If my father was alive today, he would be 101 years old, but he died at the age of 74, instead of becoming a centenarian.
He was a good man; never ever a violent man; seldom even an angry man. He was caring and devoted to his five children and only when he thought his children were in danger or when they were ‘wronged’ in his eyes did the sparks ever fly. (So to speak).
He was often fearful that some ill might befall his children and, long before seat belts were in cars, he invented a safety contraption that secured the back doors of the car with leather straps, lest a door should ever open unexpectedly when we were on the road. (Or that’s what he told us – perhaps he felt it was better that we were well contained and not free to leave the car at any stopping point).
On beach holidays, he tied a length of rope to the inflated rubber inner tube that we played on in the water and tied the other end to a small post anchored in the sand by his side, in order to prevent us floating out too far. We were not always happy with that arrangement and neither were the people who were tripped up by our rope as they strolled along the sand.
One day I (at age about eight) was bitten on the leg by a dog in our street. It was possibly partly my fault as I was propelling a very noisy billy-cart along the footpath, which may have frightened the dog. I hobbled home, bawling my eyes out. My father was working in the garden and had a spade handy; a spade which, on seeing the small puncture wound in my leg, he picked up and strode down the street with, to where the dog and its owners were. “I ought to put this spade through that bloody dog’s neck” was how he greeted the neighbours.
(He didn’t - use the spade as a guillotine, that is).
When my beloved cat, Willy, was missing we searched high and low for him. Father went into the neighbours’ jungle of a backyard and found the poor cat (or the poor cat’s body, to be accurate) stuck (head first) in a drain pipe in the incredibly messy yard. What he did with the dead cat I fortunately never found out. What I did know is that he smashed the drainpipe with every ounce of strength he could muster.
Now, that’s caring!
I have recently read a book on ‘near death experiences’ (NDEs). An extremely interesting book, with lots of food for thought. In amongst the stories of people who had experienced NDEs there were some references to other phenomena, including ‘after death communication’ (ADC) and other inexplicable happenings. Amongst these stories are a couple of mentions of birds and their appearance to people at times of grief or distress.
In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he talks of feeling the presence of his wife (who was killed), he also speaks of one time when a bird flew down and perched in front of him and ‘looked steadily’ at him. For Viktor Frankl that was a sure indication that the little bird was a messenger helping him
At the risk of being labelled ‘whacko’ or, at least a little delusional, I have to say that I have experienced two times, when in distress, small birds have flocked uncharacteristically to (almost) my side. At the same time as I have, at first, felt some confusion I have also had a feeling of comfort and understanding from someone somewhere that is inexplicable.
I have been wondering lately whether the children’s story I wrote some time ago, about some birds, was subconsciously inspired by my experiences.
I reiterate: I am not crazy - and have even searched the internet for stories of birds appearing as comfort in times of grief. And there are many.
My children’s story may be found in the Children’s Stories section of my webpage, under the heading of Beatrice Barnfeather.
Is this what we really want? It’s not what I want, but others may disagree.
This morning I visited the supermarket to buy two things – not important what they were, but it was a fresh chicken and a loaf of bread.
I am begrudgingly becoming used to the dreadful ‘self check-out’ systems that are proliferating at an amazing rate, and I no longer swear under my breath at the machine or tell the poor ‘helper’ that these machines are ‘the pits’. But today, when I did all the right things; made sure each barcode was read easily on both items, pressed the correct button and then passed a $20 note into the appropriate slot, after being ‘told’ that the total was $14.50.
Then waited, waited and waited. A lot of rattling and jangling noises were heard - suggesting coins were about to emerge from the ‘change’ slot. Nothing appeared for a while until, eventually a $2 coin slipped out. One $2 coin, all alone, followed by more waiting and waiting, more jangling and rattling, then silence – and still I am $3.50 short of my correct change.
Time to press the ‘help’ button.
Along came a ‘helper’ who assessed the situation but could not release the money due to me.
‘Hey Suse’, she called to a woman near a counter, ‘Can you give me $3.50 from your till?’
The woman (Suse) dug out the money, came from behind her work station and brought me the $3.50 for which I had been waiting.
Then the ‘helper’ phoned to tell someone (the manager?) that she would have to close down the offending machine. That made two ‘self-serve’machines out of order on that morning.
Was that efficient?
I ask again – is this what we want?
Is this a part of economic rationalism?
Machines or people?
Every person replaced by a machine is a person who subsequently needs a job. For every business that replaces people with machines there is reportedly a bonanza to be reaped by the shareholders of that company for whom the profits rise exponentially, because they are no longer paying wages.
