Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Travel and Holiday Tips to Self

Insights gained on my recent trip to Melbourne (in winter) – some of which insights have been gained in the past too, and then forgotten! So I thought it was high time to record them.

Do take your laptop! The combination of your iPad and borrowing your host's computer when it's not in use will get you by, but will lack ease and grace.


Don't take any clothes that are just a little tight. You WILL put on weight on holiday. Even if you don't – if you are somewhere cold, the extra layers of clothing will have the same effect.


You only need one set of jewellery, which you will wear all the time (just as you do at home). At most, take one extra set of posher pieces for grand occasions in case any of those should happen – not a diverse range for all manner of other possibilities, most of which will never eventuate. Remember, you'll be seeing different people. Only your nearest and dearest, if you are staying with them, or the hotel staff as the case may be, will see you wear the same earrings every day, and they won't care.


If you are going somewhere cold enough that you'll need to wear gloves whenever you go out, it is absolutely useless to pack your hugest knuckle-duster rings.


Do leave some room in your suitcase. You will acquire more stuff to bring home than you left with, even if you are sure you won't. If you do manage to resist buying anything at all, there are still the items kind people will unexpectedly give you, which it would be rude to refuse. (Besides, you might want them.)


You don't need more than two pairs of shoes, one serviceable and one fancy, and one pair of slippers.


You do need as many undies and socks as you can cram in, if the washing is likely to take days to dry.

If you forget to pack something you'll need, remember that other places also have shops.

Have spaces in your itinerary for quiet chill-out days to recharge your batteries. Have things to do on such days (of course you will travel with your e-reader).

Everyone should have a hand-held shower nozzle, even if they are not elderly or infirm – however, few people do. (I don't know how they can bear to forego such comfort and convenience! It must be that they just don't know any better.)

You will manage to leave something behind when you go back home. You will also manage to permanently lose one or two items. Shrug it off! C'est la vie.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Books from Melbourne: 2




From City Basement Books

The Book of Francois Villon: The Little Testament and Ballads, translated into English verse by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Payne.

I have two copies of Villon at home, but I like this translation better than either. Not that I have ever read the original, but when you look at who the translators of this edition are, perhaps that explains it. There is also an introductory essay by H. De Vere Stacpoole. and on the facing page a poem on Villon by Andrew Lang. Swinburne, too, has written a poem about Villon, which is included after Stacpoole's essay. So many famous men of letters! These poems seem to me to flow more naturally than other translations. The publication date is 1914 and the language is of that time, yet is readily understandable today. 

Bellbirds: A poem by Henry Kendall with watercolours by John Caldwell.

The poem was first published in 1869. This beautiful illustrated edition from Angus & Roberston appeared in 1982. What a treasure! What a find! For non-Aussies, the back cover blurb tells it best. And for everyone, a sample of the illustrations.





medium security by Louise Wakeling

Louise Wakeling, the book tells me, is a Sydney poet, teacher, freelance editor and novelist. I knew the name but not the work. The book looked far too interesting to pass up, and now that I'm dipping into it I'm glad I got it. There's plenty to like, not least her poems of place, including some about places near where I live (albeit written before 3002). But as I'd best stick to a short piece here, this is a place I know only through the poet's words: 



As It Was by Bruce Beaver

Yet another Australian poet, an award-winning and very highly regarded one, who lived from 1928 to 2004. He was also a novelist, but I didn't know he had written a memoir of his early life. This is it, in both verse and prose. I'm looking forward to a lovely read; and I sometimes think that if I ever succeed in writing a memoir, it might have to be partly in verse, so it will be interesting to see how this one works. (Some of the lines have been numbered by a previous reader, mostly in pencil, a few in biro. I'll rub out the pencil very gently, and for the ink I'll send foul thoughts to the person whose name is written in the same hand on the inside cover.)

archly and mehitabel / archy's life of mehitabel by don marquis 

I was brought up on these gems. I have one at home, but it's a long time since I looked at it. I think it's the first but I'm not quite sure. So I will have a duplicate, but no matter; it will make a great gift for someone. For those who don't know, archy is a cockroach and his friend mehitabel is a cat, and archy tells their story by jumping on the keys of Don Marquis's typewriter at night while the writer is asleep. (Hence no upper case letters as he couldn't be in two places at once.) Just as well it was before the days of computers or we might never have known these two charming characters!

Amongst the Graffiti: Haiku by Janice Bostock

Janice Bostock was a world-renowned Australian haiku writer. The book has a foreword by her equally famous mentor and friend William Higginson. Both have now passed away, but this book was published in 2003, around the time I first (briefly) met Janice Bostock, who happened to live in the same region as me. I also encountered her later on MySpace, where she kindly tried to mentor me as I began attempting haiku. Unfortunately we couldn't get the technology to do what we wanted. So I never did really get to know her, but became very well aware of her work, which was highly acclaimed and rightly so. She was innovative, exploring both one-line and occasionally four-line haiku, and was among the first to recognise that Japanese and English syllables are very different, so that short/long/short lines (when using three) are preferable to 5/7/5 English syllables. This book is illustrated with her own pen-and-ink illustrations, which have an Oriental feel. She was a prolific poet, author of many books. I'm thrilled to have found this one.





A gift from my friend Linda

Kin, by Anne Elvey



When I stayed with my old friend Linda Stevenson recently, she gave me a signed copy of this recent, acclaimed book of poetry. She knows the author in real,life; I know her online and had seen some glowing reviews which made me think I'd like to read this book. Yes, it's beautiful poetry. The language is very spare and economical, yet the effect is by no means sparse. This is poetry of depth and resonance, with much craft and no pretension. See for yourselves! One, about the suspension bridge over the Cataract Gorge in Launceston, Tasmania, takes me straight back to childhood -- she is speaking me; me then. However, I'll give you this short piece which says so much in so few words:






Thursday, August 27, 2015

Indulging My Vice: Books I Got In Melbourne

I'm on holiday. That's when you get yourself little treats, right? 

