Yankee Doodle Dandy

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Yankee doodle went to town

A-riding on a pony,

Stuck a feather in his cap

And called it macaroni.

Like so many of the rhymes we sang as kids, I had no idea about the origins and meaning of this song … until recently. The macaroni wig was fashionable in 1770s Britain especially for refined men and dandys. A dandy was a man who placed importance on appearance, refined language and leisure activities. At the time of the American Revolution, a Yankee who put a feather in his cap and thought that this emulated the refinement that the macaroni represented, was made fun of by the British, who considered themselves more refined that the colonials.

Not long after we started dating, G and I caught the tram into the city. He sat opposite me. He pulled out his mobile phone and made a call to a friend. He was speaking very loudly about an issue at his club. I sat furiously quiet and considered my next move. Would I get off the tram at the next stop and walk away or would I wait and explain how his loud phone conversation offended me?

I decided to do nothing.

When we got off the tram he pulled me aside and told me that I should not leave my towel the way I had left it in his bathroom. That I should fold it and replace it neatly on the towel rack. I responded calmly that I wasn’t going to mention it but on the scale of things, his behavior on the tram was far more offensive.

Later that day, we went into the hat shop at Flinders Street Station. I rummaged around a box of hat feathers and bought him a small gift, not one, but two feathers for his hat.

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Breaking up with a Narcissist

 

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Lindsay Dodgsons writes, ‘Breakups are always hard, but when you have been in a relationship with someone who uses others and is obsessed with themselves, it can be even harder’. I have just broken up with G.

When I first met him, I felt, and I openly joked, that I was a bookmark and that he was with me until what he really wanted came along. He kept a profile of him 10 years younger on the dating site, hoping to attract a younger version of me. Women my age, he said, were always old looking and had fat ankles. I went along with it hoping to win him over.

I was flattered. His friends all liked me and said I was a keeper. My friends did not feel the same about him. I stopped seeing friends and kept him a secret. He would always make me choose over seeing him or my friends. I rushed my best friend’s 60th party to be with him on his 67 birthday dinner.

I supported him through his near death and heart attack, his daughter’s on going battle with cancer, his research question for his doctorate, his Airbnb listing, and the death of his father. When my mother died he came to the funeral.  I talked to my ex husband for a while after the service. G left the gathering and sat in the car calling his friends on his phone. As we drove to the crematorium we argued.

I sent him a picture of me holding my brand new grandson hours after he was born. Soon after he called me to ask my advice about an Airbnb booking he had just received. No mention of the baby.

Conversationally I noticed that he found a way very quickly to divert the talk to himself. Usually after the first sentence. He always talked about himself. He always introduced me as Dr Jillian Adams … my name is Jill … and he always included important titles when he spoke about people.

He collected art but I suspected that he knew nothing about it. He had a painting of a person sucking the penis of a King. He paid a lot for it. I asked him why, as a Royalist and a supporter of the monarchy, why he would buy such a painting.

When ever I tried to talk honestly with him about ‘stuff’ he would close down. When he did not get his way he refused to communicate and would not answer his phone – often for days.

In bed, he was a selfish lover.

When his daughter was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, he went on a holiday … it was too much for him.

My daughter was hit by a car riding her bike  to work. She was furious with the driver of the car. I tried to make her think how the driver felt. Three weeks later G arrived at my house . He was late because he had just hit a cyclist. He had gone through a stop sign at a bike path on a dedicated cyclist route through Carlton. The paint from the bike was embedded in a deep scratch across his car. It was the cyclist’s fault according to G.

He voted ‘no’ in the same sex referendum … just so he could boast about it.

He walked past people sleeping rough saying they should get off drugs and get jobs.

I dreamed once that my husband was grinding plates and making me eat them as a punishment. In my dream I could eat the ground glass knowing that the pain was short lived. I took my punishment graciously.

I have always believed that you know what will bring a relationship undone from the first meeting. The first night I went out with G, a close friend said to me, ‘he has his finger so far up his arse …’. She was right.

