Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Countdown, and countback

In a week I will be flying out of here, and on my way to Italy, for three weeks holiday. This was planned some months ago, when my friend Anne told me she was going on this trip. I looked at the itinerary and decided to go too, and to have a few days before the group trip starts. I have never been to Turin, so am starting there, staying for several days, and then travelling to Rome, with an overnight stopover in Florence. After all, the train goes through there, and how could I possibly not get off? And see some of my favourite places once more, and do a wee bit of shopping, perhaps.

When all this was planned, I thought my case would be continuing indefinitely, but because of the legal settlement, when I leave, all those things will be behind me. There will be a few things to tidy up, and  more legal bills to pay, and some other uncertainties, but essentially it has been settled. I can get the financial transactions done in good time.

Turin has a notable opera house, and the night after I arrive they are performing La Boheme, which is the first opera I ever got to know. The singers and conductor are not known to me, but I am sure it will be splendid. After various technical hitches I managed to buy a ticket on line. It spurned my credit card four times, but the next day, it let me complete the booking.

When I was a child, the ABC did not, as far as I can recollect, broadcast complete operas - this was in the days before long playing records, believe it or not, but lots of arias were played, and we used to sing along. There was a programme which used to finish with a medley, which listeners tried to identify, and there was one medley in particular which took weeks before the last tune was identified. It went Da da da da da da da, on the same note, and listeners were mystified. Once it was identified as Your tiny hand is frozen we all said "Of course!" Listeners must have had to write in - no one would have telephoned in those days. Way back then!

Apart from the radio, my grandparents had a pianola, with lots of classical music on the rolls. It took a lot of pumping of the pedals to get it working, but was great fun. Then my grandfather, who liked to pick up second-hand furniture, came home one day with a phonogram and lots of heavy 80 rpm records. The phonogram had to be wound by hand. He gave one to my family, and it got used constantly by my older sister and me. We had gorgeous old recordings of Caruso, and some by Toti dal Monte.

It was possible to buy complete recordings of operas, on 78 rpm. One friend described how his father used to play Rigoletto. He picked out any record from the box and used to play them in completely random order. My friend said the permutations thus given to the plot were quite extraordinary!

When 33 rpm LPs came along, my parents allowed us to buy records, and La Boheme was the first complete opera bought. We proceeded to feast on Madama Butterfly, and I frequently used to play the Death Scene, with different and harrowing versions. Then we moved on to Carmen. And lots of Gilbert and Sullivan, musicals and comedy. All this was extremely habit forming, and to this day I keep buying recorded music. It has been and remains a major passion and joy.

So, there is a week to go. The final packing, the completion of my documentation,  checking that all the bills are paid, deciding which books to take for the flights, photocopying some tourist information, which can then be discarded as I go along, all these tasks are in progress.

On my return, all having gone according to plan, I will own the house, and will have freedom of choice.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Nothing much to write about

It has been the sort of day when the fit takes you to clean all the skirting boards, to wash the shower recess, and to scrub this and that. Feelings of virtues consequently seep through one's consciousness. Although why should doing a bit of cleaning make one feel virtuous, I ask? Never mind, enjoy it! Such feelings happen all too seldom.

I have done some washing and all the ironing. And started seriously packing for my holiday. There are some people in this world who can pack efficiently and who can accurately predict what they need while away, and what the weather will do. I wish that I were among their number. Alas, no, I tend to plan for all contingencies. Despite buying a smaller suitcase, I can see myself taking the larger one, and then having to heft it on and off trains, until I get to the group tour, when others will take over the hefting.

There is so much to think about when packing. I know people who are incredibly disciplined and who ALWAYS travel with small suitcases.  Presumably the weather follows their dictates. And fate, likewise.

Some time last year, when my daughter, grandchildren and I made an impromptu visit to the beach, sand got into my camera, and now it does not work any more. So I have bought a new and more high-tech camera. For some time I sat contemplating this marvel of technology, admiring it, and my fortitude of character in embarking on this foolhardy endeavour,  and then at last timidly took it out of its box, opened the manual, charged the battery, put in the memory card and switched it on. Then I took a while to reconcile the reality with the theory. The other day I took it back to the shop, and asked the nice man to explain it all to me. Which he did, so I feel slightly better informed. Obviously he had dealt with persons of my level of competence previously, so he told me all about it, recommended that I keep it in the simplest possible mode, and kindly washed his hands of me. I believe in making the fullest possible use of all the available expertise. That is what they are there for. I merely humbly supply them with some job satisfaction. I hope.

