Monday 30 March 2015

A trip to the hospital

It's 3.30am and I can't sleep so I get up and make a pot of coffee and sit down in front of the PC.

The day was a bit of a disaster with mum admitted to hospital because of an infection. When I arrived at the nursing home in the morning she was sitting in her chair and her mouth was doing a strange thing - which I later worked out was because she was dehydrated - but she was slumped there and her iPad was on the table under the window when usually it was left on the wheeled table under the other window, where the Apple charger unit is plugged in.

I checked the call record and saw that my brother had tried to call her about 40 minutes earlier and I asked mum if he had called. I called him back but the conversation didn't go well as mum was unresponsive - partly, I worked out later, because of the dehydration - and my brother didn't persevere with his questions and statements. We rang off soon and I asked mum to go back to bed but she couldn't move and just stood there in front of her easy chair - after I helped her out of it - with her feet apart unable to locomote.

When I got her into bed and handed her a glass of water I went to see the nurses and we talked about mum's funny mouth and her inability to walk. The nurse told me that mum had taken her pills that morning and chewed them, when usually she knows to swallow them. She had then refused water when normally she takes it readily to wash down pills. The nurse decided to call an ambulance as the only other alternative was to wait for an out-of-hours doctor - it was a Sunday - but it was obvious that mum was not doing well.

When the ambulance crew arrived in mum's room they went through the routine for assessing whether there had been a stroke but that was negative. One of them mentioned that mum's skin was quite warm and they gave a preliminary diagnosis of a urinary tract infection - which turned out to be correct - and then wheeled mum out into the hallway and down in the lift to their vehicle which was parked in the driveway of the nursing home. I went down to my car and they told me a few minutes later that we would be going to Ryde hospital. I followed the ambulance through the streets until we arrived at the hopsital.

In the emergency room mum was placed on a bed and I sat down beside her in a chair I would occupy for the best part of the next six hours. Luckily after parking the car I had bought a meat pie at the kiosk next door to the hospital entrance, and eaten it. I had also called my cousin, who had seen mum the day before at the nursing home, and she told me that she had thought mum was unresponsive when they had been talking and eating lunch together.

After a while the doctor arrived and we talked about mum's condition. The nurses went about getting pathology samples and at one stage mum was wheeled out to have an X-ray and a CT scan done. I told the doctor about mum's advance health directive and where to find it. When I was not talking to people - things were very quiet for the bulk of the time apart from electronic beeps - I sat in the chair next to mum's bed and dozed. I asked her how she felt at one stage and she startled me by replying, "Like a stuffed chook." In the end mum had a canula in each wrist, one of which was feeding antibiotics into her bloodstream. When that was not being pumped in the nurses hooked up a bag of fluids so that mum would not dehydrate.

Later the emergency room nurse asked an orderly to shift mum to a new bed and wheel her to a regular ward. The ward has six beds, all with elderly women in them, although mum's neighbour, who is excessively fat, was sitting in a chair. The woman across the room from mum's bed was also sitting in a chair. "Her name's Judith," mum said. "I always said you hardly ever find people named Judith in Queensland." I did not go through the usual routine of reminding mum that we were now living in Sydney. With the shift to the hospital and all the different sights and sounds I felt it was irrelevant to start insisting on a point of fact that was, in her mind, anyway questionable. She had enough things to occupy her without me being my usual self. Nothing was usual now. I sat in another chair and watched mum acclimatise.

I left and drove home on the motorway. When I got home I made dinner and watched some TV, then went to bed. Around an hour ago however I woke up and could not go back to sleep so I got up.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Greens' success in NSW can't make me like them

This is a picture of Coalition senator Barnaby Joyce on the ABC's Insiders this morning, during which interview he turned the success of the Greens in northern NSW into an attack on Labor. Last night on the ABC's post-election coverage Gladys Berejiklian, a senior NSW state MP, did the same thing when she noted pointedly on a number of occasions that the Greens are taking voters away from Labor, and not from the Coalition.

There is a sense that the conservative side of politics is experiencing an existential crisis as the Greens go from strength to strength, because I think that their constant crowing at the Greens' success equaling Labor's misfortune has something hysterical about it, something manic and dark. As if they are contemplating something permanent.

