Monthly Archives: April 2014

You’ve Got a Friend.

I was trying to think of an analogy for the past weekend – because, let’s be honest – who doesn’t like a good analogy when they can get one? So here it is: last Saturday and Sunday were like the pages of an open book…offering up different scenes and characters but belonging to one story.

One of my most endearing characteristics and the one which probably drives my organized and regimented husband most demented is that I leave everything until the last minute – paying bills, booking holidays, grocery shopping for guests…. I have been the same way since….ummm…. forever.  “Thriving under pressure” I think they call it. 3,000 word essays at university were started three days before they were due with pages and pages and pages of photocopying highlighted and annotated and extended library stays fuelled only by pumpkin seeds and water.  I remember one particularly splendid effort of writing final footnotes whilst on the train to deliver an English essay by its deadline.  Good times, good times.

Anyway, the point is, my girlfriend and her two kids (Well, I use the term loosely. Her son is 16 and her daughter, 20) were coming for lunch on Saturday to celebrate her birthday and I did the shopping that morning, getting home just in time to unload the groceries and wipe down the toilet – as any good hostess would!  When they arrived, both the dog and I showered them with kisses, I shoved a glass of champagne into her hand, saw her son off with a soft drink to another room to play video games with my boy and told her daughter to help herself to whatever she wanted from the fridge while I made the salad.

I think she managed a few sips of bubbly and a chat with my husband before she and her daughter were up at the bench peeling prawns. That’s right – she got to celebrate her birthday by cleaning the poop chutes from a kilo and a half of prawns. Kinda makes you wanna come over, doesn’t it?

But that’s just what happens with family. We may not be related but I have known her for 42 years – exactly three quarters of my life. And as wonderful as that is, I don’t like to dwell on it too much as that would mean acknowledging how much and how quickly time has passed since we met that first year of High School!  Our trail then winds its way through 21sts, jobs, boyfriends, weddings, holidays, disappointments, dramas and every conceivable kind of celebration. I was at the party where she met her husband.  Truth be told, I quite fancied him myself but he fancied her so that was that.   I held her children as babies, listened as her marriage ended.

Any friendship is a gift but a friendship that spans close to a lifetime is a blessing. It’s a shared connection with your youth, your past; a history that is never far from the surface. To the outside world, the numbers and experience tell a different story but we still see in each other the teenage school girls that we were and sometimes still behave accordingly!  It’s not about living in the past but about having someone that lived that past with you – the smoking, the all-nighters, the adventures, the bad relationships, the good relationships, the parties, the risks …. all the stuff you do when you’re young and think you’re invincible. So when our kids roll their eyes because they think we are the most boring and clueless people in the universe – EVER – we just look at each other, roll our eyes and think, “If only they knew…”.

“The best mirror is an old friend” – George Herbert

PS: Are you asking, “What happened to Sunday?” It’s like a soap opera – coming in the next episode!

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The Road Rules Rant.

I’m the happiest person you’ll ever meet. Really.  Sunshine and light. The funny one. The eternal optimist (married, ironically, to the world’s greatest ‘don’t-trust-anyone-ist’). My girlfriend says my opinion on people is rubbish because I like everybody. That’s not strictly true but I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, the disappointments who have crossed my path have been few and far between. Unfortunately, incompetents and the inconsiderate are another matter entirely. Especially on the road.

As we enjoyed four days of almost empty roads because half of Sydney cleared out for the Easter break, allow me to  enumerate the many and wondrous ways you can improve not only my, but your fellow travellers’, experience on our narrow and congested highways and byways.

1. Re-acquaint yourself with your blinkers. (Indicators, for any American readers.)  One ‘blink’ when you’re already three quarters of the way into my lane, two inches from my bumper bar doesn’t cut it. They are supposed to indicate intention. I would have let you in, honest.  Now I’m just peeved.

b. If you want to turn right (left, in America), how about you let me know more than two seconds before you stop or before I pull up behind you at traffic lights. When this happens, I guarantee you, that person you see gripping the steering wheel and mouthing something is not singing along to the radio. If expletives could be magically transformed into electricity, this scenario would power the entire east coast.

c. Like pimples on an adolescent’s face, roundabouts appear seemingly overnight in this city. Since they are placed at intersections and since I am not clairvoyant, I don’t actually know which way it is you intend to go. Left? Right? Straight ahead?  Could a blinking light on the outside of the car give me a clue? While we’re here, I may as well point out something else.  The rule is to give way to traffic already in the roundabout and proceed when there is a gap in said traffic. It does not say stop and give way to the car on your right which is still in the next suburb, just heading your way. (Hello? Husband?)

