Thursday, 28 April 2016

Book review: Before I Forget, Christine Bryden (2015)

Prior to her diagnosis of early-onset dementia in 1995 at age 46 Christine Bryden lived with an abusive husband for almost 20 years. The dementia advocate has written two other books, which have been published. In this one she tells the story of her life from her childhood until recent times, although the part here that is most coherent is the part up to when she was first diagnosed.

The part of this book that is most compelling is the part that deals with her bad first marriage. You read the book chapter by chapter hoping that the person whose life is being chronicled will stand up to the bully she lives with, say "enough", and get out. And you have this feeling many times as the story proceeds, while the relationship continues its inexorable and brutal course. It is terrible to behold. I don't think I have read another account of an abusive relationship like this anywhere else. Finally, the character called Christine gets the help she needs to get out, but it seems to take forever for this to happen.

Bryden is unusual as a person living with dementia because she has had the diagnosis for so long. In fact, early-onset dementia generally - I am assured by my psychiatrist - is more severe than the more normal type of dementia that comes with old age. Having had the diagnosis for over 20 years, she has to some degree bucked the trend. Continuing to interact meaningfully in society as an active participant sets her apart; most people with dementia end up in nursing homes as they cannot perform the normal tasks required to live in the broader community. Of course Bryden is fortunate in having a husband - Paul, who she meets after leaving her first husband - who helps her in many ways to navigate the world's obstacles. But looking at the subject from a broad perspective you'd have to say that Bryden is not typical in her class.

Regardless, she has a lot of interesting things to teach us. Because my mother has dementia, I bought this book - having heard about it on the radio (I listen to the radio in the car when I drive up to visit mum in the nursing home) - hoping it would give me insights into the disease. As my mother's carer, I have a duty of care to be informed. I also bought the book for mum but it's impossible to know if she has read any of it because of course she forgets what she has done.

Reading the book has been useful because it allows me to understand some of the feelings a person living with dementia feels in their lives. So I can better understand my mother and hopefully care for her with more aplomb. The fact that Bryden does not fit the mold is in the end irrelevant. The universe had to create someone like her in order that a person living with dementia could express themselves in the way she has done, with passion and accuracy. I regard her insights as informative and relevant.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Can't we fast-forward to the election?

I don't know about you, but election night is one of the best nights of the year for TV. It's got all the right ingredients: characters you know; a suspenseful, unknown ending; and plenty of action. And numbers. (Lots of numbers.) At the end you get a victory speech that will be sampled and replayed on the news for days and days. The whole country is watching. It's well and truly on.

Then there are the democracy sangas, the sausage sizzles. Right there where you are bound by law to be on this day of all days in the year, the folks behind the barbies are doling out yummy hot sausages wrapped in fresh, white bread. With tomato sauce on top for spice.

What's not to like? Well, there's the campaign season, for a start. In fact, they haven't even declared that there will be an election, let alone whether it will take place on 2 July. Here we are, red-hot raring to go and ready to mosey on down to get our democracy sausages and to do our democratic duty and the politicians are still faffing about with the grizzly details. It's so annoying. Why can't they take into account the needs of the entertainment-hungry populace for once?

The next just-on-two months are going to be crushingly slow for many people in the community, people who have already made up their minds - like probably the majority of people in the electorate - about who they will vote for. In the interim they have to listen to the politicians banging on, making promises that turn out to be disappointments about dental health, tax reform, education funding, disability funding and the rest. The long hello, they should call it. This endless wait for a day we can already sense in our nervous system like a bottle of top-order chardonnay sitting on the shelf in the cupboard. A day full of promises of high-calorie foods and hours of top-rating TV. A day to remember.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Book review: The Road to Ruin, Niki Savva (2016)

It takes some suspension of disbelief, for a political progressive like me, to read a highly detailed account of a conservative leader's downfall, but I did it. Savva talked at great length, and no doubt on multiple occasions, to a large number of people in the process of writing this book. It has authority and gravitas. Never mind the fact that a lot of the people interviewed for the book are lying jackasses in real life, people I wouldn't give the time of day to. I think in the end that the problem for me was the gaping void between the assumed point of departure of the writer and the point of view of the reader consuming the book.

But regardless you still get a good look at the problems that beset the Abbott government apparently from its very beginnings. One of the main ones was that all decisions seemed to emanate from a small group of select people in the leader's office, including his chief-of-staff. The type of collegial consultation that members of Parliament are apparently used to in a Westminster democracy were thrown out the door. A tiny clique was doing everything to control the message, but when the leader's popularity failed to turn around people outside that group turned on the leader and replaced him just like that.

I should be grateful that the most disgusting, abhorrent and downright putrefacent of the Liberals were those on the ideological right who stuck by Abbott through thick and thin. So Savva didn't talk to many of the really sick-making people such as Eric Abetz and Peter Dutton. For small mercies we should all be thankful. I hardly need the time before I go to bed to find itself populated by the spectres of such ghouls as these.

It's clear that Savva - who as a conservative commentator had made remarks about the Abbott government in public on numerous occasions before this book appeared - didn't like Abbott. I suppose I should like Savva. But when she says that a particular MP "shines" in their role (when I think they're just a lying turd) it's a bit hard to take the author seriously. The bigger problem, furthermore, of governments that lose office after just one term is a thing that Savva does not tackle at all. She's a conservative, after all, and can hardly be expected to use her imagination. But this phenomenon of one-term governments is something that the commentariat will have to one day really take a close, hard look at. So far noone has really made the attempt. I think it has something to do with the new public sphere in the age of social media. But a lot of people would despise me for even suggesting something like this.

Having said these things, it's quite fun to see a lying, specious, callow fellow like Abbott get his comeuppance. He fell far and he fell heavily. He regrets the move made to get rid of him. What we do find however in the book is that he had a lot of opportunities to make the changes that might have saved him and he missed all of them. He had noone to blame for his removal but himself, as Savva points out on more than one occasion.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

All alone in the deserted park today

When mum and I went up to the park outside the nursing home there was noone there. There was noone walking. There were no people with their dogs. There were no other old people out to sit in the sun. It was just mum and I, alone. I made up a song to commemorate the occasion but I promptly forgot the song when I got home, had lunch and had a nap.

But what the deserted landscape reminded me of is that mum and I are in this alone together. In the end it comes down to the two of us, even though we might on most of my visits to the nursing home get in touch with my brother in Texas on the iPad. All of the important decisions in mum's life from now until she passes from this life will be decided by the two of us. We are tied to one another with indissoluble bonds of trust. We are closer than most people will ever be with anyone else in their lives, with the exception of their spouses and their children.

I was reminded of such things again this afternoon when I was bringing mum back inside after our walk to the park. In the elevator again was the wife of the first of the incapacitated men mum had started showing affection for. He was the one she was kissing on the head. Today his wife was wearing a red dress. I think his daughter was there to visit him as well, today. There were two cups on a table in the TV room where his wife was doing something, and one was labelled "daughter" and the other one "wife". This poor woman has no idea that mum had been kissing her husband on the head each day as she walked through the TV room on the way to lunch or to go for a walk. Poor woman! I can only be glad that she never became aware of it. Or maybe she did. It's entirely possible that the gentleman in question told her the whole story - including my involvement - on one occasion or another when mum and I were walking down the hallway. You never know.

But I will never find out because the last thing I would want to do is risk disturbing the peace of this woman, whose only fault has been to visit her husband in his nursing home.

