Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Is tidiness an unnatural act? You may well ask...

It seems there are some people in this world who are naturally tidy, which makes me wonder about the theory of evolution? How come some of us remain unregenerately disorganised and untidy, except for occasional painful and time-consuming flurries of efforts to organise their lives and possessions?

In an ideal world, people would not hang on to possessions, documents, books, clothes and sundry objects. Just think, though, that if this were so, archaeologists would have nothing to do, and would be, as a species, extinct. Really extinct. Putative (how I love that word) historians would be lazing around beaches (if handy), instead of delving through manuscripts, ruins, libraries, works, and buildings. Of course, (I just typed a whole sentence here, which somehow failed to appear. How does that happen? Let me try again) they would be on the dole, and human civilisation would have advanced not a whit. What an appalling thought.

All these prefacing remarks serve to prepare the reader (if any) for the revelation that the last two days have been spent in a (doubtless futile) endeavour to restore order from chaos, and to reduce the number of items currently cluttering up my house.

If you wanted to know how to fritter away time, read on. From time to time I attempt to get myself better organised, and this invariably involves bestrewing and festooning the house with numerous papers, placed arbitrarily around the house. I attempt to get rid of some of them (in the dark of night they breed, you know) but somehow or other, I always wind up feeling confused as well as disorganised. Not to mention becoming even more fully aware of my personal failings.

I attempt to counter my evidently ineradicable propensity towards confusion and disorganisation by endless sorting into categories and piles of stuff, and then putting it all into order, and, of course, tossing out as much as possible. This is difficult for me, being a historian and hoarder by nature and training, but I strive personfully to rid the house of unnecessary clutter. One must not be unduly rash, though.

At the same time I am trying to sort out the books, and to get rid of some of them (on the basis that if I have not managed to read them in the last twenty years, another ten years surely means that their pages will remain unturned).

So the house has all these books, with others waiting to be rehoused and better arranged, and I just do not have enough space. All those who have unkindly suggested that this house is much too big for me, are absolutely mistaken. What would they know?

While somehow averting the almost inevitable probability that all this tidying up will induce a blinding headache, it does seem that late this evening the folders and files now contain what they should, rather than an inglorious agglomeration of this and that, and unrelated items.

The fact that tonight is when you put out the paper rubbish bin might just have influenced, nay, caused, this frenzied activity.

It has all been exhausting. I am about to curl up with an as yet unread (or possibly imperfectly remembered) book.

Tomorrow I have to write something in Italian. I wonder whether tidying up is an appropriate topic. I cannot readily bring to mind any vocabulary relating to tidiness.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

If I were the treasurer...well. we'd better keep Wayne Swan

It is probably just as well I am not the Treasurer, responsible for creating and maintaining a budget surplus, as I have suddenly lashed out and bought a thing upon which to put the TV. It is quite beautiful, made of red gum. The nice men who delivered it put all the equipment in and on it, all the power cords through the holes in the back, and now all the DVDs are in the rather lovely and capacious drawers. I sit and purr as I admire it, and my exquisite taste.

I have such plans! Necessarily rather long range, so that I can pay all the bills. I have just posted some money to the lawyers. This should probably be the last payment, but I expect another one might arrive. It feels rather like tossing luxurious and plentiful hunks of fillet of beast to the ravenous and insatiable hordes, but hey, they did the work, we got a result I am happy with, it is all finished and done with, or it will be once the Other Side stops finding stray bills which should have been sent my way sooner, and notifies all the various bodies not to send stuff care of me any more, and I am doing my best to damp down my Inner Grump, and to learn to count my blessings. Once I pay the tax instalment and the rates and all the usual stuff, and then go back to the crematorium to organise and pay for the niche and the plaque, the Next Steps in life can be pursued.

Other than these trifling every day problems, from which few of us are immune, a novel idea is seeping into my consciousness. To whit, I can do what I like. I can make decisions and carry them out and no one can stop me, and if they want to criticise me, well, my hide has been thickening for some time now, and I can probably cope. Actually I'd like to get everything I think of done immediately, but I retain sufficient common sense to understand that this would not be a good idea. Nor is it feasible.

Intensive clearing out is underway. Books, in particular! This takes forever, but there are now four boxes of books which can get back onto the merry-go-round of life and learning. There is a lot of re-arranging of the books which I am keeping, which are many and varied. Next week I must telephone the people who come and take away your books and then sell them as a fund raising activity. How the wheel of life keeps turning.

