Monday 9 January 2023

A year in review: Garden

At the beginning of 2022 I had a contretemps with a neighbour about trimming the nature strip so the year didn’t start that well with regard to the gardening. It improved when Putin invaded Ukraine as I was inspired by all of the associated mobilisation of military equipment and of soldiers and went to the nursery to buy potting mix and plants. Unable to keep still and wanting something to do that would offset the unease I felt I repeated the exercise on the Friday immediately after invasion day, getting more of the same. 

Well, not precisely the same. In fact in total I got eight 30-litre sacks of potting mix and a bag of woodchips for ground cover. I bought two types of grevillea, a jasmine plant, and two types of fern (to go in the light well): maidenhair and fishbone. I didn’t wash out the Facebook Marketplace pots before filling them, which started with Styrofoam or plastic drink bottles that had been emptied beforehand.

On 1 March I drove to Clovelly to pick up some colocasias (elephants’ ears) from a woman who, with her husband, was clearing out the back yard, the place a converted shop. I planted some in the light well in the large ceramic pot that’d been placed there the week before and that already contained the four ferns, and dumped the rest out on the deck where the rain was still coming down steadily every blessed day. 

I got my tools out on 3 March and cleaned out the drain cover on the top balcony as it’d become silted up. To get rid of the dirt in the drain it took a pair of pliers, a hammer, a screwdriver, rubber gloves, a bucket, a watering can, a brush, a trowel and about 30 minutes of my time, and at one stage I became dizzy with exertion, almost falling over with the effort. Although it made me feel tired I was able to complete the work without serious mishap.

I repotted some of the colocasias on 8 March when it was still raining (at this time it rained solidly for a period of about three weeks) situating two more small ones in the light well and using two of the plastic pots I’d gotten from a guy who lives out at Hillsdale (near Eastgardens Shopping Centre) for the rest of ‘em so that they could be stationed out on the deck. 

At the front of the house near the street I put into a bed of earth in one of the pots a trellis I found on Facebook Marketplace. The woman who was selling them for $5 each gave me gardening chemicals as well when I went to her apartment in the Connaught on Liverpool Street. I’d walked from Newtown on that day as I’d had to buy coffee, and so because my shoulder was sore from walking so far with a heavy load when, having completed the transaction, I came down to the lobby in the wood-panelled lift and jumped in a cab to get back home. I enjoyed a chat with the driver, a man from Bangladesh who alternately cursed selfish people and made jokes about climate change (a believer, he said the recent heavy weather was due to global warming) the trip marking a point as I’d not, for many months, caught a cab. I used to get them a lot when I lived in Pyrmont when I wanted to get home quickly from the city, but living in Botany if I wasn’t driving I’d relied mostly on buses. 

This time I excused the unusual expense occasioned by the taxi fare on account of the bonus etched in my personal ledger after finding gardening supplies for such a low price. One of the trellises was destined for the pot with the jasmine, which’d started to sprout, so using twist-ties I tied a stick I had in the garage to lengthen its prongs. I promised myself to get more sticks the following day to complete the extension so that jasmine could be trained right to the top of the garden wall.

A few days later, on 13 March, I found some pieces of paver on the street while out walking with a friend and brought them home to use in the light well, where I put a square pot that’d been patiently waiting downstairs in the garage. Into it I placed some Styrofoam and then a layer of potting mix. I dug up the maidenhair ferns I’d planted in the big pot – I did this because they were not doing well there, having been overpowered for two weeks by the fishbone ferns – then I got one of my colocasias to put in the square pot as well. Finally in the corner I put a plastic Japanese pagoda I’d had out the back on the deck, and that’d been found on the street months earlier. 

For out the back by the pool I discovered a monstera for sale on Facebook and organised with the vendor to pick it up on Tuesday 16 March. She messaged me in the morning telling me she’d be busy at work until late that day so I changed the pickup date to Wednesday which turned out to be auspicious as I needed to go out that way to drop by at the paper conservator’s in Lilyfield. Then on Wednesday morning when I was on my way home from picking up some free pot plants a couple in Mascot had advertised on Facebook the conservator phoned to tell me she had no Corflute for a folder for a large poster of mine she’d worked on. Initially, at this point, I said I’d come out anyway as I had other things to drop off to be done, but the rain that came after I got home convinced me that transporting a large paper object without a protective folder to cover it and shield it from the weather would be a bad idea, so I contacted the plant vendor to cancel the pickup and possibly to reschedule it to a different day when I could drive to Camperdown sometime before midday.

The day before I’d noticed that the colocasias outside on the deck weren’t shooting as readily as the ones in the light well, and attributed the discrepancy to warmer air inside compared to out, but I had no way of knowing if this made an essential difference. I was going by rule of thumb, my gardening skills untested though my grandfather had been a gardener of some repute and dad had managed a large garden when we lived in Vaucluse. 

Above photo shows the front yard on 25 February. The following photo shows what it looked like on 16 March, three weeks after the day the first photo was snapped. By this time the jasmine was doing well but though they’d thickened up a bit the grevilleas didn’t seem to be shooting a lot of new leaves and I wondered if this was due to the fact that we were, at this time, entering a period of lower ambient temperatures, or if they were always slow growers. 

Note the rain in both photos. I’d trimmed the lawn the day before the second photo was taken, just before lunch, edging the plots – and the nature strip next to the pavement, which’d grown shaggy – using hedge clippers (so sparing my neighbours’ ears) and breaking out in a sweat although my legs didn’t get as tired as they had on the previous occasion since my body had gotten used to the punishment of crouching down to complete the work. 

Weatherwise, autumn had set in, the days were getting shorter – noticeable for an early bird like me because at 6am the sun hadn’t started to come up – and you could feel the chill of the season like a sharpened knife, but all the colocasias in the light well had produced new leaves (see next photo).

No complaints yet from my plants about the rain, the ones on the deck many of ‘em hopefully getting comfortable in new homes provided on Wednesday evening when I repotted a number of traumatised ones acquired where the existing soil had become useless and unable to hold water. 

On the last day of October I’d also driven into a Mascot building. Most of the pots used for ameliorating the water problem had come from a local woman who’d offered a range of gardening gear for $30 six months before. Some of her pots had been given to friends and family and now, after I used almost a full bag of potting mix for my starving succulents, the monstera vendor contacted me late in the evening so that I saw her message on Thursday morning. It told me that Friday morning would work according to her schedule. By this time I’d arranged to drive out to Parramatta to buy pots from a woman living there, and though I’d tentatively made an appointment for Saturday to go to the home of a man in Darlinghurst to buy even more, the 79 new pots I secured at Parramatta made the second trip superfluous. 

I’d discovered something about myself and early on Thursday morning honoured the feeling that came with a promise to go back to the nursery to buy more bags of potting mix. Another local nursery was advertising a sale on the Saturday but the immediate task was to get out to Crimea Street without triggering an episode and taking Omer with me I went on slow roads. With the three of us working I loaded up the RAV4 then drove back home gingerly so nothing broke.

At home I promptly had a nap and some tea. The next day I did some errands in Ultimo before walking to Barr Street to pick up the monstera. The vendor’d organised also to meet another person at the time of my arrival, and since they’d come by car got dealt with first. When I got home I looked up some details of how to care for this specific type of plant. I did this because of the cost they usually draw, and I thought, “If they’re expensive they’re probably hard to grow.” It turns out they only want to be watered every one or two weeks and that you need to let the soil dry out between waterings, so I moved the pot under cover promising myself to go at it with the hose in 10 days’ time. I wondered if I’d be able to pace myself with such a regime as for the most part up to this point in time I’d just been splashing water around haphazard. More careful use of a precious resource would be called for, I gauged, if I wanted the monstera to thrive. 

Already it’d produced a new leaf, and carrying the thing home on two buses I’d been very attentive to the greenery. It looked lonely under the first floor overhang and on Saturday I put out more plants near the pool after visiting the street outside a house in Marrickville where the owner was getting rid of them. In the end I had to throw some of them out because they were too tall and unstable, so I put what I couldn’t use in the green bin and just potted a few that were small enough to be dealt with in my own way, though one in any case required support, which I provided using the second trellis I’d picked up earlier in March.