Generally, mum is in good health these days. Her haematologist is happy with her progress. The last time we visited him he did not change her medication. So with everything stable on that front, we can be a little bit secure that things will proceed in fair balance for the immediate future. Of course winter is coming and with it infections and flus. I have put mum's name down for the annual flu shot, so we'll see how things pan out on that front.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Mum expressing intimacy with a male resident again

On previous occasions I've written about mum's awkward interactions with one of the other residents of the nursing home, but it seems she hasn't learned. When I suggested we go for a walk outside today she came after me down the passage. As I was waiting in the passage I realised she must've stopped to interact with one of the other residents, because she was taking so much time. So I went back down the passage to the TV room and there she was holding hands with an elderly man in a reclining chair.

I have seen this man on many occasions and he does elicit a measure of pity in the viewer. He is completely incapacitated in the region of his legs and spends all of his time during the day in his chair, often watching TV but equally as often located in the corner of the dining room, where his wife comes to look after him at mealtimes. "Come on, mum," I said and beckoned with my hand. Mum extricated her hands from the man's - he was bringing them to his mouth to kiss them - and started walking down through the TV room again. I got her to the elevator but once outside where we were alone I remonstrated with her, reminding her of what had happened before when she had started kissing the other resident on the head, the previous time. Mum looked at me with a look of shock on her face, as if to say, "You've got it all wrong." "But mum," I said to her, "people get confused when you display affection to them in the way you do. They think you mean something else. They can't distinguish your meaning from the other common meaning." "Alright," mum said when I had finished talking.

We went down to the park and I turned around once more as we were proceeding to remind her of what I was saying; she does take things in if they are presented with enough force, as the other resident's petticoats comment had been, when I had relayed it to her in February. Again this time, she had that blank, shocked look on her face, as if she were hearing bad news.

Then when we were coming back into the nursing home a strange thing happened. From outside I could see the elderly woman approaching the nursing home from the taxi she had got out of. She came up the path, walking with some difficulty, and entered the nursing home precincts through the same gate we had taken. She came through the front doors immediately after us and preceded us to the elevator. While she was waiting for the lift to come, mum and I arrived and waited also. Upstairs, I signed mum back in into the excursion book and turned to take mum back down to her room. In the TV room I saw the woman who had preceded us into the lift fussing around the man who had made the petticoats comment, all those months ago. It was his wife. No wonder he didn't want mum kissing him on the head any more!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Clive Palmer looking like used goods

Last night's 4 Corners program on the ABC on Clive Palmer was pretty exhaustive and seemed to fill in some of the colour we all need from our own watching of the news in the public sphere. We don't always get such a comprehensive view of any given subject in such a small space, as we do in an hour-long current affairs program on the public broadcaster. What it meant for Palmer himself it's hard to know. I haven't heard anything today from his direction giving any indication of his feelings about it.

What the general media consumer might have taken away from the program is a feeling that Palmer has very quickly - since the 2013 election - exhausted a lot of political capital. He has made enemies with pretty much everyone he's had to deal with, from his Chinese business partners to the MPs he accompanied into Parliament in 2013, from his Queensland Nickel employees to the Queensland Liberal National Party. Everyone who has had extensive dealings with Clive Palmer seems to have a bad opinion about him.

You can see where all this is going. If he runs for Fairfax - his Queensland federal seat, which he won in 2013 with the slimest of margins - he'll likely lose. Yep, he's annoyed his constituents just like he's annoyed everyone else he's had dealings with. He might be able to field another cohort of MPs to run in the Senate and in individual seats around the country - as he so successfully did in 2013 - but you find it hard to believe that he could run the same game twice, having lost so signally the first time; most of his senators jumped ship and have sat as independents since doing so.

And then you have the ABC with its meddling journalists asking difficult questions. Hard to see how Palmer can recover intact from this type of shellacking. I predict he'll lose Fairfax if he stands again, and he'll only get one or two MPs into Parliament this year when the election comes around, which should be within the next three months.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The government is looking vulnerable all of a sudden

It's been about a week since things started looking very shaky for the government. In my eyes it started last Monday night when Q and A host Tony Jones interrupted the program to announce that the ALP had overtaken the Coalition in a Newspoll opnion poll by a 2PP margin of 51 to 49. There was a brief silence in the Adelaide auditorium as the numbers sank in with the audience.

Since then things have gone slightly awry. Indicative of the new purchase the ALP has with the electorate is the way their suggestion for a royal commission on banks has hung around. The idea won't die, even though Turnbull and his Liberal frontbenchers keep saying that ASIC can do the same job as a royal commission and anyway has the same powers as a royal commission. The Panama Papers story - which came out last week, again on Monday, on 4 Corners - has made such a big impression on the imaginations of voters. People just cannot seem to forget those notions of billions of dollars of taxable income being sequestered in financial havens, all the while they themselves are paying PAYG each week or each quarter as they are meant to do.

Turnbull has looked a bit shaky also on the issue of tax reform, which most recently came down to a decision by the states as to whether they would be allowed to raise part of income tax themselves. Turnbull floated the idea, it was rejected resoundingly by the states, and the idea disappeared. That was the week before last. Christopher Pyne, the industry minister, summed up the way the issue had been handled when he said from that Q and A panel - which he participated in on Monday night - that it had been a bit of a mess. Not that I personally fault Turnbull on this account. I felt it was handled in a reasonable way. But that wasn't the look for the majority of the public. For them, it looked bad.

Then we had the case of the helicopter crisis that had engulfed Abbott's government reemerging when it came out that Barnaby Joyce - the deputy leader of the Coalition - had used a helicopter for a short flight that could have been covered in a 45-minute drive.

Each of these things in themselves is hardly terminal but in aggregate they add up to a weakened government that cannot seem to get its issues through to the electorate, hence the stubborn way the ALP's royal commission idea has hung around like a bad smell. Liberal MPs must be hoping that the media will forget about Bill Shorten's idea as soon as possible. As long as the idea remains talked about, the government won't have and clear air for exposing its own ideas. And that will be very bad for them. It's less than three months until the election.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Mum got a black eye

It was tomorrow a week ago or thereabouts that mum got a black eye. She has no recollection as to how it occurred. I had seen mum in the morning and then later in the afternoon the nursing staff at the first floor of the nursing home called me to tell me about it. It is a complete mystery, but then with mum's blood disease - a low platelet count due to myelodysplastic syndrome - it doesn't take much to cause this kind of bruising.

I had to take mum to the haematologist as it happened, on Tuesday last week, and at the time he said it was quite possible that the bruising could happen spontaneously. Other than the black eye, mum has been in good spirits these days. She is generally well-disposed toward the universe and has a positive attitude. "I don't mind living out the rest of my days here until I cark it," she will say to me with some light-heartedness. It might sound macarbre but older people tend to talk in these terms. When you get to a certain stage in your life and things start not working properly for no forseeable reason, every day can appear to be some kind of a miracle.

I haven't been writing on the blog this week mainly because of an irrational anxiety that people in the nursing home might have blamed me for causing the black eye. It makes no sense, I know, but with the disease I have I tend to get a bit paranoid about various things - and there's no accounting for it most of the time - for no apparent reason. It hasn't been a great week for me, what with the tooth extraction on the Wednesday of the week before. The tooth cavity has stopped complaining by the way, so that particular problem seems to have sorted itself out nicely. I am now able to clean my teeth almost normally. I still have to be a bit ginger about the back-left bottom quarter, but it's improving day-by-day.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Dreaming about kite kayaks

This - if you can believe it - is a kite kayak. I had a dream last night about a kite kayak, a thing I had never heard of before looking it up online today. In the dream two of these contraptions approached where I was standing on a grassy shore. The first one was crewed by an elderly lady and the second one, which came a short distance after the first, was crewed by her daughter. The elderly lady wanted me to help her. I got her kayak to the shore and then things got a bit complex for I don't remember what happened next.

