually found a bra which was flattering and which did not make me look lopsided. What a boost!

This morning I went out and bought a new printer, and I am now sookily sitting gazing at its box. I am afraid to unpack it and to investigate the mysteries of its wireless setup, and plugging it all in, and activating its software. Actually I am hoping the friends I am lunching with tomorrow will stop by and do all the hard stuff for me. They are kind friends, so my hopes are high. Otherwise I may have to wait until my daughter visits, and we can exchange babysitting for technical support.

In other news, the lawyer went to court today, and I am awaiting formal notification of what happened, but I think the other side now has eight weeks in which to respond. So I have eight weeks of fearing that what will emerge is a radical departure from facts. At this stage it is all faffing around, I think. My body does not feel as though it is all faffing around, so I hate to think how I will be when the real action starts.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Frittering away the day

Some days, despite firm intentions to the contrary, just go off on their own track. This can lead the frustrated day planner feeling not quite in control of life. And who to blame for being in this quandary? Why, who else but myself, of course.

It is time for me to go to the pharmacy and get my prescription filled. But first I must find the prescriptions. The organised person would have a place for everything, and everything in its place. But at this stage of my life, things are falling through the cracks, and the cracks sometimes seem to be widening into crevices. Today, and indeed yesterday, this seemed to be the case.

A month ago, the last time I got the prescriptions filled, I had to hunt for them and indeed went and asked the pharmacist whether I had left them there. I had not, and another hunt enabled me to find them.

Not so this weekend.

So I spent the day going through all the shelves in the eating area, and re-organising it totally, and chucking out some stuff while I was at it. But there were no prescriptions to be found. This means I have to go to the doctor for new prescriptions.

How can things just disappear? It must be wonderful to be a completely organised and tidy person.

Now I wonder whether, having re-organised and tidied it all, whether I will ever be able to find anything at all. Will it stay tidy?

I had intended to do some or all of the following things:

  • Go to the crochet clinic and sew up my almost completed jumper. This would have been soothing and productive.
  • Take myself to see a film. Escapism is good therapy.
  • Go and buy a new printer, to replace the one that went bung in some sort of power failure, that, naturally enough, the power company has no record of, and without such a record the contents insurance probably will not cover the replacement. This would have given a sense of achievement.
None of these got done. (But the house is better organised.) Is it not strange how suddenly one can decide that this or that possession can be discarded, that it has no further role in your life? Some things are contaminated by their associations, and must be discarded. They can be shucked off, but not so the memories.

Since my return from Melbourne, apart from the usual activities, I have been hard at work on my legal issues and the required documentation. After a session with the lawyer, it is as ready as it will ever be, and so will be at the court next week. It seems that this matter will continue well into next year, and although my resolve is fairly strong, the stress is difficult to cope with.

Dealing with such issues, and having had to go over every detail that I have recorded or can remember, has not been easy. Nor will it get less so. The combinations of bereavement, grief, aloneness, anger, resentment, and the constant summoning of resolve, wear me out, and cast me into profound sorrow and gloom. And, it must be admitted, self pity. That must be fought. Not all is dark and drear, and there are indeed many positives. Life may be re-made and re-fashioned according to our own choices. The past need not dictate the future.

It is six months since Dr P died, which feels like a landmark. While marking off the time in my head, I think constantly about our life together - the good parts, and the bad - so that I can accept the totality.

I feel relatively all right while I am out doing things and seeing people, and keeping busy, but not so good with the solitude, which only increases the feeling of needing to retreat from the world and hide myself away. I do what must and should be done, and am getting on with things.

All this is recharging of my batteries. How did we cope before the development of the concept of recharging?

On the positive side, I went to an excellent choral concert last night. Not all my time is spent maundering.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Somehow this post was deleted, who knows how....but look, here it is, back!

Mu niece's wedding

I went to Melbourne for my niece's wedding last Saturday. The wedding was not actually in Melbourne, but in a tiny town in the country which has no hotel or motel where out of town wedding guests could stay. Thus those who stayed overnight had to bed down elsewhere after a 40 minutes drive to a rather lavish hotel in a  bigger town. I stayed in the same room as my sisters. They shared a king sized bed, and I had the other one all to myself. In the morning, as I crept around trying not to disturb the soundly sleeping late night revellers, I could not find the light switch, and had a very hard time getting the taps to mix the water. Turns out the taps operated in different directions, so no wonder I was confused. I am not accustomed to such higher forms of technology.

