Life Notes 7

December 1, 2020

A trip to Eden Gardens Nursery today for an outdoor lunch with my Killara pals. Seven turned up and we shared some arancini balls, salads and chips between us. The food was okay but they don’t really cater for people wanting a light lunch, it was either breakfast or a  pricy main meal, hence our decision to share some sides. However it was primarily a people event, not a foodie one, so the venue was perfect for that with a breeze protecting us from the heat. I thought I may get inspiration for some Christmas gifts in the nearby retail section but nothing appealed.

I have been carefully watching for anything looking remotely like an ant inside the house but so far not one spotted. This time last year I was deluged with them and it didn’t let up till late autumn. I don’t think I could go through that again so at the first sign of an ant I will be on the phone to the pest man, which is a pity because I love the diligent little guys in theory, it’s just that I can’t live with thousands of them.

December 2, 2020

At Hillsong last Sunday they streamed a video in their service which contained the following story: “A used car dealer who earned only $640 in a difficult week donated his usual tithe of $64. The very next day he got a refund cheque for an overpaid water bill. You’ll never convince me in a million years that is a coincidence.” I am never sure whom to blame for this nonsense, the perpetrators of religious scams or the lemmings who suck it up. I have only just discovered via the Facebook page of freelance researcher and friend Chrys Stevenson, that both of the Hillsong heads are ex-Salvation Army. The Booths must be spinning in their graves. To go from a religious organisation which spends the vast majority of its donations on ‘good works’ to start one which is the opposite of that is, well, I always hesitate about using the word evil, but….Hillsong Church’s revenue was $95,903,071 in 2019 with 76 per cent from ‘tithes and offerings’, according to its own figures. Where did you last see their soup kitchen? or its members helping bushfire victims? Oh that’s right, it’s a prosperity gospel, that distinctively American theological tradition. Believers in the prosperity gospel like winners. Instead of structural inequality playing a part in personal problems, all are seen as perceived failures of the individual. That is why it is easy for them to be devoid of empathy, if people are sleeping in a doorway they probably asked for it. Since the election of Donald Trump, thanks in large part to evangelicals, we have seen the result of American-style capitalism fused with ‘prosperity gospel’ religion. One solution is to end all tax exemptions for religions, including income taxes, property taxes, the lot. Then the scammers may simply move on to another line of business.

December 3, 2020

Martha came over and we had fun cooking a pav from my usual recipe, putting a sliced mango and some berries and cherries on top and keeping half each, using our standard rule of ‘one person cuts and the other decides which half they want’. It kept my kids from hostilities whenever we cooked. It is a failsafe recipe which I did for the book group end of year party, thinking it was something different, only to see in photos that came up on Facebook that I did the same dessert last year for the same function. Mmm, talking about John’s memory while my own isn’t that great.

Reading the new Bob Woodward book on Trump, Rage, I have discovered some gems of information. I like it particularly because it was written from 17 taped interviews that he did with Trump in 2020, so it is a fly on the wall look at real conversations, not just the author’s opinions. Give him enough rope and you get a very disturbing picture of the real Trump behind the scenes. An interesting aside about Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centres for Disease Control, caught my eye though. Redfield, a devout Catholic, says he went through a ‘religious awakening’ during a 10 minute conversation with Pope John Paul II in 1989, coming to believe in ‘the redemptive power of suffering’, a somewhat concerning view when you are in charge of the nation’s health I would have thought. In March Fauci’s task force predicted 100,000 deaths from Covid with full mitigation measures and 1.5 to 2.2 million deaths without any mitigation. We are approaching three times the first figure. Obama had left a 69 page document called ‘Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents’ that included instructions for dealing with a novel influenza virus but neither the funds nor the inclination to act on the plan were forthcoming.  Not only is Trump a walking disaster, he is a walking disaster at the worst possible time.

December 4, 2020

I had an appointment a couple of days ago with Bob, who opined that John taking anti-epilepsy drugs on top of everything else he is on is premature, before any proof at all that his amnesia episodes were due to a brainwave problem. I agree, his EEG is on the 15th so I’ve convinced him to hang off taking them until then. If that shows an abnormality, or he has more events, then we’ll reconsider, but so far so good. The drug wouldn’t have any positive effect on cognition. He gave me the two full pages of the neurologist’s opinion which makes interesting reading. When John had radiotherapy in 1983 he asked the specialist about side effects and was told there were none. Pressing the point he asked What about my teeth? No, no he replied radiation doesn’t affect teeth. A few years later the teeth on that side began to crumble and a dentist’s opinion was: radiation injury. The brain damage took somewhat longer to show up.

My brother’s demeanour has altered a lot of late, not surprising considering he is in third level anti-Covid restrictions in the most affected part of the UK. Months of downplaying the risks has altered into a tangible fear of the disease but also a fear of what will happen when and if the UK crashes out of Brexit. He is already having great difficulty getting a prescribed drug (Brexit effect? who knows) but more worrying is the fact that he simply cannot get a doctor’s appointment, for anything. The NHS requires patients to attend their chosen doctor so he can’t shop around for an appointment, phone calls to the practice are met with ‘sorry, we are only accepting appointments for emergencies and Covid19’. At home alone, with a daughter currently suffering the disease, it is understandable that his stress levels are rising. Mine would be too with Boris in charge. We are talking every few days and this week his computer has decided to refuse his long-established password and as we all know a non-functioning computer is a special form of hell. He told me last night that he doesn’t want anything for his birthday or Christmas because ‘I’ve got too many other things to worry about’. I’m not sure what the end result is here, but I am not liking the looks of it at the moment.

December 5, 2020

Some people, for understandable reasons, have urged me to ‘plan ahead’ with regards to how we will handle deterioration of John’s medical condition. Although that sounds like sense, it seems impossible to me for us to plan for an unknown situation at an unknown time in the future. I think it’s better to just monitor things week by week and adjust ourselves to changes as they happen. Plus of course it would mean I’d have to dwell seriously on future possibilities, just too hard for me at the moment.

I’ve decided that the forget-me-not seeds have had over 4 weeks to germinate when the packet said 2, and I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer. So the pot has been given over to a gerbera, sorry guys, you had your chance. Seeds are an all or nothing proposition, I either get dozens or none so the forget-me-nots have been relegated to just forget-mes. In our family secret Santa this year I requested a 2 year sub of the Diggers Club, seeing my membership is overdue and it happens to be almost the amount that’s been settled on for each person. If we were in Melbourne there are numerous historic houses and garden to which we could go for free but I can’t see that happening any time soon, so I will have to be thankful for the bonus seeds that come with the renewal.

December 6, 2020

We minded Millie yesterday while Dav and Louis went for a swim and did some Christmas shopping. We had a good walk in Sydney Park, followed by she and John sharing a muffin for morning tea at Blackbird, then Millie gatecrashed a birthday party whose little guests had gone but the bouncing castle remained awaiting disassembly. She had a great time on it and the host parents were keen to press some food onto Millie before we left ‘otherwise it’s all going in the bin’. Later we played some games including soccer in which she made up the rules, hide and seek and I Spy ‘I spy some something blue which you will see if you look straight up’ was one classic clue. John has recently bought a new frig and was interested in its relative size to the one there. ‘Oh this one’s 440 litres and mine is 414 litres’ he said to me. After a long break Millie who was absorbed in a game piped up straight faced: ‘Mine’s 4000’

John decided to iron a shirt for tomorrow and after a while noticed the iron was going cold. Upon checking, all the power points in the kitchen and dining room were off so I figured the iron was cactus and had set off the safety switch. He went out torch in hand to reset it but actually turned off the main switch instead, so we were temporarily plunged into darkness. However it was easy to rectify and just means resetting the clocks on phone and microwave. How we depend on electricity without even giving it a thought. Thankyou Nikola Tesla  and all those other known and unknown people who contributed to this amazing blessing which we only appreciate when we are deprived of it.

December 7, 2020

Last week I spoke to a lovely man named Mustapha at the Australian Maritime Museum and booked a disabled parking spot for us so we could view the Wildlife Photography Exhibition there. I got to meet him today as he was rostered on, so that was lucky. The exhibition was as breathtaking as it is each year, but the winner this year, Yonqing Bao from China, captured life in the wild as well as I’ve ever seen it. A Himalayan marmot was not long out of hibernation when it was surprised by a mother Tibetan fox with three hungry cubs to feed. Yongqing captured the moment of the attack, the power of the predator baring her teeth, the absolute terror of her prey, the looks of exhilaration and terror written on their respective faces. So many superb photos, from rats on a New York street to rare animals that most of us wouldn’t ever see in a lifetime, all playing their part in this amazing world ecosystem. Afterwards we ducked around the corner to Malaysian cheap and cheerful restaurant Nur Muhammed which is a bargain of a place with very authentic halal food. A bain-marie full of spicy curries and veggie dishes is always on hand, a plateful served with rice for $9.50. Even asking for the small serving I needed to bring half home. How do they serve swordfish curry with an eggplant side and a potato side for that price?

We beat the peak hour to get home in time to pop in to the library to borrow the last Choice magazine with irons in it. The highest score went to a $29 Target number which just pipped the $199 second placegetter, so I shall hightail it to Target at some point this week and pick one up. It is very common for the very expensive to be outscored by the very cheap so it’s always worth consulting Choice, as I did just recently for John’s frig. A separate article judged dishwashing powders and tablets and it said that a wet tablet held in gloved hands makes an excellent oven cleaner, will try next cool day.

December 8, 2020

The librarian rang a while back and asked if I would like the brand new DVD on the Trump dynasty that they had just bought. Absolutely I would! So we watched the first episode and it was fascinating, so far mostly about his grandfather and father. The grandfather was amazing, emigrating from Germany alone at age 16, just leaving a note for his mother to say he was going. He soon found a way to earn money in the Gold Rush, travelling up to the Yukon and providing meals and accommodation, and later prostitutes, to those going to the goldfields. When the railroad was planned, bypassing the town where he had built a weatherboard 2-storey hotel, he simply (well not quite simply) put the whole hotel onto a raft and had it towed to the town where the railway was headed, setting it up for business before the rail even arrived. He came across as a very smart man as well as one who was dead set keen to make a lot of money.

Today was a busy one, firstly with a visit from the maintenance man from the security company who comes once a year to do a routine check. He normally takes 15 minutes but today he was fussing with it for well over an hour, ringing back to his base a number of times, so something appeared to be wrong but he didn’t share what it was and okayed it all as he left. Then Heather arrived unexpectedly with cuttings of the same plant that the plant thief relieved me of, so I will end up with a lot more of them than I had initially. Heather had barely gone when Sue Read arrived for a catchup, but because of previous visitors the cherry shortbread I was making for her visit was started, but hadn’t got as far as the oven, so we munched on cheese and crackers instead. She thinks I should contact the ACAT team to assess John but I did that two years ago when he had no knee and he was assessed as needing household help, but he still hasn’t got to the top of that list! I’m not sure if I want to get embroiled in that again, but wheels move slowly and I know if he does need help in the future he needs to be in the queue for a looong time. Something for another day, I can only deal with this thing in little chunks.

December 9, 2020

Got a surprise text from Dav saying that she was working at Rouse Hill today so we arranged a catchup out there in the afternoon. Her company GPT owns that shopping centre. I love the open nature of that place, single storey, open air places to sit, removing most of the things I hate about places like Castle Towers and its ilk. Of course there is the boring and repetitive nature of the shops but that’s the same in all centres. It seems you need to be part of a chain to get into these centres and I find there’s little I want from them. However seeing my iron packed it in this week I was able to get a new one from Target while I was there.

In the evening I was part of a lengthy online meeting with the Lost and Found group but because they had changed from Zoom to Microsoft Teams there were some technical issues like not being able to see the group as a whole, only the person speaking, and sometimes not even them. Hopefully someone more techy than me will work it out. One of our members now lives in northern Italy and she told us that in her village a law has mandated that no one is to leave their house from Christmas Eve on for a few days, to try to keep Covid at bay. She said that everyone she speaks to knows someone who is infected, if not in hospital, so she’s happy to comply. The group is caring and supportive while simultaneously being very averse to any possibility that a new member may not fit in or may be inclined to behaviour that doesn’t pass muster on the north shore. Our old Pendle Hill group was the opposite, it was all comers. Some came with annoying or even disturbing behaviour but occasional yelling or swearing was overlooked in the interests of the bigger aim of assisting them. That philosophy is something that on the whole I feel more comfortable with. As Thoreau said ‘It is possible for a man wholly to disappear and be merged in his manners. The man who thrusts his manners upon me does so as if he were to insist on introducing me to his cabinet of curiosities, when I wished to see himself’.

December 10, 2020

After telling me it was all too hard to send gifts for birthday and Christmas, the bro recanted and said he’d like another Thea Astley book, having enjoyed Drylands so much. I’ve ordered The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow from Book Depository but of course it won’t get there in time now. I am still thinking about a Christmas choice but The Rich Man’s House by Andrew McGahan is a possibility. Despite its supernatural overtones, this was a book that kept me up late at night. Reality is depicted as capable of wielding a retributive force, also it shows us the results of a villain with an unimaginable amount of money. The mountain is said to possess a kind of consciousness and is described as if having a will of its own, usually something I would run from but the author sucked me in gradually. Totally immersive for me but not everyone’s cup of tea. Today is also a day that John’s daughter suggested as a possible meet-up for him to see his grandchildren but we haven’t heard anything so I guess we just wait and see what transpires for another day. She is currently unwell and it’s totally unsurprising at the moment if she is unable to schedule a meeting in advance.

Watched another ep of the Trump dynasty DVD and it is mesmerising in the audacity and dishonesty it describes. One particularly atrocious act was when he wanted to demolish a much-loved New York Art Deco building to build Trump Tower. There was an outcry and it seemed that the city would refuse him demolition permission. However he publicly offered the famous friezes and statues to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to install there and demolition permission was granted. However the head of the institution eventually received a phone call to say that the friezes were being destroyed. She ran from her office and hailed a taxi to the building, got caught in a traffic jam, jumped out and ran the last ten blocks, only to see the friezes and statues being destroyed with jackhammers. Trump was asked why?? Well you didn’t have a contract, he casually replied.

December 11, 2020

I was looking through my poetry and philosophy shelves to find my mainstays Seneca and Thoreau (Frost being the third) which I reread regularly, especially if I have the miseries. I found a book of poems called Killing Floor by Ai from 1979 which won a slew of awards in the US. I read it again and couldn’t find a single piece that I enjoyed, as was the case when I bought it, so I decided to get rid of it. Hardly the type of thing to cause a fist fight at the street library, I looked on eBay and discovered that this same miserable book is selling for $97 US. I shall list it today and see if I can get $5. Not because I want the money but because it needs to go to a person who really wants it, or wants to make money from it, I don’t care. Freebies end up in bins and I don’t want that to happen to a rare book even though I don’t like it myself. Talking of fist fights, I remember in the shop one Sunday a couple looking seriously at a trunk and deciding to drive up to the mountains to ‘shop around’. Late in the day I was in the process of selling the trunk to another couple when the first couple appeared, horrified that ‘their’ trunk was going to someone else. They appealed to me to give it to them on the grounds that they had looked at it early that day and were therefore first. I declined and was then subjected, along with the buyers, to a torrent of abuse. They left yelling ‘we will never come back to this shop again’ and thank goodness they never did.

Went up to Youeni at Castle Hill with my friend Christine today and caught up on all our news since we last saw each other at Jackie’s funeral. The place is always packed at any time of day and seems to have a loyal following in the vege, gluten free, organic community, lots of bowls of amazing ‘stuff’. Had smashed avo, feta and chickpeas, (see I can order things other than cake). Missing Jackie heaps.

December 12, 2020

Finished watching the Trump video epic last night and found it thoroughly worthwhile. His connections with Russia and Putin go back to 1990 when he desperately tried to get Putin to attend the Miss Universe pageant that he staged in Moscow. When Putin didn’t attend on the night, Trump attempted to get his staff to put out publicity material indicating that Putin had in fact come. Later when he was bankrupted after his three Atlantic City casinos failed he approached the Deutsche Bank’s VIP department and convinced them somehow to let him borrow millions to pay back the self same bank’s bankruptcy section. This VIP section was known to be lending to Russian oligarchs and a connection there is suspected. His plan to build Trump Tower Moscow was scuttled by Obama’s sanctions on Russia, seeding resentment to Obama. Fascinating stuff.

I am a Domain tragic. I read it every Saturday and decide on improvements that could be made to the (mostly) luxury homes for sale therein. I play a game of ‘would I swap it for mine?’ and of course there are many that I would, but perhaps surprisingly there are mansions in suburbs that I wouldn’t want to live in where the answer is nah, I don’t think so. So I started to wonder what I would say if my house appeared in Domain. Certainly I would opt for the louvres alongside my deck doors that were planned but mistakenly made as solid glass. Because the order was copied down in person, John couldn’t prove that louvres were ordered so I was stuck with plain glass or get it redone at huge cost. Secondly I’d alter the high windows in the lounge room where we used some that I already owned, better to have had others I’ve decided. In my ensuite I went for allover marble design walls and floor after telling someone that I planned a mosaic floor with white subway tiles on the walls. ‘Oh I am so over subway tiles’ was the response, but now I think of that mosaic and subway combination and wish I had stuck to my original plan, even though the decor I have turned out perfectly fine. I should learn to ignore other people’s opinions, next life I shall do that combination for sure.

December 13, 2020

Last Insiders for the year, sigh. Raced up to the nursery after finding that the leaves on my ornamental flowering gum have been decimated by a something. After inspecting a leaf, they said it was sawfly which only comes at night and the name fits the damage as some leaves are reduced just to their spines. After laying out $30 for some stuff to mix up and spray on the leaves I felt somewhat relieved as I am particularly attached to that tree. Planted out the Ruby Red cuttings that Heather left me to replace the plant stolen, but I have plenty of them so they should be everywhere if they all take. Yesterday our Saturday Paper was lifted as well so we might have another culprit to watch out for.

An article I read on Medium yesterday suggests, not for the first time, that COVID19 is an autoimmune disease. Apparently they checked the hearts of 174 people who’ve recovered from it and compared them with unaffected controls. Over 60% of the COVID group had signs of inflammation of the heart while none of the control group were affected. More concerningly, very few of the COVID patients had had it seriously enough to go to hospital and weren’t aware that they had anything wrong. In the most serious cases it was akin to the rejection seen on heart transplants. I sent it to Bob who was very interested and said he believes many currently unexplained maladies may turn out to be autoimmune, triggered by a virus. Scary stuff.

December 14, 2020

Confusion reigned supreme this morning as John was getting ready to leave for his much anticipated Tenant Advisory Committee Christmas lunch when Ann rang to tell him that it had been cancelled. He was doubtful so I suggested that he call Link, luckily the CEO came to the phone and said it definitely was not cancelled, but said that Ann had just rung wanting to attend and was told that it was for the committee only, not for tenants. This set him back timewise but ultimately he got on his way and I headed up to Castle Mall. I was parking there when he rang to say that his phone had ‘stopped talking’ to him and he didn’t know how to get to the address. After some coaching on the phone which didn’t help, I hared home only to find that it worked for me first go. By now he was very late but the gadget was going at least, however going down the M2 it stopped again and he got lost, only arriving at the lunch after everyone had had their main course and then only with the help of one of the staff who rang to find out where he was and talked him in. I seem to remember that he got lost on the way to last year’s lunch as well and turned for home, missing it completely, so I guess this year was an improvement.

Planted out some lettuces which I should have done before now to have them ready for Christmas but there you go, a lot going on. Of course the rain last night washed off all of my expensive sawfly killer and considering the clouds about today I don’t intend to spray again just yet, so it’s sawfly picnic on my gum tonight which is a shame. Tony texted to say he is watching the other copy of the library’s Trump DVD set and is as addicted as I was, saying that through our friendship he has become fascinated with his personality. Charisma’s definition includes ‘force of personality’ and isn’t necessarily a positive trait, Hitler was a charismatic leader on any definition, so too Trump.

December 15, 2020

Twice today I have had a call from someone thinking the shop is still in business. I have removed the Facebook page and the website and it’s hard to fathom where these folks are coming from but one said she found me in the Yellow Pages. In each case I was able to make some recommendations about how to find or sell a particular item, but hanging up there was a twinge of ‘I used to do this for a living’. In some ways it was the unpaid parts of the business that I enjoyed the most, finding the right vendor for something that I didn’t want in my shop or helping someone locate something that I didn’t have in the shop to sell. But we move on. I have some jewellery left over from the last auction and decided to give one piece to my friend and ex-employee. I just hope she liked it when it was in the shop. I am not into big gifts at Christmas but it just seemed to have her name on it.

Sue rang today and asked if John and I would like to go to Killcare for a few days from Saturday. We have visitors coming Saturday, a trip to Glenbrook to see John’s grandchildren on Sunday, Kirk coming to mow on Monday and an appointment with my hairdresser on Tuesday so sadly we had to decline. Until Saturday we have something on each day as well, unusual for us. I really miss Robert ringing up ‘just to bullshit each other’ as he used to say. He liked it when I asked about random medical stuff, just things that I didn’t understand or else found to be interesting that I had come across reading or on the net. He gave me many medical journals over the years and I still have many of them here unread, so much to read and so little time. He recommended The Emperor of All Maladies, written by Siddhartha Mukherjee the Indian-born American physician and oncologist, which I promptly bought and loved. It is a 600 page history of cancer and its various treatments over time which won a Pulitzer, a sad conjunction to have had it recommended by him when I think about it now.

December 16, 2020

So John’s neighbour rang and asked if she could put her car into his garage while she goes on holiday in January, of course that would leave his car outside. He immediately said yes and then asked ‘why is your car being stolen more important than it happening to mine?’ We await the answer to that one but he’s decided to say no. They should make a TV show about that block of flats.

Today we went to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the Archibald Prize entries and happened to stumble on the announcement of the people’s choice winner. It was a stunning portrait of refugee Behrouz Boochani painted by Angus McDonald. It is light years ahead of the overall winner chosen by the judges, but that is often the case. There are some amazing works in the Archibald and Wynne Prizes this year but as usual the Sulman entries leave me cold.

Later I decided to bake some coconut biscuits from frozen dough that I had stored a few months back in John’s fridge. They looked a bit the worse for wear but I assumed they had been knocked around over time. I baked them and made passionfruit icing to go on top, half to take to friends tomorrow and half for visitors on Saturday. However when I got them out of the oven they didn’t smell quite right so I cut one in half and it turned out to be…….a chicken dumpling. Neither John nor I would buy such a thing but I remember his telling me that his neighbour had given him some frozen Chinese food ready to bake. Apparently the label had come off in the freezer and when I asked for the ‘dough balls’ these were what I got. I am insisting that they go back to Lane Cove asap, ugh.

December 17, 2020

Because I ended up yesterday with chicken dumplings and passionfruit icing I cooked some choc raspberry biscuits so I could make up a mixed plate for taking to friends for morning tea. It was so lovely to sit on their deck and chew the fat. But it still leaves me short of choice of gluten free treats for Saturday’s visitors, with only Italian almond biscuits in the tin so far. I will get inspiration before then hopefully.

We were notified yesterday of Bob Flaherty’s death, his funeral is on Monday. What a year for illness and death. Now today there are six unexpected Covid cases in Sydney, just when people are letting down their guard, possibly because they are letting down their guard. My brother rang to say he has ‘a streaming cold’ but showed no interest when I told him to get tested asap. I can’t micromanage him from the other side of the world so I only say it once. John had an appointment with a specialist a month ago and was phoned a couple of hours prior to say that she was going into 14 days quarantine after treating a Covid case. The replacement appointment was today and a couple of hours before he got a call to say that she is busy treating someone with Covid and has arranged for another doctor to see him tomorrow. This indicates that at least one of the six new cases is serious as she only works in a hospital environment with inpatients or past patients like John. He’s just as well away from her at the moment I think.

December 18, 2020

I love the serendipitous encounters that blossom into friendships, but also the one-offs that go no further than the first encounter but stick in the memory. This past year I have had two such fluky relationships that blossomed into friendships. First I met Tania, in the toilet of a restaurant no less!, and then Tony when I saw him outside near my street library, in the middle of the pandemic. In the more recent case of Tony, we are constantly amazed at the synchronicities in our histories, our views and our outlook on life. Somehow I think we’ll be pouring tea and eating cake together for a good while yet. I particularly love the unguardedness of these people and the way that they jumped boots and all into wanting a relationship, and weren’t afraid to say so. Obviously there are deal-breakers that may crop up in people I meet, like far-Right views for example, but even then I would be interested in exploring the reasons for their opinions, but perhaps not so keen to have them around me much. I am a hugger and toucher, yet with these two nary a hug has been had, and I miss that. Once the vaccine is up and running that may need to be rectified to a greater degree than called for, but we’ll see. I love Tania’s 11pm calls ‘are you awake? can I phone you?’ and Tony’s texts, always about something that I’m really interested in, or proposing another tea date. I am a very lucky ducky, for a while there I thought that not having the shop anymore meant an end to providential relationships. But knowing that they can happen, just by going out to the grass verge and seeing a virtual stranger standing there, gives me a glow and makes the potential of every day something to look forward to.

December 19, 2020

I managed to get the house tidied, the verandahs swept, the tea things set up before John arrived, just minutes prior to the visitors for morning tea. I had planned to entertain them on the back deck but there was a sort of misty rain in the air that didn’t quite reach the ground, but would have made it unpleasant, so we sat indoors instead. We had a good chat and he told them of his recent diagnosis. I have been lucky to have supped with five people over three days, social butterfly at last. I had planned and bought the food for Christmas for eight, but now with a Covid outbreak on the Northern Beaches everything is up in the air, with border restrictions meaning that our three interstate visitors may not be able to come. More to the point they may not want to risk coming and then not being able to get back over the border come time to go home. It is a real bummer that this has happened right on Christmas but as with everything to do with this virus, we are better off than most. I wish Gladys were more proactive in simply enforcing rules instead of just advising people but we are stuck with her I’m afraid. There are so many multi-million dollar mansions in that area and many would be rented out at this time of year to various nabobs that I can’t help but wonder if one of them brought the virus in, seeing they have identified it as being from the US. But there are lots of other options such as air crew or people who work in hotel quarantine. We may never know. My hairdresser is at Manly and I had an appointment for Tuesday but they have closed up shop so there might be some grey roots showing up on people for Christmas, luckily that’s one problem I don’t have.

December 20, 2020

Well I really exceeded expectations today. John had worries about parking in the drive under Arvind’s tree so that my car needs ideally to go into the garage. But it has been in the drive now for years, ever since the garage was filled by all the junk from the shop, not good stock but boxes of things like plate stands and jewellery cases and cleaning cloths and shelf liners and…. So today was the day to haul out all of those boxes and put them under the deck temporarily until I can find homes for them. I did pull out a large roll of upholstery fabric, some velvet, some dress fabric and some embroidery cottons which I’ll donate to the sewing group so that’s a start. I did a ceremonial drive into the garage and John a ceremonial one down the drive and away from under the tree. Although the work is still cut out for me I will order a council clean-up after Christmas and that will encourage me to cull some more of the things. Hallelujah. My friend Michelle was here today and took a bit of stuff too. I am hoping that she likes the necklace I have given her for Christmas, I think she will. She is such a good sport and is one of the best humans.

On the Christmas front, many will be sorely disappointed with travel plans quashed, gifts unable to be bought or given and food shopping undone. Arvind said his sister lives in the Covid zone and went yesterday to try to buy meat for Christmas: she wasn’t fussy, ham, turkey, a leg of lamb, whatever she could get, but the shops were sold out of all such things. Sue has cancelled her trip down from Queensland so we are one short for Christmas Day with Carly and Danish in limbo. Davina and Louis had taken 10 days off work to spend with Sue who hasn’t seen them all since well before the pandemic. We await Carly’s decision. Postscript: At 6.40 tonight the ACT government mandated that anyone coming into the ACT from Sydney has to quarantine for 14 days, so that’s Carly and Danish out for Christmas too.

December 21, 2020

I was all positive and encouraging to the girls last night about the disappointment of Carly not being able to come for Christmas, but this morning when I phoned Natalie at the bakery to order bread to pick up today and freeze for later in the week, I ended up in tears while thanking her for all the times she drove from Dural to me with measly orders during the worst of the Covid times. All the built up stress of the past weeks came out at once, but I feel better for it now. I will be amazed if the Covid count doesn’t keep rising, Glad is diametrically opposed to telling people what to do, like old Boris in the UK, she won’t act until there’s a disaster. People won’t all obey ‘recommendations’ and it is naive to think they will.

John helped me clean out the small bar fridge in the garage which is always turned off except for when I have a function. But all this year it hasn’t been called for, so when I opened it I got a shock that the entire interior was black with mould after a can of Rekordalig cider had exploded inside it for some unknown reason. He hucked it out with bleach so hopefully if I need to turn it on, something I doubt I’ll need to do now with reduced guests, I’ll feel it is safe to use. Meanwhile I cleaned various empty picture frames and a large wall mirror, plus some china and a big collection of not-very-good landscape oil paintings. We drove up to the new Lifeline shop but they were very picky, only accepting the china and a few framed prints, rejecting all the paintings, the mirror and all the empty frames. Everyone’s a critic I thought as she rejected all the paintings, but I’ve seen worse in galleries. The Sallies seem to be the only people who take everything, so I will need to drive to Parramatta after Christmas, which is a bummer.

We didn’t get to see Martha with the sewing materials as she emailed early that Phil had been in pain and vomiting during the night, so she took him to the San at 4am. Latest news is that he is being transferred to Royal North Shore because the San doesn’t have the facility to do peritoneal dialysis which he needs regularly. So many time we hear of a private hospital, even a big sophisticated one like the San, moving patients into public because of a lack of ability to handle a complex situation. Keeps our Christmas holiday woes in perspective.

December 22, 2020

John is doing our grocery order this week and I had pointed out that I needed some of the items to cook with early in the week but the best he could do in the circumstances was opt for a Thursday morning delivery. I’m sure many people are ordering who would otherwise be going to the shops. Of course many things sell out by Christmas Eve, even in a non-Covid year, so I had to go out this morning and buy the essentials just in case, doubling up when the order arrives. I decided to do just the custard for the trifle today and also the tahini sauce which is part of an Ottolenghi green vegetable dish. The kitchen afterwards looked as if I’d cooked three courses with the Kitchen Whiz, the Kenwood Chef, sieves, saucepans and whatever else in use. I’m trying to limit actual cooking to the absolute minimum on Christmas Day and considering the mess I made with today’s effort it seems that’s a very good idea. For some reason all the changes of plan have unnerved me more than they should have. But I think they are just a proxy for everything else that’s upending our lives at the moment, personally and nationally. This is supposed to be fun, and it usually is, but this year…..

Carly just texted to say she had a tahini disaster in her good work handbag today, so I guess compared to that my kitchen disarray is not too bad. I rang my cousin Victor in England tonight, he lives where there is a stage 3 lockdown with all the pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops closed. But still his 80 year old friend died from Covid last week though the funeral has had to be delayed until New Year because the man’s son now has it too. 67,616 dead in Britain he informs me, with Boris being accused of manslaughter by Vic and many of his compatriots apparently. I think the anger at his handling of the pandemic is pretty much universal if Vic and Kenneth are to be believed. Both refer to him as Britain’s Trump.

December 23, 2020

I thought myself clever to be at Norwest Growers Market when they opened at 7 am, only to find that this week they are opening at 6. However for me that was still a good effort. Celeriac proved a stumbling block to my Potato and Celeriac Dauphinoise, of course it’s a winter vegetable, but so are Brussels sprouts and we get them all year. Sue had left me some organic onions (by far the biggest onions I have ever seen) and some fresh crispy garlic, so now it’s potato and onion instead of potato and celeriac. The garlic made me realise how stale most garlic is when we buy it, these cloves are so crisp you could snap them. I usually get some fruit and veg at a farm at Dural, but Denise has what she has, it’s not like a fruit market there you can buy anything (except celeriac) so although I usually set the menu by what’s available, this time I wanted to simply buy what I had planned. Made passionfruit jelly for the trifle and did the dauphinoise early to store and reheat on Christmas Day, trying to prepare everything possible in advance.

I had invited a few people to ‘drop in’ on Boxing Day morning but one couple (in their 50s and in good health) confessed to feeling uncomfortable about doing that in the current environment with hotspots at Blacktown, Macquarie Shopping Centre etc. I decided to pull the plug on the invitations and when I contacted people they were actually relieved, so I doubt I had takers anyway. Unfortunately we will be eating biscuits for a while yet as I had already cooked for it. We had already decided to limit Christmas Day to family for the same reasons and I am feeling a bit like Scrooge.

December 24, 2020

Up early to continue the preparations for tomorrow. Trifle finished, tick, prepped all the veges, tick, made a sauce, tick. Then a message from Davina: the Covid case she had told me about days ago at the MLC Centre food court has now been made public and there are either 2 or 5 cases attached, depending on whom you believe. Dav got an email from work advising affected staff to get tested and go into quarantine, so she walked to Prince Alfred Hospital where they were aware of that hotspot and told her the instruction is to quarantine only till she gets a negative result, not for 14 days as she had feared. So that will teach me to prep everything in advance, it’s like when I got my Toyota professionally detailed and the next day it was written off by a drunk driver. You live and learn. But I guess once her test comes back we will regroup and have some sort of Christmas, tomorrow though it will be just the two of us.

Also on the Covid front a nurse who helps transport quarantined people from the airport to hotels also did a shift moving a patient to the Anglican Church’s aged care facility at Castle Hill where three of our friends live, against government policy apparently. That must be putting shivers down the spine of management at the moment, so I guess our whinges are just that. However I still intend to whinge, but will defer as required to others with bigger problems.

December 25, 2020

What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours….. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I am like a large liner, very slow to turn, but I get there in the end. After a maudlin 24 hours since Christmas was virtually cancelled due to Dav having to isolate till her Covid test came back, this morning I woke up keen and ready to go. The obligatory Christmas breakfast of croissants and tea was followed by some FaceTime calls from each of the girls and texts came thick and fast all day. Each step in the lunch prep was sent around so we could all see each other’s food coming together and the presents as they were opened. I modified the menu somewhat to accommodate John’s preference for hot vegetables over salads, but apart from that we had the meal I had planned. With all the calls and texts it wasn’t nearly as lonely as I had expected. As my grandmother used to say ‘we’ve all done very well in the present department’. Just now I heard that Davina’s Covid test has come back very quickly and it’s negative, so we are planning a get together soon. My brother and cousin Victor in the UK laughed when I said we had 104 cases a day ago, ‘try 40,000 a day’ said Victor grimly. I think the numbers of cases we are seeing in Sydney at the moment is extraordinarily low considering the number of exposed premises. Either we are being sensationally lucky or else it is the lull before the New Year storm. I hope it is the first, because Gladys’s decisions are seriously inadequate in my view. My bro has been invited to Christmas lunch by each of two daughters, a tricky decision, and they can’t mix because gatherings are limited to a certain number of households. Luckily Victor has just one son, easy peasy.

December 26, 2020

Oh my, who thinks it’s okay to send texts intermittently from 11 pm to 1 am on Christmas night, waking me up with each one? This morning I actually read them and they were all from one person (natch) asking why she never gets invited to our functions (functions, functions, what are functions? something from the past I’m thinking…Smilie: ;). After explaining that we are not entertaining in the pandemic, I got the reply ‘but I’ve known you for 6 years and I never get invited to your birthdays and Christmases and parties’.  Both of our birthdays were celebrated with a meal at home this year and yes she has been invited to lunch here in the past. This after sending her Christmas gifts that seemed yesterday to be well received, sometimes you can’t win.

I only realised tonight how much John has emotionally invested in his new car. At the threat of hail on the weather report tonight he wanted carpets to put over it, but apart from hand-woven ones on the floors, it’s not something I have hanging around. Not to be put off he collected and piled on bubble wrap, bed sheets, cushions, a mozzie net, car mats, and the white Marcella quilt off one of the guest room beds, all covered with painter’s tarps and held down with bricks and pavers. Unfortunately the quilt was topped with deep blue pieces of foam and now is patterned with same, whether it ever bleaches out remains to be seen. It better bloody hail.

December 27, 2020

The Erko crew came for a post-Christmas celebration now that Dav’s Covid test came back negative. So I worked up a menu with a combination of new cooking, the centre of which was a boned and rolled chicken, and also mining the copious leftovers. Millie loved the cheese toastie and garlic bread. I just had the numerous veg and was more than happy with that. Louis tasted the trifle and declared that he couldn’t have a second serve and risk the breathaliser. It did have an extraordinary amount of brandy and sherry in it. Davina’s Christmas cake, swimming in cherry brandy, was a fitting dessert for me.  We really forgot it wasn’t Christmas Day and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Now we await a third Christmas when Carly is able to cross the border.  Perhaps we’ll decide to have three Christmases every year. Millie decided that she wants ‘a sleep-over at grandma’s house’ so we will organise that before too long’. When she was shown the room she commented, because of a box on the bed, that it is ‘quite a messy room’. Everyone’s a critic.

December 28, 2020

I am really over scam emails, texts, phone calls. It is totally out of hand and the government (some would say it has a considerable number of scammers within its number, looking at you Angus Taylor) should be doing a lot more than it is. So far this morning I’ve had a text from DHL telling me that I need to pay for a parcel from overseas within 7 days, an email from iCloud saying my log-in details have been altered and I will be locked out if I don’t answer and a call from Monrovia (which is where exactly?). If I answer I advise them to get a real job but I realise jobs in Monrovia may be thin on the ground, so that’s probably a bit mean. But the point is I shouldn’t have to field this nonsense every day and I pay taxes to have someone else fix it. Mmm alright, actually I no longer pay taxes, but the principle stands.

Heather came over in the afternoon and she and John commiserated with each other about difficult families. He’s been a bit down today about no communication at all from family over Christmas and no replies to his attempts, but it’s been this way every year, that’s why he says he’s always glad when Christmas is over. The numbers of NSW coronavirus cases is low again, just 5, and with the accommodation of the government to the wishes of people wanting to celebrate the season, I wonder if we are doing extraordinarily well or if the thing is bubbling along underneath and will just whoosh out all at once in the coming couple of weeks, like some sort of pent-up geyser. That word reminds me of an article in the Herald yesterday by the irksome Parnell McGuinness entitled “Top of the Pops: Gladys Berejiklian should beat Jacinda Ardern in the 2020 popularity stakes”. One’s mind turns immediately to satire, but no, she’s dead serious. I left a comment saying that I had thought it was December but clearly it must be April 1.

December 29, 2020

We started late with Ricotta Hotcakes and Blackberry Jam for brunch. I don’t normally buy ricotta but I had done so because of a recipe I wanted to do and had exactly half the tub left, just enough for four hotcakes and thankfully that removed one more container from the frig.  Then we hared down to the Sallies at North Parramatta with a bootful of stuff that wasn’t good enough for Lifeline. They took it gladly so I will go there first in future. There was a box full of empty frames and a box of paintings by an old lady in Windsor whose family begged me to buy the contents of her workshop. I don’t think I made any money but I probably got my money back. A few of the better ones sold at auction, some were hung in the foyer and stairwell of John’s building and the rest have gone to charity shops. She was a nice old thing and I just couldn’t bin them after all the effort she put in, not much talent but a lot of endeavour. A perfectly good vintage bevelled wall mirror was knocked by by Lifeline but was happily taken by the Sallie-Anns plus some nice china pieces. I noticed that everything there was spotless, the crystal positively shone, so I was impressed. If it were not for Covid I wouldn’t mind volunteering there.

Thinking back about John’s extreme reaction to the possibility of his new car being damaged by hail, it occurred to me that his other vehicles weren’t really ‘his’. The van belonged to the shop and the Suzuki was bought from his daughter as a favour to get her out of some financial scrape, so this car is perhaps the first one in many decades that was bought by him alone and was just his. Today we peeled off the pavers and wood and the many layers of protection in order to go to the Sallies and he said sheepishly ‘this was a bit ridiculous really’. Luckily my white Marcella quilt came out okay after going through the machine with a bit of bleach, so that saved his bacon. But we work on many levels and the old lizard brain is always there underneath, directing us in ways that aren’t necessarily logical but seem vitally important at the time. I know, I have been victim to it many times.

December 30, 2020

Well it seems Gladys’s insistence on accommodating people’s wishes to shop and socialise for Christmas has led us into totally predictable territory, with the virus popping up like Topsy all over the suburbs and even in Wollongong. The woman has private enterprise and commerce in her DNA and just can’t envisage doing anything just for the public good. We decided yesterday that we would spend today on a trip across the elevated road at Stanwell Park, down the coast to Wollongong for chish and fips at the beach there. But last night the Wollongong Covid hotspot was announced, including the beach, so we gave that a miss. Instead we took a drive up to Mt. Tomah Botanic Gardens where it was misty and rainy but glorious to be surrounded by all that green. On the way home we grabbed a delicious pie each from The Grumpy Baker at Bilpin, taking longer to fill in the QR code than to buy the pie. My reason for suggesting the drive yesterday was that I am forecasting another lockdown if Gladys doesn’t get real, so we may not have too many chances. Poor Davina and Louis took their annual holidays to spend with his mum, who couldn’t come down from Queensland, and now they are abiding by the suggestion that they go out only as necessary, unlike certain recalcitrant wedding guests which I won’t even mention in case my blood boils.

December 31, 2020

My bakery is closing for two weeks so we hared out to Dural and bought up as much bread as would fit into both our freezers. Later I cooked Kue Gula Merah or Palm Sugar Slice, which is about as dense with sugar as it is possible to get. Getting the palm sugar was an epic but I ended up finding it at the local Asian grocery store, happily in a pack size that was exactly what the recipe called for. It turned out fine and we repaired to Davina’s in the afternoon where she was prepping the Indonesian feast which we had for dinner, including a salad with homemade pickled veges and a homemade chilli sambal. Millie had been at Froebel, her pre-school, and it was her turn for show and tell. Did she take one of her Christmas toys? No she took a large and a small ball, to demonstrate how Ganymede travels around Jupiter. Ganywho? asked John, regretting that he hadn’t done astronomy at university. Millie didn’t countenance the possibility that we didn’t know the moons of Jupiter, but filled us in on the minor planets in order: Ceres, poor Pluto, Makemake, Haumea and Eris in case you were wondering. Why poor Pluto? because it used to be a planet so she feels sorry for it. I was super tired for some reason and, although I tried to stay up, crashed into bed at 9.30. John was coming to bed at 11.00 when he got a phone call from his neighbour, as is her want. It went to 11.30, so he stayed up to watch the fireworks. He is trying to set boundaries for acceptable times to phone and text. Good luck with that dear heart, I’ve given up. I find fireworks on television somewhat depressing, knowing what you are missing out on ruins it for me: no big bangs, no vibration, no all-around splendour, no smell of gunpowder, no thanks.