Later, I was standing on a Laser - which was the type of boat I sailed in real life for many years as a teenager - and it was propped up on a concrete foreshore. I had the idea that the craft would fare better if it was tethered to the foreshore, rather than propped up on it. I walked up the Laser's deck as it got steeper and steeper until I couldn't walk any more. Then I was standing on the foreshore looking down on the craft as it sat bobbing gently in the water. The boat was now tethered to the foreshore by a rope.

At times like these in dreams you might wake up to the call of nature, or because your mobile phone is ringing. I didn't wake up but these dreams in my memory just seemed to fade out into ragged ends that find no easy conclusion, so that's all I'll be able to convey for the moment.

I don't know why I dreamt about kite kayaks. When I lived on the Coast I often saw kite surfers in the ocean along the long beaches they have up there. The beaches face east. The kite surfer shop was down in Cotton Tree near the fish-and-chip shop and the laundry. I would walk down to get lunch there on occasion. In fact I loved to eat their flathead; crispy, thin strips of fish deep fried in bread crumbs. Their chips were also good. A fish-and-chip lunch for me was something of a treat. On other days I would eat a prepared roll or sandwich from the deli cafe, or a tub of salad. I never saw any kite kayaks on the Coast.

When I was a teenager I found a kayak in a council-cleanup bin and brought it home. It was made of wood with canvas stretched over the frame. Initially I took the kayak out with the paddle from my father's Hobie Cat. It was a one-ended paddle. Eventually I made myself a proper kayak paddle out of wood, and varnished it. I took that kayak all around the harbour, into lonely coves and around deserted foreshores. It's a wonder I survived with the thing. I kept it standing upright when not in use propped against a pine tree in the bottom garden, which gave onto the beach.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Visiting mum the day after a tooth extraction

This is mum in the park yesterday. I was going to go up to visit her at the nursing home on Wednesday but on that day I had to go to the dentist, and they took out a tooth. It was a molar that was a wisdom tooth that had no upper partner, so it wasn't doing much and was hard to clean. The dentist had advised me on an earlier occasion that it was her opinion that the tooth should be removed. So when it became infected a few days ago I had to make an appointment.

The removal was extremely painful and the pain that arose once the anaesthetic had worn off on Wednesday afternoon and evening was tremendous. The dentist had asked me not to drink on the first day after the extraction, so I had no recourse to alcohol to dull the pain. I was so exhausted on Wednesday night that I went to bed at 7.30pm and slept fitfully through the night until I finally got out of bed on Thursday morning at 9.30am. By this time the pain had significantly subsided. I decided to go up to see mum and I put on the new leather shoes that I had bought on Tuesday.

Mum was asleep on her bed with no socks on when I arrived and I got her to put some on because I was planning to take advantage of the fine weather and take her out to the park. I went over to the table by the window and dialled up my brother but he was unable to speak for very long due to the emergence of a conflicting priority at his end. He had been called to eat dinner. Mum and I rang off just before the tea cart appeared, so we had a cup of coffee before heading out into the sunshine.

Outside we went up to the corner and crossed the street, walked past the putrefying rabbit (I don't know why the council haven't picked up this scrap of mortality yet, it has been there for weeks and weeks), and headed to the second bench. A number of other elderly people from the nursing home were out walking with two of the staff; they made their base a bit further down, toward the sports pavilion.

As we were sitting there on the bench a woman and a younger man came up with a male dog that looked like a greyhound, although it was slightly smaller. The woman said it was a greyhound-whippet cross. The woman and the man had been training the dog to obey orders until they decided to take a circuit of the park. They started talking to us as they came by where we were sitting. The woman had a parka held over her head "because of the sun", she said. We discussed nursing homes, and the woman said that her father had been in a nursing home before he had passed away. Her mother, who was some years younger than her father had been, was soon to be considering whether to go into care. I recommended she try the nursing home mum lives in, because of the excellent service they provide.

The woman left after a while and mum and I continued to sit in the sun until it became time to think about lunch. We got up from the bench and joined the others from the nursing home, who were also making their way back inside, as they walked down the footpath. Back inside, I placed mum at a table in the dining room then took her outside gear back to her room and put it away. Then I said goodbye to her and left. On the way down toward the motorway I stopped off and bought some petrol and a sandwich and drink. I ate my lunch in the car while driving.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Buying some trousers and shoes

This morning I had an idea to go out into town to buy some trousers because the ones I bought recently had been already used to replace pairs that had needed to be thrown away. Because of my weight I find that trousers rub at the crotch so they don't last very long under normal conditions of use. Normally I will go to buy an inhouse-brand trousers at Myer and, when I got into the city, after attending to some business at Medibank, I headed to the third floor of the department store using the elevator. I am not a big fan of escalators in the shopping centre in town because I am scared of heights and when you look down from the first floor you can see all the way down into the basement where there is a food hall.

The inhouse-brand trousers I normally buy are situated along the back wall facing Pitt Street Mall on the third floor of Myer, and I had a quick look before finding - to my relief - that there was a pair in my size, in navy. Mostly there aren't any in my size, since most makers of trousers only go up to a 42, which isn't big enough for me now. As I was standing there a staff member wearing an apron approached me and made a comment about other clothes available on the floor. Perhaps he was trying to be helpful, I thought. So I mentioned to him my usual problem buying trousers and saw that he turned to face the south wall of the department store. Then he recommended a different brand that I would find in that direction. I went with him as he started to walk south and immediately felt relief because there were lots of pairs of trousers in larger sizes that would fit people like me.

I quickly grabbed a pair of tan-coloured trousers and headed with the two pairs I now carried to the fitting rooms on the north side of the building. There, I was very happy to find that the new large-size brand - which I had never suspected existed in that location on the third floor - fit perfectly, so I took the two pairs of trousers to the check-out counter to pay for them.

I mentioned to the staffer who was at the till that I had never known this new brand of large-size clothes existed on the third floor, even though I had often bought pairs of the inhouse-brand trousers at Myer before. On some of those occasions I had spoken to staff members about my troubles finding trousers in my size, but none of them had even mentioned this new brand to me. The staffer I was talking to was surprised. "Everyone knows about this brand," she said. "We do have concession staff though and they might not know." I assured her I had in the past only spoken with badged Myer staff, and none of them had pointed me to the racks where the large-size brand trousers were situated.

After buying the trousers I went across to the shoe department and had a look at the display for a brand I have bought on several occasions before. My current slip-ons are of this brand. But I didn't find anything that looked like them on the table. I asked a staff member if he could get me the different shoe I held in a size 11 and he went off to find a pair. When he brought the box out however I found that this size was too small for me. Obviously my memory had played tricks with me. I asked him for a 12 in the brown colour - although in the same style - and he went off again, returning with the correct box soon.

Another staffer saw me standing there with a new shoe on my right foot and I asked him if there was anything in the more sporty style that I had worn when coming to the store. I like those shoes. They have worn well for a year and the soles are still largely intact, which I find is unusual for slip-ons. He asked me what my size was and then headed out the back. When he returned with a box I saw that the shoes in it were the same style as the shoes I had worn to the store! So I bought those as well as the dressier ones in brown I had tried on.