On Sunday I added some wandering Jew when a friend gave me cuttings from her garden, and I potted them in Parramatta pots, watering them in thoroughly with the hose. A few days later when I was walking back from the Botany shops I picked up a succulent that someone’d left out on a dish with others in the rain on their fence, evidently for people to take home. 

Once there I potted it using another of my Parramatta pots, and put it to soak out on the deck with the other plants. More of these pots were used the following week when, on Monday 28 March, I ripped my spathiphyllum apart with my gloved hands, and placed each of three segments in a separate pot (see pic below).

Out the front I’d earlier placed two ceramic troughs I picked up from a vendor in Hillsdale who had been giving away a number of goods, in actual fact I’d twice driven out to his place to pick things up in the car. On the Monday I filled his containers with potting mix and lomandra which I bought from the nursery (see pic below). I guessed these plants’d do well in this exposed position as they’re advertised as being hardy natives. 

I’d always admired lomandra when I’d seen it used in parks, often beside paths. I’d come to admire the resilience of plants, their ability despite seeming destruction to swing back into action, for example the agaves I’d picked up from a street in Marrickville (see following pics).

The second agave had sustained even more damage, but despite the despoliations of fate it retained inside its mortal core an ability to throw out new leaves, which you can see there in its heart. 

On 2 April I had a chance to tidy up a bit with the lack of rain – what a change it was not to see drops of water falling from the sky – and did the nature strip out front. I also swept the driveway. It turns out that the same day my neighbour from next door also cut the nature strip (they have a mower), so when I happened to have a word with her as I was driving my car into the garage I said I’d do the edges. I got out the hedge clippers and finished the job in a few minutes, edging the manhole aperture as well as the borders of the plot.

I was very busy with errands two days later but coming back home on the bus I contacted a woman in Eastlakes who’d advertised on Facebook, telling her that I could go to her place to buy plants that afternoon. At home I made tea and relaxed then jumped in the car at around 2.20pm and went to Maloney Street, parking in a side street near the relevant house. A bungalow, it had hundreds of plants in a paved forecourt and I picked out five items including two geraniums – I’d specifically been looking for this breed of plant as they used to grow at the house I lived in in Glebe in the 80s – for which I paid in total $30. I had the cash in my wallet and the woman helped me carry the purchases to my car. 

At home I repotted three of them using the rest of a bag of soil, then watered them in with the hose. Here’s the iresine that came with the bunch, this photo taken on 5 April just before more rain. 

At the end of April I made up some small pots to contain some of the succulents two people in Mascot had given away months before and that’d been recovering from neglect on my back deck. The photo below shows some of my creations, these ones up in the studio on the second floor.

More, similar items were downstairs in the front room on the ground floor and in the living room on bookshelves. One item got placed on a bookshelf on the first floor, completing an ensemble there. I got into the habit of watering the plants infrequently, though the ones up in the studio needed more moisture because of their exposed position. Two watering cans made of metal were thrown out because they leaked, one in fact making a big mess that stained the top of a chest of drawers where it affected the varnish.

I dug up the maidenhair fern in May because something was eating it and it’d basically expired, replacing it with a colocasia that had been out the back on the deck near the fence. The grevillea out front was also being eaten by this time so I sprayed it and got the bug to go away, several flowers were blooming or coming out by the end of June even in winter it was glorious. 

Two plants out the back were being eaten too. I’d put the agaves down on the pool deck where they could get more sun and they didn’t seem to mind the change too much though some leaves on the larger one turned white and crumpled. Inside, I worked out a routine for the little succulents dotted around the place, one of which died through lack of watering so that near the end of June I replaced it in its pot with a succulent from out on the deck where it’d been sprouting. Getting the water right for these ones is tricky because the pots have no holes and overwatering would cause other problems. Eventually I gauged the required amount of moisture correctly and got them to keep growing it was well done with a few casualties. 

A large happy succulent out the back I put into a pot a geranium had failed in, and when little leaves broke off during the relocation process I put them to sprout in starter pots with new soil from the garage but they just rotted.

I gave some pots to a fellow in Eastlakes who’d put out a call on Nextdoor for furniture, I took over a few things over two days parking near his block of flats where he waited with a handy shopping trolley to help him get things upstairs.

I didn’t trim the grass all winter and into summer it was still long and unkempt. I tried to get a young fellow who’d advertised to come and do the lawn in late December but the holiday season got in the way and in early January the lawn was still wild (see photo above).

During the holidays I put another Colocasia in the light well (see photo above) onto a paver I’d found near a friend’s house where they were being given away. I’d also put a succulent in the light well (see behind the small Colocasia at bottom right) and it did well here. Note however the larger colocasias in the other pots, they really love it in the light well with its moisture and low light.

The photo above shows the studio potplants doing rather well also, they love the exposed situation with lots of light during the day. I have to water these plants frequently as otherwise they’d dry out. See the change from the beginning of the year!

Sunday 8 January 2023

A year in review: Clothes

On 3 January I took out pairs of shorts and carried them downstairs to the entranceway planning to take them to the tailors to get taken in. On the same day I put on shorts for the first time in the summer, it was so warm in the house and my long black pants on my legs felt scratchy. I still had some drawstring shorts that I could use even though for the most part the waists were too large. 

To advance the change in my clothing, two days later I took the bag full of shorts planning to head to Pyrmont in the bus but ended up going by car. 

I’d already phoned ahead to confirm that the tailor would be open. Once there I told him what I wanted done then tried on each pair of shorts so that he could mark with a pin where to take them in. Two pairs were too large for adjustment so I put them aside, but he took six pairs to do as well as one pair of drawstring shorts which needed new elastic. One pair of shorts also needed the crotch patched, and it all came to $270 (as long as I paid cash) so I gave him $70 promising to bring the rest with me when I picked them up. He asked me to come back on the 14th. I left the store with the rejects and went back to the car in Woolworths, buying laundry liquid while there.

I’d asked the tailor about fixing my slippers, which had become too loose with certain socks I’d just bought. In fact with all of my socks I have to use my finger to slip the slippers back on my feet as I’m walking upstairs though it doesn’t happen so often when coming down to the ground floor (though on occasion it does, and one threatens to come off a foot). The tailor averred that you need a special machine and that I’d need to go to a shoe repair shop, pointing me to a place in Pyrmont. I said I was going to Broadway Shopping Centre so took the slippers with me when I left – he had to run to the door holding them as I’d left them on the bench inside – and showed them to the man at Mr Minit when I got to Ultimo. He consulted with his colleague at the back of the kiosk but was unable to do the work so I picked up white elastic and needles in Coles while getting groceries.

Once home I looked for thread but my brown spool (which I’d thought was in a drawer in the hall cupboard) was missing so I went down to the IGA on Botany Road and bought some. At home I tried to sew the elastic onto the slippers but needed a thimble so went out again and again went to IGA. Once home I unsuccessfully stitched elastic to a slipper, found it was too loose, then cut it off and tried again. The job was perfect, meaning I had slippers I could comfortably use on stairs.

I started a new sartorial avenue on 21 January when I wore an old T-shirt from Japan bought at the time I was sick with a mental illness. I don’t remember precisely when the purchase happened, of course, time is like that it obscures ephemeral events like when you buy a piece of clothing or when you take a drive in the suburbs on account of mere recreation. Which store sold it to me? What road did I take? None of that detail survived the stretch of years, months, weeks, days, minutes, but the memory of that era of my long and eventful life persists in the dream-world even in waking hours, reminding me of how frail a life is.

Wearing T-shirts is not always a trivial matter as when you’re overweight you can easily look ridiculous and nobody voluntarily wants that sort of outcome from dressing in the morning. I’d lost 40kg so it was possible to wear one without looking like a tomato. Another advantage of T-shirts is that they don’t require ironing, the weather at this time being rather cool so it ended up being a toss-up between shorts or trousers. A T-shirt and shorts was unexceptional, so on the day in question I ventured to dare the combination. I had a number of outdoor errands to run, and had planned to go to Pyrmont to visit the tailor’s in the morning.

I don’t know why the tailor hadn’t thought of repairing the slippers in this way and that it took an amateur to find an elegant solution. How things turn out!

Things also turned out well on 13 January when I put on size-32 jeans I’d washed the night before (along with three other pairs of pants last worn in the 90s). To don them I had to make new holes in a black belt I’d had for God-knows how long, this task achieved with mum’s hole-punch kept in my desk drawer for just such emergencies. 