January 1, 2021

We decided over breakfast to tootle off for a few days next week. Tried a few places around Oberon to no avail, then went out to Mudgee with similar result. Still thinking about whether to persist or give it away. Beaches are a no-go obviously but I thought that the west might be a goer. I have been busy washing and ironing white linen from the storeroom with a view to keeping some and giving other bits to the sewing group, for example damaged tablecloths with plenty of lace that is still usable. Once I’ve washed, ironed and sorted all of the boxes, I intend to pull out all of the linen in my press and divest myself of some of it, either to friends (who wants it is the question?), old clients or at worst the Sallies. I have enough tablecloths to last a month changing them every day, probably more in fact, so I need to cull them down to maybe ten, in varying sizes and degrees of luxury. Will it happen? will I be able to divest? who knows. Surely the intent counts for something.

I did prawn cocktails with Marie Rose Sauce for lunch, working on my grandmother’s old saying ‘Start as you intend to continue’. Although I thoroughly enjoyed mine, John commented afterwards ‘Prawns are a bit overrated aren’t they?’ to which I answered that I would happily have eaten all of them and made him a cheese toastie. Like feeding strawberries to pigs, as my old friend Trevor used to say in such situations, but Trevor was a harsh person so I will be content with an eyeroll.

January 2, 2021

Spent some time yesterday looking up places to have a few days away. I tried Oberon but couldn’t get in, then Mudgee likewise. After eight attempts I had given up on the idea when I got an email back from Forgandenny House B and B at Mudgee to say they had had a cancellation and could do Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights next week. He said we needed to answer a questionnaire on arrival and get temps checked. Also said all bed linen is disinfected and high temp washed, plus daily cleaning of shared areas and mentioned we can have breakfast on the verandah at our own table if desired. So we thought it sounded as safe as you can reasonably get in the current circumstances and booked it. The house is 100 years old and packed full of antiques, now owned by the great granddaughter of the original owner Dr Charles Lester, a Mudgee local who was trained at Edinburgh University in medicine, pharmacy and dentistry and practised there for the rest of his life. We can do some local drives, packing our trusty Thermos and looking around the area. Yippee, thankyou for getting back to me Errol.

After getting no papers delivered at all last weekend we complained to both the SMH and The Saturday Paper and today the SMH landed half way down the drive. I suspect we have a paper thief, so I went out at 5.15 to retrieve it successfully. That gave me the opportunity to read all my Medium articles this morning before John even got up, so I am feeling pretty smug about that.

January 3, 2021

John decided that he wanted to deliver his grandchildren’s birthday presents before we go away as there’s been no response to his communications. S0 we went out to Dan’s mother’s place at Cranebrook to leave them there. She had, unbeknown to us, phoned Dan to say we were coming and he decided to bring the girls down to see John. It was great to see them for the first time in 13 months and obviously they had grown a lot, Aurora goes to high school this year. They are lovely girls and John was so pleased to finally see them. We always find out what’s going on when we see Lynne as she gets all her info from Dan, so it was helpful for John to know what is happening regarding Annabel’s treatment.

My bro rang and I asked if he had by chance got the vaccination yet. He said that his daughter Tanya looked at his phone and found two messages from the NHS telling him to ring for a vaccination appointment, he hadn’t checked his phone. She immediately rang but was told that supplies had run out and he will be contacted when they have stock again, but they didn’t know when. He knew to expect a message, they are doing the rollout by age, but still didn’t check his phone. What can I say?

January 4, 2021

Just looked up the weather forecast and it said ‘possible light rain in the afternoon, light winds’. It is 4 pm and teaming rain, with thunder like explosions, and blowing a gale. Just hoping it doesn’t hail on John’s car or else he will be tres en colere. This morning I loaded up the rolls of velvet, upholstery fabric etc along with some old embroidered tablecloths and doilies a bit the worse for wear, embroidery cottons, dress fabric and sewing bits and took them to Martha’s for her to deliver to the sewing group. She reiterated her invitation to join, despite my disinclination to sew, and suggested that my repeated donations would qualify me for admission. However the next meeting is on Wednesday and I am not inclined to go at the moment with Covid on the rise, however I have more stuff to donate so I might buy my way in another time. One scary aside re Covid is that the Berala BWS cluster was started by someone with no symptoms shopping there very briefly, giving it to the counter jockey who then gave it to his colleague. They both worked for 10 days straight, right over Christmas and New Year, with customers who were only there ‘fleetingly’ getting the virus. On this basis none of us is safe shopping anywhere. My friend only orders online and even then washes every item with metho as she unpacks it. On the BWS experience it appears she’s not extreme.

January 5, 2021

So Don Trumpone the Evil is now threatening his colleagues if they don’t ‘find me 11,780 votes’. It wouldn’t surprise me particularly if he trashes the White House when forced to leave. The ABC News and 7.30 Report give this major story the briefest possible coverage but have plenty of time to do a feel-good story on melting bread tags to make into bowls for charity! This is fine in itself but it could surely have waited for a low news day. I am forever amazed at what the ABC thinks is top priority; SBS is better but I can’t watch it because of the ads. The ABC often looks like a commercial news program without the ads. Come the Revolution, things will change, when I am installed head honcho at the ABC.

John’s Google maps on his phone hasn’t worked for a couple of weeks, well the map is there but it doesn’t speak. Davina and Louis had a go at it, then Phil said it seemed fine to him, then Arvind said to delete the app and reinstall it, but that made no difference. This morning I decided to download Waze instead, but it won’t talk either as the GPS connection isn’t working, so I rang Motorola and they said to turn the phone off and back on, no difference. A second call made it clear that they didn’t have a clue how to fix it and suggested that we post it to them, after which they would reset it, losing all the data. We gave up at this point, drove to the Good Guys and bought a Navman, thanks technology for wasting a day out of my life that I’ll never get back.

January 6, 2021

One thing that no-one seems to be talking about is certainly worrying me. If you take half a packet of antibiotics you are asking for antibiotic resistance to develop. If a whole lot of people do it you are almost guaranteeing that a mutation in the bacterium will happen. Likewise if the recommended gap between vaccination injections is 6 weeks or whatever and you increase the gap to 12 weeks in millions of people you are almost guaranteeing that the virus will mutate its way around the vaccine in that time. Especially an RNA vaccine which mutates so much faster than a bacterium. Why is no-one voicing concerns about the plan by Boris Johnson to do exactly this? It is not a medical decision but a political one to reassure the populace that everyone is going to get the vaccine. Is it like in Trumpland where no-one is game to disagree with the boss?

Happy packing for our Mudgee trip tomorrow, yippee trees and green stuff all around. Normally I would be disappointed that it wasn’t the beach but it’s hardly beach weather so I am just grateful to be going somewhere out of the city and it’s a bonus that it’s not a virus hotspot. The pesky thing is sliding northwards from Berala, now reaching  Wentworthville and Parramatta, once it crosses the river….we will be going back to online shopping only and full lockdown.

January 7, 2021

We had a breezy trip to Mudgee today with very little traffic. Amazed at the mile on mile of bushfire damaged trees through Bilpin, Bell and Lithgow, often as far as you can see in every direction, the animals wouldn’t have had a hope. Hard to believe that it was a year ago. Perhaps the roads were quiet because everyone was rivetted to the TV, watching the extraordinary events unfolding in Washington. I am not the least surprised, in fact I commented to a friend a week ago that I hoped they planned to beef up security for electoral college voting today and for the inauguration. Clearly they were woefully ill-prepared. It is terrifying to think of what other tricks he might have up his sleeve.

Forgandenny House is everything the website claims and more. Full of antiques and with vases of flowers from the extensive garden everywhere you look, including roses on my bedside table. Across the road from the river and a few blocks walk to town, it is ideal. Getting dinner here was no simple matter though. We had to leave our names on a wait list as all the eating places were booked out, on a Thursday night, I guess due to the extra space required by the Covid rules? We only entertained places with outdoor eating, but the indoor ones were packed as well. A light repast of Soft Shell Crab with Slaw was all I needed and proved excellent.

January 8, 2021

My goodness the breakfast here was something to write home about. A first course of apple and rhubarb crumble was unusual and delicious, followed by the full Monty for John of bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach while I had a modified version that was still more than I could eat. Then we went off to Gulgong, such a lovely little town. The Holtermann Collection was our focus there, a huge collection of photographs from glass plates taken over many years and depicting the area during the gold rush. They were found in the mid-fifties in the back shed of a property in Crows Nest belonging to his descendants. They didn’t know what they were and were glad when the State Library took over the crates of glass plates and saved them the trouble of getting them taken to the tip. Each business in town was photographed along with many bark huts and weatherboard houses replete with their residents standing proudly out the front. The photographer travelled to other gold fields and also cities such as Sydney where Holtermann eventually built a mansion at North Sydney with the proceeds of the famous Holtermann Nugget, a single piece of gold he unearthed, worth about $5.5 million in today’s money. The two-storey mansion with tower still exists, but is unrecognisable after being bricked up externally by the Anglican Church as part of its Sydney Church of England Grammar School. Barbarians in any language, I wonder if they tell their students about this travesty? Seeing photographs of this magnificent house makes it almost impossible to believe such a thing could have been done, but it was. Later we went to a couple of wineries, preferring the Yeates Winery to the others because of the warm welcome by Yeates family members and the fact that they had a non-alcoholic cordial for John to try, made from smoke damaged grapes, infused with wild strawberry leaves, pepper and oregano. Naturally we bought him a bottle.

January 9, 2021

Beginning the day with a banana, honey and pistachio smoothie is just the ticket, follow it with a poached pair in cinnamon and orange juice and the day is really going somewhere. After our enormous breakfast we headed off to Rylstone Markets but sadly it wasn’t on today, despite the tourist bureau’s assurances. However we enjoyed walking around and looking at the now unused railway station and the many historic buildings in the town. On to Kandos which used to have a big cement works and now appears to have nothing. Quite a drive then to Sofala, where we lunched in an open air rustic cafe, sharing a sandwich, and then chatted to a biker with the the biggest and flashest motorbike I have ever seen, namely an Indian, which I had never heard of but it is apparently big in that world. It had leather paniers with all the fringing you would expect on something called an Indian. The rider commented to John that he was staying at Sofala Gaol to which John replied ‘How appropriate’ which I thought was somewhat unwise considering the guy was a man mountain, but also unwise considering it was a sweeping judgment on bikers versus bikies. A little later we passed a house flying the Confederate flag and I surreptitiously took a pic, but John wandered over to the guy who was working in his garage and started a conversation about metalwork or something, after which I bravely joined in and commented on his garden. Trump was not brought up by either side. On again to Hill End, that wonderful almost deserted mining town from the Gold Rush, which now features Holtermann photographs at every building and every vacant block showing what business once lived there. Only about 20% of the town still exists (I am guessing here) but some buildings are empty and protected while a few houses are still occupied. I would have liked more time there but we had a dinner reservation for 7 pm and needed to get the 65 kilometres back to Mudgee. I could only manage an entree but hollow-legged John managed a meal of duck. So sad to be leaving this place tomorrow, there is still so much more to see.

January 10, 2021

After another superb meal this morning (smoked salmon, avocado, asparagus, tomato and corn cakes) we packed up and went off to a few wineries, choosing those where I had tried the wines over dinner while we’ve been here. There are so many here and no way to see them all, nor any inclination to do so, especially with a teetotaller. But we enjoyed the museum at Craigmoor Wines, owned by Robert Oatley Wines, which I love, though they don’t sell the wider range of Oatley wines made in Margaret River, the ones I particularly wanted. However they were able to point me towards a pub in Mudgee which stocks all their wines and I picked up five bottles there of the delicious cab sav, having failed to get any in the usual stores down here for quite some time. We also went to Mudgee Honey Haven and bought some of their products, but were perplexed to find when we got home that none of them have any ingredients listed, which is required by law. A flavoured honey should read for example: honey, cinnamon, but even the plain honeys don’t have any ingredient at all listed on the jar. I smell a rat and will contact them tomorrow. We had a bit of a scare when John realised he had forgotten to fill the car with petrol before we left Mudgee and when he remembered we still had 100 kilometres to go and the tank was near empty. Luckily there was a sole petrol station at Capertee, about 40 kms after the empty light came on. It was looking dire there for a while but we were in luck and didn’t run out. John said on the way home that Forgandenny was the best place he had ever stayed, quite a call.

January 11, 2021

This morning I did some work on food labelling and yes, all of the honey products we bought fail NSW Food Authority labelling laws on three counts: Description, list of ingredients and country of origin. Now this is not a big deal if bought at a fete, but this is a big company who should know better. We should know better too, but without glasses on and not looking at the small print you would never realise that they don’t mention the word ‘honey’, but just say Bush or Orange Blossom or whatever. Also there is no list of ingredients on any of them, even the blends, and no country of origin. I will ring them later and ask nicely why not. Later has come and gone and they haven’t yet answered their phone, tipped off by a blog reader no doubt.

Parnell McGuinness, hiss spit, wrote an op ed in yesterday’s Herald mentioning ‘Trump’s moderate supporters’ but this is a group I have not come across before. I wrote a letter to the SMH this morning saying ‘perhaps it wouldn’t take up many column inches for her to name them individually’. Lately I have had a long bad run of getting letters published and without local papers, where I used to have a 100% success rate (to fill column inches between the ads), it seems the world is happy to go on without my personal opinions on everything under the sun. However I shall keep writing.

Three months ago I went to a specialist at St. Vincents about a lump in the bowel. He said he didn’t know what it was and couldn’t tell without surgery, but suggested we wait three months to see if it went away. The answer today was no, but as he said ‘we could be having this conversation again in three or six months and my answer may be the same, that I don’t know. But if it is cancer, one of the possibilities, we would be kicking ourselves’. So reluctantly from both sides he decided it needs surgery to know one way or the other, and he booked me in for February 3, ho hum, life’s never simple. Like Bob he is a reluctant interventionist, has bulked billed me for both consultations and made a point of saying he will do the op in the private wing to get in sooner but charge just the Medicare rebate. I think he likes me and I certainly like him.

January 12, 2021

Technology woes. St. Vincent’s Hospital does all their admissions online now so I was given a website address to do the job. It accepted my name, address, phone etc but when it came to a validation code in order to enter a medical history the site keeps telling me the code that they’ve texted me is invalid. Repeatedly. So I rang the hospital and the techie people can’t make it work either and as I don’t have a printer they are now posting me the forms, which I could easily have filled out with pen and paper yesterday. A computer glitch she told me, I hope any operating theatre computers are working a little better.

The honey saga continues: No-one has replied to my very pleasant email or phone message. So I rang the NSW Apiarists Association, the peak body, who were shocked that honey is being sold unlabelled and said ‘unscrupulous people dilute honey with glucose or rice syrup and that’s a very good reason not to list ingredients on the label, however both are illegal’. He told me to ask for an email confirming they are selling pure honey and also asking for an ingredient list for the other products which are blended. He was pretty cross and said if that is not supplied I should report them to the NSW Government Food Labelling Authority! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, but it is understandable that they are looking after their members’ interests.

On the early news this morning there was an interview with an author recommending escapist books to read at the moment and it seemed there was a consensus that we need them. The ones they recommended, cheesy love stories and their ilk, sounded enough to depress me more than watching the current news. One of the first books I read back in March was a lengthy tome on coming plagues from interaction with wild animals, followed by The Plague by Camus. If we are living through a one in a hundred year plague then perhaps we should acknowledge that and flow with it, experiencing it fully, unpleasant as it may be at times. One day some of us at least will look back on this and remember how it was: the lockdowns, the testing tents, the masks, the deep cleaning, the deaths, the premiers bickering. This process will not be helped by reading love stories I wouldn’t have thought. This is not to say we can’t have fun or enjoy the sun or our garden or travel or reading for that matter, but reading specifically to forget seems a waste of these amazing times to me.

January 13, 2021

Technology woes 2: The hospital sent the forms to John for him to print, then I was to fill them in and post them back, but last night I decided to give the online version one last try and bingo! the validation code worked. So I filled in all the personal stuff, 2 pages, then got onto the medical history questions. On page 2 of 9 it suddenly decided to stop working, just after the kidney questions, perhaps it got sick of my constant NO to every possible disease known to man that they were asking about. I emailed my previous helper, Loretta  in the patient services department, to ask if she could give it a push from her end but so far, no response. I am determined to finish the damned thing online now that I’ve got this far.

Huzzah!!! 24 hours after first starting the online admission form it is completed and sent, after phone help from Chloe at St. V’s.  Poor Chloe had to ask the questions and enter them at her end but then my screen suddenly bumped back into action. There were about 20 questions just relating to Covid symptoms. I deserve and shall have a nice cup of tea in celebration, since I’ve just vowed that I only drink two glass of alcohol a week I won’t open the Moet put in the fridge for Christmas.

A man has punched a security guard who asked his wife to wear a mask in a shopping centre, another man intervened to help the guard and got stabbed in the leg by the puncher. Where did this happen? Windsor, of course it was Windsor, right opposite my old shop, where people just go by different rules than the rest of Sydney. A friend who used to lecture at the Australian Catholic University told me years ago that his colleague in the History Department had written a paper suggesting that many of the the good folk of Windsor have a different attitude to the law because of its past as a convict settlement and it didn’t surprise me one bit.

January 14, 2021

I’ve been thinking back about the various crimes people casually mentioned in the shop over the years, of course drugs was a common and consistent one, but there was the fellow who told me that the mechanic’s quote to fix his car was ridiculous, so he pushed it over a cliff in the bush and then reported it stolen and claimed the insurance. One stylish female customer who lived in a beautiful historic home overlooking the golf course was married to a famous ‘fixer’ who broke people’s legs for a price if they owed money to the wrong people. She was lovely and her husband remained undiscussed. He was arrested in the year that I left the business so he may very well be in gaol now, but he’d been doing that work for decades, going back at least as far as the Loveboat scandal involving Labor politicians in the 80s. However there was a funny sort of ‘honour amongst thieves’ thing happening too. When my shop was burgled I was given the name of the out-of-town burglar by one of the locals who said ‘he had no right coming in here and stealing from you’. I passed on the name to the police and sure enough he was found with the goods and convicted. It really is the Wild West out there, I rarely mention it as it had to be experienced to be believed.

Today I was pleased to give my next door neighbours some chilis from my prolific bush, to mend some more linen (even though I don’t yet know whether I’ll keep it or give it away), to get a call from Sue saying she will come down tomorrow and stay overnight and to fill in my Sydney Morning Herald Weekly Poll, which used to be called Herald Insiders, but that must have sounded elitist so they’ve changed the name. Worth getting up I think.

January 15, 2021

Made another pav, they seem to happen once a month lately, luckily not more because I will always eat the leftovers, though I do try to keep the serving size small and add heaps of extra fruit. We had a Zoom call with John’s sister-in-law in California and talked Covid, Trump  and family politics, good for John to have someone to download to. Sue came in the afternoon and we polished off a good bottle of red over dinner, nice to have someone here to share a drink with, I never feel justified in opening a bottle on my own. We had salmon with salads for dinner and I messed up the coleslaw by accidentally shredding on the wrong setting of the Kitchen Wizz. Instead of looking nice and crisp and chunky it looked a bit of a soft mess, so I beat myself up for wasting half a lovely red cabbage, red onion, carrots and celery. I was shredding away without looking at what was ending up in the bowl. Anyway Sue claimed it as delicious and it didn’t put her off a second helping. We sat up chewing the fat and sorted some of the world’s problems and a few of our own. The plan for the next book group meeting at Sue’s may be stymied by the regulations, currently a maximum of five people to visit a home, but we discussed the possibility of having the whole shebang at the beach outdoor cafe, which has a maximum of thirty under the rules. We shall see, anything could happen in that two weeks.

January 16, 2021

We had another Zoom with John’s niece who is a vet and ‘bureau chief’ in the Food and Agriculture Department in California and when I mentioned the gorillas getting Covid at the San Diego Zoo she commented that ‘yes it was our department who went down and did the testing’. She gave us an insight into how such things are done with gorillas and also with infected lions and tigers from another zoo. Fascinating stuff. Her sister is an emergency doctor married to another in the same profession, specialising in pulmonary matters, so they are flat out dealing with Covid. He is especially in demand putting people on ventilators. How absolutely soul destroying to be losing so many patients but how uplifting to be able to save some as well. I so hope they both stay well.

Today Millie arrived for her first ‘sleep over at grandma’s’ in fact her first sleepover anywhere without her parents. She requested it over Christmas and today was the day. After dinner she asked if we could go on a ‘nature walk’ around the garden, choosing ‘things for a collection’. They had to be delivered to the back door where John was the curator, accepting the finds. She was very specific about our roles ‘John is to watch us from the back deck’, and each time she found a leaf, or feather or piece of bark she rushed up the back steps calling ‘I’ve got nature John’ and handed them to him singly. She wanted tomato sauce with her meat for dinner but I don’t buy it, so I made up a mix of tomato passata with a bit of brown sugar and put it in a bowl. ‘Mmm’ she said, ‘I think I prefer the one we have at home’, but this was even before tasting it, out of the bottle was more trustworthy apparently. Davina and Louis had an interesting night in a multi-storey hotel when in the middle of the night a siren screaming EVACUATE EVACUATE woke them up. Thinking it to be a false alarm, they were soon proved wrong when the hall was full of smoke. They couldn’t get the Fire Door open and had to reluctantly go down in the lift, against all normal advice. They stood in the street for two hours while the firies sorted the fire, breaking down the door in a room across the hall from them, apparently it was caused by someone leaving a plastic bag on a cooktop. But who’s frying plastic bags in the middle of the night? They are not planning a return visit and Dav informed the firies about the fire stairs being inaccessible.

January 17, 2021

I finally got a reply from Mudgee Honey Haven. I had asked about the labelling on their products, well lack of labelling actually. The manager’s reply was: ‘We are looking into the fact that our label printing is not clear and are in the process of changing them to print much clearer.’ In other words completely ducking my question. Thinking about what my response ought to be, apart from the reply I’ve already sent saying: ‘The labelling on my jars is perfectly clear, it just doesn’t give the information required by law (and also by me) when I buy a product.’

Of course the tennis influx of players and officials has turned into a farce, as many people expected and predicted publicly. What were they thinking? Oh that’s right, they were thinking about money, silly me. Britain’s NHS is admitting a Covid patient every 30 seconds, with 50% of their doctors and nurses off either sick or in quarantine. Surely at some point the system with grind to a halt in the worst affected places like London? We will be dealing with a mentally and physically exhausted workforce for years once the PTSD cases start to emerge, which they surely will. But it’s not all bad, Boris’s dad has had both vaccine doses, not that I had any doubt that he would get sorted early on. My neighbour Karen next door has just heard that her 87 year old grandmother in England is infected, so I guess worrying about a stupid decision to allow tennis players in is pretty small cheese.

January 18, 2021

Brian rang today and it got me thinking about whether or not it was safe to visit him, so I rang in the evening and it is okay as long as you book in for just an hour and answer lots of questions about suburbs you have visited, symptoms etc. I hardly see what the length of the visit has to do with anything, but whatever. He said he hardly gets out of bed as ‘there’s no reason to’ which prompted me to ask if I could have a visit in the garden, which is better for both of us anyway, and hopefully gives him a reason to get up. I also need to pick up a bottle of chardy from an old shop acquaintance who always remembers me at Christmas, here’s hoping he doesn’t want a loan, but I think he would have mentioned it as he didn’t seem in a desperate hurry for me to turn up. I’ll take out a bottle of red in Christmas wrapping and we’ll be square, funny old thing Christmas, other cultures must think it seriously weird. We celebrate a baby’s birth 2000 years ago with wine and chocolates and more, as well as decorated trees (very few where said baby was born) and a man in a red suit (likewise few in Bethlehem I would have thought, especially borne by a team of reindeers).

I hope the FBI and Capitol Police are taking seriously the risk to Biden and Harris from within the military and National Guard populations. There were people from the fire brigade, quite high-ranking ex-military and even legislative state members arrested after the protests, so a huge force like the National Guard for example is sure to have some Trumpists in their midst. ‘Remember Indira Ghandi’ should be front of mind for those in charge of security, now and into the future.

January 19, 2021

This morning I was supposed to visit Brian but he’d gone with his son to a medical appointment so I decided a visit on top of that would be too much and rebooked for tomorrow. Then I discovered I was out of one of my tablets altogether so I rang the lovely Sharif the chemist and he happily offered to make it up and wait till Thursday when I see Bob for the script. That meant a trip to Baulko shops, I usually get the meds delivered but couldn’t afford to wait, so while there I popped into Aldi for milk and yogurt. On the way back to the car the Covid Marshall was deep in conversation with a policewoman, but as I walked past her partner who was on the phone I heard him say ‘so you’ve potentially been in the shopping centre?’. I made sure I washed my already sanitised hands as soon as I got home. Sometimes you can’t do right for doing wrong as my mother used to say.

John got a speeding ticket in the mail today, unfortunately making our trip to Mt. Tomah Botanic Gardens an expensive day out. But I checked the date and place and it’s clearly right. He had commented on that trip about how frequently the speed limits changed up there, he was doing 67 kph in a 60 zone, so he’s a very, very naughty boy.

January 20, 2021

Visited my old shop regular and was gifted two bottles of chardy, a mixed box of teabags and some nougat. He never changes and never will, a loner, animal lover and misfit whose personality runs the gamut from absolutely bloody impossible to endearing. Then on to Brian’s nursing home where I waited in the garden till he was brought down in a wheelchair for my booked visit. He looks every bit of his 94 years now and unfortunately has lost a lot of cognition since I last went: he wasn’t sure who I was at first, thinking I was his Melbourne daughter (okay, masks make recognition hard). But despite being right on top of current affairs even a few months ago, chatting on about Trump and Morrison, he showed how cut off he is from current life on the outside, asking if I were planning any overseas trips this year and then querying if I have a son or just daughters. Somehow it felt as if I were visiting a stranger and I had the same feeling when I left as I used to have after prison visits: ‘That was a good thing to do but I am so, so glad to be leaving now’.

I managed to dig out the old 2002 letter from my last anaesthetist, well the last full anaesthetic anyway, you can hardly count the much lighter ones they use for endoscopy. Basically he gives advice for any future anaesthetist regarding the problems he had (or more to the point that I had) such as being unable to sit up or walk unassisted for a few days. Here’s hoping that whoever I get takes his suggestions on board. And of course that John remembers to pick me up!

January 21, 2021

Woke up early and watched some of Biden’s inauguration. You have to hand it to the Americans for pomp and circumstance, and memorials, they do both very well. I certainly felt like celebrating and was able to push down my pedantic view that if a person says her name is Kamala, pronounced ‘Comma-la’ then the judge officiating at the hoe-down should pronounce it that way, and not ‘Car-marla’. But anyway, it was so good to be rid of Trump that I forgave her that misstep. Melania was carrying a $75,000 Hermes bag , yes $75,000, I didn’t add a nought or two. Perhaps someone should send her a copy of the wonderful book ‘Sidewalk Champions’ by the Suitcase Joe Foundation, with black and white photos of the men and women who live on the streets of Los Angeles, many of them having been there for years. But I guess she’s aware of all that and still chooses luxury, it disgusts me.

Went up to see Bob and as usual we chatted on about other stuff than medical matters as well as the reasons for the visit. He discussed the eventual possibility of retirement and it saddens me on two accounts, one selfish in that I would need to look for another doctor after 42 years, and secondly that I guess he would spend a lot more time at his Toukley home and I would rarely see him. No, I just don’t want to think about it at all. John is at St. Vincent’s today having his infusion and tomorrow we are going to pick up filter candles for our water filters, something we do each January. The two topics seem remote, except that he got confused and decided this morning that he had to get them from a branch of the water filter shop inside the hospital foyer! Only later when he was having the infusion did he realise that there is no such thing and he’d conflated two different events. It’s a worry.

January 22, 2021

First off to John’s to print something out on his printer, which didn’t work. Of all appliances and technology I hate printers most, that’s why mine is sitting in the storeroom. A weird technological puzzle is that his phone GPS won’t work in his car but works perfectly in mine. Common sense (and Stephen) tells one that it is something to do with the Bluetooth in his radio as it was fine in his old car, but the mechanic doesn’t know how to fix it. My phone GPS works fine in both cars. It is so frustrating to know there’s a simple answer, but not how to do anything about it.

My hairdresser told me yesterday that the new British mutant of the virus kills 14 people for every 10 killed by the original strain. The only other person there corrected him and said that no no, it’s much more contagious but the death rate is the same. This morning in my Science news feed there was a report that ‘newly released studies have shown that the new British mutant of the virus kills 14 people for every 10 killed by the original strain’. Thankyou Martin for being ahead of the game as usual. The traffic both going and coming yesterday was horrendous, it is getting to the stage that I really don’t want to drive too far, or in this case be a passenger while John drove. It’s really nerve-wracking as impatient drivers weave in and out and we are not even at the end of the school holidays yet. Last night I was talking to Carly when her pal Lucas arrived and I had a chat to him. He is a public health supremo now working on the vaccine rollout. I didn’t tell him that I had had the good oil on the British mutant from my hairdresser.

January 23, 2021

Having a quiet one today in this awful heat. But it was good weather to attack weeds early in the day (what weather is not good to attack weeds?).  Tony texted that we (Kathleen, Tony and I) are going to The Wild Pear for lunch on Monday and they are picking me up so  that means I can have some bubbles as well. Now I have a social event of some sort tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which must be a record for this year so far. Rereading Cloudstreet today I find that I am still of the view that I would have gone crazy in that house, all those people, all that noise, all that social embarrassment. While I can relate to their particular whims and faults and foibles, there was simply no way to turn them all off for a while and it would have been excruciating. Perhaps growing up in a big family would give you a different perspective, but despite longing as a child for siblings, even visitors, it’s all way too claustrophobic to me now.

So the Australian Open must go on, $40 million seen as a reasonable amount to pay in order for that to happen and then Japan will outlay way more than that and infect who knows how many people to hold the Olympics, against the will of 80% of the population there. Sport is truly a religion in this country and in many others and as with any religion, commitment to it can blind a person to common sense. George Orwell said: “Sport is war minus the shooting” and I suppose the whole ‘us versus them’ thing doesn’t appeal to me at all. I find the cricket sledging, the cheating and ball tampering, the football buffoons, the whining tennis players just beyond the pale.

January 24, 2021

The concepts and differences involved in retributive, rehabilitative and restorative justice have long interested me. I read that in Indonesia if you’re caught breaking the Covid rules, you have to dig Covid graves. That seems a beautiful solution to me, not risking the health of the offender but bringing their actions alive to them, well the dead to them actually, but whatever. Penalties involving money, apart from things like hauling the proceeds of crime into the public pot of gold, often seem crazy to me. The idea that a fine of $500 is applied equally to a cleaner and a millionaire is a nonsense. I think it is good for a judge to be able to keep all those options in the toolkit, swapping and changing to really let the punishment fit the crime.

We had a lovely morning at Carol’s chewing the fat. It was super hot outside, 39 degrees when we got home but, hail to the air-conditioning gods, it was perfect inside at Carol’s and soon after we were home it was good here too. I haven’t found this heatwave as taxing as usual and commented to Carol that the humidity must be the answer, estimating it at 50-60 percent. Way out on that one I discovered, it was only 29% here. It’s the humidity that would prevent my ever living in Queensland, or Florida, or Singapore, where I used to race from air-conditioned bus to air-conditioned hotel to pool, seeing what I could in between. Not for this human thanks very much.

January 25, 2021

What a wonderful day with Tony and Kathleen. We were talking from 1 pm, over bubbly at The Wild Pear, over mains, over a shared dessert and were still talking at sunset at my house, with lots more that could have been said. It is terrific to know that I get on as well with Kathleen as I do with Tony. Discussion to be continued well into the future I’m sure. It still amazes me that we came into each other’s orbit, such an unlikely event in the middle of a pandemic, a welcome piece of serendipity.

A couple of years ago, in fact when he was recovering from his last surgery, John was approached about taking part in a study of temperatures inside social housing. He was given a continuous temperature and humidity monitor from which data was downloaded periodically and I think he got some small benefit like a gift card, though he would have been happy to do it for nothing. This monitoring went on for a year or so from memory and included various questionnaires. This week I saw a write-up on the research in the Herald: “An extensive study on the relationship between energy use, indoor thermal comfort and health in social housing”, by Dr Shamila Haddad. John is very lucky that his building, a 1960s double brick number, is very well insulated and pretty good on most days, but many of those surveyed didn’t fare as well, with the maximum indoor temp being 39.8 degrees and the average 32. It is good to know that this study will help tenants and surely those in the worst cases will be given aircon? When his neighbour died unexpectedly, the housing managers discovered that she had had aircon installed at her own expense, but rather than leave it for the next tenant it was pulled out and the hole bricked up. Hopefully this report might change that attitude.

January 26, 2021

Unfortunately we weren’t able to go to the Invasion Day march this year but with the heat we had perhaps it is just as well. It really was a hot one, 41 degrees here, but as we were in the car and then at Dav’s in the aircon minding Millie in the hottest part of the day we managed okay. At one stage I asked her if she wanted me to read her a story or two and she glanced outside, almost rolling her eyes, and said ‘grandma it’s daytime!’. Clearly stories and bedtime are inextricably linked. Dav and Louis went to nearby Bitton for lunch, it is a lovely venue with French management and a favourite in the area.

Later I dropped John back at his place to get his car to follow me up to Baulko, but he wanted to try the new Navman, bought because his phone GPS won’t talk to the car’s Bluetooth. After some considerable time I started worrying about where he was and phoned. The Navman, brand new, so with no addresses already entered, took him to Bobbin Head! He assures me he entered Cross St Baulkham Hills, saw it on the display and pressed start. For some reason he followed directions along the Pacific Highway, eventually pulling up at an address in Bobbin Head when it said he had reached his destination (no not another Cross St, it didn’t even start with C). I guess he was 2 hours behind me, gosh this bloody GPS business will take years off my life.

January 27, 2021

I am so enjoying the change in the weather, 20 degrees cooler than this time yesterday. Today we were off to Michelle’s for lunch. She rang when we were on our way to find out if there was a problem, we were due there at 11.30 and John had 12.30 in his diary and was confident that it was right. The birds were enjoying their back yard and we were visited many times by kookaburras who apparently thought that a BBQ was on the go and were patiently waiting for meat. We spent a lovely (cool) afternoon with good company and delicious food and wine.

I missed a call from a person investigating the Honey Haven lack of labelling and by the time we got home she had left work, but I am sure she will ring me back tomorrow. It boils down to the fact that the NSW Apiarists, the Honey Bee Council and others say that the labelling is illegal but the only people who can investigate it are the area council who are probably less than enthusiastic as it’s a major local business. I don’t want to get them fined or in any sort of trouble, just to change their labelling to reflect the actual contents, as prescribed by law. Fair Trading said I would be entitled to a refund as things stand, but that’s not the point. It all comes back to getting the council to enforce the law. But politics reigns at council level as much as it does anywhere else. Looking forward to speaking to the council officer tomorrow.

January 28, 2021

Got a call back from the health inspector at Central West Council who went out to The Honey Haven in the days following my first call and is still on the case. She said the business is working on an exemption in the regulations which allows for no labelling on the items if the business is a single outlet where everything is produced onsite. However in that case they need to have a list of the ingredients of every product written up in a document available at the point of sale so customers can see it. But they are not doing that either, so she’s told them to correct that situation or else label the products individually, and intends going back soon to make sure that has happened. Considering the number of products they are selling it is an impractical option. The whiff of rat is still in the air because it is impossible for all of those very different honeys to be produced in the one geographical area, the hives must be all over the place, so I await the outcome of her investigations. Sometimes it’s more trouble to avoid regulations than to just do the right thing in the first place.

We stocked up on bread and groceries today so John doesn’t have to do more than go to the corner IGA next week. Got in a delayed dentist’s appointment too, so I really am getting on top of my ‘to do’ list. Arvind next door had his huge tree cut back and with five men and all the ropes in the world they still managed to drop a branch on my roof, denting the gutter in two places and breaking three tiles. Luckily I have plenty so they fixed it. Now I am teaching John to use the washing machine and dishwasher, he’s good at hanging out and loading and unloading the dishwasher but he’s never worked either appliance from go to whoa. Also I sorted out the anaesthetist issue, as I needed to send the chosen person a letter I have from a previous doctor addressed ‘to all future anaesthetists’. Basically it tells them what a difficult person I am in that department (perhaps I am difficult in all departments, but that’s another question). Anaesthetics usually set off three-day-long vestibular attacks occasioning vertigo and vomiting, called by one doctor ‘your three Vs’. He made practical suggestions, based on his experiences, regarding which drugs to use and more importantly which not to use, to avoid this happening. The surgeon’s secretary has organised to send her the letter today.

January 29, 2021

An early trip up to Killcare for the book group’s first meeting of the year at Sue’s beautiful sea-view property, however today it was a view of the sea mist, which was still beautiful but in a different way. Because we hadn’t seen each other since November, it was a bit like a bunch of excited girls at a school excursion or a camp (not that I’ve ever been on either mind you, but I’ve read about them). Sue had organised for us to get takeaway at the beachside kiosk, but heavy rain precluded that option and she decided to go down by car and bring an order back to the house. This was later followed by her home grown rhubarb pie and bottled peaches from the farm. The opinion on the book, Elizabeth is Missing, was divided. I thought it portrayed the gradual decline into Alzheimer’s as well as anything I had read. Despite some flaws, it was educative as well as entertaining. The men played pool and whoops and cries coming from the basement indicated that they were having fun. At night we gorged on two curries (one Sue’s and one mine) with all the sides and made a dent in a good bottle of Margaret River red. We just seem to fit together somehow, whether at my place or at Sue’s, and it never feels as if we are visiting, but just hanging out together naturally.

January 30, 2021

Breakfasted on toasted olive bread and tea before taking a drive to McMasters Beach for a bracing walk along the beach, watching a very high tide with some moderately big waves and absolute piles of beached bluebottles. We were reluctant to rockhop to Copacabana Beach next door in light of the many recent drownings off rocks, so Sue drove around there and interestingly it was an eight and a half kilometre drive versus the thirty or so steps across the rocks. Had another walk on that beach before heading back for lunch at Sue’s, more yummy olive bread with goat cheese and smoked salmon. Sad to be heading home, I can never get enough of a good thing.

Later I received a few texts from various relatives of John’s who were worried because someone had texted them today that there was something wrong with him, but without going into any detail. A cousin who had rung him out of the blue this morning had then sent texts hither and thither, unnecessarily causing concern to quite a few. Of course they all thought the worst, the language was apparently such that it implied he was on the way out, but I was able to reassure them that his diagnosis is now old news. Talk about Chinese whispers. What a lovely couple of days we’ve had, Alzheimer’s Schmalzheimer’s.

January 31, 2021

I’ve been thinking about a video that Sue sent me, courtesy of Robert’s friend Malcolm who lives in Thailand. It was over an hour long and purported to be informative about Covid so Sue thought I would be interested. I only got part way into it and was so angry that I turned it off in a temper and emailed Sue to say it was classic conspiracy theory stuff. The speaker, a German doctor, suggested that the British deaths from Covid were as a result of the treatment and not the disease. He claimed that many, or most, were from giving hydroxychloroquine at 10 times the usual dosage for experimental purposes. Apparently there have been 142 registered clinical trials around the world, involving the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, but most used less than 100 people in their tests, so his theory appears ridiculous considering the vast numbers of deaths. The good doctor had also done useful experiments like ringing around funeral directors in his local area in Germany and asking if they had seen an increase in business, when told that they hadn’t he extrapolated this to mean that the deaths from Covid are over-reported. The author contributed to a book called ‘Virus Mania: How the Medical Industry Continually Invents Epidemics, Making Billion-Dollar Profits At Our Expense’. Now I think I am going to have to watch the whole damned thing if I am to have any hope of refuting what I see as seriously dangerous bilge. I’m sure this is one of the many conspiracy theories that Craig Kelly is bandying about, but I spent a long time refuting some rellies’ anti-vax prognostications and got absolutely nowhere, maybe I should give up on this before I even start.

February 1, 2021

Mmm, John promised we could go off to the beach for a week or even two, once the kids went back to school and bookings freed up a bit. But life had other ideas. Hopefully we can squeeze something in soon. Made an orange cake to use up some fruit that’s been lurking a bit too long in the fridge. It’s a good recipe with pulp and rind in the cake and a goodly amount of juice poured over when it comes out of the oven. Actually the recipe says juice in the cake too but I like using the chopped pulp instead to give it more texture. The recipe calls for chocolate frosting as well, which I definitely won’t be doing. It’s in a Margaret Fulton book which I won in a story writing competition some years ago. The story had to include a reference to MF. Typically I didn’t even keep a copy of the story, not thinking that I could possibly be the winner. Bob rang me and asked ‘are you the person whose story was just read out on Radio National?’ I had no idea it was going to be on, so I missed that as well. But I have made a few good recipes out of it and I have the letter from Fran Kelly that came with it, so that’s enough. John went to an organics industry function about ten years ago and happened to sit next to Margaret. He came home agog that she had been so flirtatious towards him, but I let him know it wasn’t personal as I’d read that she was often like that with men she met, despite being well into her eighties. I think he was somewhat disappointed.

I’ve long admired Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but her actions since the Capitol riot have endeared her to me even more. While conspiracy theorist Republicans like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are trying to cosy up and show they are willing to support her views on other issues, she just won’t have a bar of them. There is always great pressure, particularly on women, to forgive bad behaviour and play nice. But there are some things that are so egregiously wrong that forgiveness is just inappropriate, despite what our Prime Minister said yesterday on another issue. So AOC, hold your line. You are giving me inspiration because I have trouble holding a grudge, even when a grudge really, really needs to be held.

February 2, 2021

Rachel came over for morning tea and it was good to see John enjoying a family visit. The orange cake proved both light and orangey. The hospital has rung me six times today. Have you been to WA? Have you been to Auburn? They asked again about allergies, about medications, etc etc despite that being in my admission file, but I guess you can’t be too careful. Then later they informed me that I am to be there at 5 pm. Surely that’s 5 am I thought? But a quick call to the surgeon’s office confirmed the time: ‘you are second last on a huge list beginning early in the morning and finishing after 8 at night’. His secretary commented that I was right to query the time, she’s never known him operate so late before. He’ll be on autopilot by then, but perhaps it’s being done by a robot? Burning the scalpel at both ends I thought. Anyway it gives me a chance to get some weeding done in the morning. I am unsure what to do about my pink star plants which I understood when I bought the seeds were a perennial. I got near 100% germination and they’ve been lovely but they seem to be dying back severely so I think I got it wrong and they are only annuals, which is a bummer as I planted a lot. I find with seeds that I get upwards of 90% germination or I get nuffin. The nuffins are very disappointing as I carefully cover them with glass, watch them every day, control the water, still get zero. Weeds on the other hand I have 100% success with.

