Ode to Mothers

Mother’s Day is approaching, giving rise to what it all means – mothers, acknowledgement of mothers, the relationship with our mothers and then our relationship with those that we mother.

And here I have a confession to make.  Sure when I was a child, I bought my mother ludicrous ornaments and soaps and scents or whatever, and eagerly watched as she opened them.  Looking back I had totally abysmal taste.  As I grew up though I moved around a lot, and lived interstate for a long time.  I lived  a single lifestyle and although I was always family orientated, was also fairly self-absorbed.   Mother’s Day was not something that featured strongly on my horizon.  After all, it was such a commercial event, with the letterbox full  of brochures and the retail industry in your face for weeks before hand.  I didn’t want to be part of that and I was sure that my mother didn’t either.  Mother’s Day faded from focus for me and sometimes I never even registered that it had come – or gone – beyond wishing my mother a happy Mother’s Day in our regular Sunday  morning call.

Time rolled on, and then I was pregnant.  This was a long time coming, given that I was a couple of months shy of 40 at the time.   I was a whole 8 weeks pregnant by the time the next Mother’s Day came around.  To my surprised delight, a friend and his partner sent me a Mother’s Day card.  It made the who motherhood business seem so much more real.  That card was so treasured.

By the next Mothers’ Day of course I really was a mother, with an infant who was a few months old.  Parenthood was a solo venture for me, so I didn’t have a partner to express any sort of appreciation for my maternal efforts, but I had a beautiful child and we had a mutual adoration thing going. We were pretty absorbed in each other and my mother was a big help too, making the interstate trip whenever possible.  She had a special relationship with my son as well.

With each year, another Mother’s Day rolled around and passed again.  Another commercial opportunity that I chose largely to ignore, except that I was a little more aware of it now.  My friend never sent me a card again, so there wasn’t any acknowledgement of my own motherhood, beyond my own reflections.  My son and I moved back to my home state and my mother was so pleased to have us close to her.  We were pretty pleased as well and over the next years that were challenging over many fronts, Mum was always there for us.

But then she wasn’t.  Her cancer was sudden and cruel and we never made those last goodbyes, mostly because we hadn’t quite comprehended that it was really happening.  We were rather a ‘stiff upper lip’ type family anyway and weren’t open about affection and our feelings.  That last morning I reached her a few brief minutes before she slid into a coma.  I’m sure that she knew I was there during those minutes, but I never knew if she heard and understood the words that I softly whispered to her over the next hour as I massaged her hands with cream and gently massaged her scalp and face, easing the transition for us both.

As the saying goes, your never appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.  So, it was far too late to tell her when I really acknowledged and appreciated all that my mother had not only done but sacrificed for me.  Part of this understanding came from an evolving maturity (so OK – I was a late developer) and part of it, well perhaps a lot of it came from being a mother myself and looking at life and events through totally different eyes.  I was very much aware of what I did for my child, with much of it unacknowledged and un-thanked.  I began to understand motherhood in a way that I never had before.

It’s poetic justice of course that my son, now in his late teens, gives no recognition to the significance of mother’s day.  He always sleeps in on Sundays so there is no breakfast in bed.  I may get a passing hug if I’m lucky, and perhaps he will ruffle my hair on his way out the door with his mates.

I still think that Mother’s Day is unnecessarily commercial and that making an event of one day out of the year is in a way to belittle the support our mothers give us not just through the year but through all of our lives.  I still could have shown my appreciation more demonstrably. I could l have told her how much I appreciated all that she did.

I miss you Mum.



The Finer Points of Dining

I have had occasion to eat out several times this week.  These were social events and the opportunity to share company and break bread with friends and family.  All good.  My waistline and purse are suffering a bit, but hopefully this is not a permanent state of affairs.

I had some wonderful food, served with attention to service and detail.  Good experiences. You can hear the BUT coming though can’t you and there is a bone of contention in all this.  There is a practice now in many restaurants of not providing vegetables with a meal (whether cooked or salad variety).  You are provided with a piece of meat or a piece of chicken or a stack of vegetarian equivalent, tastefully displayed with a sauce or jus or perhaps some cauliflower foam, and a decorative garnish.  If you want vegetables with that, then they are ordered and paid for separately.

The restaurant I dined at last night did not do combined vegetables, so it was another $10 for a plate of beans, lightly sauteed in butter and served with toasted slivered almonds, or another $10 for chunks or roasted potatoes, seasoned with sea salt and rosemary, and then there was the usual roast beetroot and rocket salad – probably another $10 but I forget how much exactly.  Admittedly, these dishes each provided enough vegetable to be shared between two people, but given the cost of my main dish, I would have expected that an array of vegetables would have accompanied it.

