Saturday, December 29, 2012

I must go down to the sea again...

... To the lonely sea and sky.
I left my socks upon the rocks -
I do hope they are dry!

Ah, summer! Boating weather.

When your boat works, that is.

Yesterday I saw a boat called Money Pit II being towed along the road, and thought that with a name like that the owner should have learned a lesson from owning, presumably, Money Pit I.

Maybe we should rename our boat Money Pit. It's called Bootle-Bumtrinket after Gerald Durrell's childhood boat, because - well, frankly it looks like a Bootle-Bumtrinket. It's clumsy and orange and a bit of a conservative old man's boat. I call it Bootle for short. G hates the whole name and only calls it Trinket. It looks nothing like a Trinket. Trust me. Or judge for yourself:

Anyway Bootle has been out of action for a year. She was a cheap buy and twice we've had to screw the front passenger seat back down. However, the wood under the deck had rotted, so this year, with the advice of a friend, G bought some marine ply and fibreglassed it to the top of the deck. He is no handyman. Our friend, DIY-boy for want of a better name, shook his head and said we'd have to sand it back and do it again. In short, DIY-boy did it for us with G watching on to learn. After that, G and DIY-boy screwed new seats (because the old ones were buggered anyway) onto the new raised deck area.

I will mention at this point that one of the new seats is height adjustable, so I, the vertically-challenged, can lower it to drive the boat in comfort. I have a skipper's licence as does G. But, woe is me, G screwed the adjustable seat onto the passenger side. For fuck's sake!  I was bitterly disappointed but as he'd worked so hard and sworn so much over it, I had to say how fantastic the whole job was and that an adjustable passenger seat was probably a good idea anyway.

So today is 'take the boat out' day. Or it's supposed to be.

The battery was flattish yesterday, so we bought a new battery charger as the old one was broken, and charged it overnight. It hasn't retained its charge so G has headed out now to buy a new one. The battery is officially buggered.

I reminded him we'll have to top up the tank with fresh fuel as the old fuel will be too old to ignite easily. Fuel over six weeks old doesn't work as well as new fuel. I sincerely hope the tank isn't full to the brim with old fuel.

So by the time we get this show on the road today, the tide will be racing out and it'll be awful old low tide at the boat ramp, never much fun.  High tide peaked an hour ago. There's a southerly wind due and the harbour will be choppy, and the sun isn't even shining, but G is determined to get Bootle/Trinket/Money Pit out on the water. We're going to take the orange monster into the fish markets.

Chips ahoy!
Three hours later:

Well. We were puttering around for a maximum of 20 minutes including time when the motor conked out thrice and refused to restart for a while. Boats!!!

I know the poor little thing had a very cold engine so I didn't take it about 1500 rpm, but even after letting it warm up for ten minutes, it kept conking out at anything above 1500. The worst time was when I was frantically trying to restart it and G was using the paddle to move it to the side of the channel, and a speeding Rivercat was bearing down on us!

Still, she hobbled back to the boat ramp for me, and now we have to find out her problem. My bet is that it's dirt somewhere in the fuel system. Watch this space.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ink and flowing hands

I read in The Australian a week or so ago that writing implements may be on the endangered list, along with ties and hard copy diaries.

That's sad. I do love a good pen. There's something grand about writing with a fountain pen, for example.  I write letters to family members and old friends who haven't embraced the digital age, and take the trouble to use my fountain pen as it's about the only gallop it gets these days.

Even sadder on the handwriting front, there was a letter from a reader to the Oz's magazine stating that her grandchildren, in their early 20s, couldn't decipher their great-grandfather's WWI diaries, written in an elegant copperplate.

At school these days, it seems, kids aren't taught cursive/joined up writing. They learn a sort of italic printing but by the time they're in high school most of their work is via computer. Handwriting is not a skill that's desirable any more. Hence a generation who'll struggle to read the handwriting of their ancestors; they haven't learned how to form the shapes themselves.

There's a likelihood that cheques will go the way of the dodo as electronic banking buries them; that a signature written by hand won't cut the mustard at some point and that biometrics will be used to prove you're who you are. Handwriting, which has served us for more than a thousand years, will be more or less redundant.

That's a real shame.

Both my grandparents had elegant writing. Despite going to the same primary school their writing styles were quite different. Both slant forwards but my Pop's was copperplate, very neat and small, and Nan's was a flowing hand, big and generous. I write much like Nan, in a hand that lies about my age.

I grew up learning a very plain joined-up form called modified cursive, all the rage in NSW schools from the late 50s to at least the 1970s. It looked so plain and ugly - and even worse in my eyes, childish - beside my Mum's and grandparents' hands that once I was out of primary school and not marked on my handwriting any more I swiftly put loops on all the strokes I could and should. Fancy capitals, too.

I couldn't easily find an image of the cursive we learned at school on the net, so here it is, with my own cursive hand to show the difference.

I don't write by hand as much as I used to. My day book, beside my Mac, is covered with my scrawl, some of it neat, some of it all over the place as I take notes while I'm on the phone and/or pushing a cat out of the way.

This afternoon though, as work is getting quiet now with Christmas approaching, I did the annual Christmas card job, using my lovely fountain pen. I do have some fancy calligraphy I use when I'm handwriting, funky styles that I use for one-off cards, ie birthdays. It takes me a bit of time to do each card that way however, so with a pile of cards in front of me I elected for my usual handwriting, the one with loops and fancy capitals.

There really is something satisfying about writing by hand rather than simply tapping away at a keyboard. It means you have to think about what you're writing; you can't simply backspace if you change your mind half way through a sentence. Or misspell someone's name through being hasty. (Sorry to my cousin Louise, I really meant to put the 'i' in in the first place, not add it afterwards.)

There's some ink left in the pen; time to write a Christmas letter to my last surviving relation who doesn't own a computer!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

And that was the me that was

I've been spending a fair bit of time at Mum's house lately - doing maintenance work and readying it for her return from hospital. She's home now, with a four-wheeled walker to give her some stability and confidence. Luckily her house has wide enough halls and doorways so getting around with the wheelie is pretty easy for her.

I'm back at my home now and feeling guilty at leaving her, although I'll be at hers again tomorrow for the night and will probably spend a night or two there each week over the coming weeks to assess how she's going and when - and it will be when rather than if - G and I have to move in permanently with her.

Hmmph, three paras in and I've already digressed. Back to Mum's house itself. And my old childhood stuff secreted therein.

Like Mum, I'm loathe to throw old memories away and I came across a stash of my old diaries in my first bedroom, high up in a cupboard near the ceiling. These were from my very horsy years: my teen years and early twenties.

The school-aged ones were covered in stickers and drawings, photos from old Hollywood photocopied from books, quotes, jokes, drawings copied from cool 1970s calendars. Meticulously I would decorate them during the summer holidays for the year to come, so there was bugger-all space to write in useful reminders about when assignments were due and boring old school stuff. They were works of art and I giggled as I flicked through them. What a little tragic I was! Anniversaries of when racehorses had been born or had died, with special attention paid to those put down on the racecourse. Jockeys' birthdays (namely those on whom I had a crush). The 'addresses' section was full of racecourses and - what a stalker! - jockeys' addresses (see that bit about crushes again). The only part of the diary that was regularly written in was when I went to the races, or went riding.

There's a sad entry on 30 September 1978 - simply "Nan died". My favourite person in the world, my grandmother, died unexpectedly in her sleep from an aneurism of the aorta, and my world fell apart. The diary was not completed often for the rest of that year until the last day of school when I'd scribbled "I'm FREE!!!" in big letters across the page. I remember bounding out of the school gates for the last time, undoing the top three buttons of my blouse (totally against the rules) and knowing I would never, ever, get a detention for it.

Even at 17 when I'd finished school and was at business college, and had my own horse, I'd kept doing the teen sticker thing. I'd written in when I'd bought horse feed, tack, had the farrier around and how much it all cost. I'd scrawled in when I had driving lessons. I used 'bloody' a lot (and still do). I made comments about the other horses sharing the paddock with mine, and their teenage owners. Ominously there are selfish comments about my grandfather who was then living with us. He was unable to live alone after Nan died; he had a blockage in a vein near his brain, which made him act like an Alzheimer's patient from time to time. He'd swear blind some days that you put your underpants on over your head. He'd leave the stove on and forget about it, letting saucepans boil dry and blacken. He'd put his gloves in the freezer. He'd eat food he shouldn't (he was diabetic). In short, he couldn't be left alone.

All teens are selfish. I cringe when I remember how I was back then. I was grieving for Nan, but how must Pop have felt, after living with that lovely lady for 55 years? Then having to leave his home - which we left intact and took him to visit - and his routine for our house and ours.  But I was bitter. Pop had changed as the blockage affected him more and more. He wasn't the lovely man I'd studied the form guide with every Saturday and went with to place bets at the local TAB. His vocabulary had dwindled; he didn't have much to say anymore except repeating, "What do you know?" every time he saw me. Gone were the tales from his past which used to enthrall me, stories from when he was a baker or a kid in the country. Now it was just "What do you know?". Over and bloody over, as I'd noted.

