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Weekly Catch-up: Dutiful Daughter

Last year, we all learnt that plans have to change and do change quickly. My goals for February quickly were tossed aside when Queensland opened their borders to NSW residents from February 1.

For readers outside Australia, I live in the capital city of NSW. Sydney was hit first with COVID. One of the first things the other states did was shut the borders. So we couldn’t cross into other states!

The first time the borders opened between Qld and NSW, I planned my trip north to visit my mother in the upcoming term break.

Then another wave hit in the southern part of Sydney and Qld closed its borders to people from that part. I thought I was safe – I’m at the very north of Sydney.

Then Qld blocked one more local government area (LGA).

Everyone was asking me if I was going north. I said I’d wait until they did one more LGA.

Ha! They went: one, two, all.

Borders reopened just before Christmas so I had everything booked to go up in January. Perfect timing as my mother was going through a sticky patch and I could help her with decisions and selling and getting rid of stuff in preparation for downsizing.

And then Sydney got another outbreak. I ummed and ahhed whether I should jump on a plane, miss Christmas with my family or or risk waiting a fortnight.

Waited and yep, borders closed.

Unexpectedly, the second day that school resumed, Queensland announced it was allowing people from Sydney in. So, even though school had not been back a full week, I took carer’s leave and hightailed it to Qld. I couldn’t risk the borders slamming shut again.

Anyway, perfect timing, except for missing Mr S’s 60th birthday. Mum’s house had sold in record time – it was on the market for less than a week. The removalists were coming the week the borders reopened.

I spent the first five days packing, helping my mum get rid of more stuff, taking that stuff to the op shop, directing removalists, dealing with electricity and phone/internet suppliers, connecting the internet, buying the needed connection to get the phone working. Exhausting. But what a dutiful daughter! Really, they would have struggled without my help.

Then I set up the mobile my sister had bought our mother. Now my patience started wearing thin. Possibly not quite errant, but not the most dutiful of daughters.

Now to explain the need of internet access for banking! They don’t have an active credit/debit card so couldn’t pay the removalists. I paid it and they needed to repay. Like the removalists, I don’t want cash. “What if we get a debit card? Can you use that to take money?” No, I’m not a business. I don’t have a card reader.

How will they pay the rent of the house they are in while waiting to buy a new, smaller property? “We don’t want this internet banking thing. Can’t we just get the bank to send the owners money?” You can try but I don’t think they will. You need to transfer yourself via online banking.

OK, I did become a bit sharp. Still, internet access established (by me) and once money is in the bank it will be my job to pay the rent regularly. DD, again.

But we are still not finished with dutiful daughter jobs. Signing my parts of enduring power of attorney. A visit to my mother’s doctor with her to get him to sign his section on the enduring power of attorney form and discuss my concerns about my mother’s health.

Add in a visit to my aunt who lives nearby and who had a stroke last year. All round it’s been a fortnight of adult offspring care tasks.

I did get to do several rainforest walks. I wish I could share some photos but the camera on iPhone is dead.

Here’s one from an earlier visit:

If I was closer, and the borders didn’t keep closing, I’d be able to spread these tasks out. But then, possibly if there wasn’t a sense of urgency with the move, my parents wouldn’t have accepted my help?

Copying Laura from The Occasional Nomads, I am going to add a regular bit below.

What I’ve just read: The Blue Zones: lessons for living longer by Dan Beuttner. This has invigorated my health goals. Adding drinking water and working on better sleep (again) to my goals. Worth a read. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan. Interesting style but too too depressing story about adult offspring who won’t let them mother die and forced on her painful, invasive medical interventions. Strange choice for my week with my elderly parents. Lol!

What I’ve been watching: too much shit on tele. I need to be more selective. Turning the Tv off will help me with my goals of sleep and home routines. I watch too many American home makeover shows. My favourite is the husband and wife couple on The Fixer-Upper. I also watched the first episode of the new series of Wife Swap. The Australian version. And Hughsies, We have a problem. And repeats of Would I lie to you and QI. Think I should go cold turkey and not turn the TV on after dinner.