2. Clearway times are not flexible. Surprisingly, if the sign says 9.00am, the expectation of The Roads and Traffic Authority, along with your fellow drivers, is that you NOT PARK there before that time. There is no small print on the sign that says “Oh, by all means, if you’re running late for your train, feel free to park here at 8.50.” You will also not find an exception made for those people desperate for their skinny lattes who “should feel free to just stop for a few minutes to duck in and get their coffees.” at 8.45.  Same applies at the other end of the day when clearways commence at 3.30 to ease that great seething mass of  automobilia known as the school pick-up.  Clearways are our only pitiful defense against peak hour because we get two miserable lanes instead of one.  So please stop stuffing it up.

3. Learn how to park.  Honestly, if there is a line of cars waiting (not by choice) to see whether your eighth attempt at reversing into that Westfields car space is successful, may I humbly suggest you just bite the bullet, find another one and go in nose first. Truly, there’s no shame in it.

b. Marked car spaces. Those lines that delineate car spaces are not a suggestion. You are supposed to park in between them – not over them, not across them.  You are lucky we live in a reasonably civilised society otherwise  people would stab your tyres.

c. Even in the suburbs, on-street parking can sometimes be difficult to find so when you see someone who has taken up two car spaces, your first instinct is to buy a crane, lift their car and drop it into the nearest body of water.  Well, maybe not but you get my drift.  Unless you are driving a limousine or a Hummer, there is no excuse.

4. Green means Go. Most people understand that when the light turns green you put your foot on the accelerator and move…..forward…preferably, immediately.   There is nothing more frustrating than watching from bumper to bumper traffic as the first car in line waits for a particular shade of green then those following leave a couple of car lengths before deciding to head off. This eventuates in a grand total of four or five cars getting through the lights before they again turn red. When this happens at Right Turn Arrows which only last a millisecond at the best of times, it makes the rest of us want to curse your first-born children.

I’m sure everyone has their own pet peeve to add to the list.  A mass exercise in grumpiness! Even with the Easter weekend over, school holidays are still bringing some relief on our roads so enjoy while you can.  The chaos will be back soon enough.

Age = Wisdom. Discuss.

wisdom: the ability or result of an ability to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight

In a little under three months I’ll be 56 and whilst not exactly hurtling towards 60, 50 is becoming a decidedly more distant spot in the rear vision mirror!  Along with ‘laugh lines’ and greying hair, the most common cliché you hear about aging is that it brings wisdom.  Just look at popular culture – Gandalf, Obi-Wan – and for those of a certain vintage, Mr Miyagi.  (The fact they are all men is a little troubling and perhaps fodder for future discussion.)  Wise women, in general, seem to always be portrayed as kindly grandmothers or old crones.  (Also somewhat troubling!)  Well my wisdom tells me there are probably a bazillion people out there who are just as clueless in their 60s or 70s as they were in their 20s!  I think the assumption is that with age comes experience and that if you have any internal dialogue or self-awareness whatsoever,  your past experience and experiences will have some kind of impact on your future actions.  Experience, not time,  is what changes you, informs your choices, feeds your fears, encourages you to take chances, isolates you, frees you, compels you to choose certain paths.

According to my mother, my grandmother was a very stern, non-demonstrative woman. She just got on with the business of farming and raising five children, one of whom had Down Syndrome. Of course it couldn’t have been easy but I wonder how much was character and how much could have been her experience with her own mother? My husband’s mother, likewise unaffectionate, lost her father at 11. Did that experience influence the way she interacted with her own children? In my mother’s case, she told me she made a conscious decision to become the opposite of her own mother and succeeded in spades, becoming the most loving, attentive parent a child could ever wish for.  Hopefully, I am honouring her memory by raising my son the same way in the hope he will do the same when he becomes a dad….which, fingers crossed, will happen before they wheel me into Shady Pines!

Friends of mine recently had a baby. Beautiful, healthy baby girl. They chose a name for her that means “bright and shining”. They also happened to have bought my childhood home so she will begin her life in the same bedroom in which I began mine. I wonder what those walls would tell her if they could speak. What would they remember about the girl who came before? Would they even mention that, at 5, she should have been a big sister to a little boy named Robert? Probably not. I don’t even remember my mother being pregnant.

What I do remember is my father never wanting to talk about him. Never wanting me to even say his name. Mum was OK but I never really asked about it, initially because I was too young then, as a teenager, because your focus becomes so steadfastly on yourself,  you know, no-one else matters, least of all your parents. Fast forward to working and living a life and the whole thing drops off your radar completely… until the universe says ‘not so fast’ and slaps you so hard your knees buckle. I must have been in my 20s when my mother, whose friend’s husband had recently died, asked me whether I wouldn’t mind driving them both to the cemetery for a quick visit. One thing I did know about Robert was that he was buried in the same cemetery. I had come across the site record in the drawer where my parents kept their passports, paid bills and other paperwork.  They had never taken me to his grave and I don’t believe they had ever been back since the day he was buried – July 18, 1963 – at 6 weeks old, four days before my 5th birthday.