And the Greens are doing it despite my own statement of intent, at the beginning of 2013, that I would not be supporting them in future. The thing is that the Greens, because they are all for the environment, are actually anti-growth at the same time they are anti-business (a far less consequential stance to take). What the Greens indeed want is a smaller economy and negative growth because, they think, this is the only way to save the environment. People are the problem. Population is out of control. Which is not only nonsense but, given their growing political success, dangerous nonsense.

The Greens' continuing and growing success in the polls will not make any difference to my voting intentions, even though on the basis of social issues I would otherwise be a natural fit with their platform. I don't want to see a Greens government in Australia. For what it's worth, the people who are voting for the Greens now in the state seats of Balmain and Newtown wouldn't probably want to see the practical outcomes that would appear from implementing Greens policies, should the party be left free to exercise themselves in government at some point in the future. I think that many people would be shocked to learn what the Greens actually stand for.

Friday 27 March 2015

We get old but material objects endure

When your parent becomes forgetful you should take steps to safeguard their material treasures, at least that's what I've found. In my mother's case I took three diamond rings she owns when she became forgetful and put them in a safe place in my apartment up on the Coast, but other things went missing after that time, including an antique bangle and a pearl necklace. You never know what people will do when they become aware that someone has become frail and vulnerable. People's worst instincts emerge and precious things go missing. It is a shame. We are so frail (and I don't mean only the elderly).

In the past few days I have been going through my parents' records again and sorting out what is useful from what is merely ephemeral or valuable only to the people involved. In some cases I have taken things aside and put them in a safe place with the intention of contacting the third person and sending the things to them if they want them. I never know what to do with letters, for example, but I believe that it is customary to send them back to the person they originated from, in cases like these.

My mother however had several precious items of jewellery but now most of them have gone. Whether people have taken advantage of my mother or whether she has gifted them to someone, then forgotten what she did, I don't really know. I do know in the case of the antique bangle that it has gone missing because there is a valuation certificate issued by a jeweller but there is no bangle.

It is such a shame. Things that my parents have had in their house have been given away to other relatives, too. There was the dining table and the portrait of a woman that went to my cousin and her husband. Then there was the kitchen sideboard that went to another cousin and his wife. People come around when a household is disintegrating and see what can be salvaged. They simply ask for things and things are given to them. It is so sad in a way. In another way it is a relief because it means that so many things do not have to be disposed of, or thought of. I do not know, for example, what I would do with a heavy wooden dining table with interleaves plus six wooden chairs upholstered in thick cloth. It is better that that have gone to a good home where they can be valued and looked after.

I have many things from those days, like the portrait of granny that my parents thought enough of to salvage from my move to Japan, and to keep in their apartment on the Coast (or at least, in the garage). I had it framed a few years ago and now it hangs on my wall. I wonder what I will eventually do with it when my time comes to leave this world. Indeed, I hope that there will be someone who cares enough about granny to take the painting I made of her in 1981 when I was a young man, and keep it in their house. There are other things as well. We are custodians for these things for a time in this world and then we move on. Then someone else has to become custodian in our place. The circle continues.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

So outrage clickbait is to become a niche offering?

I'm sitting here with the rain pouring down so that the Lend Lease towers of south Barangaroo with their cranes are standing up like upside-down dog-robots (you've seen the ones: they're in all the YouTube videos in social media) in the white mist of water streaming through the air above Sydney. And I read a really interesting Slate story about the way that outrage-driven pieces of journalism that have proliferated to accompany popular "issues" will decline in relevance. The reason for this is found on page 2 of the story (it wouldn't do to offer up the answer too early in the piece, at least not until you've served up the ad that appears when you click through to the second page): "advertising that is carefully and tightly coupled with its surrounding content".

In other words what they call "native advertising" where links to customers' product write-ups is embedded in stories, and the stories are written in such a way that it becomes easy to do this. Advertorials, in other words, but the Slate story author does not use that word in any place in his story.