You'd never think I had borne and bred a fabulous photographer. I can't allow her father to take ALL the credit for her genetic inheritance. She must have inherited something from her mother.

I have almost finished the sweater I have been crocheting for weeks. I am not sure it is a total success and because it has an openwork pattern, I need to wear something underneath it. Sewing it all together was rather tedious. Now I just have to finish the edging. Alas, I have not yet been able to find another project to work on.

Last week, what with all the drama about the leadership challenge from the former Prime Minister against the current Prime Minister, I forgot to go to choir, and had a long conversation about politics with a friend instead. We both worked for our august political institution. I have to say I do NOT want a return to the former regime, for what seem to me to be good and sufficient reasons, but we all have to wait until the morrow to find out what happens next.

There are a few things I need to get done before I leave in about ten days time. It would be good if I could also wave my magic wand and fix the body politic, and STUPEFY some of the blathering journalists.

At least I can look forward to going to the opera in Turin.

Monday, 20 February 2012


There's been nothing to speak of, really, except that suddenly I feel I must get on with things.

Of course, most 'things' are quite mundane. I need to get an insurance policy on the house, so I have done that. I am prowling through the house, thinking, "Well, that can go!' and "I don't want THAT any more".  Of course, more haste, less speed, and nothing need be done in a hurry: there are things to sort out and the payment made to the horrid family. But at least it feels satisfying to think I can do what I like, I can take my time, and do it all as soon or as late as I like, according to my own dictates, and tastes.

I went to Vinnies, and they will send people to take things away. So that will be done, in  due course. After the holiday, that is!  I am wandering around the house, contemplating how to re-organise the contents of the rooms, and even think of putting in new carpets. This might not be such a good idea, depending on the cost, but you get the picture.  I can do what I like, so long as I can afford it, and if it seems like a good idea. And if not, not.

Although I am contemplating all kinds of possibilities, in fact, these possibilities are so many balls in the air. If I move furniture around the house, I will need physical help, as it is all too heavy for me. I have to remember that I am older, and less strong.  People have remarked how haggard I look. And it is true. The emotional and physical tolls show clearly on my face and body. So be it: those lines were honestly earned.

All these sensations are very mixed, numerous, conflicting, and sparks fly around my mind in all directions. They represent freedom and choices, and autonomy. As well as grief and regret.

It is probably very natural to feel the relief, and the realisation that, all going according to plan or inclinations, I can make my own choices, that in many ways I feel like moths flying around lights. My moods fluctuate between tearfulness, anger at the step-family, the excitement of freedom, and, more soberly, the recognition that there is still a long road to travel. Equilibrium must be gained, life must be re-directed. In some ways I feel fearful, in other ways, that life is opening up.

I must mourn the opportunities missed, the wrong choices made, the failure to stand up for myself, and face the regrets that meanness and lack of generosity made the marriage less than it could and should have been. Finally I was able to stand up for myself and my future, and this I was unable to do during Dr P's lifetime, for very many reasons.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of his death. It will be a day for meditation and reflection, acknowledgement of achievements and failures, bereavement and freedom. And remembrance and acknowledgment of the help given me by so many people, and their gladness that resolution has been achieved.

And again I think Ave atque Vale. And Pete Seeger singing We shall Overcome. 

In due course, the record will stop sticking and repeating. Now there's an outdated metaphor.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Let the Sunshine in: Resolution

The mediation has taken place. We expected that it would be a quick process, as all the indications were that the step-family was obdurately and bitterly opposed to my obtaining the family home, and that it would result in a court hearing. We thought it would be over in an hour or less, and that it would all drag on for months to come.

Instead it took four hours. We have reached a settlement. It has been agreed, and now is ratified by a  court order, that I get the house outright, and in return I pay them some money.

Once all of this goes through I can free myself from the incubus that has been hanging around my neck, clouding my life. The natural grieving, healing and recovery process can take its course. Throughout I have held fast to the determination that, one day, I would be free of them. God willing.

