Sunday, February 27, 2011

Too Little, too Late

- In memory of Romain

Here I am joking around about death and funerals and have just heard that one of my cousins killed himself recently. I do apologise for being insensitive. I am sorry too, that I didn’t visit this branch of the family while I was in Europe, not that it would necessarily have helped.  As a family we tend to focus on our achievements and what is going well. We don’t talk about problems and we do that as a society as well. 

Then there’s a house in my street, which I pass a couple of times a week. It intrigued me a bit because of the mural outside and I wondered what the person was like who lived inside. Usually though, when I pass I am on my way somewhere else.  This week I finally got up the courage to ask about the grape vines that grow outside. I have been wanting to preserve some vine leaves for Dolmadi, but wasn’t sure if these were ornamental grapes or real ones. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
There was no answer when I knocked on the door, only a notice from the council saying he had to cut the grass or he would be fined.  Just as I was leaving and closing the gate, a man walking by told me that the owner had died in hospital last week. As with Raimon, I wish I had done it earlier. It may not have made any difference, but I wouldn’t be wondering if it could have.

I don’t think I should stop talking about dying though. It’s a big taboo in our age -and death -denying culture which makes it all the more devastating especially for the families left behind. I didn’t think it was as bad in Germany.  I can remember how shocked I was the first time I visited and saw photos in the paper of people in body bags after a freeway accident. One of the reasons they don’t report all the suicides here – almost double the number of road fatalities, is that they are afraid of copy -cat attempts, though that doesn’t seem to stop them reporting murders and other crimes. Nor does it stop people committing suicide. Over two thousand people in Australia ended their own lives in 2008 and 55, 000 attempted it. Far better to talk about it and see if we can help. I feel certain too that if we were shown images of what confronts police or ambulance officers after an accident, or how devastating it is for families, we would be ten times more careful on the roads and a lot a lot nicer to each other while we are alive.  

So if I have learned anything from these events, it’s Don’t Wait! There isn’t always a tomorrow and sometimes people die for want of just such things. I guess that’s why I hate eulogies too. If you have something nice to say, don’t wait till people are dead.

Goodbye Romain. I am so sorry I didn't get to know you better and my heart goes out to your family. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Robots are already here

They are already replacing the checkout girls. What will I do for social contact once Self -Service is the only option? I already use Netbank for my banking and don’t chat with the tellers any more.
In Japan, robots are performing weddings. They also have a robotic catwalk model.

Mind you, I noticed during my funeral research, that one of the real estate agents here is also licenced as a funeral celebrant. I’m not sure I like that. I can imagine him signing up grieving relatives at the same time. I think I would rather have a robot.

I am all for robots doing all the dirty work, but as we make ourselves redundant, robots should be made to pay enormous Income Tax. After all, they work 24 hours per day and need no sick leave or holidays, other than a little lubricant and maintenance occasionally. It would not only make them marginally less attractive in lieu of human labour, and their products less competetive, but it would enable us to buy what they make. They certainly wouldn't complain as much, just as they don't complain about things like  ridiculous hours, wages and working conditions and work –life balance. Nor are they likely to try to form unions.

Wonder if someone will now send me a robot?
After the GPS rant, one son has just sent me the song 'Coin Operated Boy'  by the Dresden Dolls and in the wake of the Technophobia one, a very dear Tekkie friend – my Inspector Gadget, has given me a wind -up charger for my phone.
The funeral directors have sent their brochure. Nice photos. No prices, but you do get a choice of which wildflowers you want on your plot.

While I was looking for Coin Operated Boy on You Tube I found another one Mechanical Boy which might be appreciated by younger readers.

I'm sure you will get the drift, (the idea, non English speakers) either way.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Twenty reasons why I should have married my GPS

This is a marvellous gadget. My family bought me one after I got lost a few times while visiting them in their various places of abode.  You soon grow very used to this little travelling companion when you aren't fumbling under the dash for it and I just love the way it lets me go boldly forth in unknown cities and eight -lane intersections. Here are some of my reasons for preferring it to a husband. I must confess I haven't yet had the time to discover all its capabilities.