Steps to my goal

  • Sleep – I’ve been sleeping well here. No stress of work to keep my mind rolling over.
  • Water – will start tallying my water consumption again.
  • Exercise – four days of rainforest walks in a row.
  • Decluttering – leaving a pair of sandals in Qld. Old and worn. Goal was to wear them out this summer. ✔️
  • Main thing for the year – I have a major goal I am too embarrassed to share until it is finished. But for now, know I haven’t done anything for it this week as my focus was helping mum move.
  • FIRE: I’m starting to think about the FIRE movement – Financially independent, retire early. Thinking but not doing much. Actually becoming more aware my purchases are working against it. $55 for lace bunting? Why? Jeans with beading for $250. I don’t really need them. Anyway, thinking and awareness are the first steps.

Winnowing books

The ease with which I have abandoned books astounds me.

Three books … out. Didn’t get past thirty pages. One I didn’t even open.

Okay, I didn’t buy any of them. So I had no original desire to read them. They were actually all gifted by the same man. (There’s a novel in the man but privacy precludes me from telling the tale. Though one day ….)

Anyway, this man is German and feels a connection to me because of my German heritage. He’s a strange fish, with a strangeness that comes from being oh so German. Possibly autistic. And basically just strange. actually, maybe a sociopath.

Let’s call him Hans, cause he has multiple names anyway. (Did I mention there’s a story in there?)

Hans gave me Book 1 and Book 2 of Goethe’s Faust. I opened Book 1. Read the autobiographical notes. Skimmed the introduction. And faulted on page 2 of actual Goethe. Nope, not going to try.

Given the introduction said Book 2 was heavier, out with that too.

I thought I may as well try the adventure book Hans gave me. He said the author is a well-known writer of adventures in the Wild West, as in the American Wild West. I thought it might be interesting to get a German perspective, after all, there were quite a large number of German settlers.

With the first dozen pages, I knew this wouldn’t be for me. The central character is a perfect shot, the best rider, breaker of horses that no one else can do, the hardest worker, the strongest man, a great hunter, a clever engineer, best ever teacher, the only …. You get the picture. Thank god for those Germans! The Wild West would never have been settled, no railways built, no work done.

The translation reads like they’ve used Google translator. So poorly done. Dialogue lacking in natural rhythm and idiom. Tenses all over the place.

Luckily, I will never have to tell Hans I haven’t read the books. (The reason I won’t tell him lies at the heart of the tale about him which I will tell in about 10 years.)

For now, I am happy in clearing space on my shelves. These books are not going to sit on my shelf, challenging me, making me feel guilty at not reading them.

Out, out, out.

(But I must admit there is no space on my shelves. I have bought a dozen books from the second hand book store – had to help out local businesses in the COVID Shutdown, didn’t I? And then a friend gave me some books. The Reading Down the House isn’t going too well.)

Back to Ned Kelly: another true story

Six years ago, Robert Drewe’s Our Sunshine got me hooked on reading more about Ned Kelly. About the myth and the historiography as much as the man and the times.

Last year I picked up Leo Kennedy’s book, Black Snake: the real story of Ned Kelly. Leo is the great grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy, one of the police officers murdered by the Kelly gang at Stringy Bark Creek. I read a few chapter but wasn’t in the mood.

It took me a bit to get into the book. I started reading in July last year but then stopped, feeling the message was going to be a bit repetitive. As part of my Reading Down the House – Decluttering challenge I picked this up again. I’m glad I did.

Kennedy invokes the impact of the loss with a great deal of immediacy. We can never forget that Ned Kelly was a murderer who went looking for the police party he had been informed were searching for him.

Here were three men, doing their duty. Irish born and colonial born, struggling to make a way for their family. They didn’t chose a life of crime as the Kelly clan did.

And there’s another bit that is the interesting element for me: what do you expect when you establish a country to be a prison? The whole place was a prison. Most were either convicts, ex-convicts, children of convicts or married to ex-convicts. What do you expect when a large percentage of the population is so closely linked to crime? It could be Kelly had supporters as they saw discrimination against the Irish, but it may just have been that is supporters were all linked by the convict/criminal connections.