 

 

Falling out of love … with Airbnb

Dear Airbnb,

After five years of what has been mostly a fantastic relationship, I am falling out of love with you. We have had our ups and downs and there have been times in the past when I felt you treated me badly, but I have always found a way to forgive you and move on but I feel now, that not only are you treating me badly but that you don’t really care.

When we first met we cared about each other. When my dog died you gave me $200 Airbnb credit to treat my self after such a sad event. Admittedly we had a tussle first – I cancelled a booking and lied to you, saying my son had died (well he was like my son) and I probably could have gone ahead with the booking. You fined me for cancelling, took away my superhost status and requested a death certificate. But in the end, when I could not produce a death certificate but you saw the outpouring of love on my Facebook page, you decided it was for me as if a child had died and I you gave back my superhost status and relinquished the fine and gave me the credit. I forgave you. I realised then that you cared more about guests than about hosts … really it was just about keeping us in line.

But now, I find that I can no longer forgive you. You have played a mean trick on me. First you told me what a great host I was and how surely as a great host I would recognise the capacity to host in my friends. If I put them forward and they offered accommodation, you rewarded me generously. I sung your praises, introduced my friends to you and I even helped them set themselves up as hosts. And now I get it. There are so many of us that your guests are spoiled for choice.

But that’s not all. Now there are so many of us that you are driving the price down. Now you send me messages, “people are looking at your site but booking elsewhere for $10 a night less. You should lower your price to attract more bookings.” Now I rent out my $80.00 room for $45. It’s not worth the trouble I go to.

This weekend a guest gave me one star out of five for value for money. He stayed three nights over the weekend in a self-contained apartment for $250.00. You wrote to me that that his low star rating meant I needed to do something to improve my hosting. That I was now

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My Airbnb listing

in the bottom 10% of properties globally and that if I stayed that low, I would no longer be about to list my property with Airbnb. I lost my superhost status on the back of it. My listing has low status and will come very low on any search.

When I rang you, you said you could do nothing. I told you that whenever I feel sad I look at the hundreds of reviews left over five years. What people say about my home and me, never fail to make me happy. “They cheer me up,” I said.

I think it is time I moved on.

Persimmon Jam and Broccoli Hearts

I have a young chef staying at my place. He is working free of charge, to gain experience, at a prestigious restaurant a short walk from my house. He works Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8.00 am until late (letting himself in around midnight) and on Sunday from 8.00 until late afternoon. He goes home on Sunday night and arrives at my house on Wednesday afternoon.

The first four day stint he booked through Airbnb and paid the full price for four nights. I offered him a low rate for his next four day stint as I am happy to do my bit for the industry and for this young man. He is gone by 8.00 am and back after midnight and just sleeps and showers here. His enthusiasm for his craft is inspiring but, not only is he not earning for his work, but also it is costing him. I think he hopes to one day work at the prestigious restaurant.

Last night he came to collect his bags and we sat and chatted while he waited until a good time to leave to catch his train. It was freezing cold outside and dark.

“How busy was it today?”

“We did 25 covers. Twenty-six last night and the same on Friday night.”

He explained that the owners both work there and there are three full time chefs, a head chef and two sous, and three waiters also full time. They are all expected at work by 7.30 and work four long days and have three off.

“How do they make any money?” I ask.

They have another fast food outlet and that, he thought, made money and the prestigious restaurant was just allowed to be.

I asked about the cost of food – locally produced, organic, sustainable …

At this restaurant you can have five, six or eight small courses. On weekends you can only have eight. If you pair the courses with wine it is around $250 per person to eat here.

The young chef told me that there were some very low cost courses built in to the eight course menu.

“One is a Shitake mushroom cooked and served with a powder on it and another is the heart of the broccoli with a simple sauce.”

“The heart of broccoli,” I ask, “is that the stem?”

“Yes, It is peeled and blanched then tossed in butter.”

