There’s a splash of colour in my garden that doesn’t quite belong there.
It’s a bright orange gladioli, standing tall and proud amongst the greenery and the pale pink flowers that I usually favour. My beloved aunt went to heaven years ago, but not before popping a few random bulbs into the earth when no-one was looking.
Even though it’s out of place, it reminds me of our many happy hours together in the garden. She constantly admonished me for ‘pulling the heads off weeds’ instead of removing them with their roots, and I still think about her every single time I pull a weed.
She taught me to crochet and how to make the best tomato and onion salad (slice everything thinly and sprinkle with vinegar and sugar). She would arrive unannounced with a fresh chicken in a string bag, ready to cook for dinner. She never rang before making the two-hour train journey from Sydney, and I often wondered what she would have done if we’d been away for the weekend.
Aunty Dorothy was the perfect friend. She was sometimes hard on her own daughter, but gentle and uncritical with me. Once she stayed with us for New Year and we had an impromptu party outside with our own fireworks (sparklers). The kids sang songs, and she recited a poem memorised from childhood.
I can’t quite see her doing anything illegal, but she always went out walking with a pair of secateurs in her pocket so that she could help herself to a cutting of any plant that took her fancy, so she might have been a secret supporter of the guerrilla gardening movement (people who cultivate plants on land they don’t own).
The term was coined by the Green Guerrillas, a non-profit environmental group based in New York in the 1970s who transformed a derelict site into a garden that is still protected as a city park.
One earlier radical gardener was Gerrard Winstanley (1609–1676), an English Protestant religious reformer, philosopher and activist. Winstanley was the founder of the English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers, who seized public land with the aim of growing food to give away to the poor. Diggers Seeds in Australia, known for its commitment to growing and selling uncontaminated seed and speaking out against the corporatisation of our food supply, is partially named in honour of this movement.
Guerrilla gardening is also popular in Berlin and London, where the movement is led by Richard Reynolds. He recommends using mature, flowering plants to make a significant, immediate impact, or planting seedlings which are easily identifiable as not being weeds. Guerrilla gardeners are dedicated to revitalising ugly public spaces but don’t recommend growing fruit or vegetables on public land as they are prone to pests and diseases and need proper care. Fruit and veg should be grown in community gardens where groups of interested people can look after them.
Our own Costa Georgiadis (a hippy if ever there was one) famously supports the idea of growing plants on public land, mainly verges, which are under-utilised spaces. As Costa says, “gardening is about communication, relationships, routines and life-enrichment” and I agree. Gardening soothes the soul and brings people together.
Today is International Women’s Day, and I’d like to say a special thank you to all the women in my life for their friendship, love and support. Life just wouldn’t be the same without you.
We hear a lot about women being strong and invincible, but sometimes we are vulnerable, sad and lonely, and these are often the times when our friends really show their true worth.
A good friend (male or female), who sticks by you through thick and thin, and who listens without judgement when times are tough, is worth a thousand people telling you you’re amazing. I hope you have some people like this in your life to cheer you on.
I think there’s far too much emphasis on being amazing. We don’t all need to be extraordinary, sometimes just being ordinary is enough. Sometimes doing the dishes and looking after the kids and getting through the day is enough. Many people would like to think they are making a difference in the world, but they think they need to do something remarkable. I think just holding things together is remarkable enough. Just being a good friend is enough.
I love this quote…
“All you can do is face the world with quiet grace and hope you make a sliver of difference. You must trust that you being the best possible you matters somehow, that being an attentive and generous friend and citizen will prevent a thread or two of the social fabric from unravelling.”
I’ve been reading a few end of year blog posts this morning so I thought I would write my own. I always love to hear what people have been up to, and there are a few bloggers that I’ve been following for years, so it’s almost like hearing from family.
Here are some things that I’m grateful for:
1. Living in Australia
We are looking forward to seeing our grown-up children at Christmas and hope that the current Covid situation can be managed and controlled so that everyone stays safe. I heard a woman on the news say that it was appalling that people weren’t allowed to travel at Christmastime and I thought she was pretty stupid. It’s sad not to see your family at Christmas, but worse to never see them again. Mostly people are being sensible and realising that all of the restrictions are for a good reason. In Australia, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky compared to the UK and the US, so I hope that people continue to comply with the health orders.