February 3, 2021

Feeling very virtuous after both cutting back the pink star flowers and doing a good bit of weeding, a bonus from the late admission time. Decided to just cut the flower plants back severely but leave the cuttings on the ground in the hope that the seeds from them might spring up again next year, probably a forlorn hope, but anyway… The postman came and Danish has sent me a copy of his latest paper published in BioMed Central, an English medical journal. ‘The knowledge of danger signs of obstetric complications among women in rural India: evaluating an integrated microfinance and health literacy program’. Phew, I will read it soon but I am sure the major statistical side of it will go right over my head. A quick look showed a credit to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What thanks do they get for the almost $50 BILLION dollars they’ve donated so far to medical research, social, health, and education developments, including the establishment of the Gates Scholarships at Cambridge University. The answer is they are accused of sins such as profiting from vaccines right through to outlandish accusations of attempting to microchip people under cover of vaccinating them. Would make you want just sail around in a gold-plated boat eating oysters, but luckily for us they are bigger than that.

I occasionally read an article that I really, really wish I had written myself. It happened with this week’s editorial in The Saturday Paper. (I know all of those words, I know those punctuation marks, why can’t I assemble them like this?) The article is about Tony Abbott and entitled Spit into a Milkshake, funny considering I always want to spit after saying his name. The whole article is magic but the line I most like is “The Institute of Public Affairs feeds people into politics and now they return as backwash, like spit into a milkshake”. I can’t stop rereading it and it has lightened my day.

February 4, 2021

Big day yesterday with lunch at 10.30…mmm might make a smoked salmon sambo at that time a habit…to fit in with the hospital fasting schedule. As we were leaving I got a call to say that the surgeon was ‘running a bit early’ so I could come a bit sooner, such an odd situation as I was expecting her to say he was running late. I quipped to John that if I could be sure she had a sense of humour I would have asked if one of the earlier patients hadn’t made it through an op, but decided not to risk being flippant. He had to leave me in the foyer, no-one goes any further than that these days due to our friend Covid.

While waiting in the pre-op bay I was conscious of the fellow next to me who only looked about 40 or 45 at most, apparently Irish, who was clearly very nervous and told every nurse ‘I’ve got two children only 6 and 7, a boy and a girl’. Clearly he had fears and I felt like going into his bay for a chat about nothing just to take his mind off it all, but decided that was not a good idea all things considered. When he got the cannula put in he hollered as if his arm were being chopped off and having had it myself at much the same time I know it’s not a big deal. However when asked about his medical history it turned out he’d had a quadruple bypass in the past and recently brain surgery for an AVM, an arteriovenous malformation in the brain. I probably wouldn’t have remembered that acronym except that an old friend had surgery for that same condition a couple of years ago and I know it’s a big deal. Anyhow, something wasn’t quite right with it (he still had the bandage on his head), they were going in again to correct the problem and obviously the poor bastard was scared stiff. It makes you wish you were a prayer because the whole thing made me feel so helpless, unable to do anything for him at all but I thought a big cuddle from an old lady he didn’t know would likely have scared him more.

My anaesthetist ‘hi, I’m Liz’ had studied the letter from the previous one of her number who had had lots of problems with me and she promised to do all the things he’d suggested, but unfortunately anaesthetics and moi are not friends so I suffered through the vertigo and vomiting routine tra-la tra-la, prompting a decision by Alan the surgeon that I needed to stay in overnight. However it was a private room with an ensuite bathroom in the new section with a nurse to hold me up and walk me to the loo as needed, so I was perfectly well looked after there. I had a view of the top of the Westfield Tower and the top floor of the MLC Centre, so I may have been able to see Davina if she’d waved a big enough flag from the roof.

February 5, 2021

Wow, the mind can sure play tricks. I dreamed awful stuff about John taking out half a wall of my green bathroom to destroy cockroaches that he said were blocking the toilet! Then that I had a rubber band around my head and later at about 4 am I dreamed it was 7 am and the sun hadn’t come up and we were all screwed. I guess that’s how it is when you are on recreational drugs or perhaps if you are schizophrenic, anyway I woke up feeling confused and upset so I hope that’s the last of it. John took pity on me and took me to KOI for morning tea, our first trip there for 14 months. He had his favourite, the Strawberry Pillow and I tried the Moss Garden Jar, a combo of matcha, pistachio and apple, which wasn’t particularly sweet and not my favourite I discovered, but I am glad I tried it. The desserts change all the time so if you don’t try the odd ones you may never see them again. Expensive and worth every cent, even just to keep such an innovative chef afloat.

John and I have been getting lots of texts and calls from his extended family after one member set off a chain of Chinese whispers about his health. Startled messages arrived from various rellies, all of whom had been sent a text saying that John was in a bad way. I would be cross, except for the fact that he’s so glad to be getting the contact that it appears the chap has inadvertently done him a favour. I have been telling texters that the reports of his (near)death have been greatly exaggerated, as Mark Twain once wrote about himself after his obituary was wrongly published. When I was proof-reading I remember that the newspapers had obits pre-written and waiting and it was someone’s job to keep them all up to date so they could be plastered on the front page quickly when the person dropped off the perch. With that happening it is only a matter of time before one goes out on a rumour. Sort of like having hundreds of tennis players from around the world visit Australia in a pandemic, and we just wait for the inevitable leak of the virus. Dan’s the man but this decision is much more like Gladys in my view. Money, money, money is what it’s all about.

February 6, 2021

‘It’s quarter to three, There’s no one in the place Except you and me, So, set ’em up Joe,
I got a little story you oughta know’. So sang Frank Sinatra and this tune has been ringing in my head since I woke up…at a quarter to three. It’s still before 5 but I got sick of lying there wondering what time it was and periodically checking the clock. So today I am hoping to feel well enough to bake a cake! I plan to do a Karithopita or Greek Walnut Cake, or perhaps a Walnut Torte if I can be bothered going out to buy some rum for the butter cream filling.  Nuts and sugar, what a combination. I just love nut toffee of any sort, macadamia muesli, nutty cakes, just plain old raw nuts are a staple snack in the pantry.

Trying to work out if we can get away for a couple of days in the next three weeks, it’s a juggling act. One bugbear may be if the surgeon wants to see me once the pathology is back next week. If it’s good news of course I can put him off, but if it’s the other way I’ll need to go in, so it’s a bit risky paying a deposit on anything this coming week. Then there’s John’s medical appointments to avoid and Carly is coming at the end of the month.  I am always rueing the fact that we don’t get away more, but with Tony and Kathleen going to the Southern Highlands on Friday for a whole week, and then speaking to Chris who with Bernadette is camping in Byron Bay for a month, yes a whole month, has filled me with the green-eyed monster. On a positive note, I had an unexpected call from the anaesthetist Liz, bemoaning the fact that she left the hospital on Wednesday night thinking she had done everything right and avoided any side effects, but after she got home the hospital called and said I was sick. It was good of her to call and apologise but really she did as well as anyone else ever has, so job well done.

Yawn, it’s now nearly 3 pm but I have put those 12 hours to good use. Watched a Planet America rerun, about 5 am? Spread straw in the garden where I weeded a few days ago. Made the Karithopita and some food towards tomorrow when Dav and family come, both with help from John. Went with John to Spotlight to advise on purchase of fabric for a restoration job he is doing for Sue, a piece of craft that Robert accidentally fell on and broke when he was sick. Heated up some frozen Gut Repair Soup for lunch, doesn’t sound very appetising but was. Read some Elemental articles. Wrote a review of my latest read.

February 7, 2021

Considering that last time Millie was here I had to mock up some tomato sauce out of passata and tomato paste, I thought I had better buy some this morning so we walked down to the IGA and did just that. My efforts last time were spectacularly unsuccessful, with Millie taking one look at it and saying ‘I prefer the one at my house grandma’ and refusing to even try it. But this time it was the real McCoy in a red bottle and so she was happy. But when we got back I sat in front of the teev to watch Insiders at 9 am and the next thing I knew John woke me up by turning it off at the end, so I missed the week’s political cartoons, fie I say! My stamina is pretty poor right now but will pick up in no time. We enjoyed a bbq on the back deck and then Heather came over so we all had the Karithopita there with pots of tea and coffee. The only downside was the bbq oil leak receptacle overflowing, and no doubt leaving a big stain on the decking, so simple and avoidable but we both forgot. Later Millie wanted to do another ‘nature hunt’ around the garden and intends to put her finds in a ‘nature journal’ that she’s planning on starting. It exhausts me just thinking about the energy it would take to mind her fulltime. I don’t know how older grandparents step into that role, but they do.

February 8, 2021

Back almost to rights, signified by the accomplishments of the day. Drove to the bakery at Dural, pausing to look in the pharmacy there in case they had any reading glasses whose frames could be repurposed to make me a spare pair of readers. I live in fear of losing the primary pair in case I am sentenced to days of not reading because all my old pairs are now too weak to allow me to read type as small as a book with them. Success on first visit! I found a pair in a sort of washed out uncolour, perhaps dirty pond green is the best description, and drove straight to Ralph the optometrist who was impressed and will have them done in a couple of days. He commented that I embarrass him with my excellent glasses finds, which he agrees are more stylish than his stock. After that I will donate the other pairs to his collection destined for countries where any pair is a luxury. I get on with Ralph very well, as long as we don’t talk politics, where he comes across as a bit of a Trumpian. I asked where the QR Code was situated and the reply was ‘I haven’t got one’ which I suspect is illegal, but I decided I didn’t want to ruin my day by going there. Next I organised with Heather to take her out for lunch tomorrow for her birthday, then paid both my car insurance (negotiating an almost 15% discount) and the anaesthetist’s bill. Woah, going like a train here, so I rang a motel at The Entrance and booked us in for three nights next week, overlooking the ocean. I wanted the second floor, but both it and the first floor were booked out, so the choice was between ground and top, the top floor naturally being most expensive. While I was umming and aahing the lady jumped in with ‘seeing you are staying three nights how about I give you 50% off the last night?’. Well that sounds like a plan I said, the total coming in at less than the no view rooms on the ground. So we are booked, with an agreement that if I have to cancel she will move the deposit to another date, can’t fault that. I can’t wait to plunge into the nearby ocean baths, seeing the bluebottle plague was in full swing last week when we were at McMasters Beach with Sue. Worth waking up today.

February 9, 2021

Reading about the protests by Indian farmers today and it has been the biggest protest in the history of the world, on November 6 drawing in 250 million people. How can the Indian government proceed with the proposed legislation against those numbers? The new laws will help large agribusinesses to control and swallow up the small markets where Indian farmers now sell their produce, so perhaps there is some leverage from these businesses and other governments who have skin in the game? Modi invested heavily in his personal relationship with former US President Donald Trump, you have to wonder if promises were made.

A lovely but strangely exhausting day today, beginning with a trip to The Source to get some spelt flour to make damper tomorrow. The shop is good for sourcing unusual ingredients but for regular ones their prices rule out regular custom. Then on to Wild Pear for Heather’s 70th birthday lunch, where we shared the stuffed zucchini flower entree, then the salmon and finally the pav. We both agreed that eating their full size meals would be difficult and this way we got to try all three courses. It is such a relaxing place to go and I have been lucky enough to experience it twice recently, last time with Tony and Kathleen. I gave Heather a few options and I am glad she chose this one. Later we went to Mother Earth Nursery at Annangrove where I bought a Euphorbia ‘Diamond Dazzler’ to put into a pot. I had a very small metal washtub which I asked John to modify for a plant by drilling holes in the bottom and this is perfect for it. Although I love bright flowers in arrangements, I only plant white, pink, blue and mauve flowers in the garden or in pots, I just love that pastel combination against the grey house. I asked the person serving about my ‘Lime Magic’ acacia tree which had two feet lopped off the top in the storm a year ago today which also felled my huge Eucalyptus nicholii. I told her that while the tree has got wider and wider it hasn’t grown an inch and asked what I could do about it as it was planted to shade my front windows from the midday sun. The answer is zip, she said ‘it lost its leader and will never grow up, just wider’. I suspected after a year that that was the case but I still felt as if someone had told me that my kitten would never grow into a cat. I had managed to break the leather shoulder strap on my crafty woven handbag and Heather took me to her place on the way home to repair it using an old cast iron machine which insert press studs, so now it has a matching brown press stud joining the two broken ends and looks for all the world as if that’s how it was made.

February 10, 2021

Made a very passable spelt damper and served it with goat cheese, tomato and basil when Tony came during his lunch hour from the library, well his lunch hour-and-a-half in actual fact. We struggle to find a division in our thinking, but so far this is not becoming apparent so we go from subject to subject, grinning as we find that this isn’t it.

Read a fascinating medical article which suggested that the mutations in the Covid virus may be occurring in long term sufferers of the disease. While in most people it has a relatively short course, in those who are immunocompromised or chronically ill it may last for many months. During that time it has plenty of opportunity to mutate into other forms. It reminded me of when I was Karl’s carer and the doctor at RPA expressed concern about my future health. I told him I wasn’t at all worried about catching his AIDS but he quickly explained that wasn’t his worry. Because Karl was on a once-weekly low dose of an antibiotic for a couple of years or more, it provided the perfect opportunity for bugs to mutate and then infect his contacts. I was a bit more careful after that.

In the evening I had a catch-up with some friends via Meet Around, a sort of simpler Zoom that doesn’t require a download. I think we all preferred it to Zoom and will stick with it. Zoom is best suited when having a hosted meeting but this is better when you are all in ‘campfire’ mode, with your pictures set around in a circle. I am meeting the same mob at Eden Gardens Nursery for lunch in a couple of weeks.

February 11, 2021

Heather got a 70th birthday card from local State member David Elliott. It reminded me that the rotter didn’t reply to the letter I sent praising him for some rare and minor words of sense that he came out with. He always replies nastily when I criticise him and ignores my praise so I can’t win really. If the government did print me a 70th birthday card it ended up in his round file, but perhaps it’s a new thing.

Finally gave in and rang the surgeon’s office to get my pathology result and was told that ‘he will ring you on Saturday’. Mmm, not quite the week from last Wednesday that I was expecting. Not sure if he’s trying to assemble the words to let me know I won’t see Christmas (or maybe Mother’s Day) or else just loath to explain that he operated for nothing. Anyway I didn’t query it, I just don’t want to be in some noisy place when he rings, guessing at what he’s on about. The hospital has rung twice though. Apparently they think that they accidentally double charged me the $250 gap fee. I don’t have my credit card on internet banking so I had to ring the bank and yes, it was charged twice. When I rang back to tell them they were in a bit of a tizz trying to work out how to refund it without the card but I shall let them struggle with that one.

February 12, 2021

Yesterday I watched some of Trump’s impeachment prosecution and boy, the two speakers were mighty impressive. Jamie Raskin first followed by Stacey Plaskett, both superb deliverers of their speeches, with the pacing and emphasis just perfect. Of course the content was chilling, the unedited half hour of the insurgents running through the halls screaming Kill Pelosi and Hang Pence was just horrifying. How could anyone could vote against impeachment?….well politics was never about facts.

I went up to Hanly Moir for my six-monthly blood tests and was told they couldn’t be done because it was after 10 am. This has never been mentioned in the nine years I’ve been having them but perhaps by chance I have always gone before 10, though I doubt it. There were 37 tests at one stage but these have increased to 48, because he now tests for the lupus markers as well! The reason, she explained, is that about half of the tests can be done at their lab but for the rest the blood is frozen and sent to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle because the Prof likes the autoimmune antibody ones done in his own lab, which has always been the case. Whether that’s because he trusts his lab more or because he wants the samples for his research I am not quite sure. The courier comes at 2pm weekdays and they need to freeze for four hours, so before 10 am Monday it is. Another oddity was that when I rang Bob’s practice to get a new referral for my appointment next Friday. I was told that he needs to do a Telehealth consultation on Monday for that. What?? She explained that it’s new policy practice….not Bob’s idea, I can bet money on that. So two things to sort out first thing Monday.

I had a call from Morgan Gallup Polls with a slew of questions about all manner of topics. I usually agree to any polling company in case the answers influence government policy. She then asked it I would be willing to do a longer online poll and it arrived a little later. Longer was not a joke, it was the longest I have ever done and took up a goodly part of my day. Just when I thought I was done I got a message saying ‘Congratulations, you have finished the first module of six’. I had a cup of tea and persisted. I can’t begin to tell the full  range of topics but they ranged from ‘Have you seen an ad for these new biscuits?’ to ‘Tick the box for any of these illnesses you suffer from’. I came out of that feeling incredibly healthy because there were pages and pages and I rarely had to tick, some illnesses I had never even heard of (perhaps they were bogus ones, just to see if I were concentrating?). Lengthy questions on car brands ‘Driving which of these brands would make you feel good about yourself?’ Um, none, it’s a heap of metal that gets me from point A to point B. Sport questions about which teams I follow in each of endless codes were incredibly boring, but faster to answer. Then tricky ones like ‘How much did you spend on groceries in the last 7 days?’. Tricky because then they asked ‘How much on dairy products/chicken/meat/ fresh vegetables/frozen vegetables’ and of course it didn’t necessarily match up with the total. Geez I’d better win the $3000 up for grabs, I earned ever cent of it, but if the political questions are helpful it was worth doing.

February 13, 2021

The surgeon rang last night and said I have a High Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Neoplasia 3, which basically means that although it isn’t cancer yet, it almost is. He was very surprised as it was the least likely of the four possibilities: benign, a low-grade type of bowel cancer that I have now forgotten the name of, common bowel cancer or this one. An average person has a 1 in 20 chance of getting bowel cancer in a lifetime and apparently a 1 in 100,000 chance of getting this one, so I should buy a lottery ticket. Apparently it is linked to immune system problems so is usually limited to people who have had organ transplants, have HIV or lupus, as they all have trouble clearing viruses from their systems. The pathologist was concerned that the abnormality goes right to the margins of the sample so he may not have got it all. I am back there in April for more tests and possibly more surgery. I feel pretty low about it but will bounce back in a day or so and especially when my feet hit the sand in The Entrance on Monday.

David and Esther came from Callala Beach today and we enjoyed seeing them after more than a year. Both have had medical issues this past year, Hers resolved, his still current. I guess that’s the way it is from now on with us and all of our friends, we are just in the danger zone. They appear to get very good treatment at Shoalhaven Hospital so that’s encouraging. Our lunch was delayed when the BBQ gas expired but a quick trip to Baulko sorted that out. We now have two full bottles so that’s one minor problem we don’t need to face again. Would that everything were so easily fixed.

February 14, 2021

Just realised it is Valentine’s Day. This is the first year that neither of us remembered so I decided to keep mum about it to John. Watched Insiders and decided that Sally McManus is on the short list to be our second female Prime Minister. She is that wonderful combination of cool, sensible, caring and intelligent. I still smile when I think of the story of when she told her mother she was going to university. ‘What are you going to do?’ the Western Suburbs mum asked. ‘Arts’ replied Sally. ‘Oh’ said the mum, ‘I didn’t even know you were good at painting’. Boom tish.

In my garage amongst the books waiting to go into the street library I have some that have been donated and I pulled one out today, only to see an envelope used as a bookmark. I wonder if it’s full of money I asked myself and sure enough it contained a $5 note. The envelope indicated that it was from Hunters Hill Ryde Community Services, being the change from the $20 in fees paid by one Neville Burrows in September 2014. If you are ever down on your luck Nev remember that I owe you a fiver. Meanwhile it is added to my spending money for the mini holiday in The Entrance. Tossing up whether to go to the Reptile Park on the way up, never wanting to pass up the opportunity to handle a snake, though I would happily leave the funnel web exhibit to John. It depends on the weather, but as is common the forecast is rain for the entire stay. Better to go on a fine day to picnic in the grounds and enjoy the outside exhibits so if it is actually raining we will give the snakes a pass till next time.

February 15, 2021

A busy morning with medical stuff. Bob rang and I was praising Alan, the surgeon, for ringing me on the landline at night rather than the mobile when I could have been in Woolworths or somewhere, also the depth of explanation he entered into. Bob’s reply was ‘Well you can’t just ring someone up and tell them that they’ve got cancer and then try to get off the phone’ or words to that effect. Um, I thought we were talking about pre-cancer I mused with some chagrin. He also said we should have predicted it would be the rarest possible one, as I always end up with something recherche. Then it was off for the 48 blood tests in 12 bottles, great way to lose weight, before our trip to Gosford. We gave up on the idea of the Reptile Park when it was raining at Somersby and decided instead on the Gosford Regional Gallery, which was a great choice. They had one exhibition from which I wouldn’t take a picture home if I won it in a raffle, but the other ‘Antarctica’ by Ken Knight was so good that I’d be happy to see it again on the way home. There were a large series of paintings done on his 2020 visit, many on a rocking boat, and every one was a winner. What a talent he is.

Our digs, the Ocean Front Motel in Bateau Bay, near The Entrance, is just what I needed. The sea is so close it is very loud when we open the deck door, but surprisingly quiet when it’s shut. We had a walk on the beach in the blustery wind. It was worth sacrificing the convenience of being able to cook for this view, I love it. We can do our own light breakfast and lunch here and just eat out at night, as we did tonight in a local Italian restaurant where John had his fave of spag bol (or spag bog as Melburnians call it) while I feasted on a spaghetti marinara aioli, mixed seafood pasta with lots of garlic and chili.

February 16, 2021

O frabjous day, Callooh callay! This place is a restorative for the soul. The view is to die for, both surf beach and ocean pools are just a few minutes walk away. We did a long morning walk to Toowoon Bay beach, around the southern point from us, I loved finding a fat black fish in a gap between the rocks but my interest in him caused him to make a fast break for the sea. Good to check out all the oceanfront houses along the way, a few nice ones but lots of expensive dross, like the two-storey mansion with all windows tinted blue. I know it can be glary in the mornings, we eat our toast on the deck wearing sunhats and sunglasses, but gee it’s only first thing. Why would you want this amazing view to be perpetually coloured blue? I don’t like the architect on principle, nor those who appointed him either. But would I swap it for my place? You bet I would, then I’d spend big money getting all the windows replaced. At one house we saw the owners sitting on the bottom step of the steep flight of stairs from the beach to their back door, drinking their morning coffee. What a dream that would be. Later we swam in the ocean pool, the big one was was being emptied for its weekly cleaning but we were happy in the smaller, shallower one. It’s a huge job emptying the pool via the equivalent of a bath plug, then hosing and sweeping it out, but the lifeguard says it’s done weekly winter and summer before pumping it full of seawater again. We decided to try the restaurant below our room for dinner, on the ground floor but with floor to ceiling glass overlooking the beach. I had six of the best big fat local oysters you could imagine, I can’t remember the last time I indulged in oysters, but these were a welcome return and served with a finger lime dressing, mmm-mmm. I followed that with an entree-sized gnocchi with scallops and felt well fed but not full, the way I like it. John loved his roasted blue-eye on truffle mash and suggested we eat there again tonight. No arguments there.

February 17, 2021

This news addicted person has discovered that if you are in your element (the beach) and have loads of walking and swimming to do, the news fades into distant memory (Donald who?). We haven’t watched the news since we got here. Who would have thunk it? Today we did an early morning walk along the sand to the entrance of Tuggerah Lake, passing fishermen rod fishing for flathead and bream at the mouth. Apart from that we had a pretty quiet day, reading and walking and reading again. I am into a novel lent to me by Martha who insisted that I would really love it, and boy was she right. It is set in Kamchatka, a place I knew very little about, but I am finding it fascinating. The author, whom I have discovered was co-producer of films like The Sting and Taxi Driver, does characterisation so, so well. It is set somewhere extremely interesting, with great characters and has a political edge. I am entranced by the book, Disappearing Earth, perfect holiday reading. Tonight we ate again at Ocean and enjoyed it every bit as much as last night. The chef, whom I met in the driveway to the basement car park this morning on the way back from a walk, kept a serve of date and fig pudding for me after I said I regretted that it was on the lunch menu but not the dinner one. If we were staying here another night I am sure we would be eating there again. But back to my book………

February 18, 2021

We enjoyed exploring Long Jetty this morning, walking out onto the longest jetty and then reading lots about them from an artwork in the park featuring old photos of the building of the jetties. The flood of 1927 destroyed the original jetty, replete with a ferry waiting room at the end, this information was part of the display plus pictures of the early settlers of the area. I had looked up best food in the area on Tripadvisor and The Green Tangerine topped the list so we decided to lunch there. We shared a smashed avo on sourdough and it came loaded with beetroot labneh and lots of yummy seeds, bits and bobs. Later we shared a waffle and it came with caramelised banana, berries and candied walnuts. Its reputation was richly deserved so we bought some of their delicious sourdough as well. Next on to the Ken Duncan Photography Gallery where his large framed photos sell for upwards of $3000 with some over $5000. Some of them were just too saturated in colour for my taste but the detail in all of them is extraordinary. My faves were all snow scenes, one a huge picture of a wombat in the Snowy Mountains, another a standing polar bear in Canada hugging a sled dog in its massive paws and the third a shot, probably from a drone, of two polar bears on an icy expanse. Interestingly John loved the highly coloured ones, his favourite was of zebras and giraffes. On we went to Sue’s, arriving late afternoon to be told that she had booked us into Bells for dinner. We had a long slow dinner but I was careful to only eat half a main and got them to package up the rest of the delicious snapper fillet in pistou broth. However it was still too much on top of lunch and I paid for it all night. We spent much conversation on the back story behind a very beautiful young woman dressed (overdressed?) in a backless full length black number. Early in the night there was a man at the table too but he departed before the food arrived. However she ate her way through three courses alone and the man never returned. John asked the French waiter what he thought was going on and the waiter replied ‘we are wondering too sir, but if you are interested there are already five of the staff in the queue’.

February 19, 2021

No breakfast for moi, just a cuppa and a chat. Off we went to Prof. Reeves office for my 11.20 appointment. As John was parking they rang to say that a patient had had a bad reaction to a treatment so he was running an hour late. Ultimately we didn’t get in till 12.30, but it was good to see him in his Mickey Mouse tie. He went through all the usual stuff, checking the blood tests etc and declaring me stable. Then he asked ‘So has anything else happened in the last six months?’ and I told him I had just had surgery, of course he wanted to know chapter and verse. ‘So what scans have you had? What blood markers have been tested?’ He asked lots of questions and then told me he was ordering an urgent PET scan and CAT scan. Groan. And yet more blood tests for cancer markers. Just in case I wasn’t going to go ahead immediately he said that we will talk on the phone as soon as the results arrive back to him and insisted that I ring and book the tests as soon as possible, pointing out again that he had marked them URGENT. I kept explaining that it was a pre-cancerous diagnosis but he said ‘well we are not going to wait two months to find out for sure!’. Then he dictated a letter to Alan expressing his concern and pointing out that ‘I have been looking after this patient for nearly a decade’, effectively pulling rank with an equal. Oh my, battling professors at 20 paces. I just wanted to pull a doona over my head at the thought of dear Alan reading this, despite the friendly tone and the ‘I have taken the liberty’ and the ‘with your kind permission’.

On the way home we stopped in at Cake Decorating Central and I got some supplies for Millie’s cake, with some ideas now percolating about how to proceed. However by the time I had unpacked the bags I felt as if I’d had the bone pointed at me and I need to keep reminding myself that they are both very good men who only want the best for me and I should feel extremely lucky about that. But later I still felt so awkward that I shot off an email to Alan explaining the situation briefly and letting him know that a letter from Glenn is in the works. Tomorrow will be a better day, please. At least my piece of snapper in pistou broth was absolutely delicious for dinner, first meal of the day.

February 20, 2021

Up to the pathology lab to get the blood tests Glenn ordered but I won’t go on Saturdays again, I was number 19 and they were doing number 9. Then a woman was going on about people wearing masks ‘when they don’t have to’ (that was me actually) and I ignored her for a while but then she started on about the waste of disposable masks (me again) and the fact that you needed to throw them away. ‘Actually, no’ I offered, ‘if you put them outside in the sun for two hours you can kill viruses pretty easily’. She was not happy and I didn’t give a fig. Then my turn finally came and and the young lady’s name was Ipek. After commenting on the unusual name she asked if I would like to guess her origins as ‘plenty of people have tried but no-one has succeeded so far’. After some thought I offered Syria and she was amazed that I was right, so we chatted names and ethnicities as she did her work. On leaving, as we walked through the waiting room to the desk, she said ‘oh I do hope I get you next time, it’s been so lovely to talk’. The look on the blond cow’s face was worth a photograph. Maureen 1, Mask Hater nil. The question still arises: why does my wearing a mask (in a medical facility no less) get someone’s dander up?

Then we headed off to Eden Gardens Nursery for lunch with friends. They were 10 of us and the undercover outdoor location was excellent, but as last time the food leaves a lot to be desired. My smoked salmon dish had plenty of the main ingredient but the accompaniments of undercooked sauteed cauliflower and three bits of bread made it an expensive salmon sandwich. John’s fish and chips looked great though it tasted like low grade fish, perhaps basa or similar, but almost certainly frozen. Company was worth the price though.

I got a very quick reply to my email to Alan, the surgeon, last night. He said I am ‘too polite’, but thanked me for forewarning him that Glenn had sent a missive and ordered a raft of invasive tests. He has no objections, which makes me feel a little better. (Why do I feel so protective of him?) Unfortunately I also discovered why Alan has been referring to my results as pre-cancer while both Bob and Glenn have looked at the same results and called it cancer. It is all to do with the grading system. Of the four possible grades, it is universal that the first two are considered pre-cancerous. However some doctors still call grade 3 pre-cancer (as Alan did) but others call it carcinoma in situ, considering that it has already become cancer, based on the fact that it will definitely progress to other parts of the body if untreated. This is Glenn’s view and why he had a fit when I told him the news. It has been a week where I have gone from well to pre-cancer to cancer as the days progressed. My head needs to catch up with the speed of this momentous turn of events.

February 21, 2021

The ants are back! I don’t think I can bear it at the moment. They were there when I woke up this morning and so the kitchen was de-anted, the tiles and benchtops cleaned, but when I came home hours later there were twice as many, including in the pantry all over the sealed honey container. Although they can’t get into anything in the pantry they swarm longingly over everything sweet, just in case they can find a way in. It will drive me to drink.

We were supposed to mind Millie at John’s house today but she has a cold and so Louis volunteered to mind her while Davina and I used their tickets to go to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – the Musical, put on by the Lane Cove Players and featuring Dav’s friend Emily. The story raises interesting questions about personal responsibility and the combination of good and evil within a single individual. Also there are questions about culpability for crimes committed under the influence of drugs and with the burden of mental illness. All very current despite the book being first published in 1886. Of course this was a musical, not a heavy dissertation and there were some wonderful singing voices, it was an altogether excellent production. I came home excited to ring John and tell him all about the show, but there were ants. Just in the week when I will be playing around with sugar and then icing a birthday cake, of course you can’t put fondant in the fridge….

February 22, 2021

After de-anting the kitchen FIVE times last night I went for the big guns. I used surface spray clearly marked ‘Do not use inside’ and sprayed the crack whether they enter and the cornice along which they travel to the kitchen. The decision was clear: the toxicity of the spray is less likely to cause me illness and death than the continued soul-destroying visitation of the ants. So I removed all ants I could with a cloth dipped in salt and water, they hate salt apparently, and then sprayed. A few more arrived but promptly turned back to whence they came and I went to bed in peace and hope. This morning there were a few still arriving and very quickly turning back, so mission accomplished?

On Friday afternoon, as instructed, I sent photographs of the PET and CAT scan requests to St. Vincent’s Nuclear Medicine Department. I was supposed to get an automated reply which didn’t arrive, so I gave them till noon today and when none had come I rang them, only to be told that they didn’t receive the photos. The lovely man fitted me in tomorrow anyway because the resent paperwork was marked Urgent. A doctor giving me the instructions for the PET scan said I have to rest today, ‘just drink tea and read a book’, apparently this is an important part of the prep and probably the best medical advice I have ever had. Tomorrow is fasting which is easy for a 9.15 appointment, but it takes about 3 hours so I will be a mite peckish by the end. I so hate the thought of the radiation, but I am trying to look on it as an educational experience, never having had either of the procedures planned. I always refuse sedation before an operation so I can check out the operating theatre equipment, so I guess there will be things for me to learn here too.

This morning I was writing notes for the book group presentation and I realise that I am emotionally attached to both the book and the author. It isn’t just another novel for me, but an uplifting story of courage and determination to survive horrendous life experiences. It is told in such an understated and indeed funny way that it makes a greater impression then if we were plunged into horror from the beginning.

February 23, 2021

I am so glad I don’t need to battle that traffic to the city every morning, it’s horrendous. The bus is great, but it’s over a year since I used it. John dropped me off at the door of the hospital with just minutes to spare, having taken an hour and a half for a 45 minute journey. The Nuclear Medicine Department is in the bowels of the hospital, as it is in most places, along with the mortuary it is the most feared part of any hospital. I knew exactly where to go after shepherding John there so many times. I told him that god is evening the score for all the times I battled through traffic to get there when he was too sick to drive and had multiple appointments. I met the delightful Andrew with whom I had conversations yesterday when it was discovered that my email of the request forms hadn’t been received. I saw two nurses and a doctor who explained the procedure and offered Valium if I felt too concerned about claustrophobia. However I decided to refuse it and was glad I did. First was an infusion of contrast and a CT scan, the fact that there is a hole at the far end of the machine making it quite tolerable. I asked if there was an ‘eject button’ but not everyone has a sense of humour. Next I went back to the prep room and a large heavy machine was wheeled in. It contained the radioactive tracer which pumped into the cannula automatically with the nurse hiding in the corridor. I lay back relaxing and thinking of Fukushima and Three Mile Island. When it finished she removed the hefty machine and I rested there for an hour for it to circulate and then went back to the scanner. This time it was long and slow, with the bed automatically moving a short distance every two minutes until it had covered my whole body. The staff were behind a protective wall but there was a microphone to contact them if necessary. After a 10 minute compulsory rest I was free to go and John was sitting outside, visitors not encouraged to even sit in the waiting room, due I guess to the possibility of background radiation? When I was doing Biological Sciences a fellow student had trained and worked in Nuclear Medicine at Auburn Hospital but his 6 monthly blood count had shown changes that indicated he had been affected by the radiation and he was re-training in pathology. I was warned not to go near children or women who could be pregnant for the rest of the day as I was mildly radioactive but as we walked back to the car just after noon I decided that the day wasn’t nearly as stressful as I had been warned it might be. Now it’s just a wait for the results….

February 24, 2021

Making Millie’s cake was the order of the day. Decided to do a red velvet mud cake which is a strong colour to go with the bright blue of the icing. It rose well, in fact too well, one side rising to the top of the tin and the other much higher for some reason. I lopped it off level with the top of the tin, but I will need to use some of the cut off section to patch the sides a bit. Just what I didn’t need. However the tart for the book group seems to have worked out well. In this humid weather I’ve decided that icing the birthday cake tomorrow is too early, so Friday is going to be a busy day.

Today I had three calls from the Nuclear Medicine doctors, each one causing me to have more questions about why they were asking. The first was to get the date of surgery and wanting access to the pathology, to which I replied ‘just ring the surgeon’s secretary’, this seemed reasonable though pretty obvious I thought. Second was to say they couldn’t get on to her and also checking whether the surgeon believed that the problem was cancer when he did the operation, answer no. The third was wanting to know if the op was a biopsy or a resection, the latter. They asked if I were sure and also if there was only one operation or two. By the end of all this I was starting to wonder what was going on down there and what the questions signified, but I sensed I wasn’t going to get any answers. I had been led to believe that the report would be in my doctors’ hands this afternoon but I’ve had no calls so I assume no-one has it yet, waiting is such fun.

February 25, 2021

Decided to attack Millie’s cake after making a big pot of cream of zucchini soup. A big pot because Sue’s neighbour went to Melbourne over Christmas so she could rent out her Killcare house for a month for some incredible sum that I’ve forgotten. However no-one picked the zucchinis! So Sue gave me the biggest one known to man which made said large pot of soup, some of which I will be eating for dinner. Then I got on to the cake, which I needed to cut down slightly because of a baking malfunction. It isn’t a masterpiece this year, simply a fondant covered cake in dark blue with various Mario toys of hers on top and on the board and covered with gold foil covered chocolate coins and some stars with eyes painted on them. It’s all a complete mystery to me as I have never seen this Mario or the other characters, I think they are from some sort of video game.

I have heard from no doctor and when I rang the surgeon’s office this morning she said that yes the report is there and as it’s his morning seeing patients he would ring me between them. I think he was leaving at noon and it’s now 5.30pm so I still haven’t a clue what’s happening. No good saying ‘no news is good news’ because the last news I got from Alan took 13 days and it wasn’t good.

February 26, 2021

Finally a call from Alan to say that all test results are normal, so no metastatic spread. He wants me to come back in about 10 days for a check-up and then regularly for an as yet unknown period of time to ensure that it stays that way. I was girded to deal with a bad result calmly, but luckily my preparation was unnecessary. So now I can forget about it till the next visit on March 8.

Carly arrived at lunchtime from Canberra and Sue later in the afternoon. Book group was at Sonia’s and almost all either liked or loved the book The Prince of West End Avenue, while one person disliked it a lot. It made for an interesting discussion, which morphed into a discussion about drinking to excess, women’s responsibility for self care against the possibility of male violence and the differing expectations of young women in terms of behaviour. Although I didn’t think to phrase it quite this way I later thought that a man walking past my house naked and drunk would be safe from me, so I think it’s not unreasonable to expect that if our situations were reversed then I should be safe from him. It certainly wouldn’t occur to me to call the police if he weren’t behaving in an aggressive manner, knowing the lack of subtlety the police show in such matters. I think we all enjoyed the freedom of a normal meeting after a year of Covid limitations. Carly, Sue and I kicked on till the witching hour, going over discussions had earlier in the night.

February 27, 2021

We three girls decided to brunch at Wild Pear and trotted off there for about 9.30. Sue suggested the daily special of pecorino stuffed zucchini flowers with honey drizzle and then we all shared a dish of kale and zucchini fritters with a cucumber salad and yogurt. It has been lovely having both Sue and Carly here overnight and today. Sue headed off for a late lunch with her kids in town while Carly and I came back home to have a day of reading, wrapping Millie’s presents and generally relaxing. I unfortunately decided to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, just because it appeared in my street library. What a mistake. I quickly decided that the author and I are on very different paths in life. I seriously wonder whether she has some sort of mental problem as she is obsessive in the extreme. Perhaps she is in serious need of a purpose in life, apart from tidying of course. For those who get something out of it, well and good, but it just made me appreciate my clutter all the more. At least I will have absolutely no problem in tossing this book out.

I was tired from doing not much and was getting ready for bed at 10.30 pm when the bro rang and then we talked till 12.15. Lockdown is still very harsh where he is and I sometimes forget that all restaurants, pubs, libraries, cinemas, op shops etc are still closed. They are doing it so tough compared to us, due to the pathetic mishandling by Boris. My friend Anne said that she had to go just over the hill to the next village for her vaccination but there was no direct bus and she doesn’t drive. They told her to get a taxi and bill the NHS but the fare was 43 POUNDS. How could that possibly be? I asked. Because the driver had been told to wait for her in the car park and bring her back. With the metre ticking while she queued up for the shot and then waited the mandatory time afterwards, it was 43 pounds for just one person. Multiply that by the thousands who live in villages, who could all have been transported by a bus surely, and it’s a terrible waste of money due to lack of organisation.

February 28, 2021

Up early and in to Erko to assist in welcoming 14 five-year-olds, each with a parent, plus of course our little party of three and Louis’ mum Sue. As expected Louis had excelled himself in decorating the place with Mario appropriate cardboard signage, helium balloons and lots of arty touches. Sue and Dav had worked hard on the food. The parents  are a lovely bunch of people, most seen only twice a year at Millie’s parties and the Froebel Christmas party. One (handsome) dad when asked by Carly what he did, replied ‘oh a bit of acting, a bit of voiceover and I run a boutique gin distillery’. No bus drivers in this little coterie. The cake went over well and one mother came over and said ‘I honestly think that’s the most delicious cake I’ve ever eaten’, so despite the kids all having blue tongues from the icing, I can call it a success. Dropped John home where he juiced a few kilos of carrots for us to share and we had a brief encounter with Ann who was pleased to see that Carly was wearing earrings Ann had given me for Christmas and I was wearing a necklace with the same provenance. She had a gift of yet another brightly coloured necklace that she’d bought for me, so I insisted that it be my birthday present for October.

I have been surprised this year that I never seem to get a reply to my emails to Martha and at book group she asked if she had offended me with a limerick she wrote about me. I had sent not one but two positive replies so I investigated and it turns out she’s had no emails from me since December last year. The address is correct so I forwarded 16 emails only to discover that she received none. I was wondering why she never replies and she was wondering why I never do. Not sure of the answer except maybe sending them via Phil.

March 1, 2021

A day for sorting out ongoing problems, largely successfully. Finally the emails to Martha arrived to her inbox, circuitously by forwarding them to Phil, but that gives neither of us any explanation about why they won’t go through directly so it will be communication via text only from now on. It seems that the ant issue is solved, after a few attempts to enter through the crack in the wall the little blighters have come across the surface spray and decided to move to a safer environment. I wish I had done that last year when they nearly drove me crackers. Another ongoing issue is my attempts to find out how the Mudgee Honey Haven is able to sell its products without ingredients on the label. I had put in a complaint to the local council on January 27 and they promised to investigate. Last Friday I rang again to see how this was progressing and today they rang back full of apologies, effectively they had done nothing. Another set of promises to investigate why this company isn’t following the law but as it is a major drawcard in the town I understand and expected their reluctance to deal with it. The Apiarists Association head suggested that diluting the honey with glucose or rice syrup could be the reason that they are not labelling the products. Better to be fined for lack of labelling than to be caught out adulterating the product. We shall see, but I am not giving up on this one so they will have to keep fobbing me off for a lot longer yet. The other more successful work of the day was to contact the store where I bought my new microwave last May to tell them that it had bitten the dust. The electronics seemed to work, as did the turntable, but nothing heated up in it as of yesterday. I had the receipt and they didn’t flinch about replacing it with an identical new one. Carly helped me lift it into place, my arms are not what they used to be! She pointed out that I stored a heavy cast iron cooking pot on top of it and that perhaps that had had an effect on it. When I stopped to think that the major component of a microwave oven is called a magnetron….perhaps it makes sense that putting a heavy metal item on top of it may perhaps alter its workings? I don’t understand the physics of it. But certainly nothing in the manual suggests this, however the cast iron pot needs to find a new home I think.