BUT, and it’s a big BUT – all the people who become job seekers cannot possibly be employed because there are fewer and fewer job vacancies, because the jobs are being eaten up by machines. Or that’s how it seems.
If all the people who need - and want - work can no longer find employment, then they will eventually be reliant on government assistance.
And, not only that, but their self esteem will plummet and their families may start to disintegrate and on and on …… And yes, I know this sounds like another ‘grumpy old woman’ rant and a 'life was better in the old days’ whinge - but is that all it is?
To top it all off, the machines are not always efficient; they are not always fool proof and certainly (as today proved) are not time savers.
Queues & 'savings'
And, don’t get me started on queues and all the valuable time that ‘activity’ wastes.
And, by the way, how much money is being saved by banks spending less, not only on staff, but on carpet? Yes, carpet! Now that customers no longer walk on the banks’ floors, but merely wear out a bit of concrete outside the bank as they do all their own banking via a hole in the wall.
Oh, to be a shareholder in a banking company!
Then again – is that what we want?
PS: How can a country progress when unemployment is high? Beats me!
Today I bought a teapot. Teapots are somewhat a rarity in the modern home; most people use tea bags.
Those ubiquitous tea bags that make a cup of tea that tastes unlike a cup of tea.
Although my new teapot is a modern one, it is not made for tea bags but for using loose tea – that is tea leaves. But to keep things tidy (to match my new tidy kitchen) this little teapot has an insert made of stainless steel wire that holds the tea leaves and therefore negates the need for a tea strainer, which is a helpful way of contributing towards keeping my new kitchen looking neat and clean.
When I was a little girl, all kitchens had a big (usually brown) teapot that was forever being filled and refreshed. The used tea leaves were either tossed into a colander in the sink, prior to being thrown out with the rubbish or the teapot was emptied and flushed out in the gully trap. What’s a gully trap? Well, again, when I was a little girl, every house had a gully trap. It was a sort of outside drainage connection, consisting of a heavy iron grate covering a drainage hole and pipe, surrounded by a concrete ‘lip’, usually directly under a garden tap. It was a useful place for washing all sorts of garden tools and buckets and things and (with the help of the handy tap) scrubbing kids’ very dirty hands and washing mud from rubber boots as well as a good place to pour the (smelly) cabbage water - and to fill the large bucket used to drown a freshly caught crayfish (lobster).
When searching on the net for ‘gully trap’ I discovered that all homes still have them but they are nothing like the old ones – merely a grid over a pipe leading from the outside of a laundry or bathroom; still amazingly called gully traps, but possibly only plumbers know that.
Anyway, back to my new teapot. It is to go with my new kitchen, with its sparkling clean, gleaming, laminated bench-tops and new stainless steel sink. No more colander in the sink for tealeaves or vegetable peelings. No tea-strainer sitting in its little drip-holder stand. All tealeaves are now emptied straight into the hidden compost bucket, as are the few fruit or vegetable scraps that accumulate. No mess in the new sink. No mess on the new kitchen bench tops. No big inviting gully trap outside the back door, for all those old-fashioned purposes.
And, all these words set off by the purchase of a new teapot.
At times I long for the old messy kitchen and the old messy sink – and the useful old gully trap.
But, the new kitchen is lovely and, at least, I still make my tea with tea leaves and I still keep a small compost bucket under the (new) sink, so am not completely
overtaken with modern concepts.
It has been said that, in our lifetimes, three of the most upsetting (grief producing) times in order, are death in the family, divorce and moving house. Moving house? Yes. And leaving a house for a child is doubly upsetting.
Bob Ellis, the Australian essayist (and film producer, broadcaster, speechwriter, novelist – and much more) in an essay, written back in 1998, wrote on the subject: ‘there was a world where you were born…neighbours and fences and corner stores maybe…playgrounds and playmates…a particular bed with a particular ceiling above it and a particular window beside it and a particular view of the yard. And this was your universe. It was what you knew as reality.
And then abruptly, …’
This happens to many of us and most of us don’t remember – or don’t remember that they remember. But it is often a crucial point in our lives, which – and especially if it was a place we loved and a place full of love - must leave some sort of lingering sadness or even heartache in our psyche.
When I moved my two small children away from all they knew, when they were aged just five and three years old, for some time the three-year-old cried for his lost home and his lost friends, but soon happily settled down into his new country life.
Or so it seemed.
That was long ago now.
Even longer ago, when I, aged 11, had to leave a much loved home, I found it upsetting and have to say that, no matter that my life has been blessed in many ways, I still hold that first family home close to my heart and often dream about it and long to be back.