When I was done with the department store I headed back home. Outside it was raining a bit so I put up my umbrella - which I had had the foresight to bring along with me - and headed down Market Street. I put away a bowl of ramen when I got to Harris Street then went home as fast as possible. I was carrying three substantial bags full of clothes. I was relieved to get home and lay down to have a nap but found I wasn't tired so I got up again and went to the computer.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Book review: Death by Water, Kenazburo Oe (2015)

In a really simple sense this is a novel about the writing of the novel. It's another one of Oe's autobiographical novels, so we again meet Kogito Choko, his alter ego. This time, Kogito becomes enmeshed in the lives of a group of avantgarde actors in Shikoku, after he revisits the place of his birth (he grew up in Shikoku) when planning to write a novel based on the story of his father. His father had died by drowning during a fierce storm when he set out on the wild river in a small wooden boat.

When he first gets to Shikoku he finds that the papers his mother had decided to leave him after her death as raw material for such a novel are greatly lacking as his mother - who had died ten years before the novel starts - had burned most of them. His father's relations with noted far-right personages, and his father's plot to stage a protest suicide strike against the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, had gone up in smoke. All that was left, in the end, were three volumes of a multi-volume English translation of The Golden Bough, an early 20th century work of popular non-fiction that deals with myths and deities.

During that fist visit to Shikoku Kogito also meets with the members of an acting troupe who had planned to stage a performance based on their favourite writer's works. When the plan falls through they are chagrined but what happens to Kogito himself - upon his return to his home in Tokyo - is much worse. The poor man verbally lashes out at his disabled son on two occasions and also suffers a kind of severe vertigo that makes sleeping impossible when it strikes. The disappointment of failing to write his "last novel" cuts deeply into the writer's psyche.

One of the members of the acting troupe is a young woman named Unaiko. Unaiko manages to befriend Kogito's sister, Asa, a person who had also been against the drowning novel, but who now enters the story in a more serious role. What happens is that Kogito's wife, Chikashi, develops uterine cancer that requires surgery. Asa makes the suggestion that she - Asa - shoud go to Tokyo to look after her sister-in-law and that Kogito and his son Akari should go to Shikoku to try to repair their broken relations. Following Kogito's lashing out at the poor man - Akari is now a middle-aged man although he still lives at home - he becomes morose and withdrawn, and goes out of his way to avoid his father.

Once he is back in Shikoku Kogito gets to meet more often with Unaiko and other members of the acting troupe - named the Caveman Group - and eventually she draws him into working together on a new project. This new project is to do with a famed account in the region of a woman who lived during the Meiji period (late 19th century) who led a successful insurrection against the authorities. But Unaiko has other plans as well, and she eventually ignites some relatively violent passions within the right-wing community in Shikoku. Happy that his son is starting to come back to reestablishing relations with him, Kogito goes along with Unaiko and her ambitious theatrical plans, and is deeply involved in work on the script when things take on a truly disturbing tone. We are suddenly back in the heart of rural Japan and the shade of Kogito's father reemerges in dramatic form.

The novel is quite long and takes an accustomed form for those who enjoy Oe's later works. I very much enjoyed reading this novel, although some might find it prosaic and long-drawn-out. For me, it is always a great pleasure to accompany Oe in his careful and meandering voyages into the lives of his familiars, so I can recommend this novel highly.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Mistreatment by Yamatake almost destroyed my career

It has been a long time since I talked about these things publicly, and even longer since the events they deal with transpired. Sixteen years in fact. But the fact is that I still dream about Yamatake. Sometimes they are good dreams, dreams when I was making application stories for products the company made. But sometimes they are bad dreams, like last night when I dreamt about the internal politics at the company, which is now named Azbil. They had the renaming after I left the company, in 2001.

I had started working with Yamatake in 1992 when I was just 30 years old and I had a young family. I can't believe, now, that I would uproot my entire family and move them overseas to work in a new company, but that's what I did then. I spoke almost no Japanese, but when I arrived in Tokyo, I found a vibrant work unit with its own culture. It was led by an American woman who I will name Dierdre, who was a journalist by training. Originally I was employed for my desktop publishing skills but Dierdre soon had me writing application stories as well as laying out the various publications in English the company made.

We were an exceedingly happy group but a few years after I started at Yamatake Dierdre decided to leave. I remember receiving the news and being devastated. When I look back I realise I should have been even more badly affected. As it was, I jumped out of the car in the middle of the street and walked back to the office. I needed some air.

After Dierdre left the company things went on as normal except that I had to take on more work. I adjusted my way of doing things but there were no more staff. There was no more money. There were no new hires. We had a lame-duck manager brought in from an overseas posting whose only qualification for the job was that he spoke English. I was carrying the can. Then one say Musha-san arrived, asking to see the publications the group made. I should have realised this was the first stage in the company's take-over of the overseas communications function, and that my job was on the line, but at the time I didn't understand these things.

A bit of background is useful at this stage. When I had joined the company, Yamatake Corporation, it was still a joint-venture partner with Honeywell of the US but that relationship changed over time and eventually, while I was still working there, the company went public and started to accrue its own shareholders. Annual reports which my group had traditionally produced would now have to be distributed to institutional investors globally. And the overseas sales task for the company in general had changed, because whereas in the past Yamatake had cooperated with Honeywell in markets such as Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe, now it would be running its own global network of offices and sales staff.

Obviously, the nature of the overseas English-language communications task had changed. But instead of helping me to adjust to the changing environment, the company took the function away from me completely. I should expand here on some of those dreams I still have. The first thing to say is that I loved my job. I was learning how to tell stories - the reason I went back to university in 2006 to study journalism was because of these formative experiences, which had all been uniformly positive - and it was always interesting and exciting. I had dreamt about doing application stories constantly since leaving the company. That's sixteen years of dreams. They are mostly good dreams, too, dreams in which I know in my heart that I am doing something I love, and that fulfills me.

The stress I was experiencing at work affected my home life as well, and eventually in 1999 I was asked by my then-wife to leave home. I found a small, unattractive apartment on the back of a letter of recommendation from the man who had originally invited me to come to live in Japan in the first place. But I was lonely and pined for my children. Eventually, under severe stress, in 2000 I had a mental breakdown. Things at work had not been doing well. The company had moved me to one business unit after another and now I was supporting the overseas offices using my English-language skills and publishing skills. I still worked with sales people but the wonderful work of writing application stories was now being done by others led by Musha-san.

The mental problems manifested themselves at work and eventually one of my colleagues - the man at Yamatake I worked most closely with - took me to hospital. I was given a CAT scan and then taken to Jikei Idai Hospital in central Tokyo. Six weeks later I was released from the institution and I went back to live with my family. What I didn't know at the time was that my then-wife was talking also to my father back in Australia. I pleaded with my doctors at the hospital to let me go back to work, but they refused. In the end what I feared would happen - the company would let me go - did happen. I had lost my job. The company ferried me back to my family's apartment in the corporate limo, but it was all ashes to me. I would never again get to write any application stories.

The severance package, it should be said, was decent but it only lasted for a year. Eventually, after nine months of living in my family's apartment, my then-wife sent me back to Australia. I arrived just before the jets hit the twin towers, and stayed in my uncle's house in Sydney. The company had done its worst but I was still alive. In time I would heal enough to get another job and go back to work - this time doing technical writing and HTML coding - but I would still dream of writing application stories for Yamatake. The dream never leaves me. Just this morning I dreamt again that I would one day go back and do the same work again. Those were the days. We thought they'd never end.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

A quiet afternoon after seeing mum

It was cold when I took mum out to the park today so she got her woolly gloves out and put them in her walker when she was still in her room. We had talked with my brother on the iPad earlier but because the sun was out I thought it would be good for mum to get outside.

