Un-Mother’s Day

My Mother on a different day

My mother and my son

Mother’s Day opens with breakfast in bed and other culinary delights shared with family. I don’t recall if I ever sat up in bed through the burnt toast routine, but there may have been one year. It was a long time ago.

I rarely followed through with my own mother either, though I have a vague recollection of perhaps supplying the breakfast one year. When your mother is always up early, it is not easy and it was never really a tradition in our house. There was little fuss around Mother’s day.

Even years ago, I dismissed the day as commercial and therefore of minimal relevance. I think after my grandmother died, the importance of the day (for me at least) diminished further. The ritual dissipated and I left home and moved interstate and generally marked the day with a phone call. Duty done.

I miss my mother every day of course, but today especially is a day of sadness and embarrassment. Sadness because there are times when I really want her company or support. I want to tell her things, or to share things with her. There are days when I want her to kiss it better.

Embarrassment because I realised in hindsight how much I had taken her for granted over the years, and for all the things I never said to her and should have. I’m not putting on the rose-tinted glasses; there were times when she was vitriolic or manipulative, or conniving even. It was only in hindsight though that I realised how much she had done for me and sometimes at what personal cost.

One of the illuminating moments was when I became a mother myself. It wasn’t instant understanding, but gradually I came to understand what the status entailed, especially as I was raising a self-centred child who thought the world revolved around him. The older he got, the stronger this belief was. This is understandable as a child develops an appreciation of their place in the world and acquires degrees of independence. At least I don’t have a child who is tied to my apron strings.

My child no longer speaks to me. This may be a short-term situation and may not. I have no way of knowing, but he has decided I no longer have a role in his life. We live at some distance from each other, and the challenges of misunderstandings have not helped. I have extended the olive branch, which he has ignored. So be it. Today is a reminder I wish I didn’t have.

A day like today is tinged with sadness and regret. It is a day to get through as painlessly as possible. Instead, my heart goes out to all the mothers and would-be mothers for whom the day is a stark reminder of a situation that is not of their choosing.

 

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What would Saturday mornings be without breakfast?

Before I left Adelaide, Saturday mornings would find me at the Central Market in search of breakfast. I arrived at around 8am and would meet up with whichever family members dragged themselves out of bed. While seated at our customary table, friends would often drop by. They knew where to find us.

Breakfast

Fast forward and I relocated to Melbourne for work. Living in the CBD, I had plenty of choice for breakfast and I was keen to continue the tradition, albeit mostly by myself. Occasionally visitors have joined me but mostly I have explored the culinary offerings of the laneways and café’s within easy walking distance. On occasions, I dragged out the car to travel to Port Melbourne or perhaps to Williamstown, searching for new experiences, but mostly I have confined my Saturday mornings to the CBD.

The breakfast ventures are more than just food for me. It’s the social experience as well. I look for a place that has good coffee, the weekend papers, and a certain level of ambience. Today it was Grey & Bliss at Port Melbourne. When you live alone, seeking experiences outside your four walls are important; plus fresh air, stray conversations, things to see, and perhaps good food.

Would you believe, I left my phone at home today. Once I have finished the papers I usually scan the emails or other news. Today I had to look around me. It was noisy. Typically, the floor was polished concrete and grating chairs and chatter bounced off it. Alongside my table, two women watched a video on their phone, with the volume up loud. It matched their shrieks of laughter. I considered frowning my displeasure, but they wouldn’t have noticed.

Outside, a small dog yelped incessantly. The owner had tied it to a pole and left it there while she did her shopping. The yelping ricocheted around my head. The café owner came and shut the adjoining door in an effort to soften the noise. He said that probably someone would steal the dog. That often happens when people leave cute dogs tied up in the street. Eventually, the dog stopped barking, but whether the owner returned or a thief took advantage of the opportunity, I have no idea.

You can overhear strange snippets of conversation. Two other women were discussing their various medical conditions, or perhaps those of their family. I tuned out, not being interested in disturbances in someone else’s gut. Only a few people are reading papers, which is good for me. It means that there are copies available for me to feed my newspaper addiction. I wish tables were bigger to accommodate my coffee, the water bottle, the paper and my breakfast. Most people are reading screens, even those in the company of a partner or friend.

One young couple sat side-by-side instead of opposite each other. He was in dude dress, with his baseball cap turned backwards. She was wearing a simple black shift, teamed with ankle boots and socks that showed above the boots. They weren’t speaking or reading – just sitting with each other.

My usual menu choice revolves around eggs, but feeling the need for change and adventure, today I ordered the ricotta hotcakes with poached pears and whipped mascarpone. It was a good choice.

