Sunday, January 29, 2012

Late night trumpet calls

My husband has been away these past few days and I have been sleeping like a top, sleeping so soundly the hours pass in an instant. And it’s not because I do not miss him.

How can I write this without seemingly taking the mickey out of the man I love? I have been thinking on this issue for some time now. Ever since I read Lynn Freed’s wonderful book on Reading Writing and Leaving Home.

My husband has left home, albeit briefly, and I am left lonelier, but free from his incessant snoring. Lynn Freed writes about snoring stories as the great stories of revenge, the way in which at dinner partes, women, and it is usually women, tell stories about the nature of their husband’s snoring. They can keep their fellow dinner guests in stitches as they regale them of the horrors of those late night trumpet calls, while the husband, the poor perpetrator of said snores is left humiliated and in shame.

Two generations - asleep and snoring?

It’s true. I do not write about such things as a rule because I do not want to humiliate or belittle the ones I love, or do I?

My thesis topics pops back into my mind. It has been absent for several months now. I’m still waiting to hear whether or not I have passed. Life writing and the desire for revenge. The way in which a desire for revenge can inspire writing, not that I want to take revenge on my husband or do I?

I cannot talk easily about his snoring. He finds it insulting. He tries to stop. He rolls over when I nudge him, but even then within minutes his throat constricts and he is back at it again.

Is it his helplessness against snoring that causes him to want to throw it back at me? ‘You snore, too.’ The gut impulse. The talion principle, an eye for an eye. You insult me and I’ll insult you back. Or is it something else?

Please, don’t talk about sleep apnoea or other common ailments. I do not believe it to be the case here. I put it down to age and occasionally too much red wine, but even when he drinks lightly or not at all the snoring persists. I play musical beds until it subsides.

The past few days I have not needed to move about. I can stay put, hence my sleep is more sound.

I have a friend whose wife snores. She is the culprit, and the same principles apply. They came to our house one day overjoyed to have found a new treatment, a sliver of something or other than you put on the back of your tongue, a wafer like substance that dissolves in your mouth and apparently stops the snoring.

My friend is a beautiful and dignified women in her sixties. How can it be that her snoring is enough to wake the dead? She smokes, her husband says by way of explanation. She smokes. Maybe that is the cause.

Smoking’s to blame. It seems we need to find some point from which we can blame the perpetrator of snores, hence the additional shame.

Snoring is treated as a crime, and yet it is one from which we all suffer. It cannot be a crime. It is only a problem when the person who shares your bed finds it too much. Or when it suggests some malady in need of attention.

As I said earlier, I put it down to aging. I am like my mother here. She ascribes every bodily ailment that slows her down to her aging. I, too, imagine that my husband’s snoring comes of his aging and he like me is ashamed of both.

Why be ashamed of our aging? puts it well in her recent book, Blue Nights:
‘Aging and its evidence remain life’s most predictable events, yet they also remain matters we prefer to leave unmentioned, unexplored: I have watched tears flood the eyes of grown women, loved women, women of talent and accomplishment, for no reason other than that a small child in the room, more often than not an adored niece or nephew, has just described them as ‘wrinkly’, or asked how old they are.

'When we are asked this question we are always undone by its innocence, somehow shamed by the clear bell-like tones in which it is asked. What shames us is this: the answer we give is never innocent. The answer we give is unclear, evasive, even guilty ... there must be a mistake: only yesterday I was in my fifties, my forties, only yesterday I was thirty-one…’

Didion’s thoughts about her daughter’s adoption, life, and early death lead Didion into thoughts on her own aging and frailty.

It’s a thing that dogs us all, this aging business. I talked about it recently among a small group of friends and most resonated, though the youngest of our group, a woman in her early forties with a small child at home, brushed it off. It’s too far away from her.

I used to be like that, too. I used to think that I would not worry about getting old until it hit me and then I’d die. But these days it hits me daily with a ferocity I had never imagined possible.

It is like wading through mud. The fact that I used to have a school aged child and that my mother is still alive convinced me that I was still a long way away from needing to reflect on this, but my daughter has just now finished school and my mother who lives on and now plans to reach one hundred, reminds me of my age.

‘You have to recognise you are old,’ my mother says, ‘when you have a seventy year old son, a forty year old granddaughter and a six year old great grand son.’