I was in town. I went with Jennie Fraine to say hello to Kris Hemensley at Collected Works bookshop. And, as you do, I cast my eye over his wondrous collection of poetry. This is a shop that exists for poetry! I found four little treasures, things of magical beauty, small and light enough to take home easily on the plane. The total price shocked me a bit. I have been spoilt by the price of ebooks. But I didn't flinch. I haven't had to spend much on myself this trip, thanks to my generous family, and these books are undoubtedly worth it. 

I asked Kris if by any chance he might have a copy of The Book of Bellerive. I inherited my Dad's cherished copy, which I foolishly lent years later to someone who lost it! Bellerive was the pen-name of a now long-dead Australian poet who was our version of the famed Scotsman McGonaghal -- so bad he was good. He used to get published in The Bulletin, even. The lines I still recall came from a poem about weevils: 'those jumpers, white jumpers / whom live in old cheese.' Of course Bellerive was a very serious poet; it was everyone else who found him funny. I love whimsy, shaggy dog stories, satire, absurdity  ... of course I love him too!

If I were to find a copy nowadays it would probably cost a heap. But Kris had not heard of him, and I suppose few have by now. However he suggested I try City Basement Books, a really good second-hand bookshop. So next time I was in town, I dragged my son David in there and went straight to the poetry shelves (in this shop as small a section as in most book shops; *sigh*.) I didn't really expect to find it, and I didn't. Nor did the  woman at the counter when she did a computer search. I did, however, find other treasures I couldn't pass up -- and David kindly bought them for me. This time I got seven, and being second-hand the total cost was little more than half the ones from Collected Works. I still went for small, light volumes, but most not quite so slim as the first lot. I MUST NOT add anything else to my luggage! It was only just under maximum weight when I left home.

And these are the treasures I found --

From Collected Works:



haiku waterfront city, by marina scott and patsy m. bush

I hadn't heard of this poet. Exquisite, perfect, contemporary urban haiku. The prints illustrating them are just right too. And the format of this tiny black-and-white book is also just right: one haiku per page with accompanying print on facing page. It's a gem, a joy. We are told the haiku were 'written at - sushi, ramsays, geelong hospital cafeteria, cafe go, the chocolate room, dish, cafe on the common, and wesley church, johnstone park, and at home'. The women describe their book as 'a text and image celebration of their waterfront city, geelong, australia'. It makes me want to revisit and rediscover Geelong. Above all, it gives me pleasure in itself.




A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. 

One Dylan Thomas work I didn't know before. I bought it thinking I would read it and then pass it on to a grand-daughter. I read it fast and decided to keep it. I like to treat myself to beautiful language. I'll be re-reading. It's childhood tales but they are poetry too. Dylan's Thomas couldn't write without making poetry. The little woodcuts add an extra touch of magic.



Still Life and other poems by Suzanne Edgar

Intriguing, well crafted poems by an Australian poet I'd vaguely heard of long ago, whose work I had not encountered. She is accomplished in both free and formal verse; sometimes tragic, sometimes funny. The language is simple and clear, yet she uses it in ways that create striking effects and can seem lush and rare. This I may give away, to someone I know will appreciate it too, but I'm glad to have read it. On the other hand, it has a haunting quality and I've already re-read it several times, so perhaps I'll keep it.



eMailing flowers to Mondrian, by Alan Loney and Max Gimblett

A fascinating book! It is poems made from parts of emails between Loney (poet) and Gimblett (artist) when they were working on a volume called Mondrian's flowers, a long poem with pictures published by a New York publisher in 2002. I dare say that would be an expensive book and I'm sure it would be a very beautiful one, but I can't find any record of it still being in print, let alone for sale. Meanwhile, the Melbourne-published book I have is beautiful too. There are two wonderful roses by way of illustration, and the words are delectable. I am not always certain which man wrote which words, and in the end it doesn't matter; it all comes together as one whole poem. But it is in sections, each given its own page. Any of them would be good to quote, so, opening at random, I give you this (you might need to zoom in):



And from City Basement Books -- look for my next post.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Travel Tales and Observations: Under Difficulties

I am waiting to fly to Melbourne from the Gold Coast. The plane I'll take has just landed, its incoming passengers beginning to disembark, trickling through the Arrivals door.

Things you recognise because you've been there -- an elderly couple holds hands, conversing naturally; I see that realły she is leading him by the hand. Either mentally or physically, he cannot manage by himself. Also, they are used to this and have adapted.

The next elderly couple I see, he's pushing her in a wheelchair. She looks alert but frail. He looks handsome, fit and assured despite the grey hairs. They both have an air of elegance. 

A  middle-aged couple emerges now. Again, the woman holds the man's hand, leading him; but also he taps with his white-tipped stick. He is blind.

Others are using walking sticks. (Mine is folded in my bag, only for emergencies.) Two different women have those great big knee-length padded boots, 'moon boots', strapped on one leg, denoting injury or operation.

Wonderful how we all get around despite these hindrances. They haven't stopped us from getting into aeroplanes and flying from one city to another, traversing the country.

On board, I find myself seated next to the wheelchair lady and her husband. I have to squeeze past them to get to my window seat (because of course they were ushered on board first; wheelchairs go to the head of the queue). He steps out into the aisle to let me through. She stands and pushes herself back as far as she can against her seat. 'She's hurt her leg,' he explains, and I realise the wheelchair isn't a permanent fixture. I see that one thin leg is twisted even further back out of my way. I manage not to bump it.