March 2, 2021

Tomorrow is my debut at the sewing group so I decided to do an asparagus and cream cheese tart, a decision confirmed at the fruit market when I saw asparagus was 3 bunches for $5. Of course now I can’t find the rest of the cottons, fabrics and trimmings that I was going to donate but instead I did find a box of spare chandelier crystals which would be great for masking tassels or similar and a box of old empty picture frames which could be painted and repurposed. With a box of doilies that I had already put aside I decided it was enough to pay my dues. I am well on my way to another Sallies delivery, adding in a lovely 1970s pottery teapot that someone gave to Sue and she gave to me. But we discovered on Friday night that it’s a terrible dribbly pourer, which is probably why Sue was given it, however someone may like it as a decoration. The other things in the box have had numerous turns on eBay with no response, plates I got $45 each for in the shop I can’t $15 for 5 on eBay. Minimalism has a lot to answer for.

Carly and I were talking about murder (for some reason I can’t now remember) and I thought of how many murders there had been involving people I knew through the shop. First there was a famous case where a wealthy local woman was kidnapped and never seen again, presumably a ransom gone wrong. Her killer died in gaol not too long ago. Both she and her husband were regulars every Friday. Then a man about 60 who had a big collection of antiques in a shed on his property was murdered by a young fellow who was living in a caravan there, I suspect there was a sexual motive in that one. A tragic case involved a woman going to the Windsor Police to organise an AVO when all of a sudden the police flew out to their cars and took off. Later she discovered that they had gone to her house where her estranged husband had murdered her two small children and her father who was minding them. Both she and her father were clients. Another regular client whose house I had delivered to in Baulkham Hills killed her 10 year old son and then committed suicide, wrongly fearing that welfare officers were going to take him. More recently a young local drug dealer was kidnapped by four others in a drug turf war and murdered by them, in that case I knew one of the perpetrators and his family. I attended some of his first murder trial in Darlinghurst but it was a hung jury, as was the second, a result due only to the skill of their barrister and not due to their innocence in my opinion. They later did a plea deal and accepted a manslaughter conviction but I have been unable to ascertain their sentences. Another case was an upholsterer I sometimes used who was murdered in a domestic confrontation by his mother-in-law who was protecting her daughter. I know there is another, but the last one escapes me right now, which is pretty shocking in itself.

March 3, 2021

I refined my search on the net and discovered that the four drug dealers previously mentioned who agreed to a plea deal and accepted manslaughter convictions, were each given a sentence of 15 years with 11 non-parole. I doubt they’ll ever be any different when they get out but I live in hope. The one of the men whom I knew came from a family of ugly outspoken racists (not that this was a factor in the murder) who had no respect at all for the law, but of course they were able to go on their merry way while he spends the next good while in gaol.

Today was my first day at the sewing/craft group and I took along an asparagus and cream cheese tart and my mending. I was also able to dispose of a box of picture frames to Martha and the crystals and linen which were put into the group’s stores. I arrived home just in time for Christian Porter’s press conference. He is either innocent or deserving of an Oscar, but which? I noted that Police Commissioner Fullofhimself was planning to go on to the board of the Australian Rugby League Commission. Talk about conflict of interest! I can’t believe that he couldn’t see how wrong this would be considering how often footballers get into legal strife. It just confirms what I have always thought: that neither he nor Berejiklian are the least bit concerned about being dodgy or being seen to be dodgy, they will get away with whatever they can. It won’t surprise me at all if he gets a Liberal pre-selection down the track.

March 4, 2021

Today was a first for me, going to a bishop’s funeral, Bishop Bede Heather in fact. I had met him some years ago at a wedding in his family that we attended. Actually, John didn’t want to go into the cathedral at Parramatta, or any other Catholic church for that matter, so we arrived near the end and waited outside to attend the social event afterwards. I would actually have liked to see them all lined up inside in their robes but no matter. I don’t think I have ever seen so many priests in one spot before, but the one I would have really loved to see, Anglican priest Rod Bower from Gosford, left straight afterwards so I didn’t get to meet him. Dang. I get his sermons via Facebook every Sunday and I am one of his many atheist followers. Apparently, according to his nephew, a good friend of John’s, Bede’s dying wish was to have Rod Bower concelebrate his funeral service, but of course the powers that be were having none of it. When he gave his eulogy Peter related that wish to the bishops, nuns and priests present, just to rub it in. Interestingly Bede had been attending Rod’s church for some years and referred to him as ‘my parish priest’, they became very close friends. I must buy a copy of Rod’s autobiographical book as it was a library copy that I read and it moved me greatly, hence my following him ever since. Talking about books, I have decided that from now on I must record every book I lend. My friend Michelle does this and I didn’t think I needed to, but I was wrong. Last week I was offered a book to read and I immediately replied that I own the same volume, a large history of the Romanovs. On coming home I checked and mine was missing. It turns out that the person who borrowed it from me gave it to someone else to keep, but because it was about Russia that person luckily offered it to me to read first. It’s an expensive book and was a gift, but I got it back only by mere luck. I am also missing Slow and Steady by John’s nephew John de Ravin, a lifelong guide for wealth building covering everything from saving pocket money to funerals. If I had read it 50 years ago I could have been a wealthy woman now, but much of the contents was complete news to me. When my high school wanted me to go into the economics class my mother said to me: what’s the point of that? you’ll never have any money, so what good is economics? Another loss is my friend Carol’s book Happily Ever After on aged care and there are others that I can’t bring to mind right now. Oh yes I just did, a book by the hypnotherapist friend who organised treatment for my migraines. I went on TV at one stage in an interview about his unique methods but my signed copy is up in smoke. Nary a newspaper goes out of here now without it being written down. (I will weaken of course but that’s today’s resolution.)

March 5, 2021

John has had a lump on his leg for a while and when he showed Bob at the end of last year he said to watch and wait. Bob is now pretty shocked at how it has grown and referred him to RNS Dermatology Clinic. It appears it is a large skin cancer, but now it is looking red and inflamed so we are worried about the possibility of infection. He’s been listed as category one in importance but still the appointment isn’t till March 22. I decided to call his infectious diseases doc to see if she is happy with him waiting so long, but she is off sick and her secretary said to get on to Bob on Monday to see if he can ring the doctor and press for an earlier appointment. If it worsens, she recommended going to Accident and Emergency. We never seem to get much space between medical issues, perhaps it’s just the age we are. Went to visit Martha and Phil this morning and he is looking sooo thin, it’s a real worry. Their garden is so pleasant and the back deck is a lovely place to sit and take in their many birds. I can’t believe how fast the wisteria has grown to cover the deck, almost like a sun roof. After lunch of the remains of the delicious zucchini soup we attacked some branches of a bush that had grown too tall and were spoiling the outline of the hawthorn when viewed from the front verandah. Many people would say who cares? but John understood immediately and sawed them off, then we managed to get them all into the green bin so a good job jobbed. He is now on the verandah whittling chess pieces (or a chess piece I should say). He made a beautiful chess table as a project at university and whittled all the pawns but never got around to finishing it. He has always said it was a job for his retirement so about 10 years ago I bought him a very fancy knife from a specialist business which only sells knives. It hasn’t left the scabbard till today, but I hope I see it coming out much more in future.

March 6, 2021

I baked this morning in my PJs so that was a good start to the day. Then decided to contact by text or email quite a few people I hadn’t spoken to in a while. One was a friend of John’s whom I particularly like who has also had lymphoma, but more recently than John. He’s had a hard battle with treatment and recently had shingles so badly that he was hospitalised. When I read his reply out to John he said ‘oh dear, has he been sick?’. He’d completely forgotten that he’d had lymphoma and therefore hadn’t been enquiring about his friend’s condition when they spoke, despite the fact that this friend had been particularly supportive when John was sick. Perhaps I need to be in touch with his friends more often, and not just the particular ones that I have become friendly with. They are a tight bunch but it’s still possible to misconstrue things when you are dealing with people remotely.

Today I did another ABC Vox Pop survey and the questions were wide-ranging and sometimes taxing, considering that you get the choice of 4 or 5 answers and can’t frame them in your own words. Given a list of things that politicians should resign over, some like lying to parliament or misuse of funds were obvious, but how do you answer ‘if they are to appear before a corruption commission’. Well that depends on the ultimate decision, so one has to answer no, but it could be misinterpreted. Why do I take such things so seriously? It’s only a bloody survey, but once I’ve committed to do it I feel I need to answer as carefully as possible. Easier was a list of drugs I’ve used and how often. Boring person that I am I could only tick alcohol from a very long list. I have always felt that my willpower isn’t up to that temptation and have refused everything I’ve been offered, often to the derision of friends in the 1960s.

March 7, 2021

Just gave my neighbour some of the very hot Thai chilies that I’m growing and he told me that I had to put the paper bag on the fence because in his culture handing chilies to someone directly precedes a falling out. Funny to hear that a gift could cause a rift. Boom tish. A huge branch of the golden elm has landed in the back garden and flattened, without breaking it, a branch of the jacaranda. So we, mostly John, tied it back upright from its horizontal position on the grass. It reminded me to contact Kirk to do the mowing and he can use his chainsaw to cut up the branch. We had morning tea with Carol and Jack and I came home with both a book and a whole dish of rhubarb crumble as Carol had made two. Talk about making one’s visits profitable. John still has a map in his head of the places he’s been frequently and their house is in that category, however today he had no idea how to get there and I needed to tell him where to go at every intersection. I’m hoping that it is a temporary loss because otherwise it seems to indicate that his memory is failing even more. He saw Grace Tame on Insiders and asked who she was and ‘what is she famous for?’ which was fine except that we’d had exactly the same discussion a few times this week and each time I’ve told him he asks ‘how come I’ve never seen her before?’.

Tomorrow I see the surgeon again and somehow I’ve lost the list of questions I wrote out, so I will have to rely on the two or three I can remember, but probably a good thing. It’s better that I shut up and listen and base my questions on his comments. Although I go with John to all his appointments I feel better seeing Alan on my own. My concentration is derailed with someone else there whom I need to consider. As Tim used to say in the shop: ‘you are the only woman I know who absolutely can’t multi-task’. Never was a truer word spoken.

March 8, 2021

Saw Alan Meagher and he is sending me for tests to another Professor who is a specialist immunologist working with The Kirby Institute at UNSW, The Garvan Institute and The Kinghorn Cancer Centre. He has a particular interest in this virally generated type of cancer which only attacks people with compromised immune systems. Apparently over 80% of people have HPV at some point but it only rarely causes problems, because of immune suppression of one sort or another. He is also very interested in HIV and I am to see him in ‘the old St. Vincent’s HIV clinic’. I feel as if I’m going back in time, plenty of which was spent in HIV clinics with the boys, there and at RPA. Then back to Alan in 3 months. He originally said 4 months, then as I walked out he said ‘let’s make that 3 months, I need to be careful with you’. Interpretations could be made, but I am settling on the fact that I know he likes me and discarding the options that he knows that my immunologist Glenn Reeves is on his hammer or that he’s especially worried. Juggling three professors is a trick I will need to work on, I have appointments with all three coming up. If the new one is as pleasurable as the other two we will get on fine.

From there we travelled to Castle Hill cinema, downing a few quick pieces of sushi in the food court nearby, and actually went to the movies! First time since last February and there were four of us in total in the showing of The Dry. I loved it even though I had read the book and knew the story. John (as has become common with books, buildings and now movies) believed he had definitely seen it before and even though I told him it is a new film he went off to ask the cleaning up person who came in at the end. Then he loudly said ‘you’re right, this lady said it is new’, except it was a man with a high voice. Dying, I rushed us out of there as quickly as I could.

March 9, 2021

Today was the launch of the first of John’s five street libraries built for Link Housing, the installation of which were unfortunately stalled by the pandemic. He has three going up this week and two more pending. Today’s was in Eastwood outside an attractive block with a decent garden around it. They only managed to rustle up six tenants to watch but I guess some people go to work. Interestingly after professional signs were made for each side of the libraries proudly declaring that they were made for Link Housing, the tenants complained, saying that they didn’t want their homes to be identified as social housing. So all the signs were binned. John gave a short speech, the themes of which we had discussed over breakfast, then we sat in the garden and had some morning tea with the residents. The brand new housing manager whose bailiwick includes that block was also present though I noted that he didn’t say a word to the tenants, which was odd as it seemed a perfect opportunity to build some social capital. The advertising material for the launch showed John with Martha’s library which was odd considering he doesn’t remember giving them the picture, though clearly he must have. One down successfully, four to go.

I just watched the whole of a 35 minute Youtube presentation about Covid 19 by a German doctor. It was sent to me by a close friend and I poo-baad it months ago after only watching 10 minutes. However my friend brought it up again so I ploughed through the whole thing. Among other things he claims that: 1. The AIDS epidemic was caused entirely by the use of the party drug amyl nitrate. How does this explain the African disaster of deaths from AIDS? 2.’If you stop testing for Covid 19 the epidemic will be gone’. This is probably where Trump got the idea and we all laughed at him. 3.’The only explanation for deaths in the UK, USA and Brazil is from doctors giving overdoses of hydroxychloroquine’. Seeing the drug was quickly found not to work and was only given to a small group of people in the first place, how does he explain the later and the current deaths? Since the hydroxy trials ended he says there ‘are no more excess deaths than usual’. So clearly every government in the world has colluded since then in falsifying death numbers upwards, if he is to be believed. A crank pure and simple, and a dangerous one at that.

March 10, 2021

After the launch of the first street library yesterday John was contacted by someone from Channel 10 to go on the Studio Ten program this morning. The plan was for the cameraman and journalist to arrive before 7 am today, record him working at his balcony ‘workshop’, then follow him to the second launch at Hornsby at 11 and film that live. I intended to watch it at 11 of course but then John rang me to say that they’d changed their minds and filmed him live to air at 8.30, so of course I missed it altogether. Perhaps they will send him a cut, I don’t know, but he said it went well.

I sometimes read Jessica Irvine’s Money column in the Sun-Herald and I am always amazed at the lengths she will go to in order to save a small amount. But last Sunday she excelled herself, recommending that we try having extras cover on our health insurance for just two months of the year, to allow for the waiting period, then ‘quickly max out all our claims’ and cancel for the remaining part of the year. She suggests rejoining the following year and doing the same thing. I was pretty cheesed off by this suggestion and wrote a letter to the editor, copying in Medibank Private. If a company used such methods we would rightly report them to an appropriate consumer body, so why it is okay for us to use them? She ends the piece with Sneaky, no? Sneaky, yes. And morally questionable, I would add. Perhaps the column should be retitled ‘Willing to do Anything for Money’ but I guess that it shouldn’t surprise me. Years later, I still recall the dinner discussion with some ‘money’ people we know. After we commented about the terrible scenes on television of people being thrown onto the streets by sheriffs in the US due to to the sub-prime mortgage crisis one seriously asked the other: ‘I wonder if we should we be investing now in US real estate?’ A compassion-free zone is money.

Last night late my neighbour rang to ask if I knew there was a big branch on my roof. Seeing it is dead wood I think it must have come from my tree rather than Arvind’s and it was hooked around the chimney on the far side from his tree. At 7.30 am I rang the SES and before 8 someone came to assess the job, followed soon after by a compatriot to do the same. I am told a team will be here later today to get it down and check for broken tiles. What would we do without the SES?

March 11, 2021

Well the SES men came as promised, two hardy pros Paul and Joe and two older trainees, Denis and mmm, well I tried to remember all four. They put their extension ladder into Justin’s place and mmm climbed up and swung a rope around the branch, tying some expert looking boy scout knots around one end before gently lowering it down, under constant instruction from the two old hands. Mission accomplished quickly and efficiently with a branch at least 15 feet long, probably more, then Denis cut it up with a hand saw. They couldn’t see any sign of broken tiles which was a minor miracle, the first time a branch has come down without significant damage. I know from past experience that they are not allowed to accept anything, even food, so there was no point asking. ‘Instant dismissal’ was the reply last time I asked. Coincidentally Joe was one of the team who cut up the big tree which fell in February 2020, so as they left he said ‘see you next February or March’.

Last night I pored over some recipe books for a menu to serve to a friend coming to lunch tomorrow. Decisions made, I went up to the shops first thing today to get the ingredients for a two course lunch. I was back home feeling pleased with myself, just choosing a tablecloth to iron (I am trying to use my extensive collection of linen) when a text came in asking if it were okay to change to morning tea instead. I guess John will enjoy the food at the weekend but there were three salads, which I love and he is quite ambivalent about so I will need to serve one with each of three meals I think. One was a warm salmon salad and John baulks at the concept, ‘how can it be a salad if it’s warm?’ As I say to him: ‘if it wasn’t on a menu in 1953 you don’t want it’ and he agrees. I guess I am lucky that he will eat a curry.

March 12, 2021

Enjoyed the morning spent talking books and all else with my buddy. Talking about the Southern Highlands with him made me think that we are overdue for a visit, especially on a slightly overcast day like today. So I’ve looked up the place he stayed recently and it is a lot cheaper on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Easter for obvious reasons. Thinking. But there’s also Kiama….

I finally got a call from the new Professor’s office, it’s taken a week. His assistant’s first question was whether I have a problem with a male nurse, Dan, assisting with any procedures necessary, to which I replied in the negative. She sent me a lot of information about the Prof and the fact that as well as being a clinical Professor he is also involved in research on the particular condition I have, so that’s a positive in my book. She also reiterated the 1 in 100,000 figure, saying it is a very rare disease, apparently he is the pre-eminent specialist in its treatment in this country. How lucky am I that I opted for St. Vincent’s over a local hospital. Although I like to get all the facts on everything medical, I was somewhat flat after reading that there is a long term research project going on in the US to ascertain the best treatment: chemo, radiation, surgery, ablation or direct application of chemicals or a combination of these, but it will be a few years before the results are known. That’s the problem with rare diseases, statistics are hard to accumulate. As well I am still juggling with RNS to get John seen earlier than the 22nd for his leg, but that date is the first time this particular doctor is available so we are stuck. I can see my own appointments stretching forward into winter with perhaps no answers forthcoming and on top of John’s medical stuff I am finding it all a bit of a weight at the moment. Having read all the material that the Prof’s office sent me, including watching quite a number of short videos, I can see why some people just put their heads under the doona about medical stuff, but I don’t want to be that person so I just need to take a few deep breaths and look on it as an (unwanted) educational experience.

March 13, 2021

Decided to go ahead with the Bowral plan, rather than the Kiama one, mainly because Carly flagged the possibility of travelling there by train to meet us for her birthday, the day we would arrive. So we can lunch together if she is able to jag the day off. I rang Milton Park and also Briars Country Lodge and the latter was over $350 cheaper for the three nights. I was inclined to try there because Tony and Kathleen had highly recommended it. The receptionist asked if we had been before and when I answered no she asked how we found out about the place. I replied that is was a friend’s suggestion and she followed by asking who that was ‘oh, Tony and Kathleen are regulars’ she replied. It’s on 10 acres so although it doesn’t have the superb gardens of Milton Park it’s not a scabby motel either. Excited. I want to go again to Joadja, the deserted ex shale mining village inland of Bowral, haven’t been there for about 40 years. Also the tracks around the waterfall at Robertson are beckoning me. Perhaps I will even get to wear the fancy pants raincoat I bought in Bowral exactly two years before this trip. Covid conspired to ensure that I didn’t go out at all last winter and a resplendent raincoat to go to the letterbox seemed overkill.

Made soup for lunch from a fridge raid and it was a collection of allsorts: some chicken I’d cooked for John last week, cooked onion, some soft tomatoes, Arborio rice, the dregs of some chutney, a little piece of one of my home-grown super hot chillies – hey presto chef’s soup of the day with just a can of coconut milk to turn it into soup. John had said at 8 am that he was about to have breakfast and then he was coming here about morning tea time, when I rang as the soup was cooking at 1 pm he was ‘just leaving’. The problem with my wonderfully prolific chilli plant is that only my Indian neighbours next door can eat them in any quantity, I use about an eighth of a chili in a recipe and I like hot food.

March 14, 2021

Just two Liberals left in Western Australia’s parliament after yesterday’s state election. But for me, two is still two too many. They can meet in a phone box perhaps, or discuss parliamentary business at a small table in a cafe. Of course Mark’s decision to keep the borders closed because of Covid was hugely popular but I’m sure the fact that the Liberals have two lame duck ministers in the Federal sphere at the moment cost them some votes as well. Whatever the reasons it bodes well for the Left at the next Federal poll, nothing like the landslide WA experienced of course, but surely now that it seems Christian Porter has been shown to be lying about his knowledge of the accusations against him, he can’t come back from that. Bring on the election, I can’t wait.

We were invited to lunch today at the Marist Brothers Monastery at Randwick, where John’s cousin Kevin resides. There were 15 of us at lunch, replete with wine or beer. Most of the residents are over 90 but are surprisingly with it and appear reasonably healthy. Of course many are named John which made remembering all the names easier, just the odd Michael, Dennis and Vincent to recall. Apparently if they sicken they are taken to another residence at Campbelltown which is more of a nursing home. However this place is the lap of luxury compared to most retirement places I have visited, in a lovely Victorian building which has been restored and fitted with a commercial kitchen and a lift. After seeing the home cooked spread, I asked if ‘the food is this good every day or only on Sundays?’ to which they all replied that they are very well catered for at every meal. A long way from the generic sausage rolls and party pies that many of our institutionalised elderly are fed on, but I’m very glad that some folks at least are well looked after. I had the feeling that they were both glad to have outsiders to talk to, to break the monotony perhaps, while also having some concern that as outsiders we may say something controversial or mention an awkward issue. John resisted mentioning the fact that he was caned every day by Marist Brothers at high school and the fact that it still looms large in his memories of childhood.

March 15, 2021

We did a circular shopping jaunt through Castle Hill industrial estate, then on to Dural and back, first stopping at Battery World to pick up some D batteries for my antique clock. I had bought some from Aldi but the clock still wouldn’t go so I went to Battery World for their top quality ones, hoping it was a battery issue rather than a clock one. But sadly it is still not happy so it must be the mechanism. When I bought the clock over 20 years ago the seller explained that she’d taken it to 3 repairers, none of whom had ever seen one like it and didn’t know how to fix it. I took a punt and bought it anyway and luckily for me Lance, my clock man at the time, had repaired one in the 1950s and knew how it worked. It is a Eureka 300 Day Clock, made in London in 1906 and is the first clock ever made with battery assistance to the pendulum. I couldn’t find my recent clockmaker’s phone number immediately (the one who fixed it all those years ago having succumbed to lung cancer long ago) so I rang a clockmaker I found on the net. I was unable to speak to the principal and got the manager who tried to tell me first that it was a modern clock, then that it was an antique clock which had a replacement modern quartz movement ‘well, battery means quartz’ she obstinately insisted, so I decided this wasn’t a company I could trust with my precious clock. Eventually in files in the storeroom I found the phone number of my more recent fellow, but he hasn’t ever seen one unfortunately. He will have a look at it though and at least I trust him not to deny ever having received it, as I have had clients tell me has happened to them with exceptional timepieces. Clock men (always men) are odd coves in my experience, almost always 1. middle European and 2. quite besotted with their craft, they can also be a bit temperamental. A Polish one always had the opinion that a clock was either ‘beautiful mechaniz’ or ‘rubbish mechaniz’, the last ‘m’ perpetually missing in action on the word mechanism. My current guy, Macedonian I am guessing by his surname? is the sanest I’ve had.

Woah, phone just rang and it was Dan, assistant to the Professor I have to see on April 13. He’s just been in discussion with the Prof after receiving my referral from Alan the surgeon and they’ve decided I need to be seen earlier, but he goes on holiday this week so I’m now seeing him on the first day he is back, April the 6th. They are asking the St. Vincent’s pathology department if they have any tissue left from the operation that the pathologist  in their research lab can examine for a second opinion. Dan was full of questions and information and told me to take a couple of painkillers an hour before the appointment as they want to do a whole range of tests, some of which need to be done without a local anaesthetic so as not to interfere with the result. Boy, this is a steep educational process but I was glad Dan spoke to me very intelligibly and in detail for 20 minutes, but as if I were a person with some biological knowledge. It must be hard to know at what level to pitch the discussion and he was perfect. Watching the videos they sent had enabled me to ask the right questions too. I feel in very good hands.

March 16, 2021

More thoughts on the conversation with Dan yesterday, my call register showed it was actually closer to a 30 minute call. It reminded me of the constant talk about mutations and variants in Covid19. He said they will be doing virus tests because if it is variant 2 or 5 they won’t worry too much about possible spread but if it is 16 they will worry a great deal as it is the nasty one, with I think 18 as another slightly less less worrisome option. He flagged the possibility of further surgery, as Alan had already done so that wasn’t news or a shock. I’ve decided that seeing this as a first hand medical enigma or conundrum is better for me than knowing nothing about it and just worrying, so I’m trying to keep on top of everything I am being told. I hadn’t expressed that view to Dan, he just seemed to assume that I wanted to know. This wouldn’t work for everyone and I’m lucky that I genuinely find it fascinating.

Drove out to my clockmaker at Richmond and left the clock there for an opinion and hopefully repair. His wife mentioned that he has been contracted to visit Kambala School at Rose Bay every three months to attend to both their grandfather clock and the one in the tower. Meanwhile public schools put a new battery in the plastic wall clock and buy a $25 Chinese replacement one when it dies. Wandered around Richmond shops and of course bumped into an old client in an antique shop there. He remembered my name but I struggled for his. Later in another shop the owner asked if I remembered buying a big antique dictionary years ago and I did, in fact it is on my bookshelf. She said it was her grandfather’s and she wants to buy it from me. I will need to go through the old records and see what I paid for it, happy to sell it for that. Antique shops seem another world now, that lady told me she never quite enjoys holidays ‘I don’t get homesick, I get shopsick’, I knew exactly what she meant.

March 17, 2021

Made up a salad to take to sewing group, beetroot, rocket, currants, pomegranate and toasted pine nuts with a light balsamic and olive oil dressing, loved it so it may become a staple. I did have a project to take today, a very old woollen jacket with a silk lining which has shredded in vertical tears. The lining is fixed so it can’t be repaired from the inside. That provoked the idea of using some black satin ribbon, hand sewn over each tear, which occupied all of the sewing time with about an hour’s work to finish it today. I haven’t worn it for years, afraid of damaging it further, so now I will feel comfortable about bringing it back into use this winter. The conversation at the group waded into the ‘consent’ issue and everyone seemed initially to be taking a harsh view of men’s behaviour but it soon softened into ‘well girls wear shorts where you can see the curve of their bottom’ and ‘they wear a G- string under sheer dresses’. When was the last time you heard of a tradie being assaulted by a woman because his shorts were at half mast and you can see the crack of his bum? I just don’t buy this argument that men are unable to deal with temptation, therefore we all have to dress to allow for this. Judging by the sudden intense concentration on their sewing by a few, I think I was not alone in that view.

I was able to donate a couple of boxes of books to Martha’s street library as she had said  she was almost out of books. Currently I have many, but I guess I too will get to that situation eventually. John’s interview for Channel 10 on his street libraries has been sent to him, brief but good. That verandah has now been used for a couple of TV interviews, the last being by Channel 7 after the arrest of John’s neighbour Scott for a historic and famous murder. Which brings to mind the murder? of the victims of the 1979 Ghost Train fire at Luna Park. The first of a three-part series on the event has screened and it was harrowing to watch. At the time the rumour was that it was arson involving crime figures and Abe Saffron’s name was bandied about, but the police quickly announced that it was an electrical fault, before the Fire Brigade had even started an investigation. It will be fascinating to see what evidence Caro Meldrum-Hanna has discovered. Back in those days my friend Don, a real estate flipper before that even became a popular thing and now long dead, used to meet regularly with a group of police in a restaurant in Sydney, the name of which I can no longer remember. However it had a domed brick roof and was in some sort of old tunnel. I gathered that they were at the corrupt end of the force and he dropped the occasional tidbit of information that over the years proved to be true. I think the Ghost Train stories came from him. After my father died Don offered to buy his old beat up car for very little money and I sold it to him, but later I was flooded with parking tickets for it. Turned out he had never put in the transfer paperwork and I suspect he only bought the car so he could park wherever he wanted with no problems.

March 18, 2021

Huzzah! My clock man has solved the problem, it was stuck up with 25+ years of dirt and grease so he took the whole thing apart and has washed it in his secret solution. He will keep it till the weekend just to check it is keeping good time. I can’t wait, it’s like picking up Lily from the cattery. I have had a morning of catching up with emails, reading a couple of long papers online and writing book reviews. One medical paper was particularly interesting because it was on virology entitled Back to the Future: Lessons Learned From the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. It was written just before the Covid19 pandemic and talked about things like where the 1918 pandemic came from, why certain people died in 1918-20 when others were mildly infected, why it particularly affected the 15-45 age group and what could be learned for future pandemics. I’ve kept it to reread as it’s all relevant to the present. Then there was our own Danish Ahmad’s paper on The Knowledge of Danger Signs of Obstetric Complications among Women in Rural India which I had already read in hard copy but needed to reread as the statistical stuff was hard going for me. Luckily the virology paper didn’t include much in the way of statistics but had a mine of references to be followed up.

Still hoping to get away in late April but between us we have five medical appointments between now and then, any one of which could result in further appointments. I think we will just have to stamp our feet and say no way can we put this holiday off, otherwise I can see the same thing happening later and it will be winter.

March 19, 2021

Every Wednesday I get the 4 questions from the SMH Weekly Poll and on Thursdays I get the Sentiments Survey. The latter involves clicking on all the emotions or feelings you are feeling that day, from a long list. I remember last week clicking calm and positive and optimistic among others, but this week I found myself clicking things like stressed and frustrated. It’s funny how things change from one day to the next. The Eastern religions call it the guna, the Philosophy School always talked about mood being ‘the changes in the guna’. Partly my frustration was due to politics and the government’s typically off key response to the women’s march on Monday and all issues a la femme. But rain washes away stress in my humble opinion so this weekend’s downpour should be good for me.

I have happily read the book for book group next Friday, made notes and was looking forward to discussing it, but a few people were unable to come that day so it looks like being changed till next month, but not on the scheduled date for April, and if that happens I won’t be able to go due to a prior commitment. It doesn’t seem logical to be losing a month’s meeting, we only have 10 a year. We would still have had heaps more people than the whole WA shadow cabinet. But (thankfully) it’s not my job to decide such things.

Omar came to John’s with the new computer he has put together for him and because we both had to leave for hairdressing appointments in Manly at 12 noon he opted to come at 8 am. When I arrived at 11.30 Omar was still tinkering with moving John’s files over and doing a similar thing with his new phone. We decided to leave him to it and left, but at one point I said to Omar: ‘I need to show you the door’ to which he replied ‘What have I done?’ and I explained that I needed to literally show him the door so he knew how to let himself out. We both love our husband and wife hairdressers to bits and couldn’t have cancelled and left them in the lurch. I wonder though how long we will be able to make that trek?

March 20, 2021

A really heavy rain day, my favourite weather, and all the balls for the day fell into the right pockets. Firstly we went over to the Chocolate Warehouse and I found some lovely boxes, one for my clockmaker Jim and two for add-on gifts for both my girls’ birthdays. Then John fancied a box of Turkish Delight so I got that too. We were in solid traffic jams from then on as folks swarmed to Bunnings, Harvey Norman, Castle Towers, anywhere warm and dry. A weird thing that on a day when we were all told to stay home because the roads would be dangerous it was much busier than usual, but we defied the order as we had tickets to an event so I can’t blame others for being out. Off then to Hornsby RSL of all places to a screening of Brazen Hussies, a history of the women’s movement in Australia, put on by Amnesty International.

Two excellent emails on my return, the book group meeting has been reinstated to the correct day, woohoo! and our doctor’s surgery contacted us with booking options this week to get the vaccine. This morning I read an article explaining the nature of the blood clot issues complicating the Astra Zeneca vaccine. Two teams of medical researchers in Norway and Germany have independently found that the vaccine can trigger a very rare autoimmune disorder causing blood to clot in the brain, and they suggest a possible treatment for it, blood thinners and immunoglobulin. These researchers openly talk about the link whereas our government has been very naughty in my view to deny it altogether. It’s one thing to talk about cost/benefit and rarity but quite another to just deny the link. One Professor interviewed for the Wall Street Journal says that it is an impossibly rare condition where the immune system attacks the platelets and to suddenly have these cases only in recently vaccinated people made it clear in his view that the vaccine is the cause. Despite all of that I signed us both up for Thursday morning.

March 21, 2021
I was reunited with my perfectly working clock at Richmond after checking with Windsor Police that we could get through the floods okay. Then we went to Windsor to check how the new $100 million Windsor Bridge was faring. The water was just under the roadway and expected to be over it by the morning. Whole trees flying down the river were hitting the bridge and coming out the other side in bits. The police had closed the bridge, the same ones no doubt who hauled away the largely elderly demonstrators who camped in a tent there for years, 24 hours a day, winter and summer, planning to lay down in front of the bulldozers when they came to attack our historic 1874 bridge. This rotten Liberal government insisted that their new bridge would be flood free and refused to listen to Labor, the Greens, Jack Mundey, engineers, the historical society, councillors, endless demonstrators over years including yours truly and the overwhelming majority of the public who pleaded with them to put a new higher bridge downstream and leave our old one in peace. The cost was very similar so I suspect some bastardry, but have never been able to work out exactly what it was. Wherever we walked today we could hear people talking about the decision ‘why did they build it here?’ ‘why wasn’t it at least raised in the middle?’ ‘why did they lie about it?’ Ray Williams, an idiot who became a state MP, swore hand on heart that it would be flood free. I’d love to see him walking over the bridge tonight and I have sent him an email suggesting that he do just that.
Because we have such a full on day tomorrow I made a cake in the afternoon to serve folks coming for morning tea Tuesday. I realised that in the next two weeks we only have one day without a commitment of some sort. I guess it is the pent up demand after the bottled up year we’ve just had when socialising wasn’t possible.

March 22, 2021

Did the blog on John’s new computer last night and the post wasn’t here today. I eventually recovered it but in a different format. How to fix? No idea. We were at RNSH by 8 am this morning and saw the dermatologist Dr Adrian Lim and his sidekick Ash. They decided the skin cancer on John’s leg needs a plastic surgeon as it’s hard to sew up the skin when over the bone, so it was arranged that we will see one on Friday. An interesting comment was ‘the highest risk for getting a skin cancer is having had a skin cancer, it’s genetically determined’. I’ve never had one so that’s one thing I probably don’t need to worry about. We were in and out of there as quickly as we’ve ever experienced which was great because we were booked to go on a celebratory harbour cruise with Captain Cook Cruises at noon. The weather was dire so I was a bit worried about getting sick, but I dosed myself up and had no problems, apart from the one occasion when I left my seat, so I remained seated for the rest of the time. Visibility was very poor, but the food and company were good so we were glad we decided to go, especially when we heard that over 30 of the 90 guests didn’t turn up or else cancelled at short notice. Of course these people were paid for in advance from the budget of an NGO, so that was a pity.

Heather’s son and his wife had a baby boy this morning, Banjo Murray Tamsett, what a fine name and a fine little chap by the looks of him. I can’t even imagine dealing with a tiny person now, I think mine were lucky to survive my ignorance and lack of help. It should be second nature after millennia of births but it certainly wasn’t in my case, I was never a natural at it, but I take my hat off to those who are. I wonder what happened in the past when hapless women were left to fend alone, I guess babies were lost as a result. My mother didn’t have a clue and told me that whenever I was sick or she didn’t know what to do she just ran down the road with me in a blanket and asked her aunt.

March 23, 2021

I’ve been asking around the folks who opposed the new Windsor Bridge to try to get a retrospective handle on the WHY? Some in the Hawkesbury community believe there was another agenda altogether behind the bridge replacement – sand extraction on the Richmond Lowlands. Premier Mike Baird, strong supporter of Our Glad, is quoted as saying: “Construction in New South Wales is facing a serious problem in that there is going to be a supply crunch as Kurnell, Penrith Lakes and the Southern Highlands supplies of sand become exhausted”. Sand is a vital resource for the NSW state government’s mega infrastructure building plans and it is apparently in critically short supply. The sand resources along the Hawkesbury River on the Richmond Lowlands are extensive and are close to Sydney. According to local sand dredging experts, replacement of the old bridge, a little higher but with wider-spaced pylons to allow barges to pass underneath, was key to cost effectively removing sand for transport by barge. Apparently the value of the sand is billions of dollars over decades. If true this is a disgusting piece of trickery of the Hawkesbury community who would have been up in arms about the real reason for the change, so were fed the ‘flood free bridge’ line to justify the build. Who votes for these people? Half the bloody population unfortunately. The greedy and the dumb.

We had Phil and Anne over morning tea today and it was great to see them after so long, the interregnum having been caused by the pandemic. They were as cautious as we were and have just gone out for a meal for the first time in over a year. He is an ex priest and she an ex nun, both full of all the goodly social mores that we value. Made a blueberry and lemon cake which went down well and morning tea went till a good deal after lunchtime, added by some cheese and crackers.

March 24, 2021

Today we went to Bronwyn and Michael’s place for lunch so I made a summer fruit tart to take. Discussion varied across the usual topics of how bad the government is and whether Albanese has the ticker to win. We all agreed that Penny Wong is the natural heir to the job but also believed that being both a woman and Asian was too big a barrier to success, even if she came down from the Senate to a lower house seat. Sad but true. She wipes the floor with the rest of them. Tanya Plibersek is doomed for the leadership too with the double whammy of being female and having a husband who was once charged over drugs. A few men are worth considering, but sadly I think Albanese has lost his mojo.

Watched Exposed last night and was again rivetted to my seat. Near the beginning John was asking me about something he had mislaid but I waved him away so as not to miss a word. Cruel, but necessary, however I found it as soon as the show was over. It will be strange if after all these years Don Simpson had the good oil on the Ghost Train fire after all. I am of course wondering how many of the police involved are still alive or perhaps even serving. Surely after this there will need to be a new inquest? To which I would require a front seat, there is nothing as exhilarating as seeing justice done. Hopefully after our vaccinations tomorrow I will feel a little more inclined to attend court again, or at least after the booster. Michelle has booked her vaccination for April 1, but I told her they will likely be giving fake needles that day.

March 25, 2021
Last night sleep was impossible to come by, thinking about Ayaz Younas, drowned in his car on Cattai Ridge Rd at Glenorie, a spot I know well. Ayaz, you were so damned unlucky. Firstly it was just half an hour before dawn so you couldn’t see the water over the road. You were in a strange place, a fairly remote place, and you were going to your first day at a new job, guided no doubt by the hire car’s GPS and trying not to be late. You knew that the Hawkesbury River was flooded, but you probably also knew that Glenorie is nowhere near the river, many, many miles away in fact. There were locked gates blocking the road because of flooding but the water was over the top of them. You didn’t have a chance. You called 000 and spoke to an operator for 39 minutes as your car was slowly sinking (or perhaps 44 minutes, depending on which newspaper you read). You tried desperately to free yourself from the vehicle, damaging the interior in the process, but the water prevented you from opening the doors and you couldn’t wind down the windows, they were electric and the power was gone. You struggled for such a long time, still talking to the operator. I cried for you and it feels so weird, crying for a man you would likely never have met, however last night it felt like a vigil.
Still with Ayaz in mind, I went with John for our vaccinations. Lots more form-filling so it was lucky that we went early. My appointment was at 9.15, the exact time I went in, and I was done and dusted by 9.18. AstraZeneca has revised the efficacy rate for its US Covid-19 vaccine trial down to 76 percent from 85, while denying media reports that the vaccine is not very effective for people over 65. In early reports back in January, German daily papers Handelsblatt and Bild said the vaccine had an efficacy of ‘8 per cent’ or ‘less than 10 percent’, respectively, in people over 65 years of age. I guess we will find out over time whether that is true, fingers crossed that it isn’t. But we both felt pretty privileged to be getting it today and proudly wore our stick-on signs while doing a bit of shopping afterwards. Later we went to see the movie Nomadland at Roseville. It was quite beautiful, even though I found the diction hard to hear, the dark lighting didn’t help. But it was a non-judgmental look at those who adopt the van-dwelling life, either by choice or because they have no alternative, set against some superb American scenery.

March 26, 2021

Another early appointment at RNSH, this time for the plastic surgeon to have a look at John’s leg. He says that it needs plastic surgery, as we expected, because he will have to have a skin graft. Then he must ‘move as little as humanly possible’ for a week or two, his leg elevated except for necessary trips to the bathroom. It will need to be wrapped in plastic from thigh to foot as it can’t get wet at all and the skin graft will be taken from high on the thigh. We were planning a two week beach holiday just about the time they will likely schedule the surgery, though we don’t have an exact date as yet. By the time it’s over with and the follow up checks are done it will be too cold for the beach and if that happens I will be spitting chips.

Came home and started work on taking up two pairs of trousers of John’s that have frayed on the bottom edge. I decided to take the easy way out and use hemming tape but either the brand is crap or is out of date, because it didn’t seem to work that well. Juggling a fruit tart and trousers will probably result in neither being spot on. Had book group this afternoon and it was the smallest group ever, as far as I can remember. But that really doesn’t matter when you are gathering to talk books and break bread with friends.

March 27, 2021

I have been exceedingly tired yesterday and today. In fact last night I went to bed straight after getting home from book group. This afternoon I was filing away my appointment card for the next vaccination when I noticed that there was an attached list of side effects, the first after a sore arm being tiredness. Aah okay, I can put up with that, small price to pay.

The book group meeting prompted John to ask me how far in the past he had met and known a new member whom he greeted last night and he also wanted to know who had introduced them. Of course I have no answer, but have enquired of Martha in case she knows. This led to his asking me how he met Martha and Phil, another question I can’t answer so I included that query in an email too. It is scary that his memory loss extends to events more than 15 or so years ago, though the distant past still seems safe. But he was very proud of working out how to drive to Carol’s last night, I kept quiet and told him that I was confident that he could work it out and he did. Sometimes when he asks a question I suggest thinking about it a while before I answer, I am not always around to be his memory so he needs to make use of what is still accessible. However the initial query about Derrian and Martha hasn’t resulted in an answer appearing, hence my action to fill the gaps.