I have had people approach me in the past to include links to advertisers' content and in each case I declined the offer. I suppose I am behind the times, or at least I'm not really taking advantage of the opportunities that are out there to "monetise" my content. In any case, to me the idea of providing comfortable content for the support of advertisers' branding material is so alien to my journalistic DNA that I find the whole idea merely revolting. Of course, we know that, for writers, just asking people for money can often be distinctly less than perfectly successful. See, for example, the 'Donate' button I put on this blog. Total amount of money donated since placing the button on my site in 2013: $0. So I will instead put up a paywall around the site and hope that at least some of my readers will have the intestinal fortitude to put their money where their eyeballs are.

You should be grateful. It seems that in future, if the Slate story is correct, more and more journalism will just be tricked up advertising material. And don't expect the publications to visibly flag this content somewhere on the page in front of you, as they have done in the past. If their future is to rely on fooling readers with comfy content designed just for advertising copywriters, they will not hesitate to jump across the line that separates ads from real journalism.

More's the pity. For me, journalism is an essential service. If people think they can just blithely carry on being members of successful democracies without it, good luck to them. I anticipate that, in its absence, they will become members of totalitarian states where the strongest only will have a voice. If that appeals, don't ever pay for journalism. Otherwise, cough up boy-oh.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Big manufactured objects are compelling

It took a while this morning before I remembered that I had thought about writing about this yesterday. I have been telling people I fear that I have early-onset Alzheimer's coming on but they never take me seriously. This blogpost seems to tell more about the truth of that particular situation. Whatever the case may be, however, I wanted to write this blogpost yesterday but I wrote about something else instead so this one will have to do for today.

Today I remembered the topic of this blogpost when I looked out the window and saw what I normally see in the mornings: the apartment buildings at the far north end of Sydney's CBD. To me they are magnificent objects even though, when you take into account their size and the relative sizes of other tall buildings in the world, they may not in actual fact amount to much in comparative terms. The reason why, I think, that they have this relevance to me is because of my upbringing because my father - who left school aged 14 to work as a carpenter's apprentice - was very apt with his hands around the house.

He had a property, for example, up the street in Vaucluse where we lived, on the corner of a small side street in the local shopping centre. The building housed my mother's gift shop. I remember getting up on the roof of the building one day with dad to attend to a leak that the residents of the apartment that sat on top of the shop had complained about. We applied lead flashing - big, flappy pieces of beaten or rolled lead - and then painted the flashing with red lead paint. All this hardware just to stop a bit of water getting into the apartment below. I must have been about 12 years old at the time, but I had frequently been around carpentry and masonry tools because dad kept a whole bunch of them in the house. There was the time, on another occasion, when I broke the drill bit off while it was in the screw end of a drill I was using to drill a hole in the wall. Dad made me promise never to do that again.

These brushes with tools and building maintenance enable me to understand how complex a skyscraper is, even though it might look very spare and unadorned when you see it from a distance. There are a lot of small, individual things that go together to make sure that the apartments in the building are secure and dry in all weathers. It is a difficult thing, to make a big building. There are lots of people involved, each of whom does something different. So when I see these big things from my living room in the mornings I wonder who lives there and what they think about when they look west and see the building where my apartment is.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Things are not always what they seem

I went up to the nursing home again today and saw mum but we didn't go out to the park due to the persistent rain. I passed the time by sitting in her room playing with my smartphone. Mum slept most of the morning. Then we went out to the dining room lunch. I sat down next to F, who is usually often one of the first people to sit down in the dining room for lunch. F speaks with a North American accent but I haven't worked out yet if she is American or Canadian, so out of fear of causing offense I do not refer to either country although I did say today that the US had 320 million people. "That sounds like a lot of people," F said (so maybe she's Canadian). Today also a small woman wearing a blue dress sat down at our table to make four of us, which is the usual number of people because you can't have more than four chairs at a table in the nursing home dining room.

I assumed that the woman in the blue dress was a resident of the nursing home. The reason I assumed this was that once before I had sat at one of the dining tables with a woman and had referred to all the other people at the dining table (apart from myself, of course)  as "residents". "I'm not a resident," the woman had said, but on subsequent visits to the nursing home I had seen her - always dressed snazzily, unlike most of the other residents - in the hallways, and once I even saw her with her son, who was just visiting and who smelled of tobacco.