My barrister asked me how many books I had, and he looked rather astounded when I told him I had about 100 linear metres of them. There probably remain 99 linear metres still.  I'd like to have all my books on music together, ditto the biographies, the language usage and learning, the children's books, the reference books, the historical material and the art and travelling. It is a slow process, moving and reorganising books, armful by armful. And it is very dependent and the size of the bookcases and the height of the shelves, and this means that the ideal arrangements simply cannot be achieved. And of course, when one (invariably) succumbs to temptation at the second hand book stalls at the market, further problems creep on apace.

It is actually rather fascinating rediscovering many of these books. Alas, over the years my mind has become rather hoppity, and I lurch from one book or topic to another, and do not spend long enough on any one of them.

Goodness me, I have complicated ways of tidying up myself and my things. Though laborious and time-consuming, they are quite good fun.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The old man is snoring

It has been raining and raining. The drains are having trouble coping. Water has been coming into the house through small openings in the windows. The drains can't empty quickly enough, because of all the water rushing down the streets past my house and into the drains out the front.

Generally this area fares quite well when inclement weather strikes. Eastern and western suburbs suffer far more severely. Years ago there was a violent hail storm and lots of roofs and car windscreens  got totally smashed, and blue plastic festooned many roofs for months thereafter. Our little suburb was relatively untouched. I take comfort in the power of statistics. Perhaps this is unwise and imprudent.

Some water did get into my bedroom, as I had not completely closed the window. This evening I watched the TV news and saw lots of people who had to wade towards their swamped cars and whose roads were flooded. Here it just rushed down the hills.  We have periods when the rain stops and then the heavenly tap is turned on from above and water gushes forth. The dams are almost 100 per cent full.

I prowl around the house, checking that disaster is not striking me personally. In respect of the weather, that is. I have had quite enough disaster in my life, I say to myself, so, Life, so, Fate, just lay off, ok? Let me be.

My daughter is back overnight. We went out to dinner tonight, just up the road, and sat at a table outside, with a gas heater next to us, and with blankets provided to keep us snugly warm. It is only autumn and the climate is quite temperate. But the rain pelted down. See, it said, some things are quite outside human control. There was a certain fascination in watching its inexorable fall from the heavens.

The meal was good and then we struggled home, a whole block and a half away, and our shoes and feet got soaked as we waded through the back door entry.

I am smitten by urges to get things done and to be in charge of my life. Yet again I have been going through the books and have managed to find quite a few which can find new homes and perhaps eager readers. I look at each book and decide whether or not I still have the curiosity to get through it, not to mention the necessary powers of concentration. I want to reorganise rooms, to get rid of stuff, to make it all my own, to be in charge of my life. It is not possible to control the weather, but perhaps the contents of the house can be disciplined and controlled. I have to tell myself, softly, softly, catchee monkey. Not everything can be done in one go. More's the pity. I can see the advantages of waving the magic wand. Magari, if only, I wish, would to God, say the Italians.

There are many balls in the air around me.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Due processes

It is only a couple of weeks since my return from the trip to Italy. It seems like the twinkling of an eye, but also like a stretched out piece of time. My daughter has been here with her two children. The house has felt very full. It was very full. All the beds were being used, there was stuff everywhere, the TV and  DVDs in constant use, large, medium and small pieces of plasticine everywhere, half a roll of masking tape was used to add variations to different pieces of toy weaponry. Lots of child-minding, all sorts of expeditions going on.

We had a very quiet Easter. I still do not have an oven, and am waiting for a quote from the local shop for a replacement. I had to cook Easter dinner in the electric frypan, which is not really very satisfactory. We made up for this with delicious Easter eggs, and also  some excellent gelati.

We went to Cockatoo Island, which their mother and I enjoyed, but the children liked it much less. You'd think that old construction sheds, shipbuilding facilities, slipways, rickety looking stairs to climb, tunnels to go through, and fabulous views of the harbour should have elicited more excitement than it did. We decided to catch the next ferry back, but the grizzling dawdlers caused us to miss it by about half a minute, and thus we had another hour to kill. This was mostly spent in throwing food to all the seagulls. How did seagulls cope before tourists supplied their every need?

We went to various parks, and have been into the city in search of a sonic screwdriver. Eventually we had to go to Ultimo to find this, and happily, success crowned our efforts.

When we got home, there was a message from the lawyer to say that the transmission of the house to my ownership has gone through, and that should be the end of all that. It is a great relief. None the less, that night I had a few sleepless hours, feeling angry, sad, and bitter that I have had to endure all this struggle. However, as time passes, these feelings should diminish, and I will be able to overcome the bad experiences, and rebuild my life.

Another communication came, via my lawyer, from the other side, forwarding a bill. Little things enrage me - in this case having them refer to me by my given name instead of by title (Ms) and surname. Bloody cheek, I think.

