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.