It was my father-in-law’s birthday yesterday, and he and K, my mother-in-law, opted to stay overnight and have the celebratory dinner at “the Club.” This is the Union, University and Schools Club, one of those old fashioned, wonderfully anachronistic institutions of an all but bygone era. Despite the fact that they didn’t always admit women, and still get a bit snippy about the dress code, I can’t help it: I love the Club.
I’ve had a thing about private clubs since I was a child. Specifically gentlemen’s clubs, which is pretty funny considering they’d never let me darken their door. I am completely besotted with everything from the heavy artwork in gilded frames to the silver water jugs made dewy with ice. The library at the Club is my ideal room fantasy brought vividly to life. I find the entire place enchanting. They still hand out menus in the restaurant that only list prices for men. Ladies, don’t you know, must not be troubled with such details – although we’re evidently robust enough to clear the three flights of stairs necessary to reach our one and only restroom. A bit passive aggressive of the old boys, don’t you think?
K and P told me a great story yesterday of staying in one of these clubs with reciprocal rights while in London one year. K descended the stairs dressed very smartly in a matching trouser suit. A turbaned, liveried Indian greeted her at the door to the dining room and said, “Was Madam wishing to take breakfast in the dining room?” Well, yes, K said, Madam was. The man bobbed his turban as he gave K a careful once-over, and then he looked up and enquired politely, “And where was Madam’s skirt?”
And I think it’s the sheer pomposity that appeals to me. It’s so outrageous. Preposterous on just about every level I know. So completely paused in time. There’s this great hushed silence to the Club that is the closest thing I know to actual time travel. The walls at the top of the stairs on the second floor are covered with the profiles of all these men – cameos, black cut-outs against a white background, and they’re fantastic, I so badly want to pinch the one of the big fat cat in a penguin suit with a stogie jutting from his fat lips. These cameos delight me, they tickle me, they’re part of my deep Club Love.
It’s the sort of place that makes its own melba toasts. And they serve things like Gruyere souffle, which is what I had for entree last night. Then I had a parmesan crusted veal scallopini for main. Ginger pudding with marmalade ice-cream, complete with a slab of honeycomb that could do double service as an ice-pick, for dessert. Other people had things like duck legs, and chocolate fondant. I mean, you just don’t see a meal like that every day. Even the food seemed straight out of something by Oscar Wilde. And meanwhile, all the men were shifting uncomfortably at table.
“What is it?” I said to Llew.
“I’m really warm,” he whispered.
“Well, take off your tie, for god’s sake.”
Llew glanced around the room and then leaned across the table.
“I can’t,” he said.
Still not understanding, I said, “No wonder you’re steaming. You’re still wearing your jacket. Take it off.”
Llew looked exasperated. Sometimes I’m not altogether clued in.
“I can’t,” he said again.
My turn to look around, and finally the penny dropped. Every man in the room was wearing a jacket and tie. They’re not allowed to remove them. All part of maintaining the gorgeous, rarefied absurdity that is the Club’s especial domain. Wonderful.
Okay, false alarm. Nana’s definitely still got dementia. A little day-trip to Lucidity Land had me fooled for a second there (‘Have we done the right thing? Could she have stayed at home a little longer? Maybe we were premature…’), but it didn’t take long for the return of the Alzheimer’s Alert.
“I hear you’ve had visitors,” I said, knowing Kate and Harper had been in.
“Who?” she wanted to know.
“Kate and Harper.”
“Oh yes,” she said, “just a lightning visit, really. Harper’s such a sweet thing.”
“She is,” I said. “She’s beautiful.”
“She looks out from under her eyelashes.”
“Well,” I said, “I think with all the universal adoration she’s pretty aware of her charms.”
“I think so. I’ve charmed a few in my time myself, you know.”
(Nana’s landed four husbands – not that she remembers them all now – so yeah, no kidding.)
“I’m sure you have.”
“Oh, there’s a very good looking one here,” she said. “Big strapping thing. Very handsome.”
Oh my god, I thought. That didn’t take long.
“So you’re on the dating circuit, Nana?” We laughed. “There’s a good reason to go to happy hour. You can chat him up.”
“I might,” she said coquettishly. Then her voice dropped to a whisper. “Except I don’t mind telling you there are some very strange people here. People with very odd views. Weird religious people. What do you call them? Sects.”
“Yes, sects. They’ve railroaded me into a cold bath tomorrow morning. I didn’t have much choice in the matter. They just forced me into it.”
“A cold bath?” I said. “Really? That sounds extremely unpleasant.”
To say nothing of extremely unlikely.
“I don’t know what it’s all about either. I’ll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
“Well, I don’t really like the sound of that. I’ll call you tomorrow and find out what the story is.”