Here’s a photo of me with my jeans on. On the same day I picked up my shorts and brought ‘em home, then the next morning to wear one I clipped the tongue of an old black belt after putting two holes in it to fit my waist.

While driving home from the garage in Arncliffe where I buy petrol I tore the colourful N Michoutouchkine shirt that I’d inherited from dad. Near the shoulders at the back it’d become very thin from wear and washing so I cut off the buttons (to reuse) and threw it in the bin. I might’ve taken it to be repaired but it was so frail that I thought money’d be wasted. 

In order not to waste clothes I started regularly wearing T-shirts in the third full week of January. I cannot remember the last time I used T-shirts. I’d kept a dozen or so T-shirts unused in a drawer for over a decade, preferring in the intervening years to wear button-up shirts. Now, I was able to send messages – many T-shirts have ornate designs or words printed on them – while accommodating my shrunken torso.

On the morning of 24 January I put three white T-shirts in a bucket with water and some detergent product (which was in a container in my cupboard) to soak overnight. I was hoping to remove the dark stains that’d developed on the cloth over the years. Years of neglect! Would the shirts come out white and shiny, like they do on the TV ads? I no longer looked like a walking egg when I wore a T-shirt, merely a curiosity, but at least I was putting off spending money on new clothes. I went one step further the next day because the cleaning product didn’t work, and visited the supermarket to buy bleach. I’d looked up a recipe for cleaning online and that evening while the awards ceremony was on the TV I went to the laundry and put water in a bucket. Adding a couple of splashes of bleach, with gloves on my hands (also bought that morning) I mixed the contents up and left it to soak. I did all three T-shirts this way and the next morning early put ‘em in the machine to wash. 

The weather promised to be fine so I envisaged hanging ‘em out on the line (see photo below) which happened later that morning before I ate lunch. It was an overcast day but the weather was to be dry, so I took the opportunity to wash clothes.

It’s more fun to dry ‘em this way as no energy’s used. On the last day of January I took an old suit to the dry cleaner’s. I needed it washed because Ming’d started organising a wedding. The suit dates from the 1990s and is blue. The next day I put shoe polish on a brown belt. For the event I hadn’t yet decided which shirt to wear but reflected that I’d be able to find something decent in my wardrobe, the wedding on 22 February. I had my invitation. I also had suede shoes to wear. 

I picked up the suit on 2 February and the next day darned a pair of shorts, using a small piece of fabric in my kitchen cupboard where I keep rags. To do the job I employed navy blue thread in order to make it easier to see what I was doing. I used four sections of thread so that I didn’t get myself tangled up with lengths that were overlong. The method turned out to be effective as it allowed me to secure the patch of cloth in place and use a maximum number of stitches. Three days later I laundered them successfully, noticing that the stitches didn’t disintegrate or pull out.

The day before Ming called me from town and asked me to come to help choose a suit for Omer, so at 10 past midday I got out the front door and 45 minutes later was walking up to them where they were having lunch in David Jones’ basement. When they’d finished we got in the lift and went upstairs to the sixth floor, resolving to make a decision. I’d pulled up Google search results but in the end we just tried several outlets and settled on Hugo Boss, who had an ornate black-on-black jacket and matching trousers (with a silk stripe up the side). We then ventured to the Strand Arcade looking for a red bowtie but in the end Omer wanted a blue one from the place he got the rest of his gear, so by just after 4pm I was on the train heading to Redfern, where I caught the bus home. 

My job had mainly been to navigate and to hold Omer’s bags as well as leftovers from lunch. Also on the weekend I started darning an old sweater dating from the 80s that I couldn’t bear discarding but that needed care (see photo above). All up I attended to about 35 separate holes using black thread to blend in with the wool, some of which is scarlet. 

Originally black and white I’d had it dyed at some point, and even with patched areas it still looked serviceable. On 8 February I put it away in a cupboard in preparation for cooler weather but the next day wore an old T-shirt of dad’s (see photo below) that was one of the ones I’d started wearing after losing weight, the advertised company a freight supplier, so living in Botany – where the railway goods line winds its way across the landscape, terminating streets and necessitating the use of bridges – seemed right. 

I’d come full circle. It was at the time of the Sydney Olympics (celebrated on the T) that I’d had my breakdown, when everything had been lost apart from life itself. In the end I lost my family, my job, my house, my car, my sanity, my freedom, and it took me a good number of years to get them back. My life would never be the same and when I emerged on the other side of the ocean of pain and suffering I was able to wear clothes that for over a decade had been too small to fit. 

Because I throw nothing away I had “new” things to wear such as the long pants I put on on the morning of 11 March. First time to wear long pants for the year. The night before I’d had two blankets on my bed and on 1 April I wore a long-sleeved shirt then the next day put on a jumper for the first time it was quite chilly and in only a day’s time daylight saving would end. I put on pyjamas for the first time in the first week of May, it wasn’t really cold but I was being conservative as usual, then on 28 June I threw out the slippers I’d fixed having noticed water getting in while watering the plants out on the deck.

I’d bought a whole bunch of slippers for a dinner party at my place at the beginning of March, so in late June when I needed new slippers I just had a look through what was already in my house, choosing a black pair which were large enough. The new slippers functioned well I found the next morning when I was getting coffee to drink. During the night I’d dreamt again about working in Tokyo, this time I’d come up with a new idea for application reports, my preference being for a combination of application report and specification sheet. At the end of the dream Russians were searching the company for explosives, so when I woke up at around 5am (late for me) I was not sad to leave the dreamscape. 
I’d gotten used to slippers in Japan, because of an innate sense of order Japanese people have no problem being asked to put on slippers if they visit someone’s house, it’s even normal to put down a pair of slippers specifically to wear into a toilet for visits there. 

I have a regime where shoes and slippers can be used on the ground floor but when people visit (apart from the cleaners) I ask them to put on slippers. For the first floor and the second floor slippers are used but the exception to this is my bedroom where it’s socks only. This regime can have complexity for example when I go out but forget that I’ve not taken my medicine for the morning meaning I have to take off my shoes, go upstairs, then take off the slippers to go into the bathroom. I then have to put the slippers back on, go downstairs, and put on my shoes again in preparation for going outside. Despite this I persist in using slippers, it normally only takes a moment to change footwear and I have fairly clean floors as a result.

Over winter I’d started to put on weight and this troubled me but even so I still was able to use the trousers I’d had taken in at the tailor’s. It was only a few kilos but I am naturally conservative so even one kilo bothers me and I was careful to maintain my regimen of meals. By this time I’d altered it because I was getting hungry at the middle of the day and I now ate a small breakfast when I got up (bread with a spread, say Vegemite or peanut butter), then a full meal at around 9am, a medium-sized meal at around lunchtime, and some cheese at about 4pm. In the intervening hours I drank tea which usually worked especially black tea with milk. My weight wasn’t becoming a problem but wear and tear of clothes had meant that in the cold months I’d thrown out a few shirts which’d become too ragged to repair in a cost-effective manner and though I’d promised myself to visit an op-shop, at the end of June I still hadn’t taken the necessary step of driving, say, to Waverley. I’d bought shirts at Vinnies there on one earlier occasion so I kind of had the shop as a preferred supplier. You could contemplate making a T-shirt with the Vinnies logo and a slogan such as “Preferred supplier to the artist” or something along those lines.

In late August I took a pair of trousers to the tailor’s in Pyrmont when I was out picking up a book that’d been repaired. The conservator’s premises is in Chatswood and I drove back over the bridge to get to my old stamping ground, parking under Woolies. I popped my head in at the barber’s then made my way to the doctor’s clinic when the barber said she was busy. At the GP’s I waited for my second booster, which was Pfizer. I did shopping after making the appointment and before sitting down in the waiting room. Once I had been released – they get you to hang around for 15 minutes to monitor for adverse reactions – I walked back to the barber’s and got a haircut, then jumped in the car and sped home down Botany Road.

At the end of the second full week of September I sacrificed safety for comfort when I abandoned wearing a cardigan during the day. In the end I dropped the cardy off at the dry cleaners and picked it up after having it cleaned on the 22nd of the month. While it was still cool due to cloud cover I didn’t need too much on, so the change reminded me of the new season.