Reading today’s paper it was interesting to see that some of Morrison’s female MPs are ‘not answering calls’ to avoid having to refuse requests to appear in the press defending him. My sense of it is that Morrison’s grip is fading as people realise that he stands for nothing at all, just his own success. I often feel out of the loop with the general public view as all my friends are of the same political mind, whereas when I was in the shop I had discussions with people of every type of political persuasion. Unlike some (many) business owners I decided early on to speak my mind and accept the small loss of business that might entail. But at one stage the secretary of the local Liberal branch was in my employ, something I copped much flak for from a Greens-leaning councillor, ‘you couldn’t have found anyone in the Hawkesbury more right wing’ she complained, not wanting to deal with her in the shop. I even gave her a dispensation to not put out the Greens electoral A-frames and pamphlets on her workdays, because she had a ‘conscientious objection’. Still wondering if I made the right decision on hiring her in the first place. Another regularly argumentative person, never a customer in the financial sense, left the area to become a staffer on the far Right of the Liberals in Western Australia. I am sure I will eventually see him pop up as a candidate. He said ‘I just come in to sharpen my debating skills’ but it always left me depressed about the future as he was so young, so hard and so lacking in empathy.

March 28, 2021

The Insiders program was gold today with three eminent female political journalists on the panel and two female Liberal MPs as guests. The latter still seem to believe that the PM gets the fact that the problems he is having are to do with the culture of parliament and of the Liberal Party in particular. I don’t believe for a second he has that insight. Queensland MP Andrew Laming has decided not to stand at the next election (as if he possibly could??) but that doesn’t let the Prime Minister off the hook, as he still chose not to sack him, in fact one of the women he was trolling had written letters to Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull about his efforts and got no response from either. How can a qualified medical doctor and member of parliament stoop to trolling women online and taking a photo up a woman’s skirt? I can’t imagine there are many women who would be happy to attend his practice as a doctor in future so I am not sure exactly what he intends to do with his time. The man must be a mental case.

I am having a tidying up odds and ends day. Answering overdue emails, doing book reviews, packing to go away and paying bills such as my house and contents insurance. Most of my bills are paid automatically but not GIO because they always tends to be receptive to discussions about discounting my premiums in view of the fact that I have been a customer for well over 50 years, but this time they couldn’t do a thing because I’ve had two claims in three years for roof damage from branches falling off next door’s tree. I would feel better about that if the tree were mine, but it’s fair enough that I can’t have both discounts and claims, as I told the friendly operator. ‘You’ve been with GIO a lot longer than I’ve been alive’ he said. I am very lucky that I can just put it on my credit card without any fear about how to afford it at the end of the month. It must be terrible to be counting every last dollar and having to choose between electricity and insurance, just as an example. I used to occasionally join in an online chat between people with autoimmune diseases and I talked to a woman in the US who was ill because she couldn’t afford to keep taking her medications as it was winter and she needed to buy firewood for herself and her son. It was humbling and a stark reminder of how much worse off many people are.

March 29, 2021

Wow, 42 years tomorrow since my twins were born. A lot of water under the bridge since then and much of it I wouldn’t want to wade through again, though much joy in there as well. Davina and Louis were booked to fly to Brisbane on Wednesday for 10 days with Davina’s dad in Blackbutt and then Louis’ family in Sunshine Beach, a replacement trip for the Christmas one that was cancelled due to Covid. But now there is a snap 3 day lockdown beginning today at 5 pm due to a number of cases of the British variant escaping hotel quarantine. I texted Davina to suggest they change flights to go directly to the Sunshine Coast but she had beat me to it and had already booked to the Gold Coast which is cheaper. They will have a much longer drive but the tickets are for tomorrow so she gets an extra day on the holiday to make up for it.

I was reading through the double page of letters on women’s experience of sexual harassment and assault in the SMH and considered why I am not planning to add to the contributions. Firstly I wouldn’t know where to start…but perhaps with the guy who pressed up against me in a very crowded train where I was standing hanging on to a supportive pole with my parents, coming back from the city. I moved away from him and then he looked me straight in the face while putting out his cigarette butt on the back of my hand, giving me a nasty burn. I cried and told my parents that it was not an accident as he had quickly said, but they were mortified and told him that of course they knew that, reprimanding me for being rude to him. I learned that day, aged about six or seven, never to disclose anything that happened to me if it was an adult involved as I wouldn’t be believed. I’m sure many girls had that experience in one form or another, especially if the offender were a relative, neighbour or family friend. Fending off men is a skill most girls learn pretty early on and it becomes second nature and part of ‘normal’ experience to most.

March 30, 2021

After numerous changes to her bookings Davina had to abandon all hope of their holiday coming off after Gladys recommended no-one travel to Queensland and also the fact that her aunt up there contacted the authorities and was told that it was a fineable offence to drive the roads they would have needed to traverse to get to her father‘s place and Louis‘s family up north, even if they didn’t stop the car. Today is her birthday and she was supposed to be celebrating up there, but there you go. Lots of ripples from these decisions but many others are worse off. They decided to bring forward the planned trip in June to Canberra to go to see Carly and that made up for some of the disappointment.

We got away on time and thought we’d miss the worst morning traffic but the cars and particularly trucks coming from the south were bumper to bumper on the M7 all the way to down past Campbelltown. It must just be like that these days, I’m glad I don’t do it too frequently. Went to Mittagong where John bought me a fine pair of silver and mother-of-pearl earrings at Vinnies for $4. Then on to Bowral for lunch at Dirty Jane’s Antiques, our favourite spot, where everything is served on old crazy tea cups, saucers and plates and all the teapots are silverplate. Our highly amusing waiter Cameron had me laughing, especially when he was waiting for me to decide which tea I would have from a long list ‘drum roll…..’ he said expectantly. We shared corn fritters and then each had a serving of their delicious scones, one serve of the rose ones and one of the lavender. John found a great pair of Colorado full leather shoes in Anglicare for $35 (or at least I spotted them in the window and he bought them). Then off to our digs at Briars Country Lodge where I was somewhat annoyed to find that we can’t have breakfast as promised in the conservatory because a conference has booked it out for themselves. They will do a room service breakfast, which we both hate, so I pointed out that one of the criteria for staying there was the assurance that we could eat in a dining room. However it’s not the end of the world and everything else about the place is excellent, a good room overlooking a small lake on 10 acres of grounds set between Bowral and Moss Vale so we can go walking locally, and did so shortly after booking in. Later Davina rang to say they were booking in overnight at Bowral and then travelling to Canberra tomorrow, so we all had a pub meal at the Scottish Arms Hotel where we’d also eaten one night when we stayed at Milton Park for their 40th. As with most pub meals quantity is all, personally I would prefer less food but managed okay ordering Thai barramundi and rice, the others all having huge meaty meals, thought I’d almost bet the barra was imported.

March 31st, 2021

The last thing I said to John last night was ‘don’t fall down the steps in the night’ but I discovered that out here you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face at night and I managed to get quite disoriented getting up to the loo and was feeling my way along the wall when I realised that I was starting to fall down said steps to the lower level of the room. Luckily I recovered just in time, it would have been a nasty fall. Even after that I had to navigate by feel so tonight I am going to leave the microwave door open in the kitchenette as a night light. The stars out here are just amazing but you can’t see your way to the loo with them.

I asked at the tourist bureau about visiting Joadja, the old shale mining ghost town not far from here. Luckily I did as when I went about 40 years ago you just walked in, but apparently it is now in private hands and you need to go on a tour. It had been vandalised over time and this at least keeps it safe. I rang the number and was told that the tours are only on Saturdays. Bummer, we leave Friday, but after about 10 minutes the owner Valero rang me back and said ‘I can tell that you are passionate about Joadja so come on Friday and I will take you on a tour myself’. He said the council won’t let him open it unless people are on a tour, maintaining that they put unnecessary restrictions on him. His next door neighbour is Mike Cannon-Brooks of Atlassian fame, so that was an interesting snippet. Valero’s comment was that the ‘council doesn’t want tourists, it wants wealthy people to come and live here and that’s their focus’. ‘They don’t want people coming down this dirt road because then they have to maintain it’. Looking forward to Friday when we will get the lowdown on Joadja from him.

Took a drive to Moss Vale, then Bundanoon where we had pea and mint soup and toast at DeliLicious, and it was. Bought bread from them too and some home made raspberry jam from the next door charity shop. Off then to Berrima where I was hunting for gloves for Carly’s birthday which I found in the Alpaca Shop. Eye-wateringly expensive, they are Dents English leather lined with rabbit fur, but the only thing she asked for was warm lined leather gloves for the Canberra winter and these will last a lifetime. Tried to do the tour at the Berrima Courthouse but we were just a little too late. The next door prison doesn’t have the craft shop any more unfortunately. I used to buy many gifts there years ago and loved being served by the prisoners who actually made the crafts. I ordered a clock once from one of them and when I went down the next week to pick it up the guy remembered that I had said I would come back on my birthday and as soon as I walked in he led the team singing Happy Birthday.

April 1, 2021

Last night we went to Bowral Brasserie and enjoyed a lovely meal which John paid for with a gift card he’d got from Link Housing for coming up with one of the short listed names for consideration when they have a merger soon. They had my favourite cocktail Kir Royale which I promptly ordered, so many cocktails are out of contention for me as I don’t like gin, whiskey, vodka or any of the many chocolate or coffee liqueurs they tend to use. The owner offered John a free port and when he said he was a tee-totaller he didn’t offer me one, which was a bit 19th century. However it was a good night nonetheless.

Set off on a journey to Fitzroy Falls this morning and managed to do the walks to three of the lookouts. The falls were really tumbling after the rains. Next we drove to Robertson and I mentioned to John that I fancied some cheeses for lunch, behold around the next bend appeared The Dairy Shop in the old cheese factory, so I bought four and that with some grapes made a late lunch back at our unit, eaten outside overlooking the lake. After that we did a local walk to the site of the first European settlement in 1821, but traffic on this road is so heavy that we ended up climbing through a fence and returning across the fields, a much more relaxing experience.

Watched the last of the series on the Ghost Train fire on Tuesday night and it was as shocking as each of the other episodes. After all these years it turns out that it was likely just as Don Simpson said at the time, arson organised by Abe Saffron for the real estate. But apparently that wasn’t news, every policeman, prosecutor, National Crime Authority investigator and more said exactly the same thing during the programme. It’s pretty damning that no-one has gone to the trouble of exposing it before, after Saffron died in 2006, though I can fully understand why no-one came forward while he was alive, not wanting a pair of cement boots for their trouble. Apparently Alan Saffron, Abe’s son, was planning to reveal all about the fire and the death of Juanita Nielsen before he died suddenly last year in the US. Angus and Robertson hold his papers so I hope they are published before long.

April 2, 2021

Oh what fun! Off to Joadja to take up Valero’s offer of a look-see around the place. Stopped at the distillery where whiskey, gin, brandy, aniseed liqueur and sherry are produced from their own organically grown barley and aromatics. He explained the process but it all went over my head, he was a fast talker. They could make beer with their equipment but don’t. Apparently the State Governor ordered 100 bottles of whiskey from him, labels all printed with the State crest to give as gifts, but the same whiskey sold to the public can’t have the crest on the bottle, although they do in England when it’s a product with royal assent. When he offered it to her to taste she refused as a teetotaller. Teetotaller John bought the brandy and sherry ‘for when I entertain’.

The wander around Joadja came with a warning that we couldn’t sue Valero if we had an accident and we could go alone but had to be back in an hour and a half because there’s no phone reception out there and ‘if you have a heart attack you can’t ring me’. We obeyed instructions, getting back just before the time and his assistant Jack said if we were 10 minutes over ‘the boss said to go and look for you in the 4 wheel drive’. We wandered amongst the workers’ cottages then on to the remains of the industrial site, with the two large chimneys still extant but sadly the retorts have crumbled in the 40 years since I was there. The supervisor’s cottage is still in good shape and a scar up the steep hill behind it shows where the original incline railway carried the shale out of the valley to Mittagong to be shipped. Its installation made the journey 2 and a half hours as against 3 days by mule train. Wonderful morning, the 7 kilometres of dirt road to get into the property notwithstanding. Went back to Berrima for a late lunch at the Magpie Cafe and were amazed at both the fabulous antique display cabinet and its contents of home-made baked goods. John rated his Fig and Chocolate Meringue Cake with Fig and Honeycomb Icecream as ‘the best ever’. My Rhubarb and Raspberry Pie was pretty damned good too, though nothing is priced and the bill was very expensive and not itemised. I marvelled at a sealed off room, visible through the windows, packed with early antiques but clearly closed off now for some time and with faded labels so I couldn’t see many of the prices. I sensed a story behind all that but didn’t feel inclined to ask the two older ladies who seemed to run the place, partly because they were busy and partly because I felt that the old girls might be a bit temperamental. I have since looked up Tripadvisor and my hunch was right, too many reports of abused customers to count. One was told by the owner ‘You South African Nazis are all the same’ except they weren’t from overseas at all. ‘Basil Fawlty on a bad day’ was how the owners were described by another. A number of customers described being charged $5 to share something like a sandwich (we shared a pie so I guess we paid that as well), John said he didn’t ask for an itemised bill so we will never know. I can’t imagine not checking a bill, but there you go, we didn’t have any reason to think they could be a bit shifty. We seemed to have done well though, as when there are 115 reports of awful behaviour on a review site you have to suspect there is a real problem there.

April 3, 2021

Out to Dural to stock up on bread from Boulevarde de la Patisserie and even going quite early we got the last three loaves of the one I prefer. The centre was crazy busy, cars driving round endlessly but we were saved by the disabled pass. Buying fruit and veg at Castle Mall we were in a queue of 20, it was like pandemic lockdown all over again. People get very touchy after the shops are closed for just one day, I could see fights in the aisles if they were closed for a week. Came home and baked in the afternoon, turning out Cranberry and Almond Shortbread Biscuits (should have been Cherry but I mistook the label of what I thought were glace cherries in the pantry), Chocolate Brownies and Date and Walnut Slices. Inspired I think by the wonderful cabinet full of treats at The Magpie, now at least I have choices to offer any visitors.

Carly has become as obsessed as I am about the Ghost Train fire and sent me a petition to reopen the inquest, something I wholeheartedly support. Now that would be an inquest I would happily sit through every day. The bikies accused would only be in their late 50s by now plus some of the investigators could still be alive, though I doubt they could be proved to be corrupt with Saffron himself long dead. I hope that the coroner could access his son Alan Saffron’s papers, that might shine a light on lots of other unsolved crimes as well.

April 4, 2021

I am very sorry that Carla Zampatti fell at the Handa Opera and even more sorry that she died as a result. (It was interesting though that her family put out a statement to say that she was just in hospital as a precaution and that she thanked everyone for their concern, because it has now come to light that she was in a coma from the beginning and never regained consciousness). But whatever of that, I am wondering why we (and I speak as one of the ‘we’ paying for this) insist on giving state funerals to people who make a great deal of money in business. Good luck to them, but they can afford a funeral themselves whereas a person who gives their life fighting a bushfire or rescuing someone in a flood is surely what state funerals should be about? It is in the same family as Australia Day and other rewards, they are given to the folks who rub shoulders with pollies and others in positions of power, not to those who have served society voluntarily.

My baking seems to have been premature as none of the possible visitors materialised and John went home yesterday. However it is good to have freezeable stock here coming into a busy week. It doesn’t feel the least bit like Easter, nary an egg or a bilby to be seen here, and to top things off Insiders wasn’t on today. The hide of it, with so much material available! I shot off an email to them suggesting that perhaps next year we can avoid Easter falling on a Sunday, but I’m not sure who controls such things, certainly not the ABC, so little chance my suggestion will be implemented. It reminded me of asking a friend in his late 40s about what date Easter fell on that year and his puzzled reply was ‘the same day as every other year’. He just hadn’t noticed in 40 odd years that the date changed, and he was a religious person. So I did some disgruntled weeding instead of gloating at tumbling politicians and returned Happy Easter messages with a smiling emoji and no mention of Insiders.

April 5, 2021

Downloaded my four Service NSW vouchers, two for dining and two for entertainment, but when I went to find local places where they can be used they were largely fast food joints like McDonalds and KFC or else pubs and clubs, none of which I want to patronise even with $25 off. I’m wondering why the government wants to pay out money to get people to go to takeaway places that have been going gang-busters in the pandemic. Tried outside Sydney too but with much the same result. Eventually I found that the Woolwich Pier Hotel is on the list and with views from the balcony and excellent food it is certainly worth going to. A pity, as with many of these government ideas, that the people who could really do with the extra money in their businesses don’t seem to be the ones who are getting it. I’m not sure why more small cafes and restaurants haven’t applied, are they are not aware of it or perhaps the applications are onerous?

A knock on the door today from a woman who was trying to return a street library book, I had filled it up tightly earlier, and it turned into a bit of an epic as she told me numerous stories from her overseas trip a couple of years ago. She is itching to travel again as this had been her first ever trip, but unlike her I think I have come to the conclusion that my travelling days are over, in fact I didn’t bother to renew either of my passports. It turns out that she is the same age as me and a big reader so perhaps she will donate some books as well. Earlier I’d chatted with a man and his three-year-old (who thought he was two) and realised that I didn’t have a single children’s book there to offer him. Unfortunately the local library’s Stay Home and Read programme has ended now that Covid is less of a problem. It’s disappointing because as well as my requested books they always added a few that the librarians chose for me and I got some surprisingly good ones in that way. Currently I’m reading one of the last of their choices: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. It seemed to be set in the distant past and it was a shock to see that it begins in 1988 in the remote home of the Akha minority people in China. Although a novel, this book introduced me to many fascinating beliefs of the Akha, including putting rice husks and ashes into the mouths and noses of newborn ‘human rejects’, something that was done in many cultures, but not in 1988 I would have thought. Surprisingly, twins are considered an extremely ominous occurrence, one where spirits are considered to interfere with human matters. The Akha believe that only animals could give birth to more than one offspring and therefore consider twins as beasts. They were killed immediately and the parents banished from the village. One wonders how these people fare amongst the Chinese society of today, more reading needed on that one.

April 6, 2021

Seventeen years ago today I found my brother Kenneth, talking to him by phone for the first time after trying countless other K. Doughtys across Yorkshire. Plans were quickly made for me to fly over to stay with him and all of a sudden I had a real family, even though his wife was hardly welcoming. We still love each other to bits after all this time and speak on the phone often, though I can’t get him interested in Skype or any other means of actually seeing each other. A book happily arrived from him today for our anniversary, Thoreau’s Journal 1837-1861, just perfect, as are all the books he sends me.

Today was the long interview and procedure with the new Professor who is both a clinician and a researcher into the condition that I find myself with. He explained that I am in this position because of the suppression of my immune system by Sjogren’s Syndrome as nearly 85% of Australians carry this virus with no ill effects. However HIV, the drugs given after organ transplants or certain autoimmune diseases weaken the body’s ability to coexist with it and cancer can be the result. He said he was unhappy with the wording of the pathology report from after the surgery and spoke to the pathologist to find out exactly what he was trying to say. Still unhappy apparently, he asked for the remaining tissue to be sent to his lab for a second opinion which he got just half an hour before I arrived. Basically it was just rolling over from pre-cancer into cancer with a few millimetres of escape and it is impossible to tell whether the surgeon got all of it or not. As PET scans only show cancers 1 centimetre and above, the negative result from that test doesn’t mean much, apart from being a baseline, as microscopic spread wouldn’t show up on it. So I had numerous procedures today including a DNA test of the virus. As with Covid there are umpteen variants and with this virus number 16 is the most dangerous, he is assuming that is what the tests will show. Then I had a raft of other invasive tests, assisted by another specialist and a technician, ending with a biopsy to see what is happening since the surgery. But as he explained it is an ongoing condition which will continue to develop as there is currently no cure for the virus causing it and it will keep causing damage, so I need to go through this whole 3 hour epic again in six months and probably periodically for the rest of my life. It was all pretty much what I was expecting, except that it is much closer to invasive cancer than I had thought. He finished by saying ‘worst case scenario: more surgery, some chemo and radiation, best case scenario: we can’t cure it but it’s my job to try to keep it under control so you die from something else’. I like his style.

April 7, 2021

Sad and sorry today after yesterday’s medical procedure, or more accurately sore and sorry. Still trying to get my head around everything that was said, wish I had a tape as it was a lot to take in. I feel extremely confident in the team but I don’t like the waiting to find out the end result. Not talking about the two weeks for these immediate results, but the months and years ahead waiting to see how it unfolds. Perhaps Richard will be able to give me more info when he rings me in a couple of weeks, I hope so. Bob’s best response was ‘oh well at least it wasn’t a death sentence’, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the situation I’m in was my thought.

One funny interchange yesterday was when Richard asked if they should send John away for a coffee as it was taking quite a while. ‘Oh no’ I said, ‘he’s gone for a walk along Oxford Street so he’s fine’. ‘Will he be safe on Oxford Street?’ one of them laughed, after which I explained that we had marched together in Mardi Gras a few years back so he should be able to cope. ‘Oh Daniel here was on a float this Mardi Gras, weren’t you Dan?’ came Richard’s response, confirming my observation that Dan was likely gay and in fact the easy repartee made me think that the three of them possibly were. Seeing the condition I have is most often seen in people with their immune systems shot by HIV, it makes sense that gay doctors could very well be attracted to working in this space. Whatever of that they made things a lot easier than a stuffier trio would have. Did I mention sore and sorry, more Panadol in order.

April 8, 2021

Feeling better today luckily as Alison was coming for lunch and last night I wondered if I’d have to cancel. However it all turned out okay, as did the recipe for the Pea and Mint Risotto Cakes which I had never done before. A bit of a faff but worth doing I think. I had some left over so we dropped them round to Heather’s for their dinner or at least part of it. The recipe was supposed to make six but was severely over-qualified and easily made 10 of the quoted size. I know they say not to trial a recipe for visitors but if I keep making the old faves I will never get through my mountain of recipe books and anyway I thought Alison would be forgiving of a flop. After my bake-a-thon of the weekend I was able to offer five different types of cake as a dessert. She brought a delicious bunch of pink tulips so what with the big bunch of Lasiandra I picked this morning and the posy of flowers Heather gave me I am one happy chappy as far as floral decoration goes.

Far out! I just now found I had missed a call at 6.30 pm from Alan the surgeon to say that the Nuclear Medicine Department has notified him that the PET scan solution that they injected me with a month or so ago had a bacterial contaminant!! He wanted to know if I had had a temperature or any illness, to which the answer is no, so I emailed him to that effect. On top of still suffering the effects from Tuesday, it is a bit of a medically negative sort of day.

While on medical topics, I am really pissed off with the federal and state governments for the lack of transparency over the serious AstraZeneca vaccine side effects. Weeks ago I  read two papers online from doctors in Germany and Norway, both independently coming to the same conclusion about the blood clotting issue. They found that the vaccine induces a very rare autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the platelets, with no symptoms at all until it causes widespread blood clots when the platelet level falls low enough. It is a totally different situation to a random blood clot that you might get after surgery or from a long plane trip for example. No other brand of vaccine has caused this effect and it makes sense that it is in younger people and women, because that is the exact cohort that gets any other autoimmune disease. Yet no-one in government nor in the press has discussed this fully (barely at all) and I don’t believe for one minute that they are unaware of the European findings. This is based I think on the fact that they can’t offer an alternative brand and they don’t want to spook the horses. Politicians I can understand, but doctors? No valid excuse exists for keeping this story under wraps and even now that they are bringing in restrictions they are still not telling the full story. Unconscionable.

April 9, 2021

Today in the Herald John’s haematologist Nada Hamad did an opinion piece on the AZ blood clotting issue, elucidating it a little but still not mentioning that it has autoimmune causation. People will be heading away from vaccines in droves, sensing that there is doubt about it all and that they are not getting the whole story, throwing the baby out with the bathwater and scuttling any hope of economic recovery and overseas travel for those who still want to go. We’ve gone from ‘perfectly safe’ to ‘not recommending it to under 50s’ almost overnight. Morrison must be shitting himself in terms of his election prospects, which is the only good thing.

Seven pm tonight I sat down to the news and the phone rang. After missing the surgeon’s call last night I raced for it, all the while knowing it can’t be him again, but it was. He was asking again about whether I am feeling well in light of the bacterial contamination of the PET scan contrast. When I reiterated that I am fine, he asked if Richard had found anything in his examination on Tuesday (the real reason for the call?) an odd question to be asking me I thought. Why didn’t he just ask Richard? I told him that yes, more abnormality was discovered and he replied that ‘this is an interesting and tricky case so Richard and I will need to discuss it and come up with something. We may need to do more surgery’. He told me that the sample is now being examined by a third pathologist to try to assess the risk of the cancer cells having spread. Oh my, this gets worser and worser as I am not sure that there is going to be any unanimity in what to do when the pathologists can’t agree. I remember a pathology technician whom I studied with who worked at Lidcombe Hospital. He told me about three staff members looking at a sample and having different views about whether it was cancer on not, the patient was on the operating table and a fast decision needed to be made. They voted two to one to take off his leg, luckily the patient would never have known, but these things are often not clear cut despite what medical shows on TV would have you believe. This is the same thing, only I do know.

April 10, 2021

John was going home for the weekend, he’d loaded the car and started it and I was waving from the back door. He suddenly turned it off, said I looked terrible and insisted we go out to lunch, despite my attempts to dissuade him. We decided on Woolwich Pier Hotel (pronounced by the Navman as Wool-witch) as we could use one of our $25 Dine and Discover vouchers. We got a lovely verandah table upstairs and discovered that you now order on your phone with an app! I managed it okay but after I had sent off the order I asked at the bar how to claim on the voucher and of course it was then too late. We laughed that John had said he’d shout me and then prudently left behind his phone and wallet, so I shouted him, not that it mattered in the least. After lunch we did a local walk around the harbour edge and John pointed out again where he used to live with a postcard view of the city and Harbour Bridge, they used to watch yacht races from the loungeroom window. I can’t even imagine what his upbringing was like, as I am sure he can’t imagine mine. But I was never left alone in the house from the age of four while my parents went to dinners and cocktail parties, these days it would be cause to call in the authorities. He often says that many aspects of his young life bordered on child abuse.

I’m sure Scott Morrison has lady luck on his side. The Duke of Edinburgh has died and taken the lack of vaccines off the front page of the papers and from the headline of the news. They will all make a huge fuss, as if it were unexpected that a 99 year old would die. Every channel will become royalist for a day or three and then we will go back to bitching about the vaccine rollout, but it gives Scott some undeserved R and R.

April 11, 2021

It has really turned into autumn today, quite nippy around the ankles inside the house. It looks like time to close the windows which are locked about six inches open, at the bottom, for all of spring and summer. Perhaps I will just wear socks and leave them a little longer as I like the outside coming in as much as possible. This morning I deadheaded all the agapanthus which I had deliberately left till now so the seeds were dry and mature. I scrunched the heads over the garden in the hope that a few new aggies will eventuate. Looks neater now.

Read this morning in Pearls and Irritations, the wonderful Menadue blog that ‘The Princeton University philosopher Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit, distinguishes the liar from the bullshitter. The liar engages in a conscious act of deception, whereas the bullshitter has no concern for the truth – perhaps not even a concept of the truth. On the distribution of vaccines it would have been easy for Morrison to have said “sorry, we got it wrong, we didn’t realise that it would be so hard for firms to ramp up vaccine production”.  But such is Morrison’s learned behaviour as a political salesman that the idea of speaking the plain truth is an alien concept.’ I smiled to myself at the photo of Morrison and Jenny (she dressed all in black) looking as mournful over the Duke of Edinburgh’s death as if they’d lost their granny, perhaps more than if they’d lost both their grannies. How terrible it would be to be in politics and have to act as total fakes for so much of your time. This applies to any party, never being able to call a spade a shovel would be my idea of a living hell, but Scotty revels in all that fakery it seems.

Trying to treat my current medical situation as an educational opportunity, but only partly succeeding so far. However given time I intend to achieve it. When the Prof last week said ‘You might want to look away for this bit’ (seeing me looking at his screen as he took a biopsy) I determined to do no such thing and told him so. It hurt no more nor less I suspect and I got the benefit of seeing how such procedures are done. If I can treat it all as receipt of a free bit of arcane medical knowledge it will be a bonus I think. Better than the ghastly Catholic concept of redemptive suffering anyway.

April 12, 2021

My Facebook friend in Queensland Chrys Stevenson, a freelance researcher for authors, film makers, pollies etc, posted yesterday that there had been a cleansing of both Van Badham’s and Josh Bornstein’s Twitter accounts. Neither had posted for hours, unusual apparently, and loads of their tweets were being deleted. How she gets onto this stuff I don’t know but when she smells a rat, there is usually a rat to be found. Chrys opined that ‘the right-wing media are about to do a hatchet job on Josh’. This morning Josh announced that he is no longer seeking a Senate spot for Labor at the next election after The Australian published many of his tweets, nothing spectacular, but many critical of various Labor pollies. Van’s link to this hasn’t shown up and perhaps it is coincidence. It doesn’t pay to put your fingers to the keyboard if you fancy to enter politics in the future, the internet has a long memory. Chrys suggested a possible link to the mysterious 60 Minutes programme being screened last night, so I watched that and was disgusted by the claims of obstruction of justice levelled at VC recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, accused of hiding incriminating evidence in a plastic lunch box buried in his back garden to avoid its exposure to police and the current inquiry into illegal killings in Afghanistan. Pictures of drunken men drinking alcohol out of the prosthetic leg of a deceased Afghan man and in one case a soldier dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia do nothing to change my opinion of the inhumane and misogynist culture of parts of the Australian military. That segment was followed by a piece on double murderer of his children John Edwards and surprise, surprise, he was ex-military too. Easy to teach a man how to kill, harder to control him after you’ve done so.

My need to sort through the remaining goods in my storeroom has acquired a new urgency, yet I feel the old need to have them go ‘to the right place’ rather than to someone who might just bin them through ignorance or convenience. The sewing group has taken cottons, fabrics, crystals, linen and other bits and bobs and there is more of that still, but I need to do another Sallies run. The auctions are all still online and I suspect that will affect the clearance rates quite a bit. Motivation on my part is the biggest hurdle though.

April 13, 2021

Updates on old posts: 1. The ants didn’t come back after one only spray with an outside insect repellent, how I wish I’d known two years ago that there was such a simple solution! 2. Honey Wars: Still getting none of the promised feedback from the council out in Mudgee about the mislabelled honey, despite her regular promises to ring me back with an update. So today I rang the Honey Haven and asked about the labelling and they are still selling all their products without the word Honey on them. Why? I asked. That’s just how we do it here, was the reply. I call bullshit, no-one sells eggs without calling them eggs or lamb without calling it lamb, just because the shop is a butcher. So once again I rang the council and clearly she’s had enough of me, beginning ‘oh I’ve been away for a week’. Well yes but you haven’t called me in two months. She said they’ve changed their labels. ‘No actually, I just spoke to them and they haven’t changed them’. An almost audible groan? So she promised to speak to them and get back to me, which would be a first. The business is bringing in money to the town and she just won’t rock the boat, Health Inspector though she is. I don’t know why they make laws if they have no intention of enforcing them.

Drove over to Willoughby to meet up with Di for morning tea at her favourite cafe. She loves the scones there and they were very good, homemade, though the remaining cakes looked bought in. We spent two hours chewing the fat over a couple of hot drinks and some scones, but there were many vacant tables and she is a regular so I didn’t feel bad about taking up space. On the way home I stopped at Baulko to feed my sushi addiction, getting four pieces for an easy dinner while calling the scones lunch. While there I picked up a colouring book of Australian animals and birds, some crayons and a kit to make paper flowers from Kaisercraft and posted them off to Millie as I won’t see her this weekend. We are hoping to go to Canberra on Friday morning but can’t book a hotel in case one of the doctors rings and wants another appointment asap, so I will book somewhere about 8pm on Thursday, an hour after Alan’s usual time to call. Then we will stay till Monday and hopefully continue on our trip from there, heading south to Cooma, Tumut, the Snowies or else across to the coast depending on our whim and the weather at the time. I don’t really care as long as there are trees, water, walks, animals and a change of scenery. It’s a pity we can’t get away earlier but John has his monthly infusion at St V’s tomorrow and a Link Housing function at Parliament House on Thursday so Friday is the go. His leg has done a dramatic reversal towards normality this past couple of weeks, as Bob always said this type of skin cancer occasionally could, so we can now happily tell the plastic surgeon that his op, his skin graft and his long recovery period are surplus to requirements. I don’t think he will be happy but I’m confident it is heaps better and so is Bob so that’s enough.

April 14, 2021

I got a confusing message from Optus telling me they had cancelled something to do with my NBN, as requested. No request from me so after trying twice to get them on the phone and giving up I toddled to the Optus shop in Baulko and showed it to them. ‘You need to ring Optus’. ‘Yes I have but they took too long to answer so can you help me?’ ‘No sorry I can’t.’ ‘Why is that?’ ‘Because this is the Telstra shop.’ They took it over months ago apparently and I didn’t see the changed signage. Duh.

About three years ago I got the Aged Care Assessment Team out to see if John could get some help with the heavier housework. We haven’t heard a word since but I am conscious that he needs to be pushed up the queue considering his recent problems so a few months back I rang them again for a reassessment. Today they finally called and said there is a one year wait for household help, um I don’t think so I replied, he’s been waiting nearly three. She ignored that and made an appointment to see him again in early May. Now I need to explain it all to him again as he will have forgotten, better still perhaps don’t explain it till the day before she is coming. At the moment he doesn’t need anything but if and when he does the records need to be up to date. One of my old (not in years) customers has been approved for the NDIS and now needs both a wheelchair and oxygen. Because she didn’t need either when she first applied they are not included and she has to pay for those herself to the tune of $4000. The problem with these things is that you deal with box-tickers, not thinkers, one wrong box and you are in a world of pain.

April 15, 2021

Last night I went to a meeting at Killara that hasn’t been held in person for 14 months due to Covid. Panicking not to be late, as usual, I arrived to total darkness and sat on a seat there for 40 minutes, realising belatedly that we meet at 7 not 6.30 as I had thought. I will not talk about John’s memory, for 24 hours at least. Another problem that afflicts both our memories is the whereabouts of the Thermos. We needed it for the Bowral trip and need it again tomorrow, but the kitchen, storeroom, garage and cars have been searched with no joy. The last thing we remember is that we found a good place to keep it, but we have no idea where that good place might be.

I decided a couple of days ago that I should ring the Nuclear Medicine Department at St. V’s to ask exactly what the bacterium was that contaminated the radioactive infusion I was given in the PET scan. I am well and not particularly concerned at this stage but I think they have a duty to let me know exactly what it was in case problems arise in the future. The person acknowledged that she knew what I was talking about but said ‘I need to get a doctor to discuss that with you’. I’m curious if it applies to just me (unlikely) or to 100 or 1000 patients. I left my number but so far no response. Perhaps I should email so they have to put the response in writing, still thinking. It is number 237 on my list of priorities just now so no rush.

Magda Szubanski is in hot water over her comment that the photo of Morrison signing Prince Philip’s condolence book looked like a meme from The Handmaid’s Tale with Jenny standing meekly in the background. I must admit that I did a second take when I saw it, thinking it had been mocked up, and making exactly the same assumption as Magda did. A friend who is a royalist told me even she was shocked when the ABC ceased broadcasting the TV show Vera half way through to announce that Philip was dead. Whose crazy idea was that? Did they think we would don widow’s weeds or shave our heads or wail? No, even the royalists just wanted to see the rest of the episode of Vera. God help us when the Queen dies.

April 16, 2021

Our trip to Canberra, and onwards from there to places yet to be decided, had to be cancelled because I got my winter coughing and gasping condition, despite it only being half way through autumn. Our bags are packed and carried into the spare bedroom awaiting my improvement. Feeling rotten about having to postpone the much awaited trip, I suggested that we see a movie as I can just about stop coughing if I sit still and don’t attempt to talk. We saw The Father and both gave it a 5/5, in fact John said it was 5.5/5 for him. However the subject was dementia and it really upset him, in fact he was sobbing at the movie’s end. He feels, and I tend to agree, that it was a catharsis that he needed to have. You can only be brave for so long about these things, eventually you need to look the devil in the face and say ‘I’m scared’. Other movie goers probably though it quaint that two oldies had an extended hug and kiss in the foyer afterwards.

Last night I got a call from the surgeon Alan, fourth call from him over time in the evening around 7pm, it must be his ‘catch up all the loose ends before the weekend’ time. He said that the third pathology report, sent to an outside company, unequivocally called the lump I had removed as cancer, agreeing with the second pathologist’s opinion. But he is still ‘reasonably confident’ that the surgery and cauterisation got it all, so he said that in his opinion he can’t ‘medically justify’ putting me through a harrowing chemo and radiation regime for something that’s possibly cured. He brought forward my next appointment so I will ask more questions then. The virus itself can’t be cured so it will continue to attack and no amount of chemo etc will prevent that. Next step is hearing from the second Professor, results due Tuesday, about the second patch of abnormality that he found. I hadn’t realised that my immune system is as compromised as they now tell me it apparently is, as I have had fewer problems than others with autoimmune diseases. I remember asking my immunologist on the first visit if Sjogrens could be fatal. He replied that no, you will never die from it, but you may die from other things (like lymphoma he said, which is 40 times more likely) due to having a poorly functioning immune system. Perhaps even if I pick up we should wait for Richard’s report before leaving, just in case we have to hightail it back to Sydney for some reason. At the moment I am in no state to travel so it may be that Tuesday will come around before I am better anyway.

On a happier note, two lymphoma patients, one in the UK and one in the US, caught Covid and survived, only to find at their next haematology visit that their lymphoma had completely gone! Apparently the immune system rush caused by Covid had incidentally cured them. Surely that could be used in some way as a therapy, perhaps with Interferon injections or similar. I’m sure folks are working on it as we speak.

April 17, 2021

Not much to report, lying low and reading the paper, John is attending to the cooking etc with a bit of gratuitous advice from me. Bad news in that Alison had collapsed at home on Thursday, was unconscious and then had a heart attack in hospital, luckily at RNSH. She was here in good form last week and John called in on her on Wednesday, the day before the attack. She remains in ICU. Kenneth rang at night. One of my old clients rang to ask if I could lend him $400, or $300, we settled on $200. I belatedly thought to ask what the problem was, usually it is car rego. ‘Lotto is worth $80 million this week and I want to make a big investment’. Aah, understood.

April 18, 2021

Watched Insiders in my jamies, loving Amy Remeikis’s comment that she opposes bonuses on principle, woohoo, why should well remunerated people get extra for doing what they are well paid to do? Feeling a lot better and John is of a mind that we should head off tomorrow. Heather dropped around some apple and carrot cake and a card.

This morning I got a phone call from John’s closest friend Terry, from hospital. He’s had back and abdomen pain for 6 months and the GP sent him to a physio back then. He’s stuck to the exercise regimen with no improvement so he mentioned it to the doc again. He went for a CAT scan on Thursday and at 7pm Friday (as I was talking to Alan) he got a call to say that he needed to go into hospital. The CAT showed bowel cancer plus metastases in the liver, lumbar vertebrae and hip bone. Who knows when it spread, but one thing is for sure, it was better treated 6 months ago. I would say that it dented my opinion of the usefulness of physios, but that was already so dented that you wouldn’t notice another ding. I love Terry and am so sorry that this wonderful, caring man has such a difficult time ahead of him.

Did some much needed watering in case we can get away tomorrow, we shall have to see what the morning brings, but at least the packing is all done and ready to put into the car.

April 19, 2021

We are still here. After deciding to head to Canberra this morning I had my finger on the button to book the hotel which is just a 7 minute walk from Carly’s place, but thought I had better check her availability over the evenings this week, seeing we missed going at the weekend as planned. But she said she is doing 12 hour days prior to a big announcement and so my finger was reluctantly withdrawn. Then we went through a panoply of options from going slowly to Canberra via Oberon, Cowra and Boorowa to going via the coast and up through Braidwood and then I found when I looked at availability of places to stay that some were booked out till mid May. As I have read, regional travel is booming. I thought of our fave, Bannisters at Mollymook, but was shocked at the tariff  increase since we were last there pre-pandemic. It was at least double, so I queried the massive rise and she said ‘yes our rates increased a good deal after the pandemic’, no link explained. I decided that to accept it would only encourage them to fleece people but it’s disappointing as we’ve stayed there three times before, including with all the family, and loved it. Unfortunately there are these days enough rich people around for businesses to charge whatever they like, high prices just make a place ‘exclusive’ no matter the quality. Another factor in my indecision is that I was told Richard would contact me in 2 weeks with test results, that passed this afternoon (not that I’m counting, ha). What with finding out that Terry is seriously ill, our Canberra plans being up in the air and the test results due, I am abstracted. John is super understanding that I am indecisive and puts it down to my having been sick, but he leaves any sort of bookings in my basket so I can’t offload the task to him. To top it off I dropped my new second pair of glasses and broke the frame after which I burst into tears of frustration. I had recently promised Ralph the optometrist some home made biscuits and luckily had them ready so I went up and asked him: ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ He chose bad first so I showed him the glasses and then gave him the biscuits. We get on so well, as long as I steer him off politics, he’s an arch- conservative and Trumpist by nature and if I let him start on politics I would probably have to cease going there, so I go armed with a bunch of non-political stories to cut him off at the pass.

Tony texted and told me that following his recent long hours Castle Hill Library reopens after a renovation tomorrow. I have had an ongoing difference of opinion about the library’s decision to use ‘genre classification’ as they call it for their adult fiction, I call it a bloody stupid system. If I want a book by Maeve Binchy for example I have to look under B in the usual racks, then if it’s not there go to Romance or whatever boneheaded ‘genre’ someone has ascribed to it. My cogent arguments against the system cut no ice with the head, so we have to live with books being tagged with Hearts for Romance, Guns for Crime and Kangaroos for Australian, amongst many other symbols too annoying to list, and shelved accordingly. I was hoping his long hours lately involved pulling off the stickers and tossing them into the round file, but no. Asked how she would categorise Anna Karenina brought stony silence from the head. I wonder how The Dutch House would fit in this scheme, perhaps an emoji with a tear? Poor Tony has to listen to my complaints but as I told him there is no point in having your own personal librarian if I can’t get him to pull some strings or at least to listen to my bitching.