The church was very pretty - rebuilt after being burned down. There is no longer a parish priest, so it seems, that after much angst, the Authorities agreed to allow the next best thing, a woman, to run the parish. But only after they had assured themselves that she was Sound. A priest cousin came along to perform the ceremony.

My niece, as well as being intelligent and delightful, is uncommonly beautiful, tall and elegant, and she looked gorgeous, and totally happy. Her dress was elegant and beautiful, and not strapless, which to my mind is a plus. She wore her great-grandmother's veil, which was found, after some rather frantic scrabbling around in wardrobes by other family members, cleaned, mended, and a comb fixed to fasten it to her hair. The three bridesmaids all wore short black dresses, one of which was strapless.

When my niece walked up the aisle, she was accompanied by both her father and her mother. It was beautiful, and there was therefore no sense of the bride being 'given away' from one owner to another. The groom looked handsome and very happy. Everyone rejoiced in this truly happy occasion. The reception was held in the local Mechanics Institute Hall, which is now a community centre.

Instead of a traditional wedding cake, the mother of the bride and another sister toiled long and hard to make many fudgy chocolate cakes. Little bride and groom dolls, from the groom's parents' wedding cake, were supposed to have arrived, but had been forgotten, so another sister and I dashed around the shops of her part of Melbourne trying to find such a decoration. We had no luck at all. Such a task needed a lot more warning. Finally we found a bakery which had sugar roses, so we bought those and they looked just beautiful. Evidently you need a lot more notice, and should go straight to a cake decorating supplies place.

By the time we all arrived back in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon my sister, the mother of the bride, was flaking out. She was exhausted from all her hard work and all the excitement, and had picked up an extremely horrid and scary germ, epiglottitis, and was really sick. She is starting to recover, but it was very nasty indeed.

I have been loading all my photos onto the computer and reliving this very happy day.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The civil society and in defence of politics

I am thinking constantly about my life,  my experiences, and my present need to work out my future by means of a legal challenge. Yet while these concerns absorb me by day and by night, in the scale of things they are trivial.

My mind is inexorably drawn to the wider world. The riots in England, the wars and rebellions in the Middle East, the famine inAfrica, the routine raping of women by soldiers so that the women are forever disgraced and outcast, even though their husbands know full well their wives did not deserve either the rape or the disgrace, and what seems to be the increasing breakdown in the civil society, and the abounding selfishness. School is just finishing as I write, and the daily litany of every second word being 'fuck' is resounding.

There was a demonstration outside Parliament House earlier this week, which seemed to be characterised by extreme intolerance, nastiness and abuse. 'Ditch the witch' - apparently considered preferable to 'Get rid of the bitch' or  'She should be dragged out to sea and abandoned' - another such recommendation.

How have we come to this? This awful sense that pride in our democratic system of government has disintegrated, this disrespect for the rights of others, for the virtues of tolerance, compassion, understanding and acceptance?

What can be done? The British Prime Minister and his cohorts talk of criminality, but without the context of the just and the civil society. The Murdoch empire has done its utmost to focus on triviality and has used horrific invasions of privacy, for the sake of making the immensely rich even more indecently so. Here we campaign against a carbon tax, and advocate sending refugees back to the open seas.

Yesterday I went out for a little walk, to go to the bank, and called into the St Vincent de Paul shop. It sells quite a lot of books, so I had a browse around. So too did the man who owns the local second hand bookshop. I am not sure what he picked up.

I bought a book by Bob Carr, My Reading Life: Adventures in the World of Books. Bob Carr was the Premier of New South Wales for ten years. Before going into politics he was a journalist. He wishes he had had a better education and had had greater access to libraries and books. He discovered both, and became an omnivorous reader. He launched the Premier's Reading Challenge in 2001, a programme in which school children commit to reading as many books as possible. It gets quite a lot of publicity, and is indubitably a Good Thing.

When I got home I opened Carr's book. The first section is entitled The Silence. The first book he chose to discuss is Primo Levi's If this is a Man. It is a book I have read a number of times, and which I can scarcely bear to open and re-read.

It is incredibly painful to read. It describes, as would a witness in court, how millions of human beings were treated, suffered and were murdered, through the deliberate policy, worked out in minute detail, to exterminate millions because of their race. Carr asked, as so many must have done, about the silence of God, and asks what message this sends to suffering humanity.