I rifled through the draw, found the card and took it with me, purely out of curiosity.  In retrospect, it was quite ridiculous how blithe and blasé I was – how totally unprepared I was for any kind of emotional reaction….the possibility never even crossed my mind.  Me, who even at that age, cried at commercials.  I don’t know what I expected but what I found was an overgrown patch of ground, unidentifiable as a grave and a grief so profound I struggle to describe it.   But I understand now why some cultures wail.  Even after 30 years, I can still see myself, just standing there, trying to control great, heaving, choking sobs so my mother wouldn’t hear.   Bereft.  It’s not a word you hear very often but it’s how I felt.  The irony is, that tiny strip of unkempt earth brought my brother back to life, finally made him real to me and every so often, something random happens and I think,  “What would my life have looked like had he still been around?”.

Times and attitudes were different then and I’m sure no-one thought to take a picture of a little sick baby, so I have nothing of him but his name.  Except that’s not really true.  My father chose to remember my brother in silence. That day in the cemetery was the beginning of my realization that there is no “standard” for expressing happiness or sadness.  There are only our expectations.  One of the reasons Lindy Chamberlain was judged so harshly was her stoicism in the face of her daughter’s death and the television cameras.  Why wasn’t she crying, breaking down, showing her grief in public? She must be guilty.  That’s not how a mother behaves.

When it comes to life and how we deal with it, there is no “one size fits all” and recognising that seems the most basic wisdom of all.

             “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

 

Mementos and Me

Let me be clear – I am NOT a hoarder!  But I do keep a lot of ‘stuff’ for sentimental reasons which is probably what a lot of us do when we’re single and by “a lot of us”, I am generally talking about women.  “I’m always going to keep this coaster/postcard/pressed flower.”, said no man ever.   Movie tickets, concert tickets, love letters, scraps of paper, programmes – I’ve kept versions of them all.  When you are young and life is being lived at full speed,  every experience becomes a memory to be collected….to be then shoved away in boxes or drawers that are ultimately found by our children after we die, cleaning out our houses and muttering, “What is all this crap?”

Well my dear son, this ‘crap’ is evidence of a rather fabulously spent youth.  I recently found a paper bag full of concert and theatre ticket stubs, some faded and almost illegible but it was quite a stash.  Let’s not dwell on the fact I couldn’t remember half of them but that’s not the point is it? The point is, I went to them all, undoubtedly having a blast at some and probably hating others. They represented time shared with friends, dinners, drinks, dancing, suppers…and all the things I now loathe – loud music, crowds and not enough sleep!  God I had a good time. As a measure of how change comes to us all, I recently took my husband to a concert where the support act was not only deafening, their bass notes reverberated through the seats to such a degree I thought my spine was going to shatter.  We ended up waiting outside until they mercifully stopped playing!

At the risk of blowing my own horn, I was rather popular in my younger years and had the cards, flowers and gifts to prove it. One of my admirers wrote an essay about me in Year 12, another a song. Who would be mad enough to just toss these wonderful works of passion aside?  Well certainly not me.  I have them in an album with assorted and sundry notes, birthday cards  and Lord knows what else because I haven’t looked at it in centuries – but I know it’s there.  I’m not actually sure where ‘there’ is but I know I still have it because it would NEVER have crossed my mind to get rid of it no matter how many clean-outs I would have had.  In fact, it came with me to America, where I lived for 8 years and then returned with me, I’m fairly certain, in one of the boxes that had remained unopened all that time.  If I told my husband I have kept all the cards he gave me while we were courting, his first reaction would be, “You’re kidding – what for?”.  What for, indeed.  Because they are hard copies of that first flush of love, of secrets shared, of the growing certainty that this relationship was heading down a path not before travelled.  They are time capsules made out of paper and ink.

My first serious boyfriend (at age 18) gave me a small bundle as I was about to board a plane to join my parents on holiday in Italy.  There were six small, exquisite cards – one for each month we had been together and each with a simple, sweet message.  Even after 38 years, my heart constricts just a little when I think of them.  Grand gestures have their place but it is the small, unexpected intimacies that follow us from our past to our future.

And yet I find that collecting keepsakes, like many things in life, becomes somewhat of a paradox because we think all these mementos will keep the memories alive when, more often than not, they remind us of just how much we have forgotten.

 

 

 

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