Of course, people have choices. Many of the police came from poor Irish backgrounds. But the culture and moral contexts were different from now.

Add in the accepted violence with the treatment of the indigenous peoples and that the whole country was stolen, and that many of the families that became the establishment, did so by taking land or being given land “grants” which is hardly moral or earned by graft. There is just so much to debate and consider.

Back to Sergeant Kennedy and his two constables, Micheal Scanlan and and Thomas Lonigan. What a loss! I felt it in Leo’s writing.

As to the argument of the body straps as evidence of police intent to murder rather than arrest, I found this interesting page. But even accepting the existence of the strap, the Kelly Gang engaged with the police; the gang could have moved on and hid.

The growing myth of Ned as a hero and the tourist trail has had an ongoing impact on many of the descendants. I didn’t think about that on all my visits!

I would like to visit Mansfield and Stringbark and pay my respects to the first innocent victims of the Kelly gang.

It’s not what I thought it would be

What sort of book would you expect from this cover?

A child’s fantasy tale? At over 200 pages, it isn’t a picture book and not a quick read.

If I told you it was The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, and you’d vaguely heard of the novel, like me, you might think it a tale similar to Wind in the Willows.

The blurb lets you know that the central character is a chimney-sweep who runs away and falls asleep in a stream. Thereby becoming a Water Baby.

Okay, so maybe Kingsley was a social reformer, railing against child labour?

Sort of. He is also a racist. The descriptions of Irish are unbelievably shocking. Kingsley doesn’t seem to mind Scots, but the Irish! Oh no! Doesn’t like the American either. Disparages republican and equality. Mr S says the book is of its time – the 1860s. Maybe.

But then there’s the violence.

A bird who stands up for herself is pecked to death by the mob. The mob of birds then find a dead dog which they then start eating. But they all fall down dead as a gamekeeper has stuffed the dog with strychnine to kill predators.

As a young child, my sister had an old copy of this book and I am sure I remember her loving it. She confirmed she did love it but can’t remember why. I am going to send it to her. She’s a real SWJ, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. She’ll probably be aghast that she liked it, or at least at a loss to work out why she missed all the racism.

Even if it was of its time, that it is published now with a cover aimed at under 12s is just wrong. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be published, though I think it’s literary merit is also lacking, just that the audience isn’t what it is aimed at.

So why did I persevere when I have a new rule to stop if it is not appealing? I admit to skimming quite a bit, but without that it was a quick read anyway. And I felt it was one of those books I had to find out why it had persisted and why my sister loved it.

Have you read it? If as a child, do you remember it? Any child or young adult book you’ve revisited and revised your previous view?

Keepers – not decluttering books

What to do when Reading Down the House in order to declutter you come across a potential keeper?

Maybe I shall not count it in my Reading Down the House list? After all, I’ve only had it since Christmas. It was the gift given to me by a member of the book club. (Remember she gave everyone a second hand book, picked from what she read during the year for each member?)

I laughed aloud on page 1 – always a good sign. It has a gentle humour and reference to history and literature. The central character is honourable and charming. There’s a girl very reminiscent of Flavia Luce.

And the author admires alliteration. That is a winner, surely? “In a single week, there might be committees, caucuses, colloquiums, congresses, and conventions variously coming together to establish codes, set courses of action, levy complaints and generally clamor…” [My only complaint is the dropping of the u. Surely a count of Tsarist period would use British spelling?]

From this book I have decided no longer to refer to decluttering as decluttering but winnowing. A much gentler, more romantic, bucolic term. Henceforth, thus it shall be winnowing!

I can see myself reading it when I have a spring or autumn holiday and want to be joined by a story of gentleness among horror.

Actually my only complaint was not the dropping of u, but the use of the word entree for main course. I know that’s what Americans call the main course, and the author is writing for an American audience but the central character speaks French fluently. He would not call the main course the entree. I am sure no one in Russia would use that word for the main course. How hard would it have been to have used the phrase main course or the French phrase?