“There are some very peculiar types,” she said again. More ominously this time. “With very strange ideas.”
“Well,” I said, “it’s a Catholic place. That’s why we thought you’d like it. I don’t know about this sect business. It’s Catholic. Like you.”
(Nana became Catholic very late in life, in her seventies.)
“I don’t know about that,” she sniffed. “But I can tell you there are some very strange people here.”
“Nana,” I said, “the weirdos will always follow you in. They’re everywhere. You just can’t escape them. I think the best you can do if there’s someone you don’t like is try and stay out of their way.”
“I’m not afraid of anyone,” she said. “I’ll tell them to bugger off. I don’t mind telling them what I think.”
“No, I know. You know how to despatch them.”
“Well, I do.”
“Have you been getting into the activities?”
“No. What activities?”
“Well, there’s an activities roster. They gave me a copy so I could see what you were doing.”
“Yes. Don’t you have one?”
“No. I’ve got a very nice bedspread.”
“It’s funny you should say that,” I said. “I noticed the bedspread too.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Yes,” I said. “I saw it when I was there. The patchwork one or the gold and cream one?”
“The patchwork,” she said. “It’s really very nice. And you’ve seen my bag?”
Have I ever. She won’t release her grip on that bag for anything, not even cake. The bag rolls with.
“Yes, Nana. It’s a very nice bag.”
“I can take that bag anywhere.”
We went on like this for a little while longer. Nana can and does talk about bags and brooches for hours. The same bag, the one brooch. Round and round we go. But that was yesterday, so I’m going to have to call and find out about this cold bath – I wonder if she’ll even know she said it?
I called her just now and said, “So what happened with the cold bath?”
“What cold bath?”
“You told me when I called last time someone was making you have a cold bath. It was all a bit strange and we couldn’t work out what was going on.”
“Well,” she said, “I didn’t have one at any rate.”
Okay. Glad we got that one worked out. But she sounded a bit uptight just now.
I said, “Nana, you sound a bit agitated. Is everything all right?”
“I was eating a lolly just now, but I’ve finished it.”
“Oh,” I said. “I might’ve known food was involved.”
And we had a laugh and she seemed to calm down, but then she said, “I feel like I haven’t seen anyone I love.”
“Oh Nana,” I cried, “I was there last week.”
“Yes, well,” she said, “that was last week.”
“And Kate has been twice this week.”
“That’s true,” she conceded. “Kate’s been very good.”
“It’s hard because I’m so far away.”
“Where are you?”
It made me feel like a dog. And really, really sad. But Kate and I had a good long chat yesterday about the “sect,” because the last time Nana was outright paranoid and delusional, she was in hospital, and developed a urinary tract infection that made her really wig out. I think I’ve posted about this: she developed an entire conspiracy theory about the nursing staff and was genuinely terrified. She was so afraid for her life she escaped the hospital in the dead of night, barefoot and in her hospital gown, and was eventually rescued by a kindly cabbie who saw her attempting to scale a perimeter fence. I mean, incredible. Anyway, I raised this with Kate yesterday and when she went in today, she started to talk to the nurse about the last time Nana was far, far out to lunch, and the nurse finished the sentence for her: “…and it was a urinary tract infection.” So they’re on it.
I’ve been to the Post Office and filled in the redirection forms for Nana’s mail. I’ve been to Telstra to organise getting the phone disconnected and the final bill forwarded to me for payment. I’ve written a letter explaining Nana’s change of address and circumstances to send out to people in her address book. I’ve gone to the bank and asked for her statements to be redirected. I’ve emailed her podiatrist. I’ve called her (she was actually really lucid – or at least lucid-sounding… there’s a critical difference that’s not always detectable to the uninitiated, but I like to think of myself as having been well and truly dunked in the river). I’ve had texts and emails back and forth with my sister (who visited today and was told by Nana that it’s been a very long time since she last heard from me – I seem destined to be an early casualty. Repeatedly.) I’ve emailed the assistant care centre manager and asked her to tell me how Nana’s settling in from a professional perspective… And that’s just this afternoon’s activities. That’s just for starters. We’re only getting warmed up.
Let me be frank. I had a shit weekend, and I hated lots of it. I’m not gonna lie. It was fucked. It started well – L and D came over for dinner (French onion soup with parmesan toasts for starter, moussaka for main. L brought homemade brownies which we served warm with vanilla ice-cream), and that was lovely. I was juuuust starting to actually relax when a few friends dropped in for a drink. One of them promptly dropped and smashed a full glass of red wine all over our newly reupholstered white-with-grey-flecks-linen couch. Ordinarily, I’d understand that it’s only what we deserve for getting such a stupidly impractical but so lovely fabric. But the fact is, this particular person drops and smashes a full glass of wine pretty much every time she crosses my threshold. New sandstone pavers in the courtyard? Red wine, glass, maiden showing. It’s enough to really give you the shits. And look. I have the shits. I think I even said something narky like, “Oh no, don’t worry, it really wouldn’t be a visit from you without the glass shards and wine stains spraying out all over our home.”
