Sunday, 25 September 2016

A walk on a busy Sunday morning

When I headed out for my walk this morning it was sunny and warm, and it had rained earlier in the morning. There were puddles on some of the pavements, and the corners of the buildings were damp. I went past the homeless man across the road from the casino, and he had little blocks of different-coloured glass near his collection hat; it was a cap that had just been turned upside down for people to throw coins into. The man himself was asleep on the footpath and people were walking around him.

I'd like to see him trying to sleep on that pavement on a work day, I imagined to myself. After getting through Darling Harbour I saw a plastic syringe without a needle sitting on the parapet next to a green, transparent plastic spoon on the bridge at Liverpool Street over Harbour Street. There were drifts of sand up Goulburn Street where the cars had pushed it aside from the wheel tracks.

Dixon Street south of Goulburn was busy as usual on a Sunday morning, with all the restaurant tables set out on the mall for people wanting to sit down and eat Chinese food. Some people were already sitting at the tables, waiting for their food. A yum-cha place near the top of the hill only had a few people sitting outside at tables.

Harris Street was almost deserted, with only a few people walking along. There was an Indian couple - aged in their twenties - walking up Harris Street and the man was dragging a wheeled shopping basket that had loose wheels. I felt like going up to him to tell him about the situation, for what good is a shopping trolley that has wheels that do not turn?

The airborne seeds from two days ago had all settled down and were lying in patches in the gutters and around the bases of the trees standing in their plots cut into the pavement. Some seeds were caught in the cracks between pavements. In any case, they were not flying around as they had been a couple of days before. Now they were all sitting quietly in silence as the world moved past around them.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Flying seeds!

When I was coming to the end of my walk today - a windy, warm day in spring - I could see thousands of seeds from the trees that line the street flying in the air. The seeds congregated on the dry footpaths, creating eddies and whorls as they slipped along on the torrents of air. Harris Street was replete with the moving currents of seeds shaped like little umbrellas. The seeds have a hairy fringe that allows them to catch the slightest breeze. In the strong wind as we had today they were shooting in streams through the air, catching the light.

It reminds me of the changing seasons. Soon I shall be in Japan in the autumn, watching the cold weather come on in the evenings as I catch the train back home in the evening to my hotel from where my family lives in northern Yokohama.

When I called the travel agent yesterday the young woman who answered the phone told me she was Brazilian, and so would not have any trouble with my name. She said "amazing" all the time. Like, all the time. "Do you have any preference for a place to stay," she asked me. "I want to stay at the Excel Hotel Tokyu Shibuya," I said. "Amazing," she replied. "And have you got a budget?" "No but I am only booking the flights and the hotel and I think the hotel is about $250 per night," I told her. "Amazing," she said.

She asked me if I was from Brazil and I had to tell her that my grandfather had come to Australia from Africa in 1924. I can't remember if she said "amazing" in reply to this, but it's highly likely. But it is amazing that he came here when he did, at a time when even immigrants from Southern Europe were rare. White Australia. Yay. Not.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A rainy day out

In a positive mood because I had finally decided that I would travel to Japan to see my kids, I went for a walk as usual, heading down through Darling Harbour. Under the Western Distributor there were three schoolgirls in uniform with packets of McDonald's chips in their hands, and they were starting to run because one of them had foolishly given a chip to a seagull. As a consequence, a dozen other seagulls had started gliding in their direction through the pre-lunchtime crowd. As I walked away I could hear their squeals and laughter as they negotiated this new obstacle in their progress.

The seagulls in Darling Harbour fear nothing, and noone.

A little later, in Dixon Street, I saw a McDonald's chip packet on the pavement with a 'Monopoly' label on it. "That's about right," I thought cynically to myself as I walked past this potential cultural relic announcing something in the way of the downfall of Western civilisation. What we throw away, I mused, tells as much about us as what we keep. It reminded me of the inspirational video on Facebook that someone had posted overnight, and which I woke up to in the News Feed in the morning. I had watched about four minutes of the video before shutting it down, irritated by the blase rendition of passe cliches that it represented. What we ignore tells us as much about us as what we faithfully consume to the end ...

But it was true of course by this time of the day that I had nothing specific planned for the rest of the day. What would I be doing in the afternoon? Inspirational videos that might make a difference in my life are surely things that I can benefit from. I really wanted to be a poet. And to see my kids in Japan. Easy things first, then. First the kids, then the poetry. I thought - now that the probate has been granted - that it was a good time to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. The drudgery of executing my mother's Will was as nothing compared to the rewards that awaited if I played my cards right. It had been - what? Three years? - since I had seriously written any poetry. I had given up partly because of the move to Sydney - moving home can be very traumatic - and partly because of the lack of recognition. But wasn't I just giving in callowly for shallow reasons?

As I came up Ultimo Road it started to rain so when I was at Mary Ann Street I caught a cab back home, ducked into the sandwich shop, and bought a schnitzel roll and some chips. If you want to plan your future, I reasoned, you have to have a full stomach to do it on.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Catching up with an acquaintance

Last night I set the alarm for 8.30am because I had an appointment in Glebe this morning to meet with an acquaintance I had done business with back in 2013 and -14. It was at that time that I had visited Ecuador, where this friend was living at the time. I had also met his wife and another man, who was studying American Indians in their local areas.

When I arrived at the cafe in Glebe there was noone there so I hung around outside to wait in the street until he arrived. After a while he appeared and we sat down at a table outside and ordered coffees. Conversation took off as we caught up on what had happened since we had last met - in 2013 in Ecuador - until we were surprised in our discussion by the other man who had been in Ecuador three years earlier, and who now sat down with us to order some breakfast. I ordered a salmon special, my friend ordered corn fritters, and the new gentleman ordered smashed avocado on sourdough bread.

Sydney is really a small town. Imagine the odds of the three of us meeting here - even though two of us had organised to meet there - on Glebe Point Road in the morning three years on from our first meeting in Quito, Ecuador. There is something magical about Sydney and the way it organises things for us, despite our prior planning.

The three of us talked for an hour or so then I made my excuses and left and made my way back down Bay Street, through Wentworth Park, and along Wattle Street, then past the Fish Market and home. I lay down when I got home and slept for a while. The intercom might have buzzed - I'm not sure - but I will check the letter box in the morning (I am awaiting a delivery of wine). After a while I got up and opened the mail I had collected from the letter box after returning home in the morning. Then I called Medibank Private health insurers to tell them that mum had died, as I had received an invoice from them for mum's health insurance. I also paid an amount for strata levies using my internet banking interface.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

A rainy Sunday at home

When I awoke early this morning to a bad dream I got up and made myself a cup of coffee, planning to drink it then go back to bed and so miss out on the rest of the dream that was troubling me. Which is what I did. I eventually got up at around 10am and went out the back to the library to see outside (the scaffolding is still up out the front windows). I had an inkling that it was raining. It was. I went back to the computer and spent more time on social media instead of going out for a walk.

Eventually, I went back to bed and dozed for a couple of hours. I had only eaten two slices of toast with Vegemite in the morning - usually I don't eat any breakfast - but now as I was lying there in bed I realised that I was peckish. I put on shoes and a slicker and headed out, going first to the convenience store to use the ATM, then heading up the road to the Vietnamese cafe where I ordered a chicken pho to eat in.

Also in the restaurant was a young couple with a baby in a stroller. (Some people call them buggies.) At some point the mother - I assume it was a married couple with their baby - started to sing 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' and laugh at the same time, alternating between singing and laughing. Her bubbly laughter filled the restaurant. I contemplated as to when the song had been written. The doubt expressed in the song about the nature of stars made me think that it must have been written after the great astronomical discoveries of the 16th century had become more well-known in subsequent ages. It might have been a 19th century composition, I mused. But after a while the woman stopped and the young couple got up to leave.

