Sunday, November 10, 2013

Passing Time

On the wall hangs a framed poster. Its picture is a repro of a lovely line drawing, by, it looks from here, Leonardo. The large printing says: "Dessins Du Nationalmuseum de Stockholm"and "Musee du Louvre Cabinet des Dessins"1971. The small print is..too small.
I can see that the drawing, of a woman and torso is beautiful. Her head is averted, so that the beauty and harmony must lie in the drawing, the lines, the symmetry, rather than in her features. I expect that it has been analysed down to its ...whatever: but its whole: the grace, the calm, the serenity, is greater than its parts.

Once, it had a light pink wash, but it hangs by a western window and the sun has bleached it.  I am reminded of "The Women of the West":
"The red sun robs their beauty, and in weariness and pain,
The slow years steal the nameless grace that never comes again."
Well, the red sun has robbed Leonardo's lady of some beauty.  I sit here looking at it, with my knees spread wide, elbow on knee, chin on fist, and see that I have lost that "nameless grace" if indeed I ever had it.

My pose is identical to that of a gorilla, that poor first gorilla to reach, amid much fanfare and hullabaloo,Taronga Park Zoo, sometime in the 1950s or 60s. He sat there in his small cage, with sprawled legs, chin in hand, and stared back at us with a  confronting stare that seemed to express everything from accusation to contempt. Instead of feeling the pity that he deserved, or the horror that his situation deserved, I had an overwhelming feeling of shame for my species.

My knowledge of French is rudimentary. Our teacher had a daily exchange of greetings, which my friend soon corrupted into: "Bonjour Madame
                                Comment allez vous?
                                You say you have a pain in the head?
                                Well you give me one, too."
A record of our immaturity. Poor Mrs Grieves - (what an apt name) - a widow with children had a hard row to hoe in those days, no doubt. Her everlasting listing of her ailments - her headaches, her colds, her flu, her bad back, did not elicit any sympathy from me. I felt as if she was sucking me into a vortex of hopelessness, and in my heart I jeered. It felt like a survival mechanism.
Nevertheless, by some mischance I was selected for special classes to do "French Oral", and evidently I kept this illusion going until at the end of schooling I was faced with the panel of smiling examiners, at which stage I just confessed that I had no idea at all what they were talking about or asking me.
A similar situation was when I had a Viva for statistics in psych 1. Our lecturer was a young English woman, new in the role, who suffered from my own ailment in that her round healthy face made her look wholesome, a condition that made me weep for myself in despair. She also had a healthy dose of freckles, and was relentlessly heckled in lectures by the tens of male students  to the extent that she often fumbled, lost her thread or became quite inaudible,
Again, I confessed my total ignorance. She refused to accept it, and instead asked me a series of leading questions: is the answer this or Mickey Mouse? would it be X times y squared or pease pudding? I passed the test.  Perhaps she needed a certain number of passes to justify her position. or perhaps she was being kind, which was how it felt to me. There is a lot of kindness about.

Outside the supermarket today was a young darkskinned boy playing, if that's what you call it,  a didgeridoo. Its sound is, to me, elemental:  the deep strange throbbing sound of Australia. Miserly, tight fisted me put some money in his cap. He didn't raise his eyes, or thank me in any way, and I thought that that was absolutely perfect. Just as it should be.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Auld acquaintances

On Friday I went to the art gallery to buy a card.   Helen was there - she works there - and by chance, so was June.  Helen and I spoke of children and others - her niece was at school with my daughter.   I think it was Helen whotold us of walking down a street in Hay and geting the spooky feeling that someone was staring at her.  She turned around and found that she was being followed by a large emu.  June had sold her house on Wednesday and bought a new one on Thursday, largely because of problems with her knee that make  climbing stairs difficult.  She is soon travelling to Turkey.  She told us of being in a hot air balloon that crashed onto the Ghan railway line which runs between Alice Springs and Darwin.    We must have chatted for an hour or so: it was most enjoyable.
I have known June since 1968 and Helen since 198something.
Is it churlish or pedantic to say that they are acquaintances rather than friends?    They are a little like seldom seen family members.  By knowing them for so long we have shared a great deal.
Similarly with Andrew, who I met at the supermarket.  I have known him since 1980 or so.  He is now in his 70s, and he and his wife farm sheep, which they took up on "retirement".  It would be quite a tough life, but they are working hard, working together, and flourishing in many ways if not financially.
I am back home again.  These encounters make me feel as if I am part of the weft and the warp of this town.