Later she stood in the hallway with water from her tilted glass pooling at her feet.
“Don’t look down,” she said.
No, it would be much better just to slip and slide into an early grave so I don’t have to host you in my house anymore. That sounds nice. I wonder sometimes if she does it on purpose, but another friend said, “No, she’s just careless. She’s done it at my place. She used to do it all the time at J and J’s house. It’s not just you.” Okay, so she’s careless. But you have to wonder. Being that careless with other people’s property… it’s just disrespectful, isn’t it? I think it really betrays a basic disrespect for my home, my repeated (really-ought-to-know-better) hospitality, and me. So, I’ve said to Llew, that’s it. No more. No more come-on-over-and-drink-me-out-of-house-and-home-and-spill-and-break-my-shit. No-really-please-do–because-I-can’t-get-enough-of-the-way-you-trash-my-property. It turns out I can get enough, and I am so, so, so done with that. We can meet out in future. It’s better this way.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg, but I woke up Saturday morning still fuming about my soiled couch. Llew did a masterful job getting most of it out, but I found some tiny shards today, and there’s a spray of red wine he missed. But (deep breaths, moving right along…) the news wasn’t getting better. First, the fertility meds aren’t working. Then, en route to Nana’s to start the job of packing her flat up, I checked my P.O. Box downtown to find I did not win one of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) mentorships. I burst into tears, screamed at Llew, and we had a big fight in the car while parked in an alleyway like two smackies badly in need of a hit. Both of us felt depleted and miserable afterwards – and that was before getting to Nana’s and assessing that particular challenge. Luckily Llewie and I stopped at a tiny and absurdly cheap Indonesian diner for satay sticks and noodles before heading to Musty Fusty Retirement Village, and we talked about lots of things and generally pulled ourselves together. We like each other a lot, and so fighting is always a big shock, especially in broad daylight when no one’s been on the turps. Most of our fights, the shameful truth be told, have occurred because someone (who, me?) kicked off after too many drinky-poos. Throw in a full moon and an empty stomach and it’s actually surprising I’ve not been arrested. No wonder we’re both liking me more now I’m moderate… Anyway, that’s for other (and several past) posts. Today is about RANTING and getting these irritants off my chest.
Is anyone still reading?
Things have a way of bottlenecking (oh, she loves a pun), don’t you think? I wonder why that is – and is it actual or imagined? Either way, good bye, last week, and heeeeeeello brand spanking new week full of potential and possibility… I’m coming with you!
It’s a wild day out there. Not cold, and not currently wet, but the wind is so strong it kept pushing me off the path. The Norfolk pines and palm trees are straining, almost dancing. When we arrived home last night, in fact, a cluster of palms on a little podium at the entrance to the apartments opposite, lit up by spotlights, looked like a dendrological version of the Supremes: shimmering, synchronised, working their moves while performing a catchy number onstage. I could practically hear them singing. Today the sand on the beach has been flattened by the wind’s power, and now it’s all brushed, cosmetically smooth, like it’s had just a little work done. I have grains embedded in my hair like I’ve been burrowing deep into the sand, and the beach is empty, the surf big and messy. It’s a day of high drama.
I battled the elements last night to get to a Sydney Writers’ Festival event with Llew and our friend LH. LH’s husband R was stuck at the hospital (they’re both doctors), so a friend of hers joined us at Number One, Tony Bilson’s wine bar and bistro, to hear David Malouf and friends read poetry as part of the festival’s late night program. LH cannily booked a table a couple of weeks ago – a stroke of genius when compared to the alternative, which was cramming around the bar or huddling outside trying to dodge the sudden downpours and persistent gale. We had pole position, in fact, being the table closest to the microphone. Mr. Malouf was seated at the next table along, I spotted him straightaway and just can’t believe he was born in 1934 (where’s he hiding that youth juice? Seventy-five? You’ve gotta be kidding me!), and didn’t we get a surprise when he did the sound check before the readings started? He has a voice that is obscurely out of step with his appearance; I can’t really explain it, except that we all looked at each other wide-eyed the moment he opened his mouth.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” spluttered Llew, coughing into his napkin.
“No,” said LH, still gaping slack-jawed at the author. “Neither was I.”