Her hair is improbably curled and golden, just the right degree of artfully tousled. From a distance it had looked beige; up close it shines with rich, deep glints. I decide it has to be a wig. Sitting next to her so closely, I see no obvious place of joining, yet her thin neck looks as if it must have wisps of grey hair concealed beneath the perfectly coiffed gold.     

I note the details of that 'air of elegance' I'd observed earlier. The gold circlets in her ears are not the usual fine hoops; they are small in diameter but thick and chunky, as if someone had taken actual bars of gold and curved them. There are several bright gold rings on her fingers too, some with diamonds, in conservative, traditional designs. Her grey pant-suit and leopard-print scarf have an understated chic. 

During the flight, apart from some polite murmurs, we barely converse. We both read. The man, on the other side of her, rests in his own thoughts. 

As we begin the descent into Melbourne, she takes a lipstick out of her handbag, in one of those exquisitely decorated metal lipstick cases with mirror. She paints her mouth the perfect shade of mulberry to complement her scarf and hair. I can't help myself. 'What an elegant lady you are!' I tell her. 'I hope you don't mind me saying.' 

She gives a slight smile. 'One does one's best.' Then, the smile widening, 'I'm 81.' 

'No!' I say, meaning it, and suddenly we are in conversation about the fact that she and he have just come back from a trip overseas, and are now travelling to Melbourne for a funeral after the sudden death of a dear friend.

I murmur condolences, pause, then ask where they went overseas. Ireland and Spain, I learn; in Ireland they were visiting family. 'Two countries I haven't been to ... yet,' I say, then tell her why I am going to Melbourne: a big family reunion with my foster-son and his wife, who live in Switzerland and have not been back to Australia for nine years.  

Only later it occurs to me to wonder if the man is her son rather than her husband. He is slightly plump, his white hair receding, but seems vigorous. I wouldn't have put him anywhere near 80 – but I wouldn't have picked her for that age either, despite the slimness which makes her look frail. 

I lose sight of them when we disembark, but then as I'm about to take the down escalator to the baggage claim area, I see them awaiting the lift, she in her wheelchair again and he pushing. We wave goodbye merrily, like old friends.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

And Then There Was One, Part 3

Already, kind people are asking if I will get another cat. No I won't, and not because of any feeling that no other cat can possibly replace the one I've lost.  Of course no cat can replace any other; they are all individuals. But I have learned by now that I can love each one with all my heart.

Guinivere and Isolda, Ishtar and Sam, Freya and Levi – beautiful cats all, each with their own unique personality. Guinivere was the smartest of the lot, so intelligent and aware that I used to say she must have been human in her last life or would be in her next. Isolda and Ishtar were gentle, pretty girls who never gave a moment's trouble, but much joy. Sam and Freya were both highly assertive, highly intelligent, and devoted to me despite some power struggles. And Levi was basically cheerful and cruisy but also incredibly sensitive, an intrepid explorer with a learned timidity following some adventures that didn't turn out so well. It seemed he was intent on using up all his nine lives before he finally died!




I realise, now that it is past, how stressful it was looking after him in his final months. He had arthritis for many years, following an adventure with a fence and a torn ligament. Later he developed kidney disease. Though these things were well controlled, I was constantly concerned for his wellbeing and vigilant to his needs. I didn't even realise how much until it abruptly became unnecessary.

And before that, a year ago, I was looking after a sick and dying Freya. And two years prior to that I was carer to my darling husband as he became more and more incapacitated and eventually passed away. In fact, in his case and in Levi's, the extra care started happening some years previously. I was only too happy to do what I could for all my family, and distressed that I couldn't do more than was humanly possible. Now, however, I feel it's time to focus on looking after me.

That of course cuts both ways. You could set your clock by Levi and Freya. Now I have no-one to remind me when it's lunch-time. Looking after me without their help will require some self-discipline!

In any case, I'm 75. I'm getting too old to be certain I could meet a new pet's needs adequately into its own old age.

Then there's the wild life. I would not originally have got a cat after moving to this part of the world. It was only that Levi and Freya's first owner had to leave an abusive relationship fast, and we offered temporary respite to her, her daughter, their puppy and their cats. She found a new home for herself and her daughter but wasn't allowed pets. A friend was glad to take the puppy. By that time we'd had the two young cats for a fortnight. No-one else seemed to want them. 'I've been catless too long,' I said to Andrew. 'You couldn't possibly split them up,' he said. And so, after vowing to have none, I had two for 16 and 17 years respectively. I don't regret a minute of it – and I still don't think a cat is a good idea here.

Not only that, but the Abbott Government has brought in new laws to control the feral cat population. That's a good thing – except that it can also be applied to any domestic pets found outside. But now I no longer have to worry about a cat of mine falling foul of that law, and I am very happy to keep it that way.

I'm about to make a trip interstate for a big family reunion, and hope to make another at xmas. I wasn't easy in my mind about leaving Levi for so long, in his recent state of health, even though the house sitters, whom he was acquainted with, would have looked after him lovingly. Now I am free to travel as I wish, whenever I wish, without a backward glance.

And there are surprises. Yes I am still very much grieving over Levi, very much missing him, despite the fleeting ghostly visits. However, alongside the grief is astonishment at how clean the house is looking – and staying. I vacuum once and the carpet looks pristine for days! Who would have thought? (I have had cats most of my adult life, including the last 17 years. I guess I'd got used to the way it was.)