Where did the time go?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My mother's piano

I have been following some of the discussion on the blog No place for sheep, in part a debate over feminism, in part over freedom of speech and all because of one woman’s threat to sue another for defamation.

I am amazed at the heat that’s generated there. The language from those who comment is largely academic, or religious or occasionally a rant.

I do not feel equipped to enter into the discussion. It terrifies me. I stand in awe of Jennifer Wilson’s ability to respond to her detractors. I could not sleep at night if it were me.

The comments roll in thick and fast, as if we are on a battle field and the first line of attackers arrive only to be repelled, soon followed by the next line of attack. Of course there are many, perhaps more commenters, who are on Jennifer Wilson’s side.

It puts me in mind of the nature of conflict and how we deal with it, on line and off. I’m not so good at it myself. A fight wells up and I can feel my heart thumping, the perspiration under my arm pits shudders to the surface and my mouth goes dry.

I pitch myself back in time to my mother’s piano in the hallway of the Camberwell house. It is a tall and dark hearse-like instrument with keys made of real ivory. I think of all the dead elephants that went into the making of my mother’s piano, elephants all the way from Africa.

The name above the keys in gold lettering, ornate as a dancer, takes me to Europe in my imagination. A German name maybe, or Austrian. A name that speaks of dead composers, or ancient carpenters, cabinet makers, craftsmen, always men, who built the box that holds the sliced elephant tusks on my mother’s piano.

My mother plays Die Fledermaus. She sings along, Dutch words, military words, words that take her elsewhere back to her girlhood, back to her old life, back home to the Marnixplein where the life she leads now was still a dream, filled with hopefulness and colour, filled with the joy of her youth, her beauty and her prospects.

My mother’s voice rises above the roar of trucks along Canterbury Road. My mother’s voice rises above the cacophony of voices from the television. My father turns the dial higher and higher. The television volume goes up and up.

The house is alive with noise: my mother’s music, my father’s silent screams for attention, louder and louder and I cannot think for the noise of my parents, for the drums of war, the aeroplanes that fly over head, the bombs that drop.
We are silenced.

And all the time behind my eyes an ache swells. I don’t want to fight, I want to cry.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The white wall of my refrigerator

There is a leak from the refrigerator that appears from time to time and floods the bottom layer underneath the crisper until water spills out onto the floor. If I am not careful to catch it in time and the water pools for days it can cause the wooden parquetry under the fridge to split and buckle.

It has already happened several times and I fear that the boards will soon lift, distort and go out of place. Every morning I check for leaks.

It is only a new fridge, or relatively so. Is it a design fault? I have found this problem with other fridges before. Or is it the fault of my – I stress ‘my’ but I am not the only one who uses the fridge, the result of ‘our’ tendencies to overload?

A refrigerator repairman once told me that I should take care not to let anything touch the back wall of the fridge. This can cause the problem and certainly as long as I have remembered to pull things forward and make sure that not so much as a tomato touches the back wall the leaking is not so bad.

But it is easy to push things backwards. In fact that is the general tendency: load up the front and all the things already inside make their way to the back where eventually they come in contact with the white wall.

The sensitive white wall that cannot bear contact of any sort. The wall that prefers to remain untouched, like an autistic child who fears connection.

Now is as good a time as any to bring it up. Now is as good a time as any to talk about touch. When I rub the sorbolene cream into my mother’s legs, each time I visit her at her retirement village, I can sense the pleasure she gets from those soothing hands rubbing up and down her tired legs.

I focus on the dry bits, any small eruption of brittle skin. I focus on her heels which she tells me give her pain from time to time. These nights she can only sleep on her back. She does not turn as much as she once might because of her arthritis, because of her shortness of breath, and so her heels rub up against the sheets and over time they have become cracked and worn. I rub in extra layers of sorbolene cream and smooth it in to work against the dryness, to get the circulation flowing again.

It is a good time for conversation. It is a good time for connection but because I am the toucher and my mother the passive recipient I can feel safe and in control.

I am not so sure how I might feel were I on the receiving end. For you see, touch to me is dangerous. It exposes raw ends. It stirs up unfathomable feelings, longings, revulsions, fears. It is better therefore to stay like the refrigerator wall, to keep my distance.

I feel it whenever it comes time to say farewell to my children. Do I kiss them on the cheek as is the custom for so many loving parents? Do I give them a hug?