  1. Never comments on your driving ability or the way you reverse park.
  2. It always takes you where and when you want to go and never keeps you waiting or stands you up
  3. It almost always gets you where you are going and usually much faster than if you were using a Melways or even Google. Have you ever tried reading those instructions while driving through town?
  4. It knows exactly where you stand without having to ask and only rarely leads you astray
  5. It willingly takes orders without complaint.
  6. Never gives unsolicited advice
  7. Doesn’t get offended if you don’t take it.
  8. Nor does it make smart comments like,”Why don’t you wear anything as sexy as that?” or “How come you’re having that cheesecake when you are on a low joule diet?”
  9. It doesn’t care whether you are tall or short, young or old, wearing Prada or Target or your nightie under your clothes.
  10.  It is never grumpy or bad –tempered and never wants to go fishing instead.
  11. Its voice is always calm and cheerful. It never swears and if you get tired of that terribly proper BBC voice, you can tap a button and change it.
  12.  Never looks at other cars and has never been unfaithful as far as I can tell.
  13.  It never says “I told you so” even when it could.
  14. It never puts down your ideas or thinks you should be doing something else.
  15. It gently warns you when you are speeding and gives you plenty of time to change lanes.
  16. It never yells or panics or calls you Madam Whiplash
  17. It doesn’t care how often you stop to take photos, have coffee, visit markets and garage sales or change your mind completely. 
  18. It doesn’t even mind  going shopping
  19. It has a reassuring way of getting back on track, even after you have taken three wrong turns
  20. It never tires of telling you “You are still on the fastest route.”
OK, I know there are a couple of drawbacks. It won’t take out the garbage or take you out to dinner nor is it very affectionate or hot in bed, but on the other hand, it never snores, never steals all the Doona and never leaves the seat up.

While I wouldn’t mind if it occasionally had a few opinions of its own, it could, with just a few modifications and training be the perfect travel companion.

In the interests of continuous Product Improvement, here are a few suggestions for Tom Tom and other manufacturers. The first three are serious, the others are optional:
  • I don’t always want to go The Fastest or the Shortest Route. How about the most interesting One?
  • What about a little commentary on the points of interest as you are going along. Just hearing “You are still on the fastest route,“ for 2,000 km gets a bit boring when you are crossing the Nullabor or in a two hour traffic jam.
  • Could you please try to get the place names right. While it is amusing to hear Australian places called Wagger Wagger (Wagga Wagga is actually pronounced Wogga Wogga) or Gerulton, or Kalamundaaei, or NayteeIoh 3, it could be confusing to strangers. Only the other day, a tourist was saying that they were just going through Beeechino and then some other utterly unrecognisable place, as they heard it from their GPS and I thought I hope they weren't waiting for roadside assistance.
·         A more personalised greeting would be nice, “Hi Honey, how was your day?” or maybe, “How would you like to travel? Do you want to go fast or should we go nice and slow? Or "I know a beautiful lookout and a great place to eat.” Or “There’s a movie you’d like on at the State.”

·           It could learn a few jokes and have a few things to say about current affairs.

·         And maybe it could be taught to apologise on those rare occasions when it lands me on an elevated freeway and tells me to turn right through the safety barrier.


I was just going to write an Ode to my GPS, but I do have some reservations.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a Luddite. I have even just changed the Sim card in my phone without calling my children, but I do have niggling doubts about total reliance on same. 

Not only does technology change very quickly, but what if someone moves our satellites slightly to the left, blocks the signal or they get hit by a comet or there is the tiniest cosmic hiccough? Or our batteries go flat? I had reason to ponder this only the other night. 

Having just scanned a lot of the documents I thought I might want to keep, I found myself unable to access any files for twenty four hours because of a minor electrical fault in the house. What happens when I can’t afford the power bill, or the internet connection, or I lose the whole computer? And I did wonder how many electricians I'd be able to ring before my mobile died, because I wouldn't have been able to recharge it.
Although I now have back -up for the computer, I dislike this utter dependency. Having grown up in those dark pre -Windows days when people used punch cards and you had to write your own code, I don’t just want to be a tool -user, I want to know how it all works and what alternatives we might use if the system fails.