In the 1970s British chef Robert Carrier, recommended cooking and eating Broccoli stems. I told him that and I get up to show him the cook book that this instruction appears in, but he seemed disinterested, so I sit back down again.  I always cook Broccoli stems along with the flowers.

Then he told me how the owner buys in bulk. He told me how this week he bought two boxes of Persimmons and that after the lunch service they spent the rest of the day dipping them into bees wax. He told me how innovative the owner was and how by doing this, the Persimmon ripens perfectly without loosing any moisture and when it is fully ripe, if you cut it in half, the fruit is as sticky and sweet as jam. He will serve a halved Persimmon just like that when they ripen.

If you pick a Persimmon and simply let it ripen in its own skin, the fruit will be sticky, sweet and gooey like jam. I did not tell him that but I offered him an even bigger discount on his next stay with me.

 

 

 

Walking through the park

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G insists that I walk on the inside when we go anywhere on foot. I balk at this and laugh at such a dated gesture. Besides the camber on the footpath makes me taller than him when I walk on the inside. I do it just the same. There is something comforting about a man wanting to protect you.

I rent a house in Princes Hill with my daughter. I work in the city and she works at a nearby hospital. She walks to work down Princes Hill Drive and then crosses over into what becomes Gatehouse Street. I walk Pip in the park morning and night: With winter here now mostly in the dark or dawn or dusk light. We go all the way around. Up to the leash free bit then around past Ikon Oval then through the four playing fields and them home along the running path on Princes Hill Drive.

On Tuesday a woman’s body was found in the middle of the soccer field just near Ikon Park and a walking path that cuts through from Royal Parade to Princes Hill Drive. On Wednesday a young man was charged with her rape and murder.

About a month ago G invited me to his club for dinner and a guest speaker. I met him there after work. By 10.00 I was ready to leave. We had dined well and drunk far too much wine during an hour long very dull speech.

G was not ready to leave. He had more drinking to do so I said goodbye to him and walked to the tram stop and took the number 19 along Elizabeth Street and Royal Parade. I got out at Walker Street and walked down the path – the one with Ikon Stadium on my left and THE soccer field on my right. I ruminated all the way home on the insult of his choice at the time: Wine and blokes at the club over seeing me home.

Now I am angry (and insulted) and I will never walk on the inside again.

 

 

Farwell to Mum

Farewell to Mum: 17th October 2017

Today when I was getting ready for Mum’s funeral, I put on this dress and decided that it needed an iron. As I took it off I thought to myself, “I should be careful not to get lipstick on it.” But as I pulled it over my head my lips touched the fabric and there was a lipstick mark on the front.

I thought, “This is not something mum would deal with”. I would never have called her for advice on removing a stain. Mum was the person I called when I really needed something: someone to mind the girls at the last minute, help sorting out a personal problem. I did a Google search and removed the stain with a clean cloth and warm water.

It is important to acknowledge today that as a family and as friends we have been involved in a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Mum was diagnosed just after her 80th birthday but those of us close to her noticed it a while before that. Mum started doing things that were completely out of character. We noticed that she wasn’t driving confidently, she hid the waffle maker after mum and dad argued over the consistency of waffle batter and there was other stuff that we noticed and we hoped that she was not going the way her mother and her sister went.

We saw the best and worst of mum after her diagnosis. The best, up to the end she took Alzheimer’s on and she fought it as she took on most things in her life and fought for them. There was nothing wrong with her; everyone else was getting forgetful, whilst mum remained incredibly sane. Mum continued to cook creatively. Once she made a Pavlova for dessert and put chopped up tomato on the top because she thought it needed something red. Up until she went to Eden Park, she read the news to dad every morning; celebrated family occasions (including her 65th wedding anniversary) had lunch at the French café in Pakington Street every Friday.