It was very funny – but I think this is something that must happen to an awful lot of authors. Readers have an obsessive tendency to attribute and assign all sorts of things to writers whom they don’t usually see and only very rarely hear, in the same way we do it to all their characters. We hear these voices so clearly in our minds that it takes a bit of getting used to when life so rudely contradicts art and the act of imagination. It was momentarily confounding, that’s all I know, and it required some subtle rewiring of certain readerly receptors. Fascinating stuff. I think I sound like myself – an entirely ludicrous assertion, I realise (who on earth would I sound like, if not me?), and yet I think you’ll know what I mean.
We eventually managed to flag down our frantic waitress – the place was jumping with festival goers – and ordered our Yarra Valley pinot along with some very satisfactory snacks (my word du jour): a charcuterie board (give me swine, flu be damned), some tasty brandade croquettes with aioli, and a pretty great duck parfait with grilled brioche. Sydney, when it comes right down to it, is an incredibly well-fed place. And then we settled in for a night of poetry.
I used to read a lot of poetry in my late teens and early twenties – I’m also responsible for some rather appalling examples of my own from the same period. What happened? I don’t really know. I suspect university analysis killed the love; certainly being told how to interpret a poem really got on my nerves, especially when one lecturer I remember was horribly didactic in her views. If the language encourages a variety of interpretations, why restrict a student’s response? I just didn’t get it, but it did damage my appetite for words arranged in stanzas. Pity.
Last night was a great reminder of how moving and timeless poetry can be. I was particularly taken by Mr. Malouf’s translations – really more ‘interpretations’ – from Latin verse into contemporary English. How fun it must be to be able to do that. We all also thoroughly enjoyed the work of Robert Adamson, a multi-award-winning poet of great humour and very deep affections. We were charmed and amused – such a pleasurable combination.
It was a fantastic way to spend an evening. Llew said to me on the phone just now that I can take him to something like that anytime, and the exciting news is that they said at the close of the evening (and was it Tony Bilson speaking? I really don’t know) that they want Number One to become a literary, cultural hub, a place where these sorts of evenings will happen regularly. I think they really should sell that idea to the nearby galleries (the MCA is just across the road and the AGNSW is within walking distance, not to mention a dozen or more commerical galleries including Ken Done’s) as well as Sydney’s publishing fraternity. It would be wonderful to have an arts hub like that. It’s fantastically central, and a very cosy little spot for literary launches, lunches and lushes – plus it turns out some superior snacks. Go to it, Number One – we second the idea with gusto.
I tested out Nana’s new phone this afternoon, and I’m pleased to report we are GO on the telecommunication front. She picked up after several rings, and told me she was preparing for bed. She’d turned down the sheet and was about to hop in. It was 4:30 pm.
“Did you have dinner? It’s quite early.”
“I had a snack,” she said. “I was going to eat in the dining room, but then I decided I’d just stay here. And it was sufficient, anyway, the snack.”
(as an aside, I love it when children and elderly people talk about snacks. I don’t know why but it tickles me.)
“Well, did you have a big lunch?”
“Oh yes,” she said, not that she’d know. She wouldn’t have a clue. “And eating is not a problem for me. Eating is one of my favourite things to do.”
(see? We really do have things in common.)
“I’m so happy this phone works,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s a very nice phone.”
“I’m glad you think so,” I said. “It was exactly the style I was after, and I was so happy when I found it. I think it’s perfect for that space.”
“I was just getting into bed when you called.”
“I’m glad I caught you. Have you met some nice people?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “Everyone’s very nice. I might not have been here when you called.”
“I know. But I’ll just call back if I can’t get through.”
“Okay. Well, it’s bedtime for me.”
“Night night, then, sleep well.”
And we said our goodbyes and off she went. It was a dark and stormy afternoon here and a dark and stormy afternoon there, so it was probably as black as night, and anyway, what of it? It can be bedtime if she wants it to be.
I have to run now as I am making dinner. I found some lovely looking tuna steaks at the fish mongers this morning, and I have to go make the sauce. I’m going to share the recipe with you now. I first made this for Llew, his mum and his sister back in the very early days of our courting. It was probably 1997. I’ve made it a couple of times since, but not for years. The sauce recipe comes from a cracking little book I bought at the supermarket when I was still an undergraduate. I’ve probably used it more than any other single recipe book I own (and I own a few), and it set me back the princely sum of $2.95. If you ever see it, grab it. It’s a Family Circle number called ‘The Essential Book of Sauces and Dressings,’ and it’s great. So here you are:
Shiitake Mushroom Sauce (serves 4 -6 in these quantities so adjust as needed).
200g shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tblsp muscat
1/4 cup rich beef stock
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
3/4 cup cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Melt butter in a small pan, add the mushrooms and stir over moderate heat until the mushrooms are soft.
2. Add the muscat and stir until almost evaporated. Stir in the stock, mustard and cream, then bring to the boil while stirring. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the mixture has reduced and thickened slightly. Season, add parsley and serve.