I wrote about it in my memoir:
The day the furniture van came and removed our goods and chattels from the house, I walked through the empty rooms, one at a time. I said goodbye to each room in turn and, when I came to our bedroom, I stepped inside the inbuilt wardrobe and closed the door. Sitting on the floor of the cupboard, I said a goodbye prayer as the tears roll down my cheeks.
I count that day as the end of my childhood. I was eleven.
Some years ago Australia was in the grip of republican fever, when many Australians were pushing for Australia to ‘grow up’ and stop being part of the British Commonwealth and give up Queen Elizabeth as Head of State. There was a badly worded referendum that leaned the wrong way and confused as many people as not and the result was ‘NO republic’ and we Australians remained in the clutches of the British Monarchy, with the British ‘Union Jack’ emblem being a major part of our national flag. (At least we had stopped singing ‘God Save the Queen’ as our National anthem!).
Under the leadership of the execrable ‘Liberal’ (Ha!) John Howard, we remained true to Her Majesty and continued to swear allegiance to her - whether she cared or not. Then we had a change in government, but the fire had gone out for the republican campaigners and not much progress was made.
And now we have an almost worse Liberal (Ha!) leader who has not only ignored any thought of independence, but has reinstated Imperial Honours, so that we now have one Dame and one Sir: Knighthoods for heavens’ sake.
Many were not amused.
But, wait, just as the populace was starting to stir and think once more of pulling away from the ‘mother country’, the beautiful couple – the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his lovely wife, Catherine, (Wills & Kate) together with their charming little baby, George, arrived on our shores and the people were mesmerised.
There was worship in the air and Australians of all persuasions flocked to see this beautiful couple and (if they were lucky) the baby as well. If not able to physically see the visitors, there was plenty of TV coverage of every movement of the little family.
Kate’s fashion sense was discussed at length and each designer of her clothes noted. Copies of Kate’s dresses were available in the shops within the week and were sold out.
Pictures were taken and speeches made and little George, being the cute baby that he is, wooed the masses and now any thought of Australia becoming a republic in the near future has been shot to ribbons.
Whether that was the point of this visit or not is not the question. The result, however, is undeniable.
Beautiful people – and they do seem to be lovely in manner as well as looks – have won us over. And I think that baby George is adorable!
See? We’ve all got it!
Two things I try to keep in mind. One is, when things are looking bad, imagine the earth the size of an orange, then stand back from it, pinpoint where you think you might be and see the minuscule impact (oops, I mean effect) made by what you have just experienced or what you have just done. Perhaps this is not an appropriate way to deal with major upsets or true grief, but other happenings that seem overwhelming for a short while, or even those events that involve embarrassment, will soon melt into obscurity if you do the orange ‘trick’.
The other things I try to do is tell myself the mantra of ‘happiness is a choice’. Sure, things can annoy, things can upset, things can make you grumpy or sad, but you can always choose to be happy. Once you have chosen to be happy (even when not truly feeling that way) you usually end up being happy – at least for that day. Then, of course, you adopt the same attitude next time. Easy? Not really; not always, but still better than the alternative.
That’s my little piece of advice for today. And now I’m off to the dentist and I’m choosing to be happy about it and seeing myself as smaller than a pinprick on an orange, so imagine how small my tooth is. Nothing to worry about!
Over my teaching career I must have taught over a thousand children. Can I remember them all? No, not really. But many of them have stayed in my mind for a long time.
Twice I have written about them; just two young boys. Their stories can be found in the non-fiction section of my web-site, under the titles, Harry’s Story and A Year With Billy. While Harry’s Story is a sad one, with happy parts, A Year With Billy presents a funny ending in which the laugh is on me.
There are many other tales I could tell of children who came into my life for a year and, in some cases, for more than a year. One year I had a boisterous young eight-year-old girl in my Grade 3 class who was always full of energy and joie de vivre. Her mother confided in me one day that Melinda was adopted. ‘Her real father is a football player’, said the mother, ‘I hope he plays for St Kilda.’ To have been a St Kilda player would have pleased the mother no end, but she was unable to find out for which team Melinda’s biological father played. Despite that, she still believed that he was one of the star players – and for St Kilda. It helped her to love Melinda more.
Another eight-year-old I remember well was Karl. He was a bright but naughty boy, often in trouble out in the playground and often the instigator of fights. His parents were both in professional occupations and his mother was away a lot attending or giving lectures. His father, on the other hand, was the main child carer, but did a lot of his ‘caring’ from his seat in the local pub, where the children often ate their evening meal.
After one particular fracas in the playground, where young Karl had come off second best, I was trying to comfort him and attempt to encourage him to find a more acceptable way of dealing with playground disputes. Karl was having a quiet cry and, in a move quite uncharacteristic of him, he leant against me and almost snuggled into my shoulder. ‘Mmm,’ he said, ‘you smell like my mum’.