She fought right up to her last breath. With Lyn just moments away on the last leg of her journey from Oklahoma, mum tried and tried to stay alive. We got Lyn on the phone as she approached Geelong and she just couldn’t fight any longer. I won’t go into the worst but suffice it to say that if you got on the wrong side of her … you joined the ranks of our ex mayor and were labeled a dickhead or a bogun or a fuckwit. It was a battle especially for dad, who continued to care for her at home for as long as he could.

So on to Mum’s life … a history that’s what I am supposed to be talking about

She was born on Friday 29th April 1932. It was a cool but generally fine day, a little cloudy with a few scattered showers in the north, south-westerly winds.

Her parents were George Kinross and Muriel Edith McDonald. Mum adored her father. He was a pattern-maker and carpenter and Nan was a housewife and for a while a milliner in Belmont. She lived in Upper Skene Street, and went to Newtown State School, Geelong High School and for a short time, to the Hermitage in Pakington Street. I am sure that it was mum who convinced dad that we three girls should all go to Morongo. I am so grateful to this day that mum valued education for girls.

Mum got Rheumatic Fever when she was about 10 and spent 6 months in bed. Bed rest and creativity go hand in hand. Think about all the famous writers you can and most of them spent time as children in bed … Robert Louis Stevenson, Kathleen Mansfield, Oscar Wilde … it’s a long list. Mum was incredibly creative. She turned her daily chores into very successful businesses. More of that to come.

When Mum got sick WWII was being fought for Australia in the Pacific and 1 million American servicemen were living or passed through Australia. There was an American camp just outside Geelong and Geelong was full of glamorous American servicemen. These service men were generally welcomed into our homes and Mum’s home was no exception. Mum told a story about one in particular who spent time at Upper Skene Street. A young handsome Stanley Ogle who I suspect mum had a crush on. The Disney animation, Snow White, was playing at the pictures and she was desperate to go but not allowed out of bed. Stanley Ogle persuaded her father George that they could wrap her up in a blanket and take her to see the film. Years later, with Lyn in America and mum and dad flying there to visit, mum decided to try to find him. With no Internet this was not an easy task. The Salvation Army had a data bank of people who had served in Australia and it was able to find and contact him an elderly Stanley Ogle living in Michigan. It was a happy and a sad reunion. Mum was thrilled to meet him again – he was as handsome as she remembered but disappointed that his wife showed so little interest in their story.

Mum left school and worked Straughan and Company on the corner of Moorabool and Brougham Streets. Geelong was then was a provincial city and the centre of Victoria’s the wool trade and wool processing industry. Mum worked as a secretary and did the admin and cataloging and for wool auctions, then sorted out all the payments

When Mum’s Alzheimer’s was advancing, we went shopping at Myer for a cardigan to wear to Sally’s wedding. She was pretty lost in Myers and remarked at how big the store was and how she had never been there before. As we drove out of the car park in the converted wool stores at Westfield and into Brougham Street towards home she looked out of the car window and pointed. She said, out of the blue, “I used to work in that office that one up there second floor.”

Mum was 19 when she married Dad at St David’s Church. She wore a dress made from Broderie Anglaise buttoned down the front with lots of small hand made buttons. Later she cut the dress up and made clothes for us. Mum and dad lived with Dad’s elderly aunt in Aberdeen Street. They had the three of us there. They saved and bought a block of land in Herne Hill a new post war estate just beyond Manifold Heights and borrowed 2 ½ thousand pounds to build the house at Karoomba Avenue with Bernie Kelly.

Mum embraced her role as a housewife with absolute devotion and creativity. She was a brilliant dressmaker – making all of our clothes and establishing a sewing business first sewing bridal wear – until the cat jumped in the window and walked muddy paws over a sateen wedding frock laid out on her bed ready for a fitting ­ and then making blouses out of Liberty fabric. Eventually she imported fabric and always had a range of prints to show her clients.

She was a brilliant cook too. Every Friday she baked and the biscuit and cake tins were always brimming with home baked goods. Later she turned this skill into a business – making quiches for Paddy Leach’s Cheese Platter in Geelong. Our kitchen for a time was a quiche production line. She perfected a pastry and had several fillings – salmon, asparagus, cheese and bacon.

