Tuesday, 29 May 2012


If this is not a word, then it ought to be, and it is hereby launched into the vocabulary cosmos. One frequently reads of those who emerge unscathed from disasters, bushfires, car accidents, and the likes, but its opposite, scathed, seems not to have exactly the opposite meaning.

I feel rather scathed, and can only hope that recovery will happen, doubtless at its own lurching and idiosyncratic pace. In the meantime the effects of being scathed must be endured. While in a practical sense I know I have done quite well, and in other ways I have become more determined and resolute, inside me is a quivering, quavering blob-like jelly, ready to fall apart at the least little blow. As I am on my own, what can't be cured must be endured, but oh! how I want to flail about, to moan and groan, and to cast myself on the waters where perhaps I might be petted and consoled.

There, there.

If only.

As a significant birthday approaches, the question of how it should be celebrated arises. And it occurs to me that my siblings, although sympathetic and ready to telephone me at fairly regular intervals, are in fact too busy and preoccupied to fit me into their crowded lives, instead expecting me to come to them rather than their coming to me. They came to Dr P's funeral, but since then none of them has come to visit me, although they have managed to make various trips elsewhere. And I feel left out. And think that surely one or other of them might have come to see me. It has been a very rough and tough year, and I have undergone much suffering. Seriously. And the effects do not dissipate overnight.

I ventured to suggest to one sister that I wished she would come and see me, and she lost her temper and bit my head off. She was very busy, she said, she worked hard, minded her grandchild once a week,  had her other children to see, and could not afford to travel here.

I know all that. But. She has been to Brisbane twice, had quite a few weekends away elsewhere, and has made a number of trips to see our sister with dementia.

I applaud the care she gives to others and to our sister.  But my sister does have family nearby, and her husband. I have no one here.

The truth is I am jealous. What about me? I think. I helped her during her troubles. I need support now.

Jealousy is a very scathing emotion. It makes you emotionally very raw. I do not like myself, or approve of myself, when it has me in its sour and savage grip.And it is very inadvisable and counter-productive to let fly with it, so I must do my best to bite my tongue, wrestle with it all, and conform to expectations.

Needs must.

None of them will travel to be with me on this birthday. Instead, I must travel to them.

I am organising a birthday afternoon tea for myself in my home, and I hope friends and children will come to it.

At the same time I wish this significant birthday could be put off for another year. Then perhaps I could deal with it all.

Because who likes a self-pitying whinger?

I certainly don't.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Some good things: some healing

Years ago, Dr P gave me a string of pearls, which had belonged to his mother. I seldom wore them, and the year before he died, he gave me another string of pearls, extremely beautiful, which we chose together.  I wear them often, and they are very precious to me.

After his death, I wondered what to do with his mother's pearls. I felt that they should go to a blood relation. Given that his daughters and I are exceedingly unlikely to have any further contact, there seemed no simple answer. Finally I took my courage in my hands, and wrote to the younger of Dr P's two nieces.Their mother, Dr P's sister, had died of poliomyelitis when the younger daughter was only 15 months old, and their grandmother had taken over their care.

Our contact with this niece had been infrequent, as they live far away, but she was always pleasant and cordial to me. She had not been involved, to my knowledge, in any of the aftermath of Dr P's death. I decided to offer the pearls to her. With much trepidation, I wrote offering the pearls, asking her to keep it confidential, between the two of us.

If anything, I expected a written reply. Instead, today she telephoned me. It was, I thought, very brave of her to ring me, rather than replying by letter. We talked for some time. She was very glad to have had the offer, and does indeed want the pearls. We did not go into chapter and verse of the events since Dr P's death, and it seems she was not involved to any extent in them. She seemed to understand that I hope never to have any further contact with Dr P's daughters and their families - or with her sister, who is married to Dr P's solicitor, who was quite obnoxious and offensive towards me during all the legal exchanges.