Petty? Oh well. That’s me. When reading.

Anyway, I think I will have to keep this book and read it again after the movie or TV series with Kenneth Brannaugh comes out.

Rainy day and a litany of moans

Last weekend I was moaning about the heat. These last few months, the east coast was alight and blanketed in smoke haze.

This weekend?

Heavy, flooding rain.

Perfect for cake baking and eating; red wine drinking; book reading. All of which I did.

It was Mr San’s birthday. So I bake him some chocolate brownies. I also baked a fiddley cake.

I’m not a fan of baking cakes that require rubbing butter into the flour nor ones that requires layers of fruit and batter. Why does there never seem to be enough batter for the top layer?

This cake had both. Turning butter and flour into breadcrumb texture and layers of batter and tinned plums.

I was nervous. My oven is shite. It cooks too quickly. I am sure it is hotter than the now rubbed off knob use to say it was. It also burns every cake on the back right side. How can a tiny space not heat evenly? Brownies can have the burnt bits cut off. Not so cake.

I think I was a little preemptive in taking the cake out. This cake was for colleagues at work. Two birthdays. Fearing a gooey mess in the middle, I had to try a bit.

Quite good. But not the done thing to bring in a cake with a slice missing. Should I blame my sons?

I will make this cake again. Despite having to rub the butter and flour. But I won’t layer. I will just mix in some stewed apples. Or grated apple – even easier.

In honour of Mr S, I also cooked up a bowel of chilli. (He loved it in the States.) It was to be for Monday night but it is so stormy here that we won’t venture out for the traditional birthday dinner outing. Much of our suburb is without power and roads are flooded so best to stay at home.

Our pool and gutters are overflowing. Trees, exhausted and dried out from the heat and drought, can’t bear the weight of wet branches so are dropping them. We have a liquid amber in the front yard. They are renowned, after gums, to be branch droppers. Luckily it has only dropped a small branch. Thus far.

We also have a repeatedly leaking roof. Several plumbers couldn’t find the problem. One fixed it. And it stayed fixed for about two years.

Until now.

It is pouring through again. Quite depressing. So I sit elsewhere. I don’t want an internal water feature.

On the first day back at work I caught my foot in a piece of furniture. As usual, I was in a rush. My foot twisted, and I went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes. (Thank you, Evelyn for letting me know the proverbial sack wasn’t full of shite but root vegetables.)

Two weeks later and, while the bruising that coated my foot like a sock has gone as have the several more noticeable bruises, and the swelling has subsided, my ankle is still very sore.

I have finally decided to heed he advice of all and sundry and make an appointment to see a doctor. I think I have bilateral tendon damage.

It is most annoying. I can’t wear high heels. Not even little heels. I can’t walk my usual walks. I clop along like an Igor. I can’t sit cross legged. And it randomly hurts.

On the day I fell, I had some reaction to something and my eyes went red like a vampire. A few people suggested conjunctivitis. Me??? No way. I wouldn’t get something manky like that. Had it once when I was ten. I remember feeling aghast then.

Twenty four hours later I agreed to try the eye drops. (I can’t stand drops in my eyes.) Turns out I probably did have conjunctivitis. But also turns out you can get it from allergic reaction to cosmetics or dust. Plenty of dust here two weeks ago. And I used a new eyeshadow. (I thought conjunctivitis was up there with ringworm – a sign of unclean practices.)

As I said, a litany of woes.

But what I’m really upset about is, this weekend I found out Billy Bragg is coming to Australia for a special three night show. But it’s sold out. I hate that I’m missing out. I wish I never found out. Then I’d never have this deep feeling of disappointment. I saw him at his first tour of Australia, and then about three other tours. Maybe he’ll be performing in 2021 when I’m in the UK?

Thank god for cake, tea, red wine and books.

And buckets. And towels. Thank god for those this weekend.

And also for Mr Towles. Who wrote the book I’m loving.