The preceding night, I dined at a fish restaurant – new and with very positive reviews.  The service again was wonderful, but a platter of fish and the ubiquitous chips only was supplied.  A Greek or Green Salad had to be ordered extra.  No bread was provided – that had to be ordered extra as well.  The owner of this restaurant spent many years assisting his parents to run a Fish Cafe – great and unpretentious food with lots of repeat customers.  Eventually the parents got tired and decided that it was time to retire and their son moved on to his own restaurant.  He must be focusing on a different clientele.

On a positive note though, we did not realise when booking at this restaurant that it was run by the son (who also cooks).  My father had become quite well-known at the Fish Cafe, as he was a regular patron and always ordered the same thing.  Battered Garfish, with one fillet on the plate and one in a bag to take home as he could never eat the two.  (His appetite has declined in recent years.) When they saw him come in the door, the staff anticipated his requirements.

At the restaurant, Dad again ordered battered Garfish.  When it arrived, it came with a take-away box and the waiter explained that there was an extra fillet provided and that we would understand what the box was for.  It was only then that we discovered whose restaurant it was and were tickled that not only did the owner recognise my father, but that he catered for him as he did.  We will probably only go back on special occasions, given the cost but the gesture in looking after my father (in his nineties) was much appreciated.  That as much as anything will draw us back.

Am I alone in feeling that restaurants are gouging in pricing their meals as separate components, or am I exhibiting a lack of understanding in how costs are rising for restaurant managers?

A life in Boxes

De-cluttering (see earlier blog). What a surprise – progress is slow!  Much slower than I anticipated.  I keep getting sidetracked on associated issues, like sorting through boxes of mixed up Lego.  I have re-assembled kits and reconnected the bits with their instructions and boxes.  The balance, I have sorted into colours or like pieces (i.e all the wheels together) and stored them all in cliplok bags.  Once I had done all of this, I was still in a quandary.  Do I keep it, sell it, or give it away?  Some of the bigger kits are worth a couple of hundred dollars on eBay.  In the end, it was stored carefully into large plastic storage boxes and put back into the attic.  Those boxes are along side other boxes containing the train set and similar multi-componented toys.

And so it has been – sort, classify and decide on disposal.  I still have stored in that attic things like boxes of linen and towels, old dinner sets and household bits and pieces that I have always thought that young Donald might use when he leaves home.  I have this underlying concern that as soon as I dispose of these items, they may be required.

I must have around twenty of these boxes in the attic now.  They contain much-loved clothes from earlier decades, each with their own memories.  Perhaps one day I will have granddaughters who will enjoy exploring their contents, and might give those designer labels an airing again. There are boxes of quilting fabrics that I will use one day.  Boxes of other craft items.  Boxes of bedding and quilts – we have had many different bed configurations in the house over the years and have retained the blankets and quilts, even though the beds may have gone.

I also have a large plastic box that is the ‘picnic basket’.  In theory, I can just grab this and go, but I should check its contents and their cleanliness etc before the next trip.  It has plastic plates and cutlery, chopping board, sharp knives, can opener, bottle opener, scissors, tea towel, washing up brush and detergent, tea, coffee, salt, pepper, storage bags and items of this nature.  So handy to have it all together and it just needs checking now and then for currency.

I have all the travel items in the attic as well.  Suitcases and wheelie bags and back-packs and sleeping bags and packing cells.  I love the packing cells that I discovered a few years back.  It makes the organisation of packing so much easier.  Of course these things are not in boxes but are tumbled in their own corner, along side the sporting equipment that is rarely used and in fact hardly ever was.  There are still the tennis racquets and the boogie board and the cricket bats and those sorts of things – just in case.

As I write this, it is apparent to me that I was always equipping our house for a larger family – in my mind there would be children coming and going and ‘doing things’.  The reality was that I only had the one child, and he was very non-sporty and as there were no other children of similar age growing up in our immediate locality, he didn’t do a lot of outdoor stuff either.  It is a warning not to place too much emotional anticipation on the advent of grandchildren.

I also have heaps of financial records, the sort that should be kept for 7 years.  I haven’t addressed them as yet but I am sure that there are some older years now that can be culled.  Stored on those racks (I have heaps of metal shelving racks in the attic as well) is lots of stationery and study notes from various courses over the years.  That could do with critical evaluation.  Many of the notes are probably out of date.

Sounds as though I have kept everything, doesn’t it?  I have still managed to give away a lot of items – furniture, books, clothing, and toys.  Some has gone to friends and some has been disposed of via Freecycle.  There are other items, that I have had for many years, that I have decided to dispose of via auction.  There is a lovely brass art nouveau fire tool set.  I have always loved the lady, but I don’t have a fire and don’t have a use for this item.  It has just been stored in the attic.

Brass Fire Tools

And then there is the antique phone that I have had since around 1980.  It still has the inner workings and my techie brother-in-law tells me that it could be made to work again, in a limited fashion.  Again this has just been sitting in the attic for years and I have to ask myself of what value it is stuck up there.