In the second half of the year I was very busy making art and with the art group so didn’t record all clothing events, which accounts for the lack of detail from September to  December. The major thing that happened was that I gained 15 kilos after eating sweets left over from a party, so had to put aside some trousers and shorts (once summer arrived). I didn’t buy any new clothes or shoes but at the beginning of 2023 I changed the slipper regime in my house after my friend Ming arrived to stay for a while. 

Under the new regime slippers are only worn on the ground floor, and upstairs you just go with socks on. This vastly simplifies my life and is more logical, the space at the bottom of the stairs acting like a “genkan”, which is what the Japanese call the reception area at the front door where visitors are asked (required) to remove their street shoes.

In summer I was still wearing T-shirts or button-up shirts on different days not having bought any new ones for many years and just using shirts out of my old supply. The weather was warmish at times but often cold despite the season and on many days I wore long trousers.

Saturday 7 January 2023

A year in review: Memories and imagination

Amid the hard scrabble of friends’ end-of-year emotions the knowledge of failure rang a descant like a ghost or like some fungible night bird. It was the end of the first full week of January and I was talking with Georgette, mum’s old housekeeper, on the phone. She’d called to thank me for some novels and short stories I’d posted in the mail, and we also spoke about her plans for the future. On account of nothing she told me that mum didn’t like the nursing home I moved her into in December 2014. I asked her how she knew and she said that mum’d told her. 

“What did she say?” “I don’t like it here.” She had said that they didn’t look after her. So many questions came to me over the next few hours and days that I didn’t know what to do. I rejected a number of possible options as I didn’t want to post anything online – not just then – and I abstained from emailing anyone in my extended family.

Immediate family was also a resource I didn’t feel like tapping into because I didn’t want people to condescend to me. What did I want? What could give me a sort of absolution? Who’d want to listen to the whole convoluted story? Once I started, where would I stop? The problem was limitless in its scope and measure, a puzzle of infinite proportion and daunting complexity.

The root of the problem was at least as old as the middle of 2009 when I’d offered to look after mum. I’d been on the way north in my car – in those days I used to drive between cities at the drop of a hat – and having stopped in Glen Innes the hospital’d called to tell me mum’d fallen over and had been admitted. Once I got to where she lived I used a spare key to get into mum’s flat and slept the night in dad’s old bed, there weren’t any sheets on it but since this was Queensland it was no problem although it was the dead of winter. 

When mum came out of the hospital a few days later I told her I had to look after her; I’d left my job in March and was anyway working from home writing stories for magazines. 

She agreed but rejected my suggestion that she move to Sydney. This was an error on her part. Indeed, if she’d moved south at that point in time things might’ve ended up being very different. I could’ve lived my life, seen my friends, and had access to the social and cultural life of the big city that I craved, all the while helping her with daily requirements.

Five years later, also in March, mum was diagnosed with dementia. Some months later she got another diagnosis, this time for a blood disease similar to leukaemia. By this time she had racked up dozens of direct debits linked to her credit card for charities. I worried that something worse would happen. I worried about her dying at home – me finding her in the morning – and questions from police. I worried about her forgetting to turn off the gas or leaving a saucepan boiling on the stove. I worried about someone ringing her doorbell and then causing her harm. 

I worried about a lot of things. In December after six months of conversations in which I tried repeatedly to get her agreement to going into care, I got her on a plane and took her to the place I’d chosen in Epping, near a quiet suburban park filled with eucalypts that attracted ridiculously noisy cockatoos. She’d finally agreed to the move and in any case I had her power of attorney. 

The M2 tunnels go directly under the park and there’s a train station not far away, though I’d drive up there twice a week or more to spend time with her. The first morning she stayed there Georgette was with me when I went to see her and her bags were packed, ready to leave. Mum was ready but I wasn’t so I did nothing. Georgette never told me what mum said and neither did mum repeat to me what she’d said to her housekeeper, which is rather surprising when you consider the nature of her disease. When I look back now it seems like something out of a soap opera, the only thing missing being someone listening to their conversation from another room. In that scenario the rumour would percolate through the small community until news of it reached my appalled ears whereupon there’d be a crisis followed after a delay by resolution and forgiveness. 

“Closure” is the common term. 

In actual fact there can be only endless regret. I will always be wanting to confess my weakness to someone in order to receive a blessing equal to removing the taint of shame like a tube of salve you might pick up from the chemist for a few dollars, something white and medicated for a skin ailment perhaps. 

In actual fact my scars were deep. 

I talked about what Georgette had said with a friend on 9 January and she made all the right noises but after the conversation it wasn’t long before the need for more reassurance came back to me. What good did words do in the face of persistent memories? Basia’d said that people say different things to different people and that mum’d not said to me what she’d said to Georgette because she loved me. Just because mum’d said something to Georgette didn’t make it the most important thing in her world. Perhaps she’d just been letting off steam. Perhaps the behaviour of the staff wasn’t an issue (the nursing home where she’d lived was named in the royal commission). Perhaps she’d just been feeling grumpy on that day.


In fact 2009 wasn’t the beginning of the saga, the roots lay farther under accumulated events than anyone could possibly suspect, going back to my adolescence, a time when, engaged in all the activities of a youth with prospects, I spent hours drawing. I still have some of the works I made in those years, for even after I went to university to study languages I was still making things with my hands. When she came to my place at the beginning of April in her car – I get her to visit because it’s difficult for me to travel out to her studio in the town of Richmond, which lies far to the northwest beyond the city limits – I gave to the framer a number of items the paper conservator had worked on for me and that I’d made 40 years previously. 

I’d paid the latter in March for removing stains from one item and for flattening out another six. They needed this type of treatment as mum and dad’d stored them ever since I went away to Japan in 1992. In 2019 late on the heels of mum’s passing I’d come across all of these rolled-up screenprints when unpacking remnants of my Queensland life. To accommodate all the paper items and prepare them for transport, including a number I made in my early 20s, I’d even made a large, protective Corflute folder. The material for this object, which is small enough to fit in the back of an SUV, but only just, came from Bunnings, and I made a special trip one day to pick it up, travelling back home from the hardware store with a large, 2m sheet of plastic attached to my roof racks. The thing was so large it banged alarmingly on the windscreen, and I held it down with one hand driving with the other on the steering wheel.

I managed to achieve my goal by dint of using slow streets and avoiding streets where cars go fast. I went slow at the beginning of May when I ruined a sheet of lino while cutting it. Because of the error made by trying to do too much too fast, I managed my expectations. I was learning as I went, as over the previous 40 years I’d forgotten much of what I used to know about making printing blocks.

I’d started making works of art at the end of April and in the first week of May, setting about preparing series of photographs to go with poems in “hybrid” works of my manufacture. I daringly cast my mind back 15 years as I selected photos taken with the digital Canon camera I owned at that time (and which was later repaired), marrying them with poems made about seven years afterward, the final objects requiring the participation of my framer. On 6 May I was still waiting for her to contact me, but in the meantime I’d put together and packaged the materials for three items to be titled ‘Marlowe Street’, ‘Burwood Road’ and ‘Top Ryde’. 

The way was prepared for making prints because once I got the taste for making things with my hands it seemed hard to stop progress. It led me to a series of paramontages with poems and photographs (see picture below) started on 8 May. 

The photos had been on the hard discs of various PCs I owned since March 2008, when I made them with a Canon PowerShot A530. I took a USB stick to Pixel Perfect (a print shop recommended to me by the framer) in Chippendale one day to have them printed, and ended up collecting them on 12 May when I went into town by bus, getting off at Redfern as usual and walking down Abercrombie Street. I did three more paramontages over the next few days and the practice multiplied the number of prints in my studio all the way through the rest of the month of May and into June.

I got the word “paramontage” from an old school friend named Andrew Adair because on Facebook one day I asked what word I should use to label the assemblages. A few people recommended calling them “collages” and this is probably the right word, going back in time at least to the Cubists at the beginning of the previous century, but I preferred the longer word as I felt sure that this type of work was different from what had gone before. The Cubists, Futurists and Surrealists had added scraps of things like newsprint to their works but what I was doing was combining two independent things into a whole, something different in nature from what my predecessors did. 

At least I thought so. 

The guy at the print shop called them collages and I failed to correct him – who am I to impose my views upon another person? – and because he started to call me by my name when I came in the front door of the business I was friendly. I also did different things within the genre, for some of the works using a grid pattern of images and in others varying the dimensions and aspect ratios of the photographs to make something more complex. The variable ones are also smaller, in general, so cheaper to make. I ended up not making more grid ones and instead making different types of variable ones, which I labelled type-1, -2, -3,  and -4 paramontages.