I’m also grateful for the weather, even though it’s raining steadily outside and has been for days. Normally it’s very hot at this time of the year and we’re all complaining about the heat, so we are glad to have the rain and the cooler temperatures. This time last year the country was on fire so the endless drizzle has meant that the fire-fighters can have a peaceful Christmas.
2. Good neighbours
Through my window I can hear our new neighbours chatting to their children. I love having kids in the neighbourhood again. When we moved here we had young children and many of our neighbours did as well, but now we are all getting older and the children have grown up and moved away, so it’s great to have some new young families moving in. Our new neighbours seem very nice. I think you can tell a lot about people by the way they talk to their kids and the fact that they all know the words to The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round and don’t feel self-conscious about singing them loudly in their backyard.
We are fortunate to have good neighbours all around us and if you’ve ever had bad neighbours you know that they can make your life a misery.
Because I retired this year I’ve done a lot more reading than usual. I think I read about 36 books which is roughly three a month. They weren’t all remarkable (I read quite a lot of light fiction during the lockdown) but a couple that I really enjoyed were Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
Dear Edward is about a young man who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. Despite its rather gloomy premise this is a beautifully written and thoughtful book. It rated very highly on the list that I’ve been keeping. I read A Gentleman in Moscow because several people in my family said it was good and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s about a Russian nobleman who is sentenced to spending the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel. I learnt so much about the Russian Revolution from this book, but in a painless way. I love books where you can just absorb history without any effort at all. It was also a beautiful meditation on what really matters in life and what you hold dear. It’s about friendship, loyalty and making the best of a situation. A great book for anyone who is going a bit stir crazy because they are stuck at home.
I was a bit nervous about retiring because I was worried about how my husband would cope with me being at home (and vice versa). I thought we might drive one another crazy, but mostly it’s been pretty good. At the beginning of the Covid situation we were both very anxious and made an effort to be especially kind to one another and this seems to have set the tone for life at home. We are especially lucky because we have two studies (one each) so we always have somewhere to retreat to if we want to read or futz about on the computer. We also have a garden so it’s pretty easy to find a bit of space. I’m glad we aren’t squashed into a tiny flat the way some people are.
I’ve spent a lot more time talking to my own extended family this year and that’s been great. We all live in different states (except for one sister who is about 70 kilometres away) and I’ve really appreciated knowing more about their lives. I’ve also had more time to catch up with friends this year, which has been lovely.
I missed work quite a bit when I left, but I have since joined the board of the Central Coast Community Women’s Health Centre. It’s great to be able to use some of the skills and knowledge I acquired during my working life, and it’s an organisation that aligns well with my values.
I haven’t done as much writing as I intended, but I’ve read a lot of writing books (does that count?) and learnt quite a bit, so I hope that next year I’ll be more disciplined and get my backside into my writing chair a lot more often. I’m coming round to the idea that writing is more about perseverance than talent. It’s really not a good idea to wait until the inspiration strikes you. It might never happen.
So that’s my wrap up for the year. I know it sounds a bit like one of those letters that people write at Xmas and then make a dozen copies to send to all their friends, but I’ve enjoyed thinking back over the year which has been mostly good. I hope you have survived the year and that next year brings you peace and happiness and good health.
Stay safe everyone and thank you for reading my blog.
A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution that I would stop weighing myself for a whole year. I decided to do this because prior to Xmas there’d been a lot of discussion about what size ham we needed, and it occurred to me that since I wasn’t a ham, I shouldn’t keep worrying about my size and whether I was a few kilos heavier or lighter.
Like most women, I have spent a lifetime worrying about how much I weigh, and making new promises to myself that I would lose those extra few kilos that make our trousers a bit uncomfortable. I’ve never been very overweight, but I’ve never been as slim as I’d like to be except for a brief period after my second child was born. I was going to exercise classes three times a week and mysteriously lost all my baby weight over the course of six months or so.
I’ve always thought that weighing myself was a bit of a waste of time because when the scales go up, I feel really bad, and when they go down, I eat more because I figure I’m allowed to.