I walked back with my umbrella open against the fine rain that was falling. The air was fresh and brisk, there was no sun at all. I came home and went to bed, then, unable to sleep, I got up and ironed the shirts, and put away the laundry I had done in the morning. Then I poured a glass of wine and sat down to write a blogpost, as you can see.

Friday, 16 September 2016

A drive out to visit St Peter's in Watson's Bay

This morning I went out to St Peter's Church in Watson's Bay to drop off mum's ashes for interment. As I have mentioned beforfe here, St Peter's has a columbarium - a reserved place for dead people's ashes with gardens built into it - where my grandmother was also interred in 1995. 21 years later I went back with mum's ashes. My brother and I had chosen a niche close to granny's as mum's final resting place.

For the past two months mum's ashes have sat in my hallway near the bedroom, in fact not far from a portrait of granny I had made in 1981 in acrylics. Granny had kept a weather eye out in the hallway in case of any nocturnal visions. Many a time I had gone to the loo at midnight in the dark with the fear of the other world in my veins. Granny kept me safe, I suppose, though I never actually felt anything malevolent emanating from mum's ashes sitting there - as they were - in a white paper bag on the floor.

To get to St Peter's I went out down Cleveland Street and up to the Bondi Junction Bypass - near to which a highway patrol car sat threateningly by the curb - and then down Old South Head road all the way out to the peninsula where the church is situated. It's a different road now, with more traffic than there was in my day. There are lots of SUVs turning and parking by the curb along the main road. People honk at each other in the crowded conditions (which I thought is a bit unnecessary) and zoom around when they have right of way. Or even when they don't. People out in the Eastern Suburbs feel entitled to drive like this, and I was glad to get to the turn-off to the church on the old road. I turned into the driveway and parked the car.

The first thing I noticed was the new building (see pic) which has been built in the place where the old kindergarten hall used to be located. I remember going to kindergarten at St Peter's, associated - as it was - with Cranbrook. We had naps in the hall during the day on little cots that were set up for the purpose. I remember playing on the grass out front, and getting picked up in mum's Morris Minor when she came at the end of the day to collect me. The hall was the location also of school plays at the end of the year. I might have been an angel in one of them, I can't recall.

This time, however, I walked through the swing doors and into the Parish Office set in the top corner of the new building and said hello to the staffer whom I had communicated with earlier by email. She took the bag containing the ashes and remarked on how heavy the ashes were. I agreed with her. She showed me the bronze plaque that was made - in Melbourne - for installation on the niche where the ashes will be interred in the brick wall. All the details on the plaque she showed me were correct. It had mum's name, my father's name, my brother's name and my name. It had the date of birth and of death. It had everything that was necessary. I drove home down along New South Head Road and through the Cross City Tunnel to the Fish Market.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Une journée du ciel gris

I'm not sure of my French here but it looks accurate. Or is it "au ciel gris"? Can't be helped, but I was reminded of French when I thought back to those days after mum was diangnosed with Alzheimer's in 2014 when I was not reading at all because I was just so stressed. After I started reading again I took refuge in books by French people, or about France. I remember I wanted to find the perfect expression of the flaneur - the person who just walks the streets during the day or night observing what goes on around.

Today I was in company. A woman dressed head-to-toe in comfortable, concealing clothing, including what looked like a dressing gown - in pink - and a grey-coloured hijab, turned around the light post ahead of me as I entered Darling Harbour and headed back up toward Cockle Bay Wharf about ten yards in front of me. There was a large crowd of school students with brass band instruments underneath the Western Distributor and she stopped her stroll to take a photo of them in their blue uniforms. Their instruments gleamed gold in the light. The filtered light, because today was overcast.

The other thing about the morning is that it had been raining earlier, which means that parts of the route I took today - which was the same route I take every day I go for a walk in Chinatown - were more fragrant than usual. This was true of the gardens of the old building of TAFE on the corner of Mary Ann Street and Harris Street. The ibis who use the garden leave their droppings on the paths inside it, and you can smell the garden - and hear the raucous birds - from the street. It is not entirely a pleasant smell.

There was a strange fragrance also up near the corner of Fig Street where the Western Distributor crosses over the top of Harris Street, because the trees there have been doing what many species of deciduous trees do in spring - dropping pollen on the footpaths.

My left ankle held up quite well today despite some twinges that manifested themselves when I was near the corner of Macarthur Street where the Powerhouse Museum is situated. When it sent signals up my leg to my brain I slowed down and "tromped" a bit on it, to show it that I was being careful - like an elephant walking - and hoping that it would take this maneuver as a sign that I was conscious of its importance in my daily life. You have to look after your ankles when you are as big as I am. When I got home I had only one slice of bread with avocado and cheese, instead of the usual two. I also had a cup of milky, cold coffee. I picked up the mail from the letter box as I came through the front doors on the street - because the Post Office have changed delivery routines from once daily to once every two days, I am less likely to check the mail than I used to - and opened what seemed important but there was only an election brochure from Clove Moore's campaign office, which I put in the recycling.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Not walking today

Yesterday while I was coming back up Harris Street toward home I had some pain in my left ankle that made me slow down my pace, and this morning after I got out of bed I could feel some soreness along the outside of my left foot when I put weight on it. For these reasons I decided not to go walking today, so I am staying at home this morning. I have to go into town tomorrow morning across the Pyrmont Bridge to go to the dermatologist, so today is a good opportunity to take a day off walking.

Also yesterday was the first time that I put on a pair of 42 trousers, instead of my usual 44s, and they fit - albeit a bit snugly - so  I wore them on the walk. (The 44s had been snug, too, before I started my walking regimen.) It's rewarding to know that the effort of walking almost every day is resulting in some weight loss.

I did the ironing this morning instead of walking, as I had just done the laundry yesterday. There were six shirts, five of which needed ironing. Doing the ironing reminds me again that I need to buy a new ironing board cover, as this one is starting to tear in a part of the outer cover near the sweet spot, where most of the contact occurs between the iron and the board's top surface (which is a metal mesh).

So having done that chore I am at a loose end somewhat, and so naturally I thought about doing a blogpost to keep myself occupied. I have also been attending to social media. There was one video that I found especially rewarding that was posted by a FB friend who lives in the Blue Mountains. The video showed a group of progressive young women participating in a discussion group where they are talking about social theory and gender politics. Then the partner of one of the young women - the one sitting at the top of the table - comes into the room and starts behaving in a way that clashes with the politics of the group. The young women who are discussing gender politics are very earnest, whereas the partner is flippant and sarcastic. She is trying to make a point about them. The young woman who is leading the discussion group makes apologies for her partner, but the bond securing all the participants together is broken by the newcomer's intrusion, and the discussion is interrupted. The video ends.

The video made me think about how Twitter, especially, used to be a lot more playful in the beginning, than it has become. The video's poster actually himself made a point like this in his FB post. To a significant degree Twitter has become a place where people tend to launch judgmental attacks on others in a competition for supremacy, and I think that this change is a shame. Things used to be a lot more loose and casual. Now, people are paying more attention to what they say, out of fear of saying something that might attract someone else's opprobrium.

Anyway, this was just one thing that I have been thinking on my day off walking. I hope to get back to blogposts in my role as flaneur later in the week. Let's hope those calories keep burning off!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Saturday in the Haymarket

When I got down under the Pyrmont Bridge this morning - after starting my walk a bit later than usual - I found there was a brass band playing for the crowd. They were playing (surprise!) a medley of Beatles tunes including 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' and 'Something' at a kind of drunken gait because they were not completely on top of the technique of brass bands. It was touching. It was like someone had turned up the "sway" control on the day and everyone who was walking through Darling Harbour had a kind of drunken lisp to their gait as they ambled along recklessly.

