The Harbour Bridge

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August 7, 2019

Today I drove over the Harbour Bridge (and drove back via the scary undersea Sydney Harbour Tunnel). Pleased with myself, I called my mother to share the good news. As many of you know, Marion is a peach. She’s a comfort in times of difficulty and doubt.

‘And?’ she said.

I explained how the drive was quite tricky. Lots of traffic. Certainly not a walk in the park.

‘You’re always going on about how difficult driving is,’ she said. ‘You’ve just got to do it every day. Get out there every day!’

I reminded her that she’s always going on about how difficult it is to get her washing dry.

‘I do not,’ she replied.

She does so. Ask anyone who knows Marion. Washing and weather are hot topics.

‘You’ve got to get out there every day,’ she repeated, in a louder voice this time for the benefit of my brother and sister-in-law who were with her.

But, I protested, I have been driving every day. Mum laughed and it wasn’t until I got off the phone that I realised I’d been played. I should have kept on topic, washing wise, and pushed my advantage home. Instead I did what I’ve always done. I defended myself. This is why I never argue with my mother. She’s always right even when she might — very occasionally — be wrong, or at least not quite so right.

Treachery

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July 28, 2019

See these pegs. They’ve been arranged from left to right according to age and, as it happens, functionality and durability.

Peg 1, far left, is somewhere between 25 and 30 years old. It’s Japanese and has travelled with me and my belongings from Tokyo to France, the UK and now to Australia. It still works beautifully. A miracle of Japanese technology and quality polymers. If this peg was a person, it would never lie, shoplift or drive drunk.

Peg 2 is French. I bought a bag of them at Monoprix, an upmarket supermarket, some 15 to 20 years ago when I was living in Paris. Again, this is a reliable and well-made peg. Sturdy with a very forceful clip. It’s the sort of peg I might have used as a child to pinch the arm of one of my siblings. Ideal for bruising soft flesh but remarkably kind to fabric.

Peg 3, that mint-coloured weakling, was purchased a year ago here in Sydney. It’s got a crappy metal hinge and is made of appallingly brittle plastic. Pinch this bastard by the tail-ends and it will snap. The only way to use it is to pinch close to the hinge and say a little prayer.

Peg 4 is about four months old, bought here in Sydney at Aldi. It looks stylish with its flashy two-tone design and its ergonomic finger grips. But it’s an utter bastard of a peg, a fur coat and no knickers peg. A prick of the highest order peg. Pinch its tails and its hinge will twist sideways. If this happens while you’re pegging out your dainties, the hinge will expel its plastic parts and the brutal spikes of the coiled metal hinge will penetrate the fabric. I hate this peg. I would slap its face and call it a liar if it was a person.

Today, I threw all of these treacherous Peg 4 arseholes in the recycling bin and replaced them with Peg 5. According to the small print on the bag, Peg 5 is heavy duty. The jury is out.

Crying in the Stands

July 12, 2019

I just called my mother in New Zealand to tell her that on Sunday the Australians will apparently be supporting the NZ team in the Cricket World Cup game against England.

‘Well, good then,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want New Zealand to have to play the bloody Australians. They cheat. Look at that captain of theirs who was caught cheating. They carry sand in their pockets to rough up the balls.’

Marion has never forgiven the Australian cricket team for Trevor Chappell’s dirty underarm bowl against NZ’s Brian McKechnie in the 1981 World Cup final. Yes, that is nearly 40 years ago.

She’s thrilled that NZ has made it to the finals but feels sorry for the Indian team (‘great players’) and their supporters. ‘Some of them were crying in the stands.’

The Tree

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July 1, 2019

I was hurrying along my street this morning when I saw two men outside a house with an enormous tree. I stopped to say how much I love the tree. The man standing next to the gate seemed taken aback by the compliment. He mumbled something about its size.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It’s magnificent.’

Again, he seemed uncomfortable.

I upped the ante. ‘It lifts the spirits,’ I said. ‘I admire it every time I walk past your house.’

The man finally found his voice. ‘Please don’t say that in front of him,’ he said, pointing to the other man. ‘He’s from the council and I’m trying to convince him that I need to cut it down. It’s too big and is damaging my wall.’

Driving in Sydney

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June 24, 2019

Sydney rain is formidable. We don’t get anything for weeks, months perhaps, and then it hammers down, running like rivers over roads and gathering in great pools around stormwater drains.

Last night I had to drive home in the middle of one of these downpours. It opened up as I was crossing the dreaded, multi-lane Western Distributor. I haven’t really driven for 35 years and don’t know the lanes or exits. I had to talk myself through it in a ‘Come on, you can do it’ way and I probably shaved 3 months from my life but hell, I did it. I even found a parking space near my house and managed a tidy little parallel park.