I grew to dread that "What do you know?". I hate people repeating themselves at the best of times and I think this is why!

I also grew to hate mealtimes as Pop was a ravenous eater and would hoover up the food on his plate and then stare at my plate or Mum's, unblinking, like a cat. We were slower eaters, although I soon learned to hoover too so I didn't have his eyes fixed on the food left on my plate. On days where I really couldn't stand it I'd take my plate into another room. (I recall standing in the laundry once, bitterly eating from my plate which was perched on the washing machine.) He wouldn't talk; just stare. I can't stand people staring at my food while I'm trying to eat it, either.

I grew to hate being in the same room as him. I couldn't talk on the phone to any friends I might have as Pop would come into the kitchen and listen; it was entertainment for him I guess. Purgatory for me.

In short I was a selfish teenager who could only see my tantrum-filled side of the story, and called him The Old Bastard in my diaries for 1979, 1980 and 1981. I was a little shit. I hated Pop at the time for tying Mum and I both down. Oh universe, oh Pop, I do apologise. I've felt bad over the years about being such a little bitch to you at that time, Pop. I put Mum under pressure too, complaining about Pop; Herbert only knows she was under enough pressure of her own, and having to play nursemaid to an ageing and sometimes non-comprehending parent aged her ten years I think in the three he lived with us before he died.

Staccato scribbles tell me that Pop went to stay with my aunt in the country a few times; he'd be away a month or two and come back with his diabetes in a total mess, which gave Mum and the doctor extra work to get him back on track. It gave Mum and I a break while he was away - we even had a road trip ourselves to Queensland and back in 1981 where I stalked a jockey I fancied. (We drove to his house and looked at it and drove away again.) A paragraph, cramped into the little space allocated for that day, states that jockey-boy GK and I talked over the fence at the races. We were supposed to go for a drink after the last but he disappeared. That didn't stop my lurve for him; my initials and his were childishly encased in love-hearts all through the diary (and preceding ones and even anteceding ones). I had his phone number; I rang him a few times and noted whether the call was a good chatty one or whether he simply wasn't interested in talking. Poor bloke, he mustn't have known what to do; a teenage girl very clearly wet behind the ears and still on V-plates chasing after him. Most guys would have taken advantage I guess even if they didn't find me attractive. GK, I discovered later, preferred blondes who were good time girls; I thought he was being a gentleman but frankly I wasn't his type.

So that was my late teens: a girlish crush on a jockey, and a grandfather whose marbles hadn't been handed in at the Police station. I was a child still in many ways; a kidult, vastly immature compared to my peers. I'd been brought up in a strict household and frankly didn't know how to rebel aside from stomping around the house with the shits. I didn't have a proper boyfriend but a fantasy relationship with a jockey whom I plucked up the courage to phone a few times. In fact my life was a fantasy existence to get away from my sulky teenage reality of a life revolving around keeping my grandfather out of trouble.

My grandfather died in 1981, and a simple "Pop died" is on the day, 4 October. I have noted that it's also the anniversary of Phar Lap's birth, as if the grand horse and the man who loved horseracing were somehow intertwined. On the day of the funeral I report my mother and her sister having a row at our place afterwards, and that I drove down to feed my horse Mikki illegally on my own. I was still on L-plates but there was nobody to drive with me.

It's struck me, reading these diaries, that I'm the age now that Mum was when Pop came to live with us. I hope, when we have to move back with her, I'm a nicer person now than I was then. I hope I can bite my tongue when she annoys me, because she is sure to; I still feel like a child when I stay at her house, and my inner rebel wants to scream. I hope I can have patience, and tolerance, and love. Mum's not like Pop; her marbles are thoroughly intact and she has a mind like a steel trap, but the generation gap is pretty much a chasm. When the time comes, I don't want to be a me I regret later.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Purple carrots in a posh spag bog

We're eating well posh tonight, so we are.

Last weekend we headed to Orange Grove markets as they are within ten minutes' drive of Mum's house early on a Saturday morning.

I love OG markets: the fresh fruit and veg range is astounding. Tons of organic goodies from at least a dozen sellers, and just about all is grown locally in the Sydney basin or within a couple of hours of Sydney. We have nothing quite like it close to where I live in western Sydney but I believe Castle Hill Farmers' Markets are pretty good. Most of the organic stuff is reasonably priced too; I got potatoes for close to what I pay for spuds in the supermarket.

And then there are meat sellers, pasta sellers, flower sellers, plant sellers, craft and clothing sellers and some excellent bakers and pastry chefs, fast (but good) food, and probably a few types of vendors I've left out.  You can do your entire food shopping in this place. We did.

We came home laden with:

  • Free range eggs
  • Baby garlic with stems that look like leeks and bulbs you can use like spring onions
  • Scotch pies
  • Wagyu beef mince
  • Grass fed hormone free bacon
  • Fresh 3 mushrooms and walnut ravioli
  • Fresh linguine
  • Fresh napolitana sauce
  • Fresh pesto, all from The Pasta Gallery. Damn, they make superb fresh pasta!
  • A bunch of purple heirloom carrots
  • A sourdough miche from Sonoma bakery
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potato
  • Baby Spinach leaves
  • Nectarines
  • Baklava (mmmmm!)
  • Chocolate Croissants (mmmmmmmmmmmm!)
  • Cherries
  • Swiss brown mushrooms
  • A washed rind cheese and a cracking Aussie cheddar
and undoubtedly other things I've forgotten about that we have already scoffed. The ravioli we ate with pesto on Saturday night. The baklava went pretty quickly too. The mushrooms and some of the little garlic made a soup with rice to give it a creamy texture.

And tonight: Wagyu beef with napolitana sauce, some more of that garlic, two violently violet carrots, and fresh linguine. I've sloshed some Tempranillo into the sauce to give it a bit more depth as it's not really a spag bol sauce per se. Like I said, a very posh spag bog. I feel a bit guilty about sacrificing the Wagyu but bugger it, it's mince. It's meant to be eaten.

It's amazing how much good, organic food can make you feel rich at heart, luxe to the core. Cooking and eating this stuff I feel like a millionaire. There is truly a wealth of difference in, for example, the sourdough miche compared to the bread you can buy around my area. And the fresh linguine we are having tonight - well, Latina and you other fresh pasta people, you could learn from this guy. It is truly silken.

I live in a wee house in a cheap part of town. Opposite me is a KFC where people have fights in the car park on Saturday nights. The Police helicopter is a regular visitor overhead at weekends. My view is other people's roofs or windows, with trees studding the skyline. It's hot and dusty and humid and vile in summer. It's noisy. There is always litter and broken glass in the lane outside my house. But eating good food makes me feel like a queen.

If I'm down to my last dollar, I'll spend it on good grub.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sick Mums and lots of Stuff

My Mum is in hospital at the moment. Given that she is 87, diabetic and a heart patient, she's had a great run and hasn't been in hospital since her triple bypass ten years ago. This visit was courtesy of a gallstone stuck in her bile duct, compounded by a fall which left her weak and lying on the kitchen floor for hours until I, worried that she hadn't answered the phone, raced over to her place and found her there.

So now it's a convalescent home for a couple of weeks until she gets the strength back to walk around again. Until now she hasn't needed a stick or a walker but at the moment can't walk unaided. The fall weakened her physically; her confidence has taken a dive too.

G and I have been staying at her place at weekends since she's been in hospital. Firstly it's been closer to the hospital than where we live; secondly I can collect any clothing, cosmetics and other things she may need.

It's also an opportunity for us to get stuck into maintenance and cleaning around her house while she's not there watching us.

Mum, you see, is old enough to have lived through the Great Depression and WWII; she has experienced hunger; she has experienced having nothing and living in a boarding house with her entire family in one room and shared facilities on the next floor. This has given her the mentality that you HAVE to hang onto everything in case there's another war or depression and things, in general, just aren't available.

So the cupboards in Mum's place are full of stuff from the forties and fifties right through to cheap tat from the $2 shop last year. An old metal Esky that she hasn't used since I was a kid as it's so heavy even unladen. But it's still 'good' so you can't get rid of it. An old electric frypan which I believe is broken but who knows, gosh, it could be fixable. My grandfather's damaged Gladstone bag (now on eBay but don't tell her). My great grandmother's carpet sweeper, a real collector's item (also now on eBay). Suitcases, the type made without wheels, that are totally empty but in the cupboards just in case. I'll never use them. I use the wheely kind. G and I snuck them out and off to Vinnie's where they may find a home with someone who WILL use them.  Old toys from my childhood. I'll flog some of those on eBay too; tin toys and believe it or not the free toys you got in cereal packets are quite collectable.

Then there are the pillows. Mum is sleeping on pillows from the 1950s and won't replace them because they are still 'good'. If lumpy and disintegrating is 'good' then let me know. We had similar pillows forced on us for our bed when we stay over. They went in the bin ages ago - we didn't tell Mum - in favour of new ones from Big W. I have now replaced Mum's pillows. In case she freaks I have put, to my regret, her original ones in her linen press.