A motorized catamaran named 'Jillian' was skillfully pulling up in the water to the pier in Darling Harbour.

Down in Dixon Street, in the middle of Chinatown, there was a throng - an absolute throng! - of humanity and the spruikers for the restaurants down along the street were out fanning their menus in large numbers. I smiled at the little old lady trying to distribute printed material put out by the Falun Gong - who have been protesting organ harvesting by the Chinese authorities in Dixon Street for as long as anyone can remember - but didn't take anything. Across the street, near the entrance to Paddy's Markets, a middle-aged man played guitar near a sign exhorting people to support him because of a mid-life crisis.

Harris Street was quiet. I walked along, stopping at the lights at each intersection, like a robot. Walking off the calories that I haven't been taking in. I am down from a size 44 trouser to almost a 42, so I can start wearing some old clothes soon. My decision to start eating dinners in restaurants only - and not eating meals I cooked myself at home - was obviously a bad idea. You cannot control the amount of food you take in as easily when you eat in a restaurant. You are to a certain degree prey to the quantities they serve automatically to customers. I think they don't care about strange people who only eat dinner in restaurants. But who would care?

I came home and cooked some brunch. Today for a change I made avocado-on-toast with fried eggs. It was delicious. I headed for bed and had a snooze, then got up at about 3pm and got back onto social media. I turned on the TV hoping to see some news about the local government elections - I voted this morning - but there was nothing on air about it. I will have to wait until after 6pm, when the polls close, to see any results. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A change in the pattern

Normally I will walk for about an hour and 20 minutes then come home but today I changed the pattern and stopped off to have coffee with a friend. I haven't seen this friend since Christmas and even then we don't meet that often. But he dropped me a line on Facebook this morning and asked how I was so we decided to meet up for coffee.

It was a relatively warm day again today. The days are getting distinctly warmer, which makes me hope that the workmen on our building will get their jobs done and be able to remove the scaffolding that is up all along the east side of the edifice. I took the usual route down through Darling Harbour and past the crowds of school children - there seemed to be more of them today than usual - and along to the bridge that crosses Liverpool Street.

In Dixon Street there were only a few people as it was still early - too early for lunch crowds - and I could walk unheeded past the shopfronts with their loud signs in Chinese advertising real estate or food. At the corner of Hay Street as I passed the pub there was a group of older men at a table outside each with a schooner of beer in front of him. One man in particular whom I had seen while I was on other walks, stood out from his peers. He seemed to have tattoos on his neck. At least his neck was heavily lined. He seemed weathered. All of the men there seemed to be set like jewels in their places, as if that were the most natural place in the world for them to be.

In Ultimo Road I sent a text message to my friend, who I was to meet at "the corner". I didn't know which corner so I stayed at the corner of Ultimo Road and Harris Street. It ended up that he wanted me to meet him at the next corner of Harris Street - I think it is called Mary Ann Street - and when I saw him walking along the footpath on the other side of the busy road, I pressed the button to change the pedestrian signal. We ended up eventually going into a cafe on Harris Street where we sat at a table at the back and talked for about 40 minutes. We spent a fair amount of time talking about my daughter and her troubles, which is hardly surprising. He reminded me that when he and I had worked together over 10 years ago I had been having problems contacting my son and daughter. It was true. Things had changed - mostly on the positive side - and we had a good chat about how time alters all things.

After all this philosophy I set out again to complete my walk, and stopped at the sushi place on the way home to pick up some packets of sushi for lunch, which I ate at my desk with a cup of cold coffee: the remnants of the pot that I had prepared for breakfast and which had sat unfinished while I was out walking during the morning.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Day after a night out

Well I got home last night somehow. I don't remember changing trains, although I do remember walking down a passageway in what I assume was a train station. We had drunk beer then white wine then red wine yesterday over dinner. We talked about tattoos - my daughter got one and my host's daughter, who was there with the rest of her family, wants one - and the conversation got quite heated. I joined in. Probably a big mistake. Eventually I got out and my friend took me to the station and put me on a train. Then the rest of the trip - a complete blur - home.

So I got up late this morning and had some coffee as usual. I went out after putting my socks and shoes on and went on my usual walk down through Darling Harbour and up Harris Street. It was warm today and I was on auto-pilot. I got back to Pyrmont and had some ramen at one of the restaurants on Miller Street. Then I went home and had a nap. I talked with my daughter on Facebook Messenger after getting up and turning on the TV. I also did my laundry today, including seven shirts.

So it was a quiet day for me. It is Monday, which is the best night for TV on the ABC, and with dinner now out of the way I can sip a glass of wine and settle in to do some serious slothery. My friend is no doubt busy with his family. I think my daughter has forgiven me for talking about her tattoo with this family, but maybe there will be some more fallout in that regard in future. I am just happy - deliriously, deeply happy - to be inside on a Monday night in Sydney with the cold outside and the incessant rush of traffic on the busy roads. I am very aware of my surroundings and treat each object I touch with care, as if it were made out of cut glass.

Of course the reason for my happiness is due to the contrast between yesterday's dice with danger - getting home when you are insensibly drunk can be a fraught business - and today's domestic comfort. It is the difference between those two states that results in the feeling of wellbeing. Because I didn't have it yesterday, I can enjoy it now. And because yesterday I was in company I can enjoy being alone tonight.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Another quiet day

This morning I got up late as usual and made coffee then almost immediately after finishing it, I went for a walk. I took the usual route down through Darling Harbour to Chinatown, then turned right at Paddy's Market and went up Ultimo Road to Harris Street, where I turned north to go back home.

It was very windy today and I thought about the possibility of something falling over and hitting me. Maybe the Pyrmont Bridge? Maybe the Western Distributor? The large gusts of wind threw down restaurant signs in the upper part of Dixon Street, north of Goulburn Street. Measures had to be taken to keep them upright. I thought about having some noodles for lunch but then remembered the avocado that sat waiting for me in the kitchen. When I got home I would spread it on toast and put slices of cheese on top, making lunch.

People walked around in Chinatown doing their business. There were people of all sizes and shapes, even big, round people like me. Some bigger and rounder than me, in fact. Back up in Darling Harbour a big, round man in some sort of tourist outfit had steered the small child in his charge by telling it to follow the seagulls that it wanted to chase. There was always a seagull in front of them, which the man could soul the child on. "There's one! Up there!" In Dixon Street a man holding a sign was spruiking a store selling knick-nacks - a store with pink writing all over its front on the street side - in Chinese and English. When big, round Matthew walked along in front of him he switched to English thinking perhaps that a big, round 50-something like me would be interested in the wares of a store evidently targeting 20-somethings. I laughed inside.

Near the old TAFE building on Harris Street it looked like someone's closet had been emptied all over the footpath. There were clothes, handbags and containers at the bus stop. Across the road - when I had waited for the light and eventually arrived there - I could see a pair of black Ugg boots on the pavement. Who had lost their clothes? And why?

