Monday, August 25, 2014

Two houses and a haunting

Last weekend I drove past my old house. I was going to visit a friend nearby and thought I'd swing by. We have tenants in the place and their teenage son deals drugs and has friends who have sprayed graffiti liberally in the lane outside our house. They are moving out this week. The son has caused such trouble with my neighbours I have decided not to renew the lease.

But I digress.

This post is not about delinquent teenagers but about houses and districts - two of them: where I live now and have lived most of my life, and where G and I spent the first 7 years together.

So, I saw my old place. Jonquils I had planted years before were blooming in the courtyard garden at the front, so I nipped in and helped myself. There was nobody about to challenge me and as an owner I have every right to do it.

I was able to view my little house dispassionately. When we moved out I felt a little bit sad as it had been such a happy home for us. Six months later I've managed to disassociate myself and think of it as an investment property, with the occasional hope that the tenants appreciate the colour scheme and the garden beds (well, Sonny Jim certainly did with his marijuana plants) and are keeping the garden alive and tidy.

To be frank, I was able to look at the place with a sense of disbelief that I had ever lived there. It no longer felt like home. I have moved on.

I had a companion with me and was chatting to her on the drive. I kept my eyes on the road but it did feel weird driving back to my old house. I drove the route almost mechanically, not thinking twice about each twist and turn as we left the main road. I noticed subtle changes on the way; houses that had been knocked down for apartment buildings, houses which had been knocked down and were being rebuilt as a single dwelling. It was familiar but it wasn't my district any more.

Even the local shopping mall had changed hands and had a new name; if I'd had time I would have dropped in as their prices are pretty good and it's much bigger than my own shopping centre.

Back here, I'm still reconnecting. I didn't have many friends here when I moved out - being an insular bugger I didn't belong to sporting clubs, bridge clubs or have the school mums network to draw friends from. My friends are scattered.

My small local shopping centre, with its woefully small Coles supermarket, feels like my territory again now. I'm on nodding terms with the local dog walkers. I know all the dogs in my street - they all arrived before we moved back. I have a developed a new mental map of shops and businesses and services in my area and the surrounding suburbs.

It's taken me a few months to settle back into an altered reality of my old life. I lived in my current house since childhood until I met G. It seems odd sometimes knowing the master bedroom is ours and I'm living with G and not Mum in this house. I almost feel guilty, as if I've snuck a boyfriend home! I still miss Mum and expect her to be around; still save up things to tell her which I've learned from my friends.

Last week I know she was in the house with me. I smelt her scent, a faint hint of Johnson's baby powder, just inside the front door. I said hello. I believe she's here a lot, and helps me when I can't find things. God only knows what she thinks of the new furniture I've brought in.

My companion on Saturday was a psychic. I've mentioned her before. I was taking her to my friend's house as she was doing a reading for a party there and I was having one of the readings.

My house - my current house - came up in her reading. She said Mum was telling me to fix the window downstairs, and was being very insistent about it. I explained we had to wait for a tree root to wither and the house to settle down before we put a new sill in the window (I explained in case Mum was hovering around and listening).

The psychic told me that Mum strokes the cats and the dog, and that wouldn't surprise me. It's probably why Pwinceth Girl Kitten lies on the bed after breakfast, as Mum used to sit there in the mornings and talk to whatever cat we had at the time.

She told me that Mum and Nan watch over me, and I believe they do. My house is pleasantly haunted. You know, that actually makes me happy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Dad's list of books - a penchant for philosophy

"What's that pile of papers and magazines?" G asked, opening the cupboard under the kitchen bench.

The top shelf held tablecloths and napkins, the bottom phone books and a pile of…well… newspapers. Mum used to put old newspapers there to use to line the birdcage/cat tray/whatever.

"Isn't it funny," I said, "how you can live with things for years and not really notice them? I'll go through it all and chuck it out. Since we get the newspaper every day we don't need a store cupboard for the stuff."

So I did. Half way down, beneath the more recent newspapers (recent meaning dating back to 1997!), there was a heavy sheet of cardboard, and it became obvious that beneath that were magazines and news clippings Mum had hung onto.

I diligently went through them. Most of them were binned after a cursory read through, but I kept a few I found interesting (heaven help me! I'm turning into Mum!).

At the very bottom was an old-fashioned 1940s cardboard-bound foolscap ledger. I flicked through it and recognised Dad's elegant handwriting.

Most of the ledger was empty, and it had been used as an address book and notebook rather than for recording figures. Judging by some of the dates, it was Dad's book in the late 1940s. He'd written addresses for men he'd served with in the RAAF, with little notes beside their names about their families or what relationship they'd been to him during WWII.

Following the addresses, after many blank pages, Dad had headed a page Books. It was a list of books he owned, because I recognised several of the titles. They are still here in this house (although many of them are destined for the local church fete as I've tried to read them but they're not my sort of books). Most of them are popular fiction of the time by authors such as Ion Idriess.

The next page was headed Books to be read in order for educational purposes.

Now, Dad wasn't the most educated bloke on earth. He'd been second-last in his class in maths in high school. Having said that, he was intelligent - he'd been an officer in WWII, he was well-spoken and clever, but he hadn't had a classical education or been to university. Clearly in 1946 he thought his education needed finishing, for the list of 112 books began with Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. It included all the Greek philosophers. Marcus Aurelius and Leonardo da Vinci made the list. Erasmus. Francis Bacon. St Thomas Aquinas. Milton. Descartes and Hume. Classics authors such as Thackeray, Defoe and Swift. Voltaire.  Goethe. Darwin. There were 112 authors on Dad's list, which ran to nearly four pages.

He'd marked off the ones he'd read or obtained:

  • Plato's Dialogues
  • Aristotle's works
  • Lucretius' Of the Nature of Things
  • Ovid's Metamorphosis
  • Marcus Aurelius' Meditations
  • The New Testament
  • Maimonedes' Guide for the Perplexed
  • St Thomas Moore's Utopia
  • Montaigne's Essays
  • Shakespeare's Complete Works (which I have in the house)
  • Thomas Hobbes' Elements of Philosophy
  • Rene Descartes' The Passion of the Soul
  • Milton's Paradise Lost
  • Newton's Opticks
  • Kant's Critique of Practical Reason
  • Ricardo's Principals of Political Economy and Taxation
  • Hegel's Philosophy of History
  • Darwin's Origin of Species
  • Wundt's Outline of Psychology
  • Nietzche's The Will of Power

I feel as if I've discovered someone I never knew at all; the Dad I remember is the Dad of my toddlerhood. Hardly a man to be sprouting philosophy to his two year old daughter.

The Dad Mum spoke of wasn't a philosophiser either. He was an intelligent man with a sense of humour, a careful attitude to driving and piloting, a man with a successful betting system for the races, a part time SP bookie, a carpenter and handyman, a man with a taste for beer and good wine, a man with a sometimes carefree attitude to spelling and written grammar, a man who'd pull his hat down over his ears and make a silly face for the camera, a man who had an affair and buggered off. I feel as if I know that Dad reasonably well.

I wonder now about that list from the 1940s; why he lost interest. I wonder who inspired him to create that list in the first place.

And now I'll never know.