No, I hang back awkwardly, as if fearful of contact. If they are leaving for overseas or going away on a long trip I can overcome this hesitation and will hug them in farewell. I will also hug them on their return, but in the day to day comings and goings of our lives, I fear such intimacy.

Some people are too free with their hello/goodbye kisses, but not me. I think about them. I measure the moment.

And here my childhood mantra applies: ‘If he touches, you scream’. My sister's words ring in my head and I set my body rigid. I become the fridge wall. I brace myself for contact, as if a knife is about to slice open my skin.

The days of leaning over my father to say goodnight, to receive the scraping of his rough thumb and finger on my forehead float across my memory.

My father scraped a sign of the cross on the forehead of each of his children at bedtime. The sensation stays with me. My forehead bears the mark. The long frown mark down the centre, worn away through the years like my mother’s heels, a mark of his presence and a reminder to me to avoid touch.

My father’s yellow nicotene stained fingers, the nails clipped short and clean, the smell of his brandy charged breath, the scrape of his accented words across my ears.

‘Goodnight,’ he says in Dutch. ‘Goodnight,’ we say in English.

The thought then as we all stand awake at this moment in one another’s company: we are safe but later in the darkness when each is scattered into her own bed, when my father starts to wander the hallway and check out the rooms in search of companionship, then I freeze over and turn into the white wall of my refrigerator.

Do not touch me.

If you touch me I will burst open and leak. I will spill all over the floor. I will cause your foundations to buckle and eventually I will break down.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stuck in reverse

It happens to me all the time in dreams. I can’t get the car to go forward. As hard as I try it sticks in reverse. I can see the traffic behind me ready to catch up faster than would happen normally, given we are each travelling towards each other and there’s nothing I can do to stop my car from careering backwards.

Invariably in my dreams we do not crash. The cars approaching the back of my fast advancing car always manage to change lanes, but I am still stuck going backwards. Sometimes I can even get my car into a sort of idling position, but to get it back into forward motion is the hardest thing of all.

The roses outside my window have all turned brown and soggy. They have lost their lustre. Two weeks ago I had a visit from the local Boroondara council inspector. Someone had complained that the roses that line our front fence were a menace. We must keep them trimmed to the fence line.

We try, but it is easier said than done in this weather, especially at the moment when we have had unseasonably heavy rains. The rains and the heat send the roses into a growth frenzy.

I pruned them myself last week. I took the secateurs to all the long tendrils and chopped them off. Yesterday I noticed they were already sneaking back. Those red tender tendrils still bearing thorns just waiting to scratch the unwary passer by and send my complainant back to the council.

The Day of the Triffids comes to mind. I read it first as a school girl. Whenever strange plants pop up in our garden, my husband and I call them triffids. Dangerous things those triffids.

A 'triffid' that has sprung up in the back of our garden.

As I recall, the tendrils of the plants made people go blind. The triffids took over the world in much the same way the birds took over the world in Daphne du Maurier’s story of the same name, The Birds.

My heart shudders even now as I think back to the story which I also heard as a BBC audiotape. It was even more frightening to hear the story than to read it. I could not bring myself to see the film.

The story ends dreadfully with the whole of London overtaken by birds and only one family barely surviving, bailed up in their house while the birds, the ferocious birds of prey, peck away at the walls and windows to get in and attack the family.

These birds also go for the eyes. Birds go for eyes and heads.

In October, in springtime, I have to be careful when I hang out the washing in our back garden. The magpies swoop down and go for my head. They are trying to protect their young.

I look up and shake my fist at the sky. I tell them I am not out to hurt their youngsters and they in turn should not hurt me, but still I hear them from time to time, the long low whooshing swoop, the flap of wings.

But they have never yet made contact with my head.

As a child I often walked through what we then called the Magpie Park for the very reason I have described. A mother magpie once drew blood. I can still see the streak of red in the blond hair of the schoolgirl who had dared to take off her straw hat and left herself defenceless.

What grim thoughts I am having today. Must be a reflection of my dreams, stuck in reverse. I cannot get the car to go forward as I prepare to die.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't talk to strangers

Last Sunday morning when I let the dog out of his bedroom in the laundry after a good night’s sleep, or at least what I presumed had been a good night’s sleep, he would not come out, as is his custom.