Anyway, a whole year went by and I felt a lot better without the weekly weigh-in (always on a Monday morning with as few clothes on as possible). The following New Year’s Day I jumped on the scales and found that I weighed almost exactly the same as I had a year before, so clearly the weekly torture was pointless in terms of helping me control my weight and no impact on whether I was fitter or healthier.
I know that for some people, weighing themselves regularly is very motivating, so I’m not giving advice about what you should or shouldn’t do, I’m just saying that it didn’t work for me.
For many people, how much they weigh is inextricably linked to how they feel about themselves, but lately I’ve been trying to think about this differently and I think it’s working.
One thing that has had a big impact on me is my pilates teacher. She’s about 40 and incredibly strong and fit. I don’t think I’ve seen many people with better core strength. And before you say that this is because she’s a fitness instructor, I should mention that she’s actually a high school teacher and she teaches pilates because she loves it. As well as being super strong, she also has very solid thighs (like me). When I look at her, I realise that this is just the shape she is, and that no amount of exercise is going to change that.
Unlike my instructor, I’m not very fit or very strong, but this is something that I am working on. Every week she reminds us that strength and stability (and especially good balance) is critical for avoiding the falls that so often lead to hip fractures, so I practice standing on one leg while the kettle is boiling and try to remember to stretch after sitting at the computer for any extended periods.
Life is short and I don’t think denying myself a piece of bread and jam is going to make me a happier or healthier person, but I hope that in a year’s time I will have sorted out some of my back and hip issues so that I can enjoy being retired. I figure it’s never too late to be fitter and stronger and I don’t really have any excuses for not trying to improve my health.
When my mother died four years ago, I felt like I’d lost a good friend as well as a mother. She was my greatest supporter, along with my husband and kids. I used to think that this was par for the course and just part of being a mother, but I’ve since realised that not everyone has this experience. I think everyone needs a cheerleader in their lives, someone to listen to you, even when you are being unreasonable, someone to tell you to keep going when things aren’t going well.
When I was in my late fifties, my mum sent me a stanza from a poem enclosed in a birthday card. The poem about being an adventurer in the world and was scribbled out on a scrap of paper in her usual fashion. She was forever recycling bits of paper and envelopes, sometimes you even got second-hand birthday and Christmas cards.
My mum was a very unsentimental person and would frequently give away birthday and Christmas gifts within moments of receiving them, sometimes while you were still in the room, so when she sent me that scrap of a poem, I loved it because I knew it meant that she understood that I was struggling with getting older and wondering what was left for me. She wanted me to know that everything would be okay and that there were plenty of adventures yet to come.
I still miss her very much, but since she’s been gone, I’ve developed a much closer relationship with my eldest sister who lives 2,000 kilometres away on the other side of Australia. I have two older sisters and a younger brother, and we all get along really well, but my eldest sister and I have gotten much closer in the last few years. She moved out of home when I was in my early teens and we have rarely lived in the same city in the past forty years, but these days we email or message one another several times a week. We share thoughts, dreams and frustrations. We talk about our mum, swap recipes, and complain about our sore backs and stiff shoulders. We frequently make unkind comments about “stupid people”. She badgers me about whether or not I’m writing (I asked her to) and always comments on my blog posts, even when they aren’t very remarkable.
I’m grateful for all my siblings, but it’s especially wonderful to have a sister who doesn’t judge you and is interested in the most mundane aspects of your life. It makes the loss of my mother easier to bear, and I’m so glad we’ve reconnected. Here’s to you Bev!
I’ve been on leave for five months so I thought I’d provide a bit of an update on my progress. I always have big plans but I’m not always good at executing them, so this is really an accountability exercise as much as anything. Also, people keep asking me what I’ve been doing, so here’s a potted summary.
I’ve made a bit of progress with my “to do” list. Several cupboards have been cleaned out and quite a few books and clothes have found their way to the charity shop which have now re-opened. I’m sure they are drowning in a sea of things that people have decided they don’t want any more. I gave away all my old linen and then realised that I could have used them as drop-sheets when I was painting.
I haven’t tackled the photos. I was going to sort through the ones I have in hard copy from the olden days and digitise them, but I haven’t even opened the boxes. There are literally hundreds of them, if not thousands. It’s my least favourite task (too emotional) so I’ll probably put that off until I’m well and truly retired.