Finally, I had been racking my brains as to how to stretch my pension, as I wished to retire from doing psychic readings in the market every month. It occurs to me now that the absence of pet food and vet bills is one effective way to stretch the pension!

A dog barks outside. For a moment I come to attention, then realise I no longer have to worry whether Levi's outside and whether that's a cat-chasing dog. Eventually I won't startle like that at a bark any more; the habit will gradually fade. One less thing to worry about.

I eat my lunch. It's 2.30 in the afternoon. That's OK, it won't kill me to be eating late – and eventually my stomach will notice that it needs to remind me about meal times. We are not wired to let ourselves starve forever.

I walk up the passage and am confronted by the empty spot where he used to nestle in the corner. I cry. I remember how unwell he was looking lately, and cry some more but in a different way.

I start packing my suitcase for my trip away, and I'm thankful not to feel torn but free.



Friday, August 14, 2015

And Then There Was One, Part 2

So now I'm alone in the house. Or am I?

When Andrew was alive, and working long hours in his office, at his computer, Levi was in the habit of lying under the desk at his feet.

In the last weeks of his life he began to come and lie at my feet under my desk sometimes, when I was working at my computer. I wouldn't always know he was there. Black cats can be almost invisible in shadowy places. I would sometimes stretch out my foot only to have it encounter a soft body. Then I would instantly move my foot back and apologise – though actually it was always just a gentle touch, not a kick or anything.

On a recent evening, while I was working at my computer, I stretched out my foot and it came up against the familiar soft body. I drew it back immediately as usual, a reflex action by now. Then I was sorry I did, as my mind remembered that Levi had been dead for 24 hours. I reached out cautiously with my foot again, but it was too late – only empty air. And when I looked under the desk, of course there was nothing to be seen that could account for what I'd felt, although I scrutinised the space thoroughly.

Still, I was very glad of that fleeting moment, reminding me he was still around.

Subsequently I walked into the spare room one day, where he used to like to sleep on one of the beds with the sun coming in the window. The bed he favoured in his final weeks had an impression on the top blanket, as if someone had sat there recently – or a cat had lain there. But I had washed that blanket after he died, and replaced it on the bed smooth and straight. I hadn't sat there since, nor rested a hand or knee on it, and no-one else had been in the house in the interim.

Cats often hang around a while after death, or revisit soon: little ghostly presences. Some people see them, some hear familiar murmurs of greeting as they pass a favourite nook. I have experienced both, with other cats. But feeling my foot touch him, seeing that impression in the blanket – those are unique to Levi.

He always was a very special individual!





Wednesday, August 12, 2015

And Then There Was One






















Part 1

If you see my facebook posts, you'll know that I'm the last survivor of the small family my husband and I created with our two cats, who came to us as youngsters of seven months old in July 1998. 


Now, seventeen years later, my cat Levi had a sudden and rapid decline in health, and on Friday last he was put to sleep.  The same thing happened to his sister Freya eleven months previously. And her demise was only two years after my husband departed this plane.

For his last eleven months, Levi and I developed a very intense relationship. He was a cat of very intense feelings altogether. My late husband was the great love of his life, and it took him many long months to come to terms with that loss. Andrew adored him too; he was the favourite cat. That was OK, because Freya was my favourite and I was hers. Oh, don't get me wrong; the love went all ways between all four of us. It's just that there were these preferences, which we all knew and accepted.

After Freya, too, left us, I devoted myself to Levi. She had always been in his life. They had sibling rivalry, jealousy and little spats, but they loved each other dearly too and were good companions. I was afraid he would go into deep sadness at her death, as he had after Andrew's. I missed my little girl – my familiar – but I'd had some months to prepare myself for losing her, since her diagnosis of cancer, its remission and return. After she'd gone, I put all my energy into keeping Levi feeling loved and happy.

She was always the spokesperson for the two of them. When she wasn't there any more, he had to learn to speak up for himself. He had a funny little chirruping miaow which he had hardly used. He learned that with me this was not always sufficient. If I was at the computer working on a piece of writing, he would miaow at me and I would tell him, 'Yes, in a minute,' but sometimes it got to be a long minute. Levi learned that when I was at the computer, he needed to yell!

I had only just remarked that we had evolved new routines and established new habits pertaining only to the two of us, when all at once he was gone too. They seem to be quite good routines and habits which serve me well for myself, so at present I keep them.

If I was too late getting to bed, Levi would come and nag me. (As Freya was my familiar, he was my guardian.) After getting shingles three times this winter – an immune system issue – I conceded he was right and I must take better care of myself. Getting to bed at a decent hour is now incorporated into my routines, after a long life of being a night owl. I even added a brief afternoon nap in the spare room, where he occupied one bed, me the other; and that continues too – after a lifetime in which daytime naps were a great rarity. It's comforting, now, to close my eyes and imagine him still there on the other bed.

I miss my 'supervisor' checking out everything that was going on in the house to make sure it met with his approval.

I miss him coming in through his cat door, straight to wherever I might be, telling me vociferously all about his latest adventures outdoors.

He liked to come and sit beside me on the couch when I watched TV of an evening. This was smooching time – lots of pats, stroking and scratching behind his ears, telling him how beautiful he was and how much I loved him, while he purred and rubbed his nose against me, patted me with his paws, and tried to groom me as if I was another cat. On nights when I didn't watch TV, he would lie near my office chair or under my desk at my feet.

Bedtimes are hard now. So are waking up times. They were major cuddle times. When I started getting ready for bed, he would hang about, watching, until I was actually in bed. I'd be propped up against big pillows, with a cup of cocoa and something to read, and he'd join me on the bed and cuddle up, purring, for more of the same treatment as on the couch. Eventually he'd settle down beside me and go to sleep – until I put the light out.