I went my way slowly up Harris Street, waiting dutifully at the lights at each intersection. The cars roared around on their incessant quest for clear passage. While waiting to turn right into Harris Street off the Western Distributor their orange indicator lights flashed on and off, alternately. Waiting to turn while the pedestrians had right of way across Harris Street. Soon I would be walking past the restaurants near Allen Street, which forms the border between Ultimo and Pyrmont. Again, I would think about my avocado sitting on the black, stone bench at home, where I was bound inexorably, like a charged particle in an atom.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mooching around Chinatown

On my walk today I as usual went down the hill at the entrance to the Pyrmont Bridge and then turned right underneath the structure, heading down alongside the tourist restaurants and Cockle Bay, passing under the motorway overpasses, and alongside the shiny new office buildings to Liverpool Street, where I crossed Harbour Street on the pedestrian bridge. I entered Chinatown at the north end of Dixon Street and headed to the Taiwanese noodle shop in one of the arcades on the other side of Goulburn Street.

They found a table for me and I ordered some seafood mix noodles then pulled out my mobile and started to look at Facebook while I waited for the meal to arrive. The waitress came back with my change in a rectangular blue plastic tray and I put it away in my wallet. A middle-aged, slight and slim, Chinese woman sat down in the seat next to mine but after about five minutes she moved away or left the restaurant. She probably thought a big, ungainly foreigner would make a mess of his soup. But a young Chinese woman soon sat down in the seat the other woman had vacated, and she ordered. Strangely, her food came before mine but I didn't say anything; it wasn't worth remarking on since it was a nice Sunday and I didn't want to make a fuss.

I finished my noodles after they arrived and then got up and left the restaurant, walking left down the rest of Dixon Street to where the tram passes. I crossed with the green light and waited on the central island for the tram to go past on its way toward Dulwich Hill. Then I walked across and around the corner into Thomas Street, then took a right at the entrance to Paddy's Markets into Ultimo Road, I went all the way down past the UTS buildings to Harris Street and waited at the lights for the signal to turn green, then turned right and north into the main thoroughfare.

Harris Street is a busy, ugly road but with gentrification there are a lot more cafes and offices along its length, despite the busyness of the main connections to the Western Distributor. So there are always pedestrians on it even though it's hardly the most salubrious of thoroughfares in the city. Frankly it could do with a bit of cleaning up. The big overpass where the approaches to Anzac Bridge lie above the street at Fig Street, where traffic comes heavily from all directions, including off the WD, is a dark and terrible place where you can imagine people getting into trouble. All sorts of satanic things. Dropped lollies. Spilled Cokes. Scattered fragments of pizza. A heel caught in a grate.

But seriously, the whole business of the Anzac Bridge is a bit of an eyesore when you get up close to it. It's alright when you're underneath it in a car moving along past the Fish Market and you can see the concrete expanses fretted away into the distance across the arm of the harbour where the bridge sits. And it's ok from Pyrmont up near John Street - close to the casino - where you can look down the street and see the towers of the bridge sitting like beacons on the horizon through the jumble of highrise apartment buildings standing there. But at Fig Street you're only a few steps away from death. I was up there a couple of days ago coming home and a little group of suburbanites navigating their way toward the attractions of Darling Harbour were crossing the street dutifully. "Who's our button pusher," chimed the elderly woman, and immediately a young girl with Down syndrome rushed up and pressed the signal button. But when we got to the next set of lights, at Fig Street, the elderly woman was holding onto the girl fiercely with both hands, evidently worried about the streams of roaring traffic and all the pressing sounds of the overpass.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Feeling more positive

Today I went for a walk again, down through Darling Harbour and into Chinatown, then back up Harris Street home. It had been a few days since I had gone for a walk due to the rain. We had some days of light rain - and some days of heavy rain as well - here in Sydney and I stayed inside on those days. I was also waiting for a phone call to bring me into the city to sign some papers. So today I felt really invigorated as I stretched my legs in the streets walking down on my usual route.

I had also been reading the third installment of Knausgaard, which is about his childhood. I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in the way the series is taking. I so much enjoy Knausgaard's recounting of his adult life. There's something so terrible about his father in his childhood that makes you want to turn away. It fills me with a kind of despair.

Not that I am comparing my childhood with Knausgaard's, but I also had a mixed relationship with my father. He was also, like Knausgaard's father, of short temper. And he let you know how he was feeling. I remember terrible anger suddenly flashing in his black eyes when we would be doing something together and I did the wrong thing. I broke the bit off a drill once and had to apologise profusely for the error, not that I meant to do it. But that was his way. He was of that older generation who meted out punishment seemingly - from the child's point of view - at random.

In general I am feeling much more optimistic than I was after mum died. In those first days and weeks there was a heavy pall over everything that would not lift. Now I feel sometimes even light and happy - a happiness that can come just from seeing the faces of different people in the street - for apparently no reason at all. I think it is the exercise that is making me feel more collected, more seated in things, and even sometimes actually happy. It is making a difference in my life. I am grateful for the nagging friends who got me out of bed and onto my feet. Here I am these days stamping the pavement in the sun and even when the clouds are threatening rain. I can sometimes feel the spatter of wetness from above as the rain falls from the sky.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Book review: Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle vol. 2, A Man in Love (2013)

In the first volume of Knausgaard's multi-volume series we learnt about the author's father, and the book ends with the man's funeral, by which time the author is a grown man. In the second volume of the series, A Man in Love, Knausgaard says that his father was one of the two biggest influences on his life. The other major influence being something to do with his character - "the fact that I had never belonged anywhere" - and is something that is singularly less objective and so is less replete with reality.

Now, in this book, we learn about Knausgaard's romance and marriage and subsequently about his small children: there is Vanja first, then Heidi, then John. Coming second in the series you might assume that getting married and having children was a major influence on the author's life, but the book specifically tells us that this was not so.

Nevertheless, the children do get their own installment in the Knausgaard series. It is written in that same relaxing, highly moderated novelistic style that we became familiar with in the first volume. There are no surprises. Nothing sticks out. The tone is even and modulated throughout to suit the reader's ear. There are a few points of tonic moment - such as when Karl Ove breaks his collar bone, near the end of the book - but these are deftly massaged back into the even membrane of the novel so that it will continue to give out a reliable, seamless tone when struck by the reader's glance.

Knausgaard is reliable even when he is not always particularly original - see his word paintings of the landscape, which he says he loves so much, for example - or poetic. The language however has this tightness but it is a feeling of rightness so that the sound evoked by it is suited to the way we have come to expect throughout. And this is his achievement: to have developed a consistency of language that will allow him to communicate any conceivable event to the reader without upsetting the apple cart. Which is why people can effortlessly refer to "the Knausgaard series" without even once uttering the undiplomatic title, 'My Struggle'. We are familiar with him, and protective and loyal. We might find a theme that he develops boring or overdone but we nevertheless keep on reading to the end because after all, what else are you going to do? It's so palatable. Comfortable. Tasty.

Although you do wonder how his wife sees his disquisitions on their matrimonial spats - events that happen in the book with a comfortable frequency. (He loves his readers more than he loves his wife; see how he keeps on working to satisfy our curiosity at her expense?) Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. If so, Karl Ove is indisputably the horse drawing it all onward. The same passivity that enables him to do more than his fair share of housework all the while that he is writing his novel enables him to write the novel in this reliable and pleasant way. His equanimity is just another sign of his dutiful and obliging nature. We are so lucky to have Karl Ove.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Miss mum but have been walking

I've been walking for over an hour each day for more than the past week. I also got a haircut, as you can probably see. The walking means I feel generally better once I get home, although I am still waking up lateish and still drinking wine in the afternoons. Nevertheless I am not feeling as depressed as I was before.

In the evening when I go to bed I still read Knausgaard. I tried reading some of his second book in the series after lunch today but it didn't feel right. I preferred to turn over and get some sleep in the early afternoon. And in fact the soporific effect of Knausgaard cannot be discounted even for those who are in the best of spirits. His highly modulated, long novels of personal experience tend to make you feel like you need to yawn, pull up the covers, and turn out the light. They're comfortable and comforting.

