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French Sundays

I remember when shops in Sydney and the suburbs were closed from 12 noon on Saturdays and didn’t reopen until Monday.

There were no shopping centres open on Sundays. No grocery shopping at 10pm weeknights, let alone on a Sunday. Thursday nights was late trading. Every other days, shops closed at 5.

Somehow we coped.

Lots of friends at school had retail jobs which were set Thursday nights and Saturday mornings – the “extended” trading days.

Young people, those without part time jobs, hung out at the shopping centre on Thursday nights. It was very quiet walking through Sydney shopping malls on a Saturday afternoon or after 5, even in the main shopping district. Everything was closed.

Slowly, hours have been extended.

Now most supermarkets are open till 9 or 10pm on weekdays, and both days of the weekend. Likewise shopping centres are open on weekends. Sundays have become the main grocery shopping day. Hanging out in shopping centres seems to be a national pastime, something families do.

The convenience of shopping whenever we want has meant we don’t need to plan ahead. Of course, it’s helpful for shift workers, like nurses and such. The extra opening times has created more part time jobs in retail.

But the cost?

  • There’s no quiet time.
  • There’s no dedicated time for families.
  • We’ve become a nation of shoppers.
  • “Going to the shopping centre” is a family activity.
  • We are fatter and in debt.
  • Lost income. Now we are an “open all hours” country, loading for working on weekends is being cut. If there’s no such thing as weekends or family time, why should employers pay more.

I was struck by how quiet Sundays were in France. Trucks are not allowed on the highways on Sundays – the roads are kept free to visit families.

Here’s a post from an English ex-blogger who has moved to France.

I know we can’t step backwards, and change expectations. Though, while I do like the convenience of shopping, I could readjust.

So do I shop on Sundays and check the workers get the extra loading, or do I go back to a slow Sunday?

What’s your view on Sundays? Do we shop too much? Should we have a day of rest, a day to go slow, to visit family?

Go to the country for rest!

Why do doctors not order an extended stay in the country for complete rest anymore?

Was this something only for the upper classes, anyway?

I ask because I am reading Lillian Beckwith’s The Hills is Lonely (1959), the first volume of A Hebridean Omnibus. It opens with her standing on a jetty, awaiting a boat to take her to an island. She is buffeted by a storm, and wonders why she isn’t at home, in town, drinking tea. Her answer: her doctor ordered rest in the country. It’s not as if she does nothing when on the island. She goes galavanting across the moors, learns to milk cows and assists when an influenza epidemic hits the island. Still, she was following her doctor’s orders: rest in the country.

Rest in the country has always sounded divine. But without milking the cows by hand. When my children were young, I dreamed of getting an illness, one without pain, one that would allow my mind to still operate sufficiently that I could read, for which I had to be hospitalised for rest. Meals brought to me. No responsibilities. No cooking. No cleaning. Bed rest.

Bed rest, even better than that, would be a glass-enclosed verandah to catch the sun. Lying on a cane lounge, wrapped in blankets, a book in hand. But as modern hospitals do not have that, I would have been happy with a private room. Quiet and rest.

Quiet and rest! I remember reading books where the central character was sent to the Swiss Alps and ordered to rest in a sanatorium. It sounded like heaven, even as a child.

Rest, but without TB please

Even as a child, I sensed such a choice was not for the like of me. My class battled on, with flu, with TB, with back pain, to scour and scrub and serve and work. No work = no money. Even if the doctor said the choice was death or rest, we worked on. The immediate needs of income for food and shelter took precedence over the long-term, possible death.

So even if my doctor said that I had to go to the country for complete rest, it wouldn’t be an option. Where? How? Thank heavens for books. I can read and I can dream.

Did I drop anything?

A few weeks ago, I was in a dilemma.

Taking up exercise because it is good for me, left no time for rest and chores. I was thinking of dropping French. Not because I don’t enjoy it. I do. I love it. But because it was the only thing I could possibly drop.

I’ve made a decision. I am not dropping French.

I can let housework drop. Not that I do much anyway.

There’s only three more French lessons this term. They will be on a hiatus for most of next term as our teacher will be travelling. Then I leave for my European trip.