Occasionally he would stay all night with me, but mostly, after I went to sleep, he'd find a spot elsewhere – by the heater on cold nights, or on my office chair, or even outside somewhere. He'd be back on the bed to help me wake up in the morning, and that was another big cuddle time. 


He liked to butt my forehead with his. I read somewhere that when cats do this they are laying claim to you. So I would do it to him too, telling him (a la Game of Thrones) 'You are mine and I am yours.'

The top step, at the front door, was a favourite spot. He enjoyed lying in the sun there. Even if he was inside the house when I went out, he would be on the top step waiting for me when I drove in, and would come padding down to meet the car. I was always scared he'd get under the wheels, but he never did.

That was not a new thing; it happened when Freya was alive, too. She preferred to enjoy the sun in the back yard, where she had her own special spot on the old blanket covering my mini-trampoline. When I arrived home, she would come from around the side of the house to greet me, picking her way daintily across the lawn while Levi majestically descended the front steps. They"d reach me together. But for the last 11 months it was only Levi. He seemed more intent and purposeful than ever in waiting to welcome me home. 


Simultaneously, now, I see in my mind his black shape waiting, rising and stretching, coming down the steps ... and I see the bare steps, and his absence.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Successful Weight Loss

In January my doctor told me to lose weight. On the advice of a friend, I consulted the dietician at the Community  Health Centre. She measured my height and weight, asked some questions about my lifestyle, and helped me work out a good weight for my height, a safe rate of weight loss, and some interim goals such as the particular weight to aim for in the first month. Then she gave me a basic eating plan.

It's an easy plan to follow, based on food groups and substitutions,  e.g. there are a number of different things that would count as one serving of carbohydrates, so you get a fair bit of choice and variety. The main thing is to fill up big on vegetables so you don't overdo some of the other foods. (But of course that's an over-simplification. There are some other foods one must eat to be healthy, and there are recommended quantities of each.)

I checked in monthly with the dietician, and could have continued to do that, but I was managing nicely so we agreed I could go it alone — with the option of going back any time if I felt the need.

In December I weighed 83.6k. Eight months later it's down to 75k. My waist measurement went from 102cm to 99cm. To illustrate this more graphically — I've dropped a whole clothing size.

I didn't do it only by diet. There was also that other well-known ingredient, exercise. My doctor said he wanted me to walk at least three days a week, starting with 20 minutes and working up to 40. Then, because I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, my chiropractor (with the approval of my doctor) gave me some easy weight-lifting exercises to do every second day.

I actually got down to 72k in six months, and my waist measurement got to 97cm, but then I got sick for some weeks and had to rest, which reversed the trend a bit. More recently a specialist put me on a temporary high-carbohydrate diet in preparation for a glucose tolerance test, and instructed me not to exert myself for that period. Diet and exercise only help you lose weight if you keep using them!

However, I did lose weight, and I lost it gradually, which is the safe and healthy way to do it. My current medical advice is that I need to lose 10k more, and then various symptoms I have, such as arthritic pain, may well ease.

I can share my eating plan with you. It was a free service and I didn't sign any non-disclosure agreements. I think they actually want people to be healthy! In fact, what I received was an official Australian Government program, which is set out in detail online.

Here it is, at this link, for all the people who have been asking. 

I can't work out your ideal weight, nor the best way to get there. That's up to you. Luckily, all the tools and advice you need to work it out for yourself are there online. And it's easy, really. Explore the site!

We are always warned to get medical advice before embarking on a new diet or exercise regime. I too advise you to do that. 

I am 75. I have osteo-arthritis and osteoporosis (both being addressed, and well-controlled). I am not diabetic. Lately I seem to have developed some kind of allergy or intolerance to eggs. These are just some of the individual factors which affect the details of my eating plan and my exercise program. We are all different. You too will have individual needs and requirements. So do please run this plan by your doctor, in case any personal modifications may be needed, and discuss your personal exercise program too.


Saturday, June 06, 2015

Buying Books That Are Cheap Treasures

‘This is the best bookshop in town,’ I said to the librarian as I handed over the money for my armful of $1 discarded books. To my friend I said, ‘Look what I found — how can they throw these out?’

First I spotted the Collected Poems of John Forbes (Aussie poet much admired by his peers, deceased untimely some years ago ... omigosh, 17 years already!) closely followed by Handwriting: Poems by Michael Ondaatje. Two treasures already! Then a play by Alan Bennett, The Habit of Art, about an imagined meeting between Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden. Yes I know it’s better to see plays than read them, but some are very readable too, and Alan Bennett’s a genius. Also I am unlikely ever to have an opportunity to see this one performed.

Then there was The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart by Alice Walker, memoir and short stories in one volume. (Been loving Alice Walker for decades, but these I haven’t read before.) And a book of poetry, Duty, by an Aussie I had not heard of, Geraldine McKenzie. I had a good browse of it first — I’m fussy about my poetry — and there’s some lovely stuff in it, spine-shivering in a good way. (I expect a lot of you will say you coulda told me that, and where have I been not to have heard of her? Far away from big cities and poetry hubs for 20+ years, is where.) Then I found the complete plays of Wilde, and then the complete plays of Marlowe.

I hope they are getting some good new stuff in the literature section to replace these goodies and justify discarding them. Yes, it’s my gain, but the community’s loss. 

I grabbed The Feminist Companion to Literature in English as a present for someone and, for me again, a SERIOUS biography of Diana, Princess of Wales (by Sally Bedell Smith, 2007). And finally a book called Speaking with Beads: Zulu Arts from Southern Africa, with wonderful, colourful photos including close-ups. (No, I'm probably not going to take up beading, but I'll enjoy drooling.)