When we arrived in the street we could hear the boys playing soccer in the park. The boys were aged about 16 years. They were large but not adult yet. We went up to the corner of the street and crossed over to the other side of the street, then I turned to mum and told her to go up to the first bench because I had to go back inside to use the toilet.

Mum was still on the bench when I came out of the nursing home after using the conveniences there. I sat down on the bench with her and made a quick video of her talking. The sun was out but the sky was partially cloudy. It was cool in the breeze. Mum said she could feel the cold around her ears. After about 30 minutes' sitting on the bench I took mum back inside. When she got to her room she decided she needed to use the toilet. She later came out of the bathroom with no pants on and I told her through the door to put on a nappy. The nappies are in a blue hold-all on the door of the clothes cupboard. When she was dressed I went in her room and said goodbye. I went down to the nurse's station on the first floor and signed out. Then I left the building.

Driving back home I felt as if I had had a full day. When I got home I made a sandwich and ate it. Then I got a message from a friend and I went out to meet them. Later, when I got home, it was raining and I took off my clothes and had a nap. When I woke up I made my way to the computer and had a glass of wine. I drank wine all through the late afternoon, with the TV on in the background. Later, I had dinner.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Mainstream media takes another drubbing

A couple of days ago they announced in the news that Fairfax Media - which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Financial Review - would lay off 120 people from its news rooms. At lunchtime yesterday as I was passing my local pub I saw Fairfax strikers having lunch inside. A lot of them wore identical red-and-black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Fair go, Fairfax". A man wearing this T-shirt arrived on a bike at first as I was leaving home to go to the supermarket. On the way home with the shopping I could see a whole pub full of people wearing the same shirt.

Then yesterday it was announced that the Guardian would lay off even more staff than this. They have had a website in Australia, and staffed in Sydney, for a couple of years now.

Two senior Fairfax journalists sent out an email today using an MEAA email account. The MEAA is the Australian journalist's union. They were asking for support with a petition to Fairfax management.

When I see stories like those we saw over the past two days I feel slightly sick with apprehension. There is also a certain frisson of excitement there, as the media world shifts slightly on its axis once more. We should be used to these stories by now but each time they appear the same sense of foreboding arises. We wonder how things can work if there is no independent media. How will the public sphere operate in such a world? Who will publish the stories that keep people in positions of power honest? What other entity has the strength to hold powerful people to account?

Most people will not do anything however. Some people already subscribe to one or more newspapers, as I do. But unless there is a pressing need for people to subscribe, they won't. Nobody believes that their individual actions can make the difference between the mainstream media surviving or going broke, and shutting down. It's sort of like the way things operate in countries where voting is optional. Noone thinks that their vote can make a difference. So they stay at home on polling day. With the media, it's again all about individuals. But who in their right mind would make the decision to pay for something they can just as easily get for free?

The media is in a difficult position. But it's all of us who will lose if the mainstream media goes broke, and shuts down its websites. Our democracies cannot function without an independent media. An independent media is the thing that tyrants fear most of all, because it will continue to ask the tough questions that the corrupt would prefer not to be asked. We owe it to ourselves to pay for journalism. 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Back to see mum after more than a week away

When I went up to the nursing home today to see mum she was very happy to see me. It had been over a week since my last visit. She struggled to get out of her orange recliner, despite the protests of her lower back, and we hugged. I immediately checked her fridge to see if there were any biscuits left there from earlier, but there were not. I will have to buy her some more.

I sat down near the window and picked up the iPad to dial up my brother, who didn't answer. Soon afterward a staff member came in to check the lanyards for the electronic call buttons residents wear around their necks, because she wanted to replace them. She said that the lanyards get dirty over time. We changed mum's lanyard but later on I found another call button in a drawer next to her bed. I took it to the same staffer, who I found wheeling the tea trolley in the dining room, and she came back to the room to ascertain which button was working for mum's receiver.

My brother called us back on the iPad and spoke with mum and I for about 15 minutes then I asked mum if she wanted to go for a walk, and she agreed to do so. I had earlier noticed that the wheeled walker in mum's room was not the normal one mum uses, and that has her name on. So I took the walker down to the nurse's station and told them about it. We found a glasses case in the walker she had with a man's name written in biro in it, so based on that information we were escorted down to the ground floor by a staffer who then talked with another staffer. They worked out that mum's walker was currently being used by another woman, who happened to be in the downstairs dining room. We recovered the correct walker in quick time.

We then went outside to the park. It had been raining earlier but now the sun was shining. We went up the footpath and as we were walking along mum said that if the young man selling flowers was still there today she'd like to buy some more. I was surprised she remembered this detail, but it was true. Once before we had bought a bunch of long-stemmed red roses from a youth selling flowers out of buckets of water at a table set beside the footpath on the main road near the nursing home. I had thrown away the dead flowers before the recent road trip to New England.

Initially we went to the first bench but it was a bit damp so we went our way to the second bench, which is always in full sun, and sat down there instead. I made a short video of mum talking. She was in high spirits. She always likes to get out of the building into the weather. We saw some dogs in the park on the far side, and there was a big, adult magpie on the fence near us that was looking around at things. Mum said that they are lovely animals.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Getting the car fixed

This is Peel Street, Tamworth. It was on a regular suburban street like this that my steering wheel began shaking on Saturday on the way back from Bingara, in New England. I had come down the two-lane blacktop to Tamworth and it was mid-afternoon when the steering wheel started to shake. I drove all the way back to Sydney hoping nothing worse would happen.

This morning I took the car into the Toyota dealership in Glebe and left it there to be serviced. I told the staffer who was in the reception bay what had happened and he got me to go out with another Toyota employee on a test drive. They guy ascertained that the wheel was, indeed, shaking at low speed. I came back home after leaving the car and in the middle of the afternoon I called Toyota to see how the job was proceeding. They had done a wheel alignment and had taken it out for a test drive. If it still wasn't performing to spec they would do a wheel balancing. I told the staffer I would be at their showroom by 4.30pm as I had to walk there from home. About 20 minutes later I set out on foot.

When I got to the dealership I found that they had done the wheel balancing they had earlier suggested because when they took the car for a test drive after the wheel alignment they found that the steering wheel was pulling to the left and it also was not sitting straight on the column. I paid using the credit card and drove back home via Wigram Road and Pyrmont Bridge Road.

While talking with the staffer I did ask him if driving with a wheel out of alignment was dangerous, and he said it was not. He also told me that he understood that I had explained that the steering wheel had just started vibrating without any warning signs. He said that this can happen "if the weights fall off" (I started to imagine what this could entail, but failed). Anyway I was glad I had not chosen to drive north from Bingara to meet an old school friend at Byron Bay, which I had earlier planned to do. The bad steering was a real shock to me, and made the trip back to Sydney distinctly unpleasant. Now that everything is in order I feel much better. And I can go up to the nursing home tomorrow to see mum. I haven't seen her in a week.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Car troubles on New England road trip

This is the Imperial Hotel, Bingara, where I met friends before dinner on Friday evening and where I had breakfast on Saturday morning. We also had our society's meeting in the hotel on Saturday. It's a nice little country pub in a comfortable town in New England. The town is situated about 150km north of Tamworth along two-lane roads that snake through low hills in this part of the tablelands. Tamworth itself sits on the plain, and when you drive north out of it you ascend a long, steep hill.

I left Sydney at about 7am on Friday and arrived in Bingara at about 4.30pm after a trip of about 560km. As soon as I arrived I set up my computer and bought beer. That evening I met with some friends and we had dinner in a sports club where there is a Chinese restaurant, and I ate steamed fish with a bowl of white rice. The fish tasted of sesame oil and had a delicate flavour, and was topped with chopped chives. Chili was on the side and it made me hiccup. With the meal I had a glass of riesling and a glass of chardonnay.