Mum uses the area under her house - earth floor, under the floorboards, rather like a cellar but you can only crawl in there - for storage too and on Sunday G and I unearthed (almost literally!) an old rusting electric heater circa 1965, three rusting birdcages, a broken electric instantaneous water heater and the racks from her old dishwasher (kept in case of handiness but not used in 20 years). There was also a bag of ancient ugg boots. Jesus. This lot is going for council cleanup.

So far, aside from the above, we have filled two big bin liners with stuff she doesn't use and won't miss, stuff which is totally useless or broken or mouldy or manky.

The issue really is that at some point we may have to move in with her to be carers rather than let her go to a nursing home. Leaving her home permanently would kill her off; she designed the place, she built it.

In order to move in though we'll have to have room for our own stuff. Stuff we actually use on a daily basis as well as keepsakes and ornamental stuff. At the moment there's no room for us if we have to move in. So we're doing some surreptitious cleaning and sorting while she's not there to tell us what can go and what can't. It sounds cruel but we're working on the cupboards where she stores the things least accessed and useable, the cupboards she can only get to via a ladder and she won't be going up ladders any more.

If we do have to move in we'll have to compromise on furniture. Mum has a leather lounge suite which we'd use instead of ours. She has a bigger dining table too, although it's ugly 80s whereas ours is old with French provincial charm. G has a lovely old desk of his Dad's he wants to keep. We'll have to sell some of our stuff I guess and we'll have a surfeit of beds between us. I'm dreading it. As Mum doesn't like to give anything up without a fight, when we move back the house will be even more cluttered. The idea is making me feel ill.

Facing junk and clutter in Mum's house has had one good effect on me though. There was a giant fair at a local school last week. It always has good quality bric a brac. But I didn't want even go. I don't want to buy more stuff, no matter how tempting. We have more than enough.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Life on hold

Yesterday I was on hold to an ISP on behalf of a client for 118 minutes. Just waiting, stuck in the queue. Pretty appalling service, but I suspect that Mondays are like that for many ISPs and help desks in general.

Anyway, I amused myself reading other people's blogs, working on websites, and answering the other phone. For a while I had the on-hold music in my left ear and a colleague in my right, tuning out one and listening to the other. (I really should have tuned the colleague out on reflection!)

But after a while I wanted to go to the loo. What to do, what to do? What if the help desk finally answers my call while I'm sat there? I took a punt and ran for the bathroom, portable phone in hand. Even that, an action guaranteed to make me first in the queue and be answered while I'm grabbing handfuls of loo paper, didn't get me off hold.

I searched for chords for 1920s/1930s songs for my ukulele and printed out a bunch to learn.

I finally caught up with popular culture and found out what Gangnam Style is. Watching the music clip killed 4:20 minutes and played havoc with the crappy music I was still listening to in my left ear.

After an hour and a half I was hungry. I made some coffee and ate a handful of nuts. By now I was so used to the on-hold music I would have jumped out of my skin if a real person had come to the phone.

I looked up an old boss - the stuff of nightmares. You should never look up old bosses if they were abysmal to work for. I found a photo of her, smiling and showing lots of gum and very red lips; as scary as ever in other words. She's moved to NZ now and runs a B&B as well as holding down a high powered exec job. Thank God for the rubbish on-hold music, it stopped me hearing her voice materialise in the air beside me!

And then, when I was really despairing that my call would ever make it to front of the queue, my client sent me an email with specific log in and account details and - oh glory! - they worked and I could hang up the phone without needing to talk to the help desk at all.

Seriously though, almost two hours. Have you ever been put on hold for so long?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When imagination runs wild - the unfettered state of childhood

When I was a pre-schooler, about three years old or thereabouts, I had an idea for a tv show for kids. It was called Toilet Time. The premise was this:

I would sit on the toilet having a crap and would be reading aloud an interesting story to a group of kids sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of me. They would be sitting a couple of metres away so they wouldn't cop the smell.

Yes, I was a bizarre child. At three I already had the reading skills of a seven year old, but the Toilet Time idea was the bizarre bit.

I used to like sitting on the loo reading a book as a kid; it was a good way to pass half an hour and whatever I'd eaten 24 hours before.  (These days I barely get the opportunity to finish a page before life calls me out of the loo.) In my imagination, however, I was not alone.

I used to envisage my audience, this rapt collection of small strangers hanging on my every word. Boys and girls, neatly dressed, the boys in shorts and long socks, the girls with ribbons in their hair.  They were happy listening to me; I was happy reading. Win/win!

This was, of course, one daydream that I had while I was on the loo. When I wasn't reading while sitting there, I'd make up stories.

In one, I played a character called Bronwyn who was, I think, some kind of drum majorette. Whatever she was, she proudly led the marching band down the main street of a town, quite which town I'm not sure. She wore some of her hair in a ponytail above her forehead so it swung onto her face. She had white boots and a miniskirt and was about eight or ten I think. She certainly wasn't three. What she did when she wasn't prancing down the street I'm not sure!

I spent a lot of my childhood pretending to be someone else, actually. My imaginary friends far outnumbered real ones. Sometimes I'd tell my family who I 'was' and demand they call me by that name for as long as the pretence held. Hours, days, weeks, in one case months (I was Dora from Follyfoot in that case, when I was 11). Other times I'd be in character but kept it solely to myself.

Being a tomboy from about age five my characters were often boys. Boys had more fun in my book. They could get dirty and play in mud - heck, they were probably expected to! They could climb trees without someone down below telling them their knickers were visible. It wasn't unusual for me to play multiple characters: Jess and the Four Boys comes to mind. I created them. Jess was a man in charge of the four boys; uncle, father, I can't remember what, but I was mainly Jess. I can't remember the names of the four boys but I just liked the sound of it. Jess and the Four Boys. I was about six or seven at the time. J and T F B liked getting into trouble and mischief... multiple boys saw to that!

I was characters from books or tv shows, I was characters I had created, I was occasionally older or younger than my age; at one stage I was a cat.

I had imaginary conversations with my imaginary characters and their imaginary friends; often I'd write them down and turn them into a story. (No, not for Toilet Time. I had grown out of that idea by then.)

I probably should have considered acting as a career, but I was too shy. My characters usually only had one audience: me.

At an age where I should have grown out of pretending to be other people I withdrew even more into my imaginary worlds: high school. I hated the place. I didn't fit in. I got through my years there pretending to be an apprentice jockey - or several, whichever one I wanted to be that day - and pretended that school was actually the Apprentice Jockeys' School (yes, they exist).

As a kid my imagination knew no bounds. I used to write stories almost compulsively, based on the adventures my characters had while I was playing them. I envy that young me as these days I am hard pressed to come up with a decent, detailed fiction plot.

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, if I wanted entertainment as a kid I did one of these things:

  • read a book (and often acted it out)
  • went and played outside (being in one character or another)
  • watched tv - I was allowed an hour a day after school and an hour after dinner, and shows such as McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres gave me great ideas for playacting outside afterwards when I was 8 or 9
  • did some kind of art or craft thing - writing, drawing, painting
  • played with my toys - raced toy cars or made up stories for my dolls to act out
  • walked the dog (who also assumed characters in my imaginary world)

In short, I entertained myself. Yeah, I played with the neighbours' kids too and we'd ALL act out scenes from tv shows.

I do wonder about modern kids though. Do they do this sort of thing? Do they 'pretend' as I did and many of my friends did? Or do they just sit around and play with bloody computers, phones and electronic toys? My friends' children, who I have watched grow from babies, have never pretended to be anyone else. None of them had imaginary friends. I hate to say it but they are a little bit boring; they lack imagination. Easily bored, they HAVE to be entertained by something, preferably with batteries in it (just wait until the girls discover dildos!).  I feel sorry for them, as if they have missed out on something fun and important by not letting their imagination run wild as a child.

Maybe I could turn Toilet Time into an app ...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Teenage tear jerkers, beautifully drawn

"You draw like a comic artist." My friend Pete compared his drawing to mine. We were on holiday, and had taken sketchbooks and pencils. Not that we were sketching the gorgeous seascape and cliffs we could see from our holiday cottage; no, we were copying photos of faces from magazines to improve our portrait sketching.

I looked at my drawing. Yes, I agreed with him. Pete's drawing was all soft lines, light and shade... too much shade really, his faces looked they were drawn at night! But mine... mine harked back to my days copying art from the girls' comic magazines I used to read when I was 11 or 12, namely Tammy and Pink, with defined lines.

I used to draw my own comic strips, laboriously imitating the eyes and faces of my preferred artists from those comics. I didn't learn until recent years that my favourite artist was called Juliana Buch (or Juliana Buch Trabal to give her her full name) and that she resides in Spain.

Try as I might my illustrations have never achieved the fluid lines of Juliana Buch's. Have a look at this sample of her work from Pink Magazine in the mid 70s.

Wow! Isn't that stunning? Wasted on a kids' mag. I always loved the way she drew hair. I loved the patterns on her clothing, her use of light and shadows. Really, all the illustrators on these magazines were world class, but in my books she, along with Jose Casanovas, is tops.