$10 the lot.

All in excellent condition. And perhaps that’s the clue. Perhaps they haven’t been much read. Well, they have come to a good home now, where they’ll be loved and appreciated.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Letters — Market Edition (May 2015)

Dear Readers of This Blog:

Yes, I have missed two Sundays. Clean forgot. I suspect no-one noticed, as it's a new practice anyway. But I don't know that. 

I only know for sure who reads these posts if you leave a comment. But I'm not saying you're obliged. 

I know that anonymous readers also exist, because you show up in my stats. I even know where you come from (the more of you there are in any country, the darker green it displays). USA mostly, and quite a lot also from Russia and Germany, ahead of Australia. I have no idea why, unless for the simple reason that those countries have more bloggers than most, who are out and about all over the web.

Dear Readers, I am glad these posts do get looked at, and are not just self-indulgent wanks going into a void! 

It immediately occurs to me that they could be that and still get looked at, briefly and/or contemptuously — but I'll assume the best, because that makes me feel good. And because I think it is better to have some readers than none, and you are entitled to your own opinions. 

I am glad no-one hates my words so much as to leave nasty messages!

Thank you all.


Dear Murwillumbah Showgrounds Market —


I've been coming here nigh on 20 years, on and off. Lately I've missed a couple: once due to a wake for a dead friend, once because I had the flu. And before that you were washed out twice in a row from heavy rains, and before THAT you didn't happen near Xmas; you never do. So it has been five months since I was here last.

You are cold and gloomy, here in the large Pavilion. It is up to us stall-holders to make you warm and bright. Today there are so few of us in here, we don't have much chance to draw anyone in. It's a quiet market anyway, today. However, you have brought me the two customers I need in order to go, however slightly, into profit. 

I asked for a sign today, as to whether I should continue or finally stop coming. You're the only market I still do. I rely on you to augment my Age Pension, which is a frugal living, harder and harder to manage on. But I think it is not good to rely on these earnings; I need to find a more predictable income supplement. 

And this morning it was cold; hard for me to get out of bed early enough, not being a natural morning person anyway.

And now the Goddess Circle meetings have been changed, to coincide with my market day — for quite unconnected reasons, but it means I can't go to Circle any more.

So, yes, it seemed time to ask for a sign.

I got here and the back door I usually bring my stuff through was closed. I saw there was space down the side, and was able to park right by the side door, which is even more convenient for me.

Someone had been incorrectly allocated my stall space — but I got the one next to it, even closer to the main door which the customers come through. I heard that the woman who had this space isn't going to be coming any more; presumably I could have it. (I used to; but one day the overhead light wasn't working and this space is too dark without it, so I switched. I could switch back and bring my LED lamp just in case.)

Well, Market, the signs were ambiguous. 

I did my usual quick reconnoitre to see who else was here, doing the rounds of the stalls outside. My dear friend Heather and I had a hug and a yarn. I saw on her counter a small crystal ball of pale green new jade on a stand; she sold it to me at mates' rates. I'd been wanting one that colour, and I'd been wanting some new jade. Bingo, two in one!

I like to buy something from another stall-holder before I start. It's a little superstition I have. I like to believe this gets the money energy flowing. 

On the way back to my stall, I said hello to another stall-holder who's kind of a pal, we've known each other so long in various contexts. I got a cheery wave and yell in return.

Then my regular first customer, Patsy, turned up. She long ago graduated to friend. She always gets here very early and comes for a reading. I like to think she brings me luck. I had thought she wouldn't be here this time, as she has a house full of guests; but her son-in-law, she told me, got them all up to come to visit you, Market.

Later

Market, you have been quiet today; it's now noon. But I have now had three customers, which, though not as many as usual, leaves me sufficiently better off. And two strangers took my card with a view to consulting me privately. And five friends stopped by for a quick catch-up (everyone knows they can usually find me here). One of the friends came especially to bring me a book she'd finished and thought I'd like. (One of those op shop books you buy cheap, read and pass on.)

Well, Market, are we done for today? I have enjoyed being here in your embrace again, after all. I am resolving to come back. Besides Patsy I had two customers who were dealing with major issues, and they said I helped them. 

And finally, this delightful, articulate 10-year-old just rocked up and took one each of all my give-away leaflets: how to manage anger, a love meditation, a way to calm stress, and so on. 'Run them past your parents,' I said, after ascertaining that she's a good reader (top of her class, as I always was). She assured me her parents were happy for her to get any free stuff. Not quite what I meant, but OK. 

And finally another stranger arrives and promises, as she takes my card, that she'll give me a buzz (just doesn't have time for a reading now). We chat briefly and warm to each other. She has my name, but she's known as Rosie. And she is right, we have run out of time; time to pack up now and go.

Thank you, Market, for another lovely morning. I realise I have enjoyed myself — and didn't even find time for a second cup of coffee. 

See you next time! *Smile.*

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why I Have Long Held Him In Contempt

It was decades ago. And it was nothing to do with paedophilia. The Catholic Church was holding an enquiry into a social matter of a different kind, in which the Church had some involvement and was in a position to help improve the lot of many people. 

Submissions were called for, both written and in person. As a representative of another organisation with a close interest in this matter, and having some personal experience of it albeit second-hand, I chose to do both. 

I made a long and detailed written submission and also attended a meeting along with a number of other interested parties. (I might add that, because of previous work I had been engaged in, I knew how to write proper, professional submissions.)