I could not write about this yesterday. My heart was too full, the emotions too raw, the realisation too new, the mixture of relief and compromise too great. I could find neither the thoughts nor the words. I am not sure I have them now. The reality of  the decision,  that seemed so impossible, so unlikely and so difficult still seems to float far from my reach and capacity for comprehension.

Walking into the mediation room, and seeing the step-family, was an ordeal. I was determined to display no emotion, to give no greeting or personal acknowledgment, and to remain impassive, and I believe that I succeeded in this. I hope never to see any of them ever again.

Fortunately the mediation process quickly separated us, and I did not see them again. Offer and reaction, followed by counter-offers and reaction followed. I think their lawyer must have made them realise that if it went to court the verdict was very likely to be in my favour. As my brother in law said, when you negotiate, both parties must concede something to the other, and thus it proved to be. An agreement was reached, and a court order made, and now the mechanics have to be set in place according to the required timetable.

I will have  my home, freedom of choice and an asset. These are the things I was fighting for. Because I am not naturally disputatious, and shy away from confrontation, it has been a difficult process. I believe that I have handled it with integrity, honesty (qualities the step-family has no understanding of) competence, diligence and intelligence, determination, and resolution, and I can be proud of that achievement. My lawyers tell me I have been a most reasonable client, and acknowledged that the things I said in evidence were fully documented.

I spent most of the evening on the telephone, talking to family and friends, and their gladness on my behalf has given me such great comfort, and made me feel very blessed. There is still much healing to follow. The realisation that the issue has been decided and agreed upon does not sink in immediately.
Although I feel much calmer, the stress reactions have become quite automatic and it will take some time for them to be banished.

No one can know what the future holds, but I can look forward to mine with much greater cheerfulness and courage, and make my own decisions, beholden to no one.

Next week is the first anniversary of Dr P's death. Another milestone. Another measure. I hope never again to have to live through and endure such a year.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

By their fruit ye shall know them

Weekends. On Saturday morning I go to the local produce market, buy sour dough bread, some vegetables, and a bunch of flowers. Generally I buy lilies. This week, for the first time in months, I bought apples. Gala apples are just coming in to season.

Apples are wonderful. When I was a child, my family lived in a house which had two blocks of land, and the previous owners had planted many fruit trees.  In the days of my childhood it was common for people to have vegetable and fruit gardens. My maternal grandparents had a small garden, and grew many vegetables, some fruit, and also had chooks, for eggs, and at Easter and Christmas, to provide the rare treat of a roast chicken dinner. We all liked the legs. My mother used to tell us  "It's not a centipede."

In our garden, there were two almond trees, quite tall ones. I used to climb on to the roof, and pick the fruit. I knew nothing about almonds, or how to judge when they should be picked.  I picked the almonds while they were still covered in green furry stuff, and the shells were soft. When the almond kernels were uncovered, they were still green and quite soft. They never seemed to get brown skins, the way bought almonds did. I ate them anyway, but the whole almond maturing process remained a mystery, and I still know nothing. My parents were much less interested in gardening than I was, so they were no help.

We had an apricot tree, which presented no problems at all. The fruit was delicious. There was an orange tree, but the fruit was not worth eating. The juice was drinkable, fortunately. The pear tree produced fruit which remained green and firm. The walnut tree was as great a mystery as the almond trees. It seemed pretty useless to me. There were loganberries growing along the side fence, and they bore prolifically. My grandmother made jam from them and we also feasted on the fresh berries. Over the other side of the fence, our neighbours had passionfruit vines. If we were lucky, some of the fruit came over to our side and thus we could legitimately pick them. There was a quince tree at the back, but I think the actual tree was on the back neighbour's fence. I quickly learned not to bite into raw quinces, but I loved the cooked quince - and still do. It is a fruit which almost disappeared from society for years. The trees seem to survive for many years, generally, I think, in old rural properties, and gradually the fruit came back into favour. Each season I make quince jelly. I used to make fruit crumble, but as I mixed with a very fussy lot of people I had to make fruit crumble carefully. In the first part I used cooked apples. In the second part, I put rhubarb, and then the third part contained poached quinces, all glowingly pink and delectable. Each guest could specify which part of the crumble they were prepared to force down. I liked all of it.

I love cooking quinces. The aroma is wonderful, and the taste delectable. The change in colour is quite entrancing. It is extraordinary to me that some people do not like quinces. Foolish, foolish!