These British girls' comics and mags were a big influence on my drawing development and the storylines of my own comic strips. Each publication was a slightly different genre.

Tammy, which I subscribed to for nearly four years, specialised in tear-jerkers. Orphaned girls living with nasty relatives. Girls who were threatened with the death of a beloved pet unless they did what evil father/mother/step-parent/aunt/uncle/friend demanded. Girls desperate for a career in ballet or equitation who had to overcome terrible odds. Girls going through hell at boarding school. And let's not forget the odd ghost story. Or poor Molly Mills, the 1920s servant who suffered under the eagle eye and ears-on-stalks of butler Pickering. 

Honestly, some of the story lines wouldn't be allowed today in a modern children's magazine! But I loved them and so did all my friends who read them. My mother read Tammy each week after I'd finished and liked Molly Mills best.

Pink was aimed at a slightly older audience, young teens rather than girls of 10 to 12, and the many adverts for tampons and pads were clear evidence of that. The stories were a bit different too, with many of the lead characters teenagers or young women working for a living. Boyfriends - and the getting of - played bigger roles in the plots than in Tammy. There were still tearjerkers (those evil relatives keeping Our Heroine a virtual prisoner or slave) however. Pink was more of a magazine than a comic, filled with gossip about pop stars (David! And another David!  Michael! Jermaine! Noddy! All you'd want to know about them!). It merged with Music Star in the mid 70s to nobody's surprise.

It's a terrible pity these comics no longer exist. Tammy lasted until the mid 80s and I don't know what happened to Pink. There apparently isn't a market to produce them any more as girls have grown out of that type of storytelling, but I do wonder: look at the popularity of Manga and graphic novels with teens. The cost of commissioning artwork for them would push the price of a weekly mag through the roof anyway if nothing else. 

Having discovered a marvellous repository of Pink on the interweb, I have spent several hours this weekend in utter delight, squawking over the artwork and also the pop stars and the music of the day that I grew up with. 

I hope a Tammy archive will be set up by someone at some point. I did a stupid thing when I was in my twenties: I threw away that four years' worth of Tammy, gave it to a girl up the street and heaven knows what she did with it. I didn't really want to let it go but needed the storage space. I regretted it at the time and have regretted it over the years when I think of the gorgeous artwork in some of those stories.

It's enough to make me want to draw a comic strip again. Just for the hell of it and in memory of those graphic stories I loved as a girl. If I'll find it here.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Spring has sprung, the grass is riz

I wonder where them birdies is?
Them little birds is on the wing.
But that's absurd,
Them little wings is on the bird.

Yes, it's spring, and them little birds is chattering outside; lorikeets, noisy miners, ibis. I can hear them as I type this. 

The last month has been a scented world at our place. Jasmine bloomed madly until earlier this week, when the last bunch finally succumbed and turned brown; every evening and early morning the scent would waft in through the windows.

Now the little orange tree is in bloom; intoxicating!

Out the back of our place Brunsfelsia - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow - is covered in achingly pretty shades of violet and lilac; beside it a deep purple salvia, a monster that grows 2 metres high, is starting to bloom as well.

We have irises in the veggie bed. I started off with half a dozen when we moved in seven years ago, and believed they were blue. They came from my Mum's where I had some blue ones in a pot. Dagnabbit, they are yellow, which is fine, but they look weird with maroon bits on the 'falls'. Yellow and maroon - like a primary school uniform. 

Nestled at their feet are rocket, baby spinach and strawberries.

And at the end of the veggie bed are some miniature fruit trees in pots - nectarines and peaches, and also a small blueberry bush. A month ago the nectarine and peach were covered in pink blossom, delicate and ethereal. I was amused by the testicular pose these little nectarines provided for me.

We have had such a lovely wet autumn and winter they have all gone bonkers. I've been hoping for a wet spring to save on the water bills but we've already had two days over 30 so far this week. Ugh.

And next in the garden? The gardenias have buds on them. Yessss!!!

Friday, September 28, 2012

The night my Dad decamped to Paris

I'm not a person who readily remembers my dreams when I wake up, but last night's was still with me in the warm dawn of early spring.

It was about my Dad.

I could count the number of dreams I've had about Dad throughout my life on my fingers - probably using only one hand. He left us when I was 2 in favour of an Amazonian air hostess, and my childhood was a mix of longing to see him and have him be a real Dad to me instead of a Dad who only corresponded with presents twice a year, and anger at him ditching Mum and me. Mainly anger at him ditching me. Kids are very self-centred.

But I digress.

Back to this dream.

I had a phone call from Dad, who said he was calling from Paris. He'd left the Amazonian and their two children and buggered off with someone called Cathy who was apparently French.

"Merde," I giggled obligingly and appropriately, and he chided me.

"You mustn't swear, Cathy doesn't approve of swearing."  In the background I could hear a woman speaking French.

Soon after that he rang off. I'm not sure if we talked about anything else. I had never had a long phone conversation with Dad in real life so why on earth would I have one in my dream?

Ooh, I was a bit envious though. Paris! What a place to run away to!

So I went to Mum's house to tell her the gossip. She was in the kitchen, wearing blue trousers and a blue and white top, putting saucepans away in the cupboard. "Oh,"she said, "You know Cathy."

"No, I don't."

"You do. I'm sure you've met her. Or at least spoken to her."

"The Amazonian must be ropable."

"She is. She can't believe he left her and the kids." Mum had a 'now SHE'LL know how I felt' look on her face.

But Cathy was a mystery to me. Dreams are peculiar as we all know and ages and times were all a bit confused here. Dad, in this dream, was about 60, still fit, with greying thick wavy hair. I didn't see him in my dream but somehow I knew that. Mum looked younger too, somewhere about the same age. I'm not sure about the Amazonian but if Dad was 60 the kids would have still been at primary school, maybe the eldest in high school. The reality is that my stepsister and stepbrother are both in their thirties now. In the dream, they were in their twenties or close to the age they are now.

Dad died 21 years ago this month. Shite, it might have even been today, which is why I had the dream. I'm hopeless with death anniversaries. I prefer to remember birthdays, when the person was alive and we celebrated. So if he's in Paris with someone called Cathy, bonne chance Papa!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A painterly weekend to myself

I have deliciously sore muscles in my legs, back and arms from weeding my Mum's lawn on Saturday morning. She has a weeding device which is supposed to pull dandelions out easily without you having to bend down, but some of her dandies were too well-established so I was bending and pulling and yanking for an hour and a half in the spring sunshine, until I felt too sweaty, my hair dripping with salty sweat, and too thirsty too. I'm surprised my muscles aren't complaining more, but then I do try and do stretches most days (when I think of it).

Last weekend was a computer-free weekend aside from social media updates and chatting online with some friends. And oh boy, was it good!  G was away until last night so I had the luxury of a weekend to myself with my own company and no interruptions.

After I'd done the lawn I did some cleaning at Mum's house then came home and got stuck into more drawings. I had a scene in mind of the view from Mum's house, across the river to the great school which graces the top of the hill on the other side. It would be the view from my childhood, before the trees grew and obscured most of the building.

I also tried a scene from Paris. I had taken a photo of a languid Parisian girl with a red-lipped, bored face toiling up the steps at Montmartre, and decided it would make a funky landscape with the buildings leaning in and out, and the curves of the handrail exaggerated.

I got stuck in.

My paintings didn't turn out quite as I'd hoped, so late in the afternoon I gave up and treated them as drafts. I was tired though - I draw/paint standing up and I'd been on my feet most of the day. After a hot bath I sank gratefully into bed at 9.30. This is the time that 20 years ago I'd be setting out for the evening - how times change!

On Sunday, after getting a couple of loads of washing out on the line and cleaning the house, I brought out the pastels again.

The second attempt at Mum's view was better, but I think I buggered up one of the jacaranda trees I'd placed in the foreground. Now I definitely know what I'm doing with that scene; one more attempt should see it as I intend it to be.

My sulky Parisian girl turned out better, too. On Saturday I'd painted her with too subdued a palette. This time I went mad on gold and oranges, taking the soft sandstone and hyping it up into summer colours. I'm much happier with the result.

These two paintings are both the same size: 9" x 5" (don't ask me what that is in centimetres, I can work it out... eventually!). This is specific as there is a class in an art show I have entered in the past in which all the entries must be that size. They can be any media or subject. This dates back to the Heidelberg School in the early 1900s who held an art show where all the paintings were that size.  The art show isn't until next May but heaven knows I need some practice!

I'm buoyed up as my nudey rudey and Parisian building both made it into the art show in the area I'm living in at the moment. I'll be going to the opening this Friday night. I'm stunned and delighted as I really didn't expect to make the cut, I'm so out of practice.

So now all I want to do is draw and paint. Work is an invasion when my fingers are itching to grab hold of a pastel!

G is home again so that intrudes on my creative space a bit, particularly in the evenings when it's my only real chance to paint during the week. But don't knock the muse, never knock the muse...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

To carb or not to carb....

Yesterday I felt like a slug. Today I am bursting with energy.