I'm not throwing out my Atlas and Road Maps and I am rather sorry now that I threw out my son’s  Scout manual on Semaphore and Morse code.  Perhaps somewhere in this wide world, or even in several places as we do with seed banks, we should keep hard copy - books and manuals (and spare parts!) - of how all this was done, before we relied on computers and technology to do everything.

Apologies to my International Readers and Students of Angleski, Let's hear from you!

I know this has been pretty boring for you, but this is the sort of stuff I write at home. I should have been down at the docks taking photos of the Wooden Boat Festival for which Hobart is famous, or maybe the Taste of Tasmania, another big Festival the week before, or just maybe I should have three blogs - one for international, one for national and one for local. Then again, it could be three different blogs - one for travel, one for inner journeys and random thoughts and one for book reviews. I am also thinking of letting it go public, instead of it being a private blog, as it has been.

Members of the Japanese Fashion Club at the Market last Saturday
Nice thought!

So what do you think? It's about time I heard something from you. I am not even sure if the comments thing at the bottom of the blog works so give it a go because this is turning into such a one sided conversation. What did you like? What didn't you like? I'll try not to be too miffed. And what would you like to see more of?

I am writing generally about aging so I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and I am also thinking about the seventies and the influence they had and are still having on our lives. I mean who had ever heard of the environment before that? And are you recycling? Cycling?  I'd particularly like to hear from you if you were a former hippie. Maybe you are still one. Also from the Children of the Dream i.e. those whose parents had some kind of alternative lifestyle and what influence that had on you.

Meanwhile  I'll close with just a couple of glimpses of  Salamanca Market, where I usually do a mercy dash on Saturday mornings to get bread  and vegetables. It's raining solidly this morning, so I'll do this instead, and you' ll see that it's very international - Bratwuerste from Germany, Olliebollen from Holland, Persian and Asian Food and lots of Tasmanian delicacies too, like honey, cheeses, olives, oils, berries and wines. The Hmong grow most of the vegetables and there is usually a fine collection of antiques, clothes, handcrafts, toys, buskers and musicians too.

It was a bit crowded
You don't see too many of thses around any more....

..or these

Music - This is Cary Lewincamp
More Flowers
Genuine German Bratwurst - the smell always drives me crazy!
Gorgeous girls from the Japanese Fashion Club again!
A Taste of Honey. Trita from Longley with his Sweet and Raw Honey
Abundance. Hmong from Vietnam sell most of the vegetables
Beautiful Breads

People enjoying coffee at one of the many cafes
The spice seller is from Wales
More Germans
Dutch Olliebollen
Gennaro's traditional Italian Specialties
Persian Food

The South Americans 
This little bird fell on a lady's head just as I was eating my bratwurst
'Bye girls!

Cheers for now. I want to hear from you!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dying is not an Option!

"Afterlife" real estate is expensive
I have just looked into the high cost of dying, even when you are not being scammed by undertakers (see  This site also mentions other scams including the lottery scam I almost fell for the other day).

According to a  burial plot can set you back  anywhere from $1,000 to $13,000, grave digging $ 500, basic pine coffin $ 2000, a headstone $1000 to $3,000 plus not less than  $3,000  for the undertaker’s services, so I simply can’t afford to die any time soon.
Nor is cremation the clean green way to go I thought it was, since it is very polluting and produces lots of greenhouse gases.

For example, Brownedocs at Wordpress reports that:

“In the UK, 16% of the mercury emissions and around 11% of dioxin emissions are the result of cremation.” p.103
You could drive the distance of the moon and back 163,273 times on the energy from all cremations in one year from the countries, China, Japan, India, U.K, Canada, U.S.A, Australia and New Zealand. -based on Government statistics 2008.” 