I remember clearly to this day the air of deep concern with which the young priest listened to what everyone at that meeting had to say, and his comforting words to those who had suffered. I remember his assurances that our submissions would be treated very seriously.

Months later he brought out his report. The organisation I represented received a copy. I remember very clearly, too, my disillusionment and disgust on reading that document. It was a whitewash job on the Church, and absolutely stonewalled any of the reforms we had begged for, and for which we had presented cogent cases backed up with personal evidence.

I have loathed and distrusted this man ever since, watching his rise to great eminence in his Church, and seeing him become ever smarmier and more obviously hypocritical along the way. But he was always like that at heart. To my perception, he has always been a career priest looking for his own advancement, rather than a true follower of the teachings of Jesus.

It is not surprising to me that he is now accused of other whitewashes, other stonewalling of opportunities for reform — namely, covering up specific cases of priestly paedophilia. It is no surprise that he stands revealed as a person greatly lacking in compassion. 

As I make no claim to be Christian myself, I have no problem taking pleasure in the fact that this man looks to be finally exposed for what he really is. If there is justice, he will be removed from any position of authority where he can continue to foster and protect evil. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Mother and Me

A friend on facebook posted, on Mother's Day, the truth about her relationship with a difficult, fault-finding mother. A little different from the eulogies most people were posting! In response, I found myself airing the truth about my relationship with my mother:

My mother didn't like hugs with me when I was a child, because it might mess up her hair and outfit. I don't remember that we ever hugged as long as she lived. A cool kiss on the cheek was about it.

She was phobic, and passed several of the phobias on to me. I have managed over the years to reduce them to mild rather than completely crippling. I was also very conscious of not passing them on to my own children, and it appears I succeeded in that.

She tried very hard to teach me that appearances matter, and to run my life on what other people (the most conservative and conformist ones) might think of me.

She failed in that. I was born non-conformist!

She was basically selfish, though she was so timid and fluffy that few people outside the family realised that. She was petite and pretty, and she had 'helpless little woman' down to a fine art. 

As I grew older, there were many ways in which I was more the parent and she the child, even when I was just a schoolgirl. My Dad’s refrain, in any time of difficulty, was, ‘Don’t upset your mother.’ It was understood that she must be treated delicately, and protected from life.

She succeeded in teaching me that the way I look is far from beautiful, which is a serious fault, and that being myself is not good enough — attitudes I have had to fight within myself all my life.

She may well be the reason I cannot tolerate any association with the kind of people for whom everything you do is wrong. I mean that, if I’m around them in any big way, I become a nervous wreck and have to get them out of my life.

She was very controlling, and continually invaded my privacy — and other people’s — right up into my adulthood: reading personal letters and diaries, for instance; and eavesdropping blatantly.

As a consequence, I was very protective of my own children’s privacy. Once, when I asked my Firstborn why he never showed me any of his essays, which were getting good marks at school, he said, ‘Oh, I thought you’d just find them in my schoolbag.’ It had never occurred to him that I wouldn’t look in his schoolbag and read his work. It had never occurred to me to do so, nor that other mothers did so as a matter of course.

On the other hand, my Mum was very big on not spilling family secrets. We must not ‘air our dirty linen in public’. This meant always presenting a facade of happy families no matter what was really the case. (Rows over money; Dad drinking too much and having serial infidelities; my brother wetting the bed for years; Mum frequently taking to her bed for days while dosing herself with Relaxa Tabs…)

I remember childhood dreams, experienced as sinister nightmares, in which things were literally being swept under the carpet.

I survived by stubbornly sticking to my own opinions inwardly, even while having to outwardly pay lip-service to her ideas — and by having nothing to do with her for a period of ten years after I had children of my own.

That was partly because I didn't want them influenced by her in the ways that I had been; but mainly because I couldn’t tell which of my thoughts were really mine and which were her voice in my head. I believed the only way I could find out for sure was to completely separate myself from her. It took a long time, but it worked.

Six years of psychotherapy — for several reasons — also helped.

And I learnt to count my blessings, even if blessings of omission. Some children are physically abused. Some are burnt with cigarettes, raped, their bones broken. They may be starved and their health neglected. Some are killed by their own parents. None of that happened to me; nothing even remotely like it.

A death in the family saw her reach out, and we reconciled. She had aged and softened; so had I. I finally realised that she actually did love me, underneath all that, and was the victim of her own upbringing too. 

I also realised that I actually did love her underneath all that.

My little boys, meeting her when they were past infancy, loved her and she them. By then she wouldn't have dared try and interfere in their upbringing. They couldn't understand why I had cut her out of my life and theirs for so long.

My eldest opined that her second marriage, to my dear stepfather, must have made her so happy that that was why she was nicer than the woman I'd experienced. He may well have been right.

Our values remained very different for the most part, but late in her life she expressed respect for the fact that neither my brother nor I was materialistic.

She became more honest in old age. We were finally able to have some good conversations, and to enjoy each other’s company in some ways, even find moments of true rapport.

I remained defensive with her, however, and — I now think — unnecessarily disagreeable at times. (Even though I also did things like taking care of her in my home when she was ill.)

I was still afraid to let her ideas too far into my head; still afraid that she could take me over if I didn’t adopt a policy of ‘the best defence is aggression’. But we didn't have many disagreements. I had the power now. She had been intimidated by my ten years of silence and was afraid to offend me.

She couldn't understand, either, why I had cut her off. She kept looking for some particular incident in which she must have been to blame. I finally explained about needing to become my own woman; I don't think she grasped it. 

I was with her when she died. (Of old age, in a nursing home.) It was the most confronting moment of my life. The mother-child relationship, even one so fraught as ours, is basic. 