I think the culprit for the sluggishness is carbs. On Saturday night I had pasta, delicious ravioli bought from Orange Grove Markets, as fresh as can be and quite irresistible. Sunday lunchtime I had the rest of the pasta. On Sunday night I had a pasta salad and couscous salad my neighbour gave me.

Yesterday morning I had toast for breakfast as I couldn't be bothered making anything else - only one slice as I wasn't hungry, I think I was still full from the carby dinner - and scoffed the rest of the couscous salad for lunch. I was tired, lacking energy and lacking enthusiasm. Couldn't be arsed taking the dog for a decent walk. Didn't want to tackle the ever-growing stuff in the inbox and was glad when a storm crashed overhead and I had to turn the computer off, just in case there was a lightning strike.

Last night I eschewed all the carbs sitting in the fridge and had a sausage, a baked beetroot (oh yum!) and some cauliflower with cheese for dinner. I woke up this morning feeling thinner, hungry and alert. Not that I weighed any less, but I certainly didn't feel bloated as I did the day before. This morning I had a slice of bacon and an egg fried in a non-stick pan, with some baby spinach leaves on the side.  I am raring to go!

Ageing is a bastard. I turned 50 last month. I don't feel it but my body isn't what it used to be. I used to be able to eat carbs and not put on weight or feel like I needed to curl up with the cats and sleep. Now my body runs better on protein and veggies, with only a few carbs per week. Considering mashed potato is one of my favourite comfort foods it's been a hard slog cutting down on the carbs, but I can see and feel an improvement without them.

Wheat is a big problem in our society in general these days. Over the last 50 or so years different varieties have been bred for high yield, and this breeding also includes an increase in gluten, far more than in the wheat my mother ate as a child.  Wheat ain't what it used to be. I don't think I tolerate the gluten like I used to; it bloats me. More and more people are exhibiting gluten intolerance it seems if the increasing number of gluten-free foods on the market is anything to go by.

Too much processing is a problem too. When I go to the supermarket just about every biscuit, cracker and crispbread is either wheat-based or rice-based. Not great. The best cracker you can eat is an oatcake; oats are low gluten if not gluten free, and fantastic for lowering cholesterol. You find oatcakes everywhere in the UK but here in Oz they were on the shelves for a few brief months last year then discontinued. I complained. Apparently not enough people joined me. So now I make my own oatcakes, and they are dead easy to make.

Cutting down on processed food including bread has helped me feel more energetic. I might eat a slice of bread a week; some weeks not even that. All the additives in a modern loaf have turned good old simple bread into an over-processed food. I was baking my own for a while there but since I cut out the carbs I haven't bothered; G still likes his toast with home-made marmalade and we try and buy sourdough from good bakers who don't load it with too many preservatives etc.

The last few weeks have been temptation-laden though as there is leftover mud cake in the fridge from my birthday. I'm rationing it to thin slices as it contains heaps of the other thing I've cut down on too - sugar.

I've tried to go sugar-free but I'm not a saint. I love dark chocolate. I love wine. Those are my weaknesses.  I am at an age and a stage where I'm likely to gain weight - menopause, anyone? - so am being bloody careful not to as excess weight isn't good for your organs and is seriously hard to shift during menopausal years apparently.

I'm planning another delicious carb-free dinner tonight. Another sausage (bugger the fat content!), asparagus and another little roast beetroot. Mmm.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What you can do on your own

G is away for a week on a business trip, so I'm once again batching with the animals. While I'll be painting some evenings (even some days if I'm lucky) there are other things I do and don't do when I'm on my own for a bit:

  • Take up the entire bed. Yes. If I get too hot in one spot, simply roll over to where it's cool. Fling my arms out wide. And my legs. Be a starfish. 
  • Fart in bed. Girls do fart. Even in bed. But now there is no pretence about carefully lifting the covers and letting a silent one out very slowly. Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks!
  • Don't set the alarm. I work at home. Without having to wake up at 6.30 for the morning rush that sees G out the door at 8, I can laze in bed until around 7, when the cats demand breakfast and the dog demands a wee.
  • If it's yellow, let it mellow. Yup, saving water by not flushing the loo after each wee. They can build up for a bit. 
  • Reheating food and eating it out of the container. Hmm, the thin end of the wedge. The slippery slide to slovenliness. But hey, it's less washing up. 
  • Showering with the bathroom door open. It lets out the steam. G and I both value our bathroom privacy so we generally shut the door when we're in there. 
  • Not turning the telly on at 7 to watch the news. G loves the news. I love the silence without it. But I do enjoy the weather.
  • Cook beetroot. Mmm, roast beetroot. No use cooking it for G, he loathes it. I love it. I don't usually bother cooking it for one, but this week I picked up some delicious little small beetroots at the local markets. I shall feast. 
  • Eat lots of vegetarian meals. G loves his meat, I enjoy a few veggie days when he goes away. He doesn't have the same enthusiasm for quinoa with carrots, spinach, rocket and spices cooked in veggie stock that I do.
  • Most importantly, paint. I can't paint with other people about. I don't get the concentration and imagination, I'm always conscious of others being 'there' and one thing I do hate is anyone looking over my shoulder. I work at night after dinner, with a wine or two. I know I should be working in daylight but don't always get the opportunity particularly during the week.

So that's my 'alone' list... I'm sure I'll think of more things and add to this. What's yours?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Nudey Rudey's off to the show

This morning I'll be dropping off two paintings to the local art show. The Paris landscape I painted several weeks ago, a nude. Of me.

Shit that sounds pretentious! As if I stood in front of a mirror painting myself and admiring my boobs or something.

But no, I set up a tasteful self-portrait in the apartment in which we stayed in Paris. In the living room was a sofa with a throw over the back which was a tapestry of a Gainsborough portrait. I lay on the sofa in the same pose as the naked lady in the tapestry, as a kind of joke.

I don't as a rule take nude photos of myself. I don't have the bod any more; although the extra curves are probably artist model materials these days! But I was surprised when I looked at the back of my camera afterwards. The photo was artistic, not slutty or sleazy. I knew at that point I'd try and make a painting/drawing of it.

The resulting painting - technically a drawing as it's oil pastels but the pastels are so thick on the paper it's just about a painting - is 6 inches by 6 inches. I might be willing to put a nudey rudey of me on paper but not on a large scale!

Here it is:

Not only is it my first nude but the first time I've painted or drawn a human as the key focus of a painting. I usually do landscapes and still life. Or my cats. I have a great portrait of Hamish MacFlea which is life-sized and captures him perfectly, but I haven't tried capturing the human soul.

Here's the one of Hamish, although it's not going in the show.
I painted this for myself and my Mum; it's not something that's going to sell anyway. I did this one about 7 years ago, when I decided to start drawing again after many years.

So here I am, feeling nervous about putting these two paintings in the show, hoping like hell they get selected for hanging, hoping they sell and hoping they don't as I'm rather attached to them (which is why I will never become a cat breeder, you can sense the Crazy Cat Lady aspect of it from here, can't you?). I doubt they will win any prizes as the competition will be super-fierce - it's a big show - but if I don't try, I'll never know. 

If the paintings don't get selected for the main show I have ticked the box to allow them to be selected for the Salon des Refuses, for paintings that didn't make the main cut. It may sound loserish, but it isn't. It gives them another chance at getting a gong and/or a sale. 

I'll know in a couple of weeks if they have been selected for either show, or whether I will be taking them home (and putting them in the Hunters Hill Art Show next year!)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The diminishing dollar

I had a rather disturbing meeting with my major client earlier this week. She heads a not for profit association for which I maintain the website, create graphic and DTP documents as needed, run the marketing campaigns and press releases, and some of the admin and events. I'm assisted by her sister who applied for a traineeship with us and was awarded the role. Now her sister is gradually taking on more and more of the work as her dollar rate is far less than mine.
This role pays me about $2500 a month and with my other design work tasks few and far between right now, it's my bread and butter.
My client has now asked me to review tasks and make sure her sister and I are not doubling up. She wants me to do less and her sister more. In addition, I can't claim hours that I spend at the functions this organisation runs, where essentially I help with meet and greet, take pics etc. That's a good five or six hours a month I've lost. Since I'm only getting $27/hour (and my usual rates for graphic and web design and marketing campaigns etc are $120/hour) my dollars are diminishing.
I suspect she wants to get me down to about $1500 a month on which I can't sustain myself given my company's bills, small though they are in relative terms - about $1200/month.
Thankfully G my husband is in a good job at the moment and we are now talking about income splitting to save him some tax and give me enough money to buy groceries and pay bills, particularly when he's away, which is quite often. I still want to be able to support myself and pay my share though, however it's getting increasingly harder. I'm earning the same money I earned 25 years ago. Ugh.
If I have to cut back my hours for this NFP organisation, I can be positive: it will give me more time to paint and write, even though that won't bring in an instant income, if any!!
I have started a CafePress shop with a couple of my designs and will add one a week - well, that's the plan. I am trying to sell on Zazzle too but am having trouble uploading and getting stuff into my shop there. I will also be putting designs on Dreamstime image library and getting paid every time someone downloads one. I don't expect to earn a six figure income from this lot, but frankly anything would help right now.
And I have to plot then write a novel. I have some material for it already, based on jokey newsletters/magazines I used to create and mail to my friends in the early 90s, those pre-internet days. Now I just have to weave a story around those and create fictional characters or rather fictional versions of ourselves, and make their lives somewhat more interesting!
I was in a reasonably depressed state yesterday thinking about my lack of funds, and feeling sick at the thought of having to look for part time work outside the house to make my ends meet. More than anything I need to be successful with my own creative enterprises, not work for someone else and be worrying about whether I'm meeting KPIs and having to deal with people in my space and the subsequent interruptions that are a part of office life.
G wants me to write and is willing to help me financially with that, so I suspect that writing, drawing, painting and graphic art will be taking a bigger part of my week for the next twelve months as I really concentrate on building an income stream out of it. I'm lucky I have someone so supportive. I do hate asking him for money though; it's against my nature.
Herbert, a plea: let me be successful. Send people my way to buy the goodies my artwork will be on. Most of all, send me a bloody plot!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

When you just need fifty shades of grey.