So I will have most of next term with Saturday mornings free of French lessons. I will see how I spend my Saturday mornings. Probably slothing around.

I am going to have to spend a large part of this weekend doing household chores I didn’t do last weekend while I was galavanting around. Actually I haven’t had time or energy to do all the household chores that need doing in the last few weeks. But those chores are always and repeatedly there and they don’t “spark joy”.

French lessons do spark joy. So they are staying.

Escape to the country

I booked a day’s outing for Mr S and me. A day trip on a vintage train. I told everyone we were going on a steam train. Not that old. It was diesel. Still, pretty old.

Our carriage was a master work of pressed tin ceiling recovered from other carriages and wood work.

On the way out we were served tea and scones. Very civilised.

We travelled south, along the coast to Wollongong.

Then up the escarpment.

We stopped half way up, from where we had an amazing view of the coast, Lake Illawarra and the now declining steel works.

There’s one big difference between modern and vintage trains. Noise. Modern trains are insulted and you are cocooned from the ch-ch-ch of the wheels, the grinding squeal when wheels are forced to go around slight bends, the rattle of windows, the creaky of the carriage. People shouted to be heard over the noise. When we stopped at stations, the silence was deafening. On the video of us ascending through the temperate rainforest, you will hear the shouting, but not all the other noises – my audio didn’t pick it up. But trust me.

On the side of the tracks, at suburban and country stations, people watched, waved and photographed our train. It’s lovely the impact of heritage trains. I think it is the mystery and sense of adventure. Modern trains, with their quietness, their metal and glass, just don’t have the same sense of romance.

Our destination: Robertson. As it is in the southern highlands, it was much cooler. And breezy.

Did Lucinda eat at her namesake?

No, she didn’t. I don’t drink coffee. We headed straight for the pub which had lovely bright decor and lots burning in the fire place. Luckily I had booked a table; there were many people who missed out.

A few beers and we were ready for a hot lunch. They stuffed up our order and gave us two No 5 blackboard specials instead of a 2 and a 5. They were so busy we didn’t bother complaining. We’d never have got our order by the time the train was to leave.

A quick walk up the Main Street. Past the big poo, sorry The Big Potato.

Up to the Cheese Factory.

As well as a cheese factory and cafe, the building contained the most amazing rabbit warren of a store. Second hand, new, upcycled, clothes, jewellery, toys, furniture. Stuff. Lots of stuff. I bought two pairs of gloves. They are so soft and a little fluffy inside. I couldn’t decide which pair I liked. So bought them both. There was a grey pair. I showed restraint and didn’t buy it.

The fruit shop was amazing. So cheap. $3 for a punnet of fat, lush raspberries. And the biggest bunch of basil I have ever seen, for the same price as a tiny bunch in Sydney.

A walk in the golden light and long shadows back to the station. There’s memorials to the fettlers and men who built the railway up the escarpment. It would have been heavy going. The memorial is made of concrete sleepers, topped by a rail indicator.

The station building looks to be made of wood – an easy assumption as we are in the highlands. But no, it is concrete slabs.

The track not taken. We were not heading this way to Moss Vale. The train had gone there to turn around. We were heading back to Sydney. There’s always something evocative about looking out the back window of a train. Not that you can do it from a modern train with the guard or driver’s compartments in the way. Maybe that is why it seems so special?

Back down the escarpment, to the coast.

Our trip back through the south of city was in dark. It felt like more like 9 than 5pm. We pulled into platform number 1 at Central. The country train side of Central.

We hoped on a suburban train home. So quiet!

We felt like we were returning from a long holiday to a different place. And a different time.

Treating the weekend like a holiday

I often spend my weekends resting and preparing for the working week.

How stuffed is that!!!

Rather than free time, it becomes more time tied to work. Washing and ironing clothes for work. Shopping and preparing meals for the week ahead. Other household chores that we just don’t have time for during the week because work eats the whole week.

This weekend I treated the two days like a holiday. OK, that was more by chance than planning, but both days were not tied to preparing for work.

I spent Saturday in the city.

and Sunday in the country.

It’s late, and I’ve had a big weekend so I will share my adventures with you in future posts.