I am reminded of the time, in 2014, when I was reading books on and by Parisians. I wanted to find the ultimate book of the flaneur des rues in the city of lights. I remember reading book after book that I sourced online or through bookshops - even taking some special trips from the Coast to Brisbane to find the right choice - but never finding the exact book that would bring on the lazy sensation I have nowadays when I pick up the Kindle and tap on to the pages of Knausgaard. Or the time when I was reading only spy thrillers and crime thrillers, always hoping for that ideal book that would chew up the hours as I paced myself to turn through the pages in an effort to reach the end.

Reading for me is an index of mental health. The ability in the middle of the day to put a stop to the constant appeal of social media and take refuge within the pages of a book shows, for me, a healthy mind, one in balance with the world. When you cannot read you tend to go for the chardonnay and sit with busy eyes in front of the computer, watching the stream of messages go past. I don't know what it's like for you, but that's what it's like for me. Social media distracts, that's its main reason for being. Reading a book is a far more engaged form of participation where you are forced to concentrate for long periods of time, and delay the instant gratification of the tweet or the post in the News Feed.

What about you? How do you feel about the relative uses, or merits, of books and social media? I'm not talking here about news stories, magazine articles, blogposts, or journal features, but about real-life books that weigh in at on or around 70,000 words. What kind of future do books have when our lives are full of memories of dead mothers and likewise full of the blandishments of Twitter? 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Still missing mum terribly

It's been over a month now since mum passed away and I still can't shake the blues. Yes, I know that is a rather poetic way of expressing myself. What I really mean is that I'm still grieving for her. I just don't know what to do with myself. I get up now even later than before, at around 11am, and make coffee then sit down at the computer and turn it on. The reliable stream of social media temporarily nullifies the sense of nothingness that usually envelops me. I watch the messages fly past. To establish contact however usually takes some time and it all just feels that it's not worth the effort, so I don't really bother.

I might add a message here or there half in the hope someone might respond but always sure that it's pointless.

The morning creeps on and then I go out to get something to eat at midday or thereabouts. I might go to the sandwich shop to get a chicken schnitzel roll, or I might go to the sushi shop for a couple of packages of sushi. Either way, lunch is soon over and I am soon enough back at a loose end. If I am feeling really creative (maybe the warmth in the sunshine today provoked those creative abilities in me, you never know) I might do a blogpost talking about how depressed I'm feeling. This will be a highlight of the morning, but only if I'm so inclined. Usually straight after lunch I go back to bed. Or like yesterday I might crack open the wine and start drinking before 1pm comes around.

(Starting too early has its drawbacks, because you get so sloshed by about 3.30pm that you have to go to bed to sleep it off. Much wiser to pace it and start drinking at around 3pm, then you can get to dinner time - usually around 5.30pm - without having to resort to the mattress for relief. You can only take so much punishment, after all. You just get so stonkered if you start straight after lunch that you can't carry on until it's time to break for dinner.)

In the evenings after dinner I will watch the news. It will be something like 6pm ABC News 24, 6.30pm SBS World News, 7pm ABC News. Then whatever the evening throws up (I mean on TV haha). Mostly I will alternate between social media and the couch, depending on the quality of the viewing material, but except for Monday night it's actually pretty ordinary fare. Monday is good; you have Australian Story then 4 Corners, then Media Watch and then Q and A. Only on Mondays do I make it long enough to watch Lateline on the TV.

Then shower and bed, with a 30-minute break to read before dropping off into oblivion. That's the blessed state! Oblivion. When you don't have to think or worry about what to do or feel crap because of this deep sadness that envelops you in its drowsy clasp. This sense of loss. I wonder if mum ever thought about what it would be like for me after she went. Not while she was alive. She was too upbeat for that. But it's very true: my mother was a very positive person usually - except for those weeks after dad died in 2011 when she refused to get out of bed at the usual time. Anyway she would have commiserated with me briefly and reflected on that period in her own life, but she would have quickly passed over this problem to focus her attention on something else. Something full of life. Something alive. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Book review: Inexperience and Other Stories, Anthony Macris (2016)

This book of early fiction by this Australian author contains many subtle beauties. The title story, which takes up most of the space in this collection, recounts a trip to Europe by the narrator and Carol, his girlfriend. They are Australians trying to escape the mundanity of suburban existence. They are very young and inexperienced.

In Paris they meet a number of different people whose attitudes to life tell us a lot about who our protagonists are. These are amusing scenes full of complex ideas. In fact, the entire story constitutes a sophisticated inquiry into the nature of being. Who am I, the protagonists seem always to be asking. Who are you?

It seems like ages ago since those days. We all survive this kind of existence at one point in our lives or another. We strive to make sense not only of what we see around us, but of our very selves, and this striving has something heroic and beautiful about it. There is something elemental about the lives Macris' two protagonists live as they make their way in foreign countries. Strangely, we miss out on two years of the narrator's life in the UK, and after Paris suddenly he is on a plane back to Sydney. In Thailand he decides not to leave the plane, and sits staring out through the window at the night. Then suddenly the story takes us to the Bankok stopover on the "out" trip.

It's a short chapter. The narrator and Carol are sitting in a cheap restaurant in a shopping centre and they are surrounded by the sounds and smells of a strange place. They are happy in a way that perhaps they will never be again. There is something so evocative about this short chapter, with its stacks of cheap T-shirts and its sticky plastic table cloth. In this interim zone between home and abroad, the narrator and Carol find their natural environment and a kind of settlement that will possibly elude them ever afterward.

For while the notion of "Australianness" is important in the book it is essentially a story about this relationship between two people. When Carol starts to withdraw, the narrator feels things start to slip out of his control. The rest of the journey will be more problematic than the stopover in Bangkok on the way "out". The narrator is about to learn something important about himself.

The title story is long but wonderful in strange ways, and the other stories each also have things to offer the reader. There's 'The Nest-Egg', a Dostoyevskian contemplation on mortality that takes the reader on a thrilling ride through modern consumer culture. Then there's a diptich, 'The Triumph of the Will' and 'The Quiet Achiever', which focus on a man living in the suburbs of one of Australia's big cities, and tracks his progress from proprietor of a failing business to being a resident in an institution. It is not a pretty story, but again Macris is in such cool control of his material that you are entertained past worrying about the fate of the main character.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Preparing to inter mum's remains

The next phase in the process of saying farewell to mum involves placing her ashes in a final resting place. To that end I got in touch with the rectory at the parish of St Peter's in Watsons Bay, where my grandmother - my mother's mother-in-law - was interred back in the nineties after she died. It was a bit difficult getting in touch with St Peter's at first because their office is only occasionally staffed, but I at least had the phone number from the funeral directors as I had spoken to them about using St Peter's on a number of occasions when we were arranging mum's funeral.

Once I got in touch with the parish office we started to discuss how to inter mum, and to this end they sent me an email outlining the different options in terms of the location of the requisite niche, and how to complete details for the plaque that goes on its outside.

In the meantime I drove up to the cemetery where mum's remains had been cremated and picked up her ashes. I did that yesterday during the day when the traffic was not so bad, and it only took me an hour or so to do. The people there were very formal and a bit cold, but I suppose when it comes to doing something as weighty as handing over a container of human remains you have to be thorough. They needed my drivers license to start with and they also asked me what I planned to do with the ashes - since I was not using their facilities to put them to their final place of rest - and so I told them what our plans were.