I’ve painted the spare-room and just need to buy a new blind for it to be completely finished. I was going to buy some new carpet but decided to save some money and have the existing carpet cleaned. It looks better than it did before. Some of the painting is a bit dodgy, especially around the skirting boards. I threw out the old mattress and then spent hours reading mattress reviews so that I could purchase the perfect replacement. The last two mattresses I bought have been too hard, so I was determined to choose well this time around. I’m not sure I have as it’s a little bit high. Just as well no tiny people are likely to be sleeping in that bed or they will need a ladder to get in and out.
The garden hasn’t had much attention because I hurt my back moving some furniture. It also meant that the painting was undertaken at the speed of a snail, if not slower. I’ve had a few trips to the physiotherapist so I just need to be patient and do my exercises so that I can attack the weeds which are growing profusely after some decent rain.
I’ve been writing a fair bit. I’ve done two short courses in non-fiction writing which have both been interesting. I wrote a few intros to a book about retiring and then my enthusiasm just petered out. It’s not that I don’t think I can write a book, but perhaps that’s too much to tackle as a writing project. An article I read recently suggested that it was foolish for people to plan to write a book when they haven’t even written any short stories. I think that there’s some truth in that. I probably should try writing some essays or articles first.
I’ve been looking at the structure of non-fiction books with a much more critical eye. I’m interested in seeing how the contents are organised and I’ve learnt quite a lot by just observing the conventions of the form.
I’ve had a lot more time for reading but my TBR (to be read) list is growing by the day. The more time you spend reading about books, the more books you find that you absolutely MUST read. I’m not bothered by this; I would probably choose to read a book before doing anything else.
I’ve been doing lots of cooking and eating and made some particularly nice marmalade this week. Hubby has continued with his bread-making so we’ve always got some nice bread at hand.
Most of all, I’ve been having fun and trying not to watch the news. I hope you are all doing well and making some progress towards your goals, big or small.
I’m currently renovating our spare room which involves removing some very old wallpaper. We’ve been living here for 24 years and it’s always looked a bit tatty, but in the last few years it’s been looking more and more sad, so it’s definitely time for a spruce up.
My back is playing up (the result of not enough exercise and a chronic lower back problem which flares up now and then ) so progress is slow. But now that I’ve started, I can’t give up.
I’ve always been very stubborn so that’s nothing unusual.
Today while I was working my way around the room, I was thinking about the time I made video about a peer support program at one of the local high schools. This entailed going to a sport and recreation centre with a group of 14-year-olds for the weekend. At the time I had a frozen shoulder so I could only use one arm properly. I couldn’t lift my left arm above my head without shrieking with pain but nevertheless, I went out in a zodiac (inflatable boat) and filmed them learning to kayak. I also videoed them abseiling and doing a high-ropes course and I was glad to have the excuse of being one-armed so that I didn’t have to admit that I was afraid of heights. I sent the little hand-held video camera up on a pulley and one of the trained staff filmed the kids in close up, trembling as they inched their way across the high wire. I remember one boy freezing in the middle of the rope, petrified that he would fall even though he was wearing a full harness. I felt for him and his obvious anguish, mixed with embarrassment.
The point of the weekend was to train the kids to feel confident about talking to their peers about their personal issues, including their attitudes towards drug and alcohol consumption. The idea was that they would relate better to their peers than the teachers and would be able to positively influence their choices. They were a hand-picked group who were either natural leaders or thought to be “at risk”, the idea being that being involved in the program might be good for them. The local police sent a terrific youth liaison officer on the camp and he talked to the kids about his experiences of picking up young people off the street who were so drunk that they could hardly stand. He was an amazing speaker and they listened closely to everything that he said.
I interviewed every single young person at the camp and I still have the raw footage. I wonder where they are now? They would be all grown up, about 32 by my calculation. I wonder how many of them made it through adolescence unscathed and if the training program helped them to think differently about themselves or helped them make different choices? I wonder if just being singled out as a “leader” made them feel special enough to protect them from the peer pressure that so often results in disastrous consequences.
Who knew that stripping wallpaper could be so thought-provoking?
As I throw the yellowing floral wallpaper into the bin, I think about all the choices we make in life and how great it is that we always have the chance to start over with a new coat of paint.