Antique Pnone

Another item that I will be very pleased to see go to a new home is a Dexter Rocking Chair that was left here by a lodger and never re-claimed.  He had promised someone to french polish it and it has been sitting on my back verandah for around five years.  I feel so sorry for the person who originally owned it as they must have done a lot of work in stripping it but I have no way of knowing who they are or contacting them.

Another aspect to the de-cluttering is sorting out all the stuff left by lodgers.  Mostly this is clothing and shoes, but also electrical items, tools, fishing gear and of course antique rocking chairs.

One task that I was not looking forward to was de-cluttering my computer.  There will still be junk data files lurking in corners but I have deleted a lot of dead software and many folders also that have not been access for a long time.  In part, I had to do this as I am running out of storage space but in part I want to de-clutter before my next computer upgrade.  I felt very virtuous after I had spent the time on this.

So what of my transitional son?  I have received the odd text but I haven’t seen him since my last post.  He was supposed to come home last night (with Daisy) but did not turn up.  Perhaps today.


The objective today was to start with some de-Cluttering.  If I am going to sell the house, besides the usual painting and gardening and generally making good, I need to sort out what I carry over into the next phase of my life and what needs a new home.  Really, this should apply to my computer, my office, my house and my mind.  Challenges all of them.

This morning, I was looking for a bed on the appropriate section of Gumtree, and I saw a Huon Pine Dressing table advertised – for only $170.  I have a few Huon Pine pieces of furniture and am rather partial to it.  They are all Edwardian, and all dust catchers, but distinctive pieces of Australian furniture.  I didn’t need this dressing table but at that price I couldn’t resist it.  In an antique shop it would probably sell for $500 more. I bought it.

This evening, I have also bought the bed for young Donald – just have to organise a trailer tomorrow to pick it up.  So, at the end of the day, I have two additional pieces of furniture.  So much for the de-cluttering.  However, we are taking two King Single beds out of his room and I will probably sell those, so I guess that will be two pieces of furniture less.

The Healing Powers of a G & T

As I wrote in my previous post, Monday was the first anniversary of the death of my younger sister.  As one would expect, it was a roller coaster of a day.  I was fine until the first person said ‘And how are you?’

As I struggled to find the words that indicated I was fine, it soon became clear that I was not.  It was a bit of a wet response there for a while as a heap of bottled up emotion overwhelmed me.  It was tiring and exhausting and took me by surprise a bit.  I went up to the cemetery later than planned and it coincided with a visit by my brother-in-law and two of my sister’s colleagues.  My sister was partial to a celebratory gin and tonic, so in my backpack was a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, Tonic and several glasses.  I also took some music.

It was drizzling lightly when I arrived, but that was OK.  It was drizzling and mizzling a year ago as well.  We exchanged our greetings and admired the flowers and roses and one of them remarked that what we really needed now was a G&T.  I made her turn around and whilst they had been talking I had got myself set-up on the adjoining marble slab.  A stiff drink all round, and the mood lightened considerably.  We talked and we laughed and reminisced and admired the view and drank another, this time pouring a little on the grave as well for her benefit.  Why should she miss out on the party?  All the while, the operatic tones of Andreas Bocelli soared out across the valley.

A dear neighbour and family friend is not resting not far away, so I picked a bunch of wild flowers and rampaging freesias  (it’s that sort of cemetery) and delivered them to her grave also.  There was yet another neighbour a few plots away who had a tremendous collection of coloured pencils and used to keep me entertained for hours as a pre-schooler.  I had a chat to her as well.  All in all, it was a comforting visit.

I would not have described myself as a cemetery visitor, feeling that there was little solace in a collection of marble and tumbled headstones and faded plastic flowers.  The setting of this cemetery makes all the difference though.  It is in the Hills, and has a strong character of its own, with many unusual plantings, and different grave decorations.   It’s a companionable place and one that feels appropriate to visit.  We had a bit of a discussion about what to do with her grave, now that it has had a year to settle.  Probably it will have a surround of sandstone built with an infill of soil in order that we can plant a garden of some sort.  A bench seat will be inset at the bottom end, so that there will be somewhere to sit, besides on the adjacent marble slab.  He plot is on the side of a hill, so by the time the grave surrounds are build, the foot end will probably be raised about 60 cms to bring it up level with the head end.  The seat will be set into this elevation.

October does not sound the best of months for my family, but today is the anniversary of the death of our mother.  That was eight years ago now, so it was more a day of reflection rather than mourning.  She was always one for a coffee and cake though so when I met a friend at a beach-side cafe this morning, I had a coffee and slice of cake for mum.

It probably sounds silly, but my remaining sisters and I have been holding our breath around our father this month.  He has recently been diagnosed with asbestosis, and healthwise things have been a bit of a struggle.  There are only a few days left of the month though and in spite of the challenges, Dad is determined and stubborn.  He will be around for a while yet.