For some of these I used sonnets, for others I used one of the short, 6-line poems I started writing in the spring of 2021. Other variable ones had longer, free-form poems that form a collection started in 2022 titled ‘Poems’. There were three types of variable paramontage in my collection which, by 3 June, had burgeoned to dozens of prints. Later I added another type having, instead of an assemblage of many photos, a single photo (with overlays of other photos) making the number of types current as at the end of June add up to four.

The short poems belong to a sequence titled ‘Before Dawn’. Type-2 and -4 paramontages are 38cm across at the widest point but the type-3 ones, with the longer poems, are 57cm across the width, so they are quite large in fact and would take up a fair amount of wall space if they were framed and hung.

I also made a number of items using prose poems from a sequence titled ‘Winter Nouns’, which are autobiographical in nature. These paramontages are 70cm across the width but they’re shaped so that they’re not very tall, meaning they’re quite narrow and thin. If hung they would stretch across the wall so that you might put up two up one above the other. The text is hopefully big enough so that, if you did get one framed and hung, you’d be able to read it from the floor. This was my aim but I hadn’t begun to realise it fully as the framer hadn’t contacted me by this time. 

These days the accompanying text for artworks you see in commercial and public galleries is so extensive, the gloss taking often longer to digest than the work itself requires to understand and appreciate, it seemed to me routine to make artworks that need to be read as well as taken in with what the Germans call an “augenblick”. 

The photo above shows the collection on 3 June. 

I made videos as well, but each of them only got a few views. One or two people commented on the first video in messages to me so I didn’t get much feedback from this initial attempt at communication. Because of this failure I promised to try again. The same day the above photo was taken (19 May) I went to the print shop to get more items, and also left a couple more files to be processed. I had other plans, too, but these were just mental notes made over days. Talking with friends was my main source of critique, for all of which I was grateful as it’s not pleasant to create in a vacuum and I had so many ideas, it seemed each time I thought back to the years I was able to link a poem with a view to going, say, to Vaucluse to take photos of the harbour, or to match up a 6-line poem with some remembered photos (I trawled through my hard disc searching for inspiration) taken 15 years earlier.

These searches were one of the consequences of making paramontages, folders that had accumulated over the years since I bought my first PC following my return to Australia after my catastrophe. This process of looking back wasn’t without it consequence in the form of ideas about my past and the people who occupy it in memory.

When I got back to Australia in 2001 I lived in a share house for some years and then bought an apartment about 10km from the CBD. But not long afterward I had a relapse and the disease I live with came crashing through to door like an intruder. Having recovered, I was quickly caught up in a Queensland odyssey looking after my mother, six years later moving back to my city. When she died, not long after this happened, I was in mourning for about 18 months, slowly reviving my interest in the world by reading and writing about books. 

Drinking too much caused me to suffer a kind of heart attack, and in early 2019 I was in hospital. I had a procedure done and then a few months later went overseas to visit the Middle East. On returning to Australia I started to have panic attacks so I gave up the booze. The next year at about the same time I decided to sell my apartment and move house I began a diet, at the end of which I’d lost 40kg.

This quick summary shows that I never really had time to make art because of other, pressing demands on my time. When I was living looking after mum in southeast Queensland I was freelancing writing stories for magazines. Before that I’d been working in an office. Before that I was working in another office (in Japan) and so on all the way back to the time when I graduated with my arts degree in 1985. From the time I began that course of studies until 2022 – so, approximately 40 years – I’d been living the dream of my father, whose wish it had been that I go to university and get a qualification.

I know my problem is that I should be more persistent in pursuing my own dreams, the issue here being that I privileged those of someone related to me by consanguinity. In any case people do make demands on you and you need other people (I need other people) because we’re social animals and rely on others for much in our lives. The list of things that other people do for us is endless, nobody could possibly make one that could encompass the breadth of gratitude and to attempt to do so would be to court madness. What I have to do now is to continue down the path I have chosen with my recent actions, building up my ideas into a structure strong enough to support the future and I’m not going to live forever. If mum’s life taught me anything it’s that time is limited, it’s the scarce resource our obsession with sport reminds us of, the limitations of the body revealing something essential about being human. 

I was alive and I wanted to be kicking so taking the next step and putting the resulting type-1 paramontages into a folder (to make a book) seemed natural, once I’d started to make these smaller items it seemed uncontroversial to take this step. To make the book I used a green folder that had once held job applications. I’d dutifully kept the failed applications for years until I finally shredded them one year – I can’t remember whether it was before or after moving to Botany – and the green plastic folder could be taken to friends’ houses or even taken into the city to show the printer how big the type 1s needed to be to fit in the plastic sleeves the stationery shop sells (about $5 for 100 units). I got some type 1s printed at Officeworks but because some of them have several layers the quality of the output there wasn’t always good enough even though they’re much cheaper there than at Pixel Perfect.

By 16 July when I met up with a man named Simon Kahn to discuss establishing an art group, I’d made dozens of paramontages. I even had a classification system to sort them into groups, “type 1s” being close to A4 size and “type 2s” being larger, with multiple, variously-sized images accompanying a sonnet. Type-3 paramontages were free-form poems with variously-sized images, and type-4 paramontages were short, 6-line poems instead of sonnets (again with variously-sized images). In all there were nine categories to use but the first four were the most numerous.

On 16 July I met Simon at Eastgardens in order to talk and I bought coffees so that we could sit down in the corridor at a table. We chatted for about 30 minutes about this and that including the difference between subjective and objective ways of understanding art. Simon’s years of studying at the National Art School had not only resulted in him earning a degree, he also had a love of art and while he was gainfully employed during the week we had things in common as he made art at other times. I showed him some of my work on my phone but he had a Blackberry at the time so wasn’t able to reciprocate.

When I got home I spent some time on the computer, and over the next few days set up groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and Nextdoor, for which I used a photo of Watsons Bay taken on a recent trip out that way to gather images for an artwork. By 18 July we had three followers on Nextdoor and 11 followers on Facebook; LinkedIn was yet to yield a dividend in this way. To set up the LinkedIn group I even made a logo (see below).

I was amused to make this as Simon had talked to me about his understanding of colonialism as a positive influence in the world. I’d told him of my involvement in the Sydney Friends of Myall Creek but Simon is an original thinker and took it in his stride, stepping adroitly over the barrier set up and rendering in words his associated enthusiasm for Jeff Koons. His notion of the objective role of art inspired me to select the name ‘Eastern Suburbs Art Group’ for the various pages I made on social media, and though I told him when we parted that I’d consult him regarding the name etcetera when I got to making the pages I just went ahead and told him about the act once it was complete. 

He didn’t seem to mind. In late August we drove with his brother to a bar in Randwick to discuss doing comedy nights, and I asked him about another one of his witticisms, as he’d said several times that Sydney University is full of Communists. In fact Ming had commented on this one day when the two of us were walking in Botany, I’d also clocked the phenomenon but hadn’t confronted Simon with evidence of his sense of humour. 

On the night in question he crumpled into a fit of giggles when I brought up Ming’s remarks. Two days later I asked him in an SMS if he’d sent the bar managers an email I’d helped to draft and he confirmed that he’d done so, I made a mental note to take him down to Joe’s chapel when he came over on Saturday so he could pray.

We both attended a rosary Joe held on 22 September, afterward mingling with the crowd come from all over the city while I ate salad and Simon ate pizza and a donut. I tried to talk about art with people but it just scared them off, one man scampering away as soon as I suggested he join us, even though he’d just spent five minutes showing us a painting he’d set up in his house, using his phone. It seems there are two modes in the world of art: either you’re a maker or you’re a consumer, anyone like me who is both is strange. 

Simon and I had made some progress on our Randwick Ritz event by this time, having seen the cinema, negotiated potential costs, and started recruiting models for the dramatic improvisation. We wanted to bring someone else on board, a woman he’d identified as a potential collaborator named Antuanelle who makes resin sculptures. We’d met her at a cafĂ© in Botany to discuss doing something together and that had gone well, so Simon envisaged getting her help to bring the models together for a briefing. Although we hadn’t finished writing the script Simon had good ideas about how to make the event work, some of which involved the types of stationery to be used. I was going to go to the store to buy everything as we were providing all the necessary materials for guests to draw with who bought tickets.