Decluttering: the pendulum has swung

Soooo…previously, I had to read a book I bought or it had to remain on the shelf until I read it. No avoiding what must be completed.

Now I have given myself permission to stop reading if I don’t like the book, I’m worried I may have a whole new issue.

Don’t love the book? Out with it.

Book’s only OK? Out with it.

Meh! Out with it.

I’m reading a book I recently bought in the US. By an African-American author who is apparently a YouTube star and a TV actor/director.

I like reading books that give me different perspectives, books by the marginalised, by minorities, by outsiders. Hence my attraction to this book.

But besides learning about African hair, I didn’t feel this book gave me a new understanding. It was good, better than OK. But didn’t sing to me, didn’t resonate with me. I definitely didn’t laugh “freakishly hard” as it said I would on the cover. Didn’t laugh at all, actually.

I was tempted to abandon the book. Enough already.

But then I realised I was becoming too quick to move on. Breaking my rules is a slippery slope.

See what happens when you break rules! This is why things have to be done in a certain way, Why standards must be maintained.

But it is too late. The horse has bolted. The gate is open. I’m becoming a cruel reader.

[As the book was a series of unrelated chapter, I suppose I could have taken my time but I want to declutter. I also wanted to get a sense of the author that comes from reading all at once. But mostly I want to declutter.]

Decluttering books

Did not finish!

I’ve told you how hard it is for me to stop reading a book when it is, by all reviews, a great book.

I don’t start every book I pick up.

But once I’ve started a book that is well-written or literary or intellectually challenging. I feel I must persevere; must not let the book beat me.

It’s like a central thesis of mine: get into a book, it must be finished.

But I’m going to break my own internal laws.

I’ve stopped reading this:

It’s beautifully, lyrically written. I love the sense of place. The concept finding self in a fishing town in Tassie; the conflict between helping dad on the fishing boat or being consigned to the horror of working in a cannery or moving to the big unknown, this all has the potential to be original and insightful. The author is a surfer and it shows in her descriptions of surfing – she gets surfing.

So why am I not finishing the book?

It’s not a hard read. I could finish it in a weekend.

It’s the abuse that I know is coming. And one of the sons dies. That’s obvious to me. And confirmed by reading reviews and questions on Goodreads.

Why did the author have to go to melodramatic extreme? It’s like all those books that came out a decade or so ago about child abuse. Those Cathy Glass ones.

OK, Past the Shallows is much better stylistically. It has a better plot, not formulaic. Sense of place is strong.

But it’s not the book I want. I want it to be a book on identity, on coming from a small Tassie fishing village with low employment options where allowing self-expression is actively crushed, where options for masculinity are very limited to hard-drinking, gruff monosyllabic utterances. But the character wins out. The dad may have hit a kid once but doesn’t routinely abuse his children and doesn’t force his child to leave school early.

I want what the blurb on the back says isn’t enough, to be enough. Brotherly love. Secret friendships. Small treasures. I want their power to be enough.

So I’m not finishing it. And I’m giving the book away.

Decluttering

Shhh! Don’t bother me. I’m reading.

It’s my latest challenge to declutter my house and rid myself of things.

I know! How good is this? I am actually tidying up and ridding myself of stuff by reading, by sitting here and reading.

I rarely hold onto books anymore. I know with all the new books being published and referrals to, or discovery of, old jems, there’s just too many books to read to spend time reading ones I’ve already read. So if a book isn’t one I would re-read, I donate, give away or exchange it. I only keep “keepers”. Oh and I keep reference books. And there’s my box sets of Little House and Famous Five. And all of Mr S’s books; he never parts with books.

My problem is: I buy more books than I read. And I borrow books. And friends lend me books, saying they think I’ll like it. And I’m in a book club. And I like keeping books.

I have several books on the go at once.

So, I have piles of books everywhere.

The two sides of the book shelf behind “Mum’s spot”. Where I sit and read and watch tele and muck around on the ‘net. Of course, I have more books than this. All around the house.