Already, a year has passed …

Sitting, and waiting seems interminable.  Living so acutely in the here and  now as we are, it is all we have ever done and all that we ever will do.  It has become our raison d’etre in a world governed by unreality.    People come and go, phones ring quietly, tears flow and desperate hands clutch.  Occasionally within this there is a shared anecdote and laughter. The waiting goes on and we have a cup of coffee.

The changes are so subtle that you don’t really notice them in that whispered room.  When the ragged breathing changes, it comes with shocked disbelief.  Not now, it can’t really be happening now. Mightn’t she hold on just a little longer?  An airborne daughter is still mid-flight.  The final breathe is whisper soft, and then there is nothing bar the sobbing. No final words of farewell – just nothing but still indelibly recorded in the collective memory.


One year ago today, my sister died.  This was not an easy or kind death.  It was a drawn out process over two years, with much of it abominably cruel.  There was a good period in the middle of her illness  where she responded well to a drug trial, surviving longer than expected as one-by-one, others on the same trial did not respond so well and fell by the wayside.  At the official end of the trial, there were only two participants left including her, and the drug company agreed to keep supplying them with the drug, for as long as there were positive indicators.

The company demanded  a continuation of the 6-weekly scans, giving a level of radiation exposure that could precipitate other cancerous conditions over time.  She protested but the response was firm with the unspoken inference.  You are terminally ill anyway, so the level of scans is of no long-term consequence.  She was in a desperate fight for her life – they were concerned for the raw data and clinical observations that her condition was providing.

That good period whilst the drug was working was super-charged.  She joined a gym and pumped weights.  She returned to work and resumed also her presentation and teaching activities, travelling around the country to deliver training.  She attended seminars and on one memorable occasion as a guest speaker.  It was a conference for palliative care specialists and it featured a videoed interview with my sister on the palliative care process from the patient’s perspective but with a medical specialist’s understanding.  I haven’t seen it yet but I gather that it is hard-hitting.  She took questions from the floor and then at the end of the day, in response to an impromptu invitation, gave the closing address that brought the attendees to their feet.

Importantly, she continued her work in Forensic Medicine, focusing on the protection of those who have been subjected to sexual violence.  Even while desperately ill, she insisted on appearing in court as an expert witness, knowing that without her evidence a perpetrator could walk free.  It was the last time that she left the hospital under her own steam.

We have established a scholarship fund under her name, with the recipient to be a mature-aged female medical student entering third year at the University through which my sister undertook her training.  I took part in the interview process to select the first recipient and this Friday we have a Memorial Dinner for colleagues and friends, at which the recipient will be introduced and will receive her presentation.  The legacy lives on.

As sisters of course, we didn’t always have an easy relationship.  She was a few years younger than me, and we were chalk and cheese.  I was the adventurer and risk-taker and learnt from my mistakes – eventually.  She was the considered one, conservative in her outlook who chose her battles carefully.  She was emotionally fragile and very quick tempered, and I was resilient and rolled with the punches.  She was also the bright one and needless to say, the comparisons made by others rankled and were hurtful in our growing-up years.  I kept my distance as much as possible and went my own way.

Ours was a tenuous relationship that fortunately improved over time, and the advent of children had a bit to do with that.  Hers came first and then my son, and she insisted at the last minute on flying interstate to be with me during the birth so that I did not have to be on my own. She gave me lots of support in relation to my son.  When our mother died, she seemed to draw closer to me as well.  She had always been mum’s girl, and missed her dreadfully.  Of course we all did, but my sister was especially devastated.

It’s weird what you find out about people after they die, but it was so clear that my sister had a whole different life to that which was known and understood by the family.  Her reach and influence in the area of women’s health and well being was far greater than we realised, as was evidenced by the number of people who attended her funeral and the number and diversity of speakers.  We knew in general, but still listened in amazement to those who spoke of the differences that she had made to the lives of others.

One patient was so enthralled by my sister that she became a stalker, primarily of her but peripherally of other family members as well – anything to build up the knowledge base about my sister.  The patient suffers mental problems that  probably mean that she will never work or live independently, but with my sister’s mentoring she acquired the confidence and managed to commence a degree in politics at a local university.  This woman pops up everywhere, and I know that when I visit the grave today, there will be a bunch of flowers already there from the patient.  One lesson that I have learnt is that we don’t ‘own’ other people, not even our immediate relatives.  Everyone else retains their own part of them.

The first anniversary is always difficult.  This morning, which the day was still fresh I picked a posy of soft roses and lavender from my garden.  I might add a couple of sprigs of Rosemary for Remembrance, and shortly I will take them to my sister for a bit of a chat.  She has a beautiful plot in the hills, overlooking the valley and so peaceful.  It is a haphazard cemetery where people have planted their favourite flowers and creatively built their own headstones and grave enclosures.  She would be happy with that.