My brother had agreed to pay for the interment since it had been his idea to use St Peters, he said, and I did not disagree. I had already sent my idea about what should go on the inscription for the plaque to him and he came back with some emendations, which I included in the final draft. This I scanned into the computer and attached to the email I was sending to St Peter's to formalise the arrangements. I will now wait until next week when the parish office gets back to me with instructions for the next steps to take to fix the plans.

St Peter's columbarium - where people's ashes are interred in brick walls erected in a garden-like setting for the purpose - is a sweet little locality that you can find behind the church by going down a path and some steps. There are water features, trees, flowers, rocks and plants. People have been using the columbarium to put their relative's ashes to rest for as long as I can remember - we grew up in Watsons Bay, my brother and I - and the place was even for us boys then sometimes a place of resort in our wanderings around the area on weekends. The church can be found not far from The Gap with its old-growth scrubland bush and its tram cutting, now unused, sadly. I went to kindergarten at St Peter's, was married there, and we held granny's funeral there too. It is in a real way part of the family story.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Starting to feel more normal

I've been posting from time to time about how I feel now that mum has gone. The problem of what to do in the mornings still exists but I have started to feel a bit more normal on and off over the last day or so. It's a big change in my feelings of wellbeing and for me clearly signals a new era in the process of recovery since mum passed away on the first day of the month.

It's hard to identify just what has changed over the past day or so. There is no specific cause that I can unambiguously put my finger on apart from the fact that probate on the will is now progressing. I had some conversations with my brother about the will and he seems to be satisfied with the way things turned out. That might have something to do with it, but it's uncertain because the change has been so dramatic. As for what exactly has changed, again it's hard to put my finger on it but the fact is that I don't have that crushing feeling of depression any more, a feeling that nothing was right in the world and that I could not tolerate just to be.

Being comfortable with yourself is important because a lot of other things are predicated on your ability to feel comfortable in your own skin. If you cannot feel normal then you tend to seek ways to alleviate the discomfort, and you might for example turn to artificial substances - such as alcohol, as has been true in my case - to bring you back to a feeling of normalcy. This has obvious disadvantages, especially long-term, as you then risk becoming dependent on such measures in order to maintain the feel of normalcy. Substance abuse can have such undramatic and unsurprising origins as this, it has to always be remembered.

So I feel normal walking down the passageway in the apartment between rooms. And I feel normal in the mornings when I sit in front of the computer with the TV on in the background. There is a sense of hope, a sense that things can be managed and even, perhaps, enjoyed. This sense of wellbeing is essential for me to feel normal. It might be the same for you, I cannot say, but it certainly is the way it is for me. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Still missing mum

The last post from me was on Saturday. Weekends are hardest, as I mentioned in that post, because on those days ABC News 24 only runs every 30 minutes, with reruns of existing programming filling in the gaps. This means that the ABC runs on mere fumes during weekends compared to weekdays. For neurasthenics like me - trying to cope with grief - this is a source of discomfort. I rely on the TV to get me through the afternoon and evening.

Usually I wake up at around 10am. I leave it as late as possible, anyway. There's no point in getting up earlier because even if I do the temptation will be to go back to bed straight away. So I snooze through the early morning and into mid-morning until I am satisfied that I have occupied as much time as possible in this relatively pain-free manner. Sleep is the preferred solution for those who are coping with a crisis like grief.

And I have an overwhelming desire to talk with people about mum. Especially as she was in those last weeks when the infections were becoming overwhelming. Those days when I would visit every day, instead of every two or three days, because I knew the time was limited. I knew that there was not much time left for mum. I could sense it even though noone told me anything like that. It was my intuition - this approach of the final crisis out of the minor crises of recent weeks - and it guided me in my actions during those last weeks. I stopped buying food because I was spending so much time visiting mum, and started eating at restaurants in the evenings. I still haven't gone back to regularly buying food again, except for bread and milk, which I need for breakfasts.

Outside the window the scaffolding is still in place. The workmen have been through with their drills and other equipment, preparing the balcony to receive its new balustrade. The construction crews have been moving through doing their various tasks. They have drilled holes to receive the new balustrade's upright supports. Right now the balcony is empty, but at night I still listen for intruders when I wake up in sleep because my brain is restless and unquiet. There have been no intruders of course, but the fears remain after the lights go out. I will be glad when they have packed up their tools and taken away the scaffolding so things can get back to normal. It's not the sounds they make so much as the anxiety the scaffolding creates, which, late at night, cannot be helped.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Weekends at home

Because of the way TV programming is organised, weekends at home are more challenging than weekdays. On weekdays there is a whole newsroom full of staff at the ABC producing the programming for ABC News 24 - the 24-hour TV news station of the public broadcaster - but on weekends they function on a reduced staff so they fill the remainder of the time available with reruns from the past week. Which is not as fun as wall-to-wall news. What do they think, that the news stops on weekends? People stop getting into trouble and having car crashes? What is it about weekends that makes the TV so boring?

I went up the road to have a bowl of ramen for lunch after sleeping for most of the morning. The ramen was good but when I get home I want to sit down with the TV on and drink wine and watch social media. That's what I do in the afternoons. It's like a ritual for me now - the TV on in the background with the browser windows open at Facebook, Twitter and TweetDeck, Google Plus and LinkedIn etcetera. There are a lot of windows open at my pages.

The other problem with the TV is that the volume is really low. Even when I turn the volume up to 100% it's still low because it needs to be fixed. I can't take the TV to the repair shop however because it's too heavy for one person to carry. So I have to buy a new one. Maybe when things have settled following the death of my mother I can think about spending a bit of cash on a new TV. Right now is not a good time.

The other thing that has happened is that the death certificate came through from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. This means that my lawyer can get on with the job of getting probate for my mother's will. One of the big ticket items that has to be looked after when someone dies. In the meantime I will sit here and watch TV and drink wine. Some people have very thoughtfully offered to do something together in this period of mourning, but I find it all a bit challenging. Going out, I mean. It's so much simpler to just stay at home and engage on social media like the mad thing that I am.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Still in a holding pattern ... but improving

Here I am with ABC News 24 on in the background looking after my social media accounts. My usual situation in the afternoons. It's where I go to get away from things, helped by a bottle or two of chardonnay. You can see Malcolm Turnbull here giving his press conference on the occasion of the announcement of the government's new ministry. Malcolm couldn't make it over to my place this afternoon because of prior engagements, so I had to do with watching him on TV. I'm so amusing.

It has been a week since mum's funeral. When I look back on the funeral it seems like such a little thing to celebrate - is that the best word? - an entire life. Perhaps more fittingly I have been going back over my blogposts - which started on the subject of mum in November 2014 - to read them anew. What I find is something full of life and tenderness. I am touched by the bigness that small details occupied in my life on the subject of mum. Little things like making lunch at the right time so that we could always have dinner at the same time in the evenings.

Of course it was when I was living with mum up on the Coast that I started to drink wine in the late afternoons, and on into the evenings. I would rock on over to mum's place at around 4pm or 4.30pm in readiness for preparing the evening meal. I remember what I cooked, too. There were the favourites like chicken wings roasted in the oven. Steak, mashed potatoes and boiled vegetables (the zucchini put on last because it didn't take as long to cook as the carrots). Or a nice roast beef with roast potatoes and pumpkin, served up with gravy made from the juices left in the baking tray.

I would drink while preparing the meal and while eating it too, then I would put a bottle of wine in the bag I had brought for the purpose, and carry it home to drink further into the evening, as I sat in front of the computer with the TV on in the background. Watching TV obliquely with social media to the fore, and with wine to accompany the mix, has become something of a habit.