But I was writing about apples. Having grown up eating apples fresh from the trees, I learned to be very fussy about apples. We had two trees, one a Granny Smith, which is more a cooking apple than a raw eating apples, and the other was a Jonathon. They were the ones I loved. My father used to spray the apples trees, as otherwise they would be infested with codlin moth grubs, which are revolting. We had unlimited apples to eat during the season. I think there was another apple variety - maybe a Gravenstein or a Delicious, neither of which I consider worth biting into.

You don't often see Jonathon apples now. New varieties have replaced them: Gala in particular, and another one, the name of which just won't pop into my head right now. Ah, it is the Pink Lady! At my local market, apple growers bring along the fruit in season, and this week I bought some Galas. They are still a trifle tart. Ocasionally a stall will be selling Jonathon apples, but these days it seems I prefer the Galas, and Pink Ladies.

When I lived in Canberra, in apple season we could shop at the local apple orchards, just near the airport. A number of varieties are grown there, snow apples, Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Jonathons, Galas, Pink Lady, and other funny English varieties whose names escape me right now. We were spoiled for choices, and when I moved to Sydney I missed the apple season. On visits I would call in and stock up on really fresh apples. Fortunately now we have the markets.

I must have foraging antecedents, as I loved to go blackberrying, and then to make jam. Blackberries, when introduced into Australia, rapidly became a most invasive pest, especially on the banks of creeks and rivers. I used to pick blackberries frequently and use them to make jam, and for fresh desserts, or to make blackberry icecream. Our CSIRO did research into means of exterminating blackberries and I think they discovered something, possibly a rust, which did the blackberries a lot of damage. The fires around Canberra some years ago, which destroyed about 500 homes and which came very close to where I used to live, also managed to wipe out a lot of blackberries, but possibly they may have recovered. I know the area where I used to pick now is free of blackberries, and it is being turned into a new suburb. On the border of my garden there used to be a self-sown blackberry plant, which year after year I hacked at, but every year it grew back, stubborn survivor that it was. It has ample defences, takes root easily, spreads seeds everywhere, ably assisted by the birds, and has truly wicked thorns.

Ah, perhaps we should all learn from the blackberry. But I'd rather have apples. I can sympathise with Eve, so unjustly blamed for so many things.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I've been to see the Queen: she says my hands are perfickly clean

Yesterday was a busy day. I had an appointment with the counsellor, who said she thinks I have actually done pretty well, that I am very resilient, understand well what I am going through, that I have been making the right decisions about how to deal with it all, and does not think I need anti-depressants. This was good to hear. I had discussed the matter with my doctor and she agreed with my reasoning, and we will review the matter in another month or so.

I have another appointment with the counsellor on the anniversary of Dr P's death, and I think that will help me get through the day.

Apart from putting myself on automatic pilot, missing my turnoff and thus nearly landing in Parramatta Road, and thus having to chuck a U-ie,  the day went well. I had a lovely lunch with a blogging friend who is in the process of completing her PhD, and borrowed a couple of books from the library (one on Boganomics). 

In the afternoon I went up to the bank, to make sure that all the recent hassles have been resolved and to ensure that everything is in order. The bank assures me that this is so. It all took a long time, actually past bank closing time, but it now seems that the credit card thing has been sorted out, direct debits have been effected, and I now have actual euros. The bank staffer seemed to think I was both organised and efficient, but I think there was some flattery and customer manipulation going on. Not that I minded. As they say in the Classics, "Flattery will get you anywhere."

Just to show that life does not always go according to plan, a  biro leaked all over my diary, my handbag, and my hands, and made a very big mess. I had to make do with tissues until I got home and found the eucalyptus oil.  How did the world cope before the manifold virtues and efficacy of eucalyptus oil were discovered? My jacket and blouse need dry cleaning.

However! This morning I set off for the bus in order to get to the first Italian class for the year. Because my telephone line has become unbearably crackly, I decided to ring up what used to be known as Service Difficulties, but is now simply known as Complaints. The person who answered the phone agreed that there was a lot of crackling on the line, so has organised a technician.  This meant that I was a little late in leaving the house, and I stopped to drop off the clothing with the biro stains at the dry cleaners. And then I tripped, trying to catch the traffic lights, and the part of me that hit the ground first was my face.