A Fair Go for Whom?

As Australians, we have been brought up on stories of giving everyone a fair go. It’s part of our culture and is a value that we hold most dear.

My European ancestors came to Australia in the mid-nineteenth century looking for a fair go. They came from times of hardship, unemployment and poverty. They hoped that in this new country they could make a reasonable life for themselves and their children. Their descendants are now spread far and wide, leading by comparison comfortable lives in middle Australia. Someone gave them a fair go.

There are historical examples that support our belief.  The miners fought for a fair go at the Eureka Stockade, some of them giving their lives for it. A few decades later, Australia was the first country to both give women the vote and to grant them the right to stand for election.  We were brought up on stories such as the bravery of John Simpson and his donkey, bravely providing first aid and carrying the wounded until he himself was killed during the Gallipoli Campaign at Anzac Cove. Heart-stirring stuff.

1856 saw the introduction of the 8-hour day for stonemasons in Victoria, granting them Saturday afternoons off.  This was fought for on the basis of not sacrificing health and shortening the duration of human life; allowing working men the time to develop their minds through education; and allowing tradesmen to be better husbands and fathers.  In time, these working conditions spread throughout the workforce.

We have believed that education is the right of all Australian children and that access to affordable health care should be given to everyone. We like to think that if anyone puts their mind to it, they can do anything.

Post WW2, there was mass migration to Australia from war-ravaged Europe.  Those people didn’t always have an easy time of their re-settlement, but they and their children have helped to make Australia the multi-cultural society that it is today.  In spite of calling them Wogs, Eyties, Ethnics, Poms and various other names, we like to think that we gave them a fair go and often use those names affectionately today.

It is true that our concept of a fair go was often biased. Our indigenous Aborigines rarely got a fair go and many struggle to do so today. Immigration policies restricted Asian neighbours from migrating here, although early Chinese migration played a significant role in the development of nineteenth-century Victoria.

Common sense and a review of history tells us that the concept of ‘fair go’ is very subjective. It is reserved for PLUs – People Like Us.  We are the ones who deserve it and as for the others – they just have to buckle down and earn it or else learn to change their ways and to become PLUs – if we let them of course.

In recent years, even the righteous and deserving are questioning what has happened to the fundamental value which underpins our way of life.  We have seen government and commercial actions which have threatened our Australian pride.

We imprison people who have fled their homelands as conditions there have become untenable or worse, life-threatening. We deny them adequate health care, education, and the opportunity to lead a meaningful life and to contribute to meaningful society. Even worse, we deny them any form of hope for the future. When we are being particularly scornful, we accuse them of being just ‘economic refugees’. Since when is that a crime?  So were my ancestors economic refugees, and one of them even jumped ship to remain in Australia.

We erode the benefits and working conditions of the most vulnerable of our workers. We also have begun the process by which penalty rates are reduced, a move that will spread to many industries. It seems that we no longer deserve compensation for giving up our evenings or traditional family time.

We are increasing the cost of education, ignoring the fact that for us to truly be a lucky country, we need a skilled and educated workforce. We need our scientists, our teachers and our technicians. We need to invest in our people if we are going to innovate, to develop industries, and to keep up with other nations. The return on this investment is a clever society and dare I say it, a fairer society. It is one in which everyone has the opportunity of developing their skills and talents for the benefit of us all. Increasingly, only the wealthy are able to educate their children.

We refuse to pay our job-seekers a livable sum of money, choosing to label them leaners and bludgers in spite of the fact that changes in technology and the economic environment has seen many jobs disappear.  Some are too inexperienced, some are over-experienced, some are too you and some are too old. Some no longer have skills in demand and others have never had the opportunity to develop them in the first place.  Whatever the reason, it is their fault that they can’t find a job and they don’t deserve our charity.

Just to make sure that life is really difficult, we restrict their eligibility to social security benefits on the theory that this will make them try harder. Bad luck that they can no longer afford the costs of applying for work, nor can they afford to pay rent or keep up the mortgage payments while they search. They just need to try harder.  We also reduce the number of staff within Centrelink and make it more difficult for those who need social security assistance to access information and accurate advice.

We hound our social security recipients on the theory that they are all out to defraud the government and therefore the tax-payer of valuable funds. We use poorly defined algorithms to decide just who is a miscreant and put the onus of proof on them in establishing their innocence. We then use bullying tactics and private debt collectors to enforce payment, whether they actually owe it or not.