Bonkbusters leave me cold. If I read a sex-and-shopping novel I find the shopping more interesting than the sex. In fact reading any novel I'm likely to skim over the sex bits, muttering, "Oh, get on with the plot!"

So I'm not likely to grab a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, the mummy porn book with record-breaking sales that has been described by the unkind as having the plot and literary style of Twilight with S&M thrown in. Needless to say I didn't read Twilight either. I had two reviews of it, one from a friend's vacuous teenage daughter who had re-read her copy so often it had fallen apart and could only bubble with incoherent delight and a lot of 'like's about the characters, and a snort of disgust from my intellectual stepson who said it was a poorly-written bit of fluff that set women's lib back fifty years.

But I do have a need for fifty shades of grey.

Or at least more than five.

I'm getting back into painting and drawing, and treated myself to a set of oil pastels last Monday. I've been using soft pastels and after chatting with some artist friends decided to give oil pastels a try. Soft pastels are great fun, amazingly messy, vividly coloured, but they do tend to smudge at the slightest touch and need fixatives. Too much fixative changes their colours, which is exceedingly annoying. Having just got back from holiday and into drawing scenes from Paris with soft pastels, my first few efforts, while not fab as I'm out of practice, were ruined by fixatives.

So. The oils. Great. They only smudge when you want them to. Realistically they don't need fixatives either, which is a huge bonus. But in drawing urban scenes, I found one thing lacking. A pale enough grey. I'd taken the precaution of buying extra greys as well as the set of 48, knowing I would need them. But it's hard to find one that's just a smudge darker than white, that colour that is just perfect for highlights, for sunshine falling on asphalt.

The beauty of oil pastels is that they blend like oil paints, you can smudge and blend and coerce, and use turpentine on them too if you want to meld and blur and blend. So yes, I could blend white with a darker grey, and did. But still... there is that particular pale shade I'm still searching for and that doesn't appear to exist across the major, well-made brands of pastel.

That aside, the first drawing I did with my oil pastels surprised me. I did it in three hours on Monday night (I am an impatient git), and was delighted at the workability of the pastels themselves. I am using Caran D'Ache pastels as research told me they are the softest and easiest to blend; their range of 96 colours is pretty good too.

Suddenly I got my groove back. My drawing turned out as I intended it to in terms of colour, composition and crispness. I'm happy with this.
And now you can see why I need fifty shades of grey!

Friday, August 10, 2012

e-cig or i-fag? You decide

Earlier this year I gave up smoking. Sadly, this attempt at staying nicotine-free didn't last as long as I'd liked. After ten days I had a truly crap day at work and, stressed to my teeth, took up the habit again. Yes, I know I deserve to be smacked.

I have tried the Nicorette inhaler as a means of giving up; it's a little plastic thing that looks like a miniature jet turbine and you insert a capsule of nicotine into it. It's horrible. It is hard on your throat and makes you cough.

My problem is that there are situations where I deeply crave a cigarette:

  • First thing in the morning when I open my email after breakfast and find up to 70 emails, most of them jokes or dross, but usually quite a few that need attention and they are all 'important' or 'urgent'. This sends me into stress mode and I have to walk away and procrastinate about which to handle first, and to do this I head outside with a cigarette. 
  • When I can't get the right words to flow for something I'm writing or designing. It's amazing how a cigarette out in the garden can magically bring forth the perfect phrase or design idea
  • When I'm having a drink. Wine and fags just go together
  • When anything else stresses me - it's an excuse to walk away from the problem for a moment
  • When I'm with friends who smoke

Now looking at this list it covers a lot of my daily activities. This is not good for my health.

I've just come back from a month in the UK and Paris, where I enjoyed my cigarettes but to a lesser degree in terms of actual consumption. We did a lot - and I mean a LOT - of walking over there and my fitness has improved, so that is also a reason for me stopping the fag addiction now I'm back to my usual routine.

A close friend of mine in the UK, Pete, has also unsuccessfully tried to give up the habit, but he has found a solution that I've adopted.

E-Cigarettes. Or i-Fags as G calls them.

These are devices which look and feel like a cigarette but use water and glycerine flavoured with food flavourings and heated up with a battery so you suck and blow flavoured steam. You believe you are smoking. For someone who uses cigarettes for the reasons I do it's the perfect solution. I can keep smoking - or vaping as it's actually called - without inhaling addictive nicotine or harmful tar and chemicals.

In the UK you can buy nicotine juice to go in your e-cig, which Pete has done, but in Australia it's not legal to sell true nicotine juice. People have been hospitalised for nicotine poisoning incorrectly using e-cigs and e-cig sales have been banned in Victoria as a result. You can apparently import it but I'm all for getting rid of the nicotine habit and just fulfilling my need to suck and blow on something (no rude jokes here please... oh, bugger, go on then!). I tried Pete's e-cigs when we stayed with him for a night and was impressed.

So I have ordered and received my pack of i-Fags with plain tobacco-flavoured juice, no nicotine. I got it yesterday, charged it up and took a puff. It actually tastes nicer than real ciggies. I have ordered menthol flavoured refills and also...heh heh... strawberry flavoured. You can get a range of fruit flavourings.

When I was away I bought a carton of duty free cigs which I thought would see me out until I had the money together to buy the e-cig kit, which was about $145 with all the refills etc. Once you've got the kit keeping yourself puffing steam costs about $5 a week for the average vaper. Cost saving and health saving. Anyway I was keen to just get the kit and get started on the e-cigs, so took the money out of my budget, and gave the remainder of the carton (well, most of the carton!) last night to a friend who smokes.  I also tried to interest her in the e-cig :-).

This morning when I did my stint outside after checking the email I had a nicotine-free 'smoke'. It felt just like I'd had a normal cigarette. Only now my clothes and hair don't stink.

It's the habit you have when you're not having the habit. I like it.

Update: Four days later. Not craving real ciggies AT ALL.  The i-Fag is doing the job!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happy memories of looking through someone else's window with binoculars

Now, you may think the title of this blog post is a bit creepy. A bit peeping Tom. But it's more innocent than you think.

Last night I was pondering the evolution of the TV set since the 1970s. We have a modest plasma telly in our place; our living room is for living in, for talking, for welcoming guests, for laughing, for listening to music as well as watching telly so covering one wall with an intrusive giant tv was never in the game plan. I was watching Downton Abbey, which we had recorded via our digital recorder, when I harked back to 1975.

Back then the VCR wasn't even an option in Australia. Colour telly was just coming in and how exciting it all was! I was nearly thirteen, and as square-eyed as any kid that age in that era, the era before computer games, x-box and mobile phones. You had the telly, or you mucked about outdoors, read a book, played a board game.

Our neighbours across the road weren't short of a dollar. They bought a colour telly the day they were available in the shops. From our balcony, we could look across into their living room where, unfettered by curtains, the telly blazed away in full colour.

Mum and I were transfixed. So much so that we took to tuning our black and white telly in to the same channel the neighbours were watching, turning the sound up so we could hear it on the balcony, and watching the colour telly through binoculars. Yes, we did. I am almost ashamed to admit it. What a pair of dags!

When the weather turned chilly we gave up and went back indoors to our black and white telly, but within six months we had bought a colour telly of our own. I can still remember the day it arrived from Grace Bros. It was a Nordmende 26" tv, with a plastic key you inserted to turn it on. You could remove the key and hide it so little kids didn't muck with it. It came with instructions which included the recommendation that when you turned it off you waited an hour before you turned it back on again to give the CRT time to cool down. Mum took these all very seriously.

That fab telly, with its futuristic looks that didn't date it to the mid70s, lasted 20+ years. Gradually it developed problems, the screen took on a greenish tinge and there came a day when it broke and the technician couldn't fix it; the parts were no longer available. Sadly it went in the council cleanup to be replaced by a Sony. Mum bought the Sony just before the advent of plasma and LCD tellies, and the CRT on that thing is enormous. I think she got it in 1995/6 or thereabouts, and it's still going strong.