Now before you comment, “Hey Lucinda, books aren’t clutter,” or, “Hi, you might want go start with all the other paper clutter around your house before you start reading,” know that I really enjoy reading and decluttering by reading strikes me as an enjoyable task.

A few years ago Dar inspired me to Read Down the House. I picked twelve books that had hung around my house for too long and aimed to read them. I didn’t get through them all. Pout! One is still on my shelf. A worthy book. A book I searched for for years. A book I craved. And now I’ve owned a copy for years. And haven’t read it! (And when I tried, found it a little boring.)

So to this year’s reading challenge:

Read from my house.

1. If I get to page 100 and am not enjoying it, out with the book.

Do you know how hard it is for me me give in and not read a book once I start? Let alone one that I have bought and have had sitting on a shelf for months and years!? A little frizzon of anxiety, like I am breaking a core rule of being, hits my stomach. I can’t let a book defeat me. I have to win by finishing it.

But as a fellow bookclubber says, “I just need to learn to let it go. Life is too short to read things you are not enjoying.”

I will persevere!

2. If I find I am just not in the mood, I can put the book down but I must try again within the month. Or Out With The Book.

I thought about adding a rule to not buy more books until I have freed space on my shelves but that is just silly. Who can NOT buy books? I realised that wouldn’t work anyway when I read a recommendation by Jennifer. The book wasn’t at my local library so I had to buy it. The online seller upsold me another book by recommending one by the same author. I just had to accept the offer. What if the book wasn’t available in the future? Or I forgot it’s title or author?

I was going to also add a rule that I can’t take books from friends who want me to borrow the book. But that’s just mean and anti-social.

I’m not going to set a number or a theme or a topic. I’m not stop borrowing from the library. I am just going to try to dive into some of the book I have at home.

Anyway, shhh, I have to finish this chapter.

Is it really the true story? Really?

Long term readers will know I had an obsession with Ned Kelly. There was my whole Summer of Ned. Then there were the two trips to Victoria to accompany Mr S on his annual pilgrimage to the SAME ski resort which I refused to go (after already going annually for more than a decade) unless we visited Ned’s stomping ground.

Recently, I’ve listened to a reading of Peter Cary’s The True History of the Kelly Gang.

The reader, Gianfranco Negroponte, is awesome. He has just the right timbre and tonal gestures to narrate a novel set in colonial times. His minor adjustments for different characters, including a subtle hint of Irish accent for one female are spot on for the whole texture of the novel and for characterisation.

But the actual novel… Well, if I wasn’t listening to Gianfranco, I wouldn’t have finished.

I don’t like Carey’s Ned. He’s a whiney, petty, mummy’s boy; a sour, humourless crim. And his gang are pig-ignorant teenagers. What is it with all the cross dressing?

There’s not enough political development. No deep understanding of the context of a society founded in violence and crime with such different standards to today. The novel touches on the hard-scrabble life with poverty and hard slog the way of life and introduces the wealth of the ruling class. It touches on the class difference.

But what’s missing is the corruption and the policies which entrenched the wealthy to succeed and gain land and made it next to impossible for the selectors to keep their land, let alone accumulate wealth. And the deeply entrenched class system and racism against those of Irish descent that meant the Kelly gang had many supporters.

Remember this was a country “founded” the horror of the convict system. “Founded” suggests a long time ago but in the Kelly era, that treatment was their lived experience. Ned’s father was a transported convict. The inhumanity of the system and the lack of compassion for the poor was deep.

And then there’s the language. I don’t mean the unpunctuated stream of consciousness. I mean the concrete imagery. At first it seems authentic, quaint even. But Carey labours the point. I’ve never liked Carey. Probably one of the few to resist reading him. Pompous. Overly obviously literary. A try hard. The emperor’s new clothes. Everyone says you must read him, he is so good. No one want to speak against.

The ending is disjointed. It’s no surprise that Ned is captured in the shoot out. But the sudden jump from Ned’s narration to third person doesn’t work.

And it’s bloody long. Over 13 hours.

Read the much shorter Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe. A more lyrical novel with a more captivating, charming Ned.