How do you spend your weekends? Having fun? Doing household chores? Working? Preparing for work? Resting and recovering?

Self care day

My sister’s work is highly emotional. It would take a toll. And it involves travelling. Her employer gives the workers a self-care day after every case concludes.

That got me thinking.

I don’t normally blog about my work. But here sort of goes.

I work in a high pressure, highly relational, job with constant decision-making and no down time in the working day. There’s one client who has unreasonable and unachievable expectations. She is often aggressive and rude and shouty and down right mean. And my employer gives me no back up.

Last week I had a bad night’s sleep, woke with a disturbed stomach and dreaded going to work. I am sure my blood pressure was up. I was tense and my back and neck were like rock. I knew I had to give news to that client that would probably see her respond like a rabid dog, adding to her probable Human Rights Commission claim that I can see happening in a few years.

Fuck it!

In that same week, I had several reports of suicide ideation or attempts that I had to deal with and support other staff through, including calling an ambulance and debriefs and return plans. And one family where a mother did actually commit suicide and I have to support her kids. And I had to make a report to Family Services. And deal with a faulty nationwide computer glitch that affected mandatory standardised testing. And find staff.

Those incidents didn’t actually disturb my equilibrium. That may surprise some readers but dealing with crises and taking logical steps to move forward is something I take in my stride.

Solving the unsolvable, while being politically correct, with little, actually no, support from my employer, when I think we are doing an amazing job and few could do better in the context we are in, which has been acknowledged by experts but not my employer who just ducks and weaves. And to be abused by this one woman. Repeatedly. Now that pisses me off. And affects my health. One day I might tell the story of why I didn’t blog last year.

I take very few days off for illness. Not unless I am really really ill in a physically obvious way.

But my mental health and my bodily wellbeing is important.

So I took a self care day. Some may say it is a sickie, the days Aussies allegedly take when they are not sick.

But it isn’t.

I needed to still my mind. And every time I feel sick from this woman, I will take a day and be honest, as so many of my colleagues are not, and report it as stress.

People in my position hate being seen as weak. And being stressed is seen as weak.

Well, fuck it. Then I’m weak.

Enforced margins at work

Being on deferred salary scheme means I am getting 80% of my pay. Maybe it should be called the deferred gratification scheme?

Currently I am having some, for want of a better phrase, immediate gratification when it comes to creating my desired margins at work.

OK there is a better phrase. It is called sick leave.

My leg injury means I am working 80% of the week. Yes, I am working 4 days a week for a few weeks. God it's good. Not the being injured bit; the part time work bit.

I could soldier on and not take any sick days. But I found my manic and long work days fatigued my leg. And then I was too buggered when I got home to do my exercises. If I want to heal, the exercises are mandatory. Even without the lack of exercises, work is just fatiguing for my knee. And I am not sleeping well as the brace is extremely uncomfortable. When I take the brace off my knee hurts as sleeping on my side puts sideways pressure on my knee. Flat on my back isn't better as I need to have pillows under my knee as it doesn't straighten out. And yesterday my back started spasming. I think it is all related. Add in I can't do my normal walks which are my relaxation technique.

My award says I work a 7 hour day, but that is sooooo not the case. Nine to ten and a half are the more common, with a few twelve to thirteen thrown in every week or so, and and a fifteen hour day for good measure this week.

My doctor asked what if she gave me a certificate that said I had to work no more ham 8 hours. Ha!! Once I'm there, I can't just walk out. The work doesn't even get done in 10 hours I do work. Parents would complain if they saw me walking out at the eight hour mark for weeks. And the complaint would mean hours more work dealing with pointless complaints. And there's always something more to do. I never get through my work so I often stay for "just one more thing". And it is expected I will be at evening functions.

So I am having a day off a week for two or three weeks. It will cover the final weeks of wearing the brace.

As I am having a sick day, I refuse to do any work on those days. My first one I just relaxed around the house. And did my exercises, of course.

But that limit doesn't mean I have big margins. In the first week, I still worked over what my award says I do, just compressed into four days. So instead of working 35 hours in five days, I worked 42 hours in four days last week.