This younger niece was very close to her grandmother, and I think has relatively few family items. I have sent her the pearls. I  hope she wears them with pleasure, and in loving and affectionate remembrance of her grandmother, and that her daughter inherits them in her turn. I am glad to have made this offer and gift, and that the two of us have reached some degree of understanding, reaching beyond the hostility and bitterness which followed Dr P's death.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Diary of a putative Domestic Goddess.

Since cancelling the cleaners many months ago,  I have had to spend far more time doing housework, which is one of the less enthralling aspects of life. So much dust gets in, there are floors to be washed, and so on and so forth. How many hours, and what percentage of our time is spent in such pursuits? Perhaps half my waking hours are spent in domestic tasks, and yet there is only one of me, and I am not a particularly messy grub.

Today I washed lots of glasses, and then cleaned out all the kitchen drawers. It took hours. Some of the contents have been discarded, and will go off to Vinnies. The remaining items are sorted and rearranged to some extent.

Having a well equipped kitchen has always been important to me, although perhaps I have gone to extremes. There are many knives, both large and small. Good sharp knives are a necessity,  and I have given them as presents to family members who somehow or other have coped with some very blunt and ineffective ones. Microplaner graters are essential.  I have a little gadget, beloved by the grandchildren, which produces curling carrot shreds, and finely sliced cucumber ribbons. There is my cleaver, an essential when it comes to the smashing and chopping of garlic and ginger.

My mezzaluna is one of my favourites. It makes the chopping of herbs an absolute breeze, and I cannot see how any self-respecting cook could manage without one. (Once upon a time I was a self-respecting cook.) Then there are the peeling devices, the lemon rind grater, the tongs, the non-stick sheet on which to roll pastry, and there is another metal piece which you place on top of the hotplates, with points up or down depending on the type of heat source, which enables finer control of simmering. There are funnels, to help with the ladling of hot jam or marmalade,  the meat bashing implement, chopsticks, can-openers, the potato masher. An adequate number of chopping boards is essential. But I keep one of therm absolutely garlic-free.

After a year of managing without a properly functioning oven, I am about to get a new one. Since Dr P's death, the oven has been very wonky, and it takes over 45 minutes to reheat a small spinach quiche. It has been very tedious. Roast dinners have been impossible, and the grandchildren and I have not been able to indulge in the making and baking of Anzac biscuits or the Buttermilk Spice Cake. (See recipe below)

The almost totally defunct oven consists of a microwave on top and then an oven with an internal griller. Grillers inside ovens are a very bad idea, and I bet a non-cooking man thought that one up. They make the oven dirty, create smoke, alarms go off and chaos abounds. There is probably no person alive who cheerfully or readily contemplates cleaning an oven. Ergo I am getting an oven with a separate griller.

The microwave part can go, as this household used to be blessed with three microwaves, that in the oven, my old one and Dr P's. Three is two more than necessary. We managed to dispose of one. The problem with getting a new oven is that the existing one takes up more space than the new one will, and thus I need a carpenter to make and install a frame, and alas, some space will inevitably be wasted. However, this can be borne, and the prospect of actually being able (and perhaps willing) to cook is almost enticing.

My lovely physiotherapist Barbara, who recommended her brother, Bruce the handyman, who came the other day to fix swollen doors, doorbells, smoke alarms and garage lights, also gave me the name of her carpenter. He came today and had a squizz, and, what's more, his brother is an electrician, so perhaps all systems may be on Go. After spending heaps of money feeding lawyers, it will be good to spend on something which will assist in feeding me.

Last week I bought some fresh ravioli, and as a result, cooked some bolognese sauce. And I ate it and it was good. Thus encouraged, yesterday I made quince jelly. I had only four quinces, which yielded four small jars. It tastes delicious, and the sight of the clear and deep ruby red/pink jelly brings cheer to the soul. Perhaps I will make some more.

And I defrosted the freezer. (Free advice: Always buy a frost-free machine.)