We’d also tentatively set a date for a collage session the weekend following, but it was a struggle to get numbers. I’d set up a Google campaign but although the ad received clicks nobody used that prompt to get in touch and book a place, so even with Simon and me in attendance we didn’t have the requisite six people to come to class. I’d spent a week driving around Sydney in my car picking up magazines to use but the landing page text needed to be tweaked.

On 26 September I spent an hour going through old photos on my PC as I’d decided to upload a paramontage to Facebook and wanted to discover the date of the main photo, which showed mum looking heavenly, a sort of patron goddess over which I’d laid a sonnet. Another photo in the assemblage was of the estuary over which her apartment looked, she lived there with dad for 10 years or so until he went into a nursing home after developing dementia.

It was strange going through the folders of files looking at each photo, and I found a drawing I did in 2014 of a bird in a landscape, the title is ‘Blue vent: I am the air over the highlands’, I still have the drawing but since it was done with crayons and charcoal and since it wasn’t properly looked after the original is badly smudged. I decided as I was looking at images that I’d get the photo printed, and so made a new version cropped differently ready to go to the print shop next time I ventured out that way.

There were a quantity of photos mum and dad took using a digital camera, I recall that mum mostly used a traditional film camera but someone must’ve given them a digital camera, or else they’d bought one. There were a relatively small number of files from it, mostly showing either mum or dad or else the view from their apartment, the sky, the water, some clouds, but it strikes me that family snapshots invoke different feelings in the viewer, depending on your relationship with the subject. Someone who understands what the photo contains will have completely different feelings compared to someone who has no idea who is depicted, which brings me to contemplating the notion that somehow a photo holds in its matrix something essential about the subject.

At the end of October we had a second group meeting where we made watercolours using paints I’d bought at Officeworks, applying collage to them as well. My own practice changed as a result and in November and December using different types of paper I made a whole series of watercolours and stuck collage to them. In the end I was pasting letters making works in English and Japanese and by the end of the year I had graduated from the cheap paper they sell at Officeworks to paper I’d found at the National Art School shop and at Parker’s in the Rocks.

Friday 6 January 2023

A year in review: Furniture and fittings

On 15 January I wanted to get more furniture. The day before I’d gone with Omer to Erskineville to pick up a small bookcase but since I hadn’t asked about the dimensions I discovered, to my disappointment, it was too large to fit in the car. The next day, a Saturday, I was in the city chasing an extension cord (the exchange in the end fell through) and headed in the car to Wolli Creek on the way home to pick up another bookcase, the seller living in one of the new apartment blocks near the railway line, near where I parked in a loading zone. The woman came downstairs but looked right through me – evidently she wasn’t expecting someone as elderly as I am – and I watched her dicker with a mobile phone as she stood on the pavement. She turned around, finally seeing me standing there stock-till and looking her in the eye and when she opened her mouth to speak I offered, “I’m here for the bookshelf,” or something along such lines. Evidently it was enough information for she immediately turned, went inside and admitted me to the lobby. 

Once inside I picked up the object and carried it downstairs then along the seemingly endless pavement to my waiting car. I got it home safely but by then the back of the thing’d started to come away. This didn’t unduly concern me as it was intended to store gardening implements.

I put it in a corner of the garage and a week later brought upstairs to the middle bedroom a small cabinet that’d been found on the pavement during council cleanup (see photo below) and which’d been sitting up to this point behind my car, unused. On it I placed my old living room lamp and then also spent time putting up pictures on the east wall. On the Thursday I’d hung a small watercolour that’d been treated and framed (top right in photo), and which Amanda the framer’d brought over when she visited that day to drop some things off. 

Another watercolour bought on Facebook Marketplace initially went up on the north wall in the same room. To pick it up I’d driven the year before to a distant suburb of Sydney called Kings Park where, on Madagascar Drive, I left the car for a moment outside a large suburban bungalow. It’s a pleasant street very near a main road and the motorway – handy to everything – and the man who sold the artwork to me for a small amount of money had an Indonesian name. The artist is Nancy Toovey and the title of her work is ‘Burrill Lake’ (though on the label it’s misspelled).

I moved this picture to the west wall (see photo below) after mature reflection compounded by the passage of time. This wall took more effort because of the Wi-Fi equipment that my IT contractor Tim’d installed so that I’d have good broadband coverage on that floor. Finishing the arrangement of pictures on this wall in the last full week of January required placement of three oil paintings also bought via Facebook Marketplace from a vendor out in the northwest of the city. 

These little gems among the first of the items bought this way. The hang has photos of Adelaide as well as a stunning piece of embroidery that used to belong to someone in the family – I wish I knew to whom to ascribe its manufacture – with, to the left, some items brought out at the last minute from the back bedroom where they’d been lost in an overly busy hang that was now simplified by the removal of a few items. Finding a balance between variety and elegance is difficult with decorative art, but the flexibility offered by the picture hanging system makes the job easier.

On the north wall of the same room (see photo below) I put up Adelaide’s ‘Cat House’ under a family photo of a house that I took time to identify as Grandma Bea’s place on Wattletree Road, Malvern. I asked for help getting this detail cemented down communicating with cousin Trish Allen … because thank God she belongs stubbornly to mum’s generation. 

Trish said things to the effect that it was Wattletree Road but – as for my part – I’d bravely imagined it might’ve been the previous Dean house at Glen Eira Road. She told me that, in fact, she thought not because of the building’s style: whereas she’d had memories of Glen Eira Road being built in the 20s or 30s, Wattletree Rd was from the 1890s. 

I took a look on Google and helped myself in the process of navigation by remembering how, when I was a child staying over at Bea’s place during our family visits, the commuter trains’d be audible nearby at night. I had in mind the noise of the train as it moved along the tracks, a noise that’d successfully impressed itself on my imagination when I was small and that somehow, for me, emblematised Beatrice Dean (who’d been born Kewish), a woman I loved in a special way because I loved my mother and she was my mother’s mother.

But also because of the after-school treats she prepared when she stayed at our house in Sydney. These remnant memories of a dead woman – who remained alive in my consciousness, the paths to thoughts and images cemented in place by consanguineity – practically aided me when I wanted to zoom in on a property situated near a railway line. 

So here is how it now appears in real life. Found! The hang is less simple than this photo wants to suggest, and is in fact more diverse in its effect, mixing elements having a range of different characteristics – a still life, a child’s painting, a photo of a family member, an extensively imaginative portrait showing a 19th century woman wearing a hat decorated with flowers – allowing me some peace as I arranged my room in ensembles able to communicate something indefinite but comforting to that rare person who might visit. 

The tracking had to be extended to take advantage of the whole wall, and one day at around this time I got the picture hanger to come with his ute to install more rails on part of the wall that’d been left empty the last time. A wide selection of frames – some bought second-hand in antique stores or op shops, some now out of stock and no longer offered to artisans for use in their creations, some that are fussy, some that are very simple in their design – a disparate range of subjects, a set of family associations bringing back echoing years of memories to provide me with company. 

I spent hours over the period of a week putting it all together, a process that made me indebted to fate. The result let me enjoy a feeling of vacancy with the caveat that – because I’d installed a picture hanging system – anything could change at the summons of the vaguest whim. It’d been a feeling of discontent – the merest sense that another arrangement’d do better – that’d inspired me to move the landscape to the west wall, so an inkling of a shifting desire could overturn the new design (dispensation) at another moment, in the same way that a ripple across water distributed by a flung stone can make a waterbird move on the surface of a lake.

Moods drove my body, sometimes further, sometimes hardly at all. Around this time (in fact on 25 January) I picked up another bookcase, as well as some oil paintings from South Africa. It was a day I’d had the cleaners over and the sheets were just about finished in the machine when, seated on the couch, I scrolled on Facebook to an ad announcing a deceased estate. The family had decided to give things away for free and I liked the look of what was on offer so I messaged the guy in charge, who turned out to be a handyman. As soon as the sheets were on the line I jumped in the car and drove to Bondi Junction, parking on a leafy street near Spring Street. I buzzed the apartment at the intercom but had to wait a while as at first there was no answer. Once upstairs I saw a bookcase and said I’d take it as well as the paintings I’d originally come for, so picked it up bodily and carried it, straining at the muscles, to the car. When I got back to the intercom there was another guy there, and I scooted into the lift ahead of him when the front door opened. The handyman bolstered my claim (“First in, best dressed”) and I moved down to the RAV4the paintings that I’d seen online. 