Carr devotes another part of his book to the Australian Labor Party and to political journalism. He discusses Don Watson's Book Memoirs of a Bleeding Heart, and its sub-theme of the restless and self absorbed Canberra Press Gallery, and describes how one noted journalist, Alan Ramsay, told Paul Keating, the then Prime Minister, that the journalists would all be advocating a change of government, because  'We're all sick of you'. It is a sobering account.

In today's mail was The House Magazine, published by the Department of the House of Representatives. Article after article described the work of the House, and its committees. The articles described the subjects investigated by committees and what their reports contained. Interesting and informative stuff, which you would never know about if you relied on the daily newspapers. Sure, we get pro or anti carbon tax articles, and lots of rhetoric for and against.  But we are far more likely to be force fed articles and incessant comments about out Prime Minister's voice, nose, clothes and hairstyles, and we have also recently been treated to some numbingly boring and irrelevant coverage of a new hairstyle for our former Premier. We get lots of coverage of Tony Abbott's budgie smugglers, cycling marathons and attendance at barbecues, and meeting and greeting the electorate. But there is little sober and factual political coverage.

It makes me so depressed I can scarcely bear to look at the newspapers or to watch or listen to current affairs programmes. Yet, in my working life, it was mother's milk to me, essential and absorbing stuff. I dealt with it for most of my working life. Ditto for Dr P, who was a professional.

Obviously it is far more important to concentrate on airbrushed photos of film stars and models, the sex life of sporting heroes, and to campaign against speed campaigns, because as well as identifying those who break the law and endanger others by driving above the speed limits, they are contributing to consolidated revenue. And we would all, especially the very rich, rather pay less tax than to ensure that we have good schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure, competent and honest government and a civil and decent society.

If I had my way I would introduce a wealth tax. It seems to me that billionaires can afford a little more tax, instead of spending their money campaigning against resources taxes.

Later in his book Bob Carr discusses Bernard Crick's book In Defence of Politics, who wrote

politics represents at least some tolerance of differing truths, some recognition that government is possible, indeed best conducted, amid the opening canvassing of rival interests. Politics are the public actions of free men.

Carr comments:

Celebrate the genius of free peoples expressed in the glorious mess of rowdy politics, the clash of interests - inevitable in any society - resolved at the ballot box, a working definition of politics and a celebratory one

I hope these thoughts are still apposite, but in my moments of gloom, I have my doubts. Is it still possible to pull together in a positive rather than in a destructive sense?

We need to think in terms of all of us and not only of our own narrow and selfish interests.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Life imitating Art

I have been away for a few days, and thus without access to a computer. In my mind I compose scintillating and deathless prose, but alas, once I get home and start trying to recreate it all, the inspiration has unaccountably vanished into that well known but inaccessible place, the ether. Why did God create the ether?

It would be nice to think that one could learn from both life and art, and be able to make sensible decisions. I live in hope. It is impossible to tell whether doing the exact opposite of what seems to be the best decision would be simply to court total disaster. Heads you win, Tails I lose.

This mood is probably upon me for many reasons - past experience, innate sense of gloom, not knowing what to do, or what will happen next, and wondering, given the evidently poor decisions made throughout my life, how I can possibly improve on this record.

I am back home after a weekend away with my son, daughter, grandchildren and friends. Possibly the recounting of the vicissitudes of my life has plunged me into feelings of woe. On the other hand it may be due to the fact that I got every single red traffic light possible on the way home. This is naturally irritating.

The trip away started off very slowly, as the tunnels were clogged. The official word is congested. There is never any hint of 'congestion' before you actually enter the tunnels, after which there is no possible escape. It took an hour to be free of it and my leg got sore and aching from all the braking I had to do - every hundred metres or so. Of course, I had to pay two tolls for this privilege. So on my return trip this afternoon I decided to go the toll-free way.  Then I got every single red light. However, as you Brits (apparently) say, ' Mustn't grumble' and I arrived home safe and sound, having made fairly good time. It was, however, a fairly tiring trip, and I could not be bothered going out to buy food. Thus I have been snacking and having a nice glass (or two) of wine.

My friend KP gave me house room, and he invited another friend for dinner last night, and permitted me to contribute to the meal by cooking risotto alla milanese. It is more than six months since I have done any proper cooking, so I was a little nervous about whether I could manage it, but, despite the strange hotplates, it turned out perfectly. The other friend, a former colleague, has just retired. Her mother died recently from an intractable lymphoma, and it was a hard and painful death. There was much to share, and I found the telling does not get any easier.