April 20, 2021

A decision has been made! We go directly to Canberra tomorrow. We will want to visit two lots of friends there and we can get that done early on and see Carly and Danish at the weekend and whatever nights she is able to get off work at a reasonable hour. The timing of the big government announcement that she’s been working on was unfortunate but so was my getting sick. The long touring holiday we had planned to northern Victoria and perhaps the Snowies, returning via Canberra, has been curtailed, but it’s been replaced by an initial 5 night stay in Canberra visiting friends and day-tripping. I had found a quite new hotel near to Carly’s place, a very walkable 7 minutes even at the forecast 1 degree evening temperatures. So I rang them and negotiated free parking (saving $10 a day) and then discovered that all of their standard rooms were booked out. Luckily it was the manager I jagged on the phone and he gave us a good price on a one bedroom apartment with full kitchen, washing machine etc. so we are very happy with the outcome, at a fraction of the nightly price that Rick Stein wanted for a basic room at Bannisters.

No word yet from Richard but I decided that if he had all the results he would ring, so I must be patient, never my strong suit. I have signed papers to permit him to use any results in his papers and research so I asked if I could expect to see my insides plastered on his Facebook page. No, he quickly replied, but I’m in talks with the people who lease that huge illuminated Coca-Cola sign at Kings Cross. Boom-Tish. One of the tests is a genomic analysis of the virus, something that wasn’t even a possibility when I studied genetics all those years ago. When Watson and Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA in the 1950s I wonder if in their wildest dreams they thought that the human genome could be fully revealed. When I was watching 4 Corners last night on the beginnings of the pandemic in China, it showed parts of the the genome of the Covid19 virus, that repeating mixture of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine that controls us all. To think back in the 60s and 70s when I was working in a genetics lab, the idea that one day I would be having a full viral genome tested to aid in my medical treatment would have seemed unbelievable.

April 21, 2021

John woke up with a cold and we had to decide whether to cancel again. I felt it was the best move to cancel, despite losing our $200 deposit, but he suggested that seeing he usually doesn’t suffer badly with colds it was better to push on, however it means no visiting people as we had planned. I dosed him up with Codral Cold and Flu tablets and was surprised that it was the first time he had ever taken such things as Barbara felt it was a waste to take a tablet that doesn’t cure you but only makes you feel better, a logic I neither understand nor share. The trip was happily uneventful without too much traffic. We stopped at Bowral and bought two ready made meals from Flour, Water, Salt, our favourite foodie place at Kiama which now has an outlet in Bowral as well. This meant we could just reheat one, cook some rice and toss a salad and dinner was ready. We went to the tourist bureau and got a heap of brochures, looking up outdoor venues to visit where John wouldn’t be a risk to anyone else.

Our apartment was an OMG reveal, top floor looking over Mt. Ainslie, with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, laundry, loungeroom, study and a big deck! The decor is divine, black, grey and white with burnt orange highlights and everything is co-ordinated, right down to the crockery and cutlery. I doubt there is much marble left in the country after they did the bathroom, kitchen benchtops, splashbacks, dining table, coffee table, occasional tables, bedsides and more, yes I could happily have this as a second home and wouldn’t need to change a thing. Carly came over after work and we met in the bar of the hotel as she naturally didn’t want to risk catching John’s virus, a pity though when this place is made for entertaining. We had a drink and I was finally able to give her the birthday gifts that have waited since March 30, over which she was genuinely ecstatic, the gloves being a major success.

Highlight of the day was hearing that George Floyd’s murderer will face the consequences.

April 22, 2021

Had a call from Terry to say they have found more cancer in his spine and he will be having a spinal fusion on Saturday before they even get around to doing surgery on his primary cancer. They said that later they will ‘lop off the affected part of your liver’ as well. It looks worse each time we hear from him. He is a fulltime practising psychotherapist so his patients will all be suffering in a different way.

Today we went to the National Rock Garden, an unusual display of huge boulders of different sorts of rocks from around Australia, set in the open air, each with a small section highly polished to let people see how they can be used in architecture, sculpture or whatever. Tactile, stunningly beautiful and educational all at the same time. Then to the nearby Arboretum where forests of some of the world’s most famous trees have been planted, including the wonderful Himalayan Cedars through which we walked. These are fairly mature but much of the pine forests, 60% in fact, were destroyed by bushfire in 2001 and 2003, and these new forests have been planted to replace them. With over 44,000 rare and endangered trees across a 250-hectare site and a couple of really impressive sculptures, there was plenty to keep us occupied till about 2 pm. We are eating in, so a baguette with cheese and salad made in the apartment did the job for lunch. Another trip in the afternoon and then a call from Carly wanting to know if I could come out for dinner after work, about 7.30, which I answered in the affirmative. She picked me up in an Uber and we went to Zaab, a modern Thai place in Braddon, which was the fourth one she’s rung for a booking…..on a Thursday night. Every place along the strip was packed, she said you need to book a week ahead in Canberra on a Friday or Saturday night. Compare that to India where they are dying in the streets, we don’t know how lucky we are.

April 23, 2021

We called Terry first thing and the news from him gets worse every day. They had reported cancer in two lumbar vertebrae which he is due to have fused tomorrow but an MRI has shown cancer also in two high vertebrae which they need to operate on tomorrow as well as he is currently at risk of becoming quadriplegic if they collapse, which they well might. So it will be pins and rods at two places in the spine tomorrow just to avoid his spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, then they think about treating the cancer. His prognosis even with all of this surgery has to be grim.

Finally I got the call I’ve been waiting for, from Dan whom Richard refers to as ‘my right hand man’. The genomic analysis of the virus came back as expected, it is strain 16, the one mainly responsible for causing cancer. The third biopsy came back as ‘superficially invasive cancer’ which seems a contradiction when you think of superficial versus invasive but I guess it’s better than it could be. Dan explained things fully and offered to send me by mail a copy of Richard’s report (sent already to Bob, Alan and Glenn Reeves) so I happily accepted that. He also asked on Richard’s behalf if I wanted to be considered for two upcoming clinical trials, one via a Dutch doctor for an anti-viral drug targeting strain 16 virus. It won’t undo the existing damage but if successful would prevent the virus attacking even further. The second is a clinical trial for using radiofrequency ablation to destroy any remaining tumour cells, something that has much less in the way of side effects compared to radiotherapy. I have put my name down for both, but they probably won’t be approved till late in the year. At least there is some possible good news in the pipeline.

As John is understandably reluctant to mix with people we went to the CSIRO Discovery Centre where he left me to discover while he set out on a walk. However it was closed due to COVID, do they know something that we don’t as everything else in Canberra is open? So we abandoned that idea and both went to the Botanical Gardens, doing the rainforest walk and then the 1.5 km circle walk, both delightful. Had lunch at Silo at an outdoor table and then wended our weary way home. While at the gardens we got a call from Dav to say that they were taking Millie to hospital. She developed gastro last night and was vomiting endlessly this morning. It was lucky they did as she had developed hypoglycaemia from dehydration. They immediately put her on an IV drip and eventually into a ward, where she remains. Apparently a small number of kids get this problem if dehydrated but most don’t, they don’t know why. So they are both at the hospital, taking turns being with Millie due to restrictions on visiting. We are so lucky to have places like RPA at hand. While Indians drag their relatives from hospital to hospital, looking for places which still have oxygen, I can’t even imagine the suffering. At one hospital an oxygen leak caused 22 deaths before it was repaired. Considering that three people mentioned in this blog today are receiving consummate medical treatment, I ask myself why we were born into such advantage and our brothers and sisters elsewhere were not? No concept of god or religion can explain this, it is simply kismet, and I hate it.

April 24, 2021

Off to the Gallery this morning for the Botticelli to Van Gogh Exhibition which John particularly wanted to see. He feels safe enough to others now if he’s wearing a mask. But no, even though we got there first thing the earliest bookings available were 4.30 pm till 6. Okay, apparently we should have booked, but who knew? So we went off to Old Parliament House and saw the annual exhibition of political cartoons, which were great, particularly the Cathy Wilcox ones. Then we went walking and ended up at the National Library where we started to look at an exhibition there, but soon John had had enough so we went on another big walk. Eventually 3.30 came around and we went back to the Gallery for a cuppa before the exhibition, but the cafeteria is not open unless you are booked in for one of the four sessions of high tea, mmm sounds more like a money-making issue than a Covid one, but anyway. Despite being ticketed the exhibition was crowded beyond belief, no social distancing possible there, then each room had a huge queue to enter it, monitored by a guard. John announced ‘it isn’t doing anything for me, I’m getting out of here’ and waited for me outside. So I pretty much gave up at that point, only having seen two out of about five rooms. Unfortunately all of the later pieces that I really wanted to see were in the last three rooms so it was pretty disappointing. I think in future I need to go to things like this alone. At one point he rang Lyn whom he had called just yesterday but she wasn’t answering. I commented that probably not much had happened since yesterday but he had no memory of that call at all, querying me whether I was sure he’d rung her as he thought he hadn’t spoken to her for weeks. Things are crook in Tallarook but we muddle on.

April 25, 2021

Last night we had dinner at Carly’s and she ordered in Messina Anzac biscuit icecream for dessert. This morning we plus Carly and Danish headed off to Lanyon an 1830s convict built property south of Canberra, still in the ACT but on the way to Cooma. It is surrounded by the Brindabella Ranges and is an idyllic spot, not far from Farrer’s farm where he began his wheat breeding. We took a guided tour and John Ambler our guide was taken with the fact that we both came from the Leeds area in England. I had commented that the layout of the farm buildings was just like those in Yorkshire, he agreed and said that the first owner set the farm up like the ones he knew ‘at home’. It was wonderful to tour the house with him and particularly to understand the convict experience there. The owner regularly complained to the local magistrate, his friend, that the convicts weren’t badly enough injured by the lashings they were given, up to 150 at a time. One died in a Parramatta hospital not long after getting 150 lashes, he was 30. The penalty for being too sick to work was 25 lashes, 150 was for letting sheep get away, despite the fact that they had no pens and were watching them at night in the open air. It doesn’t bear thinking about. An interesting aside was that the guide used to work at CSIRO Discovery and I mentioned that I had been and it was closed due to Covid. He scoffed at the idea and said that successive Liberal governments had slashed the staff by hundreds and now will only ‘invest in things that make money and education isn’t one of them’. He claims they are using Covid as an excuse so as not to have to admit to the real situation. Hardly surprised of course.

On the way home I got John to pull up at the Gallery and I told them about our curtailed viewing yesterday. They were quite happy to let me in to see the rooms I had missed. John wasn’t keen to go back in and went for a walk. The queues were even worse than yesterday but at least I didn’t have to do many of them. Perhaps I am a Philistine, but although others have raved about this exhibition we were both underwhelmed compared to others we have seen. My all time favourite was Orientalism at the AGNSW, this was nowhere near as impressive as that one for me. I saw the famous Turner painting of a ship in London in 1973 and was somewhat disappointed then, it hasn’t improved 50 years later. Yes I must be a Philistine. At least all of the paintings are infinitely preferable to some of the modern things just outside the door of this exhibition…..

Terry’s surgery was ‘successful’ but took 14 hours, a clear sign of how badly his spine was damaged. John’s daughter is suffering badly from the effects of the heavy chemo that she is still on, with severe mouth and lip ulcers and her fingernails are falling off. We thought 2020 was a bad year, but so far 2021 has been much worse in our personal circle and disastrous in the wider world.

April 26, 2021

It is a fact that the sky in Canberra is way bluer than Sydney’s. I commented about this to Carly this morning and she agreed that she likes to get home to Canberra to see the proper colour of the sky, declaring Sydney’s ‘permanently discoloured by pollution’. The difference is dramatic. This morning we had breakfast at the hotel instead of the usual Vegemite or jam toast in the room and discovered that we could have had a newspaper each day if only we’d known. After breakfast we met up with Carly and did a long walk around the east side of the lake, more than 7 kilometres we discovered after she showed us that our Apple phones have a built in walking tracker. Heard a recital at the Carillon on the way back and enjoyed the stunning public walkways, apparently you can do the whole circumference of the lake, 28 kilometres in total.

I hadn’t heard anything from the sewing group last week and assumed that either it was off or else I had been excommunicated. But Martha emailed to say that they were concerned that I neither replied to the circulars nor turned up on the day. Later she realised that she had used a group email without my name on it, hence I received nothing. Dan, Richard’s right hand man contacted me again to say that he had sought, and received, approval to send me my pathology reports so that was a positive. It always amuses me that doctors think that their reports should be kept secret from the subject of the report, luckily Richard is an exception. If my Medicare account is being used to pay, then I would think that the report is legally both mine and the doctor’s, but how would I know the legal technicalities. However attitudes to things like that help me to know whether the doctor is transparent and in this case he is.

April 27, 2021

Sad to be leaving our comfy pad in walking distance of both Carly’s and the city, but all good things must end. Called in to her office on the way out with a vase of flowers from a divine florist in Braddon called moxom + whitney. I Googled for a nearby florist and the first one that came up was all cardboard boxes of flowers with coloured cello in pretty ghastly arrangements. Then I turned up m + w whose ad said ‘We don’t overly work our flowers, we prefer a more organic and lush look to our bouquets and you will never ever see a cardboard box stuffed with oasis and garish cello here’. Deal done. Headed off to Bowral to get a spot of lunch with Cameron at Dirty Jane’s. John went to the loo inside the building and then didn’t appear at the table so I rang him and he was wandering around outside looking for me. He has been having a very vague day. In the meantime I made an executive decision and ordered a single high tea, with pinwheel sandwiches, tiny quiche tarts, a cheese scone, a rose scone, a macaron and a range of tiny sweets. Plenty for us and it added up to less than if we’d had two Devonshire teas. On the road John suddenly said: How come I’m driving this new car?  Well you had an accident in the old one and it was written off. Oh, did I? Was anybody hurt? No, just the cars, all good. Was the other car written off? No, just dented. Who did I hit? A taxi. So what car did I have then? A blue Suzuki. So where did I buy this one? From Alex. Who’s Alex? Our mechanic. Oh, your mechanic, sorry I don’t know him. How did I pay for it? The insurance money plus $600. Oh that was good then. Later in the day I asked him if he knew where he got the new car and he looked at me as if it were a silly question and recited the story. He had no idea that we had discussed it earlier or that he hadn’t known the story then. It’s as if his memory turns on and off, he has vague days and good days, but his geography is universally bad.

Many years ago, almost 10 I’m guessing, a friend who is an Army major told me that he and Mike Pezzullo worked together and he knows him well. Apparently Mike was roundly mocked for his extreme social conservatism and his war-mongering attitudes. When they all went out for a beer Mike could never turn off and used to get them laughing with his diatribes against gays, foreigners, tattoos, clothes, whatever was the bitch of the day. Fast forward to his appointment to Immigration and those attitudes took no time to surface, for example stopping staff running at lunch time because he didn’t want them in the lifts in running gear, prescribing how many earrings staff could wear, setting dress codes for work including putting the higher ranking public servants into uniform and much more. My friend said he’d be happy there making stupid rules and keeping refugees out and so it proved. But he also warned that if he ever got into Defence we could be at war with New Zealand, or anywhere really, he just wants a war. Fast forward to today with Dutton as Defence Minister and the Pez talking about ‘the drums of war’, hoping to get a guernsey as Dutton’s department secretary. The China hawks are in the ascendance and the Pez is itching to get the boys and girls into uniform. If we were looking to end life as we know it on earth, starting a war with China would be a good start.

April 28, 2021

Had a satisfying day weeding, washing clothes and sorting the books given to me by Alison. Many are great to read and then put in the street library but I’ve decided that the heavy religious ones, academic ones really, are better to go to the newish Lifeline Bookshop at Lindfield. I just can’t see John’s fellow housing tenants or my library clientele going for those texts. I guess I could put one or two in and see what happens.

I see Scott Morrison has been talking about the ‘the Evil One’ using social media to his/her benefit. I come across a lot of evil stuff on the internet but it’s usually from the far right of politics, a place which Morrison inhabits. He also claims to practice the ‘laying on of hands’ when victims of disaster think they are just getting a hug. Perhaps those folks out at Nelligan after the bushfires got a sense of that before they told him to ‘fuck off’, or perhaps it was just his woeful performance during that crisis that prompted them. Whichever it was I still delight in seeing the replay. My Facebook friend Chrys Stephenson, freelance researcher extraordinaire, came up with the fact that Scott Morrison’s honours thesis was written on the Exclusive Brethren’s history in Australia from 1964 to 1989. Commonly known as the Plymouth Brethren (named after the English town where the group began), the Brethren spread its conservative brand of Christianity around the world from the early 1800s. The highly secretive, strictly patriarchal Exclusive Brethren had a small community out at Windsor and I met some of them from time to time, the women always wearing a small head covering, causing the locals to refer to them colloquially as ‘the hankie heads’. Apparently Morrison was part of this church as a teenager before moving to the Baptists so no wonder he thinks of himself as fairly moderate, considering the strictures that he grew up with. They eschew radio, television, newspapers and ‘breaking bread with non-believers’ so eating out is a no-no. At one stage having cut flowers in the house was also a sin, but that was later overturned. They are often in business so mixing with non-believers is limited, keeping the Evil One at bay is a full-time job in itself.

April 29, 2021

Woke up with a blocked parotid gland once again (always after a day when I didn’t drink enough) and so now I can’t eat without excruciating pain. I have Pyrex straws here somewhere for just such occasions, then at least I can drink hot milk, but do you think I can find them? Perhaps when I do they will be hanging out with the missing Thermos. The straw helps the milk bypass the part which triggers the gland to operate but anything stronger than milk, like soup, is a step too far. I was baking a cake and without thinking I licked the spoon, a mistake I will not make again after the pain it caused. But water and tea are both doable and milk at a pinch so I just need to be patient until it spontaneously sorts itself out. I hope we are not looking at the record of five days as I’d like to eat at book group tomorrow.

Saw an article in the Good Weekend about the secrecy and lies involved in the IVF business. A woman fathered through a donor, Sarah Dingle, has written a book: Brave New Humans: The Dirty Truth Behind the Fertility Industry which sadly relates the lies she was told by Royal North Shore Hospital while trying to access her donor’s details. After discovering her father, with no help from them, she found that he had made hundreds of sperm donations at a number of Sydney hospitals so she could potentially have many, many half-brothers and sisters out there. I guess the chances of marrying one of them has to be considered. I know in the US there have been cases of unintentional parenting between related people and knowing the power of seeing someone who looks like you do, this is not at all surprising. A must read for me, I hope I can wait long enough to get it through the library, but perhaps I will weaken.

April 30, 2021

Had a scheduled 20 minute phone consultation with my immunologist today and as previously he wasn’t happy with what is being done for me at St. V’s, so the battle of the professors continues, but now it is three rather than two. Glenn: So what’s the final diagnosis? Haven’t you got the letters from both the doctors yet? Letters? What century are they living in? I want emails. Sorry I think the reports were posted. So, tell me the diagnosis. ‘Superficially invasive cancer’. Well that diagnosis presumes no visible or palpable lump! That’s not your situation. True. Wait till I dictate this bloke a letter! (He does so while I listen). So has the surgeon operated a second time, it’s not a big deal to do that? No, he doesn’t feel it’s necessary. Wait while I send this bloke a letter too. (He does so). Your GP needs to be acting as an advocate for you, I’ll just dictate him a letter. (He does so). The letter to Richard was particularly cringe-making, in part: “I am only a humble immunologist who can’t operate as a surgeon, but I can operate Google which tells me that ‘superficially invasive cancer’ has as its first criterion that it is microscopic and has ‘no visible or palpable lump’ which is not true in Maureen’s case, so how is this diagnosis even possible?” and “I have looked after this patient for 10 years and now she has the sword of Damocles hanging over her head which is upsetting both for her and for me”. I see Alan on the 10th by which time he will have have received this letter. What fun.

He has changed my appointments with him from 6 monthly to 4 monthly and wants blood tests every month to look for cancer markers, these to be done at RNS instead of the local pathology outlet. Also he has put me back on hydroxychloroquine because a paper has been published indicating that it helps suppress early cancer. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea considering that it stops me getting blocked parotid glands like I had all day yesterday. I went off it because I didn’t want to take a drug every day to avoid something that only happens 3 or 4 times a year, but if it works on cancer cells it’s a different argument. He also sent a ‘note’ to all three doctors explaining that decision and giving them the reference for the paper, with the journal, author and name of the paper, from memory! He’s a gem, but I am not so sure the other two Profs would agree with me. We ended with ‘Can we have a virtual hug?’ to the great pleasure of us both I suspect.

May 1, 2021

Terry has been told he will soon go home ‘for a while’, arrangements are being made for palliative care, so it looks like they are not even going to bother with treatment. I can’t think of it without tears, he’s a man who’s probably never done a bad thing in his life. Karma is such bullshit. But Heather tells me this morning that a friend of a friend fell in the Castle Towers fruit market (on a banana skin?) and is now quadriplegic. I comfort myself with the thought that there are worse things than death.

On a brighter note (struggling) I seem to have had a win in the Honey Wars. After countless emails and phone calls the Mudgee Council has finally agreed to enforce the law,  talking the Honey Haven into complying with legal requirement to label their honey correctly, recording additives if appropriate and listing the contents as Bush Honey for example rather then just Bush as they are now. Their website is still showing incorrectly labelled honey but she’s given them the option of changing the labels as the label supplies run out, something I wouldn’t have done, but I decided a win was a win and left it at that. However I will check in there occasionally and make sure they don’t renege. One of my many folders can be released from the In Tray.

Book group last night was warm and talkative, though perhaps a bit more time analysing the book would have pleased me, it was so so good. Sue stayed here and we had lots of laughs and storytelling as always (though I miss Robert’s ironic input so much). Norma was quite concerned about driving home in the dark and seeing that it was a genuine trepidation has made me rethink my opposition to going to lunchtime meetings. We can’t be responsible for an accident so easily avoidable. We were just seven, with Alison in hospital, Rosanna feeling unwell, Brigitte also indisposed and Martha looking after her sick husband, it seems to have happened very suddenly that we and our partners are one by one falling apart. On which topic, it appears that I am going back on the Plaquenil just in time. I was breathless last night and worse today, so my staunch opposition to the drug of a year ago has now come around to being thankful that there is at least some sort of relief.

May 2, 2021

I spent some time this morning helping John by phone to edit, mostly spelling gremlins, a document that he is writing about the effects on him of his unusual childhood. It dovetailed with thinking about the book we just did in our book group, The Dutch House. One character, Elna, could be seen as either a near saint or a derelict abandoning mother, or perhaps both? In totally different circumstances, John’s lack of his father’s presence as he grew up, firstly due to war, secondly due to his father’s appointment as a Trade Commissioner overseas and lastly due to his illness and subsequent death, affected him profoundly. Whenever we are observing someone’s personality and deeds we are seeing the influence of their parents’ decisions and their parents before that. While it is impossible to unpick all of this exactly it is a fascinating subject.

While watching Insiders this morning (not in my dressing gown as usual, but actually clothed) it occurred to me that the issues being discussed probably interest what, maybe 10 or 20 percent of the population? Or am I being too harsh? I am still getting over a vox pop interview recently where the woman had no idea that Bill Shorten was no longer Opposition leader. Although I move in a political circle of people now, I was always stunned by some of the comments I heard in the shop and particularly so one election time when a close relative of John’s had no concept of the Senate, what it is and how it operates. I can’t remember ever learning about parliament and its structures at school and my parents didn’t have a clue, once telling me they had voted Democratic Labor Party because ‘it sounded nice’ and thinking that CP next to a candidate’s name meant Communist Party when it stood for Country Party. I know nothing about sport or cars or video games, but that lack of knowledge has no bearing on my life and the future of the country, whereas an understanding of politics is vital in that respect. Without compulsory voting, which forces people to listen in the weeks, or at least days, prior to an election, we’d be totally stuffed. The widespread idea that ‘all politicians are corrupt’ means that people don’t demand any action from government when one of their number (or in the case of this government, quite a few of their number) are guilty of it.

May 3, 2021

A successful appointment this morning at John’s with Anna from the ACAT team. She asked him a host of questions and decided (rightly in my view) that he qualifies for a level one aged care package. At the moment he doesn’t need any help but he should have a foot in the door for when he does. She said that he should come to the top of the queue in about six months (think a year maybe) and then he will get some help with things like changing the sheets and cleaning the bath and toilet. She did a memory test and he only remembered two out of five things on a shopping list but hey, that’s better than none. I was originally unsure about writing about his memory loss but then one day he said I hope you are putting this in the blog in a factual way and not sugar-coating it, so from then on I did. I am forced to be less than honest sometimes where other people are concerned but gladly that doesn’t apply to us.

After that we went for an hour’s walk down Stringybark Creek and it was great to be in the bush, even in suburbia. After a couple of Saos and cheese and a cuppa we went off to Roseville Cinema to see The Courier which was much better than I expected from the shorts, Cumberbatch really is the goods. Then John photocopied all the pathology results kindly sent to me by Richard in the mail last Friday. I know that Glenn was copied into the accompanying letter but it didn’t seem that he got the original five pages of pathology so I will mail them to him tomorrow. He had said to send him ‘any results at all that you get’ so that’s what I will do. Somehow it seems weird to get a letter saying that your diagnosis is ‘carcinoma’, even though I’d been told over the phone, it sort of makes it definite when it’s on a piece of paper. I’ve been thinking a lot about an old shop client M…… who used to come in regularly over many years and was always a cheery soul. Then she came in one day and told me that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, she was sobbing and I wasn’t surprised considering the implications of that. But I was surprised that I never ever saw her happy again, a simple ‘hello, how are you’ always plunged her into floods of tears for the next couple of years, even though her prognosis was good according to her doctors. She stopped coming eventually but by then I had made a firm decision that I would never let a diagnosis ruin my life like M…… did. I hope I can stick to it.

May 4, 2021

I don’t exactly know what it is about Thoreau but he has always spoken to me somehow. Even when I discovered him over 50 years ago there was a connection to his words, so it was very exciting to get The Journal 1837-1861 plonked onto my front verandah, sent by my brother and arriving last month exactly on the 17th anniversary of my finding him. It is the sort of book that you dip in and out of but I am in the habit of reading some of it every day, last night till 12.30 am. We are different in every way, born 130 years apart, different sex, different nationality, certainly different in courage, self-sufficiency and abilities, yet in many ways I feel at one with him. The journals cover over 7000 pages and have been abridged in this version to nearly 700, daily covering the weather, the botany and animal life of his region but spiked with philosophy unexpectedly dropped into the musings. “There is no such thing as pure objective observation. Your observation, to be interesting, to be significant, must be subjective”. His detailed botanical knowledge made me assume botany as his major at university, but he studied rhetoric, classics, philosophy, mathematics, and science. He seems to know Latin, French and Greek so these were probably studied in his classics courses at Harvard. I wish the arts and sciences were more integrated these days, rather than turning out people who are singularly scientists or just commerce or law practitioners. These days we would say he was ‘on the spectrum’ due to his almost obsessive detailing of the natural phenomena around him, from measuring the heights of cliffs to counting the scales on turtles to recording the first flowering of every plant in his local area from year to year or measuring the depth of snow and ice regularly each winter. His generosity, shown to his neighbours and to escaping slaves from the South whom he assisted to flee to Canada, opposes his reputation as a difficult and cranky man, though at some times he was clearly that as well. “The oldest, wisest politician grows not more human, but is merely a gray wharf rat at last. He makes a habit of disregarding the moral right and wrong for the legal and political, commits a slow suicide and thinks to recover by retiring on to a farm at last.” Nothing changes it seems.

Had a long call today from my friend Tim who is in the middle of a years long legal battle with his father over a property promised to him in the father’s will in exchange for his free labour over many decades. His father has now reneged and left the property to others. At a mediation hearing last week, costing Tim $10,000 for his barrister, his father didn’t appear by video as arranged, so it was a disaster in terms of both extensive preparation and money. It is due to go ahead again at the end of the month, his father apparently hoping he will run out of money, which he very well might.

May 5, 2021

Just when we felt safe going to the movies again someone in the eastern suburbs tests positive after going to the selfsame movie we saw on Monday, albeit at a different cinema. He also went to four different sellers of barbecues over various suburbs and then to a butcher, so it seems he was planning a meat fest this weekend that won’t be happening. It will be interesting to see where his infection has come from when he has no connection with quarantine hotels and the like. At sewing group today Colleen said that her brother in India has Covid while I have not succeeded so far in getting Ram on the phone over there but I’ll keep trying.

For some reason I was thinking about the time I offered to take a fellow from Windsor to the theatre as a thankyou for something he had done for me. He was very excited, but once the play started (I think it was at the Nimrod, but can’t exactly remember) he couldn’t keep still, bouncing his feet all over the place like a five year old and grinning from ear to ear. At interval I discovered that it was the first time ever that he’d been to the theatre and he talked about it endlessly afterwards. He would have been in his 40s then. We take so much for granted. I didn’t go as a child but took my parents to see Fiddler on the Roof with Hayes Gordon in 1967 and they were enthralled, but never have I seen the excitement that Noel displayed that night. He’s still there in Windsor, a single man working as a very skilled tradesman, smoking pot and drinking bourbon every night and I’ll bet he’s never been to the theatre since. An ambulance just raced past my house to Aminya down the road with its siren going, a regular occurrence, but I never hear the siren on the way back.

It becomes easier to see how Thoreau’s Journal was edited from 7000 pages to 700. After discovering a fish he didn’t know in a nearby pond he draws it and gives a detailed written  explanation of it, then the editor states (in italics): There follows 57 pages of drawings and measurements of examples of this fish over a period. Mmm, easy to see where to cut in that instance. But hooked as I am I would probably have read the 57 pages just in case there was some gem hidden in there somewhere. Oops, there goes a second ambulance so perhaps this person is the exception.

May 6, 2021

I think we have all become a bit lackadaisical about hand sanitiser, QR codes and the like. I noticed the difference when we were in Canberra, there a person on the door is just as likely to ask to see your phone to make sure that you’ve checked into a place, at the least they will ask if you have done it, whereas here nobody seems to bother. Ultimately we will pay the price for that, if we haven’t already. I was thinking of suggesting a movie in Paddington after seeing the surgeon on Monday but that’s out the window now. It is reported that the man infected went to an optometrist underneath and outside of the Wentworth Hotel building which is a quarantine hotel. If this is all you need to do it’s pretty scary, though there may well be another explanation. I’m afraid the feds have been pretty lax with forward planning, we need to get quarantine out of the central city into purpose built accommodation, this bloody disease is going to be around for a long time yet, not to mention an entirely new one.

Sat up till I finished Thoreau last night. His encyclopaedic knowledge of all sorts of ‘stuff’ means that there are an array of wonderful tidbits in the book, such as the following: “porcelain vessels of Chinese manufacture have been repeatedly found in the catacombs of Thebes, in Egypt, some as old as the Pharaonic period, and the inscriptions on them have been read with ease by Chinese scholars”. What a different view of history and travel that provides, but whether true or not it gets me thinking about all manner of things. His death at 44 mirrors so many of his period and what a loss he was. It is said he died of tuberculosis but it is hard to understand where he caught it, such was his solitary life. TB is not an easy disease to catch unless in very close proximity to sufferers, but he did make occasional trips to lecture on his many interests. Now I need to reread Walden, I only have a book with some excerpts, so I hope the universal mind will decide to plonk it into the street library as a library copy just won’t do in this case.

May 7, 2021

On Wednesday Colleen mentioned that her brother in Mumbai had a mild case of Covid, last night she emailed to say that he had died. I am in a Facebook group called Anglo-Indian Cookery Group and last night two people posted. I was expecting recipes but it was a notice of the death of the father of one member and the brother of another, both of Covid in India. This morning I asked Heather if she could do me a bunch for Colleen and when we went to pick it up she had done a vase full of purple honeysuckle with a few kinds of foliage and mint, just gorgeous, so we delivered that on the way to town.

Today was our Captain Cook High Tea Cruise, won in the RFS raffle in Katoomba early in 2020 and delayed by the pandemic. John parked up past the Argyle Cut and as we were early we wandered in to the Museum of Contemporary Art, always useful for toilets, with the first exhibition entitled Anywhere But Here and that’s exactly where I wished we were when I saw it. Upstairs some Aboriginal art was interesting but as usual I was glad they don’t charge for entry. We went for a walk around to the Opera House and arrived at the wharf at 2.10 for our 2.30 cruise, only to be told that it had left at 2 pm. I had asked over the phone when I booked what times the cruise was on and was told ‘only one per day at 2.30 pm from Friday to Sunday, the cruises have been cut back due to Covid’. But now they are running four days a week at 1 pm and 2 pm, but nobody had bothered to let us know. They gave us new tickets for Thursday next week but that doesn’t pay for the tolls, the (small) cost of the lippy I put on and the hour spent in the MCA. We drowned our sorrows with tea and a Goya each at La Renaissance and saw the funny side. John had no clue where we were parked but luckily one of us is still okay with directions.

Started reading Sarah Krasnostein’s book The Believer: Encounters with Love, Death and Faith, a study of the thought processes of people who believe in all sorts of oddnesses such as ghosts, UFOs or that nothing in the world can be true if it disagrees with a statement in the Bible (think geology, evolution). From two Australians who built an exact replica of Noah’s Ark in the US replete with dioramas of dinosaurs and humans together to a six times married Buddhist who helps people through the dying experience, there are certainly some characters here. My main concern so far is that the ghost folks seem to be able to put the wind up the author which makes me wonder how easily influenced she was or is. Her book The Trauma Cleaner was one of the best I’ve read in recent years so I am feeling a little let down, but I’m only a quarter through, perhaps she pulls it all together in the end.

May 8, 2021

Out to Dural for a bread run and rang Martha to see if they were up for a visit on the way back but her phone didn’t connect so I sent a text. After we got home she replied, but didn’t know who I was as my number had come up as unknown, despite it not having been changed. By then we were involved in other things so we didn’t end up going. I had been given eight big quinces from someone’s tree and John obliged by peeling and slicing the hard buggers. I am experimenting with cooking them in the slow cooker as I can never justify the oven being on for eight hours or whatever, so they are simmering away in some honey and water. Next I made raspberry brown sugar muffins to take to Davina’s tomorrow, the recipe says it makes 12 but always makes 22 in my tins. British muffin tins must be like the huge ones you get in some cafes, which I avoid as I usually find them dry and tasteless. I had plans to cut back my Grevillea and make some vases of flowers for the house but before I got to that there was a knock on the door and Interflora delivered a vase from Carly of roses, chrysanthemums and another flower I can’t recall so I left the Grevilleas for another day. Spoke to Terry who is at home and has been advised not to have any visitors, including family. He starts radiotherapy Monday.

Still going on the Krasnostein book. The stories themselves, while worth reading, seem oddly chosen to fit the category of The Believer. I can’t see how the ‘death doula’ quite fits the mould and did we need two UFO stories? Though the young pilot who went missing in Bass Strait was interesting to me, especially the theory that he simply saw natural phenomena prominent at the time but because of his belief in UFOs he called in to the air traffic control that one was hovering over him. He was never seen again so the mystery remains. I’m sure she is linking together interesting people she has met or heard about, whether or not they really fit the title. There are quite a few fundamentalist Christians in there too, certainly they fill the bill, but America (and increasingly here) they are as common as fleas on a dog, so probably one or two examples would have sufficed.

May 9, 2021

Down to Dav’s for a brunch consisting of sausage rolls, mini quiches and vege patties with a spinach and artichoke sauce on the side, followed by my muffins. Sue made it down from Sunshine Beach in Queensland yesterday so Millie had both grandma and nanny. After that we all played games such as Memory and a jigsaw puzzle and John gave Millie the cow figurine and book he had bought her at the delightful toy shop in Moss Vale. Millie has now been enrolled in school for next year and Dav was surprised by the pages of questions on the forms including what problems existed at home. She is a sensitive little person and is dealing with a girl at pre-school who calls her names like ‘banana wee’! I can remember my mother just taking me to the principal’s office and I was in, I can’t remember any forms at all but perhaps the principal wrote on them. I do remember her asking where we lived and when my mother said Bright St she replied ‘ah you poor woman’ as it was mostly housing commission places though our half house was not. Times have changed.

John dropped me home and then went up to Castle Mall to buy one thing in a particular shop at 2.45, but was still not home at 4.45 so I was wondering how to proceed when he didn’t answer two phone calls. Then the car pulled in and it turned out he got caught up in Castle Towers looking for a shop that is in Castle Mall, then worked it out and went back to the Mall to find they didn’t have what he wanted so it was back to the Towers to buy it from Myer. All perfectly explainable but I was worried nonetheless.

I have three remote controls for my garage door: one in the house, one in the car and one in the garage. At any given time I am lucky to have a random two of them working, for reasons as yet unexplained. But in the last few days all three are non functional and I need to access the garage via the side door, manually unlocking the roller door and then doing it again in reverse afterwards, all of which is somewhat annoying. I once had all three inoperable for a couple of months so I called the man who installed it, he pressed the button once and it worked perfectly, so I am reluctant to call him again. Clearly it’s an intermittent signal fault but I am wondering if the recent rain has exacerbated it?

May 10, 2021

Went to St. Vincent’s today to see Alan the surgeon and will be going again in two months. He said he is ‘pretty confident’ of having removed all the cancer but can’t be 100% sure as the pathology says it was too close to the margin, but if he operated again he would be working blind as the remaining cancer would be microscopic. There are two options: either he and Richard monitor me closely for some time or else I have chemo and radiotherapy 5 days a week for 3 weeks as a precaution against any having been missed. I chose the first option and he said he totally agreed with the decision. So now it’s Alan every 2 months, Glenn Reeves every 4 months, and Richard every 6. I’m also having monthly blood tests for cancer markers, biopsies every 6 months with Richard and Alan said he may do another PET scan in 6-12 months as well. When he said mine was a most unusual case I said that I want a copy of any paper he writes about me, autographed. If any symptoms arise or cancer markers show up then we reassess. Makes for a somewhat uncertain future but he says that some of his cancer patients who have had radiotherapy in the same area have many side effects. The prospect of radiation damage that never heals, affecting quality of life permanently as he described, instils confidence that it’s the right decision for me. We were planning to visit Martha and Phil, taking some of the poached quince, but Phil isn’t having a good day so we’ve put it off.

I was surprised to learn from Thoreau that even back in his day people went in for ‘artificial exercise’. He rants: “I see dumb-bells in the minister’s study and some of their dumbness gets into his sermons. Some travellers carry them around the world in their carpetbags. Can he be said to travel who requires still this exercise? A party of school-children had a picnic the other day and they carried bags of beans from their gymnasium to exercise with there. I cannot be interested in these extremely artificial amusements”. Oh Henry you should try walking along Art Gallery Road or through the Domain and seeing the personal trainers putting some poor sods through their paces. I shall think of you each time I see them now, saving John from listening to my harping on ‘artificial exercise’.

May 11, 2021

Had a boring morning waiting for John’s cardiologist at RNS as I had forgotten to take my book and now no-one has magazines in their surgeries. We got there at 10 am and left at 12.15 as Gemma was running very late. Then in the afternoon we were waiting for his car to be ready from the mechanic’s but ultimately they rang to say that they needed it overnight, so it was a waiting day all round.

I finished Sarah Krasnostein’s book The Believer and found it ultimately disappointing. I found the individual stories in this book interesting but the book as a whole was not successful. It seemed as if the author, whom I loved after reading The Trauma Cleaner, chose some interesting personalities and then tried to link them all into the theme of being a Believer, whether they quite fitted or not. I found her scattered approach of splitting the stories up and treating them like a page-turning novel rather annoying. Her writing is very good, but the book needed a damned good edit, at the very least making the stories run from beginning to end without splitting them up. However, I still don’t quite understand what held these stories together, interesting as they may be individually. I thought the goal was to examine the whole idea of belief, but that certainly didn’t happen. People believing in UFOs, ghosts, some Mennonites, people building a life size model of Noah’s Ark using biblical measurements, someone who helps people who are dying and another who spent 34 years in gaol seemed like a grab bag of ideas to me: Hey, I met some cool and different people, how can I somehow link them into a book? There was no analysis of the individual beliefs nor anything about the whole concept of belief. Why exactly were the ‘death doula’ or the long term prisoner convicted of murder included? The book seems to be more of a collection of short stories of some folks with interesting lives rather than a serious attempt at explaining belief, something that would have interested me more.

May 12, 2021

We got John’s car back in time for him to get in to town for his 2 pm infusion appointment at St. Vincent’s, fitting in morning tea with Michelle in between. She brought me a couple of pressies from Melbourne and a book that she’d snaffled from a street library.

I have just finished Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor, a book from the 80s that I’ve been aware of but didn’t really know anything about. I had no idea if it were autobiographical, about a real place or simply fiction. It took me a while to catch on that he is having a piece of us, that the reader won’t really know if any of it is truth or fiction. He had me in for quite a while (even when he was carefully explaining the American Indian roots of the word Wobegon I still didn’t twig!). I have no idea if the historical statements are true or a complete burlesque, but the book as a whole is an absurd and comical parody.
But I have to say that despite its unusual format it holds some real zingers within its pages that made me laugh out loud. To explain the luck of being born American, Chinese, Russian or African: “In heaven are millions of souls lined up waiting to be born, and when it’s your turn, you go down the chute like a gumball to whoever put a penny in the slot.” Or to explain the result of a land survey that was miles off: “an error that lives on in the FAA Course Correction, a sudden lurch felt by airline passengers as they descend into Minnesota airspace on flights from New York and Boston”. An enjoyable farce.

May 13, 2021

Today was the rerun of the harbour cruise we were supposed to do last week but missed by 10 minutes. The lady on the desk had tried to convince me that it was my mistake that the cruise we thought was leaving at 2.30 actually ran at 2 pm. As we sat on the wharf waiting for the boat today I noticed a fancy illuminated sign reading ‘High Tea Cruises leave at 2.30 pm’. Methinks you fib my lady. Anyway it was a relaxing little adventure with a glass of bubbly and a selection of savoury and sweet goodies, some of which, like the sausage rolls and meat pastries, I packed up for John’s dinner, adding a scone and a fruit tart that we couldn’t manage to eat either. Got a close look at Packer’s Pecker from the water and although I wouldn’t have allowed it to be built there, I must admit its twisting form has some attraction architecturally. We get to do it all again in September (if I’m spared, as my grandmother used to say) as I won two separate cruises as my raffle prize. We won’t eat breakfast or lunch next time though.

John has written a document about his childhood and seems quite focussed on it lately, often saying that he feels his mother’s criticism in his head ‘John! don’t lick your fingers, don’t pick up that drumstick, don’t talk while you’re eating’. I told him that I had never had such instructions as a child because my parents didn’t know what was good manners and what wasn’t, which compared to his upbringing was a blessed relief. Last night I met with five friends and three of them had a close relative in dementia care, one a husband, the other two mothers. The prices they quoted for getting them in ranged from $450,000 to $700,000 to $1.1 million, so counting John’s problems that’s four out of six people affected, which I found extraordinary. Is it just because we are living longer? I’m not sure.