Serve over pan-fried, grilled or roast beef or pork, with grilled lamb cutlets, pan-fried tuna steaks (mmmmm….!), or chicken fillets, and beef or lamb burgers. Or you could toss through hot pasta.
Yum. My mouth is watering. Tonight I am serving this with blanched snowpeas and garlic kumera mash, followed by warm chocolate brownies and ice-cream. What can I tell you? Storms make me want to rug up and chow down.
I’m home. I’m afraid this is going to be brief because I am just so shattered, but I know you’re all so lovely that some of you keep checking in to see how it all went, so I wanted to tell you that the general feeling between my sister and myself is cautious optimism. Yesterday was an extremely long day. And Nana-related anxiety gives me insomnia or, if I manage to drift off, nightmares, so as you can imagine the last few days have been a bit shaky (I accidentally wrote ‘years’ first off – how’s that for telling?!). Still, we got there without any major dramas, although our departure was delayed by more than an hour – which doesn’t remotely measure the unit of time I experienced sitting it out with Nana. But overall, we again travelled together better than I expected. This time, scones were my secret weapon. Gigantic scones with jam and cream. Plus cappuccinos. And a fat magazine. Llew chauffeuring us to the airport didn’t hurt either – Nana’s a big fan. Anyway, the trick I’ve found is to be very upbeat and keep the diversions coming. Oh look, here’s that coffee you wanted. Oh yummy, scones! Wasn’t that little boy at check-in adorable? Weren’t they nice to seat us together? Hasn’t Olivia Newton-John aged well? Let’s go to the toilet!
You’d be surprised, I think, just how tiring it is keeping this kind of chat up for a day. It sounds so simple, is so simple, and yet it is incredibly taxing for reasons I don’t quite understand. I was duly exhausted by the time we touched down in Ballina. I retrieved Nana’s bag from the carousel and we went outside to start what soon became a lengthy cab queue. My arrival in Ballina seems to precipitate its annual rainfall, and the windchill factor was raw. Nana – and who could blame her? – started loudly complaining. The state of her windswept locks was a particular sore point. I quickly went back into the terminal, picked up the white cab phone inside the door, and simply told them they had quite a line of customers waiting. Big mistake. A cab finally turned up. Just as I was hefting the bags onto my shoulder, the cabbie got out and said, “Anderson? Cab for Anderson?”
A guy near the back of the queue stepped forward (did I imagine the slight smugness in the smile..?), hopped into the cab and merrily drove away. Fuck. Talk about a trap for the uninitiated.
“Oh,” I said to Nana. “I didn’t give them my name because we were at the front of the queue. I just said there were people waiting.”
“Look at my hair!” she cried. “Oooh, that wind!”
“Do you want to go wait inside and I’ll come and get you when the cab arrives?”
Nana glanced doubtfully back at the terminal.
“Look at me!” she said. “I’m a wreck!”
“Well,” I offered, “you’re in good company.”
This pleased her.
“That’s true,” she said, and then she started fondling the tweed sleeve of the elderly gentleman standing behind us.
“This is lovely fabric,” she said. “Don’t you think this is lovely fabric?”
I smiled at the gent.
“Did you book a cab?” he asked.
I explained that no, I hadn’t.
“Quite a trap for young players,” I said.
He laughed delightedly.
“I’m just back from Wagga,” he said. “It was freezing down there.”
“It’s freezing here,” I said. “The same thing happened the last time. I’m starting to think it’s me.”
“Where are you going?”
“Cherry Street. Crowley.”
“Well then,” he nodded. “I’m going right near there. I booked a car. You’re welcome to share with me.”
It turns out that Tom is a War Veteran and lives in a unit on the vast spread that is Crowley.
LOVELY OLD GENTLEMAN ALERT. Nana stroked his tweed some more.
“Oh, thank you,” I said. “That is so generous, thank you. My name’s Diana, and this is my nana, Doreen.”
I shook hands with Tom but Nana was sort of semi-frozen at that point, so wasn’t really interested in observing the social niceties. And sure enough, it was Tom’s car that turned up next, not a cab for any hapless newcomer who just joined the bloody queue. He explained the situation to the driver, we loaded up the boot (the driver carefully placing a large white cake box out of harm’s way as he told us it was a sponge cake with which he planned to woo his wife), and we were away. Nana sat in the front and the cabbie understood the moment Crowley was mentioned that if she wanted to talk about Currumbin, where she lived more than 30 years ago, not the 4 she guessed when he asked, then it was best to just keep her talking about that. I sat in back with Tom and his tweed, and he was just the loveliest man, a real sweetie. He’d been down in Wagga for his son’s retirement, and was duly abashed by what that revealed of his own age. He knew my neck of the woods, too, since his daughter keeps a holiday flat here. We had a fine time. I tried to insist on shouting the ride to repay his kindness, but of course he wouldn’t hear of that, the best I could do was beat him down to dutch.