Andrew gratuitously made some complimentary comments about me.  I took them in my stride.  Generally, praise makes me freeze and lie low.  I don't know why.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

continues, with apologies

Firefox didn't crash:  the computer did. I am surprised that the post was published as I was still writing it. I would like to edit my repetitions, but the computer I am on now is older and leaves blanks here and there.
We visited D once. The "home" that she was in was sometimes in the press because it was a praised innovation. Children were in cottages to create a homelike atmosphere. Ha. We could look through the windows - no one was allowed in the cottages during the day - and see the glowingly polished floor. The girls, woken at 6, polished it on hands and knees before breakfast. There was a boys' section.  D stared ahead and explained that it was to the left:  looking at or indicating the direction was punishable. She obviously lived with some fear. Her birthday was the day before mine, and I have thought of her then for over 60 years and hoped that her life went more kindly.
I went to the dentist by myself when I was ten. Every now and then he would clasp his hands under my armpits and run them down my body. I did not like this, but did not pass it on: it seemed a churlish whinge. Only later did I recognise it, and see the oddness in  that not only did he have daughters around my age, but one was in the class that my mother taught.  An unvetted piano teacher was a pleasant young man, with an odd lurching gait. An odd odour in his room I identified years later as sherry.
My grandmother's Queensland house was filled with her beautiful embroideries. My mother and she argued as to whether petunias were weeds, as she pulled them up and threw them away. Under the mosquito netting on my bed there was a toy rabbit with long , cuddly angora hair, which immediately caused me to bring to Gran's attention that it had been my birthday recently. Yes, he became mine.  Open French doors onto the verandah left us sleeping in the warm, sweet air: I fell in love with the tropics. Older, I went catching crabs and lobsters in the mangroves. Once, anyway.
A weekender in the Blue Mountains had heavy chains from house to earth.  Bush as far as you could see, range after range; drystone walls, wallabies that nibbled my father's  vegetables.  Walk and skip and sing along the dirt road during the daytime, but as dusk fell a presence grew in the bush. I felt unwelcome, out of place and always ended up running and frightened.
My mother raised chickens, kept a cow, sewed our clothes, knitted, made jams, preserved fruit, cooked all meals from scratch. She took up leatherwork and made us gloves and belts, and she did fine crochet. And she taught school, and read. She despised housewifery and passed on few of the arts to her daughters.  She would not wear an apron - a prison uniform to her -, but her decision not to wear a wedding ring seems more problematic.
House 4 was for my teenage years, though there were no such things as teenagers then.  I went to the convent high school.  Light came through tall yellow windows into the austere chapel, where the nuns sometimes prostrated themselves. I sang in the choir during a nun's profession and a priest's funeral: splendid.
The poet Bob Adamson tells how he used to catch and kill hairtail (fish) and watch their iridescent gleam dull and fade and hate himself for it.  My childhood was largely good, enriching and secure, but I think that I am not alone in feeling that something back then made my iridescence fade.