But Mum’s specialty was always her shortbread. Mum was terribly proud of her Scottish heritage. Her great, great, great, grandparents on her father’s side had been croft farmers in Talisker in Skye in Scotland and the family had come to Australia in the 1860s as assisted migrants. As mum was getting more and more forgetful she would always take a tin of shortbread to her doctor. He too was Scottish. I questioned her about her shortbread making skill. I asked her how you could tell when the dough was kneaded enough. She said that being Scottish she just knew. Then I asked where the recipe came from. This was problematic. Normally family recipes travel through the maternal line from mother to daughter but her father was the Scottish one. She said that it must have come from her father as her mother was no cook. Then I asked if I could have the recipe. She showed me her book and in it was a recipe for shortbread cut out from Mrs Drake’s cookbook – modified of course with the addition of more butter – a book many people of her generation will remember.

We have been baking shortbread, from mum’s recipe, and none of us have achieved the taste or the texture but we would like you all to take some with you as a last little memory of mum when you leave today.

I hand over to Lyn now.

Going into Dying

 

 

We are in a darkened room, curtains drawn, just one dim lamp, a Coles green bag full of snacks, a special blanket, and familiar things placed on the bedside. Essential oils and music settle the mood in the room. We have dragged mattresses and bedding from the store room into her room and have camped there with her since we got the call that it had started. We are making a list of people we will need to call and we have our phones switched to silent but there, so as to stay in touch.

The stages are remarkably similar to going into labour. I take some comfort from that.

And we wait, and wait, and wait for something to change, for a sign that shows that we have moved over into the next stage. Mum is dying at last.

Death, like  delivering a baby, is the challenge of a lifetime, an emotional, mental and physical rush like no other. Death completes the cycle.  It feels like she is going out almost the same was as she came in.

The stages of dying, like the stages of labour, are clearly defined. Mum progresses from one into the next. First the false alarm, a few weeks out, followed by the prediction – she won’t see the month out – and then it starts for real: restlessness, laboured breathing, cold fingers and toes, some of the ‘good stuff’ to help things along. Then, as it gets closer, there are long long pauses between breaths and we encourage her, ‘breath, breath, breath. Push, push, push.

Another transition into the final stage, and her heart stops beating and its over.

We sit with her, not knowing quite what to do next.

The point of all this …

There is a point to this. My intention has always been to record my journey with mum’s illness and ultimately to pull something out of it that I can share with other families in the same situation. What I have found is that there is a great deal of medical and technical information about the illness but little that digs into the day to day stuff and the moments when you recognise a trace of the person, the bad, the funny and now, as we get to the end, the sadness and the reality that soon she will no longer be.

Mum is tiny, and very frail. The few words that she speaks are blurred. I forget that she normally wore glasses so now, her vision too must be blurred. She can’t hear very well and it’s hard to talk loudly when instinct tells you to talk in a hushed voice. She has limited movement. She can’t shift herself into a more comfortable position and often she wriggles into a position that looks very awkward. When I ask if she is comfortable she seems to think about it for a bit then says a slow, elongated  “yes”.

She is not eating much; although she ate a whole tub of creme caramel that I brought out for her. She can no longer chew food and eventually she will not be able to swallow.

She seems to understand more now than she has in the past. I asked her if she would prefer to get up and sit with the others or if she was happier in bed. She said ‘in bed’. Perhaps she was just repeating my last words and it is wishful thinking on my part since I have insisted that the nursing home staff do not hoist her about and instead, let her rest out her last days in bed. They have this contraption that they use move the residents who can no longer walk. The purpose of it is to save their backs but it is a most degrading process. I have watched her cringe with fear as they hoist her up and over then move her from bed to chair to shower chair back to chair then into armchair. Her little body hurled around, up over and down like a spare part on a production line. All the while they coo at her, “its alright Janet”.