May 14, 2021

Drove out to Richmond to get my beautiful clock back from the clockmaker. He fixed it for me weeks ago but then it came to a stop and this time he can’t fix it. He offered me the money back but I declined, he’s spent ages on it. I’m not sure what to do next, a non-working clock is just a useless ornament, but I don’t have another clockmaker that I can trust with a rare clock. Pondering. The traffic going out there at 10.30 am was amazing, where are they all going? I used to take off at the lights at Kellyville and not stop till I reached Windsor, but not any more. Picked up a reserved book from the library and it happened that the librarian is reading The Believer, so we had a good chat about that. I vacuumed the house just now, a job I always hate, but realised that I most hate ‘thinking about vacuuming the house’ rather than actually doing it, whereas washing up, washing clothes, cooking etc I am quite cool with, both in anticipation and in actuality.

I had assumed that John would like a big party for his 80th, but he decided that it is too fraught what with his family circumstances, but expressed the wish to spend time with Stephen and Deborah. So I have booked us into Rydges Newcastle for three nights and planned a lunch with them on his birthday, they have come up with the idea of a bush barbecue the following day so that ticks all the boxes for him. Usually we stay at Noah’s right on the beach so I can whip over and swim as the mood takes me, but this time chose Rydges right on the harbour edge as it will be way too cold for swimming. Also we have a tiny lounge area separate from the bedroom which means we don’t have to sit on the bed to entertain visitors as we did at Noah’s. One complaint on Tripadvisor was about ships sounding their horns in the middle of the night but I kind of like the idea of being on the edge of a working harbour. The restaurant there has really bad reviews however, so we will give that a miss, there being plenty of places to eat in walking distance. I had suggested as one option that he have a friends only party, but now with Terry so sick that would be somewhat hollow, so I think we’ve come up with a perfect solution.

May 15, 2021

Every time I walked into the loungeroom I spied Christmas presents there for our Blackheath friends and made a mental note to do something about it. They have been in hard lockdown due to one being particularly susceptible to the virus so I haven’t wanted to deliver them in person. Finally today I settled on delivering them to his mother who will take them up for a Christmas in July celebration planned when they complete their vaccinations. Job done as of this morning. Then I headed over to Harris Farm at Pennant Hills and stocked up there before visiting Martha and Phil as planned. Phil was abed and so I had a cuppa with Martha until we heard a faint call from the bathroom, only to find that he had fallen into the bath on the way to the loo and split his head. We managed to get him out and Martha attended to his head wound which luckily didn’t need stitching, but he certainly got a shock and his cries for help were almost inaudible. I’m sure Martha will now be rethinking whether she can leave him alone as he never would have been able to haul himself out if we hadn’t been there. It reminded me of Barbara falling, very close to that same spot, but luckily John was able to catch her and she wasn’t injured.

I have been idly looking in op shops for a two tier cake stand as the one I use came from my shop and it hadn’t sold because it is pretty plain and boring, though a decent brand. Martha offered me a brand new one, still in its box, which is allover floral and just my taste. It had come from a mutual friend’s house when he was moving to a unit and came with a matching milk jug and sugar pot, just the ticket. It inspires me to have a morning tea soon. I took over to Martha’s the last of the muffins so I need to bake again soon, though I made up a tart recipe this afternoon to take to the planned picnic with Dav and Co tomorrow. It’s filled with a mixture of cream cheese, cheddar and leftover Brie beaten up with eggs and yogurt and topped with tomatoes, shallots etc. It looks good so hopefully tastes the same.

May 16, 2021

Off to Centennial Park this morning and we were astounded at the crowds there. We needed to park a long way from the agreed meet-up point but we eventually got there, however John suggested he go back to the car for five books he had brought for Millie. I should have gone with him in hindsight, but it was a straight road. However after half an hour Louis and Millie went to the car but didn’t see him so I rang but he didn’t know where he was. I enlisted help from a young man, describing his surroundings, and we worked out that he had overshot us and was about a kilometre away. Eventually with a few phone calls we met up and I’ve certainly had my walk for the day and then some. We had a lovely picnic, with Louis’s mum Sue with us, and then the kids hired a family bike and rode around the park twice, about 4 kilometres each circuit. On the way back to the car after a lovely afternoon I was idly looking at the cars, massive BMW and Mercedes 4WDs, Teslas, a 2 door Bentley! So then I decided for fun to look for a car as old as mine on the walk back, but no, mine won the prize by years. I am constantly amazed at the money floating around this town. You only have to look at the ads in the Good Weekend, water bottles for $300, handbags for $2000, shoes for a similar price. Some people seem to measure their worth by brands, not quality necessarily, but being seen with something expensive is what it’s all about. So buying a beautiful hand made leather handbag from a craftsman or woman has no cachet compared to one made in a sweat shop but with a sort-after label (on the outside of course). I am bewildered, baffled and bemused by it all.

May 17, 2021

Asked Martha last week if she’d like me to come over each week and she said she would. Luckily I chose today, even though I had just been there on Saturday. Martha looked very worried when I got there and Phil was again worse. He was supposed to have an appointment with the oncologist today but Martha had to ring and ask for a Telehealth appointment instead as he could hardly walk or talk. We debated whether to call an ambulance, but they would only take him to the San where for some weird reason they are unable to do his peritoneal dialysis and always have to transfer him to RNS, so much for a major private hospital. So she decided that we should just up and take him to hospital and we managed to get him into the car, she drove while I sat in the back with Phil. Luckily they weren’t too busy, up to no. 15 while he was no. 20, but a kindly staff person offered to get him bumped up the queue as he was so obviously unwell so we didn’t wait long at all. I left them to it at this point, after texting Lucien that he needed to come to the hospital if at all possible. After swearing off the hospital’s $9.90 milkshake last Monday I needed another today and sat outside considering my options: a train to Penno, a bus to Penno or a phone call to see where John was up to at the men’s shed. He answered saying that it was a good time to ring as he’d just glued something and so was planning to leave to let it set. So he picked me up and delivered me to Martha’s to get my car. I am still no wiser about the outcome as I don’t want to ring, but I’d be very surprised if they don’t keep him in.

Last night I watched Compass and was deeply moved by the story of a number of women and families who are in a quandary about whether or not to have children given the climate crisis. One family already had four, but the mother regretted this in the light of the worsening scenario. Others wanted children but were concerned about the ethics of bringing them into the situation which is unfolding. I would be in exactly the same boat if I were young and didn’t already have children, not wanting to plunge new lives into the world as it is. The family with four children, at the end of the program, was seen boarding flights for New Zealand, to which they were emigrating, keen to be in a country that takes climate change seriously. It reminded me of the first time I went to New Zealand in the 1970s, at the time working as a volunteer for Ecology Action, back in the days when we thought our biggest problem was the hole in the ozone layer, supersonic jets and coloured loo paper. I absolutely loved the place and felt much more at home than I did in Australia. I was sitting in the lounge at the Mount Cook Hotel crying at the thought of coming back to Australia, when the manager approached and asked me what was wrong. I explained that I didn’t want to go back to Australia and felt much more at home in NZ than I did in Sydney. To my great surprise he said: ‘Don’t go back, I will give you a job here and you’ll have room and board as well’. Oh how I wish I’d had had the courage to stay, but once again a feeling of responsibility to my parents kept me from starting a whole new life.

May 18, 2021

Boring household tasks today interspersed with attempts to get on to Ram in Kerala. Still unsuccessful, the phone just rings out, so I have emailed a businessman we met over there asking if he would try phoning from Bangalore to see if he can get through. It comes after repeated emails have failed to get an answer, but a lot of things could be happening over there that we know little about. Apparently 1600 Indian teachers have died of Covid after being called up for election duties by the government. Some pleaded not to have to go because of medical conditions but their entreaties were ignored. Modi, constantly in the public eye, has gone to ground, as well he might.

Martha texted that the docs seem to think Phil’s kidneys are a big problem and he has high calcium levels in his blood, so we shall see what they decide to do. I had left a note for Claude at Martha’s house when I got back to her place to pick up the car, assuming he would arrive home from school before she got back, but she rang from the hospital and arranged for a neighbour to pick him up and feed him. That was smart as it was 9.30 pm before she got back, after a long and stressful day. It is hard to adjust to the idea that Claude is only just 11, he could pass for 15 easily and it would be easy to assume a much greater level of knowledge and maturity. It reminds me of my daughters’ teenage friend Ryan, still a close member of our extended ‘family’ who was always both tall and mature. I once asked him to run my car up to the shops to pick up something I was missing while in the middle of cooking. There was a long silence before he said ‘But I’m not 16 yet so I don’t think I should drive’.

May 19, 2021

Last night we used the first of my $25 Dine and Discover vouchers towards dinner at Lillah in Lane Cove. We haven’t been there for 18 months, though last October John asked me what I would like to do to celebrate my birthday and said I would like the banquet from Lillah, which we ordered online. He picked it up and brought it to my house, feeding us well for a couple of days. However John was insistent that we had been there to dine in the last two weeks and it took me all my time to convince him that we hadn’t. In fact I couldn’t get him to even look at the menu as he kept saying ‘but I remember those rendered walls’, ‘we sat at this same table’ and ‘I think it was about 10 days ago’, so in the end I ordered the meal for us to share and he was very happy with that. Later as we were leaving he was very discombobulated and didn’t know where we were, asking if it were Lane Cove and where we had parked. I am not sure how much longer he will be able to find his way around when walking. On another related note, a friend said he tried to download the vouchers and failed the first time so he’s not going to bother, $200 worth for both him and his wife, people are funny.

Sewing group was today and somehow I am always turning up with something to sew, to my great surprise. Today it was John’s work jeans which are fashionably torn across the knees, but he complains about the draught. So I tore up an old denim shirt and am putting in patches to the reverse but leaving the ragged tears to the front. Michelle arrived saying she spoke to Phil in hospital so clearly he is vastly improved as there was no way he could hold a conversation last Saturday or Monday. He is having more tests but they seem to have narrowed it down to a parathyroid problem, unsurprising in the circumstances. It is incredible that organs the size of grains of rice can be so instrumental in a person’s wellbeing, the body and its workings never cease to amaze me. Colleen talked about the problems her boys had at school due to their race, including a teacher marking down her son’s exam result so that a white boy was seen to have come first, incredible to believe.

May 20, 2021

Still trying ways to contact Ram. Today I decided to put a message on his actual Facebook page and was very surprised to see that his main picture at the top of the page is actually a photo of me. It was disturbing, as though he were trying to get a message to me, yet I have no idea what that message could be. So I wrote a message asking him to contact me, but more than that, asking any of his Facebook friends to contact me if they know his whereabouts. So far no result but most would only speak Malayalam so I am just hoping for an English speaker to see it and answer.

Recently at a sewing group Fran tried to give away a copy of the book Shuggie Bain, the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. As soon as she said it was bleak or dismal or whatever word she used, everyone said they had no interest in reading it, so I was the lone interested taker. I am finding it so rewarding, bleak is certainly a good word for it, unremittingly bleak so far, but such an eye-opener to life in Glasgow’s slums during Thatcherite Britain. I am pretty good about reading this sort of real life stuff, but I must admit I have winced quite a few times. Up with the best reading this year.

Had an appointment with Bob to discuss the surgeon’s offer of chemo plus radiation or nuffin but with increased oversight and testing. He agreed with my decision of nuffin, as I knew he would.  Next week I need to go back to him to get a couple of tests that Richard wants done. I am certainly well aboard  the medical train for the foreseeable future.

May 21, 2021

Decided to do some more cooking for Martha today but with my car in for service I don’t have wheels, so I made do with ingredients from the freezer and pantry. However Michelle rang about something else and she offered to drop the cooking off over there and to do a batch of pumpkin soup as well. I texted Martha for permission to enter her house, which she happily gave, so just now Michelle picked up the casserole which should do the two of them for many meals. Then I started a boiled fruit cake and got annoyed by the lack of glace cherries in the mix. I rang Sunbeam a few years ago and complained that the cherries had been reduced but the haughty woman on reception told me that the recipe had never changed. I’m calling bullshit on that one as I used 454 grams in this recipe and only sighted only one miserable cherry falling into the mix. Now I will have to buy some cherries before I bake it, so in future I think I will just make up my own mixed fruit from the separate ingredients. Instead of raising the price many companies take short cuts with the quality and this is a prime example. I’ve sent them an email to say I am jumping ship to other brands after many decades, not that I think they will care, but it gives me satisfaction.

May 22, 2021

Oh how much better the world looks after you’ve had a decent sleep! Thursday night I didn’t sleep till after 4.30 am and yesterday I was actually nodding off from time to time while actually doing things, lucky I didn’t have my car all day really. When I picked it up after 5, Alex was dragging on a ciggie as usual and looked as tired as I felt. He only has Sundays off to spend with his wife and three children and I guess he takes holidays sometimes, but I’ve never been to the workshop and found him not to be there. I will try to think of a way to help but apart from taking him food occasionally I am a bit stumped. After I got home and studied the invoice I discovered he hadn’t charged me for the rego check or for labour to put a new O ring in to fix an oil leak, so typical of him.

Went to Dural for bread and discovered two Aldi trolleys in the carpark. Nowhere else but Dural would people not bother to claim their $2 back, well perhaps Double Bay, but anyway it’s rare. So it was a positive start to my shopping trip and I even left the second one for someone else to cash in, not wanting to keep all the good luck to myself. The docket lying in the bottom was for $948 at Aldi! All ski stuff, parkas, gloves, socks etc which are on special there this week. Surely she is reselling, or else has a mountain of kids. My lucky find prompted me to go to Vinnies where I have had very good bargains at times. (Always donate at the poor suburbs and buy at the rich ones is my motto, the rich often abandoning clothes brand new or close to it). My luck did continue as I found a new Rodney Clark jacket, still with its original $125 price tag, for 20 bucks, plus a top for $8 and a Cotton On jumper for $18, all stripes as are so many of my clothes. Then to my amazement I found a pair of Diana Ferrari flat red winter shoes, the exact mates of which I had just thrown out after wearing them as gardening shoes for a couple of years following 15 years of constant use. They came from Vinnies in Fairfield for $15 all those years ago and this as new pair cost me $18, that’s inflation for you. She must have had them in the back of the wardrobe all this time as I’m sure that style is long gone. Unfortunately I also bought a $10 handbag (shame, shame) because it was too cute to pass up. Guilt made me decide to cull my handbags this afternoon ready to make a run to the Sallies, but as I got each one down it was either too worn for them to take or else had sentimental value (bought in Florence in 1973, bought in India 10 years ago, it was a gift etc etc). But I did discover that of the 29 handbags, 8 vintage or antique evening purses and 6 baskets those that were bought new were less than I could count on one hand and these were all overseas in places like India, Thailand or Vanuatu, so the total cost to me is quite negligible. So how many did I cull? Well perhaps we won’t go into that but let’s say that I don’t need to go to the Sallies any time soon.

May 23, 2021

Yesterday John wanted to go to see Phil in  hospital but I suggested he ring Martha first and it was lucky that he did, as she said he isn’t well enough to have visitors. Last night John and I planned a lovely day out for today. He was at his place so he suggested that he arrive here by 9 am, then we watch Insiders and leave at 10. So this morning I was up and ready to go, but no John. He had left his mobile here accidentally, but had the landline which he wasn’t answering. At 11 am I rang Ann but woke her up so I let that pass and spoke to Chris his next door neighbour instead and he spoke to John, assuring me he was ‘on his way’. He eventually turned up at 1 pm all smiles. ‘What’s happened?’ I asked. ‘Nothing, why?’ was the reply. He had NO recollection of our plans and didn’t know why he hadn’t answered the phone. I was incredulous as he had been the one to specify the times. Of course the day out was off, but a bigger worry was the fact that even when reminded of the discussion he couldn’t remember what we had planned to do or anything about arranging times. Last week we each received return thanks cards from Bishop Bede Heather’s funeral, a huge occasion with more nuns and priests than non pareils on a batch of birthday cupcakes. Oh dear, said John, Bede Heather has died and they’ve sent me a thankyou card but I didn’t go to his funeral. This thing is moving apace.

So I spent the afternoon sorting clothes, putting summer ones in a bag for next year, hanging all knits together, dresses together etc. I’m beginning to cull some old tops and things to go to the Sallies and I decided I will never again fit into my beautiful French layered skirt which is a very small size, but it is so sad to see it go. Tomorrow we are going to try to have a day out. Perhaps in future all excursions need to start when we are sleeping at the same house or they may never start at all.

May 24, 2021

Had a good conflab with Sue over last night’s episode of Compass featuring Albury Anglican priest Peter MacLeod-Miller, another Rod Bower in terms of his activism. I thought him incredibly handsome, but that’s another issue. She told me that her brother has met him a number of times in his work for the governor and wasn’t keen on him at all. I will pump him for details when I see him. However I would be happy to give a little  donation to his work in exchange for a few hours mooching around his fabulous house and antique collection. The program mentioned an identical twin brother but I haven’t been able to find anything on the net about him at all. She’s invited me to go to a book launch at the Sydney Jewish Museum in June. It is about the father of Robert’s friend Dr Kerry Goulson, Stan was also a doctor and the book is called Humanity in Medicine. Introduction is by Norman Swan so it’s a win-win.

We managed to get John’s birthday gift to Annabel posted at Dural, I love that little post office where you never have to wait, unlike Baulko with queues out the door. Then we went off to Fagan Park at Glenorie and had a good walk in the extensive gardens. Lunch at Wild Pear was too too tempting on the way home: zucchini and kale fritters with salad for me and cutlets with gnocchi and vegetables for John. It was packed as it seems to be every day, it has been well and truly discovered. Got some more potting mix and planted the garlic I’ve been encouraging to shoot in the kitchen, got 100% of the cloves sprouting so I filled two pots with them and am looking forward to a Christmas harvest. Apparently it loves potash so I need to get the ash from someone’s fire. My cyclamen continues to flower despite all the books saying it’s best to ditch them and buy another as they are too hard to keep over winter. Mine is almost 10 years old and makes me think of Terry each time I see it. John is suffering because Terry isn’t allowed any visitors and he often says ‘I just want to give him a hug’.

May 25, 2021

Brian turned 95 today so I visited his nursing home and it’s still like a fortress (not that I’m unhappy about that). The front door was locked and I communicated with someone by intercom ‘Just leave your gift on the seat outside and I will pick it up shortly’. Moving on I visited an old contact and picked up some bucks that he owed me, so I was smiling. Then out to Richmond to deliver a huge dictionary from the late 1800s, the first one published in the US, long before Webster’s.  It runs to 2200 pages and weighed a ton. I had been in an antique shop there some time back when the owner explained that she was saddened to lose her grandfather’s dictionary which had ended up with another family member after he died. That lady had sold it to me years ago and amazingly I had it on my bookshelf as it hadn’t sold in the shop. So I went back through the stock books and ascertained what I’d paid for it and now it is in the place where it rightfully belongs. Loved talking to her minion Scott about some of their stock and we bemoaned the fact that many people just can’t appreciate the wonder in holding an item a hundred, or a few hundred, years old. For a moment it crossed my mind to say ‘if you ever need any help….’ but stopped myself just in time. The owner smartly has Scott there every day and she comes in and out as needed, something I never seemed to make enough money to do, but which would have suited me perfectly.

I am getting peeved with the money being spent by the government on State Funerals. The funeral directors would be rubbing their hands when they get a call from a government department, adding in every optional extra possible, and running up the bill to stratospheric levels. Dress designers, football players, what next? Spend on the homeless, not the dead.

May 26, 2021

I was annoyed to find out that Brian wasn’t even at the nursing home when I went yesterday, he’d been taken to hospital that morning not long before I arrived. No-one told me, this privacy business goes too far at times. Today I am getting some tasks out of the way: finishing a book report for Friday, making some food for Martha and Claude and delivering that, working out what to cook for book group and buying the provisions and catching up on some owed phone calls. My friend Tim was one, he has been immersed in a long legal battle with his father who has now died this week, leaving him in legal limbo. But his siblings who have avoided any negotiation in the matter suddenly want a mediation hearing, now that a financial settlement to each of the children is in the offing. Another doctor’s appointment this arv, more tests to be done by Bob at the instigation of Richard, but with a few different boxes ticked by the end of the day I will feel as if getting up has been worthwhile.

John is making some friends at the Men’s Shed now that he’s been a few times. He had felt initially that they weren’t very friendly. Jack, one of the Link Housing employees, has made a short video of John’s place with a voiceover of John reading a poem about home which he liberally amended from an existing verse. The result is excellent in my view and I can’t wait till the titles go on it so I can share it around. It captures John so well and shows those parts of his home that are particularly important to him.

May 27, 2021

Poor Victoria. It seems that it should be someone else’s turn. The hotel quarantine system was a very good idea which in hindsight has caused more than enough problems. The best way to catch Covid recently is to go into a quarantine hotel, not what was intended. I am not sure if it was the health people who were too slow in picking up that the virus is aerosolised or the government being reluctant to change the system, but I suspect the latter. Davina is involved through her work as an HR person for the company that owns the shopping centre which was an early hotspot. Anyone who was in there during three hours last Thursday has to isolate and be tested, so that of course includes the centre management team for whose welfare she is partly responsible. They will bring in staff from other centres but it’s a juggling act I guess and worrying for them. I think the guy who bar-hopped for seven hours in inner city Melbourne maybe needs to spend his lockdown having a chat with AA. I couldn’t have done that even at 25.

My Facebook friend in Queensland is a freelance researcher working from home and a fun person at any time. Her post yesterday interested me: “I rarely leave the house these days. But, as I had a visitor this morning, I had to get out of my pyjamas and didn’t want to waste all that effort. So I took myself to lunch at the Palmwoods Tavern and enjoyed Oysters Kilpatrick and Sri Lankan Prawn Curry with a nice glass of rose. Added bonus – I won’t have to cook dinner tonight”. It was accompanied by photos of said courses and wine and it made me think about that attitude to life: I’m all dressed up so let’s find something fun to do. Too often we neglect fun as part of life, focussing always on the shoulds instead of the coulds.

I mentioned delivering the early US dictionary to a dealer in Richmond on Tuesday after discovering that it was her grandfather’s. In a rush of bonhomie I had promised to sell it to her for whatever I paid for it. To keep myself honest I made a point of not looking it up online before I delivered it, which was lucky for her as they are for sale from $750 US to $3000 US depending on condition and this one was very good. I am not losing sleep over it as it is important for things to go back to where they belong, but I was right not to let temptation come into the equation before the deal was done.

28th May, 2021

We have been waiting 60 days for surgery on the skin cancer on John’s leg, despite a promise that it would be done within 30 days. But in the meantime it has miraculously reverted and healed up almost completely, aided no doubt by his monthly immunoglobulin infusion. After discussion with Bob we decided that when they eventually rang John would thank them very much and say that surgery was no longer necessary. However they rang him this morning when I wasn’t around and told him that the surgery is next Thursday and he needed to come in for an anaesthetics appointment on Monday. “So what did you say?” I asked. “I told them that’s fine” he said proudly, totally forgetting everything we had talked about. So I rang the hospital back, apologised and explained. This arv a surgeon rang me and asked a few questions, but was perfectly happy to cancel the procedure and just check him out in July. It makes me sad that he would have fronted up for such surgery without complaint.

On Wednesday night, having finished my current read, I went over to the big pile of 30 or so books on a sofa and to my horror discovered that every one of them was non-fiction. I read about 1 non-fiction to every 20 fiction, which is why that pile goes down slowly. I could have read about Guantanamo Bay, Aboriginal cultural sites, many biographies, British colonialism in India, CRISPR technology or a couple of medical books, but I was hanging out for fiction. Aghast I went down to the garage late at night and scanned the titles waiting to go into the street library. I found Catcher in the Rye and as it was a classic that I’d missed I clutched it to my breast in relief. (Most of the novels donated are of the ‘turn them out like sausages’ variety, but I do get a few goodies). I found Catcher such an odd book, but I kept on reading because it reminded me of an oral history, the whole thing is just as a person would repeat a story, doubling up on saying the same thing, using colloquialisms, swearing, changing perspective. It is really like a mental breakdown from the inside and I admire the author’s ability to pull it off, never wavering from the voice of a seventeen year old. A quick look at Goodreads reviews tonight shows me that they are either 1 star (“worst book I ever read”Smilie: ;) or 5 stars (“a work of genius”Smilie: ;). The worst one star review said that they would have put the main character (and narrator) into the army, which made me cringe.

Book group was at lunchtime today and was a small group of seven, but the discussion was good and Ruth described the book, American Dirt, as ‘a triumph’. Rosanna brought a divine dessert of caramel, topped with apples and meringue and I am not embarrassed to say that I had two helpings. You’re a long time dead I decided.

29th May, 2021

The other day I was passing Sydney Car Wash in Castle Hill and they had a sign out ‘$10 wash special’ and seeing the car was going into service the next day I drove in on a whim and had it done. Only when I got home and it had dried did I realise that the bonnet and roof were filthy, so I took a photo and then proceeded to wash the car myself with a bucket of water, a Chux and some washing up detergent. Presto it was super clean, so the dirt wasn’t baked on by any means. Today I went up and showed the manager the photo of the dirty car after he’d washed it and his reply? You should have got the full price one, no guarantees on being clean on the $10 wash. Talk about customer service! Next time check it’s clean before you leave he advised. No next time pal.

Why is it that my pantry, fridge and store cabinet are always chockers yet every time I go to the supermarket it costs me $75 or more? Today I went to buy two punnets of raspberries and it still cost that, because bottled whole beetroots were half price so I got four, then I remembered I was out of chickpeas and blackbeans, both used frequently in this house, oh and milk and cream were a bit low, yep $75. Michelle rang and asked if we would like to come for lunch tomorrow, Kev is doing a barbecued trout, yes please. I had made a pot of seafood mornay for Martha, so I did two small ones for myself and ate them Wednesday and Thursday nights, tonight I am making baked barramundi with spinach and on Monday doing a side of salmon when friends come for lunch. You can bet there will be an article in the papers this weekend about the dangers of eating too much fish, but it’s something I never tire of.

30th May, 2021

Had a lovely lunch with Michelle and Kev and chewed the fat over a bottle of Robert Oatley wine which we picked up on the Mudgee trip. It has suddenly turned to winter here and we commented on the before and after temperatures when leaving Michelle’s after lunch, the change was remarkable. I usually turn the fire on after June 1 so it has come cold just about the right time. Michelle had lent me a book by Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son, a memoir set in Scotland, which I decided to knock over quickly so I could give it back to her today. It was a worthwhile read and explored his relationship with his angry, cruel father and his attempts as an adult to come to terms with the physical and mental abuse. It was so commonplace in the 40s and 50s to have a father who was alcoholic, cruel, overbearing, abusive…fill in the rest of the words…but back then it was just considered an okay way for a father to be. Certainly no-one would have thought of involving police or welfare workers, as long as the kids were being fed and maybe not even if they weren’t. Where I grew up absent or abusive fathers were the norm, not really anything to make a fuss about. Slowly that has changed, there are still isolated families that are ruled this way, but it is more hidden than it once was, as social mores have changed.

31st May, 2021

Lunch with Bronwyn and Michael. Did a large piece of salmon baked with orange juice and maple syrup, some asparagus and of course a chickpea salad which seems to feature in more meals than it probably should at the moment. Raspberry Eton Mess proved a popular dessert, Michael eats raspberries every day that they are in season. I get runs on cooking certain things, sicken myself of them and move on, but chickpeas are triumphant currently. The best news of the day though is that Ram in India is alive and well. He sent me a Facebook message just before the guests arrived, which brought me to tears. I rang him immediately and he picked up first ring. It is funny how, although I only knew him face to face for under three weeks, he still means so much over ten years later, and it appears he feels the same way. He is in Covid lockdown but no-one in his family has been affected. Since the call I’ve had three emails from him. Hallelujah!

In the Domain on Saturday the cover story and a double page spread inside featured the Sirius building, sold by the government after they chucked out all its Housing Commission tenants. I remember well visiting the last tenant there, black plastic covering the windows of the Phillip Room, the major common room, cyclone wire fences surrounding the building, numerous security guards vetting those who entered. This is the legacy these well-heeled buyers will inherit as they wander around their units, some priced in double digit millions, the knowledge that a vibrant community was broken up and the tenants dispersed to widespread suburbs. The advertising talks about the One Way! Jesus sign that stood for as long as I can remember in a window overlooking the Harbour Bridge, but no mention of its owner, removed against his will. The thought of the less well off having harbour views stuck in the craw of this government and the new incarnation of the building sticks in mine.

June 1, 2021

Oh my, great excitement on the blog front last night. I tried to upload yesterday’s post unsuccessfully and then received an email from Michelle saying that, looking at the blog for the first time in ages, she got the message ‘Bandwidth Limit Exceeded. The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later.’ If I tried to reopen it I got the same message, so I contacted my pal who helped me to set it up in the first place and he was stumped. My bandwidth shouldn’t have been exceeded so he contacted the server and shortly after he got the reply that the blog was being hacked at that very moment. A hacker had a robot pointed at my website and it was trying every combination of letters and numbers and symbols over and over again to attempt to crack my password by ‘brute force attack’. This attack was using all the available bandwidth. They fixed it quick smart but said they may keep trying in which case this could be repeated, so we can only see what happens. Apparently mine was the only one this was happening to so I am not sure whether to be appalled or flattered, but I think I will go with appalled.

I am not one for ‘trading up’ in terms of appliances, cars or the like but I was sorely tempted to buy the four slice whizzbang de Longhi toaster on special at Aldi this week. Being able to do the toast as we like it, John’s more heavily toasted than mine and all at the same time, was too tempting. Luckily though I looked at appliance reviews online and Choice at the library and soon saw why they are dumping them at less than half price. Most of the online reviews talked about toast being black on one side and uncoloured on the other, about the settings being meaningless as the toaster seemed to decide its own doneness each time and many mentioned throwing it to landfill. Some returned them to the stores but got another one that was faulty also. Choice marked it down severely for exactly the same reason. So I will stick with my old Breville which is not perfect but is at least usable.

June 2, 2021

Decided to make a pot of Cream of Celery Soup with the whopping great bunch I bought for $2. Lovely to have soup in the freezer. Also did some Anzac Biscuits from the recipe I’ve been using since school days, from the same Commonsense Cookbook that we had as a textbook. But this time I did them with gluten-free flour, because of the needs of a visitor coming tomorrow, and they spread out to one giant thin biscuit per tray so I had to cut them into squares when they came out of the oven. Obviously that flour doesn’t have the density required to hold them together so that was disappointing, they looked identical to usual going into the oven.

Watching Love on the Spectrum has been a treat, though John can’t bear the program, describing it as ‘cringe-making’. It has made me do some more reading about autism and it’s very interesting stuff, particularly a paper by Bernard Crespi in Frontiers in Neuroscience in 2016, in which he discusses the paradox of autism as ‘a disorder of high intelligence’, despite the level of low IQ in people on the spectrum being around 40%. He believes autism commonly involves enhanced, but imbalanced, components of intelligence. His thesis is that there is evidence showing that autism and people with high IQs share a diverse set of correlates, including large brain size, fast brain growth in childhood, and many increased abilities which he outlines. He believes that autism and schizophrenia are actually opposites with autism ‘a disorder of high intelligence and low imagination and schizophrenia a disorder of high imagination and low intelligence’. Close relatives of autism sufferers have a statistically higher IQ than average and those of schizophrenia sufferers show more cognitive deficits. Autism rates are highest in high socio-economic areas and mental retardation and schizophrenia are highest in low socio-economic areas. It’s all fascinating stuff, but it will take me an age to read all the supporting papers he cites. I wish I had studied statistics, I feel the lack of that knowledge whenever I read scientific papers.

June 3, 2021

Watched Senate Estimates last night as Carly was there and felt a bit sorry for Jackie Lambie who means well and Veterans Affairs and Defence are her passion, but her disorganised questioning and presentation show her lack of education. However considering the nasties in the Senate whose lips curl at their opposite numbers I think that a well-meaning, forthright but somewhat disorganised person is infinitely preferable, despite my needing to shift in my chair during some of her questions.

I have been a social butterfly this week, breaking bread with friends more days than not. Today was no exception, with a welcome scrambled egg and smoked salmon brunch with friends, accompanied by croissants and jam and good conversation. I used to work at the university with a member of the Exclusive Brethren and in nearly 13 years he sat in his car winter and summer for every meal break including those which celebrated retirements and significant appointments. How sad it seemed even then, but it was typical that it was his son, working there as a casual in his holidays, who grabbed me sexually as soon as everyone’s backs were turned. I should have decked him, but in those days you didn’t, you just pushed them off. I added that to my mental file of ‘always watch the religious ones and the more religious they are the more you need to watch them’. Over my lifetime that’s been proven over and over again. Safer in a pub full of bikies than with a roomful of Brethren.

Rereading Atul Gawande’s great book Being Mortal and along with Melbourne oncologist Ranjana Srivastava I find him to be a wonderful source of wisdom about illness, end of life decision-making and much else. It always interests me that doctors are the people most open to discussions about euthanasia and ending treatments if you approach them the right way. They are the ones who see the worst outcomes and a carefully worded question about ‘what would you want if it were you we were talking about’ can work wonders.

June 4, 2021

Had fun yesterday at Manly, lunching at Garfish using one of our Dine and Discover vouchers (thankyou Gladys, I know I don’t thank you for much). This is about the fourth time we have eaten there over many years and the food is always top class, the wide-ranging fish menu changing daily according to what’s plentiful. They had a two course special on so we both had that, sharing an entree of Zucchini Flowers stuffed with salmon and prawn, then each had the Wood-fired Barramundi with mash and spinach, sharing the Sticky Date Pudding with orange segments, fig & brandy ice cream and butterscotch sauce for dessert. I can happily say that neither the meal nor the service could have been improved and it was worth every cent and more. I noticed though the number of people walking around Manly wearing white soled joggers, they must buy a new pair once a month as they were all pristine, unlike their compatriots in the burbs where they only seem to look clean in the shop windows.

Last night I got a surprise call from Alan the surgeon, asking how I am but really ringing because he had had a love letter from my immunologist Glenn querying my treatment and asking why Alan doesn’t operate a second time. He explained again in detail his reasoning: not being able to know where to start and stop because it is microscopic now and not wanting to risk damaging essential muscle by cutting any deeper, plus he can’t get rid of the virus because there is no cure, so it will keep on its carcinogenic way whatever he does. Apparently Richard has had a love letter too and they’ve compared notes, Richard will reply, but I can’t be worried about any bruised egos. I have to let that little squabble take place between them, way too far above my pay grade.

Trivia question: Considering that the fly of trousers is never an ideal visual centrepiece (or shouldn’t be) why does Graham Creed choose suits with jackets that cut away neatly to expose the fly? I wonder this every night.

June 5, 2021

I’ve decided to stop trying to coach John in using the Service NSW QR code app to log in to premises. He forgets how to do it each time and has trouble doing it even when I’m peering over his shoulder. He just needs to do what he can do and ditch the stuff he can’t. Most places have a manual option anyway. We went up to Service NSW to organise my being a proxy for John over the phone, but it doesn’t work with them. I have to be at the counter, though NRMA were happy to take his instructions to let me do his calls. We are working through all the companies he normally deals with, like phone, electricity, bank etc as he finds phone queries and transactions really taxing, though he often introduces himself and then asks if he can hand the phone over to me and it’s usually okay.

I did some sorting of stuff from the storeroom today and found a few small things to offer to particular old clients as gifts, plus I packed the boot with a load for Bargain Hunt Auctions, including my jewellery case display items and heaps of gift boxes for rings and earrings, plus my old wrapping paper dispenser from the counter (sniff). But as I was checking each empty box (knowing how hard pressed I was packing up the shop) I discovered one had a ring in it that appears to be diamond, and not too small either. However I will need to run a diamond tester over it somewhere to be sure. So the Universe may have sent me a bonus for putting in some time in the storeroom and if it has I will send that off to auction and it may grace someone’s hand as a moderately priced engagement ring.

June 6, 2021

Dav and Louis picked me up for a drive to Cumberland Forest where we did a couple of walks and I happily found a weeping Acacia Lime Magik to replace the one that the wind destroyed back in March. It was a weird injury, not snapping the top off as a wind had done the previous February, but splitting the stem low down into three parts so you could see right through it. I hoped it would somehow survive but no, it died very quickly. Since then I haven’t been able to get one, but struck lucky today. Millie loved the walks and was tickled that there was a Cheese Tree, she set off looking for a cracker tree to go with it. Her reading is amazing, she called all the tree signs as we went along, only missing the most difficult of words. Davina bought her a plant and pot for her bedroom after Millie announced from a sign ‘through here to indoor plants’. Had some falafel at the cafe and a good day was had by all.

I went to the MyGov site to alter my bank account balances and discovered that I hadn’t done that for a while. There isn’t anything there to allow you to calculate how much pension you are supposed to get so I used a site called Age Pension Solutions to work it out. According to them I should be getting almost a hundred dollars a fortnight more than I am getting, so I am puzzled as to why this is the case. I don’t really want to go to Centrelink to tell them they are wrong according to a private site, so I will see what adjustments they make, if any, with the new figures. Keeping my head below the parapet seems like a good idea with Centrelink, although there used to be a lovely old chap at Windsor office who was super easy to deal with. I remember him telling me that back when Whitlam got in the great man addressed all the employees and said ‘you don’t work for the government, you work for the people who come in through the door’ and he said it had framed the way he dealt with clients all through his career. He would have had that silly idea bashed out of him with this government, but he’d be retired by now I’m sure.

June 7, 2021

On Saturday I went to Bunnings to look for a Carbon Monoxide Meter but they only had alarms whereas I want one with something that tells me the parts per million of CO, not waiting till an alarm goes off when it’s critical. Note to self: Do not go to Bunnings on a Saturday to avoid the smell of disgusting cheap sausages filling the air, gross. The winter before last I went through almost all of it with no fire after getting a notice to say not to use the gas fire until it had been inspected for leakage of CO. Of course all gas appliances leak it, but the Victorian Government has regular inspections of fires and had found many were dangerous (trust them to be the ones….Gladys are you listening?). Then a few weeks ago I read that the Victorians are on the warpath again abut fires, so instead of getting the company out again, this time at my expense because it’s not a recall, I thought I would just buy a meter and do it myself. Looking online today I found one in Victoria with $12 postage, another in Pendle Hill with $10 post, then another in Villawood, the same brand but $10 cheaper and free postage. I ordered it and 10 minutes later got an email to say it had been posted. That’s service. It has a digital display with the ppm and runs 24/7 on batteries or you can just turn it on when the fire is going.

I’ve been hunting another Acacia Lime Magik for so long but as of this afternoon my new one is planted in the front garden and acting as a wind indicator, its graceful weeping arms sway with the least breeze. After the bad luck with the last one I only hope this one grows well, it has an over-qualified stake so it shouldn’t break off in the wind (she says optimistically).

Ann rang asking if I would go with her to KOI for a dessert and suggested a date but I am busy every day this week and three out of five weekdays next week so we settled on June 24. Somehow I must be making up for 2020 because I seem to be unusually busy. I can’t wait till I get the second vaccination next week and then I can go back to my usual programme of court visits, planning on taking in the Roberts-Smith defamation action for a few days, plus some ICAC, though it’s not the same since Geoffrey Watson ceased his tenure there. He was ace.

June 8, 2021

Drove in to the Maritime Museum with John and Carol and managed to get there in time for the 9.15 start. First it was tea and pastries with a chat to the staff of IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who were hosting the event. Then to the theatre for a discussion with an expert in whale entanglement and damage from collisions with ships along the busy Canadian and North American coast. Our National Parks and Wildlife Service was ably represented by the woman in charge of NSW whale disentanglement teams, a topical subject after a whale was caught in ropes and buoys off Clovelly just yesterday and released by maritime police. (Irrelevantly, I love the US and Canadian pronunciation of buoy, boo-ey instead of boy, which is totally logical). Eventually we moved on to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition entries, always a highlight of the year. There were some amazing photos, too hard to pick a fave, but two of the fox photos and some of the underwater ones were pretty special. The animals in captivity for profit, such as bears, chimps, an orangutan, tigers, kept in appalling conditions, were memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Talking about unpleasantness reminds me of Scott Morrison and I’m hoping that the 4 Corners programme on his friendship and association with Tim Stewart and his wife will be aired soon. Stewart, who is a promoter of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory that contends a cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles rule the world, has made extensive claims online claims about his influence over the PM. QAnon also believes there was a secret “deep state” plot against Donald Trump and that there is a “cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles whose activities extend to trafficking children through a secret labyrinth of tunnels under Melbourne and Sydney”. (I’d be looking in the Tank Stream first up, but in Melbourne it might just be the sewers). Stewart’s wife was in the employ of Morrison from 2019 on, working at the PM’s Sydney residence Kirribilli House on the recommendation of Morrison’s office, but now seems to have been purged since questions were raised about her husband and son. According to journalist David Hardaker (ex 4 Corners, 7.30, Foreign Correspondent) in Crikey, Stewart’s wife is best friends with the prime minister’s wife, Jenny Morrison, a relationship which goes back to teenage years and the two women have been bridesmaids at each other’s weddings. I look forward to the programme with great interest.

June 9, 2021

Sewing group at Colleen’s saw me repairing a shirt of John’s, funny how there’s always mending appearing on the eve of the meetings, I suspect these damaged pieces went into work wear before. Then I started work on my 20 year old Jules of Morocco skirt, part of a suit, which was always a bit too long but has become way too long now that I’m not wearing heels. Colleen lent me her ‘ripper’ to unpick the waist band and I managed to impale my hand on it fairly quickly, the gadget went in far enough to be sticking out of my hand at right angles though little blood appeared, I suspect due to the super cold conditions out on the deck. Because I had a bag of gorgeously fresh green beans I did a Salade Nicoise to take for lunch and wonder why I don’t make it more often. Using canned tuna it is a quick and easy meal or a more luxurious one when using a slab of fresh tuna.

I fight back tears every week watching Love on the Spectrum but last night’s final episode had me sniffling most of the way through. The delightful Jayden with his linguistics fetish made me laugh, though how he even picked up such correct English usage at school these days is a wonder. I used to have a copy of Fowler’s English Usage when I was proof-reading but it’s long gone unfortunately. The wedding of Jimmy and Shanae finished me off, but I do miss having company watching it as John finds it much too awkward and embarrassing. We are so enculturated towards a particular set of behaviours that it can certainly throw us when we come across people who have never read the instruction book.