Anyway, Kate and two of the kids were waiting for us at reception. Nana was very… pliant. I think that’s the best word. She just went along with the tour, and the room, and the fact that there was someone else in there with her (yes, unfortunately she has to share with one other lady, whom I didn’t see awake over two days and who didn’t stir when Kate inspected the room last Thursday. So far as we can make out, she does little more than, well, breathe). She thought she’d been to a service in the chapel before. She was very happy with the water views, and the cafe, and the – wait for it – bar. Apparently they have happy hour twice a week. Right on.
After a long afternoon of checking Nana in, I collapsed in a heap in my hotel room and seriously got into bed at 6:30 pm. I didn’t sleep, I read, and then I tried to sleep but couldn’t, but I was so tired and sort of shell-shocked it was really the only place to be. Of course, I woke up at 5:30 am, but no matter. I just wanted to know how Nana was overnight.
I went around town buying her some stuff – toiletries and a phone – then walked to Crowley. The lady on duty said the night nurse said all went well, Nana had a good night, and so far, so good. I went to the room. No Nana, but there was a very nice bedspread. I don’t know why, but I found this non-institutional manchester profoundly comforting. I wanted to sit there stroking it the way Nana had stroked Tom’s tweed jacket the day before. That bedspread made me feel better about everything, even the sleeping woman on the other side of the room.
“Does she, um, wake up?” I asked the lady on duty.
“Oh yes,” she laughed. “She might wake up for day and then spend the next two days in bed. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?”
I thought about my night.
“You have no idea.”
I found Nana in the main living area. Her back was to me, so I stood watching for a minute to see how she was getting on. There were half a dozen or so residents all sitting listening to one of the activities directors reading news items aloud from the paper. Nana was leaning right over in her chair chatting happily to the lady sitting beside her. When I approached, she smiled and said “This is my granddaughter.” After that all broke up, we wandered back around to Nana’s room. She had no sense of being ‘left behind’ when I said I had to go home, and clearly no idea that last night was her first, but as I said to the Darklings, most important was that she didn’t say “When will you be back?” This was always my tip-off that she was lonely in her flat. And she didn’t ask. No, she waved me off.
I thought it was important to keep the smile on my face, then unloaded to my very nice female cabbie all the way to the airport, then sat in a teary stupor in the waiting lounge, then slowly started to compare where she was with where she had been, and that made me feel better. You should see the activities roster for the month – Nana’s dance card is full.
POSTSCRIPT: brief?! HA! This may well be a record on DoctorDi.
Late again, bad blogger, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me when I tell you the news. I’ve had a mad day today. Good thing I went for a quick Pacific dip before breakfast, it turned out to be the only time I was able to get outside all day. Waste of a lip-smacking autumn number, but it couldn’t be helped. My deadline looms and now other things have happened that mean getting the articles written pronto. Namely, Nana’s got a bed.
You know, I won’t believe it until I see it. It still feels firmly in the ‘too good to be true’ category, but I wasn’t dreaming when I spoke to my sister yesterday, and I’ve had no word to the contrary today. Perhaps it’s really happening. Oh, blessed, blessed relief. And according to Gayl, the saintly creature from Uniting Care who’s been my lifeline and Nana’s cheerful and well-trained companion, it’s all happening just in the nick of time. We don’t know why, but there seems to have been a decline in her condition. So really, this is an amazing gift, because Nana living alone was getting increasingly hair-raising. I didn’t even tell you the locked out story. I didn’t know where to begin so just kind of forced it into a deep recess of my mind. But make no mistake: Nana is not long for independent living.
Easier said than done, of course, except not in this case (is it real…?). Kate was so excited when she called me yesterday I had to wait for her to slow down to fully appreciate what she was saying. It all came out in a jumble: Crowley, permanent bed, water views, better than St Andrews.
“Better than St Andrews?”
I didn’t think this was possible on the aged-care facility front.
“Di,” she said, “it is incredible. We have to take it.”
My sentiments exactly.
“Put your foot on it right now,” I said.
I was in Instruction Mode. Kate was basically acting as my agent – I’m the enduring Power of Attorney (POA), which really means nothing more than Administration Lackey. Paperwork Whore. Signatory Slut. That’s why I wanted to say “Buy! Buy!” or something equally instructive, invigorating, and powerful… but really we’re not buying anything. Nana is getting a bed thanks to the good grace of Australian tax payers.
“You have seven days,” my sister said, neatly turning that whole instruction gambit right on its head. She’s the eldest, so perhaps it’s the natural order. “Your time starts now.”
Well, no, actually we whooped it up on the phone for quite a while longer.