An Irritable Reader

I have never enjoyed Patrick White's writing because of his dour world view. I would be particularly irritated each time he spoke of a woman's flapping breasts, which he seemed to do quite often.  "Flopping" seemed more accurate as well as kinder.
People chewing their lips seem to appear across the literary spectrum. I've seen people bite their lips, but never chew them and I can't even visualise what this would look like or how in fact one would do it.  This irritates me, rather as does the "mobile mouth" which is quite commonplace as well.  An immobile mouth, one that doesn't move, might be worth commenting on, but aren't mouths mobile as a rule? The Two Ronnies commented on this once, saying something like, "She had a mobile mouth, that is, she took it everywhere with her."
For no good reason I dislike books about clever families of academic distinction with children  named "Octavia".  I particularly dislike those which have a son of such brilliance that he appears to the undistinguished hoi polloi to be mentally unstable. Whether there are many of these books, or whether I just tried to read the same one many times, I am unsure.  I think that I suspect that both the family and the author would see me as being undistinguished hoi polloi.  Oh, and they use words like"chthonic", which I have to look up.  And then I forget the meaning, anyway.
I have been, in the interests of my education, reading genre fiction that I would usually avoid. "The American Wife" I read as chick lit. About 3/4 through it occurred to me that the rich, shrewd, drunken, oafish husband could have been G W Bush. And, of course the book is based on G W and Laura, and  has been widely praised. Doh, as Homer would say. that homer, not That One.
Anita Shrieve is a very competent writer. As in many American books, her characters frequently drink Diet Coke. They eat quite often - shades of Enid Blyton comfort - but always, it seemed, to be pizza. Or fritos, cheatos, -  can that be right? - cheerios, oreos. And they cook with oleo.
The formidably competent Kay Scarpetta occasionally cooks, and her author  takes us through the steps as if it's an exotic achievement. What she brews up each time is in fact a simple spaghetti sauce.
Fannie Flagg was, to me, a writer of high calibre.
Two books I read killed off the main character before the end, and this seems to be a mistake.  I want to see them succeed or fail:  not disappear. 
Robert P Parker and Sue Grafton are both adept in effortlessly sliding in the hero's back story. I was surprised at how well "Started early, Took My Dog" was received, although I quite enjoyed it. Then I read the two preceding, and so knew who Jackson was, who Julia was etc:  that is, back story.  I reread "Started early", and it was so much richer with a fuller view of the characters.
I completely fail to understand why "Water for Elephants", (or whatever it's called) and such are so hugely popular though romances ... The "Alpha male" is evidently essential.  It was interesting reading P.D. James to see that Dalgliesh is in fact a rather more old fashioned version of the alpha male. Dear me, he is priggish.
Nicholas Sparks wrote a best selling romance that was made into a film. I read a different one of his, called "Message in a Bottle", and it was very heavy going, except that it contained some of the most inept lines that I have ever read.  Eg: the heroine is, of course, beautiful. He begins describing her by saying, "It wasn't that she was unattractive. She was, or so she had often been told."  What??

Enough ramble. Once I took my daughter to visit a friend, where her excited mother had just received her Book Club choice through the mail. A Danielle Steele. She proudly showed me her whole shelf of Danielle Steele's, which to me was rather like having 30 copies of the same book.
I read a Danielle Steele once. There were 3 aristocratic Russian heiresses in a troika racing across the snow of course, with tinkling bells, of course.  Then something bad happened.  Then something good happened, which was probably them each marrying an Alpha male Russian prince.  This compelling plot could obviously be set in many different locations, which Wikipedia suggests it is. It also tells me that she sells more books than anyone else in the world.
Well, "All the world is queer save me and thee, And even thee's a little strange at times."
 That often seems to be true.  
Now, off back to my reading.

