Sunday, August 30, 2015

'I could'a been a contender'

My husband has gone back to sharpening knives.  Not for their murderous properties, but for the sheer beauty he finds in the smooth knife-edge, the blade that can cut a swathe through the hairs on his arm. 

I find it almost unbearable to watch, the blade so sharp it could splice a single hair. 

My husband pulled out several of his sharpening stones the other day for the purpose of washing them down in readiness for use.  They form part of his collection.  Several dull coloured blocks of fine pressed stone against which he rubs each knife blade. 

My husband also has a sharpening wheel in the workshop outside, his go-to sharpening stone when friends or relatives come round with their small collection of kitchen knives, blunted from too much use. 

My husband likes to relax at the wheel and move the blade up and down the surface of the round stone, as it turns slowly with a steady flow of water dripping over its surface. 

I do not understand my husband’s passion for knives other than the passion of one who likes to collect things.  Who likes to have in his possession an example of every variety of knife available: cooks knives, paring knives, fish knives, bread knives, Japanese and German knives, pocket knives and cleavers. 

Many of these knives we use, others lie tucked away, hidden at the bottom of drawers and wrapped in tea towels or swathes of calico cloth. 

Recently, my husband came across a man who makes knives for a living, a blacksmith of sorts, who forges his blades to your specifications. 

The knives come back in rustic form, without handles, unless you pay extra.  But they are good knives, heavy to hold and excellent for all manner of food preparation. 

When we go away for a holiday, it is not unusual for my husband to take along a couple of knives from our kitchen.  Even when we stay with friends, he does not trust the quality of their knives for cooking and so he brings his own. 

Besides his love of knives, my husband has multiple interests – woodturning, book binding, jewellery making, photography, genealogy, gardening, coin collecting, cooking and preserving – which I pitch against my one obsession, writing. 

It puts me in mind of my father, his passion for activities beyond home, not that he was passionate about home.  My father collected books, and photography equipment.  He had dreams of building a yacht in our back yard and bought books on the subject. 

He wanted to make something of himself. 

Who does not want to make something of themselves?  And who does not suffer disappointment in the struggle.

I thought of these words in the shower this morning as I pondered the fate of my would-be book: Marlon Brando’s words from On the Waterfront,
‘I coulda been a contender’. 

Yesterday, I met a young woman who will help me to transfer this blog into a Wordpress blog. 

I don’t know whether I dare say this out loud in case the people who currently host my blog, the people at blogspot will object.  Not that there are people behind these ventures, real flesh and blood people who can read these words and object to my infidelity. 

There are matrix like operations behind the scenes that control these processes, I suspect, owned by someone, but I do not understand the workings of these things and therefore have enlisted the help of the technologically savvy. 

I started this blog in 2006.  My young assistant remarked on this, as if it were a long time to be blogging.  As if it were a strange thing to continue on such a path instead of moving onto something new. 

I think again of my husband’s interests.  When one starts to lose its allure he can move onto another, and back again.  

There’s diversity there.

But my passion is relentless.  It does not shift, except perhaps in its content. 

There’s always something different to write about, and yet I am fearful these days of almost every word I write, in case it offends someone. 

The thought police are loud in my head.  ‘How can you say that?’  How dare you utter such things out loud?

Do all children learn this?  This business of keeping things to yourself, this business of holding thoughts inside for fear of offending someone. 

Lately, I find myself trying to be more circumspect.  At meetings with colleagues, I try to ‘hold my tongue’. 

Another of those expressions from when I was a child and learned to hold my tongue, but it takes such an effort. 

Virginia Woolf writes about ‘a finger held to the lips’, a sense that we must not speak the unspeakable. 

Cut a knife through it. 

Stop this now. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A change of face

In not too many weeks, I will be revamping this blog.

I will give it a new lease on life by transferring to Wordpress.

I hope you will recognise me when I get my hair cut as it were, when I change my wardrobe, when I get this makeover, but it will still be the same me underneath.

From this:

To this:

To this:

To this:

And the future identity as it evolves.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The battle of the thermostat

Our visitor from Germany completed the 500-piece jigsaw puzzle last night and I resented her for it.  

She’s a wizard with jigsaws.  The rest of us are slow.

I’ve tried to make her welcome.  She is welcome but the difficulties of having another person stay for several months trickles down into unspoken and trivial resentments, such as who gets to finish the jigsaw. 

It’s a tough jigsaw, a lion’s head – the Lion King – floating in the sky above a thin line of African wilderness with one tree on the horizon and some lion cubs and mother lion on a hill, against a golden sinking sun and topped off by a purple star filled night sky at the top. 

There are too many pieces that lack intricate detail.  Therefore to complete this jigsaw you rely on shape. 

People approach jigsaws in different ways.  Some go for the internal details and build up a patchwork within, while others create the frame.  