That's why I assumed this woman in blue was a resident. I thought she was because in my experience even people in the dining room who claim not to be residents turn out to be residents. During our conversation however she mentioned that she now lives in an apartment in a suburb of Sydney. She had had a large house, she said, because she and her husband had five children, but they had sold the house and now lived in an apartment. "Ho ho," I said to myself, incredulously. "She's faking it because she doesn't want me to think she's a resident of the nursing home. She's lying," I thought. But when the end of the meal came the woman in blue got up from the table and went over to a woman who I knew positively - I had never seen the woman in blue in the nursing home before - was a resident, and left the dining room with her.

It seems that she was just a friend visiting the other woman, whose name I have never heard spoken. So I was wrong this time. And it turns out that on one occasion I was wrong to assume a person was a resident of the nursing home because she didn't want to be seen as a resident, and wrong on another occasion because the person I was talking to was actually not a resident.

You can't win 'em all. It turns out that things are not always the way they seem. Today I got home from the nursing home at about 2.15pm having arrived there just after 9am. I think I might have a few glasses of wine this afternoon.

UPDATE, MONDAY 23 MAR: The woman I thought was a resident but who said she lived in an apartment turns out to actually be a resident, making her the second resident who has tried to convince me that they were not residents. The plot thickens.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

What's wrong with nursing homes?

I hadn't been up to see mum since Saturday when I went up today. I took mum out to the park next door to the nursing home's building, which is just across a quiet dead-end street, and we sat and watched the sulfur-crested cockatoos flying around the big trees there and the magpies hopping around on the grass until mum said she had a sore back and we went back inside. We sat in her room for a while until it was time to go out to lunch in the dining room.

I was quite upset with G about how she talked about the dining room at the nursing home. It has been rankling me for some time. G went back to the Coast last week. While she was here in Sydney she had lunch with mum once in the park and once the three of us had meat pies in mum's room, instead of going to the dining room. G said the dining room was "depressing" but I never thought this. In my experience it is always just a bit of a raffle because you never know who is going to sit with you.

Today there were two elderly residents who sat with mum and me. One of them, who I'll call P, is a resident mum has had cross words with in the past but today she seemed to have forgotten who mum was and sat down with a smile and introduced herself. The other lady, who I'll call D, sat to my left while P sat on the opposite side of the table from me.

We talked about many different things. Somehow the conversation turned to mum's having run a gift shop in Sydney for 30 years, and D was very animated as we discussed how the big department stores at Bondi Junction eventually took all mum's customers away, so that in the end she decided to shut the business down. I told the woman about how mum and granny had made clowns out of cloth shapes stuffed with recycled plastic, with mum embroidering the faces on them as the final step before they were put on display in the shop for customers to buy. D told us about her own dressmaking using an old Singer machine and how, when she was 12, she had made a frock for herself; it was the first garment she made for herself.

I told mum about Frankie magazine and how the young people in Australia had sort of rediscovered crochet and patchwork quilting. We had a very animated and interesting discussion about a range of things, and all of it stemmed from talking about mum's gift shop. It was a nice discussion and everyone enjoyed themselves with it while we ate our roast chicken (though P had sandwiches and mum had roast beef).

Getting back to G. She had told me once how she had found that the elderly "all go downhill" once they move into a nursing home. "I've seen it before," she told me. But frankly I'm not convinced. In mum's case she has responded well to the medication and treatment regimen the new GP has put her on, and she has even gained about 3 kilos since coming down to Sydney to the nursing home. From my perspective mum has done really well in her new nursing home. She is well fed, has all her needs catered for, is surrounded by competent staff who look after her at all hours of the day and night, and she has nice co-residents to socialise with.

I remain upset with G. I feel that mum's situation has improved since she came down to Sydney to live in the nursing home. Of course it is me who decided she should live there, but nevertheless I really don't see the situation in the same way as G does, and to be honest I really feel her words keenly. I think it is unfair of her to say these things to me. I have often thought that nursing homes get a lot of undeserved bad press. But probably it's all about how you view things. You just have to adjust, and some people cannot change. It's as simple as that I think, when you come down to it.