The frames came next along with a large carved wooden mirror. Back home I put the mirror on Facebook Marketplace and almost immediately got an expression of interest, despite a $65 price tag. She bargained me down and said she’d come on Monday to pick it up. A couple of days later Ming said the colour of the bookcase didn’t appeal, so I put it up against the wall in the garage near a chest of drawers I’d picked up in Randwick the year before. For the paintings I’d need D-rings put in before they could be hung and, having promised in the future to send one of them to Japan, I packaged it up on the Saturday.

Omer said that he’d take the wooden shoe cabinet that had been in the entranceway since Ming’d moved to my place, so I measured it and found it would indeed fit in the car. On the morning of 30 January I decided to put the Bondi Junction bookcase in that room, and to move the chest of drawers that contains empty bags (singlet bags, shopping bags, Ikea bags etc) further over toward the window with the pale pink curtain. I completed the shift on Sunday 6 February after I brought Omer a coffee table I’d picked up in Ultimo from a woman named Hsiung, who’d listed it for free on Marketplace. 

Omer helped me carry the shoe box to his place and on 11 February I picked up a 1m-by-1m table for Ming to use that was being given away by a business that was in the process of moving or shutting down. I matched the trip with a visit to pick up mail at Broadway Shopping Centre, the business being located in Surry Hills. Fortunate to find a parking spot in a loading zone, once at the front door of the building I phoned the staffer, whose number I’d been given, and as I was standing at the entranceway I buzzed floor 4 then went up in the lift. The young woman who met me said that the business also had a broken table to get rid of, but I assessed the sound one and guessed that even on its own I’d only just fit it in the car.

This is how it turned out. In the rain the table barely squeaked into the back of the RAV4 and having gone back to Botany I got it upstairs into the ground floor of my house without assistance. To get it up to the first floor would require another person. The next day I drove to Ming’s to pick up a small chest of drawers she didn’t want to keep in her apartment. In fact Ming’d commandeered the Hsiung woman’s coffee table to put beside her bed. Omer came back to Botany with me and the two of us got the square table up to Ming’s studio on the first floor. Another square table I picked up (from a young Glebe couple) ended up being chucked out on 27 February with council cleanup. It wasn’t stable – it wobbled if you pushed down on one side – so I rid myself of it and carried it out to the street to be taken away. 

There was around this time an influx of items found on Facebook Marketplace because people were giving them away for free, including three bedside tables that I put up in the studio to hold family photographs, a bookcase from Paddington, a small side table from Woollahra, a set of drawers from Randwick, and a small cabinet from Maroubra. 

The essential characteristic in all cases not entirely attributable to an origin in the eastern suburbs – though I limited myself to nearby areas on account of my anxiety attacks – but primarily because they’d fit in my car and were available without any payment. It's amazing what people will willingly give away: furniture, kitchenware, even art. They just want it gone, though some items are offered first for a price and if that doesn’t work are marked down to nothing. 

By 3 March I had 12 items in the garage ready to give away, sell, or to carry upstairs to use myself. I felt like Santa Claus. Santa turned out to be the name of the steam cleaning guy I’d organised to come to do two rugs that needed washing. I’d asked my cleaner to organise his visit but they didn’t give Santa my phone number so when he arrived at my house early on 9 March he went away without contacting me (my doorbell was out of service at this time due to persistent rain). He phoned me later when he was doing a job at Arncliffe (by this time he’d gotten my number from his contact) and organised to come by at 12.30pm. When he did he parked in the basement and worked on the rugs on the ground floor. The small one took a fair quantity of work to remedy because dirt’d gotten ingrained, and when he left me he left the rugs stretched out on the floor, drying with the front and rear windows open to let air in. Circulating air helped remove moisture from the rugs and when I went out I left the house open. 
Once home I carried the Nanimarquina rug upstairs to my bedroom and put it in front of my desk (see photo below) though it took until the following morning to get the orientation right so that I was completely happy.

The same day I continued a conversation started a few days earlier about a cabinet I’d picked up on Facebook Marketplace from a woman in Maroubra who was giving it away. Once I had the cabinet in my garage I saw a post in the Eastern Suburbs Buy, Well and Swap group asking for donations of furniture to help Ukrainian refugees and left a comment with an offer in a practical sense, in fact telling the woman that I had something she might like to take. In response to a message sent to me, and that I noticed in the afternoon when I was out on errands, I promised to send a photo of the cabinet. Elena told me when I did, once I got home, and when I sent details of its dimensions, that it would be too big to fit in the allotted space, so the transaction didn’t pan out as planned. She thanked me via Messenger but on 11 March I sold the cabinet to a Korean woman and her husband living in Telopea who almost didn’t take it. The woman initially said the fuel cost would be too high to justify coming to collect it unassisted so what changed her mind was my offer to meet her halfway, and on the morning of 11 March I put it in the car and drove to Campsie to link up with her on Wonga Street.

My familiarity with this part of Sydney was grounded in having for a number of years lived in the area. I parked at about 10.45am and at 11 o’clock messaged Hana, who soon afterward responded from her car saying she was on the way. But when she finally arrived – I saw her white SUV on the street as she spoke to me using the phone number I’d supplied – it turned out her baby was in the back seat so it was impossible to open up the rear of the vehicle to accept the item. In response to this crisis, and wanting a sale, I offered to drive the thing to her house for $5 more, which I did when she gave me the address. On the way north through western Sydney I suffered no panic attack, which surprised me, and I got to the quiet suburban street having gone along some busy roads at high speed. Her husband turned up not long after I arrived at the house to help me carry the cabinet inside, and we put it in a passage out of the way of the front door. The man gave me a $50 bill and I took $10 out of my wallet to make change, then I headed into town to visit my post office box in Ultimo.

The next day I messaged a woman who was in the process of getting rid of a number of household items, in fact her ad named vases but when I said I’d come and pick them up she asked what I wanted. I took this to mean she’d other things on offer so I said I’d take it all, and when she put in a set of photos for me to see, and having scrutinised them, I added that I’d take the pictured candelabrum as well.

To get to Bondi I went through Maroubra and Coogee, ending up on a crowded Birrell Street where I thanked fate for sending me out immediately as it took several changes of the Bondi Road traffic light to bring me to the main drag, on which the woman’s apartment block sits. Knowing that Bondi Road’d be crowded with parked cars I took the first unoccupied space I saw and walked down toward the beach behind a very drunk woman and a man, shorter than his companion, who was telling her off quietly and soberly. I picked up the shopping bags with goods in them, and the candelabrum, and headed back to the car, driving home through Randwick and Pagewood. 

When I had it in the garage I proceeded to strip off the copper wire wrapped around it. There were batteries as well in small plastic containers, and evidently someone’d tried to turn the thing into an electromagnet. I resolved to ask Omer about it, and put a question to a Jewish friend asking if it was a menorah but when he replied saying he thought not I didn’t change my opinion and kept a promise to myself to sell it.

My great-aunt’s photos came closer to being hung on the walls as on 18 March I visited a print shop. I’d already partially dealt with them by getting a shop on Botany Road, Mascot, to make some prints but since I hadn’t liked the quality or the size had asked my framer for help finding a good outlet that could do the work for me. On this day I caught the bus to Redfern and walked to Chippendale where Pixel Perfect sits on Abercrombie Street, and once inside the shop I spoke at length to a man who sat at the front counter with a computer and a screen ready to display edits to customers. When I walked in there was a customer at the counter but he soon left, then Sam and I decided on how to process the image files, what paper stock to use, and what size to print the photos out in. He promised to send me an email with attachments on Tuesday and I left.

In the afternoon, after getting home, I drove to Bunnings to pick up Corflute, which turned out to be sold in enormous sheets over two metres long, so I had to strap a sheet of the flexible stuff to the roof of my car. All the way on the road home it flapped up and down alarmingly, banging on the windscreen and making the rear-view mirror shudder. I stopped on one road to add a rope to the rig, then took slow roads back, going through past Mascot Station, and turning into King Street to get to Botany Road. It was touch-and-go all the way and I reflected that if I’d passed a police car they’d probably have stopped me as I was holding onto the Corflute through the window of my car as I drove the RAV4 solely with my left hand. 

