[An important addendum to my last post, one I can’t believe I forgot: Granddad didn’t live to see my learning to drive. He loved cars and loved driving. I know it was a lasting disappointment to him that at the time of his death, not one of us had earned our driver’s licence, not his daughter and not one of her five adult children. I don’t know if any of my siblings has since learned to drive – one of them was taking lessons ten years ago – but I’ve been driving for a year and am now eligible to advance to the second stage of the provisional licensing system. He would have loved the fly-bys I’ve given the old house these past twelve months, and when I took Master J to the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium to visit the rose garden where Granddad and Grandma’s ashes lay, I drove us there myself. He would be chuffed about that. Toot, toot, Granddad!]
I am home alone, enjoying a couple of hours to myself while Llew and Master J visit Llew’s parents for the afternoon. The house is a mess, plus I have to go through Master J’s clothes, sorting through the many items he has busted through thanks to another recent growth spurt… More pressingly, I really must clear the piles of paper and various bits of crap that keep accumulating on those precious surfaces too high for him to reach. A quick, shame-faced glance across the room to the dining table is enough to make me feel like I really should stop writing and just TIDY UP, but some stubborn, selfish part of me doesn’t want to spend this hard-won breather doing more fucking housework. UGH. Nonetheless, here’s what’s making me feel guilty, keeping in mind this is only what I can glimpse from here on the couch: an empty serviette holder; a box for a large light globe (the box is possibly empty, possibly not); the baby monitor; my handbag; two rolled up placemats; a magazine cover (liberated from its contents by my darling child); sunscreen; a sunglasses cloth; a pen; three framed photos; a half-drunk bottle of red wine (which I am not touching and which should just be tossed in the bin, being an unholy potion delivering both insomnia and raging nightmares); a book; a pile of paid bills that want filing; a plastic bag full of child-proofing paraphernalia…. And whatever else is obscured by my bag. Hideous. I want to scrape it all into the garbage.
And it’s not the only pile of crap in the place. No, I am specialising in these mounds of domestic detritus. I have one in the kitchen and another in the bedroom. They’re like undergraduate art installations critiquing capitalism and the consumer society. If following a person’s paper trail reveals the inner-workings of their mind, then I am a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Oooh, look, there’s a scattered pile of unopened mail by the front door, too, right down to a cheap 2012 calendar – delivered free, unsolicited and entirely unwanted from an unknown source – what’s it all still doing here? Why isn’t it in the recycling bin yet? Why?
I think I’ve just been overwhelmed by the amount of useless rubbish that keeps teeming through the mail slot and trucking through the apartment. Everything has stickers and labels and packaging and price tags and there’s junk mail needing sorting from the bill mail and then there’s pending administration and lists and things I can’t find a place for because we have no storage. Plus Master J is learning to walk (very bloody cute he is about it too), and he’s tall, so we’re discovering on a daily basis just how far his reach extends. We keep being surprised by it. Vases are being pushed back, pressed right against the wall like children playing hide and seek, and bowls are being broken. He also demands to be on the move outside, preferably near some sort of body of water, so there’s very little time spent indoors. Though he has claimed the two best rooms in the place, he howls like he’s being flogged whenever I have the temerity to leave him in his playroom so I can quickly do something like hang the washing (when all I want is for the washing to GO HANG) or pay a bill online (forget using a computer in Master J’s presence. He comes over all Beethoven the second he sees the keys). Ergo, we GO.
There’s also the return of the sleepless night. They’re all doing it at the moment, I don’t know why, but at least one of his little chums, the divine Miss M, lies in like she’s Marie Antoinette after one of these early morning interludes. It would be one thing to be up at 2.30 and back to bed until 9.30, which is what happens at Miss M’s house, but not Master J. No, he’s getting earlier and earlier. We had a quasi-regular 5.45 start to the day for a few weeks there, but he’s wound that back to a spirit-crushing 5 am on the dot. And if he’s been up through the night as well, which he has been of late, well, aren’t I a picture by coffee time? Is it any wonder I simply stagger past those piles of paper, all of them reproaching me for yet more reams of unimportant shit I haven’t dealt with, and continue on out the door? In my glassy-eyed permanent stupor it’s a miracle I can see them at all (except for that free 2012 calendar, which is currently making its presence felt as a tripping hazard – I slip therefore I am).
Oh, okay, okay, okay. Damn it, I’m coming. It’s time to clean.
Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my dear Granddad’s death. It’s a fair whack of time, a decade; it feels to have gone by very fast, but when I stretch my memory to include all that he’s missed, his absence slows down and takes shape.
He didn’t see his only child sue his estate, an ugly and protracted ordeal that destroyed, utterly and irrevocably, whatever tenuous version of ‘family’ we’d hitherto been able to enact. Down near Circular Quay there is an obelisk from which all road distances to and from Sydney are measured, and that’s what Granddad’s modest (but unbeatably positioned) Bondi Beach home was for the rest of us. Or at least, I always imagined it was the house that was the stable structure holding us all together, our true north, until Granddad died and I realised that of course it was him all along.
He didn’t see the death of his 14-year-old great granddaughter, the hideous details of which would have completely destroyed him. I don’t think he would have coped very well; but none of us did, really, how could you? But when I think back to Llew’s very complex and at the same time altogether fundamental reaction to what happened, I see a response that might have been Granddad’s, and I am glad he was spared a loss that time does nothing to dim.
He didn’t see me turn 30 – a pity, because he would have very much enjoyed the party. I held it on the site of his old garage in Darlinghurst – Granddad was an incurable mechanic – which he’d sold upon retirement and which by 2002 had become a rather cool restaurant/bar. I don’t think it’s still there, Chicane (in the way of Sydney establishments I think it went under not long afterwards), but I must remember to stroll by next time I am in the neighbourhood. I like to keep up with the property’s changing fortunes and apparently endless incarnations.