Monday, March 25, 2013

For Molly: Where I Come From

I come from the steam train huffing and panting at the station, while  the chute swings over and gushes water into its innards.  The grimy men wink at the  kids and bellow the whistle and shovel coal into the firebox., sweating. My father and I wave my mother and sisters off, and I can sense the spring in his step as we leave, and he buys me a threepenny ice cream. Lavish. A penny one is a treat. Bully Howe, the doctor's  labrador, is no threat at all with my hand in my father's large hard hand.
Since those days, when children in calipers were commonplace, and tragic young were negated implacably and forever with port wine stains across their face, everything has only got better.
Five houses. At the first, I overheard my parents saying that "she" had left for Melbourne. I knew that my sisters belonged to my parents but that I belonged to "her". Resignedly, I set off after her. Some workmen driving home come across my toddles and bring me back, My sister taunts me because, while doing so, I had forgotten to put on any clothes. I am about 2.
Songs. "Lili Marlene" on the radio, and others. "I threw a kiss to the ocean, I threw a kiss to the sea, And from the  - a - came ' Twas my bluejacket answering me." My parents sing in this house, 2, and so do we: solos, duets, rounds, "Oh how lovely is the everning, is the everning.."  "Gentle maiden, welcome here, You in all the world most dear." We break the ice on the dog's bowl in the mornings.
 Swagmen call in at house 2, shabby, worn  and supplicating.  My mother gladly feeds them, ladlling  roast lamb and veg  into a tin dish.Richer houses, behind hedges, have enameled signs on the gate: "No Hawkers or Canvassers". As then, as now. There are flag lilies along the path: untidy looking flowers to me.
When my mother is talking to her friend, the catholic priest butts in and asks why she missed mass on Sunday.  She never enters a catholic church again.
We are offered a drive to -. and my sister and I sit, embarrassed, in the dicky seat.
D comes here, rosy cheeked and fair haired, tiny pale freckle spots above her smile. I think that she is gorgeous. On a holiday to the city, a van crushes her father, Later we visit her in an institution which is praised for its modern replication of a home. It is obviously a cruel place.
Times are kinder now. I no longer see young people stigmated by purple birthmarks blotched across their faces.  I no longer see tattered and ill clad - old or young.
On the overnight  to Brisbane as the train hurtles through the wild McPherson Ranges, ihe isolated kids' cries of "paaa -" makes us throw any comics and papers through the windows, because that is their only contact with the 20th century.  How lordly and privileged we feel tossing out this largesse.
 Queeensland, with its stilted houses, its technicolour,  lime grass on red earth, scent vying against scent to overpowering  sweetness, wins my heart. My mother and Gran argue about whether petunias are weeds or not, but Gran determinedly tosses them away. French doors are open to the verandahs at night,   Looped mosquito nets, polished floors, sugar bananas. Oh, and cane toads.
Not long after this, everything changed. Or, maybe I just grew up.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Presbyterian manse was up the hill from where we once lived. We would plod up there, a stick making satisfying rhythms as we trailed it along the picket fences.  Gwen, a manse daughter,  was my sister's best friend. Once I went to tea/dinner with them.  Mrs Manse - I won't insert her distinctive surname, - apologised for her make do meal, which was leftover breakfast porridge made into fritters.
It still stands as one of the most memorable and delicious meals of my entire life. I haven't been able to replicate it.
When the Manses had their 5th child, yet another girl, she was given the soubriquet "Boy".

I was 7 years old when we left there.Forty years after I left we drove through the still tiny village, and  I could unerringly find my way around. Childish memories, eh?  But I saw what I didn't see then, that this village on the ranges western slopes, shaped out of local golden sandstone, was very beautiful. And that it was a dot in a swamping, almost menacing,  sea of hills and dales of bush: swallowing, impassive eucalypts.

I had actually, back then,  often watched the sun setting through a great gum tree in our backyard. and reveled in  its beauty. I'm inclined to think that the adult world underestimates the young in all kinds of ways.
Allan Sillitoe came from an impoverished background, made even worse by a brutal father. He talks of starting school: "Each morning the teacher read about God creating the heavens and the earth, and every living thing. She read from her own black leather bound King James translation of the Bible whose English, whether or not all parts were immediately  understood, entered my soul for life."
Little kids not only often respond to beauty, but can hunger for it.

At the end of each year the school had a "sociable." Kids, parents and whoever came together for the excitement of the "hokey pokey" and such. Plus sandwiches and cordial.  What a wild night.
We rejoiced, for a while when  the Manse girls excitedly told us that their father had agreed to them going  to the sociable the year that they all turned eleven years old  together.  I wonder what happened to their beliefs?

Life has its compensations, adequate or not.
The Manses had an amazing seesaw that not only reacted vertically, but also traveled horizontally.
Heavens, I loved that seesaw.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