Living with Other People

I built my house 13 years ago, and for most of that time have had either lodgers or have hosted international students.  Living with other people perpetually in your space can be a challenge,  (just think about some members of your family!) but  it also has given me a steady income stream.  Occasionally I was surviving way below the poverty line, so that income meant that I was able to continue living in our home. I did come close at one stage to taking my son and moving back in with my parents and renting the house out.  The complication with that would be that I would then have jeopardised my eligibility for a government paid parenting allowance, given that I am a solo parent and for many years was ‘under-employed’.

Fortunately my house is big and there is room for everyone.  I tend to spend a lot of time in my office, which is at the front of the house.  Whenever my celebrancy clients visit, they come in the front door and make an abrupt turn into the office.  This means that they do not see the unwashed dishes or general household detritus, nor are they disturbed by TV or whatever.  My son has the attic room upstairs.  This is quite large and there are a couple of beds up there, plus trundles and these days I never quite know how many teenagers are going to be sleeping up there after a big  night out.  Our house seems to be a convenient crash pad, especially as it is only 4 kms from the CBD.  That leaves the other two downstairs bedrooms for the lodgers.

Our HouseThis picture is a couple of years old but this is Avalon, temporary home to many.

The very first lodger arrived shortly after we moved into the house.  At that stage, it was very new – not much in the way of furniture or furnishings and no garden to speak of.  David was a taxi driver, and as I was so naive about the accommodation business, I did not ask him the right questions – like

  • do you work at night and sleep during the day;
  • are you a very light sleeper who complains constantly about the weekend chatter of little boys and their friends;
  • are you more sensitive to mattress quality than the princess and the pea (yes, I bought him a new mattress);
  • are you also a client of social security and doing a bit of financial juggling on the side; and
  • do you have a gambling and therefore a cash flow problem?
We crept around the house every weekend for a year before I bit the bullet and asked David to move out.  It was such a relief to be ourselves on weekends without shushing all the time.  He left me a legacy though.  To help cover up our concrete floors, he gave me a Persian Rug that his girlfriend was throwing out.  Too late I discovered that it was infested with moths and they also ate the edges of another much-loved rug that I had.  At least he had paid up all the money that he owed me.
Next, two women arrived within a week or so of each other.  The first, Sarah, had a four-year-old daughter and told me that she was a vegetarian.  Sometimes the daughter lived with her father and sometimes she stayed with us.  Mother and daughter took over the attic room, as at that stage, young Donald was in a downstairs room, close to mine.  The day she moved in, I was surprised to see Sarah heat and eat four meat pies – surprised in relation to the quantity and also because I thought that meat pies were a strange choice for a vegetarian.
Her behaviour became stranger and more erratic and I got phone calls asking for her under a different name.  Eventually Sarah explained.  She suffered from multiple personality disorder and I never did find out how many women were living upstairs.  One was a teenager and talked on the phone all the time, curled up in a corner of the lounge.  Another couldn’t drive and that was a problem if she surfaced whilst the previous personality was driving the car.  One presumably was a vegetarian but others weren’t.  The only person who was more confused than me was the little girl.  One day I heard her ask ‘Am I Mary 1 or Mary 2?’ which made me very sad.
Another issue that made me sad was that one of the personalities took my bound copy of my thesis, written for my Masters Degree.  I didn’t actually have proof of this, but nobody else had the opportunity and I knew that a couple of the personalities would have been interested in the topic.  I asked her about it of course, but whichever personality was around at the time denied all knowledge of it.  It was a perplexing problem and I had to ask her to leave as well.  For my own sanity.  I gave her plenty of time to find alternative accommodation but she left quickly and  I discovered after a while that she had gone to a women’s refuge and said that she was escaping from an abusive situation.