Usually he makes straight for the cat door unprompted and goes into the garden to do his business but this morning he would not leave his bed.

When I called to him after several prompts he hobbled out. He could not put any weight on one of his front legs and it looked to be broken. He managed to limp out and then flopped on the floor.

I panicked, consulted my husband and both agreed that we would need to take him to the vet despite its being a Sunday.

I rang the Lort Smith animal centre to make an appointment. The Lort Smith is miles away in north Melbourne but they provide seven days a week attention.

I sat in a queue on the telephone, the ninth caller. I put the call on loudspeaker and had time to make a cup of tea and to bring the dog some breakfast and water which he sniffed at but declined.

I was even more worried then and went out phone in hand listening to the prompts in an effort to distract myself. I was now sixth in line in the queue. I went to get the newspaper and when I returned there was the dog on all four legs eating his breakfast.

So there you have it: an emergency that converted into almost nothing in the space of ten minutes.

We decided the dog must have slept on his foot and his leg had gone numb, as sometimes happens to us humans. He would have woken up to a numb leg or to pins and needles and it needed time for the circulation to start moving again.

What a relief. And so it is. I tell myself. I can panic so easily and sometimes the panic is quickly resolved.

I did not panic when I went to meet fellow blogger, Isabel Doyle, on Saturday at 11 am in the cafe Moravia on top of the Bourke Road hill in Camberwell, but I was a little apprehensive. My husband had walked up the hill with me for company. He joked that I might ring him if it looked as though there would be trouble, ‘If you get kidnapped or anything’.

I had told him I was off to meet a writing friend whom I had not yet met offline.
‘How will you identify her?’ he asked. Isabel had emailed to tell me she would be seated close to the front of the cafĂ© if not at an outside seat and she would be carrying a pink floppy hat.

And there on the chair at the second table as I walked in was the pink floppy hat hung over a chair like a flag, and there was Isabel.

We shook hands, not so timidly as I might have expected, but with some hesitation.

It was her accent that caught my attention first, beyond the sparkle of her eyes and a strange look of familiarity, although as far as I know I have never seen Isabel in real life not even in pictures on her blog.

Later, she asked if I had recognised her from her blog profile, a painting. Her profile features an abstract portrait and to be sure I could not recognise anyone from it, but after the event I could see similarities, something about the colours in the portrait and the lines.

They take in the dark of Isabel’s short wavy hair and the colour that seems to surround her pale skin, her bright cheeks, a white top and for me some sense of vermilion in the air, like sparks, or a fuchsia pink, maybe, the colour of her floppy hat.

I am not so good at recounting physical details, as I am at remembering her words and voice. We talked at length about Isabel’s accent, her ‘ou’ vowels that she told me her daughter, who is into linguistics, reckons gives her away. There's something of her Canadian experience, something of her British background and something Australian all rolled up in one.

For some reasons accent matters to me. The sound of Isabel's voice was charming. I could only apologise for my own broad Australian nasal twang. Long has it troubled me.

For the next two hours and twenty minutes we talked – as you do – about her life, about mine, details of which do not belong on a blog.

We were interrupted after a time by Isabel’s husband and son. They were on a mission to exchange the shirts that Isabel’s husband had bought the day before, but which were not quite the right fit.

Isabel’s son had come along for driving experience. They, too, father and son, had jokingly worried about their wife and mother being spirited away.

The idea is that it is dangerous to encounter people you meet online in person. It has become the new mantra, akin to the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ we learned as children.

I am wary but my instincts told me all would be well with Isabel, and it was. It was such a privilege to meet her and share something of our lives, our thoughts, our ideas, and our writing.

Isabel lives far from here and for this reason we will not meet except perhaps occasionally.

My time with Isabel reminds me of some of the lovely encounters I have made with women I have met at conferences. They walk into my life and then out again and we lose contact.

But at least Isabel and I have an ongoing hand shake through our respective blogs to keep our connection alive. A writer in exile who to my mind came out of exile briefly to share time with me and for this I am grateful.

We made a connection.

Friday, January 06, 2012

The optimist sees the doughnut and the pessimist sees the hole

I’ve been working on a short story for which I cannot find an ending. Why am I so bad at endings? I tend to wrap them up too neatly or leave the story dangling in mid space as if I have left it off half dressed.