I’m a frame person, which surprises me because it suggests I aim to get structure into place before I tackle the internal detail, when I have long considered myself a small detail person who can’t be too fussed about the bigger picture.

Ever since my mother died I’ve felt the cold.  As if I've taken her place.  She who taught me empathy in her identifications with me when as a small girl I ran around in a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of winter and she pleaded with me to dress more warmly.
‘It makes me cold to look at you’. 

And now I feel cold, even as I battle with our guest over the temperature of this house.  Even as I prefer to maintain a temperature level that’s neither too hot, nor too cold, I have this urge to tell her, when she complains yet again about the cold, 
‘Put on a jumper.’

Heating in Australian houses is not as effective as heating in European houses, she tells us. 

Our houses even with proper central heating do not adjust well to the vagaries of the weather. 

I prefer the thermostat to sit around 18 degrees Celsius.  That’s the most energy efficient temperature, the gasman who maintains our central heating unit told me. 

And yet, some unknown person turns it up as high as 23 degrees and I begin to swelter. 

I turn it down, and because it’s not my husband who turned it up and my daughter upstairs essentially leaves the thermostat alone, I can only assume …

I suspect I do not say anything about this, in part because I am reluctant to be seen as mean. 

That mean old coot, I hear you say.  She’s tight on the temperature.  She doesn’t want to waste fuel. 

It’s true, and although others who are concerned about excess energy consumption might back me, I still feel mean. 

I reckon part of the problem has to do with control.  As long as I’m the one who dictates the temperature, it feels okay for me, even if it’s low. 

I can always put it up higher if I decide it’s too cold. 

To be the other person, the one who is a guest and has no say in the temperature other than to remark on its being cold and to hope for the best, there’s a helplessness about it, and maybe a sense that things feel colder than they are.

Many years ago, one winter when my husband worked for the commonwealth government as a public servant, there was a disruption to the heating and cooling system. 

Staff protested, but there was little they could do, other than to wear warm jumpers and singlets under their suits. 

To make a point, my husband wore his dressing gown over his suit.  It was one of those Japanese/smoking jacket styled dressing gowns in green silk with a black trim.  My husband looked like an emperor. 

It’s an idea.  Keep your coat on or your dressing gown. 

Nothing irks me more than folks who like to heat their houses to tropical temperatures in winter so they can run around in their t-shirts as if it’s summer. 

But that’s what they do in Europe, I’m told.  They wear layers and build them up to go outside and then peel them off for the great indoors. 

It all depends on the location of the thermostat.  

Ours is located centrally in the warmest corner of the house.  It cuts off when it gets to temperature and leaves the living area that’s south facing and filled with windows, freezing. 

It’s too big a space to try to heat unless you kick the thermostat up to 25 degrees, which I refuse to do and so our house is much like the houses of my childhood, where the lounge room in the centre of the house with its oil heater burning brightly was warm, while the rest of the house was like ice. 

Maybe we need an upgrade of our heating system, to one that’s more energy efficient, or else we might puddle along as we do now, running from room to room, depending on the temperature we want for comfort.

At worst, we can crawl under the blankets in our bedrooms while our house takes shape as a temperature jigsaw puzzle.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The joys of smoking

One of the cats is limping and I fear she’s hurt herself.  But when we take a closer look at the paw she protecting, there’s no sign of damage. 

I’m slow to visit the vet, given the cat appears to be pain free, despite her limp which is becoming less pronounced, and at the same time I think of my shame at not being one of those pet owners who races off to the vet the moment their beloved animal shows the slightest sign of ill health. 

I’m the same with my children – slow to respond – unless they are obviously ill and in a way that suggests a doctor’s attention is necessary. 

Does it go back to my childhood when a visit to the doctor was almost unheard of?  My mother used to go, in my memory in relation to women’s business, mostly to do with the making of and the aftermath of having babies. 

Otherwise, we stayed away from doctors, and my father attended to broken bones and the like, as when my sister fell out of a tree. 

My sister told me later, how our father had made a makeshift splint on her leg and left her to a sleepless and pain filled night before he decided this one was too much for him and she was off to the hospital for a plaster cast. 

In the back of my mind, I have thoughts of visiting both the doctor and the periodontist and neither thrills me. 

The doctor for a pap smear.  That event happens every two years and for me ever since I was 21 years old or thereabouts when I first entered into a sexual relationship. 

Forty years of pap smears, you’d think I’d get used to it.  The speculum, the cold thrust, the doctor’s gentle hands.  

I only go to women doctors these days for pap smears but in my early twenties it was only possible to see male doctors and I tried not to let it bother me. 

Until I met my husband, I did not have a regular GP but followed him into his GP’s surgery to see a Doctor John Pettit, a kind man who’d have been in his forties when I first met him. 

