Sunday, October 28, 2012

Powdered for convenience

I gave my left over yoghurt to the dog this morning and felt bad about it, as if I was casting off the best steak to the dog and should have kept it for the humans.  I’m not even sure that yoghurt is good for dogs but ours wolfs it down with such gusto I trust he knows what he’s doing.  If there’s something the dog dislikes he leaves it alone. 

If only it were so simple for us humans: to take in what’s good for us and leave the rest.  

And so begins my sermon for the day, at least that’s how it feels to me now, as if I am about to issue an edict on the importance of taking in only what’s good for you and avoiding the rest. 

Of course that’s not so easy.  

I prefer the yoghurt that my daughter tells me is not good for me because it’s full of sugar.  I’m not fussed about a little extra sugar, not at my time of life, but she is. 

For some reason yoghurt has always been a staple of mine, long since I first encountered it in the supermarket as a teenager.  Then we were told of its health bearing properties.  

Another daughter has since taken up a student job in a yoghurt shop and from her I have learned that yoghurt starts its life in that silver box with the pokie-machine type handle which she pulls down to release the liquid yoghurt, in powdered form.  

Powdered form for convenience, I presume.  Just add water. 

When I was this same daughter’s age and worked in a hospital as a social worker, I enjoyed a tub of yoghurt every lunch time.  How I longed for my yoghurt then, not just because I was hungry but because it marked a junction in the day, half way through. 

When I was a student I spent more days at home than at classes.  I lived then with my horse racing and gambling boyfriend and preferred to freeze my yoghurt to make it last longer. 

It was a lottery this business of freezing yoghurt.  I chose Ski brand despite the extra sugar, because it had the best freezing properties, but an unlucky tub could come out streaked with ice and lumpy, almost inedible.  The perfect tub came out smoothly frozen with all the creamy qualities of ice cream at its best.

I miss my passion for ice cream.  Once my favourite food.  Also a staple.  It comes to me now that ice cream and yoghurt are derivatives of milk.  Could it be my preoccupation with yoghurt and with all things milky comes out of that deep basic infantile need for milk?  Perish the thought. 

 When I was a child I marveled at the way my mother shared her food, especially the best food, the ice cream we were allowed once a week on Sunday nights after a dinner, a block of Neapolitan ice cream cut ten ways so that each of us children and my mother could have a sliver.  My father was diabetic and therefore missed out.  My father could not eat what to me then were the best foods: the sweet foods, the cakes and ice cream, the lollies and chocolate, but my mother could and yet she seemed just as happy to give them away as she did to get her share.  

I could never be so generous, I thought then.  I could never give my share away so willingly. And yet now I find it easy.  Besides the sweet things have lost their allure.  

My mother used to say similar things when I was growing up, that as you get older, your appetite changes, you want less.  This can’t be so for everyone.  Can it?  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I call for the Pied Piper

A mouse popped out from behind my chair while I sat in my consulting room last night.  In my dream this mouse was soon followed by another mouse and then by another.  They were fearless.  They cavorted on the floor between me and the woman who was consulting me.  Then one slipped out from behind the cushions in her chair.  

I should call for the Pied Piper.  

Last week, during a cleaning frenzy my youngest daughter found a dead mouse behind the piano.  It must have been there for days.  We had noticed one of the cats earlier in the week chasing after something in the laundry, but whatever it was had hidden under the fridge and so I presumed it had escaped. 

Lo and behold, it showed up dead behind the piano, at least I assume this was the one.  Then last night I noticed another of the cats under the bench at the far end of the kitchen in stalking mode, but I ignored her.  

When I went to bed  I came across a small dead mouse in the middle of the hallway. Presumably, the one the cat had targeted earlier.  I followed my husband’s lead when he disposes of dead animals. I took two plastic bags, one inside the other, and picked the thing up trying hard not to notice too much how it felt.  I disposed of it in the outside bin.  Maybe I should have buried it but then I'd have needed to look at it again.  

It's no wonder mice came into my dreams last night.

It’s spring here in Melbourne, the warm weather is on the rise though we have had several cold days.  Mice seem to thrive at this time of the year.  Maybe they plan to leave their inside cubby holes for the outside.  Our cats are good at catching them. 

But psychically in my dream, what do these mice mean?  Could they be anything like the million little things I have in the back of my mind to which I must attend? 

There’s an account from the computer fellow who helped reinstate our printer that arrived on line rather than in the post?  I must print it off before I can pay it. 

I do not go in for online banking as much as I should.  I prefer the old fashioned way, the cheque in the envelope.  I know it is outdated to use this method.  I could pay all my bills on line and although I have done this now a few times I still feel uncomfortable with this method.  I am a luddite. 

I have several writing projects on the boil, writing that needs my attention but life gets in the way. 

Tomorrow we drive up to Healesville to scatter the ashes of my brother in law who died earlier this year.  I had wanted to wait till Christmas time till we could find a day of some significance but we could not decide on such a day and my husband’s sisters who are largely responsible for this event are keen to scatter their brother's ashes now in the mountains behind Healesville where he once enjoyed his happiest times. 

 The day should be fine enough.  There is something special and important in scattering ashes but the thing that plays on my mind is the decision we made a week or so ago that our youngest daughter, who is learning to drive, will drive my car into Healesville as a first foray into country driving. 

