You’ll be pleased to know I got my whales: yesterday morning, straight out front a couple of hundred metres offshore. Very playful they were, too, despite the number of boats in hot pursuit (in total violation of the rules, I might add). Oh, they made my heart sing – is there anything more magical than seeing whales frolicking so close to home? We’d just been for a run and were heading into the water for a swim when a crowd on the promenade alerted us to the show, and sure enough, there they were, plainly visible to the naked eye. They thrill me, they really do. I was beaming from ear to ear after that.
It’s not that the past few weeks haven’t given me anything to smile about – clearly they have. All this stuff to do with Nana and her relocation and her Alzheimer’s and, just for good measure, her neighbours, has been nothing if not perversely amusing. But it’s also been incredibly draining. I’ve been staggering from day to day feeling increasingly wrong-headed and finally psychotic. I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry with Llew as on a couple of occasions over the past few weeks.
“I’m not even asking you to anticipate my needs,” I screamed at one point. “I fucking well spelt them out for you!!”
It’s shocking how quickly we can lose the equilibrium that took years of love and care to build, but it repairs easily and well too. We’ve had a few days of enough sleep, some time together, some fun, some good and necessary and important conversations about where and how we’ve both felt let down. Consideration and understanding will always require effort, they don’t simply arrive with lights flashing ready to resuscitate victims at the scene of the crime. They can’t always respond to emergencies, though we constantly expect them to. No, they have to be tended day by day, maintained in the realm of the ordinary and everyday. And so the past few days have been about getting back to basics, being kind to each other, listening and laughing and pointing at the whales.
I’m back over to Nana’s tomorrow, but I turned the corner on Thursday. Mildred, a 97 year old neighbour of Nana’s, shuffled back in as the rubbish guys started hefting boxes and dragging furniture outside. Not to be deterred, Mildred started peering into the boxes even as they disappeared out the door.
“What’s that?” she said. “And that?”
“That’s a George Foreman Grill,” I said. “It’s all yours.”
“What about that?”
“That’s a mini food processor,” I said. “You can have that too.”
“I’ll swap the other thing for that.”
(Interesting logic, Mildred.)
“Do you drink coffee?” I asked. “Take the plunger. Here.”
“Okay,” she said. “It seems a shame. It’s such a sad thing.”
“Well, not really,” I said brightly, trying to steer Mildred to the door. “You have to remember Nana got so much use out of all these things. They’ve all had a long and happy life. It’s okay to let things go. Can I interest you in a mirror?”
Mildred stopped and inspected the mirror.
“Oh no,” she said sadly. “My two daughters are in their seventies. They wouldn’t be able to put that up for me.”
Longevity clearly runs in the family. And in normal circumstances, I would have volunteered to see the mirror safely onto Mildred’s wall. But with no drill, no drill bits, and barely the wits left to get me through the rest of the day, Mildred was sadly out of luck. Take it or leave it, honey, and make it snappy.
“Well, if you’re sure,” I said. “You’re more than welcome to take anything from any of these boxes. But you’d better make it quick.”
Mildred had another good forage through what remained and then reluctantly took her leave.
“Dot and I were the closest to your nana,” she told me at the door.
“Then I’m sure Nana would be happy to think you’re able to use some of this stuff,” I said. “Enjoy.”
(Mildred had already made off with the vacuum cleaner earlier in the week, plus a little portable oven thing that Nana had clearly never once used in over seven years in the flat).
When I left Thursday, I walked straight to Paddington from Maroubra (not an inconsiderable stretch) via Centennial Park and staggered into Valonz. Yes, when the going gets tough, the tough get their hair done. Let me tell you, I’ve never been happier to submit to a shampoo and head massage than I was on Thursday. Valonz was an oasis of calm, and Kim, my delightful stylist, was reliably funny and self-absorbed. I can always depend on Kim to show no interest whatsoever in the petty dramas of my life. I think one of the things I like most about him is that he really doesn’t care – it’s refreshing, in a way, because he doesn’t pretend. So many hairdressers feign enthusiasm for their clients, in some cases becoming quasi-therapists, but not Kim. Kim’s very comfortable with the idea that his life is always way more interesting than mine. Somehow this works for me – I refer to the whole ritual as being “Kimmed,” and here’s why: Kim’s the dominant feature. My own life is utterly suspended during my time in that chair, and while sometimes this leaves me feeling a little overlooked (one time Kim had lots going on in his love-life, and his animated chatter had a slightly alarming impact on my already-limited locks), on Thursday it was bliss. Sheer bliss. After an upbeat session with Kim, the fastest scissors in the east, and Fiona, the eyebrow wizard, I stepped out of the salon feeling like a new woman. Or the same woman a few years ago. After that it was only a mani/pedi to go and I was event ready… which is lucky, because that’s just what we did: drove to Canberra for the gala opening of the Vanity Fair Portraits exhibition now showing at the National Portrait Gallery. Champagne? Thank you, I don’t mind if I do.