Cremation does however, take up less space and is considerably cheaper. If you happen to live on the Eastern  Seaboard  in places such as Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle, No Funeral, No Flowers, No Fuss will do a basic  cremation for  $2,900.
The use of a cardboard coffin will produce fewer emissions and has other environmental benefits such as using fewer trees and being more biodegradable. They are so popular in Japan, that they actually cost more than those made from timber. Here they seem to be only available via funeral parlours and then at a cost of $399, whereas in the UK they are available for 55 Pounds (around $120 AUD) with free overnight delivery in the metropolitan area.
I asked some of our local packaging companies here, thinking there was a market niche, if ever there was one, but no one has taken up the challenge at this stage.

I also thought about ordering one in advance from the UK to have ready in case. People used to do that, especially during recessions and depressions, although not in my lifetime.

No doubt it would make an interesting conversation piece and would be a great place to store my files, not to mention a good -sized coffee table or useful ironing board, but it might take up a lot of space.
The latest trend is to have them painted creatively to suit the deceased. I suppose it could be a new fun activity – coffin painting parties. Invite all your friends! Alternatively, it could be great OT in an Eventide Home. It’s got to be better than being tied to a chair and stuffed full of tranquilizers.
also mentions one that can be made from Ikea KLAPS components for around $500. It wouldn’t want to be as complicated as our chairs, which took weeks to make, although at least we already have all the Allen  keys.

There is also a direct factory outlet on the Gold Coast which has assembled eco -caskets for about $399, but they cost at least $300 to freight to Melbourne, let alone Tasmania, and it takes about a week.


Greener Funerals
In the UK greener funerals have become very big business with over 200 places now offering burials using biodegradable materials , no embalming fluids and no memorials (although loved one’s locations are increasingly locatable via GPS technology), other than trees. It sounds like a better monument than acres of mausoleums, especially given that green space and grave sites are become scarce and expensive in urban areas – a veritable “afterlife housing crisis” according to Benjamin Law.   Sydney for example, is looking at a sort of temporary tenure arrangement for the future, one western cemetery is already creating four storey mausoleums for those who insist on above – ground burial, and one country town is offering vertical burials but I haven't been able to confirm this as yet.
Kingston in Tasmania was apparently the first place in Australia to offer Woodland Burials, though this is run by one of the funeral parlours and I haven’t been able to find out more information. They are however, sending me a brochure so watch this space.

According to the Natural Earth Burial Society this type of funeral is now also available in Adelaide, Canberra and the Gold Coast and a simple burial in biodegradable materials in an unmarked bush plot costs around $ 3,000.

From memory, Perth also has something like this as I did pass a small reserve near Byford operated by the Men of the Trees. This had small plaques and  dedicated stone benches set among native trees. Nice idea!
This reserve near Byford seems to predate the recent trend for eco - funerals

Burial at Sea
In Australia, this appears to be far more complex than outlined by Browndocs in that you have to demonstrate that the person had a strong association with the sea e.g. long serving naval officer, fisherman,  ( No, I don't think being a long standing surfie or beach bum counts!)  and that it will meet all environmental guidelines under the Marine Dumping Act. You must apply for a special permit from the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and pay the requisite fee which will still set you back $1650. Much the same applies to having your cremains – what’s left after cremation, put into an artificial reef. You also have to comply with all the legal requirements such as obtaining death certificates etc. so this is not a cheap way out.

DIY Funerals

The new/ old trend in the USA is to take back control of the burial by taking the dead home, laying them out oneself or preferably with a community group and allowing viewing at home. This follows on from the taking back of other rites of passage which were formerly home based before they became institutionalised such as natural childbirth, writing one’s own wedding vows and so on.

Though I love to challenge  convention, I doubt that my family would want to be THAT involved. However, the excellent site provides a wealth of information, like how to wash bodies and keep the eyelids closed and what statutory regulations you should be aware of, should you want to know more. The more usual expression of this trend in the Australia is for families to do more of the service themselves, rather than relying entirely on an undertaker and funeral homes.

Some UK undertakers have responded by pricing various tasks such as transporting the body to the cemetery or crematorium separately.
Obviously, the way to go would be to enter into a funeral plan. These promise to cost no more than a cup of coffee per day for the kind of funeral where you do almost everything yourself, but sorry folks, at this stage, that cup of coffee gives me more ‘peace of mind’ than taking the "financial worry out of  the passing of a loved one" – don’t you hate the cloying language of funeral brochures - so keep your fingers crossed, that I don’t get run over by a bus.