Our political leaders, with the self-assurance that they are acting on behalf of us all, explain that it is a system that is working well, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. In the meantime, their colleagues are caught out rorting their entitlements to the tune of thousands of dollars. If they lose their parliamentary seat, they can seek comfort in the knowledge that entitlements and a comfortable superannuation payment will follow them into private life. After all, they deserve it. It’s only fair.

So what does a fair go meant today?  On the evidence available, it means to strongly define who deserves it and who doesn’t. Those who deserve it are the ones who get to decide who don’t. Those who don’t, only have themselves to blame for their situation. If only they were a PLU (employed, educated, and fit) they might be deserving also. That’s only fair.

Do you think that we still abide by the maxim of a fair go?

May Day

Today started off sweetly, visiting the Prahan Market which was featuring a Wicked Chocolate festival. Yum. when we think of chocolate, we think of South America and tropical climes. When I was in Cuba last year saw the cocoa pods growing and learnt a bit of the process of making chocolate. Now, there are some cocoa trees growing in Australia as well and there is a very small chocolate industry.  The produce is very tasty and also very expensive.  It’s in the realm of a special treat. Of course, this is the price that should be paid for chocolate anyway, with the people who work in harvesting the cocoa being adequately paid.

Catching the tram back to town, I found myself at the head of the May Day march. Traditionally, May Day celebrations are held on 1  May but presumably, it was moved to a Sunday for practical reasons.  It was the Pipe Band that first drew my attention (love a man in a kilt) and I stopped to watch the marchers go past.

There were a range of community sectors that were taking advantage of the opportunity to express their views.  In general, May Day represents the interests of workers and draws attention to less than favourable conditions or wages. There were representatives of various countries who were drawing attention to conditions overseas, and of course interest groups from here.One of the groups was representing the interests of the homeless.

One of the groups was representing the interests of the homeless.  I have already talked about the impact of seeing so many homeless in the streets of Melbourne. Some people go to a bit of effort in making their little alcove on the street just a bit more homely. I have seen street squats with pot plants, cartons turned side on to make cupboards and shelves and bedding spread on a base of milk crates to protect from the cold of the pavement.

This person made his own private room in this alcove on Bourke St, complete with bedside rug and broom. Whenever I went past, the alcove would be very tidy, bed neatly made, blankets folded and belongings stacked away tidily. He was gone today though so perhaps someone moved him on.

PS — I went past the alcove a little while ago and it had a new occupant.  Good spots don’t last long in these streets.

Protesting Melbourne

I have been so impressed with the fact that Melbournians are prepared to take to the streets with a megaphone and a chant when they are not happy or see an injustice.

I live very close to Parliament House, and this is the gathering place for many a protest. I am alerted to this fact by the amplification of speeches on the steps of the House, and perhaps the roar of the crowd.  Stepping out onto my balcony, I can see the placards, the t-shirts, the cameras and the police. If it is a large and organised protest, Spring Street will be closed off to traffic and police cars with flashing lights will block the lanes to traffic.  Police wearing protective clothing and hi-viz vests will collect on the street corners and will form a human  barricade part way up the  steps to ensure that an unruly mob does not storm the House.

I can’t usually decipher the words of the speeches from my apartment but I can hear the crowd response.

“What do we want?”
“Roar!”
“When do we want it?”
“Roar! Roar!”

There were anti-Trump protests, protests on Australia Day relating to the impact of colonisation on the original inhabitants, taxi-drivers protesting against the devaluation of their taxi-licences due to the introduction of Uber and protests on International Women’s Day. These are just a few. Some protests have been union-led and others are organised by a small band of true-believers. As I made my way home past Parliament House a couple of days ago, a group of people of middle-eastern appearance was appealing for acceptance and tolerance of all people – we are all of one blood.

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Sometimes, the protests are focused on a government department and then the marchers are more likely to take over the street in which I work. The music and megaphoned chants rise to my desk on the tenth floor, and the crowd decries the Centrelink debacle or perhaps decisions that doom refugees to a miserable and interminable existence.

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Whatever the cause, it reassures me that people are still prepared to take to the streets and to voice their opinion on what they believe is right and to protest on what is wrong. The day the protests stop is when we all have to worry.

 

Finding my feet

I have been in Melbourne for two months now and am gradually getting to know my new environment. It has not been without challenges – the apartment for one. My landlady still hasn’t cleared out all her possessions from the bedrooms and so I am still sleeping in the living room. I have graduated from the floor to a proper bed though and have also bought a chest of drawers in which to accommodate some clothes. It is rather cramped but I liken it to living in a caravan.

The upside is that I have a small balcony and have acquired a table and two chairs, plus lots of garden pots and troughs. I have planted a few vegetables, herbs and flowers and that area is my little sanctuary for maintaining sanity. It is also my vantage point for checking out the world.