Another friend took me to the Antiques show. This was quite good fun. I am not all that keen on antiques, although there is some lovely furniture, and I do like antique jewellery, especially amethysts. Something to do with their colour, I think....I resisted a perfectly beautiful brooch, on the grounds that I already have an antique brooch which had belonged to my grandmother, which I very seldom wear, so why would I want another? And when you are considering the monthly cost of the legal bills, the mere contemplation of frivolous luxuries is not to be indulged in.

I came across a dinner set which was the same as one my parents used for Best. Obviously it could not be considered a real antique. Anything I remember from my youth cannot possibly be an antique, naturally. No, no. I wonder what happened to that dinner set, though.

The next day I went to the Canberra Bus Depot markets, which, evidently in sympathy with the Antiques Fair, featured lots of antique and second hand goods stalls. Evidently fur is making a comeback. I found a Hildesheim Rose silver sugar spoon, which I bought. I was given one as a wedding present, and always meant to buy some more, but it ceased to be sold in the department stores. So now I have two sugar spoons. It was an illogical purchase, as I don't even use a sugar bowl. But they are very beautiful spoons.

The children, grandchildren and I had time together, which was lovely. We went to a park, and I went with my daughter to feed her horse. I bravely patted the horse, but then it did something startling, and I leapt away. I prefer cats. The late afternoon light was clear and beautiful, and the country was lovely and tranquil, but there were no kangaroos to be seen.

This morning I visited the National Gallery of Australia, to see an exhibition of the art of Fred Williams. It was splendid.

I then set off homewards, carefully avoiding any route which might have involved new roadworks. In my ten years of absence there have been many changes, and the roads have changed quite a lot. The newspaper revealed last week that some of the new signs are too small to read, and additionally some of them are actually quite wrong. They have to be redone. Such revelations made me ponder the design and placement of signs. I noticed on my return journey that big trucks obscure the road signs, so that if you are not already acquainted with the route, you can increase the number of problems in your life without even trying.

The trouble with driving on automatic pilot is that you can miss turnoffs which should have been taken. One must concentrate. Just like real life.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Inadequacies and embarrassments

Inadequacies and embarrassment are tricky subjects.

When I was a child I was accustomed to going to confession, and to confessing my sins. We had to examine our consciences against a seemingly inexhaustible array of failings and, worse, actual evils.

These days it is easy to realise that many of the things considered to be sinful were nothing of the kind. Failings, perhaps, but generally they fell within the range of normal childhood development and understanding. Children scream and yell when thwarted, feel anger towards others, and are very bad at controlling their urges. They want to be liked, loved and praised. They hate being humiliated. At least, I did. They like to do well, to be good at things. When they do something parents consider to be wrong, children do not want to be found out, let alone punished. To be discovered, or uncovered, is like having scabs ripped off sores. Sometimes, to avoid worse exposure, one rips scabs off oneself.

I don't remember my parents dishing out much praise to me, or indeed to any of us. There is no one alive who can tell us how things were in any objective sense, so all I have to go on is childish memories, highly selective ones at that. We were good if we helped our mother, and the older ones, that is my older sister and myself, were expected to do so, and the younger ones, even when they grew older, were not expected to do nearly as much. If you were helpful, that conferred a sense of virtue, although indeed, being helpful was compulsory rather than optional. One strove to be good. Examination of conscience served to reveal defects of character and actions.

My physical appearance was never anything to write home about. Mousy hair, freckles, fair skin, and frequent sunburn. Round shoulders. Bad eyesight. A plain and ordinary appearance. As for developing to be sexually attractive, that was pretty well off the agenda. Attractive girls had darker colouring. Fair skin was mocked. People remarked how greatly I resembled my father and my paternal aunt. Neither was notable for good looks, and my aunt, a truly kind and lovely person, had an aquiline nose, which my family expected me to develop. (Miraculously, I did not.) 

I was regarded as a clever child, and that was a source of praise, although it could hardly have been considered to be a virtue. So I suppose it is not surprising that I absolutely cringe if I make a mistake and am found to be wrong. If I mispronounce a word, it hurts excruciatingly. This does not stop me, mind, from pointing out to my children, as well as to the ambient air, grammatical mistakes, like - well, I had better not get started....But I was never as clever as I wanted to be, nor did I achieve as much as I thought I should have been able to. Eventually one comes to accept reality rather than unfulfilled desires and expectations. Reluctantly, perhaps.