How exciting it was back then to get a new item of technology! These days twelve year old kids seem to accept that an iPod, iPhone, XBox, whatever, will automatically come their way sooner or later (sooner if they pester hard enough). The me in 1975 had never dreamed about computers, or recording the telly to a hard drive, or watching telly on the internet. The me back then would stay up till all hours to watch a particular show or movie, as there was no other option. You watched it or missed it. Simple.

How times have changed, and how much we take for granted in today's rapidly evolving technology culture. Part of me thinks the simpler days were much, much better. The other half says I'm too much of an old fart to bother staying up to midnight to watch a tv show.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thoughts on shopping trolleys

They're all out today. My husband calls them, collectively, morphines. Slow-acting dopes.

I'm referring to people in our local shopping centre. I'm not sure whether today's vagueness in the human race is due to the phases of the moon but gee it's surprising how many people are totally spatially unaware once they walk into a shopping centre. Some days are OK, but today it was like wading through glue.

When I'm in a shopping centre my head is always swivelling around, making sure I don't bump into people, cut people off if I have to stop suddenly and most importantly, to seek the quickest way through the morphine to get where I want to go.

I think there should be rules about moving around in a shopping centre; unwritten rules are fine. But I would like to see something like this tacked up on the door of my local Centro:

"If you are going into this shopping centre with no specific purpose in mind but intend to dawdle along aimlessly, do NOT take up the entire space between aisles or shops. Stay to one side so people who actually have a purpose or who are carrying heavy bags of shopping can get past you."

I would also like to see indicator systems on shopping trolleys to minimise the shock of people suddenly darting across your path with no warning. And a little bell you could ring so the two very overweight women walking abreast in aisle 3 of Woolies would hear you coming and hopefully move to single file.

Then there are the family groups walking four abreast in the middle of the centre. When you're four abreast in the shopping centre there is no room for anyone else to squeeze past, shopping trolley or no shopping trolley. And when the family members on each end decide to veer off in different random directions, there really is no way to safely get around them without squishing a child, especially if you're driving a trolley as I was today. Dawdling along, they just don't consider that other people are behind them and may need to get in front, desperately trying to do a lunch-break shop.

I have said, 'Excuse me, please' so often today I'm running out of voice.

I can understand why some people don't move as quickly as I. I watch out for the elderly and the disabled and help them if they're having trouble reaching things in the supermarket. But the able-bodied brain-dead, walking around like zombies at a snail's pace? Now that's when I wish I had a horn or bell on the trolley!

When I watch some of these folk push their trolleys around I wonder what sort of car driver they are. Do they use their rear-view mirrors? Do they glance around to check before changing lanes? Are they mindful of other road users, do they watch the road a couple of cars ahead to see if traffic is stopping? In some cases, I definitely suspect not!  I think if I had followed one particular woman to her car today I would have discovered it was covered in dents!

Much as I hate nanny-stateism, maybe it's time that people were given lessons on good behaviour when pushing a shopping trolley or moving around shopping centres in general.

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Or am I simply rapidly becoming a grumpy old woman?

Friday, June 15, 2012

If you like a ukulele lady....

There. I got my grouch about Whingy out of the way a couple of hours ago. Onto more positive stuff.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed a reference to a ukulele in the previous post, and yes! we have no mean yes! I have bought a ukulele.

Now I have never played a stringed instrument in my life (but did play the drums for a few heady years). I come from a family of gloriously tone-deaf people and hearing us all singing in the car when I was a child (we didn't have a car radio) had to be heard to be believed. Mum, my grandparents and I all singing in the key of Z.

So me getting hold of something that has to be tuned is a worry, isn't it? Not at all, dear reader. I forked out $20 for an electronic tuner and the little uke is spot on. I'm even learning to hear for myself whether it's in tune.

But ah, the little black dots! Those chord charts. Thank heavens for the internet as a) you can buy your uke online as I did and b) there is a wealth of lessons and resources for aspiring ukologists.

Having had the wee thing for nearly three weeks I can now play:

  • When I'm Cleaning Windows
  • Darktown Strutters Ball (if you know the TMG version imagine it on a little soprano uke... hee hee!)
  • Don't Bring Lulu
I have almost learned them all by heart but have to cheat and look at the charts occasionally.

I have a hankering to learn some of the 1920s songs my grandmother taught me when I was little - hence Don't Bring Lulu. I think the ukulele lends itself to quirky fun music. 

Now I spend about an hour an evening strumming away, more when G is away. It's a good replacement for the drums - and doesn't annoy the neighbours nearly as much!

With friends like these who needs enemas? #2

My friend Whingy is at it again. Easily offended, she flies off the handle if she perceives she is not in the centre and control of things. It's one of the reasons I don't see as much of her as I used to, as she has got worse with age. Here's the latest on someone in danger of being renamed Mad Cow:

We are heading to Europe next month. Whingy has a friend (called, er, Mopsy for no reason at all) who has recently stayed at a friend's apartment in Paris. (Let's call that friend Artgirl.) Whingy offered to ask Mopsy if Artgirl would be willing to rent us her apartment for a few days. Mopsy agreed and Whingy agreed Mopsy, Artgirl and I could sort it all out between us. In a nutshell, we're staying at Artgirl's. All good.

Mopsy, meanwhile, apparently had the spare keys to Artgirl's apartment, so Artgirl thought.

I then contacted Mopsy suggesting she, Whingy and I get together for a drink and a natter and she can give me the keys. Mopsy thought this was great - only she'd dropped the keys back in the apartment letterbox when she left a fortnight ago. Artgirl and I are sorting that out.

So I was left with a social dilemma. I had asked one of Whingy's friends out for a drink without doing it through Whingy. The keys were the reason. Take the keys out of the equation and what do I do? It would sound rude to say to Mopsy, "Well, since you don't have the keys we'd better not meet up." Besides which I like her and we have know each other for 20 years through The Whinge.

I suggested to Mopsy we three meet up anyway. I spoke about it to Whingy.

She said she'd rather organise something herself later on (presumably when we're overseas!). I said fine. Instead I booked a table for Whingy and I and our husbands at the local club for tonight at her request.

Meanwhile Mopsy got back to me and said she'd love to meet with me and Whingy at the local club tonight, and she'd contact Whingy to organise it.

Now Whingy is in a huff. She's cross with me for organising something with one of 'her' friends - I keep thinking of a child in a playground complaining that another girl is stealing her friends! She claims I was going to organise it without inviting her.

She sent me a grumpy email this morning: "I'm not happy about the outcome of tonight. It seems that you emailed Mopsy and gave her the impression we weren't coming! 
I offered you help in finding the flat in Paris through Mopsy, I don't then expect you to start emailing invites to her whenever I suggest to meet up.
It's not as if you ever invite us to meet with your friends."

Faaark. I have invited her to meet with my friends and it's usually been less than successful as with a group of people The Whinge doesn't get to be the centre of attention. She doesn't like most of my friends. Aside from which she grumbles if she has to come to our place as we live 40 minutes from her's and that's too far and she gets too tired...

So. I emailed back stating it was never my intention to exclude her, that emails crossed paths before some of us had spoken to each other, and that I'd be quite happy to not go tonight and she and Mopsy could go, if that made her happy. (Makes me happy, I'm quite contented to stay home and practice the ukelele.) I haven't heard back from her yet. 

Is she reasonable in her grumpiness about this? Is she being precious about two of her friends contacting each other? Is she overreacting? Is she a mad cow? 

Answers on a postcard please or leave a comment below.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The wicky wacky wonderful world of receipts

I like my newsagent. He is one of the few people who only gives you a receipt if you ask for it. Same with my local bookseller, who knows me well enough to know that a) I never return books and b) in the odd event that I will ever have to, he trusts me and knows what he has sold me.

Otherwise we live in a world of receiptitis. Buy anything, and you'll get a receipt, another bit of paper to clog your wallet and, when you sort through the thing because it no longer closes due to receipts, you get a handful of useless paper to add to the recycling.

There are things for which I like to get receipts: items I can offset against my business such as petrol and postage and parking. Gifts, particularly clothing, in case they need to be returned for wrong fit or faulty construction.Valuable stuff where I may need the receipt for insurance (oh, THAT's rare!).

However, if I nip into the fruit shop to buy two grapefruit and a bunch of broccoli, I don't need a receipt. I have chosen my fruit carefully, checked it is fresh, and don't intend to return it.

The checkout girl at the fruit shop was bemused the first time I said, "I don't need a receipt."

Her hand poised over the button, her face contorted and confused. She was very young; obviously for her it was an after-school job. "But we have to give receipts," she stated finally with a relieved expression, pushing the button that churned out a receipt.

And that's the way of it. You have to receive receipts in this computerised age. I've been to other newsagents where I am solemnly presented with a receipt if I buy only a newspaper. How I miss the days of grabbing a paper, dropping the money on the counter with a 'Thanks!' and bolting to catch a train or whatever, queue jumping as every other person with the correct change for a paper did. Going further back, until the 1980s our local paper shop had an honesty box for weekend newspaper sales when the shop wasn't open - you took your paper and dropped the correct change through a slot in the door. I don't believe it was abused very often.