After all this research, I still like my original plan i.e. Cremation in a cardboard box with the ashes being scattered to the winds, preferably from the top of Mt. Wellington if you can’t be fined posthumously  for littering. Failing that, a woodland burial or a country cemetery sounds rather nice -cheaper rates, no crowding, especially given that,  as Brownedocs says, due to benign neglect in the past, they are now among the few  places where some of our endangered wild flowers can be found.

Hard Data. We learn a great deal from the occasional tombstone

While I like the idea of leaving no trace or a forest, I do have one niggling doubt. I have learned a great deal about places and times from looking at cemeteries and grave markers. Although technology promises to overcome this with some GPS based systems already beginning to incorporate such information, I am a bit of a technological skeptic in the long, long term.  Imagine if the pharoahs had used some kind of floppy discs instead of hieroglyphics - not that we don't have enough trouble deiciphering those. Maybe we should allow small brass plaques like those on avenues of honour for deceased soldiers or a single memory board or even a stone bench which would at least provide a little comfort for the living.

Telltales -Even though this old cemetery in West Hobart has become a park, memories and history remain.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why it's very important to discuss your wishes with your family....

I just talked to my daughter about it, and this is what she sent me. If you can't read it. Just double click on it. I just realised I couldn't!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Intimations of Mortality

Old Cemetery at Ross, Tasmania

Just when you come to terms with the idea that you might not live forever, there is the horrible prospect that you might. Life expectancy keeps rising, yet the quality of life does not necessarily improve.

No, I am not planning to do myself in just yet, but there’s a big debate going on in Tasmania about Voluntary Euthanasia and another nationally about how we are going to pay for all those aging baby boomers when they all need care and are no longer tolerated at home. The favoured model looks like being a sort of reverse mortgage on the family home. This is a bit depressing since having spent the first two thirds of your life acquiring it, it seems that you only get to keep it for such a short time.

While my children have offered me accommodation so far, there’s every chance they’ll change their mind as I get older, crankier and more difficult to manage, so I am having a big think about how I want things done, while I am still capable, and I have taken out my Grade 6 school reports and my Certificate of Appreciation for Penguin Washing – enough of past glories  -in favour of that kind of information. 

  • I have made a will and written in where it can be found and who’s to execute it. 
  • Since this only covers your material possessions I am also making a living will – no resuscitation, no heroic measures, no force feeding or annoying experimental procedures unless I am capable of saying yes.
  • I am also appointing Enduring Guardians in case I become incapable. For Tasmania you can download the forms from the Guardianship and Administration Board at They must be returned to them at GPO Box 1307, Hobart 7001 in Hobart and be registered with them to be legal. There is no fee payable for this and once registered it becomes a public document.  This varies a bit between states, but the Dying with Dignity site below lists similar organisations in other states.   

At this stage it is not legally possible to have assisted suicide in the event of a terminal illness, but after watching my mother die a slow and painful death, I will join this group to push for law reform in this regard.

3.       Nor have I yet ticked the box about Organ Donation, so it would be hypocritical of me to say that you should. Logically, rationally, it’s a good idea, but I am still a bit emotionally attached to them at this stage. However, it is a good time to talk about this with your nearest and dearest. The Week from Feb 20 to the 27th is Organ Donation Week and since in Australia at least, relatives must agree, this is a good time to make ones wishes known.

Note: you do have to register here, even if you have ticked that box on your licence, but you can pick the forms up at any Medicare Office.

  •     Funerals. Avoid if possible. Ideally I would like to be composted but since this is probably illegal and very likely considered to be unsanitary, I'll go with cremation preferably and in a cardboard box or a rented coffin if necessary. Save the living space for the living and the money too. No cards or flowers. Use this money to make someone’s life brighter or for a worthy cause. And no mourning. Have a party, a family dinner or at least a jolly wake. That’s what our Mum did. If you can put the ashes under some ornamental tree that would be even better, since they may do some good there, or scatter them in some beautiful place in the wild or on the sea.
That’s all the time I want to spend thinking about dying for now, but it is probably a good idea once in a while.