We make mistakes

The second time I went to the winter snowfields was to Thredbo.  I had previously worked, as a student in long socks and eidelweissed drndl at Perisher Valley in summertime.
What a pretty winter village this is - or was: I haven't been there for ages.
I was with people I didn't know very well, in our small flat,  but delightfully I felt at ease and happy with them quickly.
What a hard slog learning to ski is. The physical toil, the biting cold, the cement boots, the bodily unintelligence, the surrounding throng  sailing past like Alis, floating like a butterfly. Or was that a bee? People, like dolphins, physically attuned to their environment.
How richly satisfying after a days hard slog - frustration mixed with moments of triumph and hope - to relax and eat and talk in the evening.
One evening when we were feeling wonderful, the chair lift suddenly came alight.  Lit by torches that flamed out across the snow, we were entranced by the drama and spectacle as the chairs sailed up and around the mountain, flares hissing pulsing light aroubd them. What a wonderful show they put on for us.
We didn't know that they were searching for missing children. Three siblings, village children, found the next morning, frozen.
We make mistakes. that is our nature.
What seems to be may not be what is. That is our reality: our world.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I Don't Think of Myself as a Feminist. But...

it's just the default position, surely?
It surprises me to recall that when I was a young teacher and the issue of equal pay arose, I was not particularly interested until it occurred to me that although I was paid less, being a woman, I was never charged less, as a woman. Free entry on one day of the year at "Ladies'Day" at the races didn't really seem to balance that.
It's easy to accept the world as it is without questioning.

(The pig is just there for colour: my one and only attempt at pottery).

However, I now feel that difficulties for women are a by product of the misuse of power, and that this is the enemy.  Sometimes people are unaware of their power.  Parents can misuse power, as can spouses,  bullies, politicians, bosses, managers. Anyone.
People misusing power often treat those "underneath" them with contempt.

It was a very hierarchical world back then.  People knew their place, (irony alert).  Important people - professionals, ceos, the religious, the monied  - were the authorities on everything.  They were the power figures, expecting deference.  Women were of course lower - "we'll look after you as long as you act like we think women should", was the sometimes explicit message.  Children, by and large, were very low down in the rankings, but poor people were probably lower again. Poor children - well, we know how they were treated.

Turning points. At 21 I was sent by the Department of Education to a remote country town.  It was so small that there was little for rent, so for a while I lived at the hotel.  One morning at breakfast a catholic priest sat at my table and  questioned me. "How old are you?" he said.  "Twenty one," I replied.  "How old are you?"   He looked at me aghast and muttered "52" or something. I was impressed and aghast at my own boldness.  He was just aghast.  He left me alone after that outrage, and I felt a gleeful pride.  There was no turning back.

At present in NSW, apart from the endless child abuse scandals, we have ongoing revelations of past corruption involving politicians, some of whom were enriched by tens of millions of dollars. The adult son of one, when asked how confidential mining maps, showing coal seams under land that they bought for $3 million and profited by $73 million, appeared in his office, said, "Perhaps Jesus put them there."
They need their wings clipped.

Suzanne Moore, in The Guardian, rewrites Burke:  "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men kid themselves that they knew nothing and set up yet another inquiry."

Hear, hear.  We've had more than enough of that.  We need to either limit power, train people how to use it, or have far more open systems than we do.

And dissociate power from physical strength, as well.  And that brings me back to feminism again.

What a muddled post this is.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

This morning I lost my spectacles.
I had briefly used them earlier, registering then that perhaps I needed to follow up the year long urges from the eyeglass company to get re-tested.
I have 2 pairs - close work, long work...the latter meaning the ability to read the required eye chart for a driving test. I only use either sometimes.
I use the close work ones mainly: just to check.  And that's what I needed them for: ensuring details were correct.
I had used them in the kitchen, noting how poor their help was, so first I went back there to check: result zero.
Maybe near the computer?  Ditto.
On the work table? No.
So, they must be in the kitchen. No. And around and around and around.

I recalled Nancy Phelan' s tribute to her eye exercises restoring her vision. Is that my alternative? But that requires about 3 months, as far as I could recall, and I needed to check details now.
Nancy Phelan was a yoga enthusiast and promoter, and a  vibrant tribute to her beliefs. 
Her autobiography of growing up in Mosman in the early years of the last century,
"A Kingdom By the Sea," is an absolute delight:.  When she speaks of a visitor arriving unexpectedly and the family rapidly closing all the doors down the hallway so as to hide the untidiness, it rang bells with me.
She recounts her mother's nightmare with hiring domestic staff: they would vet you, and disdain to work for you if you were disorganised or untidy, as her family constantly was.  So, when hiring staff, you were required to lower your sights again and again and again, as the most desired sniffed snobbishly at you and moved on.
And of course a cook ... what a "cook" can actually cook may not be what you accept as acceptable food,  then as now.