The next morning I got up early and went to the Imperial Hotel to have breakfast. There I met with one of the people who I had dined with the night before, and we ate breakfast at the same table. After the society's meeting - which had been scheduled for 10am - I got straight into the car and headed south.

When I got to Tamworth the roadsigns of course said to slow down but the steering wheel started to vibrate in my hands. I stopped at MacDonald's and bought a hamburger to eat with some fries and a bottle of plain water. When I got back in the car the steering wheel was still vibrating and it continued to do so all the way back to Sydney. The vibrations seem to be worse at lower speeds. At highway cruising speeds you hardly notice it, but when you are at normal residential street speed you feel something pulling the wheel one way and the other in quick succession. I bought petrol in Singleton along with a sausage roll and a bottle of flavoured water, then I settled down to getting back home. I arrived after dark, ate some of the leftover cauliflower fritters that were in the fridge, and showered before getting into bed.

This morning I phoned the Toyota dealership near here and booked the car in for a service. I won't go up to see mum in the nursing home until the car has been looked at by a professional.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Email problems with WordPress and custom URL

I got back from New England last night late and this morning I find myself inside a full-blown tech disaster. For some reason I had been completely oblivious to the fact that I wasn't receiving emails sent to the email address I had set up on the custom URL for the WordPress site I started this year. Now that I think back, though, it is passing strange that I never realised. The only thing that should have alerted me to a problem was the fact that I would occasionally get an error in my email client for that email address when I made a "receive" command.

Anyway, this morning I hunted around the WordPress interface looking for all the email setup fandango but there was nothing, just a notice saying that I could only get Google Apps with a paid account. Whatever that means.

The thing is that the email address with the custom URL is essential. For one thing it is the email address I used to log into WordPress in the first place. It predated my setting up the site on WordPress, so it has to work otherwise I won't be able to receive any communications from WordPress. The other thing I used it for is Twitter. It is the email address I used to set up the Twitter account for the new site.

You would think that WordPress would give users a whole bunch of configuration details, including a special page for configuring email addresses. But there is virtually nothing inside the interface to help you with this sort of problem.

Anyway, I got in touch with the ISP who I originally registered the URL with. They are also the ISP who I paid to set up a hosting package for the URL. They told me that the domain is being controlled by WordPress and they also said that I needed to give WordPress some "mx records", which they supplied to me. But as to where inside the WordPress interface you put these details? There's no guidance from WordPress.

Frankly this is a real annoyance. For people who want to use their own URLs, this email stink-up means that you need an advanced degree in computer science just to set up the interface correctly. I seem to remember a page full of stuff about email addresses when I first set up the site but that page doesn't show anywhere now, some months later. It's a complete downer. In frustration, I contacted an outfit who advertise online and who are based in Melbourne who say they are experts in setting up WordPress. I sent them a message, so we'll see what comes of that. There's no point in getting in touch with WordPress because you have to log in to the forums to get help, and I don't even know if the email address I used to log into WordPress in the first place is still viable!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Just a quick trip to see mum

There had been a lot of disruption on the Harbour Bridge this morning because of an accident on the north side so at about 9.40am unusually I headed up Victoria Road instead of the motorway to the nursing home. The trip took about 50 minutes, which is about 50 percent longer than it takes on the motorway, and I checked in at the nursing home at about 10.35am.

At mum's room I could see that she was asleep sitting on her bed. More accurately perhaps I should say she was taking a nap. After I entered the room with a knock on the door I went over to the windows and picked up the iPad to dial up my brother but he wasn't in, so when mum sat down in the recliner chair next to me I asked her if she would like to go out to the park. She was amenable to this idea so we got ready to go out.

In the lobby we bumped into one of the care dogs who was all waggy-tailed and grinning to have new people to pet her, and mum started to say something about getting a dog herself. She began to say that it was hard in a hotel to have a dog but changed her mind and said instead that it was hard "in one room" to have one. She's still a bit confused sometimes about explaining to people where she is living, but she at least feels at home there, which is the main thing.

We went outside into the heat and made our way across the road to the park, where we sat down on the second bench. It was hot so soon enough mum had taken off her jacket. We only sat there for a short while. It was a very hot morning so I didn't want to spend too much time in the sun. Back inside, we found that they were getting ready to put together the flower arrangements for the dining tables - they always have flowers on the dining tables at mealtimes - so I steered mum toward the big table they had prepared for this purpose, and got her a chair to sit on. I took her jacket and cap and sunglasses back to her room, then I left. I stopped at the petrol station on the way back to the motorway to buy petrol.

On the way back down the motorway I listened to the radio as usual. I felt comfortable, having done my duty, and was content to look forward to an afternoon on social media. I usually put on the TV to listen to the news in the late afternoon while I drink wine and watch the social graph in the browser. Driving on the motorway I had a settled feeling. There was nothing major on the horizon  - apart from the trip planned for this Friday to New England - and I felt I could just relax into the afternoon. The road pulled away behind me as I tootled on down toward home in the car and the sun was shining. I was home by midday.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Mum's memory merely unreliable, but not useless

Before going up to the nursing home today I tweeted my intention to my brother and he said he would be home, by return tweet. It was a warm day and I parked the car right outside the building, then went inside and upstairs. At the first-floor nurse's station I signed myself in and went down the corridor to mum's room, where I found her asleep in her recliner chair with the TV still on.

I dialled up my brother in Texas and we were soon chatting, the three of us. We talked about Second Life - the virtual world my brother often uses - but I also mentioned that I would be coming next on Thursday this week, as I would be away on a trip for a few days from Friday. We also sang a couple of songs - mum's favourites Riding Down from Bangor and Chatanooga Choo-Choo - and chatted about my brother's dogs. He was giving us views of a selection of the different avatars you can choose to represent you on Second Life, and he showed us some koalas and a penguin. He said that he had once been very impressed by a break-dancing penguin he had seen in the virtual world, and this had suggested to him to use a fox for his own avatar.

After a while I guessed we had enough time to go out to the park - mum and I - and so I closed down the FaceTime conversation and got mum ready to go out. We went out into the hot sun and mum commented that you could smell the grass in the warm air. I mentioned once we had sat down in the park that the wind was very warm. It was a balmy late morning.

When I judged it was the right time to go back inside I got mum up off the bench where we were sitting - and from which she had greeted a number of the dogs that circle the park on most days - and we headed back. We went in through the nursing home's entrance hall and across toward the elevator, which we caught to the first floor. Outside the lift I asked mum where she wanted to sit for lunch, and I indicated one empty table - no, not there, she shook her head - and another table where two women were sitting - she scrunched her mouth up in distaste but then said 'ok' with a nod.

As I sat her down at the table I said I would be taking her jacket, sunglasses and cap back to her room. She misunderstood and said, "See you Thursday." I registered this silently - she had actually remembered what I had said to her earlier in the morning, when we had been talking to my brother on the iPad - and headed off to her room, where I put her things away in the right places. I came back out and said goodbye to her, then left and got back in the car. I bought a pork roll at the bakery in Epping before getting on the motorway.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Mardi Gras always makes me happy

The last time I went to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade was a few years ago when I had come down to Sydney from the Coast to see a friend. At that time I walked on the crowded pavements of Oxford Street appreciating the get-ups and the outfits of all the fabulous young girls and boys. But my links with the event go back to the 80s when I too was young and fabulous. Many people don't know for example that for my buck's night before getting married in '91 a group of us fellows went to The Albury - a notorious gay pub in the Art Deco building at 2a Oxford Street, Paddington - and hung out with all the characters you find in such places. They are usually just nice chaps.