It sounds a bit pathetic to catalogue such mundane domestic tasks. Thus my days are spent. It is how I am wresting control of my life.

Work apace, apace, apace, apace
Honest labour bears a lovely face.

Then hey nonny, nonny, hey nonny, nonny

(Thomas Dekker)


2¼ cups of plain flour
1 cup of white sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon salt ( reduce this drastically, who needs this much salt!)
¾ teaspoon each of carb soda, ground cloves, and ground cinnamon

Sift together in bowl

then add

½ cup soft shortening (margarine or butter)
¾ cup soft brown sugar (packed down)
1 cup of buttermilk

beat together for 2 minutes
3 eggs
Beat 2 more minutes

Pour into greased and floured cake tins, either 2 9 inch layer pans or 1 oblong pan 13x9inches, (or whatever suits quantity)

Bake at 350 degrees, for 35-40 minutes for layers, or 45-50 for oblong pan.

Remove from pan. Cool.

Frost with EASY PENUCHE ICING, as follows:

Melt in saucepan ½ cup of butter.  Stir in 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
Boil and stir over low heat for 2 minutes
Stir in ¼ cup milk.  Bring to boil, stirring constantly.  Cool to lukewarm.  Gradually stir in
1 ¾ to 2 cups of sifted pure icing sugar

Place pan in iced water and stir icing until thick enough to spread. Then go for it, and enjoy the scrape. Let the kids have some of it too.

NOTE: Frances says half the recipe plus a little more than half the milk is enough.

Thursday, 10 May 2012


While walking through the park to the Art Gallery today, I was accosted by a woman. I tried to avoid her, but she blocked my passage. I dislike being accosted, so was all set to give her short shrift.

Instead of asking me for money, as I had expected, she asked me for directions, to the Sydney Eye Hospital.

She was less than a block away, but clearly had problems working out her way. All she had to do was cross the street, get to the other side and walk straight ahead. She was distressed: she had been trying to find her way for an hour. I don't know how many people she had asked for help, or how many had refused her. Her English was so poor that she had difficulty understanding the simplest of directions. So I took her there, and hope she managed to get the emergency treatment she needed.

I can't stop thinking about her, and how my reaction had been to treat her as a nuisance and to refuse to listen. As soon as I realised how difficult it was for her to understand, I took her there, but am ashamed of my initial reaction in wanting to avoid listening and helping her.

Generally people are friendly and helpful. You can stop and ask others for help, and can easily fall into casual and friendly conversations. We, as a people, are generally prepared to come to another's aid, and to enjoy the casual relations of every day encounters. But I failed, initially, today.

I hope I have made some amends.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Letting go

Half of Dr P's ashes are now let loose upon the earth. I scattered them in the gardens surrounding the place where he laboured, to which he contributed significantly, and where he finished his working life. He was a person who achieved much in his life.

To scatter them in this place seemed appropriate, fitting and right.

I had thought of having my children with me, but in the event, it was something I wished to do by myself: to walk in this place alone and unobserved, solemnly, and with purpose, on a sunny day, and to spread them in a place of beauty. This I did, and said silently, again, 'Farewell: I will try to let go of the sorrow, the grieving, the bitterness and unhappiness, and to recollect, what a friend said to me gently, recently, 'You did love each other, and you did have happy times.'

One must remember the good as well as the bad.

It remains finally to organise the placing of the rest of his ashes in a niche, with a commemorative plaque. 

Seven whole years

My granddaughter has just had her seventh birthday, celebrated in great style with a party in the freezing air of Canberra.

She is my only granddaughter. All the grandchildren are, of course, special, but I am so glad to have a granddaughter. (She does not expect me to build or talk about Lego, or guns, and such like - things for which I have minimal talent for or interest in.)

This birthday was awaited with immense and intense excitement. Her loose tooth came out just in time, and I think the Tooth Fairy obliged with the customary donation. She had a very good day, with a lovely party, despite the cold. (Just as well I kept all my cold weather clothes.) All her friends were delightful, and they all had a great time.