I was asked by a mutual friend to take on the other woman who arrived at the same time, also with a small daughter.  This child was around two years.  The first night, I was woken at around 3:00 am by Dorinda who begged me to take her to hospital as she was having a heart attack.  I checked her out and noted her symptoms and soon concluded that this young woman who was in her mid twenties was in fact having a panic attack, not a heart attack.  It took me a couple of hours to calm her down and send her back to bed.  I soon discovered that she was a manic depressive, not managing her medication very well and was generally away with the pixies.  I found that I was taking over the care of the little girl who was sadly neglected as Dorinda was in a perpetual emotional and mental fog.
The little girl’s father soon started visiting as well and staying more and more nights in their bedroom.  Not happy with that, and even less happy when I realised that he was accessing my computer and the internet when I was out.  I asked her to find alternative accommodation as well.  It was only after they went that I realised that a key text book that I required for my Microsoft Certification Course was also missing.  The boyfriend was also studying IT. I could not afford to replace this book and without it could not sit the exams.
After this, I thought that I would provide home hosting for international students who were in Australia to undertake English studies.  I contacted an English college and they were very pleased to have me on their books as we live so close to the city and were on a direct bus route to the college.    There followed many students, from Germany, Japan, Korea, France, Brazil, Switzerland and China.  Their ages ranged from 16 to 50 or thereabouts.
 Some were attending high school in Australia and then I assumed the role of parent in the eyes of the school, and had to ensure that they attended regularly in the required uniform and with all homework completed.  I also had to sort out broken hearts, homesickness and cultural misunderstandings.  Sadly some of the Australian kids were not as welcoming as they could have been and the international visitors were often very lonely.
I had to provide accommodation with at least a bed, a desk, a wardrobe and a desk lamp and all meals.  This was a challenge for some of my guests who were not used to Australian food and the fact that we did not have rice as a staple component of most meals.  Some of the short termers (adults) were more demanding.  They required fresh juice daily and came with a list of preferred foods i.e. only chicken breast, no other part of the chicken, only home-made vinaigrette – nothing out of a bottle, etc.  This was not the deal at all.  It was not a hotel, but some of them came from affluent circumstances and were used to having domestic staff at their beck and call.  The Europeans were the most autocratic with their demands, but for outright wealth some of the Chinese and Korean guests topped the class.
Others politely ate whatever I put in front of them and explored their packed lunches with I think a mixture of amazement and bewilderment.  I would experiment with sandwich filllings, combining foods that they would never have thought of on their own.  I baked each week and so put in home-made cakes and biscuits and also of course some fruit.  Two German teenagers who arrived together told me that they had never had anything other than bread and cheese for their lunches and that their parents had never made lunch for them.  They liked exploring their lunch bags each day, though still came home and had big bowls of cereal on walking through the door in the evening.
One Japanese high school student who was a real sweetie, sat up all night on her last night with us, writing letters to my son and myself, expressing with the aid of her dictionary how much she had loved her stay with us.   She said in her letter to me that all her life she had wanted a mum-made lunch and with us that was what she’d had.  She was so shy when she first arrived, asking my permission to go outside, or to do anything really.
 Gradually, she gained more and more confidence and wormed her way into our hearts.
Food was a major interest for her, and everywhere we went, out would come the camera and she would take a photo of what she was about to eat.  I took her to the Central Market for breakfast with the family (a weekly ritual) and pointed out that there were Japanese and Korean stalls.  I thought that she might be homesick for some familiar food.  What did she order?  A cooked breakfast with the lot – bacon, eggs, tomatoes, sausages, mushrooms, toast, etc. all of course recorded for posterity.  The only time that the camera didn’t come out, she was probably too gobsmacked.  I served up a salad, made with some vegies from my Dad’s garden and in her lettuce she found a green caterpillar.  It was a story that she took home with her to the family in Japan.
She was 16 then and is now about 28, and we are still in contact.  The day before she flew out, we took her down to the local beach and managed to entice her into the water for the first time.  She was probably afraid of sharks or something but she had stayed firmly on the sand until then.  She, my son and I all cried when we had to take her to the airport the next day.