Anyway, I spent yesterday making calls, writing letters, licking envelopes, advising service providers, bringing certain aspects of Nana’s care to a friendly and efficient close. I booked two seats up to Ballina. I booked one return. Hopefully by the time I next post on Monday afternoon or night, Nana will be ensconced in her new home and – if the St Andrews experiment was anything to go by – happy as a clam.
Here’s hoping, hoping, hoping.
It’s rather late in the day here at DoctorDi HQ… it’s nearly 7 o’clock and I’ve just finished transcribing my main interview for these articles I’m writing this week. It’s basically my dream commission – I don’t mind talking to the curator of a major Australian art gallery at all. I’m happy to shoot the breeze as long as they’re willing and able to spare the time to chat to me. Sometimes it strikes me as almost obscene that I get paid to have these private conversations for the sole purpose of making them public. It’s really a privilege if, like me, you give a damn about things that hang on walls.
Speaking of which, I mentioned on the comment stream of yesterday’s post that I thought I had one for today, so let’s talk identity. The first time Darkling C stayed over at Chez J, she peered at a photo in our sunroom and said, “Who’s that with Llew?” I looked closely at her to see if she was kidding. Nope. “It’s me,” I said. “Obviously.”
“Nooooo,” she said, shaking her head. “No way. Nuh uh. Seriously, who is it?”
“No, it’s not.”
“It really is.”
“I don’t believe you.”
I stared at her.
“You’re really freaking me out,” I said. “It’s me. Out the front of my grandfather’s house the week after he died.”
“That is not you.”
At this point – and I love C – I wanted to smother her with the pillow I was leaving on the foldout for her. I really did. I was irrationally upset about this wholly bizarre conversation, and I’ve thought about it since more times than is healthy and/or normal. I’ve finally figured out a few of the reasons why. The first is that Llew and I call it our Natural Born Killers photo – our friend S took it, and it’s very cool, black and white, and we look deeply cinematic. I like this photo a lot. It’s one of the best photos of me in existence. Decent photos of me are VERY thin on the ground, so I’ll take this one, thank you very much. The second is that it’s one of the only things I have that captures Granddad’s house in all its eccentric glory. We’re standing outside the week after Granddad died, but S has put this photo at the centre of a group of other exterior and interior shots that perfectly tell the story of a man and a place very, very dear to my heart. Llew and I are at the centre in this collection of photos, but generally speaking, Granddad and his home are at the centre of me. It’s a very significant set of photos of untold sentimental value. So that’s the other reason I love it.
I’m now used to people seeing this photo seconds before they start pointing and screaming, “Oh my GOD! You look so young! You’re just so much YOUNGER! Oh my god, no way, is that really only 7 years ago? I don’t believe it! It’s gotta be soooo much older than that! It’s just, well, it’s just because you look so YOUNG! I can’t get over how young you look in this photo. Wow. Just a second, I’m just going to stand here a while longer. Incredible. Really? Was it really only 7 years ago? Boy.”
Yeah. Thanks. Uh huh. No, really. I’m enjoying this too.
My grin tightens and tightens until frankly, I feel like spitting on them, and sometimes I really have to force myself to keep playing hostess instead of kneeing them in the groin and shoving them into the bifold glass. But at least I’m used to that. I brace myself for it every time someone walks through my front door. These days I know it’s only a matter of time. But to have C insist it’s not even me in the photo – that was a new low. I thought it might have been because we’d had a few drinks, but I dragged her back over to the photo in the morning, and she remained unconvinced. UNCONVINCED, like I was foolin’ with her. Same deal the next time she stayed over. Still nothing. I of course reacted in a totally demented fashion, dragging out Photos Through The Ages, including some regrettable ones I’ve been meaning to destroy. “See?” I said, madness detectable in my voice. “That’s me too. And that one. Can you see?”
C made some concessions, probably because she could see the way I was eyeing off that pillow.
“Okay,” she nodded. “That one sort of looks like you. Yeah, that one’s you. That one not so much. I might have flicked past that if you hadn’t pointed it out to me.”
“We need to stop having this conversation,” I said, finally admitting defeat. I skulked away with my photo albums and college log books pressed against my chest. I spent a sleepless night.
It’s been a slow recovery, but I was nearly there. And then came C’s response to the invite: “Now she looks like the girl in the photo in your sunroom.”
I stared at the email, slowly digesting the implications. I clicked REPLY.
“Does that mean you can’t see the resemblance in the invitation either????”
The wait was unbearable. I spent the time gazing at the image, reassuring myself that it was in fact really me. Her answer?