The smell of baking bread is wafting through the house and I can’t think of anything more appealing.
Like many people, my husband has taken to baking bread in earnest. There’s a passion and a purpose now, he’s not just a dilettante. The sour dough starter is bubbling away in the granny flat (it even has its own room) and gets fed as regularly as our faithful dogs.
He’s made bread before, but this time he’s serious.
It all started well before the lockdown. The local baker went bankrupt and the cake shop down the road doesn’t make bread, so he decided that we should make our own. Or rather, that he would make it. I don’t really do anything except eat it.
And what a wonderful decision it’s been. Good for the soul, bad for the waistline, but who cares.
Each loaf probably costs a small fortune compared to supermarket bread. There’s no flour at the grocery store so we are buying 100% organic flour from the speciality food store, but there’s nothing like home baked bread. Your mouth waters in anticipation of that first crunchy bite and I’m sure the love and care that goes into it makes it extra good for you. At least I like to think so.
It makes me wonder what other simple pleasures people are discovering (or re-discovering) in this time of staying in. Apparently the local hardware store is selling out of seedlings as soon as they arrive, and there’s been a resurgence of interest in knitting and other handicrafts. Board games are back in vogue. Next we know, people will be reading more books.
A lot of people are saying that things will never be the same again and maybe that’s a good thing. Teachers, nurses and medical staff are the new heroes. Being kind to one another is obligatory.
My friend Megan has just had her first grandchild. She was able to hold her little granddaughter just once, and now relies on regular updates via social media, but she told me that the new parents have never been so happy. They are both home from work and there are no distractions and no visitors. They can focus on their new baby and on one another. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for them to bond with their child. It makes me wonder whether there will be a new way of thinking about parenting, once this is all over.
I know that you might find this overly positive when many people have lost their jobs or are worried about their physical safety or mental well-being, but I hope that at least for some of you, these weird and unusual times are providing you with the opportunity to reflect on what matters, and how you spend your days.
Well here I am in the first week of my six months long service leave. I’ve made quite a few grand promises (to myself and others) about the things I was planning to do whilst on leave, but when I booked the time off, I had no idea that I would actually be at home full-time, every single day.
My plan was to swim regularly at the pool, pick up some more exercise classes, and meet friends for coffee. Some of these have been put on hold or are happening virtually, but I’m not complaining. I feel lucky to have a comfortable home and a loving husband. So many people are under so much strain and I really feel for them.
Being stuck at home means that some of the other things I was planning to tackle are simply unavoidable. I’ve got no real excuse for not writing more, and I can’t really worm my way out of weeding the horribly overgrown garden. Nor can I avoid sorting through all the paperwork that’s accumulated in my office. There’s old teaching material, tax returns from the last 12 years and hundreds of old photos. It could realistically take me six months just to sort through all these accumulated memories.
I hate sorting through old photos. It makes me unbearably sad to see people (and pets) I’ve loved and lost. Even photos of my children make me feel teary. They look so sweet and innocent and I can’t bear the idea of them being hurt by anyone.
I’m often regarded as unsentimental by my family. Little do they know that this is often just a cover for being overwhelmed with emotion.
My mother (who would have been 91 today) was a master at not showing her emotions but those who knew her realised that this was just a way of covering up feelings that she couldn’t express or deal with very well. Things often went unsaid but we always knew that she cared about us. The fact that she loved us was evident in the food she made, the neatly made bed with a vase of freshly picked flowers, the little note that arrived in the mail just when you were feeling all alone. She would often arrive and do all your ironing, even though she hated ironing.
So in these trying times, perhaps we should use this time to let people know that we care about them. You don’t necessarily need to use words.
I was seventeen and living in a tiny basement flat in London when Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973.
My flat was located below a rather grand house in Regents Park, only one block away from London Zoo. At night I could hear strange sounds. Lions roaring, monkeys chattering. The couple who owned the house walked their dog on Primrose Hill on Sunday afternoons and invited me to join them for a pre-dinner drink every now and then. We would sit around awkwardly discussing our respective weeks. The husband wore a three piece suit every day and worked in the city. On Sundays, he affected a black polo neck jumper and slacks.
I was graciously allowed to live in their basement for a very reasonable rent in exchange for some light baby-sitting duties, which suited me just fine. I always felt rather like a country hick in their presence, coming from the colonies and having no experience of the world.