But I would often take someone to the parade when I was young. It was just part of the Sydney scene, for me, although we never were invited to the after party. For us it just meant happily pounding the pavements watching the life of the city stream past in its glorious colours. It's an event that always offers stunning visuals, the parade.

And it always makes me feel happy. Yesterday, when I was sitting in my quiet living room watching the social graph stream past - and with the TV on as usual in the background as it is in the late afternoons - I decided to do some photo posting (those stunning visuals!). So I got out my camera and sat down in front of the TV taking pictures of the images that came up in the feed. When I had enough in the memory stick I went back to the computer and connected the camera using the little cable in the USB port on the front, and loaded the photos to Facebook. I also put some up onto Twitter, although it was soon telling me that the files were a bit too big for it and that I had to make them smaller. To fix that problem I just fired up my trusty graphics program and resized them, and saved them.

The immediate appeal of the Mardi Gras to someone of my generation - and I'm going to be 54 later this year - is the appeal of something that is native. There's no filter necessary. The thing in its natural state is enough to get through to the place where our sentiments dwell inside. It's because it was the generation just before mine that launched the event in the first place. And it was only this year that the state government and the police apologised for the brutality they unleashed in those early pioneers from back in '78! That's a lifetime for some. But for old farts like me it was just yesterday when we were young and fabulous. We'll never be young and fabulous again, so all we can do is post pictures of all the young and fabulous things in their glorious finery on social media, and have dreams of times past.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

An incomplete drinking session

After I got back from visiting mum at the nursing home yesterday I headed out of the apartment again, this time on foot, to meet a friend for lunch. The restaurant is near Chinatown so I walked through Darling Harbour and across George Street to get there. I arrived first and arranged a table in the corner. Before my friend came I bought a beer for me and one for him, and during the meal we had a few more beers each.

We moved onto a bottle of chardonnay once lunch was almost finished, then we paid and went up the street to a pub we often go to. There, we had some more beers and another bottle of wine but after a while I was starting to decline drinks even though my friend kept on drinking at his normal rate.

I felt bad about this reticence to keep on going but I didn't want to enter the helpless zone when you are so sozzled that you can barely navigate your way out the door. It had happened before with this friend. Indeed, it had happened with other friends as well. I also had to take care of my stomach. I have a tendency to get a bit acid in the guts after about five or six drinks, so that seems to be about my limit. Even though my friend was clearly a bit put off that I had stopped drinking - while he kept on getting merrier and merrier - I kept on declining. But I didn't scarper. Not that I didn't think about it from time to time.

Eventually my friend met someone he knew who had just started on his first beer, and brought him over to our table. We made the introductions but it wasn't long before my instinct for self-preservation - I could feel the likelihood of getting back into the beers ramp up once this other person joined us - kicked in and I made my excuses, and left the pub. I dashed into the traffic and got in a cab, which took me back home. As soon as I got into the apartment I went to bed, and fell asleep. I woke up just before the nightly news was about to start.

When I then got into the living area I thought about having some more wine. Normally I will stop when the acid sensation comes on, and switch to water. This night I just went for water straight off. I estimated that I had had enough to drink already, and so I settled down for an evening of TV and social media.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Strange things that mum remembers

When I was up at the nursing home today I took mum outside to the park for a walk. When we were leaving the nursing home compound through the gate on the street, she was talking about forgetting to bring a pair of scissors outside so that she could take some flowers off the plants that grow alongside the building. It was something she had said on many occasions before so I just ignored it.

But then she said something that I didn't immediately understand the reason for. She said, "Is it the weekend?" I had to pause and reflect whether I had heard her correctly. "Pardon?" I said to her. "Is it the weekend?" she repeated. "No," I said, "it's Friday. Why?" Why on earth had she asked me this question?

"Well you said that more dogs come to the park on the weekend and I was wondering if it was the weekend today," she said blithely, ignoring my confusion. I had to remind myself that, yes, this was indeed something that I had said to mum on previous occasions when we had gone out to the park. Mum loves nothing more than to watch the dogs in the park, it is a special treat for her.

It is remarkable the things she remembers. Most things she just completely forgets.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Book review: Flight Behaviour, Barbara Kingsolver (2012)

While this stunning novel is a down-to-earth realist novel of the type that has been published since the middle of the 19th century, when Romanticism held sway, its language is rich in metaphors and allusiveness. The action hinges on the fortunes of a young mother named rather romantically Dellarobia whose world is literally turned upside down one day when she discovers that the hills at the back of her house, which is situated near a small town in Tennessee, are uncharacteristically and strangely filled with migrating butterflies.

On one level the book is a kind of romance. Because a lot of the drama turns on the difference between the haves and the have-nots in the United States - where the former are the metropolitan elites and the latter are the religious rural folk in the red states - the prize in the end turns out to be something different from marriage. Marriage for Dellarobia having always signified failure and compromise. One of the agents of change that comes into Dellarobia's life is a scientist, Ovid Byron, who has arrived at her doorstep to research the butterflies. His presence turns out to have other implications as well.

Another strange agent of change for Dellarobia - who has a dutiful and sensitive young son, Preston, and a rowdy infant daughter, Cordelia - is Hester, her mother-in-law. At the beginning of the book Hester is the face of censure and disapproval in Dellarobia's life, a source of danger, and someone who she has to navigate around, like a reef for a frequent sailor. It is later in the book, when Dellarobia has had chances to deeply interrogate Hester's life - she finds out the older woman had had a child given up for adoption before Cub, Dellarobia's husband, was born - that things start to get out of control.

But out of control can be a good thing when your life is stuck in a rut and you don't love your husband, although you may respect him regardless. Dellarobia is an intelligent woman who never had many opportunities given to her, and she is in the habit of asking "why" at times when other people might take home truths for gospel truths.

The book is filled with small events and is peopled by strange characters the author handles with complete aplomb. Kingsolver is clearly a writer who is used to being in control of her material.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Mum singing 'Riding Down from Bangor'

When I arrived at the nursing home this morning I tried to connect with my brother in Texas and was successful on the first go. He showed mum and I one of his Second Life avatars - a black fox - and told us the story of how it had emerged. The story had to do with the brother of an acquaintance of my brother's who had died of cancer This man turned out to be the person behind a Second Life character named Shady Fox - who my brother knew - and so he adopted the black fox out of respect for this man.

My brother has always led a full life online, and he keeps in contact with a wide variety of people there. His network of online acquaitances dates from before the advent of social media per se, of course. Back in those days they had bulletin boards where people congregated to find company and exchange ideas. My brother has been involved with these platforms from the early days of networked computing.

He also at my instigation found a YouTube video of 'Riding Down from Bangor', the rather racy poem I mentioned recently which my mother had been singing. Mum was thoroughly entraced when the two singers started their rendition, leaning right forward in her recliner chair and focusing intently on the iPad's screen in order to catch the words as they emerged. When I had finished the FaceTime call that included my brother I took mum out to the park and we sat on the second bench. But there were no dogs at first. So I got mum to try to sing the song off the top of her head. Here is the video in case you're interested in watching a woman with dementia struggle with a long poem - it is a song strictly but the way she recites it, it sounds more like a poem.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The scourge of violence with mental illness

I wrote a few days ago about the problems my ex-wife and I are having with our daughter Adelaide, and how Adelaide would go to my ex-wife's purse to take money when she ran out of her allowance. I have been sending money to Adelaide through my ex-wife for about 18 months in order to just do something, just to help with a situation that can otherwise get out of control. I have tried to be supportive in this way but I think that things are now moving out of my control.