My son provided the major excitement of the event. He has a remote controlled car (he loves gadgets), to which he affixed a very large balloon, and he made it race all around the grassy area, giving it exceedingly exciting bursts of speed, and all manner of twists and turns. All the children chased the car, but they had a lot of trouble catching it. We onlookers, parents, grandparents and associated hangers-on, were doubled up with shrieks of laughter, and so were the rest of the people round about. What a pity it was not broadcast live on national television.

The party was a very sugary event. Ah well! You just cannot beat the buttermilk spice cake - totally delicious and very more-ish! Especially the icing (Easy Penuche Icing).

The recipe came from an American friend from work, who was immense fun, a brilliant manager, and an excellent cook, who provided regular contributions to morning teas and other festive occasions, such as staff birthdays, in those relaxed days before economic rationalists had totally conquered the earth, when we used to take our knitting and crochet along to staff meetings, all the better to stimulate our brains with.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they'd never end...

The buttermilk spice cake lives on, though. It has graced, and been enthusiastically devoured at so many occasions. It went down very well at Dr P's wake. Truly a cake for all seasons.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Miscellaneous reflections

The argomento for tomorrow's Italian class has been written. I cannot see any mistakes in it, which just goes to show something or other, because generally mistakes are legion, and I have no real reason to expect anything different in this latest effort. We all have a lot of trouble with our tenses and our prepositions. At least, I spent the day gainfully employed and got through the day's agenda. I set about the task early, and got it done before going out to join the wider world. Such virtue.

 Instead of writing this blog, in its particular stream of consciousness, I should be revising the compito, but it feels as though it has been a long day. Having just watched a program on lions, I feel entitled to roll around like a relaxing lion. Metaphorically, of course. I don't have anyone to lick, or to bat around the head with my claws all nicely sheathed. It would be good to bat fate around the head, but things could be worse, so I refrain from yielding to this impulse.

The highlights of the day were lunch with a friend, followed by a less enjoyable visit to the optometrist. All of  a sudden, so it seemed, things had got very blurry, which was somewhat alarming. And yes, my sight has deteriorated quite a lot, and I definitely need new glasses, and annual check-ups from now on. Age cannot wither her, nor custom spoil her infinite variety. Oh yeah? I don't think Shakespeare's comment on Cleopatra has universal application, more's the pity.

The optometrist told me that everyone has a dominant eye, just like being right or left-handed, and one leg being the one that kicks. That is just how you are. My dominant eye is the left one, which is a pity, as it is the eye which has always given me problems. My eyes have never focussed together, and I switch from one to the other. This means I cannot focus on anything very quickly. I never see shooting stars, for example, and feel that in this respect, nature, has dealt me a bad hand. But it does seem that you can persuade, or trick your eye into switching the dominant one.

Age and decrepitude are not exactly creeping up on me, they seem instead to be galloping along at far too rapid a pace, dragging me along, kicking, screaming and generally protesting, all of which reactions serve me not a whit. Save your breath,  the ambient air says to me.

I went along this evening to a talk at my local library by Stephanie Dowrick, but I cannot say that it improved my human condition. Not yet, at any rate. Inter alia, she talked about kindness. In many ways I am quite kind, but on the other hand, selfishness and lack of consideration for others provoke my ire. Then I seethe, I rage, I burn.

As I walk or drive around the neighbourhood, little acts of kindness are evident. Drivers give way quite often to pedestrians, even though the drivers have the right of way.  But on the other hand drivers often charge across the pedestrian crossings, even though there are people on them. But I like the neighbourhood. People recognise each other, and smile and are helpful. Spontaneous conversations and pleasantries occur, and smiles and laughs are exchanged. Children and dogs are admired. Such interactions give comfort, I think, to those of us who are alone, and to others who need and enjoy them. Thus social capital is created and maintained.