And I remember those day trips down to Brisbane on the motorway from the Coast. About 2 hours driving outside rush hour, just a quick jaunt to the gallery to have a look at what was on in the art world. Two galleries in fact, since they built MOMA next door the the state gallery. And a sandwich for lunch at the cafe outside the state library.

Today I walked up to the post office to pick up the box of coffee that they had tried to deliver earlier on in the day. Somehow I had missed the buzzer on the front door. Sleeping probably. When I wake up in the mornings the day seems so lifeless and blank. I don't know what to do with myself, so I go back to bed to snooze through the morning if I can. If I cannot then I get up and switch on the TV and go back to social media and wait until it's lunchtime.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Returning a wedding ring to the nursing home

The first time mum went into hospital in Sydney I took off her wedding ring and put it in my pocket because there were signs up in the hospital about protecting valuables. I took it home and put it in a drawer in my bedroom. But when mum had been sent back to the nursing home and I had gone up to visit her again I noticed that she was again wearing a wedding ring. I asked her about it and she said it was hers. I took it off her hand and gave it to the staff. However another wedding ring appeared in due course and so eventually I gave up trying to wean mum off the habit of wearing them.

I never worked out where she got the wedding rings from. Had she got up in the middle of the night and wandered into someone else's room? Had someone given her the new rings? Was she swapping them for something else of value? The puzzle remains a puzzle to this day. I asked the staff about it again today when I took this final wedding ring - which the funeral directors had taken off mum's hand after her death - back to the nursing home but they didn't know the answer either. Some things can never be known, like what old people do with their jewellery in nursing homes. No doubt mum had simply looked at her hand, thought to herself that she needed a wedding ring on it, and had acquired one. Somehow.

I drove up to the nursing home this morning along the normal route. It was a leisurely drive. The car seemed to know instinctively where to go, which lanes to change into, and when to indicate to turn or change lanes. I just sat at the wheel and let things take their course, seemingly in auto-pilot. On the way back to the motorway I stopped at the Vietnamese bakery and bought a sausage roll and a pork roll. I ate them in the car, which turned out to be a bit of a risk because somehow I wiped my right eye with a finger that had touched some chili and it started to water furiously as I was driving down the Warringah Freeway. But I made it home safe in the end listening to the radio as per normal.

Later, I discovered there were some things missing from the box of photos - including an oil painting by Barbara Cameron and some old 19th century hymnals - and I phoned the nursing home to ask where they might be. They said they would get back to me in a few days.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Book review: Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle vol. 1, A Death in the Family (2012)

When my mother was in the hospital dying recently I read to her from this book - a part of the narrative where Karl Ove and his brother are cleaning their grandmother's house following the death of their father - and, also later, when she was in the nursing home I read from the book again. On the day of mum's funeral I finished reading this volume in the series. But these things are of no material interest in themselves. I include them only for autobiographical reasons.

Knausgaard has successfully made an industry out of his own life. He has, it is said, alienated a large group of people including certain members of his own family. In the event you wonder if it was worth it. The sales of the books - five have been translated and six written - would suggest it certainly was.

And people talk about Knausgaard because his success is something of a publishing phenomenon. So everyone has their opinion about him. If he is boring, he is still compelling. That is one thing I have heard people say. For myself, I almost stopped early on with this volume in the series because I feared the incipient violence of the father - I shun violence wherever I see it - but a friend suggested that I would enjoy the book. And I did enjoy it. I especially found the modulated tone of the novel a relief. Here there are no sudden rises in the tenor of the writing to disturb you. Everything is at a steady, predictable level, and it is restful to read.

Knausgaard is a clever writer who also embellishes his prose with accurate descriptions of things as varied as the way the sky looks over a town in the summer, or the way a seatbelt is fastened to its clasp. He is not afraid of any challenge, and you feel assured that he will carry you along on the platform of his narrative in a leisurely and steady pace until you reach the end. He is nothing if not stable. Which is sort of nice as there is so much bruising writing around these days. I start a lot of books and I finish a lot fewer. Mostly only books that I finish get reviewed here.

The death in the family is the death, of course, of Karl Ove's father, and most of the story centres around Karl Ove's youth or the point in his life - much later chronologically - when he buries the man. Many young people - myself included - complained (and complain) about their fathers, of course, so the trope is not unexpected. Karl Ove is also just a little bit younger than me so his cultural references are familiar to someone of my age reading the book. So there is a lot in those early parts that is close to home. Although Karl Ove seems to maintain his love of soccer into middle age, whereas I largely abandoned any interest in sport as soon as I became an adult.

All these things are highly personal, and it is true that you do develop a personal relationship with the author/main character, Karl Ove. The way he grows on you is gradual, through the general accrual of detail that goes to make up the narrative. He grows on you bit by bit until you have formed a distinct opinion about him in your mind. You like these parts about his character but you regret that he seems to have certain failings too. But he gets under your skin. The link between the author and the reader is intimate. It's something that will stay with you for a long time. It's something that only literature can make happen. It is its own type of magic.

Monday, 11 July 2016

The day of the funeral

Someone kindly gave me a bunch of white carnations for the funeral today. I brought them home and put them in water. There were ten people attending the short service, which only took about 30 minutes, and who later came next door in the funeral home to have sandwiches and sausage rolls and small, coconut-filled cakes. There were also scones with jam and fresh cream. There were jugs of fresh juice and cups for coffee.

Two people stood up to give an account of their memories of mum - myself and G, mum's housekeeper - and there were also some words from mum's niece who is currently on the road with her family crossing central Australia in a car. I spoke extempore, without notes, as did G. Clare's words were spoken by the civil celebrant, Charyl.

My contribution was basically a brief biography. I remember I was looking down at the lectern all the while I was talking. I felt more comfortable talking this way, rather than looking up at the collection of people in the room. I was a bit worried about suddenly tearing up with emotion if I caught someone's eye, so I just kept my eyes lowered during the whole of the delivery, which took about ten minutes. G told me she started to get nervous during her presentation. In fact she did very well. She said later that I could be heard quite clearly while I was talking.

After the service - during which we watched a short photo montage of images taken from my collection of photos of mum - everyone gathered outside where the casket by this time stood in the hearse. We said our last goodbyes. Clare's mother, mum's sister-in-law, guided me to the coffin and I started to get emotional. I touched the cold, varnished wood, which was a mid-brown colour, and I could see the condensation from my warm hands forming on its surface. I took back my hand and turned away from the coffin. The hearse started to move off after they had closed the swing door and moved slowly around toward to cemetery, which is located just down the road. The cremation will probably have already happened by now, or if not yet, then soon.

We all gathered in the room next to the chapel where the food was laid out. We stood around in small groups talking. The staffer in charge of the event came and spoke to me briefly about future things - including the death certificate, which he says will take the government about two weeks to produce - and then he left to attend to other things. I asked for containers to put excess food into. We had originally planned for about 20 people so there were a lot of uneaten scones by the end of the morning. Someone brought plastic containers into the room and left them near the hot-water urn. I picked them up and started to load them with sandwiches and cakes using the tongs that were scattered around the place. Others did similarly, in preparation for taking home some simple refreshments. Later, we drove down the motorway and I dropped off two friends in the city who had arrived at the event by train. Then G and I drove home through Chinatown.

When I got home I opened up the box containing the visitor's book and in it was the death certificate that was filled out by mum's GP after her death. It said that mum had died from cardiovascular collapse which had proceeded for minutes before life expired. So she had finally died of a heart attack related to the sepsis.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Feeling rather strange since mum has gone

This morning I woke up and made some coffee, then drank a cup and went back to bed hoping to resume the dreams that always punctuate my sleep, but no luck, the dreams had fled. The coffee maybe had chased them away. I tossed and turned for a couple of hours until I got fed up with it and emerged. In front of the computer I went through my Facebook feed for the past 12 hours or so and made some comments.