In a brief time I had working with unemployed people, I became surprised how many youngish, scruffy men called themselves "chefs". One would not particularly have wanted to eat anything that they had handled, on the whole, without a tetanus shot and some strong antibiotics: cleanliness didn't seem of any importance to them at all.  I found out from them that the difference between a "cook: and a "chef" is that a "cook" has to do the washing up, and a "chef" doesn't.

I recently bought, at a flea market, a book written by Nancy Phelan when she was quite old.  The stories in it were admirable and perceptive - one of an old and eccentric man destroyed by his daughters' desire to keep him "safe", one of a retired woman sinking from optimism and engagement into fear and dependence - but they showed her age. Of course.  Of course?
I also read a P.D. James, published in 2008, when she was 88.  Was the conclusion a little weak?  Well, perhaps: the rest was sometimes gripping, always readable, and there was no sense at all that it was written by an older.

I gave up on the great search for my spectacles and decided to make do, do what I could.
That's when I saw them next to my bed, where I had left them last night.
No wonder, really, that when I looked at detail in the kitchen this am, in hind sight through the wrong specs, I found them somewhat lacking.
I'll put off that eye test for a while. 

Teenagers and all that

Persistent, repetitive, demanding:  the teen magpies, almost the size of their parents, appeared about a month ago, with their high pitched nagging squawks.  I take my (figurative) hat off to the parents who seemed unruffled by their incessant needs, their nerve-fraying persistence.
As time has passed I have seen that although the teens can pick up food, and they do, they have a little difficulty in getting it from the front of their beaks back to their throat. Seeing this has made me feel kinder towards them.
The parents feed themselves, as well.  But when they turn to the child, and beak a mouthful deep within, there is an impression of bliss:  perhaps, for a young bird, feeling a hard, food providing beak deep within yours is what parental comfort is all about.
Perceiving behaviours and empathising is part of being human.
If  I note behaviours and reactions or happenings in you, and deny to you the associated emotions that I might feel in that circumstance, that would label me as  a psychopath.
If I react in the same way to other creatures, it is ridiculed as anthropomorphism. 

Currawongs, with their staring yellow eyes, are present here all the time:  not seasonal, as at home.  They are a fierce looking bird: big. black, beaky. This is a nasty trick that nature has played on them, because they are a little timid, and well down in the assertiveness rankings. They have a range of calls, tunes and whistles: all with a pleasing richness of timbre.  Unfortunately they seem to congregate in mobs and talk a lot, and have loud voices, so that one can simultaneously think, "That is really beautiful", and "I wish they would stop."

One day when they - about 15 of them - and 6 or so magpies were guzzling the mince I scatter around, a loud currawong "clang! clang!" from on high, sent them all instantly into flight and hiding. I had had no idea that they had sentinels, and I was impressed that it was across species..(maybe wrong word there).  But, the magpies split as fast as the currawongs:  they knew the message.

Kookaburras cause me frustration. I feed them gravy beef, as the mince that all others gobble is, I understand, bad for them. Throwing them a slice, they may cock their heads, stare at it reflectively, and watch benignly while someone else steals it.  And then suddenly stir themselves to action and swoop on some mince that I want them to avoid.  Are they stupid or philosophic?  I only feed them now when they perch on the back railings and I am tossing  from about 20 cm. They like to shake and beat a strip to make sure that it is dead, before heading back to the clothesline to either swallow it or feed it to their fluffy babies. Oh, those babies ae adorable.

I used to try to protect the small birds, but I have no need.  They are swift and agile, and generally all the birds  interact with behaviour that I can only interpret as a kind of respect and tolerance.

Not that there are no disputes, or no hierarchy.  Assertiveness is always displayed with harsh noise, and a rearing and stretching of wings in order to appear larger.  Evidently it is inbuilt in all species, including us, to be intimidated or impressed soley by size.

Although I can see it working in bird disputes, I'm not sure that this innate instinct is helpful towards creating the kind of society I would prefer.