During the week, I went to the crematorium, and now have half of Dr P's ashes, which I will scatter in due course. It feels as though this is something which I should do alone, and with which I should not burden others. I am also giving thought to having the remaining ashes placed in a niche with a commemorative plaque - and feel that this should list his children. I cannot bear to have any communication with them, and evidently they wish none with me, but given that their father was a public figure, this much is owed.

I do what I think should be done.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Crawling around the floor and up the wall

There are times when I have to conclude I am absolutely purely and utterly female, and that I do not understand boys at all.

Henceforth plasticine will not be welcome in my house.

My daughter and her children have gone back home for a couple of days before normal grandmotherly services are resumed, and thus I have been sorting out the finer points of tidying up.

We have had quite a good supply of plasticine, so as to encourage creativity and imagination, but NO MORE. I have spent the evening crawling around on hands and knees, finding and discarding minute globules of plasticine and removing it from every conceivable surface and object. Plasticine has been discovered - and I don't believe it to be some kind of monstrous growth - on the lamps, joining many objects together, in imitation connection mechanisms,  in magnetic toys, pen tops, walls, desks, chairs, keyboards and desk supports.  It has also been ground into and inextricably blended with the nasty synthetic carpet in the middle level of the house, giving a certain malign spottiness and grottiness to said unlovely substance. Practically every screwdriver I possess has been removed from its proper resting place, from which it should be removed only in cases of severe emergency, and is now bedecked and bedewed with spicks and specks and spots and suspect purposes. Even though I have crawled feverishly around the house, it is extremely likely that in the days and weeks to come, more strange uses of plasticine will emerge from their chrysalises, and begin their breeding process yet again.

I am sorry, Grandson, but from today plasticine is no longer welcome in my house. I will read you stories instead. Or make you play Scrabble or Snakes and Ladders.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A minute selection of images

Small holm oak in Ostuni. They grow much bigger than this.

Cathedral and campanile in Trani,  right on the sea front, and thus has had to be protected from the ravages of the weather.  It is most beautiful and has elephants on the facciata.

This octagonal piece is Castel del Monte. Frederick II had this built, but died before it was completed. No one knows what it was for, and it has never been occupied. It just sits on top of this small mountain, visible for miles around, and it remains a most impressive puzzle.

Anonymous coastline between Point A and Point B, very steep and mountainous, and the sea really was this colour. It was incredibly beautiful.

Trajan's Arch at Benevento

 Creature at Roman theatre in Benevento

Benevento is quite a nice town but the amount of rubbish lying around was dreadful. In the morning people were out sweeping and washing their footpaths and windows, and the garbage removers were out in force, but all the same we in the group were rather appalled by the rubbish. 

Eucalyptus tree in alien landscape. It could have been near a restored portion of the Appian  Way, or else near other ruins. (We saw a lot of ruins.) One of the group is doing an essay on the Appian Way and we saw a lot of it.  The final part of it, very close to Rome and the aqueduct, we walked along, but then access back to the bus was blocked by a woman who said it was privately owned - we think what she really meant is that she had just confiscated that piece of land - Our guide argued very strongly but to no avail, so we retraced our steps until out of sight, and then clambered over a fence and made our licit or illicit way across.

Volcanic Lake Nemi, where Caligula's drowned pleasure boats were found, and later destroyed by the German Army.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Here are three photos from the thousand or so taken on my trip to Italy.  My daughter has been fiddling around, but I am yet to be convinced that all this effort is worth the results, and I may never do this ever again.

Previously I was able to find photos, put them in the appropriate size and insert them in the blog, but this has all been a fearful fiddle and I am not sure I will ever try to do it again.  I am yet to be convinced by alleged technological improvements, especially when they take twenty times as long and are not even remotely intuitive. I feel like grumping along to Apple and having a really big whinge. Although my daughter says that my camera has taken much better photographs - you note that the photographer gets absolutely no credits (and rightly so) the whole process of trying to work out how and what to do has put me into tantrum mode.

Thanks, Karen, for your advice about inserting photos, but my computer recognised none of it.

 The first photo is of the island of Stromboli, taken as we flew to Reggio, Calabria. The second two are of the aqueduct near Rome.

Friday, 6 April 2012


One of the difficulties about describing a trip is where to start. I have not yet discovered how to get photos from the computer to the blog, and although my photographer daughter is here, she is engaged in her own pursuits, and so far is not free to devote time and attention to her mama.  The older version of iPhoto seemed simpler. Wouldn't it be good if one could undergo an immersion in technology process through which all would become clear? At present I am unable to inflict my photos upon any interested readers.