He smoked cigarettes in the surgery, which even then came as a surprise to me.  I was still smoking, too, as was my husband, but somehow we were on that initial wave of people who knew smoking was dangerous and needed to be abandoned if you wanted to live to a ripe old age. 

Even after my husband and I finally managed to stop smoking – more easily because I’d discovered I was pregnant and no longer craved cigarettes – though I still dreamed of smoking. 

I kept it in my mind that if something bad happened, something worse than death itself, I could always go back to smoking, and would not care. 

It became my default position, rather like my thought when I finally finished my work at the Southern Memorial Hospital’s Community Care Centre as a social worker and moved into part time private practice as a therapist after I had that first baby, I could always go back to being a social worker if all else failed.

For years, it was a comfort to me, that thought, both thoughts: that I could resume social work and take up smoking again if everything else became impossible. 

But it’s never happened, and these days I have no desire to smoke whatsoever, though sometimes I enjoy the smell of someone else’s cigarettes, unlike my husband who is one of those serious anti-smokers, despite his past. 

As for social work, I doubt I could get a job as a social worker any more. I resigned from the social work association about thirty years ago and no longer feel that way inclined. 

It occurs to me, I often have a default position in my head, a place or a person or a thing to which I can revert, when all else fails.  

Once upon a time, it included ex-lovers, the men I’d rejected, not the ones who rejected me.  And now I’ve moved beyond that. 

No more default positions for me, other than the occasional fantasy of winning Tattlslotto – not that I ever enter it – or of finding a publisher for my book. 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Long, striated and with sharp edges

We have a pot bound tub of mother-in-law’s tongue in our back yard, which has toppled over in the wind. 

Strange, given the plant is so heavy that the wind has dislodged it or maybe its upended state has more to do with the number of fronds.  The pot has lost its centre of gravity. 

There it sits on its side like a beached whale or a creature otherwise out of its natural habitat. 

My husband tells me they named this plant after mother in laws and their tongues because each leaf is long and striated with sharp edges.

Why do mother in laws get such bad press? 
Why does the term itself evoke a shudder? 

Maybe it’s the ‘in law’ quality of it that adds to a sense of distance, a sense that mothers in law are difficult people, people to keep at a distance, people with sharp tongues. 

Fathers in law don’t cop it in the same way.  There’s no plant called father in law’s tongue.  Why then this generalised expression to evoke criticism and awe? 

Mind you, my mother in law left me cold. 

The first day I met her, I was in my early twenties, not long after I had met my husband to be.  In those days it was still considered risqué for young people to share a bed before marriage and my husband and I began sharing our bed from the night we met. 

After a week, my husband to be asked me to spend a few days camping with him in Mansfield.  His uncle owned a farm there, and attached to the farm in some outer field there was an unoccupied shepherd’s hut, which this uncle had said we could use instead of tents. 

I had so enjoyed the company of this young man, my husband to be – though I did not know this then – it seemed a reasonable proposition we go off camping. 

My husband to be in those days lived in a share house in Camberwell. I lived with my sister in Caulfield. 

On the day of the trip, I drove my car to my husband to be’s house with my bag of clothes and together we collected bits and pieces from his shared house for the three nights of living it rough. 

On the way to Mansfield, we took a detour through Croydon to collect some pots and pans for cooking from my husband to be’s family home. 

We did not discuss beforehand the notion that I would meet my mother in law to be for the first time and I wandered into the house, unprepared. 

Perhaps my husband to be had hoped his mother would not be home – an unusual expectation given she rarely moved outside of the house.

Sure enough, there she was at the kitchen sink, her favourite place, near to the stove where she spent her days cooking biscuits and cakes, which she piled into tins and stored in the fridge for whenever visitors came by. 

My husband to be introduced me as a friend to his mother.  She put out a thin hand and offered a half smile.  She seemed to size me up and down, perhaps pleased to see her son in the company of a young woman.  He had been in the company of other women before me and these relationships had not worked out. 

‘We’re going to Mansfield to camp in Uncle Joe’s hut,’ my husband said to his mother.  He might as well have told her we were off to rob a bank. 

The look on her face, and I knew it instantly.  Her face became that of a mother in law in stereotype: slits for eyes, a knitted forehead and clenched chin. 

She said nothing, as she dragged out the old pots from the back of her ovenware cupboard, but it was clear she disapproved. 

To the day she died, her disapproval continued, but it was met with my own, given I took sides with my husband who had not had an easy time with his mother.  This woman who burned her son’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover; this woman who told her son he would never be as good or as great a man as the parish priest; this woman who told her son he was too difficult by half. 

No wonder then, my mother in law should disapprove of me, too.  My husband to be and I were accomplices in crime who lived in sin.  

Today, I am the age of my mother in law when we first met.  I have one son in law already and another joining the ranks next year.  Two other potential sons in law hover on the sidelines. 

What sort of mother in law will I make?