Monday 16 March 2015

Nothing like a salon hang to brighten up your flat

I had the picture hanger over again today for a couple of hours. A big part of the time he spent today was consumed by making this living room salon hang. I googled "salon hang" and found a couple of news articles from last year, one in the Sydney Morning Herald and one in the Los Angeles Times. Beaumont, the picture hanger, just referred to this kind of hang as a "group", which does the job just as well but to say it it's not as snappy as "salon hang". I asked Beaumont if he had seen the 2014 Mike Leigh film Mr Turner, in which the famous painter can be seen adding last minute touches to a painting in a typical 19th Century exhibition: paintings all jammed into a small space, and hung to maximise the number of paintings on the wall rather than for any other consideration. We noted how modern gallery exhibitions are far more respectful of the object than they were in the past.

It's not that I don't respect my paintings, it's just that I think a salon hang adds a bit of panache to a room. The higgledy-piggledy approach seems to me to allow you to infuse the configuration with more of your own personality. It might seem disrespectful in a formal, public exhibition but at home we're all friends aren't we?

Last week saw me driving down to Annandale to a conservator's studio near Parramatta Road. The company, Preservation Australia, is known for doing this kind of work. My framer recommended them, and that's enough of a recommendation for me. Tegan met me at the door - which is located down the side of a big brick building - and led me upstairs to a bright and airy studio space where two other people were at work. It turns out that two of the glass images are Ambrotypes and one is a Daguerrotype. One of the Ambrotypes is of a woman in a check dress and is very badly damaged. The other Ambrotype and the Daguerrotype are still in reasonable condition. The badly damaged one my mother had a print taken from a few years ago, so I know what it is supposed to look like.

The three images came to light in a badly damaged box which started to fall apart as soon as I picked it up while unpacking some of the things brought down from mum's apartment on the Coast. Their mounts - which were of wood or cardboard, and cloth - were so badly water damaged they were not worth saving. The three images had somehow been packed away untreated after the flood in the summer of 2010-11 when the carpark of mum's unit was flooded with a mixture of stormwater and sewage. For some reason noone thought it was worthwhile doing something about the images, but it is difficult to say whether any action taken at that stage would have helped. It's enough to say that since the images were captured sometime in the late 19th Century they have mostly been neglected. I plan to have them mounted for display in sturdy frames after having them cleaned.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Feeling left out because I support better roads and better rail

I received a flyer in my post box today from the Sydney City Council that expressed unhappiness at the WestConnex development, the road the Liberal NSW government wants to build that includes a tunnel from Strathfield to the M5. As a resident of the city, the flyer implies, it seems to be incumbent upon me to favour rail infrastructure over road. But I am a big user of Sydney's roads. To visit my mother I need to go on the Warringah Freeway, through the Lane Cove Tunnel and onto the M2. But I am also a big supporter of more rail. I have regaled anyone who will tolerate me with my ideas for ring rail lines connecting distant parts of Sydney to one another.

I find myself on the fringes mainly because I agree with both sides. I agree that we need better roads (and I agree that we need more tunnels) but I also agree that we need more rail lines. My problem, it seems, is that I think we need both of these types of infrastructure to make Sydney a more livable city, because clearly at the moment it is broken.

I say it is broken because it clearly is. A couple of weeks ago a car accident happened on the Harbour Bridge at about 7am and the city was virtually gridlocked for three or four hours. One problem in one part of the system escalates into other problems in other parts of the system.

Yes we need more rail, but that doesn't mean we don't also need more roads. I think it is mean spirited of the City of Sydney, which is situated in the dead centre of the area of potential problems, to campaign against better roads. And residents of the inner west, furthermore, can count themselves in my bad books if they protest against the construction of the WestConnex. The road will of course improve their lives, but it is actually designed to improve the lives of people who live further out from the centre. People close to the centre need to get behind change. Infill, for example, is inevitable where you have good transport infrastructure, and arguing against it because you don't like property developers is just misguided. Property developers build the housing that we need to live in the 21st century; the houses of the inner west were mainly built in the 19th.