The laundry had to be done and I always love doing the laundry. I had washed the clothes in the morning while I was still in bed, and so I put a load into the dryer and switched it on. The dryer rumbled comfortably for the 45 or 50 minutes or so that it takes to do a load. During this time I had the TV on and was listening to it in the background while attending to social media. Then I took off the first load and put it in the laundry basket. I put on the second load - the shirts - and sat back again with the TV on above the tumble of the dryer. Room room room room room room room room went the dryer.

I tottered around the apartment until it was time to go to lunch and off I went to the noodle shop down the street which - I discovered today - is operated by a Korean who lived in Japan. His front-of-shop staff - the girls - are Japanese and the cooking staff at the back - the boys - are Korean. He talks to them in their own languages. He likes me because I always buy a beer at his shop on weekends to go with my gyouza and ramen.

After eating I came back and went back to bed to read some of my book. But it was boring and I got up and ironed the shirts, then went out to watch TV and drink some wine. I started to feel human again. The strange feeling I get when I am alone in the apartment - when I feel as though my head is located about a mile above my body - disappeared. I started to feel normal again. Not normal like I do when I am doing the laundry, but normal for when there is no laundry to do. Tomorrow at lunchtime I pick up G from the airport as she is coming down again for mum's funeral, which is on Monday. I'll have to find a tie to wear.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

All alone since mum passed away

It seems strange that there's noone to drive up the motorway to visit. I used to enjoy the approach to the motorway ramp, just down the street, with the radio tuned to ABC 702 in the mornings and the talk shows emanating through the speakers. It's very strange to be able to stay inside in the mid morning instead of venturing out to go to see mum in the nursing home or in the hospital. It has only been a few days since mum passed away but already the tremors are being felt.

In loneliness. The empty hours which previously would be filled with a sense of purpose. Now they are spent wondering what to do. Waiting for the late afternoon when the wine can decorously be brought out to sip. Waiting for someone to call, to tweet, to post. Lonely hours in limbo.

I am waiting for the funeral, which will happen next Monday, to rouse me from this torpor. I will probably cry. I have met with the funeral celebrant and we have decided that I will just talk extempore for a while about mum. Mum. Her photo with me appeared on Facebook this morning. The photo we took in 2009 when I had just moved up to Queensland to look after her. Since then we have spent a lot of time together, eating dinner, watching the corny UK TV shows she loved so much in the evenings, in the nursing home, in the hospital.

Waiting for the funeral but also waiting for the rest of the process to get through, including the proving of the Will and the issuing of the death notice. All these things take so much time and consume so much erratic attention. In the meanwhile I am sitting here with a glass of chardonnay and watching TV in the background while attending to social media. A quiet, solitary place animated by other souls in their textual brackets, as it were, in their own little boxes of sense and quotation. I watch the world go by and wait for the time for dinner to arrive. It's almost like being in company, and sometimes I talk with someone. Like you. I can talk with you.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Getting the funeral organised

This morning I drove up to the nursing home to get some clothes to dress mum in for her funeral. One of the nurses there brought down one of the care staff who normally showered and dressed mum in the mornings to select some things, including underwear, a pair of pants, a shirt, a jumper and a pair of shoes. I put them into a plastic bag I had brought along for the purpose and collected mum's suitcase - which was actually my suitcase which I had used for moving her down to Sydney - and her purse from her handbag. Then I took everything out to the car.

I drove south along the motorway to North Ryde where the undertaker's office and chapel is located. (This is where I had got lost on Saturday looking for the cafe.) I gave the staffer there the bag full of photos - including a thumb drive with some scans I had made years earlier, two or three loose prints, and a framed reproduction of a black and white photo mum had had - and explained that the person I have met on Saturday had asked me to bring them in. I also gave her the bag of clothes for dressing mum.

When I was finished at the undertaker's I drove home and then went to see my psychiatrist - we have an appointment every two weeks - who listened to me complain about things for an hour. It's always a relief to talk to him, it seems to do me good. After that was finished I dropped into a nearby restaurant to have a bowl of noodles for lunch, then I went home and lay down for an hour.

The undertaker sent me an image showing what the newspaper ad for mum will look like. So far I have had about nine responses from people who want to come to the funeral, and there might be a few more as a result of the newspaper ad. Everyone has been so kind since mum died, I have had a series of big hugs from people I have met, including lovely ones from staff in the nursing home. I don't know why I worry, but I do, so there you go.

The image that accompanies this blogpost shows a detail from a rug mum knitted some years back while still in Maroochydore. Of late she would not have been able to do work with this much detail. It is made up of a series of "tracks" of native animals with embroidered captions ("croc xing", "brumby xing") making up a patchwork quilt that is very special, and I have someone in mind who might like to receive it. I'll take the quilt up to the dry cleaners when I get some free time.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The day after mum died

I bought a democracy egg and bacon roll this morning at the polling station after voting. The queue for the voting booth even at 8.05am stretched round one corner and almost to the next. It's a busy booth, as you can guess. But I also was busy because mum died last night.

Last night I had just returned from having dinner and was in the apartment at around 6.30pm when the nursing home called. The voice on the other end was hesitant and reluctant so I knew what she was going to say before she said it but nevertheless the sobs gushed out as I answered and told them that I would not come out then but would instead visit the nursing home in the morning.

I went online and contacted my daughter and talked to her on Skype for a little while. Not long. But enough to get through that stage of grief when all you can do is sob breathlessly and helplessly from the pain. She tolerated my emotionalism stoically and I could see her lip quivering in response. It was exactly what I needed. Then I got down to making more calls to tell family members and I also made a quick Facebook post that generated a big reaction from friends and family on social media - more than I expected, and I was very humbled by the goodwill out there in the community. People had been reading my blogposts and so they were aware of what has been happening with mum.

Later in the evening I watched some mediocre British crime dramas and then went to bed where I hardly slept until early this morning, and even then it was fitfully. After getting up in the morning and voting I drove up to the nursing home and called my brother on the iPad that had been left there. I told him about all the things that have to be dealt with - from the Will to the death certificate and the funeral arrangements - and we talked a bit about the pictures that mum had in her room, which we will now deploy elsewhere.

I carried photos and paintings down to the car parked in the garage - a local soccer comp that was on in the park meant street parking was scarce when I had arrived at the nursing home - and drove to the appointment I had made at the undertaker's in North Ryde. There I parked and walked off in search of a cafe but the path just took me to a caravan park. I asked for directions and they pointed me back down the road, so I trudged back along between the forest on one side and the cemetary on the other, until I returned to my car. Then I drove up into the cemetary driveway and found the cafe, where I ordered a sausage roll and a small flat white.

Later when I had finished eating I met with the representative of the undertaker's and we went through the seemingly endless series of questions you have to answer to bury someone. There are forms to fill out and sign, some of which have to be sent off to government offices, so it's all very detailed. I could hardly imagine going through all this alone so I was glad to have the undertaker to lead me by the hand. As they say, it is a stressful time in anyone's life.

I finished up, got in the car and found the tunnel back to the city, then drove down the motorway until I arrived at home, unloaded the car and lay down to rest. I didn't sleep again. My mind is rushing with so many thoughts and worries, and now I hope that a few people will come along to the funeral which will be held at Gregory & Carr's, 14 Delhi Road (cnr Plassey Road), North Ryde on Monday 11 July at 11.30am. Just drive through the black gates on Plassey Road, there's parking inside. Drop me a line if you want to come along, as I need to get the numbers right for catering purposes.