Perhaps we all try to hide our defects, and to appear to the best advantage possible. It works for a reasonable per cent of the time. At this stage of my life, it is clear that I am never going to have a fake tan, breast implants, plastic surgery, or tattoos. I am as I am. The miracles of modern medicine have left their marks and scars on my body. But perhaps the dental treatment will serve both functional and aesthetic purposes. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

And my children and grandchildren are all beautiful.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Images from the glory days

As it is said, but in another context, many years ago in the eponymous film, it is just a period of adjustment.

While I adjust to paying large legal bills, I decided it was high time I saw a dentist. In the last year of Dr P's life, it was not possible to go out of the house for long, and thus such things were deferred.

My previous dentist was a nice man, but oh, so slow. He had no dental nurse, and everything took a very long time indeed. This is bad for a person who has a rabid but highly reasonable and well-based fear of dentists and dental treatments.

What was more, he had a TV on the ceiling and horrid programmes - supposedly to calm down the patient, but in my case, merely adding to the angst.

So it was time to look around and find a new dentist. I chose one from an ad in a local newspaper. Who says that advertising does not pay? If they did, they were WRONG.

To my shame and embarrassment, I have few teeth left, and they have almost passed their use-by date. It really is time to get something done. Years of eating too many sweets, lack of self-discipline, infrequent and terrifying dental treatment in my youth, dental treatment which tended to opt for extractions, have all played their part in my parlous dental condition. I am embarrassed by and ashamed of all this.

So I fronted up to this new and very high tech dentist, to investigate the options. Implants and the like.

It will cost heaps. Very big heaps. Faced with the prospect of high legal bills, which may or may not give me the freedom of choice I require, I decided that if I am squandering (as it were) pots of dough through the city, I might as well squander some on dentistry.

When I arrived, I had to fill out a medical and general history form, which asked, inter alia, the level of my fear of dental treatment. I gave it 8 out of 10. I do not intend to be any braver than I have to be, these days. All my courage is being used up on other even more unpleasant things, and I will happily opt for anaesthetics to help me avoid physical pain and appalling levels of fright. It is very wearing and upsetting trying to be brave most of the time. Sometimes, it seems a good idea to allow yourself to fall apart.

I had to endure the head-shaking, and the adverse reflections on the state of my teeth and what had been done to them, and was then presented with the various options, all nicely tucked into a folder, complete with estimated costs, and colour photographs, for my consideration and final choices. The dentist looked at my denture and opined that my teeth would not have looked like that. "No", I said, "They didn't, but not a lot of notice was taken of what I said way back then". I said I had an old photo and that I would bring it in for him to look at.

I did so, this afternoon, and gave it to the dental nurse. 'Oh', she said, "Is this what you want your teeth to look like?" "They are my teeth", I said, "This is a photograph of me."' I could see her astonished reaction flashing around her transparent mind. There is nothing like increasing age and  decrepitude to make you abandon (most of your) vanity. Grim reality, hey! Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.

Then she said, "Oh, look at your lovely thick hair". My hair is not thick, and the photo was a studio portrait taken when I was about 20, so I look much prettier and more glamorous in that photograph than I ever did or do in real life. And in those days, hairdressers teased the hair to make it as bouffant as possible.  Little did I know then the uses to which this photo would eventually be put. Oh tempora, oh mores.

It had been a busy day, and I arrived home in the late afternoon, having virtuously walked from various Point As to Point Bs. (I am trying to get fitter.) The doorbell rang as I sat there enjoying some idleness.

It was the Census Collector, giving me my form, and urging me to complete it on line. I might, but then again, I might not.

In the last Census, in 2001, I was a Census Collector. It was a most interesting experience, and a lot of hard work. The pay was not commensurate with the effort required. I noted then how few young children and babies there were. Ten years on, they are ubiquitous.  The young have moved into this suburb and have been nesting. Pregnancies, babies, toddlers, prams and pushers abound. You can trip over them everywhere. Especially in the cafes. There are still lots of old people living here, who increasingly need help and support services.

I went through the questions on the Census form, and feel I have slipped through the cracks. I am widowed now, having spent a couple of years as a carer, and my housing situation is anomalous. Most of the questions do not really apply to me, but they did a year or so ago. I don't know quite how to answer some of these questions.  I could always do a Dr P and make up the answers, or I could stick a pin and choose that way. But no, I cannot do that. Truth is my middle name.