When I awake, (which is early courtesy of the Melbourne trams) I poke my head out of the balcony door to inspect the weather, and see what surprises the view might present me with. One morning, there was a passenger balloon in the sky and another morning the huge red lights that mark the entrance to Little Bourke St and Chinatown were a  flaming contrast to the dim morning light.

img_0622Ballo0n on the horizon

My garden is doing brilliantly – I love the fact that there are no slugs, snails or green caterpillars to contend with. The cumquat tree that I mentioned in my last post now is covered in flowers so I am hopeful that it might actually bear fruit. I learnt that a few years ago, a pigeon made a nest two years in a row in the base of a large pot plant. Sadly, the resident cat ate the babies that hatched but I am hoping that a pigeon might come back again and for the record, I do not have a cat living with me.

Some of the street art in the alley ways is interesting.  I try to remember to take my camera with me. It’s a journey of exploration.

Street  art in Liverpool St

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I’ll post more street art as I find it.

 

 

A slowing down – sort of

Last night I watched a program on the ABC on the slow movement.  Titled Frantic Family Rescue, it detailed the efforts of three families to slow down the frantic pace of their lives, guided by journalist Carl Honoré.  Honoré is the author of “In Praise of Slow” and an advocate of the slow movement.

Slow-Life

 

The pressures of my frantic life are not a revelation to me, nor are my regrets about the toll on the life of my son during his formative years.  For financial reasons it seemed that I had little choice as I tried desperately to support us in the face of inadequate employment and compensation.  Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough, or explore alternative options but I am not interested in beating myself up over something that I can’t change now.

I am interested in making positive changes from here on however and am considering how I can make that happen, whilst still doing what I need to do.  A key component of the experiment that was shown on television is the reduction of screen time.  At a time when I am in the process of establishing an online-based business, that would appear to be a challenge, as of course is the whole concept of slowing down.  I’m not prepared to put it in the too hard basket though.

Looking realistically at my day, I haven’t been using my time very effectively.  Working from home can be an easy way of losing focus and succumbing to diversions.  So … I am planning my day the evening before, making a realistic list of what needs to be achieved and am blocking out the time for the various tasks in my Outlook Calendar.  I know that one can use Tasks for tracking but I have never found that it worked well for me.  If anything I get irritated by the pop-ups, so Calendar it is.  I’m starting each day with one of those irritating phone calls that I usually need to make – to banks or utility companies or whatever where you know that you will be confronted with layers of confusing menus and then put on hold for ages.  Getting those calls out of the way early in the day and spreading them out over the days in the week is a sanity-saving strategy.

I am also scheduling some time away from the computer – i.e. weeding a patch of the garden, raking up the leaves, going for a walk.  I am not blocking out 9-5 totally, as there needs to be flexibility in the day to allow for the unexpected, or tasks that arise during the day (thanks email).  I am also alternating tasks so that I don’t get bored with the tedium and become less effective.  I figure that if I can maximise my productiveness during the day, I don’t have to work on the business at night.  I can read or joy or joys, I can work on the next novel manuscript.

An important part of my regime is going to bed at a reasonable time and this is going to take some working on.  I know that I would benefit from more sleep.  Supporting that goal is turning off screens at least half an hour before that so that I have wind-down time.  OK, I know that there should probably be more screenless time, but I’m working on it – okay?  It will just be checking emails and of course if I am working on the manuscript then probably I will have been typing.

Even more radical will be giving myself guilt-free weekends.  In all of my home-based businesses in the past, I have worked on them every day, and have felt incredibly guilty when domesticity has taken me away from those tasks.  Taking my weekends back feels incredibly self-indulgent but that’s what I am doing from now on.

My diversionary activity through the day is typically scanning through online media sites.  When there is no water-cooler activity happening in your workspace, there is a craving for some interaction and information about what is happening in the world.  My very first time block therefore is for reading the various sites.  I am not going to stop doing it, but I’m going to contain it to a reasonable time slot.

The other activity that I have introduced is walking and no, I am not actually scheduling this one.  This is first thing in the morning to blow away the cobwebs and to make a good start to the day.  With our recent wintry and drizzly weather, gloves and raincoat are my friends but I am still walking.  Sometimes I combine it with a supermarket trip so the car gets to stay in the drive.  Saving fuel – woo hoo!

This is a time of transition for me and I think that my recent redundancy has probably given me a gift.  What are your slow living strategies?  Please share them here.  What have the benefits been to you? I am interested in any tips you might have.