Today I cleaned out my wallet and chucked out eight receipts from the fruit shop as well as a few sundry other receipts for stuff I can't claim or don't intend returning. Then there was the petrol and postage stuff... Gosh - it closes without a problem now!

I have found one good use for useless receipts, though. My girl cat loves playing with them when I roll them into a ball and throw them on the floor. She bats them about for ages. Finally someone, including the dog, will tread on them and render them useless for play. But just think. I have a cat toy my cat loves. And I didn't have to buy it. Or get a receipt for it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's a strange time when the child starts looking after the parent - a role reversal I'm increasingly taking on.

My Mum turns 87 next week. She lives on her own, is fiercely independent, mentally lightning-fast, but physically running out of steam. It's the last thing that scares the hell out of me.

Mum has always been active and the last three or so years she's slowed down a lot. She doesn't get out much, doesn't have the energy. I do the shopping for her these days, although she's about to renew her driver's licence as she wants to be able to drive to the shops herself when she has the energy.

She's had a strange virus this year which has affected her middle ear and given her some giddy spells, but that's just about over.

Or we thought it was.

Last weekend G and I went to Adelaide, and Mum minded our two cats and one dog. She adores having them to stay, it's good company for her and they love her to bits. She doesn't want a full time cat herself any more but enjoys looking after ours from time to time.

Cutting a long story short, Mum bent down to pick up Charley, our boy cat, who weighs the best part of nine kilos. She lifted him up, then overbalanced. Went down on her knees and elbow face first onto her patio. She's bloody lucky she didn't break anything.  (Charley, horrified, scarpered into the house and didn't reappear until I arrived later.)

I was in a plane coming back to Sydney. It probably took Mum the best part of that plane journey's time to pull herself back into the house and finally drag herself into a chair. She's fallen before but usually takes a deep breath and hauls herself up on whatever furniture is to hand. She told me it took her an hour and half this time, and oh shite, that scares me.

I feel so guilty every time G suggests we go away somewhere these days. Not just saddling Mum with the animals, as she does love them and they behave for her and give her no trouble. It's the worry that if she falls I'm not in the same city. I can't just drop everything and rush to her place, which is half an hour from mine.

I got to hers yesterday to find her sitting in a kitchen chair with a bruise under one eye, not knowing she'd taken a tumble, and got the whole story out of her. I wanted to stay the night but she said she'd be fine and sent me home to check my house was OK. We live in a far less salubrious part of town and Mum worries that our place will get burgled when we go away. With misgivings I went, and found the house was fine, just bloody cold. Mum and I chatted on the phone when I got home and she sounded much more like herself; her voice had lost that quavery timbre it had earlier in the day when I was at her house.

Anyway she phoned me this morning at breakfast time, as I'd asked her to, and said she found when she undressed the night before that she'd scraped a few inches of skin off her elbow when she fell. It bled like mad when she undressed as her blouse must have been clinging to it when it stopped bleeding initially. She hadn't felt it at the time and didn't feel it later, it wasn't even stiff. It's not even painful today, it just apparently looks awful.

I'm taking her to the doctor tomorrow anyway for a regular checkup; I did suggest I'd drop around this morning and we'd try and get a slot at the doc's but she says it's not that bad and she's not too stiff.

I feel a bad daughter for not staying over, or not simply turning up this morning and dragging her to the doc's. She's stubborn, as I am. She's also honest. If she felt bad enough, she'd ask me to take her or she'd ring up the doc and ask for a house call, both of which she's done in the past.

Now I'm worried because G has booked us a holiday in the UK for almost all of July. He has to go for work and he wants me to join him and we'll wander around for three weeks. It's a present for my 50th. I feel guilty as hell leaving Mum, even though when I'm away - or at home come to that - I phone her every day to check she's OK.

I suggested to her this morning that she talk to the doc about having a carer look in every day while I'm away, or one of the neighbours. It's not something I'd like if I were in Mum's shoes, a stranger checking up on me, and God only knows she didn't like the idea either! But I need to have some sort of plan in place so I'll know she has someone nearby to help her if she gets sick or has another fall. Fat lot of good I'll be 24 hours away.

While I'm excited at the opportunity to get back to the UK again I'm also dreading leaving Mum for so long. I hope I can persuade her to let the doc organise someone for her, just to check she's OK while we're gone. I don't normally have holidays any more; part of it is my workload and the fact my clients don't leave me be, part of it is lack of funds, and most of it is worrying whether Mum will be OK.

Any time she doesn't answer the phone when I call I worry she's lying on the floor with something broken, or dead in her bed. Thankfully she's usually just in the loo. But I still worry. I always will.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Miso happy it's soup season

Me so happy - geddit? I've rediscovered an old friend: Miso soup.

I first tasted miso soup in Kings Cross in about 1990 when a then boyfriend and I used to go to a hole in the wall Japanese cafe late at night and each tuck into a bowl of miso soup and a bowl of Oyakodon. Oyakodon is a love story in itself and not readily available in many Japanese restaurants; they tend to serve Katsudon, which is fried chicken in the same soup base, but Oyakodon rules for me.

But I digress.

Our local Woolies has recently shifted things around, got rid of some of my favourite products (Orange Power upholstery cleaner, Nairns Oatcakes are two that spring to mind) and added a wider range in other departments. To my happiness, I found instant miso soup there last week. Oh glory.

I hadn't had miso soup for a couple of years, and that first cup was a real delight. I've been having miso soup for lunch every day since.

In fact I've been enjoying my miso so much that I ramped up the quest for real miso paste rather than soup sachets and found it (with no preservatives or MSG, hurrah!) and soup seaweed at the Chinese supermarket in Top Ryde City shopping centre earlier this week, so now I make it with tons of seaweed, and throw in some tofu or tempeh, and also baby spinach leaves for a really filling lunch that literally takes only five minutes to make. (You can also use miso paste in general marinades and salad dressings.)

I did a bit of research on the health benefits of miso soup, and found some interesting results on my trolling around the interweb:

  • Miso soup and miso paste is very high in sodium - most packaged soups are. Luckily I don't have a blood pressure problem.
  • Miso paste is made from fermented soy, as is tempeh (but not tofu). It's actually very healthy for you (unlike, apparently, unfermented soy products). If you think you're doing your body a favour by hoeing into tofu, soy milk and other soy products or products containing processed soy, you're not. You need to hunt out fermented soy such as soy sauce, miso, tempeh and natto. I've used up the last of my tofu today and will be stocking up on Tempeh instead.
  • Miso soup is good for weight loss (but I'm still waiting to see the results of that, my weight hasn't shifted at all this week).
  • Miso paste can also help reduce hot flushes and other signs of menopause - apparently 2 to 3 servings a day are what it takes. See this excerpt below from It's one of several sites that say very similar things
"Recently in the news, a fermented soy bean paste called miso was linked to a substantial decrease in the risk of breast cancer among Japanese women. This epidemiological study was conducted by researchers at Japan’s National Cancer Center . The researchers monitored the eating habits of 21,852 women ages 40-59 for a period of 10 years starting in 1990, by carefully assessing their diets and lifestyle habits. The research found that women who had three or more bowls of miso soup daily reduced their risk of breast cancer by 40% compared to those who only ate one bowl. Those who had two bowls of miso soup reduced their risk by 26%. The conclusion was that the more miso soup and isoflavones taken daily, the less risk of breast cancer. However, researchers were only able to identify this trend with miso soup consumption and not other soy foods or supplements. Soy foods contain isoflavones, but could not be linked, by themselves, with breast cancer risk reduction.

Miso soup consumption has been the subject of many studies, and has been associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, and radiation poisoning. While no single dietary factor can be responsible for one’s health, it’s hard to refute that miso soup has been a large contributing factor to Japanese health. The main difference between miso soup and other soy foods consumed by the Japanese is the fermentation process. This fermentation transforms the isoflavones in soy into their active aglycone form which can be used by the body for a host of health concerns, including menopause. In addition, this fermentation process also turns soy into a powerful antioxidant.

Several studies have shown that women who consume large amounts of soy-based phytoestrogens have fewer menopausal complaints. Asian diets typically contain 40 to 80 milligrams of soy isoflavones per day, compared to 3 milligrams per day for American diets. A scientific study of 104 postmenopausal women examined the consumption of 60 grams of isolated soy protein with 60 grams of the common milk protein (casein) per day for 12 weeks. Women receiving the soy experienced a 45% reduction in hot flashes, which was significantly different from the milk protein group. This difference was noted by the fourth week of treatment. Nagata performed a study evaluating soy and hot flashes among Japanese women. They found soy to have a protective effect against hot flashes. 101 women who developed moderate to severe hot flashes over 6 years were studied and found to have less hot flashes with higher soy intake."

I'm inclined to take this with a little grain or two of salt as Japanese people could and probably do have different genetic balances to westerners; they may be less prone to certain cancers or menopausal symptoms per se.

Whatever the case, I love miso soup. I'm happy to discover that it's also apparently good for me. I'll also be interested to see if the hot flushes take a back seat as time goes on.