He didn’t see the awarding of my PhD – though I have him to thank for the name of this blog. He used to address cards and notes and so on to ‘D.D.’ – Dirty Di – and didn’t skip a beat once I was back from London and embarked upon my doctoral research. I was still D. D., but now my nickname was Doctor Di.
“Vastly premature, Granddad,” I used to caution, a little embarrassed by a title I hadn’t earned and mortally feared I would never see. But I see now the nickname was a simple form of encouragement, a statement of faith, and I think he’d be proud that I got there in the end.
He didn’t see our engagement, nor was he around to share our wedding (though he certainly helped pay for the latter as well as for our honeymoon in India). He would have loved the dolphins turning up during the speeches, he would have scoffed his fill of oysters and he most assuredly would have swept up more than his share of ‘the darlings’ for a spin around the impromptu dance floor (we got married and had our reception at a beach house in Culburra on the south coast). I missed him more than usual that happy, happy day.
He didn’t see us find our first home: the apartment we adore and in which we still live. He would approve mightily of its proximity to the sand and surf, and it’s my most obvious tribute to Granddad, because I know it’s what he intended when he left us all a portion of his estate. Certainly its purchase would never have been possible but for him. Like everyone in Sydney we have since been burdened with a mortgage that is nothing short of oppressive, but at least we are slowly paying off our own home, and it’s thanks to Granddad that the opportunity ever came our way. My gratitude for this happy home of ours is boundless. I wish with all my heart that I’d been able to offer him a beer here.
He didn’t see my name in print, and I know he would have gotten a big buzz from my sporadic by-lines. He had a romantic sort of idea of the newspaper world – a bit more Katharine Graham and a little less News of the World – that meant he would have been jazzed to think of my ‘filing stories’ to ‘deadline.’ I inherited his fascination for all things press related – I always feel like I am playacting as a journo, and I think it’s because the job brings with it an infectious sweep of energy and history that never fails to put a spring in my step. Surely it’s make-believe, me, doing this? I know it’ll be the same thing if I ever get a book across the line, because it’s the feeling of a dream come true.
He didn’t see my list of travel destinations lengthen – and he unfortunately missed the occasions when I’ve been sent as a travel writer (I fear with Master J’s arrival those gigs are over) – he would have l-o-v-e-d that, the idea of someone else picking up my travel tab, or of going on holiday only to be paid to write about it (and it is the jammiest job in the world). Sigh. No wonder I miss travel writing. But Granddad loved the adventurer in me – and he made a great man of the road himself.
Last but not least, he didn’t see the arrival of Master J. It’s a curious thing, but we have a small photo wall in our lounge-room, and Master J studies it with interest whenever we are sitting on the couch together. I have a great self-portrait of Granddad up there, an old black and white in which he looks so handsome and in which his eyes are unmistakably much like mine and now much like Master J’s. This one photo fascinates Master J; of all the images on the wall, this is the one he obsesses over.
“That’s my granddad,” I say. “Your great granddad.”
And Master J points again and says, “That.”
We miss you, Granddad.
Well, a belated Happy New Year to you all – can you believe it is 2012? It still feels like we were celebrating the turn of the century only yesterday, and here we are more than a decade in. Astonishing… and not a little sobering as I think back to my chief goal of that time: to write a novel worth publishing. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m nowhere near there yet. In fact, my MS is now officially in pieces, hacked apart in a salvage effort demanded by core and therefore persistent failings. And yet I have started 2012 feeling good about this mess – it’s an excavation that’s as necessary as it is overdue.
But that’s not what I want to post about today, because last night I was fortunate enough to get to the opening night of Babel at Sydney Theatre. Babel is part of the exciting Sydney Festival (SF) program put together by outgoing director Lindy Hume, and is directed and choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, with sculptural forms by British artist Antony Gormley.
A little while ago, I interviewed Jalet for one of several SF articles I was writing for Deluxe Sydney magazine, which is now available online. He was in Belgium at the time, so thanks to the time difference I was able to enjoy a long, wide-ranging conversation with him after Master J went down for the night. Jalet proved a fascinating, forthcoming and thoughtful interviewee. When the call ended I had a moment of happy satisfaction; it was one of those occasions when you allow yourself to believe you’re in the right job. Ever since I’ve wished I’d been commissioned to write a far longer piece on Babel – I had reams of material and a mere 450 words at my disposal (which was reduced even further by the editorial desk – Deluxe Sydney made its glossy entrance as a highly pictorial publication – the stories have been shortened, but as a result the mag looks lush and gorgeous). It’s always tough trying to do justice to the subject in such limited space – an impossible effort, really.
Anyway, it was absolutely brilliant being in the audience when Babel made its Sydney debut. It was electrifying; the international cast of dancers (an absurdly multi-talented lot, with a number of them also singing, for god’s sake, as if spectacular dance skills weren’t enough…) delivered a truly memorable experience. Previously I’ve never much cared for modern dance – though perhaps I’ve been unlucky in the pieces I’ve seen – so I was intrigued to see Jalet and Cherkaoui’s vision come to life. Ahead of time I wondered what would be – ironically – lost in translation. The interview with Jalet revealed the depth of intellect and vigour driving the collaboration between the pair, and I wasn’t sure the production itself, with all its players, could possibly match the intensity and euphoria of exchange when it came to performing for Sydney audiences.
Well. I needn’t have worried. It’s a stunning mix of dance, music and drama – shot through with understated provocation and wit. It’s one of the Sydney Festival headliners for a reason: Babel speaks volumes.