If I worked in head office, I'd accrue flexi time and get a day off. But I don't.

Not that I am glad I am injured. I truely would rather be working more than full time and have my knee back. But stuff work if it means my future mobility, health and life will be sacrificed! No one from work, no head bureaucrat will be there holding my hand when I am in pain or can't manage stairs.

Still, part time would be so much better. If only I could job share!

Meanwhile I can have breakfast and enjoy looking st my flowering azalea at my back step.

How are the margins going?

One term in with my margin ruling, and my absence from blithering away on my blog may indicate how well I’ve done at blending work and LIFE. 

It’s actually been the most stressful term I’ve had. Ridiculous bureaucratic changes with Orwellian doublespeak and unrealistic timelines; “tools” that don’t work and are introduced without training. Training for other things that is provided by people reading scripts but who can’t answer questions that are off-script. I’m not the sort of person who can smile wryly and say it is what it is and just work around inane bureaucracy. I have to point out pompous, stupid, pointless decisions and processes. 

So yeah. I haven’t really cut back on hours but I have ruled a clear margin. No work emails at home. No work emails on the weekend. No work emails after hours. Full stop. Period. 

And I have noticed the difference. 

My week at work has varied from 42 hours to over 55 hours. It not just the hours, of course. It’s the stress of decision making, leading change, dealing with above mentioned idiotic bureaucracy, and the pace of work. And naturally, I don’t stop thinking about how to manage things and go over plans in my head after work. 

But the other thing is I have made sure I have done the things that sustain me and build me up. Things I enjoy. 

So enough of the whinging, I will be back to review the term’s fun. 

Time: Having a broad margin in your life

I read a reference to someone famous writing they wanted a margin in their life. I can’t remember who, and I can’t be arsed finding the reference (it was in Gretchen Rubin’s book, Happier at Home, which I have returned to the library) as I see that as wasting the margin that I want in my life. But I think it was that Thoreau fellow. 

Anyway, I read the reference and thought, in arm pumping style, which is so not me, “Yes, that’s what I want.” 

I want a margin to allow me to do or not do things. Things that do not HAVE TO BE DONE. Things that do not shout at me to be done. A margin to breath. A margin to laze around until afternoon in my pjs. A margin to blog or daydream or gaze out the window and think about gardening. A margin to sit in front of the fan and enjoy the white noise and background family noises and be slothful. 

I used to love drawing margins in my workbooks at school. 2.5cm in red pen, using a ruler of course -how could people stand the wiggly, crocked free-hand line? The margin gave space so the page was not crammed with writing. Of course it gave room to correct errors, if, heavens above, corrections were needed in copying notes or in first drafts. But I just loved the space for nothing but to be space. 

This makes me twitch. Too cramped.

Ah!! Much better.


I want a margin in my life to protect me from work demands. (And sometimes from the demands of homeownership and adult life.)

When I’m home I want to Be At Home. When I leave the office I want to clock off from work. 

My boss sent me a text one Friday this year at quarter past five saying he’d call me later that afternoon to discuss an issue. Really, in whose definition is after five, the afternoon??? Surely the afternoon is nearly up and we are moving into the evening? And it is Friday!

I responded by saying I was now socialising and it’d have to wait until Monday morning. He apologised and explained that he’d written the text before he got on a plane and the text must have only sent upon landing. Still, he planned to contact me after his flight landed and after he had collected his luggage and got to the car from long term parking and he was driving home from the airport. That would be way after 5.30pm. Not afternoon by anyone’s standards, surely?

And by discuss issues he’d off-load a heap of shit by discussing a complaint about which I could do nothing until Monday so I’d just feel annoyed all weekend. 

I am proud of myself for managing my manager. 

Other steps on building my margin: I haven’t looked at my work emails out of hours, since disconnecting the work email account from my phone. 

OK, I haven’t been totally free after hours. Phone calls. Thinking how to deal with some issues. Discussing issues with colleagues. But still I am doing much better at “clocking off” and feeling much better. 

I’m averaging about 45 hours a week at work.  Effectively I work non-stop, maybe stopping for 15 minutes for lunch, but usually working while I eat. Really that’s enough. I am not taking my work home. 