When I arrived in Italy the weather was quite cold, and I had to wear all my available layers of clothing. The deciduous trees were all still bare. Once we arrived in Reggio, Calabria, all was still quite cold and the trees were bare. We made an expedition to Aspromonte, a very steep and precipitous area, where I wondered how people settled and scratched a living. We did not get as far as expected, as there had been some heavy snowfalls, and the road was blocked. The driver had to reverse along the road until it was possible to turn,  the road being very narrow. I think we all felt rather anxious for a while.

On the way we had stopped to look at the view and I was amazed to find grape hyacinths (muscari, and, in Italian pandicucco) growing wild, as well as alyssum, and I tried to identify the various trees. This is not easy when the trees are bare, but of the evergreens, I identified various pines, and also the holm oak. The holm oak appears to be extensively spread throughout Italy. I had seen it in Tuscany, and it does not resemble most oaks, and is an evergreen tree, but it certainly has acorns. In Australia I have seen it used as a street tree in Adelaide, but don't think I have seen it elsewhere. It grows to be a large tree, and is most beautiful, and presumably is very tough.

Most of the group, the leader and the various guides seemed relatively indifferent to the vegetation and quite ignorant, which, to my mind, was a pity. I saw borage growing wild, and also parsley, and various bulbs. There was only one other person who was interested in plants, and I was evidently the group expert. Very under-utilised, though.

As the trip progressed, the trees and shrubs started coming into leaf and into blossom. Lots of fruit trees, peaches and apricots, mainly. Each day the landscape seemed more and more transformed. Eventually I caught glimpses of the red poppies starting to bloom - they are, to me, one of the great joys of Italy. By the end of the trip most trees had produced their leaves, and were flowering. In the space of only  few weeks the whole landscape seemed to be transformed.

Initially I had disliked the pines and the European habit of pruning away all the lower branches of so many trees, but I came to love them, and how beautiful they made the landscape. We saw them at a war cemetery and also along an avenue close to one of the Roman aqueducts, and finally at Ostia Antica, which we visited on the morning of our departure from Rome Airport.

Many Australian shrubs and trees are now grown extensively in Italy, and we were told eucalyptus trees are somewhat of a pest. This somehow seemed only right and proper, given the number of non-indigenous species imported into Australia which have become absolute infestations, the gorse, the blackberry, the willow, the thistles and numerous other weeds. I was fascinated by the European habit of pollarding the trees , which does seem to me to be something of an unnatural act.

Since my return home I have been looking in various gardening books to identify some of the plants.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Wakefulness, and sundry reflections

Tired but jet lagged, that's what I am. Lying in bed for some hours has failed to make me drop off to sleep, which is bad, as I feel very tired. Big yawns assault me. It is 3.30 am and I went to bed several hours ago. The ABC was playing the St Matthew Passion and I listened to all of it, expecting to fall asleep at the end of it.  No such luck.

So there is a CD playing, as I sit and think about the nature of sleep, sleeplessness, and general tiredness.
In the day time I must get out and do legal things, such as sign something, by which process, I am given to understand, the ownership of the house will be transmitted to me. Then there will be more legal bills to pay.

Once all this has been done, I must take stock of my life, and allow time to flow and my life to unravel and sort itself out.

Normal life has not yet been resumed. There is this strange transition between being far, far away, engrossed in another part of the world, trying to absorb as much as possible, learning, seeing, observing and enjoying. It means abandoning the habitual and normal pursuits of life, albeit for a very short time. Then, after an very long journey, experienced in a kind of suspended animation,  one has to wake up, get back on track, discover what has been going on and what next needs to be done. Before, during and after tumble around my mind, just like clothes in a dryer.

The washing and ironing has been done, and some reorganising. Daylight is not being saved any more. I loaded all the photos onto the computer, and have spent some time turning them all the same way up, discarding some of them, and trying to work out where I was at each point. Which church, which seafront, which cliff, what town, which particular rocky landscape or mountain? I should have made more notes at the time.

After a week, possibly, I will feel as though I had never been away. I hope this will not be true, as I need to savour the experience, to try to experience it in a slower motion than was the reality. The home part before the travel, the tour itself, and the return to 'normal' life, need to be reconciled, and absorbed, instead of seeming to be totally separate film experiences, in which the viewing of one somehow obliterates or conceals from memory all the others. It reminds me of having my eyes tested, with one lens after another being placed before the eye, changing perception and reality each time. What was it like? Put it back again, so I can fix and reconcile the experience and the memory. They need to be made less transient, less fleeting.

It was a good thing, to go away, and to disrupt and displace, to some extent, all that happened in the last two years.