I don’t like endings of any sort. I want things to be left in such a way that they can always be resumed at a later date. So for me the idea of riding off into the sunset or happily ever after does not sit well.

I suppose the ultimate ending is death and I don’t want to talk about death again, at least not for the moment. I’ve been on about death too much of late, or at least in my head I have.

My mother told me on New Years Eve that she had said a little prayer to herself, asking that she might last out 2012.
‘I can’t see why it’s not possible. I feel well. The doctor says I’m well. There's nothing wrong with me except my heart, so there’s no reason why I can’t go on.’

My mother then proceeded to tell me the story of a woman who had lived nearby in the units at her retirement village. This woman came to see my mother one day and told her about a recent visit to the doctor. The doctor had told the woman that she was in the best of health. The woman was delighted at this news and told my mother as much. The next morning her husband found the woman dead in their bed.

‘It just goes to show,’ my mother said. ‘You can never know. The doctors can’t always get it right.'

And here I am talking about death again or am I talking about something more, about the wish for certainty perhaps?

Those who visit clairvoyants and the like, are they looking for some sort of certainty? It's rather like reading your horoscope. The horoscope says today you’ll have a great day; make lots of money; meet someone fascinating; and so it goes.

We want to believe the best that’s on offer. We tend to downplay the worst, or at least many of us do. And of course, there are those others who focus on the negative.

This was always the contrast between my parents: my father’s negativity and my mother’s optimism.
'The optimist sees the doughnut and pessimist sees the hole.' This maxim I learned early in my life and it has stayed with me.

Everyone of our children is away at the moment, overseas or house-sitting or interstate and it is quiet for once in a way that I find unsettling. Perhaps that is why in my dream last night I went back in time to my life before I had children, to when I was much younger, a university student all over again and looking for accommodation.

My house is far less cluttered than it was, now after my annual Christmas clean up, but in my dream the house I occupied was full of clutter and signs of renovation.

That has to be a good sign, I think. Renovation. Hopefully I’ll go on renovating until I die, if not literally, then at least metaphorically.

It is change I look forward to and change that terrifies me. Change is the one great certainty besides death.

Nothing stands still and yet I sometimes want it to. This house for instance. It is over one hundred years old and my present family has lived in it for just over thirty. We moved into this house in 1980. We have twice renovated it and although our daughters say it’s time for another I am past such massive house renovations. The next step will be to sell it and to move into a smaller place.

Last night as I stood brushing my teeth and contemplating the silence of the place without the usual noisy clatter of other people and lights burning at all hours, I thought this place is too big for the two of us.

One day I will want to move out. Not now, not for several years, not until our youngest is past her university days and well onto a career of some sort, but relatively speaking one day, sooner in the scale of time than later.

What a task that will be, to shift out of this house that has seen so much of our lives. My children say we must never sell this house. We must always keep it, and pass it on to them, but that is unlikely to happen for all sorts of reasons, financial among them, but also, I suspect, our children will need to make homes and lives of their own.

They will have this house in their memories just as I have the houses of my childhood in my memory.

I remember the house on Wentworth Avenue best of all and my mother remembers her house on the Marnixplein. From the perspective of our memories, it no longer matters to us what happens to these houses, it matters most, for us at least, that we can remember them.

The house of my mother's memory from the inside.

My mother's room today.

Memory enables us to avoid the ending because we can repeat the scenarios over and again in our minds for as long as we like, and usually they shift closer to how we would like them to be.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The first day of the year

The Arts spire caught alight last night during the fireworks. I did not notice at the time and only realised when I read about it in the newspaper today. It seems it was not such a spectacular event but from my perch at the top of the hill overlooking the city we managed an excellent view of the fireworks as we do every year at midnight. From this distance I did not notice the flames.

We came out onto the street in the nick of time to greet our neighbours, as we do every year and this time they had company among them, one of whom Pandora introduced herself. She greeted me as sixthinline. My neighbour who follows Face Book and the like presumably alerted her to the connection.

What a surprise to greet a fellow blogger at midnight on New years Eve and she a friend of Kath’s, another blogger who has recently written about her experience of meeting a fellow blogger in person in Geneva of all places.