I’m ruling a margin around my life. 

PS. On searching for images on margins in life turns out lots of people want margins and it’s a common concept in self-help blogs and books. That’s me! Jumping on the bandwagon late in life. Oh well, better late than never. Some sites tell you “Five simple ways to create margins”, others how better to use margins. Pfft. Well, der. I need to switch off my connectivity, especially from work. And walk out of the office. Who’d a thunk it??? Anyway, I’ve gone with my metaphoric exercise book margins rather than the usual metaphors of a mindful, quiet, sunset, natural image. Way too obvious!!!

The end of the end of term break

In every first week of term I am asked, innumerable times, “Did you have a nice break? What did you do? Did you go anywhere?” Just as I have been asked innumerable times prior to a term break, “Going anywhere?”

Why this obsession with going somewhere?

When you answer, “No,” it is as if you have to justify, rationalise yourself. “No, but I’m catching up with friends.” “No, but….”

“Oh, yes, you’ve done a staycation before.”

Even stranger when I say I am going to my mother’s. “Where does she live?”

“Oh, Queensland. That will be nice.”

Well, actually I am going to my mother’s to see my mother, not to Queensland. I won’t be sight-seeing, or going out.

You might think I have given this too much thought, but I have had over a hundred term breaks. That’s a lot of conversations about “What have you done? Did you go anywhere?”

So here’s what I have done for my emotional well-being this term break. And no, I didn’t “go” anywhere.

  • Had drinks to celebrate the end of term. A friend pulled this one out of her fridge.
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    I am sure the French don’t pronounce it as billy cart salmon. However you say it, it was divine.

  • Had a dinner for over 20 people with some long term friends and family to celebrate my sons’ birthdays. (What? No photos? Sadly, everyone was too busy enjoying themselves to whip out the phone or camera.)
  • Slothed, lazed about, day-dreamed, stared into the distance, snuggled under a blanket, sat in the sun, ruminated, fantasised, had slow breakfasts looking out at my camellias flowering.
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    And the plants and birds beyond my verandah.

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  • Watched movies – both good and bad. (Sharknado, is so awful it’s funny, but if time is precious to you, give it a miss. Do see The Gand Budapest Hotel.)
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  • Read blogs, magazines, books.
  • Decluttered.
  • Had family over (14 including us) for a curry feast at Feater, I mean Easter.
  • Hosted an Easter Sunday lunch with a neighbouring family for which I whipped up homemade hummus, tabbouleh and sweet chilli chicken.
  • Flew to Queensland and caught up with family. Had lunch out and afternoon tea with female family members. Vegetarians and those avoiding fat and salt, look away.
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    Actually, that wasn’t too bad. The meat, and it was mainly fish, bugs and prawns, were hidden by the hands, wine glass and chips. And the bug on my plate is upside down, so hard to make out. But this shot of the last plate has little lambies all cut up.

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  • Watched the sun set from the top of a mountain in the state that is beautiful one day, perfect the next. The sky was so blue and so wide during the day. The sunset so glorious.
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  • Walked every second day. Did some exercises and stretches.
  • Had a therapeutic massage.
  • Bought some clothes. Very different pieces, not chain store items. And the MOST BEAUTIFUL dress. See!
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    This dress has the most gorgeous detail on the neck line. It’s a gold chain wrapped in two ribbons. Beautiful!

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    All the clothes were sourced in boutiques in Queensland. I know I won’t run into anyone with the same clothes. And Dar, that dress is actually made in Canada.

  • Had an acupuncturist treatment.
  • Went to the dentist, had a chipped tooth repaired and a routine check and clean.
  • Had my dot painting stretched.
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  • Ate heaps of hot-cross buns and Easter eggs. Bugger! The waist is expanding again!
  • Finally made the vegetarian lasagne I have been meaning to but put off because I find lasagnes too convoluted. And it was THE BEST.
  • Baked a cake.
  • Hung out with my kids and husband.
  • Had my car serviced and rego done so I don’t have to worry about it when it is due during the early part of term.
  • Yep, had a nice break, did lots of things, and didn’t “go” anywhere.