The Corflute was needed to act as a folder for a poster I’d had worked on by the paper conservator, who lives in Lilyfield, and on the same day as I bought the Corflute I made an appointment to go out to see her the following Wednesday. After I got home from Bunnings I took the big sheet of plastic to the basement and on the concrete floor using a box cutter separated it into halves then on 23 March drove successfully – apart from a little heaviness in my heartbeat around Redfern – to Rose’s house. We put the poster in the Corflute folder she made with the materials I’d brought along with some masking tape she had in her studio and when I got back home I took off another 10 centimetres since the folder was a bit large to sit flat in the car. I fixed up the hinge with my own tape – plastic sticky tape this time, with a layer on both sides of the join to make hinges out of tape – even though Rose had cautioned against using sticky tape because the adhesive bleeds. 

The framer Amanda replied to the message I’d sent telling me she’d be in the city on Friday week, and I said that it’d work to meet on that day at my place. On that Wednesday Amanda and I had a video conference where we chose some materials, especially for an embroidery with a quote from the Bible that mum and dad’d conserved in dad’s records. 

I got an invoice from Pixel Perfect the same day and on the Friday I travelled down on the bus to pick up the photographs of Madge’s they’d printed for me but on Thursday I brought up from the garage a small bookcase acquired for free from a Paddington couple. It’d been picked up at the end of February but it wasn’t until the fourth week of March that I put it in the hallway on the first floor, and on Saturday 26 March I filled it with books and put photos on it, the point of the thing being to accommodate a small lamp. 

I exchanged some messages with Amanda on account of some backing cloth we planned to use for the embroidery as well as for a flag of uncle Elmer’s I was having done. 

Amanda had specifications for the cloth to be used and detailed those requirements in messages. I considered the possibility of going to Spotlight but she’d said that they don’t have a lot of suitable material, in any case it would’ve taken a special trip down to Rockdale to visit the store. In my kitchen I had a number of items for her to take with her when she came and I also had things in the entranceway that I wanted her to bring back to Richmond in her car, including second-hand frames picked up from the deceased estate clearance. In a similar vein, Amanda’d offered me one of her used frames to go with an item we’d discussed, a montage of photos I’d taken in 2008 featuring a shopping centre garage. The frame was gold and I’d selected a yellow mount for the print, which prominently features yellow in pavement markings put there to direct cars.

In the final days of March I put my grey twisted paper chairs out the front on the balcony overlooking the street (see pic below). Sitting here you have an opportunity to stay out of the rain but still stay outside, and you can see people walking on the street, cars going past, while listening to birds. Currawongs and rainbow lorikeets could be heard, and their chorus reminded me of Pyrmont, though in those days the proximity of other buildings made sitting on the balcony feel wrong. I remember the Rum Store, just across the street, where residents could look out their windows at my apartment making me shy and unwilling to use the balcony that sat for the most part unused for six years.

Once safely ensconced in Botany I could also sit out the back watching the rain (see pic below) on a chair kept under the overhang in a dry place, the wet by this time affecting the city for over a month, despite short breaks, and northern NSW was still, on the 29th when this photo was taken, experiencing high river levels. In fact the next morning there were reports of people again leaving their houses on account of the water.

I got an email from a commercial gallery on 7 April and it was about an artist whose work I’d long admired. Initially when I read the email and understood its contents I decided not to delve into my savings and buy a work because I had framing expenses coming that needed to be met, then I tweeted in the evening, “There is too much beauty .. The loveliness of things .. I will b patient and wait. Getting lots of things framed soon.” But early the next morning – in fact well before dawn, as is customary for me – I realised with a pang that if I didn’t move to get one of the artist’s works into my house at this moment when opportunity offered I’d regret it. I changed my mind in a welter of indescribable feelings and before 5am sent an email in reply to the staffer whose name had been in the signature position of the business’ initial missive sent to me the day before. I then waited, mindlessly checking my email client from time to time because I was forced to see if I’d been successful, the works so beautiful it was possible demand had precluded my achieving the goal I’d long set for myself. 

At last near 7.30am a reply came telling me that the work I’d chosen (but they are all gorgeous, so it wouldn’t really have mattered in any case) was still available. I sent my details and retreated into limbo with a sense of trepidation looming. How would my expenses turn out over the next couple of weeks and months? What if someone suddenly asked me to give them an amount of money? And what about my anticipated tax bill? I’d sent records to my accountant not long before. I allowed all these questions to swing in the wind as I relaxed with the knowledge that I’d met with the past at a point in the road that had long had its own signpost. The fact of the matter was that I’d told my accountant about my plans the last time we’d met., at that time (talking online in February using my computer and video camera), I’d actually voiced a wish for just such a work of art and now, two months later, I was filling the order. 

Who doesn’t feel a kind of anxiety when ideas become facts? When I’d refused temptation on that first day – receiving the gallery’s email – I’d compensated for resulting feelings by telling myself that, instead of someone else’s work, I should make my own, and have them framed instead. But now with the painting secured by a promise I thought about making art in the shadow of such a fabulous object. The painting was delivered at the start of the last full week of May by which time I was busily making artworks of my own which, printed in Chippendale at the same shop that did my great-aunt’s photos, sat on a table underneath Yvonne Robert’s amazing painting.

At the end of May I spoke on the phone with an artwork restorer about another work, an oil painting I’d gotten for free via Facebook Marketplace from a woman in Bellevue Hill. In fact there’d been two works picked up on one trip, a watercolour having been reframed and sent to Japan to my family. The oil is a still life featuring a cauliflower and sadly it had been neglected. Chris told me what he would do to it and what it would likely cost and I told him to go ahead with the work. On 1 June I had an SMS conversation with the paper conservator about some items I’d left with her that needed fixing and flattening but a month later still hadn’t picked them up as she’d lost a sister and was in mourning.

I met the restorer on 9 August when I drove out to Richmond to the framer’s to see about things to get done. It was a mammoth session with a break for lunch – just some roast chicken ($5) from the shop up the road – during which Amanda and I saw to 35 pictures including many that mum and dad had conserved in their records for 50 years. Some were paintings my brother made when he was small. Others were linocuts I made when I was about 20 years old. In many cases we specified frames that I’d picked up free via Facebook Marketplace. It was good to use these old things appropriately and in a way that matched the relevant images, it saves nice things from being sent to landfill.

Chris the restorer is a voluble gentleman who obviously loves art, and he showed Amanda and I a beautiful little landscape painting of a street with a horse and cart that had probably been painted in the middle of the 19th century. He’d just finished restoring it, it looked fantastic. Among the things that I loaded up in the back of my car was a landscape painting I’d bought in Coogee that needed attention, and Chris had changed the colour of the frame (the original colour didn’t go with the painting at all) so that it looks wonderful.

When I got home and the next morning I was busy putting paintings up on the walls, and it was good – I mused when I had a fraction of a second of free time – that a few days before I’d ordered more of the monofilament hooks. With all the things coming from the framers I’d need them!

Amanda also reminded me about drawings of mum that Pixie’d made when they were alive, but that had some foxing. I’d given them to the paper conservator to treat but she’d not passed them to me with the rest of the items the last time I’d been to her house, so I contacted Rose who went away and found them. On 25 August I reminded her to invoice me for items already picked up and she said she’d do this as well as adding the final two drawings.

Amanda the framer came to my place with a bunch of stuff to deliver on 5 October at the same time that a TV show pilot’s lead actor arrived to stay for three weeks. Amanda didn’t meet Saya but she met John, the friend who was organising the film shoot. I actually went to Rose’s house the same morning to pick up a newspaper clipping my grandmother’d kept in her records and that needed flattening because it’d been folded twice before being placed in an album.

The set for the TV pilot was in my front room on the ground floor, John and Zsolt removing all xthe paintings and drops/hooks from the walls and bringing in some furniture to make the room look like a hair salon. Because on one day a scheduled actor couldn’t make it to Sydney (due to the rain) I even took one of the parts, a man who comes to get his hair cut so he can look like David Beckham. The film shoot took ten days to complete and I learned a lot about filmmaking which would make viewing TV more enjoyable.

On 30 November I drove out to Amanda’s studio to pick up more things and to select materials for new items she had already taken from me as well as the new batch.