As I said in my response, totally unable to control my mounting hysteria any longer, I find this entire exchange truly and deeply disturbing. It bothers me on an existential level, it really does. It’s like being erased from my own life. It’s like being turned into a blank. Expelled from my memories. And it’s more shocking to me than I can possibly describe. I find C’s utter inability to even countenance the idea of its truly being me – she really doesn’t see it – completely shocking. C even said she was “pretty sure” I wasn’t “messing with [her.]” I wrote back, feeling totally crazed, “MESSING WITH YOU?! Are you kidding me?! You’re really freaking me out.”
I know these are two images from an earlier time of my life. The invitation is over 11 years old. The photograph is over 7 years old. I am older – and I no doubt look it. My hair is totally different. I’ve seen some sun in the intervening years (I never, ever sunbake, but I run, and this is Australia). I weigh more. But one of the weirdest things about this is that until this happened, in the balance, I honestly hadn’t thought I’d changed so much. HA! There goes that snug fantasy. It’s shattered in the sky like a clay pigeon. The good news is that I told this story to a friend of mine yesterday, and she found it hilarious. She said it’s just like the ‘Dead Parrot’ skit in Monty Python’s Flying Circus – so I guess it’s not all bad.
If you click here, you will see the AKIRA invite Marcelo did for my 25th birthday – so many, many moons ago! You just have to scroll down to see the full page. Having never shown my face on DoctorDi, I have slightly mixed feelings about doing this, but it’s kind of perfect, too, as this both is and very obviously isn’t me. To my blogging friends, I don’t know that I’ll get a better opportunity than this to reward your very polite curiosity about what I look like. It’s cheating, I know, but it’s also quite fun, I think, and I suspect you’ll agree.
The Darklings have been in conference about whether or not I should pursue the images for the manuscript at all. C voiced her concerns, J followed, and so naturally I gave the matter even more thought, and tried to assuage their doubts and fears about the impact on the MS and its chances of ever seeing the light of day. The main thing I hope I expressed to them and want to express to you is that my MS stands without these images. I view them as a potential enhancement, as I said to the Darklings, ‘a very nice to have.’ But were I to ultimately abandon the idea, the MS won’t fall apart. It is intact, a thing in itself. And I think that’s important.
The other thing I perhaps hadn’t articulated until C expressed her doubts was that I am currently exploring the idea, and I can’t make an informed decision about the potential impact of images – for better or worse – until I see some. At the moment it’s all in my mind. I may take one look at an initial sketch and realise it’s a terrible idea, unworkable, disastrous, but I have to be able to view the sketch in the first place in order to make that determination. I suspect these images will actually serve the story very well, but I could be wrong. The only way to find out is to pursue the idea.
There’s a clear cost risk involved, and as I can barely rub two beans together at the moment, I am not planning to commission artwork lightly, I assure you. But I do think it is an investment I need to make, so I’m very glad I’ve just been commissioned myself. I have to write three articles this week, and they will go some way toward paying Marcelo or whoever else eventually agrees to the project. Thank you, freelance fairies…
I’ve given all this so much thought. If you had read my thesis (and of course no one but the three examiners have submitted to that particular hell), you would know that in some sense I have been working toward this collaboration for many years. The relationship between words and images and the additional meaning created by the gap between them is a fundamental preoccupation of mine. I think one of the reasons the Darklings became so concerned is that this is not something I articulate in so many words. But it’s there in the text, this embedded principle, and exploring that space is one of my core creative imperatives. I wouldn’t necessarily think to say that to other people, it’s just part of how I think, so obvious to me that I sometimes forget it needs saying. It’s made me reflect upon the people I’ve been most drawn to in my life, and, aside from those who compulsively write and/or read, it’s definitely been artists. I’m fascinated by the way they use space to create meaning. The composition of a painting, the shock of a room-sized installation, the play of sculpture in unexpected places – all these things fascinate me. All that potential for humour, surprise and, what it all comes down to, human expression. And images are the basis of my comic artist character’s expression. He speaks in pictures. Wouldn’t I be doing him a great disservice to ignore his gentle pleading? Shouldn’t I at least “hear” him out by looking for someone who “speaks” the same tongue, and so may be able to help me collapse the gap between their language and mine? I think I should. I want to know what else he has to say that on my own I can’t quite hear.
p.s. I forgot to say how much I value the candour of the other Darklings. It’s not easy speaking up about important differences of opinion, and I appreciate their honest response to my ideas absolutely. We won’t always agree, but that’s all right. We don’t need to. But we do need to be totally free with each other – and it’s that transparency and constructive criticism you just can’t put a price on.
Joy, joy, joy. I got an email back, and Marcelo is as spun out and happy about this little twist of fate as I am, even remembering to send a big kiss for Llew! He’s a very busy man, as well as being truly one of life’s nicest guys, but we’re going to try to catch up at the end of next week. Joy. Pure, unadulterated, simple joy is mine. Have a great weekend all. Today the sun is shining inside and out.