Yesterday I received an email from my ex-wife telling me that Adelaide had verbally assaulted her and forced her to give her - Adelaide - money for alcohol. My ex-wife then asked me to send Adelaide's allowance directly to Adelaide in future because she didn't want anything to do with the money any more.

But I think that I will not be sending any more money. I emailed my ex-wife telling her that it was time to get the police involved. The police have come to the house on occasion in the past when Adelaide has become unruly and someone has called them. This time, however, noone called them and so Adelaide has got her way. But it is time now to talk with the doctors, I think, and get them to organise independent accommodation for Adelaide. It is clear to me that she cannot live any more with her mother because she is liable to become violent.

Furthermore, I am disinclined to continue supplying an allowance - as well as travel expenses and treatment costs - to Adelaide. If she is going to use violence then she has to be given a message that violence is not acceptable. I hope that my ex-wife can work through these problems with the doctors and find some suitable accommodation for my daughter. This seems to me to be the only way forward. It is time for Adelaide to live independently, and to see if that is going to work for her.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Singing songs in the park

When I arrived at the nursing home today mum was cleaning her teeth. I waited until she had got out of the bathroom and then I went to the table by the window where the iPad is kept. I used it to call my brother in Texas but he wasn't home, so I turned to mum and asked her if she wanted to go to the park for a while. "That sounds like a good idea," she said. She got up and went to the cupboard where her jacket hangs and got it out, then I helped her to put it on. I got her cap from the drawer and her glasses from the chest of drawers beside the bed.

When we got out to the park it was quite warm but the sun was mainly hidden by clouds. I found a seat at the second bench. Mum was still on the footpath busy collecting a branch with some dead leaves on it, to take back to her room.

We sat down together and I made a video which turned out to be too big to load to YouTube. I have to remember to keep the videos short. But anyway it showed mum singing songs, which she likes to do. One of the old ones she sang today in the park is Chatanooga Choo-Choo. I had been given the suggestion of Blue Moon by my cousin and I passed that along to mum, but when she started singing it she found she could only remember the first line. I gave her the second line and she went along singing for a little while but it was soon clear this would not become one of her favourites. The recall is just not there.

As we were sitting there on the bench I looked down the road and saw someone standing behind a table that had things standing on it, so I guessed it was a flower vendor. I told mum and she was immediately interested, so after a while we stood up and made our way down the street. It turned out it was a youth who is raising money for a rugby and soccer tour of New Zealand. While we were coming up to the table another shopper stopped her car and crossed the road to buy a bunch of roses. I bought a bunch of the long-stemmed ones for $15, and then mum and I made our way back to the nursing home.

Once we were inside I tried calling my brother again and this time he answered. He was doing something with Second Life, which he showed us; he had just changed his avatar to a fox, apparently. He turned the camera around to face his computer screen and the fox scampered in small circles as we watched. I reminded mum of Riding Down from Bangor, which she had sung the last time I was up at the nursing home to see her. She recited the whole thing again from start to finish, and sang it for my brother. I remarked how amazingly well she was able to remember the old songs, even though she could not remember if she had eaten lunch. My brother said that was why the old songs were memorized for ritual purposes. I couldn't disagree. James said he had been up doing work late at night for the past two nights because of a network problem so I let him ring off and go and get some sleep.

Mum then threw away the old dead leaves she had in her flower vase, stuffing them into her small blue plastic garbage bin. The roses had to be put somewhere. When we had finished throwing away the dead sticks and leaves I went out into the hallway and saw a staff member. I motioned to them and they came over. I mentioned to the woman that mum had some roses with thorns that had to be put into the vase in her room and she told me she would try to get someone to come and do that for mum. In the meanwhile, I just put water into the vase and stuffed the whole thick mass of leaves and stems into it.

I left the nursing home soon after that to give myself plenty of time to get home, considering the exit ramp near the Fish Market tends to get crowded near lunchtime on Saturdays. I got through that point in the journey quite quickly, and came back and poured myself a nice cup of cold coffee.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Venturing sentiment in a quest for acceptance

Of late I find myself behaving more mildly. You can possibly see this tendency playing itself out online best, so where once I might have been caustic, aggressive and combative, now I am accommodating, mild and conciliatory. It might have something to do with the wine of course, which I usually start drinking in the late afternoon. I will normally drink for two or three hours before switching to water, most of the time after the evening meal. So this might have something to do with the new placatory me behind the keyboard. But as we all know, the addition of aocohol into an equation does not necessarily lead to conciliation. Quite the opposite can be true, in fact.

The change might also have something to do with the way social media operates. According to their book, which I reviewed back in September, Hal Crawford, Domagoj Filipovic, and Andrew Hunter found that one of the main ways people use social media is to create teams, to harness the power of consensus. So if I am taking a stand on Twitter by passing a rather pointed remark vis-a-vis something that a politician might have said about a particular issue, it is more than likely that I want people to come along with me in doing so, to form a consensus behind me that we can all share. That rather than I want to head butt my neighbour, who might have a completely different view.

I found this happened last night while I was watching the nightly 7.30 show on the ABC. I tweeted: "Problems with Fijiian fruit and veg pickers shows why we need unions. Can't trust employers. #abc730". It was what happened after I put out this message that reassured me. A few people responded and there were seven likes of this tweet and five retweets of it. One or two people answered with their own comments, and most of these were supportive. There was no dissenting view. I took this to be a sign that this foray into the realms of social media had been successful.

How I know that I am being a consensus-builder in cases like these can be measured by how I feel if someone actively disagrees with me. For example, a couple of days ago I put out a rather caustic tweet questioning someone's choice of a name. "Muff Badger?" I tweeted. He responded: "Is this you testing reading and comprehension?" Which caused me to reply: "Clearly." "Then you gave it a go and we are all proud of you trying your best. Participation ribbon for you sir!" he replied. "You are too generous ... or something," I answered, unable to generate anything like the necessary aggression needed to attack this rather humourous close to the exchange.

Gone are the days of alcohol-fueled aggression in cyberspace, at least as far as concerns me personally. You never do well, when you indulge such tendencies. In fact, you are likely to go overboard and lose a lot of followers. I have found that by being positive I am far more successful in attracting people to my feed. But it is more than that. I find that I ask the internet to indulge my sensibilities so that it can give me the things that I need, that I want. What I want is to feel valued and included, and there's nothing more likely to ensure this doesn't occur than to get aggressive all the time. You don't want to come across like a mawkish sop, of course, but there are grades of sentiment that can be ventured in the quest for acceptance.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

A hot day in the park

I took mum for a walk out to the park today when I went up to the nursing home to see her. When I entered her room she was curled up on the bed like a coccoon, dozing. I tried to call my brother in Texas but he didn't answer the FaceTime call on the iPad.

When we came around the corner of the hallway toward the TV room I watched mum to see if she would veer off to plant a kiss on the head of the guy who had told me she was running around with her petticoats hanging out, but she didn't. In the elevator I asked him about this guy and she said she wasn't kissing him any more. "I learned my lesson," she said in summation. I didn't ask her any more questions about him.

It was very hot in the park and we sat in the sun. I made a short video of mum in which I introduced the idea of singing a song but she said she had been thinking of a song but had forgotten it. When we got back inside to her room mum started singing the song, which turned out to be 'Riding Down from Bangor' by Louis Shreve Osborne. It seemed a bit out of place after all the problems mum had been having with the guy whose head she had been kissing, but there you go. Old people are not always predictable, and can have a lot of personality!