Saturday 7 March 2015

Artichokes and other things

At lunch today with my cousin I promised him I would use this title on the next blogpost, so here it is. I went to his place with my mother and mum's old housekeeper, who came down to Sydney to see mum. G is going to the Mardi Gras tonight, and it's the first time she has seen this civic display; there is nothing like it in Brisbane. G flew down from the Coast yesterday. Tomorrow she is going to see mum in the nursing home. G will be in Sydney for a week.

Today I cleaned house. I vacuumed the carpet and mopped the kitchen floor. I threw out two bags-worth of rubbish down the chute. I was busy.

This morning I went north to the nursing home with G and we got mum out of her room into the car for a trip up the road to my cousin's place. My cousin is the son of mum's late brother. He gave me a box of books that he doesn't want, including a second British edition of John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World and a number of old editions of novels by Ethel Turner. I haven't looked through the box in detail but there are a few lovely gems that deserve to be looked after. Despite the fact that I am already up to the eyeballs in books - and boxes of books - I agreed to take these into my care. They belonged to my cousin's grandfather, who is also my grandfather and my mother's father.

My cousin and his lovely wife prepared a special repast for us today. It was a main course of chicken and potatoes, with artichokes and chorizo and baked in the oven. There was also a green salad. And an apple strudel for dessert. And coffee. And wine. It was a delicious repast that I will remember for a long time.

We came back to the nursing home along Pennant Hills Road and through the traffic. Then G and I drove down the M2 into the Lane Cove Tunnel and onto the Warringah Freeway and the Harbour Bridge and back home along the Western Distributor.

Thursday 5 March 2015

The tidying up task continues

As the sun comes up on another autumn day in Sydney I reflect that it has been almost two weeks since my last blogpost here. I cannot say for sure why I have waited so long to post here now that I am back in Sydney but it has something to do with inertia. I don't think it has anything to do with how busy I have been, although I have been doing things every day. But because I am the sort of person who can concentrate intensely on one task at a time I have blocked out the blogpost task from my consciousness and I have instead concentrated on the tidying-up task, but it's not precisely as a consequence of being busy, per se.

A lot has happened since I last posted here. The picture hanger came, for example, and put up on the walls 28 of my pictures, including the large ones that were blocking access to the library (the third bedroom). This room is still clogged with boxes. There are also boxes in my bedroom, which means that I can't put some things up on the walls that I want to yet. At the moment I am concentrating on emptying the boxes in the third bedroom so that it can become usable.

To do that I have started using the shredder, my old friend, again. I have shredded hundreds of sheets of paper dating from a decade ago. Most of the papers are financial records of some kind that have no further utility, including some of dad's and some of my own. There are several other boxes in the library that contain papers that will eventually be culled in the same way. I am putting the shredded paper into small plastic bags and throwing them down the garbage chute. I do about six bags every day so as not to clog the system with too much shredded paper at once. I am conscious that I am doing something unusual.

While shredding I am also putting out piles of unnecessary papers in the recycling area on this floor. This includes magazines, flyers, printed news stories, contracts and other things that have no distinguishing words on them. I also threw out in this way dozens of my mother's magazines and I plan to throw out a pile of my own magazines. Ultimately there is little room in this apartment for things that have no immediate utility so I have to make these decisions often while sorting through the papers and other things that are currently stored in boxes on the floor in the library and in my bedroom. Shelf space is very limited, as is cupboard space.

In other news I have been issued with a NSW drivers license and I have also been issued with NSW number plates for the car. I have had the plumber and the appliance repairman around to the apartment also, the latter to have a look to see if the cooktop (which is gas) needed maintenance. I haven't had a gas stove for decades and the new models are a bit complicated to use. Although there was nothing specifically wrong with the cooktop it helped to have him explain how it works.

I have also purchased shoes and I have purchased socks. My feet are well looked after, and I am about to discard the grungy shoes I used on the Coast. We have also had a blackout in Pyrmont. I feel like a native already.