Kind people immediately gathered around, got me to my feet, and a very kind young woman (another PhD student) found the local optometrist, who was having a coffee before opening her business for the day. She promptly fixed my bent spectacles, and then the young woman insisted on escorting me to the doctor, just down the road. If you are going to have a fall, outside a cafe is a good place, because they have all these paper napkins, so handy for mopping up the blood.

I now have two stitches in my eyebrow, and will probably develop some bruises, and have been advised to have a quiet day and not to gad about. So no Italian, and no choir tonight.

Always look on the bright side of life. I have been listening to the ABC's interview with Margaret Throsby. Her guest today was Professor Gordon Parker, a psychiatrist and eminent expert on depression and mental illness. And Lo! He started talking about grief, which he said was quite different from depression, and said that anti-depressants  were very unlikely to help!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Allegories and metaphors

Yesterday I went to the crochet clinic. The garment I am crocheting posed problems which seemed intractable. I spent many hours, weeks ago, trying to make sense of the instructions, and failed utterly. Counting stitches, and double checking the pattern failed to reveal a solution. The frustration, the failure, the seemingly wasted effort, all haunted me. So much time and effort, so much searching for understanding. And all for nothing, it seemed. I could not understand, could not work it out, and all my effort was useless.

I put away that part of the garment and worked on other pieces. Finally, yesterday, I sought the help of the crochet expert.

It was not my mistake. Put simply, the pattern was wrong. The required result was given, but the means of achieving it was wrong. Really wrong. If I had done what the pattern said, I would have produced something totally unsatisfactory. There has had to be much unravelling and re-working.

It is a very old pattern, and in all probability, if I contacted the company, they would shrug their metaphorical shoulders and tell me that the pattern was written so long ago that there is nothing they could do about it.

I might contact them, just to see what they say.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again.

I have finished one piece, and am now working on the second. Once that has been completed, it will be time to put it all together, and only then will I discover whether what I have produced is what I need and want.

I won't know until it is done, and tested.

Is there a better way?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Sockless in spades

Why is it so difficult to find socks?

 Socks seem a pretty elementary things to need. Why then is it such a problem?

Am I alone in this quandary?

I just want socks. Normal length socks. The kind that fits comfortably on my sensible lace-up shoes. Not anklet type socks, nor long socks. They must cover my ankle joints. They must not be too thick or heavy. They should be cotton, or a cotton-synthetic blend. And they must be in colours I like. Purple would be fine, and so would blue. But not pink, red, green, yellow, brown or grey.  Black is ok but I already have enough black socks. White socks don't go well with my basic black shoes and long black pants. I need light socks for summer and thicker socks for winter.

I do not want to have to buy several pairs of socks at a time. If they were all purple or black, that would be all right. But not if only one pair of socks of the pack of three is in a colour or pattern I am happy with. Is this too much to ask? It seems so.

Several years ago I found a three-sock pack in black and purple. These socks have given excellent service, but they are now wearing out. There are holes in one pair and the others are very thin. So I stand in the sock aisles of department stores, poring over the socks, and yet, time after time, there are no socks of the desirable ilk to be found.  I feel quite peeved. Why does life have to be so complicated? Don't I have enough problems in my life? Why must my socklessness add to the general angst and torment?

There is a sock stall at the local weekend market, but if you buy only one pair of socks instead of three, it costs more. So I don't buy his socks. I peered at a shop in the city this afternoon, but yet again the capitalist system has failed me. I thought it was supposed to operate on a demand and supply basis. There I am, demanding away, but where is the supplying?

I can only conclude that the wicked marketers are to blame for causing even more irritation and problems in my life.

It is high time that purple socks were included in the basic necessities of life, and the Happiness Index.

It seems that while on the one hand it is easy to buy purple nail polish, on the other hand purple socks and purple lipsticks have fallen through the colander of human happiness.

Herewith a general warning: never throw out anything purple.

I think I will go and have a glass of almost purple wine, to revive my drooping spirits.

Another thought just struck me (Ouch!) Years ago, when I was trying to buy particular camellia cultivars, and found that no nurseries socked them, it generally happened that all the nurseries stocked the cultivars in question the following year. Will the sock manufacturers follow suit?