Splashing in the shallows

There came a time when I found the home hosting to be too exhausting.  With some wonderful exceptions, most would not do anything around the house – not helping with kitchen duties or anything else.  I had the impression that they had never done this at home and why should they start now?  Being cook, housekeeper and nursemaid got to be a bit tiring.  The crunch came for me when my mother died after an acute period of illness.  I had a Swiss girl (20) and a Chinese girl (18) staying at that time.  When I came home from the hospital that day, I explained that my mother had died and that in the coming week I would have to organise the funeral and that the household operations would be chaotic.  Both were wide-eyed, but neither offered any condolences or made any offer of help, which I assumed was due to lack of sophistication and cultural naivety.
On the day of the funeral, I said that I had no idea when I would be home, but that there were a selection of home-cooked frozen meals in the freezer and that they should make their selection and put them in the microwave/oven.  When I returned home at around 8:30 pm, they were both sitting around pathetically hungry.  Neither had eaten and I had the impression that neither wanted to take responsibility for initiating the process of creating the evening meal as it should be up to someone else.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but made moves to extricate myself from that contractual hosting relationship shortly after that.
To add some balance to this story, a German couple, in Australia as English students, stayed with me for many months and became a part of our family.  They did help in the kitchen and in many other areas and as he came from the building trades, he was always looking for things to fix or do around the house.  He could not sit still, but had to be making himself useful.  He even did some kitchen alterations for me, and quite quickly.  I had been quoted over $3000 to do the work and was told that it would be very complicated.  It took him two days and with minimal material cost.  They returned to Germany but not being happy with the employment situation over there, decided to migrate to Australia.  They have now bought their own house here and are still good friends.
I next simply advertised for lodgers – people who would rent a furnished room but were responsible for their own food arrangements.  Initially, I placed an advertisement in the paper but soon found that a lot of weirdos would get your phone number from the paper and I got a spate of heavy breathers and similar such callers.  Switching to real estate portals or even Gumtree brought much better results.  Each year, Adelaide also hosts various festivals and sometimes I would advise the festival organisers that I had accommodation available.  I always advertised a short-term rental.  If the scenario worked out well, and the lodger wanted to stay longer then I could say yes to that.  Having short-termers though meant that we didn’t have to put up with funny habits for too long.
Staying with us on this basis, we have had two comedians, a lighting technician and an event coordinator, all associated with different festivals.  We have had a hotel manager who had just come from a relationship breakdown and ended up renting one of the rooms for three years and hardly ever slept there, after his heart healed and he found a new relationship.  He never prepared a meal or even made a cup of coffee.  No hassles with that one!  There was a trainee pilot for 6 weeks, an IT Project Manager who flew in from OS for a contract, a LIthuanian backpacker who left us a CD of his favourite Lithuanian songs, and an Iranian man who left after I discovered him at home with a young lady.  She had obviously spent the night with him.  I have no objections to people having a private life, but was disturbed by the fact that she looked to be under the age of consent and even then, seemed young for her age.  When he went, he left behind an antique rocking chair that he was supposed to be renovating.  It has been stripped but is still sitting at my place awaiting the french polishing.  He was doing this as a favour for a friend, a person who no doubt is now very sad at having lost their chair.
On occasions, friends have availed themselves of a short-term place to stay and that has been good too.  Other short-termers have become friends and the connections to our house now reach around the world.
I don’t advertise any more.  I am constantly being asked if I will take on more people who need accommodation.  I have just had a Uni student leave (with some relief on my part), but still have an Irish couple who are very easy and are returning home to Ireland in December.  They have been spending some time in Australia because they can get work here but were unemployed in Ireland.
So, in December, it will be just young Donald, the cats and myself and I think that for a while, this will be good.  I am employed now and earn a reasonable income.  Running the household takes a fair chunk of that income but then having ‘guests’ does come with costs as well.  My water consumption has gone through the roof recently with lots of very long showers and endless cycles through my water-guzzling top-loading washing machine.  When young people sit up all night watching their plasma TV and using various other electrical devices, then the power bill goes through the roof also.  Then there are the breakages that occur, the things that wear out from multiple use, etc. etc.
It seems also that I am still the only one who understands the function of a mop or broom as I am the only one that uses them, whilst the house guests all enjoy their weekends and the Australian sunshine.  If I am going to spend all weekend cleaning, I would prefer it to address what I  have created rather than others.  Probably our guests feel that in return for their weekly rent, which includes outgoings such as electricity, broadband and other utilities, then they should have the freedom to come and go without any other responsibility.    In part also the onus falls on me for not asking for enough help.  It is mentioned in their handbook that gives all the details about the house and the environs but with the busy lives that we all lead, we don’t actually connect very much and I haven’;t pursued it.  When one person is in, the other is out, etc.  Also, in spite of the fact that we have a large house with a couple of living areas, 90% of the lodgers have spent their time in their room when at home and not using the kitchen or the bathroom.  They don’t ever sit out on the back deck or read a book in the garden.  I often wonder if they feel that they need to shut themselves away to retain some private space; and whether my influence is too invasive through the rest of the house.
Whatever, we will wing it alone for a while and it will be so good to have our own space.  I have almost finished the house.  Over the years I have installed solar panels, installed an additional carport and also some rainwater tanks; I have put down flooring and installed light fittings in most rooms and also some window treatments.  I have even bought some new furniture to replace the second hand stuff that I have dragged around for decades.  I have installed an automatic irrigation system and established the garden.  I am about to build a front fence.  In short, I am on the downhill run.
I will have room for the occasional visitor, can streak to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a drink and make as much noise as I want to.  I won’t have to feel apologetic if I have left some dirty dishes in my sink or as is more often the case, my son has.  I think that it will be about time.

Sailing Down the Murray

Resulting from an impulse Cudo Voucher purchase, this morning I took Father for a breakfast cruise in a paddle boat on the River Murray.  The breakfast was a bit average, but it’s the experience that one pays for rather than the food.  We received a glass of local sparking wine at the start of our meal (pleasant but sweet), but were told that coffee is not included and must be paid for at $5.00 a mug.

Just as we were about to board the boat, the sole partially detached itself from my right shoe and I flapped my way up the gangplank.  These shoes, a beautifully comfortable pair of Rockport walkers, belonged to my mother.  After her death in 2003, they found their way into my wardrobe and for the first time since leaving school I found myself wearing black lace-ups.  I have derived an enormous amount of comfort from those shoes, both physical and emotional   I think that I even wrote a poem in the early days titled ‘Walking in my Mother’s Shoes’.

Ever a sandal wearer in both winter and summer, it was a hesitant transition to these shoes but now I love them.  I was adamant therefore that when the soles wore out, they had to be replaced.  Re-soling is a tricky exercise and in my sad experience often not a success.  Slicing off the old sole is tricky and bonding a new sole in its place likewise problematic.  It frequently separates from the shoe again as the bonding does not hold under the stresses of walking.  Frustrating when the upper is still in such good condition.  Perhaps the shoes should be discarded but they are one of my last tangible links to my mother.