Even in our worst difficulties, even during our estrangement, I always knew deep down that if ever I was in desperate straits with nowhere else to go, I could knock on her door and be at home. I never had to put it to the test, but to this day I retain the unshakable conviction.

For me her death was huge.

It’s only in hindsight that I wish I had understood better how afraid she usually felt, and how much that influenced her behaviour. But I was a child. And later I was an adult trying to overcome my upbringing and find my way to my real self.

Now I look back and recall how artistically talented she was — at piano, embroidery, copper work; even, when she tried her hand at it late in life, poetry. I'm glad I inherited some of that. (Unfortunately not the music.)

I thank her and my Dad for being totally aligned in valuing reading and education, and encouraging me in both. I thank them for being proud of my precocious gifts for English Expression, particularly in writing, and even more particularly in poetry, and for encouraging that. I thank her for knowing that librarianship would be the perfect career for me, and steering me towards it when I was uncertain of my direction.

I talk to her in my head occasionally, in a friendly way. I can do that, now that I am clear which thoughts are my own.

She’s been dead eighteen years. I get along with her a lot better now.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Sunday letters, Samhain Edition

Dear Samhain

You are my favourite Sabbat. You are deep and mysterious, and you take place at night. The veil thins and we welcome our ancestors and other dead. My most powerful times, as Priestess and psychic medium, have happened during Samhain rituals. I even like you better than Beltane. I personify you as a dark beauty.


Dear Neighbour over the fence

I like that you are another night owl. I like to hear you moving about late, as I do. It feels friendly and companionable, almost. We are not unfriendly: you're a polite, good-hearted lad; but we'd never really make companions. But the companionship of moving around our own homes independently of each other on the late nights, that's reassuring. 

Luckily for me, when I go to bed I take my hearing aids out. When you can't sleep and turn on your heavy metal music at 3am, it doesn't wake me. (It woke my son and his partner when they were here.) When you do it at midnight, when I'm still awake, it sounds like muffled thumping; it doesn't disturb me. I enjoy the thought that you are enjoying it. 

(If you play it in the daytime, when I am out in my back yard, I'm pleased. I like heavy metal too.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bali Executions

One of those very rare mornings when I turned on the TV first thing, because reading that news on my iPad somehow wasn't adequate — even though I have expected it for many weeks.

Sometimes being a psychic has a downside.

I'm not perpetually 'on', and I don't go around automatically knowing stuff about people I encounter — but electronics, including TV, are good conductors of energy, and the case of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has received high coverage for a long time. 

I don't remember how many weeks ago I posted a message that it was now time to hold the two men in the light, but it must be a matter of months already. That was when I knew, suddenly and absolutely, that they would indeed be executed. But to say so then would have been wrong. I didn't want to put that energy of doom out there, and besides, I am not infallible.

Never would I have been happier to be wrong!

However, my certainty of doom never lifted, except for one brief moment of hope yesterday re the recent beginning of a legal process into corruption at the trial. But it was only a moment. 

Fortunately my little post on facebook was hardly needed; the two were surrounded by love and support in all these weeks, and were the focus of much positive energy from many who, like me, never met them personally but were inspired by their shining examples of transforming themselves under the most difficult conditions. 

And in their deaths, and the way they conducted themselves in the face of this prospect, they continue to inspire us all to do what we can to have the death penalty abolished everywhere. These lives were cut off cruelly, far too soon, but were surely not wasted.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Letters — Anzac Day edition

I came across a blogger who writes 'Friday Letters' to all sorts of addressees. I loved the idea and decided to steal it — but my Fridays are for haiku, so I've allocated Sunday for the letters.

Dear Anzac Day,

You were yesterday, and this is the closest Sunday.

I used to despise you, long, long ago, when I was a fiery young woman with fixed ideas. I thought you glorified war. Now that I am much older, I still dislike the idea of war but I have softened towards you, Anzac Day, because I know now that courage and self-sacrifice deserve respect. I even think that some wars, like the Allies' opposition to Nazi Germany, back when you began, are necessary. Injustice and tyranny must be resisted.

Dear Anzac Day, I pray you will always keep your true spirit, of not forgetting the brave young men who died in their thousands, or were maimed or psychologically scarred. You began in a spirit of gratitude. And I am grateful not to have lived my life under the dictatorship of conquerors.

Then I immediately think that this is just what indigenous Australians have been doing ever since Europeans settled here. It is too late to send us all back where we came from, but I pray we may right what injustices and tyrannies we can.

I read that some indigenous citizens want their own war against our invasion recognised in the Anzac Day marches and celebrations. I say, why not? It was a war just as valid or even more so. I'll keep in touch over my remaining years, Anzac Day, hoping to see you become more inclusive, and if I can help that along in any way, I will.


Dear tree across the road,

I love to sit on my tiny front verandah and watch you swaying in the breeze. I should sit out here more often and watch. You are beautiful and soothing, and I am blessed to live here and have the time and opportunity.

I get caught up with activities which seem more important. But this is my life, and I love to look at trees. What could be more important than spending my life doing things I love? Particularly as there is little enough left of my life. Even if I last to 100, I have still lived most of my life already.

Some of the other things I do ARE important, and many of them I also love — but, tree across the road, I can surely find time for you too, more often.


Dear life of mine,

I am enjoying you. Even despite griefs and problems, and a history that includes pain and trouble, overall I have enjoyed you and I still am. Even in spite of being sick at present, I still enjoy you. I don't enjoy the sickness, but that is only one aspect of you, my life.

I am glad and grateful that I have you — that I was given the great gift of having you; that I came into being, and that my circumstances have been comparatively blessed.