I’d arrived in London with one ten-pound travellers’ cheque and big dreams of a new life away from my home in Perth, West Australia, then a fairly small provincial city. I travelled to England on a huge Italian cruise ship, the Galileo Galilei, setting off from the port of Fremantle with my best friend Helena, a pretty and outgoing blonde woman, a couple of years my senior. It may sound like I was rather brave setting out to travel halfway across the world at that young age, but in those days young people often left home before they were 20. I was eager to escape the confines of my small city. I wanted adventure and a bigger, more interesting life.
The sea journey took three weeks stopping in Cape Town, Majorca and Malta, and finally berthing in Genoa. From there we travelled by train through Italy, Austria, Germany and Holland, and then across to Folkstone on the ferry. A couple of English boys explained that in the UK being ‘knocked up’ meant being woken up in the morning, rather than getting pregnant. We realised that things might be a little different in our adopted country.
As soon as we arrived, we set about finding work.
Employment was easy to find, so all we had to do was survive until we got our first pay cheque. My mother had secretly packed my yellow sea trunk with supplies of tuna and tinned fruit. There was even a jar of my favourite pickled onions. I was grateful for them in the weeks between starting work as a photographic printer and getting paid. At my first job interview I was informed that juniors (people under 18) were paid less than seniors, so I lied about my age and said I was 19 instead of 17. I looked a lot older than I was, so everyone believed me. It only became a problem when birthdays came around, people wondered why I never turned 21. By the time I actually did turn 21, I was back in Sydney raising my beautiful baby daughter.
I soon learnt that there were certain things that you did and didn’t talk about.
In Australia, it would be unthinkable to ask someone who they voted for. To this day, I would not know who my mother voted for in any election. You could take a wild guess based on someone’s attitudes to social issues, but you would never ask someone outright. It was quite different in the UK, people would not only ask you directly, they also didn’t seem to worry about not bothering to turn up to vote. In Australia, voting is compulsory and always has been, and people take the right to vote very seriously, so 40 years later, when I heard about the whole Brexit saga being brought about by people not bothering to vote, I kind of thought it served them right.
In 1973 I was quite affronted that Britain had chosen to join the Common Market rather than maintaining their strong economic ties with the Commonwealth. In Australia, there were lots of concerns about what we would do with all our sugar. At the time, Australia was a major food supplier to the UK so when they joined the Common Market it effectively closed the British market to many Australian exports, including sugar.
The UK had previously applied to join the EEC in 1963 and 1967 but were refused because the French President, Charles de Gaulle was suspicious about their intentions.
There was never any love lost between the British and the French.
It was rumoured that he feared that English would suddenly become the common language of the community.
In January of 1974 I turned 18, just in time to vote in a general election. I was amazed to find that I was allowed to vote, despite not being a British citizen. Being from a Commonwealth country was still kind of special and Australians and New Zealanders had a privileged status. We had our own queue at the airport and were fast-tracked through immigration along with the locals. We weren’t required to line up in the ‘alien’ queue with all the other non-British people.
I was eager to use my vote and remember being quite interested in the views of a political group who advocated that should Britain retain close ties with “the colonies”. Fortunately, I didn’t vote for the political party that I later discovered was The National Front, a bunch of violent neo-Nazi sympathisers. I still cringe when I think about how naïve I was, but it did give me an understanding of how easily neo-nationalism can lead to darker things. I still hate the mindless flag waving and jingoism that occurs on Australia Day. For me it’s a mere step away from the skinheads and bovver boys smashing windows and painting racist slogans on the sides of buildings.
In the 47 years since Britain joined the European Economic Community, I’ve returned to Australia, gotten married, raised three children, had three careers and travelled the world. I like to think that I’m older and wiser, but I also like to think that I’m still up for new adventures. It’s interesting to reflect on how my history has shaped my views of the world and my place in it. It’s taken a lifetime to get over feeling like I’m not quite cultured enough to hang out with rich people. It’s made me fiercely independent, (sometimes foolishly so), and careful with money (you never know when you might suddenly need to leave the country), but most of all it tells me that when one door closes, another one often opens.
So good luck with brexit Britain. If you need some sugar, just let us know.