I’ve done all sorts of things in my nutty life that other people might call courageous or even reckless — throwing myself in the path of danger, climbing the Thorong La Pass in the Himalayas in trainers, moving from country to country usually alone and often with just a suitcase — but, but, crossing the Western Distributor in the dark, driving rain, has made me feel like a warrior.

Lip Reading

June 7, 2019

My mother reminded me today that she has appeared on local television twice. The first time was in a TV commercial for a curtain shop. Her neighbour owned the shop and needed someone to pretend to be a shopper. All Mum had to do was walk through the curtain shop, waving her arm and expressing joy at the fabulous wares on display.

The curtain shop owner must have known her quite well. He told her she could say whatever she liked as long as she didn’t swear.

‘But you said it was a non-speaking part,’ said Mum.

Yes, he replied, but some people can lip read.

Mum laughed. ‘So I couldn’t say, “What fucking wonderful curtains” because someone might have been able to read my lips.’

Her second starring role was in a commercial for her deli/greengrocer. The grocer had cornered one day and asked if she would like to appear in his ad. She said no she didn’t, thank you very much. He then said she could have all the items in her shopping trolley for free. She agreed but later regretted she hadn’t loaded up the trolley. Once again, she had to ad lib. Her famous line, the line we quote when we want to tease her is: ‘Well, the vegetables are always very fresh.’

Noodles

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June 1, 2019

A couple of nights ago I cooked a Japanesey meal for my mother and niece. I went to town and created several dishes. Mum ate everything apart from the soba (buckwheat noodles) which she found ‘a bit dry’. My brother came over last night so I decided to cook another Japanese style meal.

Mum said, ‘Why not just have cold chicken and salad?’

Was there a problem with my earlier Japanese meal, I asked.

‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with your food. I would never criticise your cooking.’

I reminded her that she hadn’t eaten the soba.

‘Well! It was bloody awful.’

This Beautiful City

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May 12, 2019

Today I drove over the ANZAC Bridge and Sydney Harbour Bridge to the northern beaches with my pal Louise.It was a glorious day, warm with a high blue sky.

Driving through Sydney is tricky and entails a hell of a lot of lane changing. You have to read the signs and remain alert. I missed two turnoffs to the harbour bridge but we managed to find our way back by detouring through the city.

It was the car’s first serious run and it behaved well until we were over the bridge. Then the hazard lights came on. Then, mysteriously, they turned off. Then they came on again. I was on a motorway so had to drive 5 to10km with the hazard lights flashing like a pilot vehicle warning oncoming cars of a large truck carrying a nuclear missile.

When it was possible, I hand signalled and pulled off the road. As we went through all the dials and buttons, Louise kept saying there should be a specific hazard lights button but no, I was convinced the car had an electrical fault and I’d been sold a dud. Taking the law into her hands, she removed my phone from the holder I’d attached to the air-con vent. Beneath it was the hazard lights button. The pressure of the phone must have been switching the lights on and off as the car went over bumps.

A weight lifted from my shoulders. The car was not a dud. All was fine. Better than fine. It was a beautiful day and the beach was waiting for us. What a fab day we had. Sydney is a hell of a city.

Mother’s Day

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It’s Mother’s Day here in Australasia. I called Mum in New Zealand this morning. No answer. This worried me because a couple of days ago, she’d had a funny turn. My sister Jocelyn and I worried that it might have been high blood pressure or her heart but Mum refused to talk about it. ‘It’s over, Rover,’ she told me. ‘I’m fine now. Just shut up about it, Diane.’

When I couldn’t get hold of her this morning, I worried. I called Jocelyn. She’d spoken to Mum a couple of hours earlier. ‘She was fine. A bit chesty but fine.’ My brother David lives near Mum but he’s away this weekend. My mother lives in the country. She is partially sighted and can no longer drive. She can’t go very far unaided.

In the middle of all this, I got a message from my brother Bruce, ‘I’m eating breakfast with your mother.’ He’d driven two hours to surprise her with a Mother’s Day breakfast. I called his mobile and told him that Jocelyn and I were worried about Mum’s heart after the funny turn. He replied, ‘She’s just ordered Eggs Benedict and beef brisket with ciabatta bread.’

Photo: My mother and sister, taken during summer.

Order From Chaos

May 9, 2019

I keep thinking about a man I saw in a supermarket on Sunday. He was with his partner and while they casually chatted and she picked items off shelves, he tidied up the store’s central display stand.

With remarkable efficiency, he took all the products out of an almost empty cardboard tray and arranged them neatly within a new tray of the same products. He then tossed the empty tray to the back of the display before moving along the stand to another untidy pile of merchandise. He continued chatting to his partner while his hands moved with speed and efficiency.

I was behind them when they got to the checkout and once again watched him create order on the conveyor belt out of all the products they were buying. I felt enormous empathy for this man and loved his partner for allowing him to be who he was.

In a chaotic, unpredictable, untidy world, it cannot be easy to be that man.