The next time I saw Karl’s mother I told her what Karl had said and asked her what perfume she preferred, to see if it matched the one I usually wore. ‘I have no idea,’ was her uninterested reply, ‘I have so many different perfumes, Karl wouldn’t know my smell.’
All I could do was sigh.
Having recently been reading Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’ I was reminded of the short story he wrote many years ago, called ‘The Body’, which was made into the film, ‘Stand By Me’ – one of my all time favourite movies. Thinking it would not be available on DVD, owing to its age (having been made in 1986), I looked on-line and found there was a copy available, and new at that, for only $5 plus $5 postage from Big W.
I immediately ordered a copy and then thought some more about the film and how it came about. As I mused over the idea of a story based on the premise of a group of young boys finding a dead body, my mind raced back to a time quite long ago, when I found a body. My body find was not fiction but a real life experience.
I have written about it and put it in the non-fiction section of my web site.
You can find it there, under the simple title of ‘The Body’.
“Anything is good if it's made of chocolate.”
― Jo Brand
No whingeing or philosophising from me today.
I am trialling a way to make a big birthday cake for a 16 year-old. It has to be big and preferably very chocolate-y. This first trial has produced a cake measuring 40cm x 30 cm, (or 16 inches x 12 inches). I made it in a baking dish usually reserved for roasting a leg of lamb or a large chicken.
The cake contains (amongst other ingredients), 4 (FOUR!) 200g blocks of chocolate. If this is considered acceptable, the final masterpiece will have more chocolate on the top and sides of the cake.
I am waiting for the (soon-to-be) birthday boy to come and offer his verdict.
I have a couple of other options still open as regards different recipes, with varying amounts of chocolate – and cream.
On party night, in a few weeks - and after the party guests have had their fill of pizzas and soft drinks - I don’t think I want to be around once they have also eaten birthday cake. Perhaps it would be best if they acted like little kids and took their slice of cake home to eat later (?). That may be a safer option.
My sister had been experiencing headaches and was occasionally a little unsteady on her feet. She had dismissed such symptoms ‘stress’ but told her doctor about it. The doctor suggested she have some tests, including an MRI on her brain, but it was some time before she agreed to do so. It was only after she had a fall off a stool and bumped her head that she thought it might be a good idea to undergo some testing.
Some days after the MRI test she visited her doctor to discuss the results. It was then that the doctor informed her that her brain was harbouring three (THREE) tumours.
She took in the news and calmly set off home, stopping off at the supermarket to buy a hot roasted chicken and a few other supplies. Acting as if nothing was untoward, it was only much later that the information that had been imparted to her sank in and she began to wonder what was in store for her.
Why didn’t she fall to the floor in despair on hearing such news? How was it that she took in such terrible information and yet continued on as if nothing was amiss? It seems that, in that sort of crisis, the brain takes you onto a different plane and you act on some sort of auto-pilot.
A similar thing happened to me and my husband when we went to hear the biopsy results after his testing for cancer. The surgeon explained that there was a test result that provided a number on a scale from one to ten. “A score of 4 is very serious,” he said, “and I’m afraid your result score is nine.”
From that moment, we operated on auto-pilot. There was no panic, no tearing of hair in distress, just simply a calm following of any instructions offered by the surgeon and (later) hospital staff. Quiet composure was the ‘mood of the day’ and most days that followed.
I have read stories of how people injured in accidents act normally and even walk on broken feet, seemingly unaware of injuries as they go about doing (for a short time) what they think is necessary, but I’m not sure if that is the same response as the ones I have mentioned above.
I am thinking that the mind is a very interesting part of us, enabling us to cope by taking over, so to speak, and letting us function when we might otherwise fall apart.
Most studies on personal crises or trauma quote the ‘fight or flight’ response, whereby people’s reaction is to accelerate their actions in order to handle the situation. Perhaps the examples I have offered here are not quite crises or traumas, so that they don’t elicit such dramatic response. However, I am convinced that in some situations the mind has the propensity to put a person into autopilot to enable life to go on, without the need for undue stress and (even) panic. It’s a helpful ‘condition’, in my view.
PS: My sister’s tumours are not malignant. They are meningiomas that are being treated with radiotherapy and steroids as they are in too dangerous a position to excise.
My husband underwent major surgery and is now perfectly well.
I was going to write an interesting (?) blog about how the brain takes over and puts one into auto-mode in a crisis - or on suddenly having to change course, but I have no idea where to start. It's a complex issue. Hopefully I will have the words very soon.
Meanwhile, I am reading a most interesting book by Bob Ellis - an Australian writer and commentator. He'll give me food for thought.
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.