I asked her if she knows who I am. She looks blankly and so I tell her I am Jill, her middle daughter. A little while later she starts a sentence and my name is in it. I am sure she knows at least that she is with someone who is close to her. She reaches her hand out from the bed covers and gestures for me to take it. We hold hands until the carer comes in to change her into her night gown.

Getting my head around grief

Last night, I sat with mum, in the dark beside her bed, and just held her hand. It was 7.00 pm and it was quiet as  most of the residents were either up in front of the telly in the common room or heading off to bed. The carers were huddled around the door to the nursing station chatting. The crazy day I had had, melted off me and for the first time I felt calm. I asked mum if she was sick of it all and she said yes. Then I told her she had done a great job and she said yes. I told her about my day and then, about 7.30, I took my leave.

When I got home there was a beautiful bunch of flowers on the table. A gift from my sister who can’t be here now but who shares the ups and downs of mum’s death with my via Messenger and Face Time.

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Flowers from Lyn

This morning Facebook shared a memory with me. It was of the sale of my house in Melbourne four years ago. I always associate that day, not with the very public end of my marriage but with the day, early in mum’s Alzheimers diagnosis, that we fell out over a conversation about Oklahoma. For two years after that, mum would have nothing to do with me. She shut me out and all I could do was look on at her very quick decline into memory loss and confusion.

Then my friend’s post of her trip to Italy came up on my Facebook news feed. I am meant to be  flying out tonight to meet her in Venice but I have cancelled the trip. She posted pictures of Giotto’s ground breaking frescoes in Padua

We planned to take the train to Padua early next week. These frescoes were the beginning of my awakening to beauty and the power of art. I was so looking forward to seeing them again.

I am overwhelmed by what I think must be grief. When I talk about mum, I tell people she is the process of dying. It somehow makes it feel better: it  is somehow connected to the process of giving birth. I have never experienced an emotion like the one that stops me in my tracks now. If I try to pin it down, it is like longing but it hurts.

You won’t get two legs out of that

In less than four months, the change is profound. Mum is wasting away bit by bit. A necrotic wound on her hip is slowly rotting. In April her hip broke and was repaired. Since then she can no longer walk, she is incontinent, she hardly speaks and when she does she seldom speaks in a context, she is bird thin, and she sits, day after day, parked in front of a fake wood fire and a television screen.

 

She recognises dad and sometimes she knows who I am. She lives in tiny, small world, muddled and foggy. Sometimes we feed her meals to her. She is better using her fingers.

 

She picks at scabs, she folds and unfolds the napkin, she is bored and sedated. She is no longer in our care and we have to put our trust in this untrustworthy system. They mush her drugs up in apple puree. When I ask what is in the mush the carers are secretive. “Coloxyl and Panadol,” she says when pushed but everyone is so sedated on this particular Saturday morning that I suspect there is something else in the mix. On the weekends there are less staff and the residents seem less distracted.

 

Dad and I are visiting. We have joined her by the fake fire.

She looks at me, a puzzled expression on her face.

“You won’t get two legs out of that,” she says.

Dad has no idea what she is talking about but I do.

“Are you sure,” I say, “If not I think I can get some more material.”

 

We are transported back to the lounge room. I have brought my sewing machine down to Geelong and we are about to have a sewing day. We are on the floor on our hands and knees. Material has been folded down the centre line and a pattern is laid out on it. We haven’t pinned it yet. Mum is moving the pieces, and refolding the fabric in an attempt to get a pair of trousers out of fabric that is too short. I haven’t bought quite enough.

 

Mum was brilliant at this. She would always work out a way to make the pattern fit. When we sewed together she always did the hard bits: collars, cuffs, setting in sleeves.

 

Yesterday my daughter came down to visit me. She brought with her the fabric from Africa that she bought when she was there last month. She asked if we could make some cushion covers with her.

 

A little bit of mum alive and well.