These days, in Victoria at least, young people must clock up some 120 hours driving experience before they are eligible to go for their license.  They must account for the hours in a log book, and include all varieties of driving conditions, in rain, at night and twilight, by day and dawn, on freeways, on country roads, in the city and on gravel.  So far she has clocked up some 93 hours but most of it has been in the city and suburbs. 

This will be our first attempt to move further afield, and although I tell myself I should not feel nervous, I do. 

I imagine I am not so unusual in this preoccupation with the things that lie immediately ahead of me, the things that play on my mind and skip into my consciousness from time to time like mice, annoying me and bothering me.  They eat away at my confidence and I tick away the days until each task is completed.  I’ll be glad when that’s over, I say to myself.  It has long seemed to me an appalling way to live one’s life, ticking away events like so many tedious chores.  

It’s not always like that though.   There are also the pleasurable events, the ones to which I look forward, the ones I want to arrive sooner, but they go so quickly and all that is left is the pleasant tingle of memory. 

I had one such experience last Wednesday when I finally came to wear that floppy hat in my graduation.  At the time, although I had so looked forward to this event, it did not seem so special, but now in retrospect I look back on it with enormous pleasure. 

And still I'm no closer  to making sense of all those mice?  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Trespassers will be prosecuted

‘You’re not living up to our standards ,’ I said to my sister as we walked together to school.  Up Cox Street through Robross and onto Centre Dandenong Road.  The traffic whizzed past.

My sister’s school bag flapped at her side , but with her free hand she reached out and grabbed my hat.  Up and over the fence into the nearest yard.  I could see my hat through the fence slats caught in the branches of a rose bush.

‘Look what you’ve done,’ I wailed.  ‘Go and get it.’
‘No way,’ she said.  ‘Get it yourself.’ 
‘But it’s trespassing.’  This much I knew: to go uninvited into someone else’s territory was against the law.  Trespassers will be prosecuted.

My sister was already bad.  She had written on the central blackboard at school, two letters that defaced Mother Xavier’s orderly list, headed by the single word MARKS.

Marks for order, for punctuality, for application and the big one, worth five points, marks for deportment.
My sister had added the two letters ‘re’ to the word marks, ‘remarks’ and Mother Xavier had summoned the entire school to find the culprit.  Can you imagine my shame when my sister finally put up her hand?

She lost her shield: two full marks for deportment, ten points, and took a letter home to our mother.
Our poor mother, overburdened with trying to find the money to pay our school fees and here was my sister abusing the privilege.

‘You go and get my hat,’ I said again, but my sister had shot off ahead.
‘You’ll miss the train,’ she called back.

I had no choice then but to break the law. I slipped the latch on the gate, fearful of every creak.  I slid up the pathway and hunched my shoulders.  I had a plan.

If anyone came out I would apologise and tell them the wind had blown my hat over their fence.  No matter there was no wind.  I could see a television screen flickering through the scrim curtains in the front room.  The rumble of noise.

I snatched my hat off the bush and ran for it.
‘Don’t you ever do that again, or I’ll report you to the prefects,’ I said to my sister. 
‘And I’ll report you for not wearing your hat.’

And so it goes, sibling rivalry at its best.  

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The black virgin

There are bodies lying face down in the river, black bodies face down in the river, three, five, ten of them, some bobbing close to the shore, others further from the edge, almost as if someone has laid out a raft of black boulders across the surface of the river, stepping stones that I might glide across to get from one side to the other.  But I am too terrified to move.

I lean against the curved trunk of a river gum branch that throws itself across the water and try to hide even as I catch glimpses of the naked bodies floating down the river.  Their long wavy hair and slender outlines suggest to me that they are women, young women, all of them I know have somehow been raped first then tossed aside to drown in the river. 

This is my dream.  I who live in the south eastern corner of Australia and rarely if ever catch sight of a full blown aboriginal, I dream of their massacre.

 Landscape typical of my dream without the water. 

Among the many times when we left home to escape my father’s drunken outbursts there was a time when we stayed in my older brother’s flat in Hawthorn.  He left for work early in the morning to his job with a commercial printer and we four kids, we middle children, had to fend for ourselves for the day. 

There were many such days in my childhood memory, days when we had nothing to do, no plans, no money, no home base from which to move, stuck in someone else’s house where we were required to amuse ourselves with books or card games, or conversation and walks nearby. 

We should not eat too much - a single sandwich for lunch, a cup of tea.  My brother’s cupboard was that of a single bachelor who cared little for eating at home.

The flat was situated in an old red brick house, split level, one step down to an old linoleum kitchen.  I spent part of my time walking up and down between the kitchen and living room examining the few objects my brother possessed.  

He had carved a head out of a lump of wood, his own head like a death mask, a self portrait. 

There was also a book, with whose title I associate my dream, Bony and the Black Virgin.  On the back cover I read she was a ‘lubra’, this black virgin.  The word virgin had long troubled me, a word from religion, the blessed virgin, a word that had a hands off feel though I still did not know what it meant other than that it suggested someone young, a young woman. 

How did someone lose her virginity? I wondered.  Was it like losing your purse, or your train ticket, or something else that might be important as a means of getting about in the world? 

I had none of these things to begin with.  We had stolen our way here on the train, avoided buying a ticket because we did not have enough money and I had no money to put in a purse let alone owned a purse that could hold money.  

How could I even find my virginity enough to one day lose it?