The river is relishing the break of the drought, but still flows gently.  As the Captain told us several times, it is the slowest flowing river in the driest continent.  The banks are lined with Willows, planted by early river boat captains, who used them as delineators of the river bank.  In times of flood, when the river spread sideways for huge distances, the trees marked the deep river channel so that boats which had ventured into new waterways could find their way back to the river and the deep water.

The boat was smaller than I expected.  Somehow, the mention of paddle boat brought to mind an image of a massive paddle steamer, playing the Murray tourist trade with faded genteel luxury.  The boat on which we found ourselves was much smaller – intimate even and built in the late 1970s.  It operates seven days a week servicing the tourist and corporate trade, with the Captain and his wife making their home on the lower deck.

It was misting with rain on the river, the day a mixture of greys and murky greens.  The brighter colour of the Willows provided contrast and relief.  Father gave me a potted analysis of the geological history of the cliffs as we passed, analysisng the sandwiched stratas.  Also the history of the river going back pillions of years when perhaps it followed a different path.  In those days, Australia was still connected to Antarctica.

We passed an old house on the cliff top, two straggly looking palm trees framing the view from the river.  We were told that at the time of Federation, the government gave two palm trees to the houses that lived along the river at that time, to be planted in commemoration of the great event.

I excitedly pointed out the high voltage transmission lines that straddled the river as we glided underneath.  Not many people get excited about these giant-like metallic towers that dominate  the landscape in stark silhouette.  In my day job, I acquire land for substations and easements for transmission lines like this and I have learnt to appreciate the geometry and strength of those towers.

I have seen Scandinavian designs of towers in the form of a line of giant men, striding over the landscape and holding the wires aloft with their arms.  Brilliant.  Each tower depicts a different phase of the stride.  I hope they get built some day.  There can still be art form in utility structures.

We watched the river birds, their take-offs and landings and discussed the merits of various river-front houses and houseboats.  We passed houseboats with clotheslines and dog kennels, Australian flags, solar panels and mini wind turbines.  Some were obviously occupied by permanent residents rather than holiday renters.

I nearly cancelled this trip, thinking that father would not be well enough.  He has perked up significantly after his recent hospitalisation with Serum Sickness and the severe allergic reaction is abating.  The Asbestosis is apparent in the breathy response to any exertion,  but he is stoic about that.  Stoic is one of the terms that I used to describe him in my Memorial Reflection blog.  I’m glad that I didn’t cancel and that we got to do the trip together.

Memorial Reflection

This afternoon, I attended the memorial service for Elliot Johnston QC.  Elliot was an old political comrade of my father’s, and also represented Dad when he was in strife over a conflict with a neighbour (another story).  He was a man of keen intellect and was highly respected both in the state and around the country.  This was a memorial service, as Elliot had bequeathed his body to the University.

There were many distinguished speakers who paid homage to the man and his accomplishments.  He was 93, so there were many years in which to make an impact.  The last speaker was his son, who spoke endearingly of his father, and towards the end of that tribute, listed the things that he had learnt from the man.  It got me thinking – what have I learnt from Dad?  It is something that needs some reflection, so I will report back on that.


Unfortunately, in the hours leading up to the service, I was involved in an accident with my car and it is probably going to be a write-off.  I had been pondering over effective control mechanisms in relation to young Donald’s use of the car and assumptions of ownership.  All rights and no responsibility, that sort of thing and definitely no cost. Well now there is no problem as there is no car!  For a while, anyway but hopefully long enough to re-introduce him to buses and his two feet.


I have now had a little time to consider what I have learnt from my father in growing up on his household and it woudl be as follows:

Work ethic – this was strongly instilled in all of us girls and demonstrated by my father, in fact by both parents.  What I have also learnt though is that one should look at working smarter not harder, and factor in some time for play.

Tools – thanks to Dad, I can use all the tools in my shed and have reasonable competency in a range of handyperson tasks.  He still insists on keeping blades sharpened and moving parts oiled though as noone can do that as well as him.  He is probably right there too – certainly better than me.

Hospitality – set another place at the table.  Dad would often meet someone in the course of the day and bring them home for a meal for a bed.  His hospitality was plain, but anyone was always welcome and he would offer any help that he thought was needed.  He picked up hitchhikers, international travellers and people like that.

Passionate beliefs – work for causes in which you believe.  Dad still hands out how-to-vote cards for the Greens and attends various meetings of those causes that interest him.  He is a life member of the Friends of the ABC.  He is not one to stand back and let others do the work – he is in there helping.

Family Values he has a stong sense of family and respect for family strength.  He would do anything to help his family, nuclear or extended.

Stoicism – this is a late addition but it has occurrerd to me that the expression ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going‘, was probably written for my father.  He picks himself up, dusts himself off and keeps going.

So – what has your father taught you?