'Pandora' and I chatted briefly and then made our ways back into our respective lives, but for me at that moment half groggy with sleep – I had not been able to stay awake till midnight and had collapsed on the bed. My husband woke me minutes before the witching hour – I felt as if I had climbed into a still life painting on the wall or into a online version of the Sims game, which my daughters used to play in a bid to create imaginary lives.

And to think that next Saturday I shall meet another blogger, Isabel, in the flesh as it were, too spooky for words.

There are a couple of boggers I have known in real life before they started blogging and to me their identities are different. To me it’s as if they have dual identities, even so I learn more about them online than I would ever know through our shared lives.

There is a greater intimacy made possible in the blogosphere, however constructed, and for me it is as if I am reading a novel, only the characters are essentially ‘real’.

Later today my husband will collect our youngest daughter from her overnight party at Rye. I hope she is well enough. I dare not ring her yet. It is too early for young folks who must surely be sleeping in. She has just turned eighteen and has hit the world running.

Every Tuesday night many of the young folk around here go off to one of several of the local hotels and bars to drink and dance and converse and otherwise have what they consider to be a fun time.

I tend to wait up, and even after I’ve gone to bed I cannot sleep. I try not to worry but I do. Not until I hear the turning of the doorhandle and my daughter materialises do I stop my worrying.

You would think I’d be over if by now, after four such daughters, but somehow the worry only gets worse with my youngest. She seems more carefree than her older sisters who all behaved sensibly most of the time. As does my youngest, but just sometimes, the enthusiasm of her so-called freedom seems to get the better of her.

I remember myself at eighteen. I was the proverbial frump, or at least I saw myself that way. Though there was one night when I went to Canberra for my oldest brother’s wedding and at the reception met one of his friends who danced with me at the reception and then offered to give me a lift back to the caravan park where I had been staying over night with the rest of my family.

This brother, I might add, is ten years older than me. His friend was old in my mind, but ever so dashing and kind and attentive. He drove me to the top of Black mountain and we looked over the city lights. He dared not touch me, he told me then, out of resect for his friend, my brother, but he was tempted, or so he said, and for five minutes I fell in love.

All the way home to Melbourne driving down the dusty Hume Highway my heart throbbed for the love of him. I never saw the man again and have often wondered what became of him.

My brother’s marriage lasted little more than a year and he formed a new relationship. There are stories there, which are for others to tell.

My life is woven into the lives of my sisters and brothers, my early life that is, and these days it is woven into that of my children. Strangely, I feel freer by far telling the stories of my siblings than I do that of my children.

Born into such a crowd it is not surprising there are many stories to tell.

My children’s lives are in the here and now. I must respect their privacy. My siblings’ lives, or at least the ones I could describe, are in the distant past, built on memory and therefore to a large extent constructed.

I can bear to mention those. My husband is off limits too, which is why I refer to him as such and do not offer even a name.

All this disguise to protect the identities of those we love. It is necessary I suppose but there are days when I wish I could write more feely and yet in a strange way there is a freedom to this more obscure writing too, though not entirely fictional it has that quality. To me at least.

There are people like Kath, whom I mentioned earlier, who refers to her husband as ‘Love Chunks’ and gives her daughter the pseudonym, 'Sapphire'. I suspect she does so for privacy too, but Kath writes in the here and now, with authenticity and therefore presumably in honesty.

She tempers everything with her marvellous and to me Australian sense of humour, made even more hilarious at the moment because the family have decamped to Geneva and no longer live in the suburbs of Melbourne.

How do others deal with this intractable problem within the blogosphere, I wonder, with this need to reveal and simultaneously to conceal?

Today is the first day of the year and I am determined not to let the year get the better of me. I have been so grumpy of late, I must revert to my usual tolerant and cheerful ways. Grumpiness has no inherent merit and it feeds on itself.

I have three quarters filled a skip with household rubbish collected over the past thirty years, stuff that is no longer useful to anyone, and useful stuff I have shipped off to St Vinnies and the Salvos.

It’s time for a space in my mind for my writing, once I’ve finished the tax preparations which may take me days.

From my seat here it seems to have been a quiet and understated New Years Eve, apart from the spire catching alight. I hope it is so for everyone. New Years Eve can be such a manic time.

I tend to imagine dreadful things happening with all the mad partying, so that when the day arrives, the first day of the year, there is a lull and a sense of relief that no one has died and nothing too dreadful has happened.

At least I hope so. I’ve yet to hear. And then the phone rings.