Sent a message to one of my old clients asking if she would like a particular Crown Devon bowl that I unearthed in the boxes. She was thrilled and asked to meet for a catch up, so that will be a pleasure when we can find a day. Another couple of friends want to meet up and I am looking as far out as July 4 now to do that, these last weeks have been full on. But I decided to cancel an event tonight, it is just too much what with commitments tomorrow and then going away and considering the cold this morning I’m glad I did.

June 10, 2021

They say things come in threes and yesterday they did. I found out that the husbands of two close friends have been diagnosed with serious medical conditions, then I got a call from Brian Curtin’s son Mark to say that he had died from pneumonia in Windsor Hospital. Ninety-five is a pretty good age for a man who was an alcoholic till his 40s and was told then that his next drink would be his last. In and out of hospitals and psychiatric centres, given LSD experimentally to try to cure his alcohol addiction, until one day with the aid of AA he finally got sober. We go back an awfully long way, over 40 years in fact, beginning when he came to inspect my small collection of handicrafts set up on a little table in the bedroom (the table in fact that my father had made for me as a child). Brian said ‘it’s all lovely, I’ll take the lot’ and placed a big order for more to sell in his well-known craft shop in Windsor, Jumbucks. He was my first big customer. He sold pottery, silver jewellery, hand-knits, dried flowers and the whole 1970s-80s rustic craftshop fare. Soon he had asked if I could run the shop on their rare weekends off and once while they went overseas for three weeks, much to the horror of my husband who didn’t approve of my working. He told me later that I got the job because he couldn’t trust his usual staff not to pinch anything while he was away. ‘What did you pinch when I was on that trip?’ he asked me years later. ‘Just a couple of dried flowers that I accidentally broke the heads off’ I said. He replied that he’d expected to lose some silver earrings at least, so he was pretty happy about that.

We went into a small business venture together, making pot pourri and bottling numerous fragrance oils in my garage, then hand writing the labels and delivering them around the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. Come to think of it, I mixed the pot pourri, filled the bottles and wrote the labels, but Brian had a lot of the contacts and did the driving. Once in his brand spanking new Ford station wagon I vomited into the door pocket as we went around the bends coming down from Springwood, but he didn’t get the least annoyed. The car only lasted a couple of months as he left it outside his house in Windsor, just up from the shop, motor running and key in ignition, while he raced back inside for forgotten glasses. You can’t do that in Windsor, it was never recovered. Later, after he sold the shop (at a good profit as he was a natural businessman, unlike me) he was asked by a country friend if he would manage an antique shop in Windsor if she set it up with stock. He knew next to nothing about antiques but everything about selling so I was offered a job there one day a week, as I wasn’t much of a seller but knew more than he did about antiques. One of his favourites when seeing a woman walk in was ‘oh what a lovely brooch you are wearing, can you tell me anything about it?’. Twenty minutes later they were the best of friends and she had bought something for a couple of hundred dollars. But in his defence, he really was interested in people and their stories and would remember her name a year later when she came back in, slapping an arm around her and asking ‘Beryl why have you been away so long? Have you still got that lovely brooch your mother gave you?’. Still later I started my own shop and he came to work a day a week for me for many years, until he was over 80, and was by far my best seller. We did a few road trips together including down to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road and once drove around New Zealand together. On the Victorian trip we were in Port Fairy when Bush attacked Iraq and Brian was pretty pissed off when I went to a newsagent, made some signs and started a demonstration in the town, soon joined by a few dozen locals. ‘But we’re on holidays’ he said morosely. If ever I complained about anything his answer was ‘I’ll do a decade of the rosary for you’ so I told him to do that for himself, which didn’t improve his mood. So it’s all over now my dear friend, little did I know as I drove away on your 95th that we would never see each other again, but I kept the list of funeral music that you gave me in December 2015 and which we have discussed occasionally ever since, so I hope your family decides to use it. I told them it had to be the Gounod Ave Maria, just as you said.

June 11, 2021

Last night we attended the Link Wentworth Art Exhibition and the video made by Jack was played on a big screen. Unfortunately for Jack a speaker jumped on the podium and started talking before it had quite finished, so the credits were missed. Today we set off early and went to the Reptile Park soon after it opened. It has certainly gained some sophistication in the 35 or more years since I was last there. I distinctly remember the sight of dead mice being fed to the snakes in their cabinets but no sign of that on this visit. Loved the bats, not behind glass, the huge crocodile, the American alligators and particularly watching the lady whose job it is to milk the funnel web spiders of their venom to make anti-venin. Worst job on the planet, no contest. The lack of our Thermos was duly noted as we sat in the car eating some bits we’d brought with us.

Our hotel in Newcastle is lovely, right on the water with the occasional tug going past the window. It is sooo windy and cold that we didn’t venture too far, though John found a convenience store to stock up on Kombucha (ugh) and Yakult (ugh), but he bought me two Peppermint Crisps so I say nothing. The hotel gets good reviews and the restaurant very bad ones, but as we did a little tour of place the lady in the bar told us that tonight is the new chef’s first night and would we like to be the first to see the menu. Well of course we would, and it’s bitter outside so eating in suddenly became an option. She had to go and print it out as that hadn’t yet been done ‘First Copy!’ she proudly declared and (if she can cook) it looks as if a good feed is in the offing.

Postscript: She can’t cook. I would apologise for that meal if I cooked it on a Thursday night at home. Veges cold, but cooked okay. Sauce so bland I don’t even know what she was attempting. John had a chicken breast and veg, with a little jug of thin white milk-like sauce. ‘What is the sauce?’ I ask. He tastes, ‘I have no idea’ he replies, ‘sort of maybe milk with a hint of lemon?’. I am able to laugh as I had joined the Rydges Priority Guest club so we got free drinks and 20% off the food.

June 12, 2021

Went for a blustery walk along the harbour front first thing, it really is a wonderful spot here with tugs, yachts, barges and huge ships passing by the windows. Stephen and Deborah arrived with a birthday cake, balloons and a pile of presents. We went off to East End Hub, our favourite eating place in Newcastle, introduced to us years ago by S and D and visited each time we are up here. They had been there earlier and fixed a helium balloon with 80 on it to our seating. The food was divine, I had the Seven Spices Bass Strait Calamari with Asian cucumber salad, peanuts, nahm jim, lemon and aioli, the same dish I had last time and every bit as amazing. Our wonderful waiter Nitin kept us laughing, as did the lady who came over and congratulated Stephen on his 80th, commenting that he didn’t look 80 at all! I’m thinking to suggest to the new ‘chef’ here at the hotel that I would be happy to chip in for her to have cooking lessons there, but I think you either have a palate or you don’t. It’s a pity they can’t test for that somehow before people go into the food game. Imagine the advertising signs ‘Our chef scores 9.25 on palate gene test’. But I digress. We came back to the hotel after an amble along the amazing Newcastle Memorial Walk, overlooking the ocean, to open the mountain of presents accumulated on the coffee table. We now have a Thermos again!! Not only a Thermos for drinks, but also two for insulated food and a picnic basket to boot and that was only the start of the gifts. We had tea and birthday cake late in the day and chewed the fat in our room, oohing and aahing as each ship went by.

As we were booking in on Friday we were followed in four huge men with tattoos up to their chins and I wondered if they were part of the cast of a movie about bad guys, but I hesitated to ask, because as Falstaff advised us, in other words, the best part of courage is caution. Later, about 9.30 pm, I went downstairs to get a couple of plates for the room and the lift doors opened (2 only in the lift the sign says) and nine of these cloned men emerged from the small lift, all tattooed and of a similar ilk, heading out on the town. Not wanting to cover up their art, most had short sleeves in a bitter wind. This time I couldn’t resist it: ‘You are going the wrong way chaps, it’s nearly bedtime’. One replied, not exactly in words, but with the sort of gravelly noise, a guttural growl, that a bear might make. The valet parking man at his desk had his mouth gaping open at the sight of them and we discussed the fact the boys looked in for a big night. Hotel staff must see it all.

June 13, 2021

We had an early walk again but it was not quite as blustery as previously. Had a chia seed and berry bowl at The Hub, a cute little kiosk along the waterfront where lack of space doesn’t stop them from baking their own banana bread, muffins, cakes and much else besides. A huge coal ship arrived as we were eating just to provide entertainment. I can’t help wondering about conditions on board these ships as there seems so little space for people aboard them, just a massive hold and little else. I imagine the crew sleeping in cramped conditions with no privacy, no union to protect them, basic food and much loneliness. Perhaps it’s not like that at all, I’d love to know but doubt I will ever meet anyone who can enlighten me.

Today was another bumper day, Stephen and Deborah picking us up for the drive to Mt. Sugarloaf where we gathered wood for a fire and cooked the barbecued lamb and potatoes that she had brought preceded by cheese, crackers and olives. We spent the afternoon around the fire, toasting marshmallows and sharing stories. Stephen downloaded something onto John’s phone which means I can track his whereabouts, just in case that’s ever needed. Late in the afternoon the cold came down like a curtain so we packed up and headed home, finishing the evening with drinks in the hotel bar, a whiskey, passionfruit and honey cocktail pour moi and rollicking hot chocolates and chais for my non-drinking companions. Deborah and I were both pretty buggered by about 7 o’clock so we reluctantly said goodbye till next time. Between illness and Covid we’ve seen far too little of them this past year.

June 14, 2021

A lovely sunny walk along the Harbour this morning. It’s become a habit here to identify ships arriving and departing and use the net to discover their home ports, tonnage, current destination etc. I think I could live quite happily on that Harbour edge with a good set of binoculars set up on the deck. Newcastle seems to be divided into the delicious beach and harbour suburbs with their historic houses and great views and then some pretty awful suburbs on the flat with really terrible architecture, surrounded by light industry and ugliness in general. At its best it is a beautiful city. As we were checking out John left me in the foyer holding his bunch of birthday balloons while he went back upstairs briefly and I joked that ‘I bet someone will congratulate me on my 80th’ and actually three people did. I was pretty keen to get them into the car. Unlike Noah’s where we usually stay, the service at Rydges was excellent, with someone leaping to our assistance to load the car with all our luggage and wish us safe travel. At Noah’s we were always left to our own devices. We then did the walk along the breakwall, past Nobby’s Head and right to the end, watching a Navy ship leaving as we walked. It seems that in Newcastle, as in Sydney, every second person has a dog or three, some of which looked quite mean and scary while others were the size of large rats, but loved as much as the Great Danes. We ended up back at East End Hub for lunch, a very poor decision as it turned out, they were closed for the holiday despite my checking on Saturday that they would be open. So we wandered around till we found Scotties, a takeaway fish place with outdoor seating, where we had barra and chips for John and fried mussels for me. With a 15% surcharge for the holiday it cost as much as the restaurant, if not more, but we enjoyed it and were thankful of a seat after our long walks. Met up with John’s cousin Teresa and her husband Stephen in King Edward Park, a beautiful place to sit and have a cuppa from John’s new Thermos with some of his birthday cake. Left there about 4pm and joined the 52 kilometre traffic jam that was the M1. We’ve learned our lesson and won’t do that again, we had to resort to playing I Spy to keep ourselves awake during the three hour ordeal in bumper to bumper traffic. Next time we will spend on an extra night.

June 15, 2021

Catching up with the boring after-holiday tasks like garden watering and washing but had time to fuss over a special homecoming dinner. We had pan fried trout with a sauce I made up and which I will do again: mayonnaise with anchovies, garlic and walnuts, the trout served on spiced rice with brussel sprouts and pan fried carrots. Note to self: carrots taste so much better if you don’t let water near them. Had a phone call from Brian’s daughter in Melbourne to let me know that Brian had died a week ago. When I said I was informed last week and mentioned the message I had sent regarding his choice of funeral music, she had seen that, so I am a bit confused. She said they chose not to put a notice in the paper ‘because people don’t do that any more’ so I have tried to message as many people as I can and have put a notice on Facebook with the details. A number of friends had been ringing round trying to find out when the funeral was, so I was glad I did both. I had rung the local Windsor funeral director (but it was the wrong one as it turned out) and the church, but the church gave me the wrong time, half an hour later than it is actually booked for!

June 16, 2021

Michelle kindly picked me up to go to lunch at Boronia Kitchen at Gladesville for Colleen’s 70th birthday lunch. Ten of us gathered, unfortunately the eleventh, Martha, had to cancel at the last minute when her husband Phil, just out of hospital, developed severe pain in his shoulder and thought it could even be broken. Still waiting to hear the result of that, but it didn’t sound good. The food however was top class, I had Roast Schnapper with daikon, dashi and aged mirin which was beyond delicious, followed by the daily special of Charred Pavlova with Blackberries. Wow, will add this to the list of favourite places and perhaps finish using our remaining Dine Vouchers there. I intended to use them in Newcastle but Stephen sneakily paid our bill before I got the chance.

I realise that next week I have a meeting to go to which is being held at the Australian Museum. This will involve getting a bus, the first time since February 2020 that I will have been on public transport. Better check that I still have an Opal card in my wallet. By then I will have had the second vax, but it still seems very out there.

June 17, 2021

What can I say? The saddest day saying goodbye to Brian. Having the full catastrophe of a Catholic mass eased it in one sense, the service is so much about the religion and so little about the person and soooo loooong, that it deadens the sadness eventually and you just desperately want to get out of there. The fact that the priest had a heavy accent (don’t they all now?) plus the bad acoustics made his personal reminiscences of Brian unintelligible to me and I was too far back to lipread. There were at least 150 there, including the ex mayor and councillors who were both friends and neighbours, and I am not surprised. Brian made a friend of every person he met and many of his friends became friends of mine over the years. I guess that’s the end of my connection with his family too, another sadness. One pew was taken up by nurses from his care home where he was much loved. He usually ended our conversations with ‘See you in church’ and I always replied ‘Never!’ but I guess he’s had the last laugh.

Being in that church reminded me once again about a Philistine priest who was there years ago. He removed the original beautifully carved cedar stations of the cross and commissioned a parishioner to make new ones, in nasty store bought frames. Someone stored the old ones for years hoping the church would want them back but I don’t know if that’s still the case or if they have sold them. Then he gave the wonderful cedar vestment cabinets from the vestry to someone who used to bring him a baked dinner on Sundays. He gave the cedar pulpit to the Catholic school for the scripture room, the cedar chairs were left outside and stolen and he sold the marble font. That eventually ended up in my shop so I visited the priest and offered it to him for what I had paid. No, no, no he said, ‘the parish council were so upset that I sold it and I don’t want to reopen old wounds’. He had the hide to give me a booklet on the church, with the photos showing all the magnificent 1840s inclusions that he destroyed or gave away. I hate going to that church because it just dredges up the story and he’ll never get forgiveness from me, hard woman that I am.

Wow, I just read an article in the SMH entitled Siriusly Sydney? which makes exactly the same points, in much the same order, as a letter to the editor that I wrote about two weeks ago. It wasn’t published, but this is just like the letter in long form. I hope that’s coincidence. It occurred to me that the article mentioned just two of the former residents of Sirius (the same two I mentioned in the letter), the One Way Jesus sign in the window of one unit and Jack Mundey, all of which were referenced in the letter. John says I should be flattered.

June 18, 2021

Vaccination completed at 9 am this morning. Easy peasy and out by 9.15. This was despite getting an email last night from my relative warning me of the dangers, including the ‘fact’ that 236 people have had a heart attack since being vaccinated. A discussion about cause and effect is in order but I haven’t the energy.

So far the day’s been pretty dismal. Phil is still in the San and has been in intense pain, apparently from a pathological break in his shoulder. (The pathological break is an assumption on my part, because Martha said he didn’t have a fall or a bump, it just broke). They are doing scans to see if it’s possible to do a ‘spot weld’ on the break using radiation!! I’m assuming this is to avoid surgery but I’ve have never heard of it before and will look into it. He is on opioids and it seems less likely that Martha can manage him at home. I went there this morning to take some food over and noticed wheelchair ramps had been installed. Expecting the house to be empty I was greeted at the door by a tall, dark and extremely handsome stranger who turned out to be Ven, a friend of Lucien’s. That was convenient as the casserole was still hot and I didn’t want to put it in the fridge, but didn’t want Caesar eating it either, Ven to the rescue. We had considered going to the hospital, not to see Phil but to see Martha, though when we found out that Lucien was with her there we changed our minds.

Unfortunately on the way over there, in the two lanes turning left off Aiken Road onto Pennant Hills Road we had a minor collision on the driver’s side. A white van on our right came over the lane line and impacted us side to side. John was driving my car and he immediately hopped out to speak to the young driver who had pulled over. As I was getting out of the car I heard him saying ‘Don’t worry, there’s no damage, it’s all good’. I leapt out quickly to say that I’d heard crunching metal but of course by then the fellow had high-tailed it back into his van and driven off. I was flabbergasted as John told me not to worry, ‘I looked and there was no damage at all’ but by this time John had driven off too. When we got to Martha’s I jumped out to find a scratch along the driver’s door, lots of white paint and damage to the bumper and a broken headlight. Woe is me, the guy must have thought all his Christmases had come at once.

Next we went to Bargain Hunt to deliver a wagon load of stuff to the auctions. Two Victorian paintings, an antique cast iron money box, some antique lace-making equipment, a kitchen grinder, a quantity of jewellery display equipment and more. I was met by my old pal Charles who told me that sadly new rules apply there, a minimum estimate of $200 for each individual item, so they took nought. I noticed Charles was walking with one foot at a 45 degree angle so I asked how he’d been keeping. ‘I’m screwed’ he said and the story brought me to tears. He fell off a ladder at home onto concrete and his ankle turned 180 degrees so his foot was facing backwards. When they operated and cut his foot open bones were dropping onto the floor of the operating room. So they put it back together with plates and wires but there isn’t enough bone left to make the foot easily usable so they plan to amputate his foot soon. He suffered damage to his heart as well and has had heart surgery four times to correct the resulting arrythmia (unsuccessfully) and is expecting another heart operation soon. This is when I lost it and started crying, quite unexpectedly, and I couldn’t even give him a hug. That’s three shit happenings today so I guess we are done.

June 19, 2021

Well the first vaccination had zero effect on me, but this one did. I felt mildly woozy last night but then slept for 12 hours, waking at 10.30 am, to find that John had been repeatedly checking since 7 am to see if I were breathing or not. He was very pleased when I finally got up, totally shocked by the time, saying that he was worried about how he would manage if I had died and asking whether he should have rung an ambulance or Bob if I had. Glad to be alive after that conversation I did toast of Italian bread with cream cheese and chili jam for breakfast (he had waited for my ascension to have breakfast together).

Soon we got a message from Martha to say that Phil has been moved into palliative care at the San, so I am assuming efforts to ‘spot weld’ the break have been overtaken by his deterioration. What a bloody awful year this has been and looks like continuing to be. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so glad to see the back of 2020. This Delta variant is more than 50% more infectious than the original, the latest outbreak in the Eastern suburbs showing camera footage proving that just walking past an infected person in a department store or sitting at another table in a coffee shop is all that’s needed to be infected. Hotspots have been declared locally too, at the Northmead Club, walking distance away, Plants Plus where I bought a tree two weeks ago, Spotlight and the Hills Super Centre which we visited in Castle Hill last week. We were planning to go to the cinema at Castle Hill last Friday but cancelled in light of all of this. I am currently planning to go to a meeting in the city on public transport next Tuesday (first time on the bus since February 2020) but it’s just a case of wait and see how it all evolves.

Caught up on my book reviews, 3 needed doing, and left Tripadvisor reviews for Rydges Hotel Newcastle (a 5) and their restaurant (a 1). I always feel so virtuous when the book reviews are up to speed, but am trying not to think about my wagon full of good stuff that the auction house won’t take. Perhaps my mate David Barsby at Artarmon might help, he owes me a favour, but I am not at all confident.

June 20, 2021

Last night we went to Thai Skybar Restaurant at Roseville for Ann’s birthday, along with her parents and two of her friends. We had a private room so it made conversation easier. One very weird thing was that the toilets had not one, but two toilets, facing each other. We all thought it hilarious but John didn’t notice at all.

Today we were at St. Mary’s Cathedral just after 9 am for a ceremony giving Terry a Dempsey Medal, a high order for lay Catholics who have given outstanding service to their parish over many years. John asked me how to get there from his place where we stayed last night and I told him it was exactly on the way to St. Vincent’s Hospital, to which he goes unaided every month at least. That journey passes the Cathedral, yet he couldn’t work it out when the destination was different. He got there in the end without much help as I am trying to get him to think his way through gaps in his memory without relying on me automatically. We saw the last of the 9 am mass and at the end they played an extraordinary piece of music on the organ, a booming, almost atonal piece which sounded like something from the soundtrack of a horror movie, but it was mesmerising. I was dying to know what it was so I can listen to it again, but the fellow who promised to find out for me was never seen again. I intend to follow it up though, by phone or email. Terry’s high mass began at 10 am and went till 12 noon and the Cathedral was packed, so clearly there is no shortage of the faithful despite everything. I had said Brian’s mass was long, but it was nothing like this one! The organ and the singing were divine, no pun intended, but boy those Catholics can go on, it felt as if I had time-travelled to the 15th century, which I guess was interesting in itself. Archbishop Anthony Wetfisher gave the sermon and I must say his elocution is nigh on perfect, enunciating every word perfectly and slowly, so I had no trouble picking up every word. At one point John turned to me and asked ‘can you remember what Jesus was tried for? I know there was a trial but that’s all I can remember’, this after eight years of theology. Afterward we went to Terry’s but John’s Satnav was trying to take us onto the Cahill Expressway headed for the Bridge to get to Rockdale, so we turned that off and used an iPhone which wouldn’t talk so I had to follow it on the screen. However we got there eventually after much frustration and swearing on both our parts.

Many of Terry and Jude’s family turned up at the house to celebrate and his daughter Maureen went out for pizzas for twenty or so people. So much for Terry not having visitors due to his chemo. They are such a warm, welcoming mob, from the oldies to the kids. One little guy spontaneously donned gloves and washed up as if that were the most normal thing in the world to do unasked, he looked about seven. But my most interesting conversation, barring Terry, was someone I’d met a few times before who works for the Crime Commission. I commented that he was likely having a busy week and he explained a bit about how they work and the feud between the Hamzy and Alameddine crime families, which I of course found fascinating. He confirmed what I’d been told from another source entirely about the linkage with serious crime and the unchecked mass migration of Lebanese in the 1970s. The Fraser government’s decision to allow migration by people who were not refugees became known as the “Lebanon Concession”. All they had to do was to state that they were fleeing the civil war and that they had a relative in Australia. Many Lebanese from deprived rural areas learned of Australia’s Lebanon Concession and decided to seek a better life in Australia, few if any were refused. They comprised Sunni Muslims from northern Lebanon and Shias from southern Lebanon, long time foes, a high proportion of whom were illiterate. The balance between Muslim and Christian applicants rose quickly to 90 per cent Muslim as the Christian mostly preferred to stay in Lebanon. It is the children and grandchildren of these migrants, largely settled in the south-western suburbs, who are now the main targets of the Crime Commission. I hadn’t realised that the normal right to remain silent doesn’t apply to Crime Commission matters, if you are hauled in and asked a question but refuse to answer, or lie, you are immediately charged with perjury. However what you tell them can’t he used against you in court, which seems very different to usual procedure. He spoke of people casually mentioning that they had killed a person here or there. I could have talked to him for hours.

June 21, 2021

Went to see June Again at Castle Hill’s poxy cinema, the decor of which gets worse every time I go. Who wrote the rule book that cinemas have to be so appallingly tasteless? The film was a bit of a tear-jerker but with some good lines and had the bonus of being set in Sydney. I hope it gave John some heart as it was about a woman with dementia who has a reprieve from symptoms and reengages with her family. He had said he wanted to see it when we saw the shorts some time ago but had forgotten that.

While there I got a text that indicated that something was wrong and after checking my emails I found that Phil had died last evening. He had dictated a message to Martha to be sent out to certain friends after he died and we had both received that while in the cinema. I feel so sorry for Martha, but wouldn’t have wanted him to suffer any longer than he has. I got a call from Martha later and we discussed his wishes re a funeral (he didn’t want one) and his decision to offer his body to the hospital where he was primarily treated, for research and education on his rare cancer. He was told 10 days ago that he only had months to live, it’s always a hard call, but I think they usually err on the side of optimism. However unlike a body donation to a university, he will still be buried afterwards at the Sydney Natural Burial Park located at Kemps Creek. Martha plans to have a memorial at their house later.

Ann was coughing mightily at her birthday dinner on Saturday night and assured us all that it was ‘just bronchitis’ which she gets every year. Today she texted me that it is actually a ‘really bad cold’ which she caught from her daughter who had it the week before. I will go nuts if I get the bloody thing, on the cards as I was sitting right opposite her at the table.

June 22, 2021

My first trip on public transport for 15 months was almost aborted when Andrew Constance appeared on the early news talking about the particular Covid risks aboard buses and mentioning Baulkham Hills in particular as a hotspot. But seeing I had replied in the affirmative to a fairly important event being held in a private room at the Australian Museum (and having now been fully vaccinated) I felt obliged to go. On the walk to the museum I bought a Big Issue and discovered it was just a self-congratulatory blurb for their 25th anniversary. Happy to give the money, but it isn’t the edgy mag about issues that it used to be. Typically I was there way too early but visited the Unsettled Aboriginal exhibition until the appointed time. Ah, first there I thought as I entered the room, admiring the wonderful view, but a staff member assured me I was at the wrong museum so I double checked the email and no, I was at the right one. Further enquiries led to the discovery that the event was cancelled late yesterday! I checked my emails for one from the organisation but nothing appeared. When I rang them they assured me that everyone was notified, and they were, the email arrived just now, two hours after I got home from the city, presumably it went via Kazakhstan. So, disappointed but determined not to waste the trip, I shlepped down to the Law Courts to see the Roberts-Smith defamation trial. No go there either, the court being closed to the public today for security reasons. Drat, even when I smilingly told the official that I wouldn’t put anything I learned on Facebook he surprisingly still denied me entrance. Had a laugh with the cameramen patiently waiting outside and headed off towards the bus stop, feeling disgruntled.

Later I discovered that in a nearby court Charlie Teo’s daughter Nicola had all charges dropped by the DPP after crashing into Jock Ross while driving on the wrong side of the road and then driving home to the city, later refusing to give any interview to police. Police alleged that she was driving on the wrong side of the road for at least 100m before striking the motorcycle and there were questions about whether she was on her mobile phone. He was injured massively, almost fatally. Jock was once a bad boy and a Comanchero but in recent years was well known and loved as captain of the local bushfire brigade at Wiseman’s Ferry, something he’s had to give up due to his injuries. A friend of mine is a close friend of Jock’s and has often talked about the dire effects that the accident has had on his life. Apparently the facts of the case weren’t disputed but her lawyer was mounting a defence of ‘automatism’ and once again we see the benefits of very deep pockets over the pursuit of justice. It sticks in my craw and it’s probably lucky that I wasn’t there when the case was dismissed or I might very well be banned from going to court in future.

June 23, 2021

Washed my long black woollen coat which accidentally got a dunk in the toilet when I didn’t pull it up fast enough. Judging by the colour of the water the wash was somewhat overdue, which can be the way of things when they are black. I watched Gladys at 11 am and discovered that although we are not in lockdown (as yet) gatherings in private homes are limited to five visitors, so book group is out the window on Friday. It was just after I chose what to make and checked the pantry for the ingredients. It looks as if Carly’s flight will need to be cancelled as well and Dav may cancel their weekend away. She suffers at every lockdown, as if they are checking her holiday dates before they act.

Then Martha contacted me to ask if I could come over for lunch and stay for her appointment with the funeral director at 2 pm. Kathryn from Picaluna Funerals was delightful, natural, knowledgeable and not ‘directive’, constantly asking Martha what she wanted, rather than suggesting. Martha sorted out Phil’s warm burial clothes, a sheet and blanket to line the cardboard coffin and a beanie and scarf to keep the winter chills away. She has changed her mind from no funeral to inviting people to the burial but with no ceremony as such, very informal as he would have wanted. Kathryn shared pumpkin soup with us and I was very pleasantly surprised when she toted up the clearly specified costs, 5% of the profit going to a charity of Martha’s choice, Medicin Sans Frontieres. I thought it would be a grim job but she made it a very positive experience, unlike the woman when I was organising my mother’s funeral who commented ‘Oh she was born in England. I’ve been over there for a holiday but there were too many people with a dark tan for my liking’. I didn’t say anything but gave her my best death stare and she quickly moved on.

June 24, 2021

I’ve been thinking about the young tradie sitting near me on the bus back from town on Tuesday, sans mask after the rule came back in to wear one on public transport. The driver didn’t say anything to him and I decided to follow suit after seeing that he had a large hammer hanging on his belt and he looked a bit aggro. Just before he got off he dropped some coins onto the floor accidentally and when he walked towards the door I called out to him that he had dropped money. He positively glowered at me and I decided I had made the right decision about not mentioning the mask. When an old lady got on at the next stop I told her there was some money under her seat and she happily scrabbled it up.

We finally got John’s rego sorted, what a saga it has been. Not because there was a problem, just that John has been so mightily confused about the process, repeatedly asking what has to be done. Even after it was all completed he was asking Alex whether we needed to go to Service NSW and what else he had to do. Our beautiful mechanic Alex wouldn’t accept the $115 for the rego check and a small repair that was needed, it’s just impossible to press money onto him at times and it gets embarrassing, anything under about $150 or so he won’t accept. The staff tote it up, I go to pay and he gives them the nod so they won’t charge me. I’ve never come across it anywhere before and when I insisted on paying today he said ‘Shhh I’m talking to my boyfriend on the phone, don’t interrupt’, beaming across at his wife who also works there. He loves us and we can’t work out exactly why.

We went to RNSH for my monthly blood test, some 13 days late because I’ve just been too busy, and there was a long queue just to get into the place. Then we went to Barsby  Auctions nearby with the same goods that were rejected at Bargain Hunt a few days ago. To my great surprise they accepted almost all of it. What a turnup for the books, BH was always happy to take almost everything and BA was the upmarket firm, how times change. We did a Woolies shop on the way home in case we go into lockdown soon, but didn’t buy a single roll of toilet paper so we felt virtuous.

June 25, 2021

Made a Chestnut and Almond Cake to take up to Alex, our mechanic. During the making I was fielding a few texts from Dav about the lockdown, as I was supposed to be going in there tomorrow but she checked and the locked down suburbs can’t have visitors so that’s out. Millie was so looking forward to Carly and moi looking after her this weekend, but Carly can’t come due to the outbreak and now I can’t even go there for a day visit. At the same time I was fielding emails from Martha about catering arrangements for Phil’s ‘not a funeral’ on Monday. She has wisely decided not to explore the club option, considering that the suburb where the cemetery is located is the one where 17 out of 30 party-goers have so far come down with Covid. I suggested my doing sandwiches but she felt it was too big a job for one person, so then I countered with the idea of buying numerous long Subway rolls and just slicing them up. She liked that idea so I will change tack and do a cake instead. Which brings me back to Alex’s chestnut cake….when it was nearly cooked I found the chestnut puree measured out in a bowl, but it didn’t actually get into the cake, so now it is an almond cake, the other main ingredients being ground and chopped almonds. I will use the chestnut puree to do the same cake for Monday but hopefully with all the ingredients present. It just doesn’t work if I cook without focussing totally, all other things have to wait, including John asking ‘How long is it till lunch?’.

I haven’t had time to focus on the building collapse in Florida or read any articles as yet. But the first thing I thought of was the book The Water Will Come which so impressed me a few years back. It explained why the lower east of the United States will be more affected by rising water due to climate change, with the Gulf Stream having a big effect. It was complicated science but from memory had to do with a faster Gulf Stream pulling water away from the US east coast and as it slows down it wells up, raising sea levels there. Some US sea levels on that coast have risen 3 or 4 times the global average. But I distinctly remember the author saying that condominiums in Florida for example will find their subterranean carparks flooding and was amazed that such building were still allowed. Also the ground will become waterlogged, causing buildings to slowly sink….. Perhaps this may end up being faulty workmanship, though that’s hard to believe in a building that they said last night was built in 1981. But I hope they start to look seriously at the fact that all of that area is probably at risk now, because professionals who have highlighted the risks, according to the book, have been ignored by the Republican government who are climate change deniers.

June 26, 2021

I am currently reading Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna and I’m finding it harrowing. The descriptions of child sexual abuse and the interior dialogue of a person who is clearly mentally ill is just excruciating to read, but I highly recommend the book regardless. Decided to reread The Water Will Come when I can get it from the library as it is so topical now after this building collapse. I had not realised till I read it that developers are still building high-rise apartments on the water’s edge in Miami despite the now regular flooding with every king tide. The author discussed how reclaimed swamps now support skyscrapers, as in this case, and what that will mean in the future. But it is the scientific explanations that I find I can’t remember well enough. It appears that many of the missing fall into two large groups, central Americans from Cuba, Venezuela etc and Jewish people. One chilling story emerged of a man on a business trip to Washington whose wife rang him at 1.30 am to say that the building was shaking and it collapsed as they spoke. Just unbelievable, he’ll never get that call out of his head.

Well Gladys has done what we were all expecting and called a lockdown, but it is for two weeks, longer than I was expecting. It was obvious that they were all rattled at the 11 am presser so this was pretty clearly coming. Funerals are exempted so presumably Phil’s will go ahead on Monday. News that a miner in the Northern Territory is infected is a big worry, especially as it appears he caught it in quarantine. I guess now I have no excuse not to list some of my stuff on eBay, something I have put off doing because I don’t want to go back to work mode, but I have no excuse with a vacant diary for the next two weeks. So I started with just one thing this afternoon, a pair of Chinese marble BaoDing balls which are very decorative but which were used as some sort of meditation aids I think. I will begin with the rejects from Barsbys this week, the few items they wouldn’t take, then move on to some store room bits. I rang John whom I knew wouldn’t be watching our Glad and told him he needed to decide whether to be alone at home for two weeks or to put up with me for two weeks but he needed to decide before 6 pm. He’s decided to come here, after he only left today at lunchtime.

June 27, 2021

John has been waiting and hoping for some response from his daughter after he sent a parcel containing a gift-wrapped woollen poncho and a pair of insulated winter gloves for her birthday, but the day came and went with no response, though he knows it was delivered. His phone calls on the day went unanswered. His pain is a daily one unfortunately but his birthday and hers are especially difficult times.

I finished Infinite Splendours last night and it was literally heart-rending. I don’t think I can be with a mentally ill person again without those images coming back to me. But I would hesitate to recommend it to people who have had certain experiences described in the book, it acted as a trigger for me so I can’t imagine what it would do to them. We travelled with Lawrence through his life, in many ways though he was always the ten year old we met at the beginning.

Perhaps the book was the reason I couldn’t sleep last night but I’m more inclined to think that it was Phil’s funeral tomorrow, coming so closely on top of Brian’s and also thinking about Terry’s recent diagnosis. His family is an interesting mix, Terry eight years in the seminary, then a priest for some time and then six years in Geneva studying to be a Jungian psychoanalyst. He is urbane, gentle, philosophical, metaphysical and always up for a deep and meaningful on life in general. His brother and sister took different routes, his brother selling and servicing venetian blinds, his sister a homemaker, both valuable paths. But seeing them interacting the difference is stark, however the family is clearly close and loving. There are many paths to the top of the mountain and it is wonderful to see people who are comfortable with others’ choices.

June 28, 2021

Sue arrived from Killcare in time for us to set out for Phil’s funeral in plenty of time, according to Mr. Google at least. Traffic was heavier on the M7 than we expected, there are only 16 exemptions to the lockdown I was thinking, but that still leaves an awful lot of folks out and about. We came across a minor roadworks detour but arrived to some confusion about where we were to be going, partly caused by an inadequate map and partly due to a sign showing the way to the funeral of Philip Copper, not Cooper, but we eventually found the right place. All of that meant we were far from the first there, despite our good intentions with Martha handing out the brochures that I was supposed to be doing. The burial field was much smaller than it looked online, but the upside was that we didn’t have far to walk to the graveside. The cardboard casket was set up as planned with textas for guests to write their final messages to Phil and we did so immediately. John soon went over to the grave site and peering into the hole asked the diggers ‘Where is the body?’ to which they patiently replied ‘Over there in the box’. ‘Oh yes’ John exclaimed, ‘I just signed it’. I’m sure that story will do the rounds of the diggers, but in any event, it will certainly do the rounds amongst our friends as John can now see the funny side. The service went off well with Carol officiating, an extraordinary mix of informality, respect and reverence with loving friendship thrown in. I can’t praise the funeral director Kathryn highly enough, so much so that I’ve booked her for mine (on a date yet to be confirmed) and checked that she’ll travel as far as Gerringong. Tick.

Sue, John and I chewed the fat for the afternoon in front of the fire, the first time I’ve put it on this winter now that I have my carbon monoxide meter set up, telling Phil stories. We followed up with a simple dinner with a special wine with which we toasted Phil. Whenever I go to the bottle shop at Berry, and sometimes also at Leura, I ask the owner to choose half a dozen good bottles of red, after telling him my preferences as to grapes and areas. These are my special occasion wines and last night’s, the last from Berry, was a ripper. A John Duval Wines 2015 Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre which I will try to buy again when next we are there. Cellar 5-6 years, he told me and by chance more than plan that’s exactly what I did.

June 29, 2021

Sue told me she always gets up at 5, which I certainly wasn’t going to do but set the alarm to 6.45. She appeared in time for a hot breakfast about 8.30 and we stoked the coals of the funeral again before moving on to other topics including the many late texts last night from Ann asking (yet again) why she hadn’t been invited to our various birthday celebrations. I pointed out that apart from John’s 75th and his 80th both our birthdays are usually celebrated at a favourite restaurant, on our own. She still wasn’t happy so I quoted Oscar Wilde’s dictum: ‘If a friend of mine gave a feast, and did not invite me to it, I should not mind a bit. But if a friend of mine had a sorrow and refused to allow me to share it, I should feel it most bitterly.’ She neither agreed with the concept nor understood it, so I really had to give up explaining at that point.

A sleepless night after going over silly things that seemed perfectly sane at the time. Like why did we leave Phil behind? why didn’t someone stand vigil overnight? won’t he be cold? Of course by morning that all seemed pretty obvious, but it gives some idea of how a death throws us off kilter, two in two weeks seems too much, but I guess I had better get used to it, it’s the price of living past the three score and ten.

June 30, 2021

Oh my, I actually got a traffic fine in the mail. I thought it must be a mistake, but no I checked the date and I had taken John’s glasses up to Ralph to fix, went up the hill past St. Bernadette’s School and apparently I was a bit over the 40 kph limit at school exit time. As well as the $203 fine it puts up my third party insurance on the car for three years but as they say, you do the crime and you do the time.

I read in the news today that the nurse in Queensland who caught Covid at a hospital where she works caught it from a man who has made multiple trips out of, and back into, Australia during the pandemic, staying in hotel quarantine in Brisbane each time. In South Australia a family, all suffering from Covid, came in this week on a chartered jet and went straight to hospital. These exceptions were all approved by the federal government. This is what encourages people to flout the rules, as ever one rule for the rich and well connected and one for everyone else. We went up to get the food shopping at Baulko and although all the clothing shops were closed the el cheapo shop was open and I wondered why cards, decorations, plastic containers and flowers, plant pots and their motley assortment of goods qualified as essential items? Bigger brains than mine work these things out and I guess there can be loopholes. One job I really do fancy in all of this is contact tracing, I would enjoy that detective work a lot I think, but sadly at my age I am over the hill for just about everything.

July 1, 2021

Kenneth has been ringing me all het up about his daughter’s situation with their foster child reaching the age of 18 next month. She has had him for 11 years and the problem is that the allowance she gets for him is usually a major part of the family’s income and now her husband has lost his licence and therefore his job, the allowance is 100% of their income. I keep telling K. that it’s up to them to work it out but I now discover that he has been subsidising them financially for some time and once this payment ceases they will be down on their uppers, having spent all of their earnings. The British system seems incredibly generous now that I know how much they are receiving. Having looked up the NSW rates, I find that they get in pounds per week as much as people here get in dollars. But it’s sad to see K. so perturbed about it all.

In more bad news from the Odd Dart, my friend Anne recently broke her arm getting off a bus. When she said that she didn’t bump it or fall, I theorised to myself that the only two possibilities were cancer or osteoporosis. Now further investigations have diagnosed the latter, finding that the same thing is now threatening to occur in her leg. I don’t know how Anne would cope if she became disabled, she is an extremely private person, living alone with her books in a 17th century stone cottage in a village and happiest when she is not around people, or folk as she always calls them. She is hardly shy, but just finds many people so annoying or stupid and she is anything but that. I can only hope that treatment is possible and that it works fast, but I can’t say I’m too confident.

We watched the video of Phil’s not funeral and cried again. But were so impressed by the filming and particularly the editing. He was in the background barely noticed, but turned out such a wonderful result. I wondered if I could book him for mine but then decided it would be a bit pointless if I can’t watch it!

July 2, 2021

A bit of a fuss this morning when my internet, landline and mobile all went off together. I assumed it was an Optus problem and after some considerable time it rectified itself, apparently they had a massive outage. It meant that John couldn’t Zoom in to see the funeral of a friend in Canberra, yes another, which was unfortunate timing. But he has a two hour Zoom meeting with his seminary classmates this arv and hopefully it will stay afloat till then.

Dav has asked if I could mind Millie while they get their vaccinations tomorrow arv so I am making a curry for them to take home because she feels, rightly I think, that having dinner here afterwards breaks the spirit of the lockdown. They were going to take Millie with them to Olympic Park but an email today tells them not to bring children, so if needed the bobbies can be told that the visit here was necessary in order for them to get the vaccine. A segment on the teev last night explained that in New York, you can just ring the authorities and they send a vaccination team to your house, they even turn up at sports events and vaccinate all comers, while we give it out at some inconvenience to the recipients. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the video online of the owners of a Bowral organic food shop being trundled into a paddy wagon and fighting the police all the way, with much scuffling and swearing. They had installed a sign outside their shop  refusing entry to anyone wearing a mask or anyone who had been vaccinated. (It looked as if it were straight out of southern USA, but no, we have our home grown idiots thanks very much). The poor cops talked to them for an hour and a half inside the shop, trying to explain that their actions were illegal, but they refused to take the sign down or close the shop. A customer filmed their arrest and put it online and it made me glad that I didn’t go into the police force, though I briefly considered it. I made the assumption then that a regular anti-Vietnam protester wouldn’t get past first base and I still think that was the case as I was filmed often. When the government and the people are on different sides on an issue the police have to side with the government right or wrong and I don’t think I could stomach it, even though in this case they were unscientific fools. It raises so many questions around freedom of speech and freedom to be a numbskull. Just sometimes the dingbats are right.





































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