At least there's still plenty of space in this country cemetery

Monday, February 14, 2011

Square Eyes

Miracles do happen! A new TV appeared on my doorstep on Friday just in time for the Friday night murder mystery. The courier couldn't tell me the source, so it took a little while to find out that my darling daughter had organised this. I like to think it was because she was worried about me falling off the balcony while trying to watch the neighbour's (not the neighbours, but the neighbour's television, though it's hard to say which would be the more entertaining), but most likely it was to stop me from complaining.

It is truly amazing. It is not one of the house -sized ones, but has an excellent picture and about fourteen channels that I have never seen before. Unfortunately, the programs aren't any better - mostly reruns and sport - but this is probably a good thing, or I wouldn't be sitting here now. By the way, I think I have found the answer to writer's block which I have been whingeing about as well.

It's no use sitting in front of a blank screen or a blank sheet of paper  trying to think of something to write. You just write yourself a long To Do list of things you should be doing and it's surprising how inspired you feel. OK, it's hardly Shakespeare or the Great Australian Novel, but at least it's something.

There was bit of a non -miracle too. I had just recharged my broadband account after which they tell you they have put you into a draw for electronic goodies, cash and so on. About ten minutes later I got a message on my phone saying that I had won $2,000,000. Nice timing, I thought as I emailed them back, fantasising briefly about new TVs (this was before the new one arrived), a treehouse spa, helping my children, saving the world etc.  Really $2,000,000 just doesn't go very far these days, but I wouldn't have complained.

Sadly, when I told one of my children about it, they assured me it was just a scam to get my email address so if you get strange emails purporting to be from me - well stranger than usual, just ignore them.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Giggle your Way to Health and Happiness

If you go down to the park today, you're sure of a big surprise....

I was down in St. David’s Park this morning just for a bit of a laugh. That’s right, a formal laugh with the Hobart Laughter Club.  Not a big crowd today -only six of us whereas there are normally about 13 or 14, but the sun was shining and it was great day for making  an idiot of oneself.  Annette, second from right in the picture, was today's cheerleader.

 If it seems a bit contrived having to get together expressly for the purpose of having a laugh, then let me tell you the strange looks you get aren’t half as strange as the ones you get if you laugh out loud in public by yourself. So here were making weird noises and practising different kinds of laughter for no apparent reason. There were belly laughs, the Bailey’s Irish cream laugh, Simon Says laughs, snide laughs, an angry laugh and one or two others which I have already forgotten. No jokes needed - just getting those laughter muscles working and getting a bit of fresh air into your lungs at the same time.

Fake it till you make it. You might just start out pretending to laugh but real laughter soon takes over
We all know laughter is good for us. The literature says it boosts immunity and raises endorphin levels the same way that exercise does and believe me it’s a lot more fun than grunting away on a running machine. This is a form of Yoga developed in India. There’s even a bit of scientific evidence to support the idea that just positioning your muscles in the right way improves not only your disposition, but your performance. In his book “59 Seconds” which talks about proven ways to improve your life in a very short time, Professor Richard Wiseman reports on a study in which subjects were made to solve maths problems while having a pencil clamped firmly in their teeth in a forced smile position. They not only reported a happier state of mind than controls with no such aids, but found the task much easier.

Laughter Club members at an earlier session

 It is certainly difficult to hold a negative thought at the same time as you are concentrating on your laughing technique and if you weren’t in a good mood to begin with, the antics are so funny, even the looks on the faces of passersby, that  you simply can’t help being swept along. Laughter is infectious. I came away feeling lighter, freer and didn't need a smoke for at least three hours.

 Still smiling despite difficulties, Shirley is a bright spot in anyone's day.
Others report similarly positive effects. Charmaine for instance, took part in a pilot study after being diagnosed with clinical depression. Since she started coming about two years ago, she has not been hospitalised again and is now taking only about a third of the antidepressants she used to need. Shirley has been coming for four years and despite two serious operations, still manages to radiate warmth and joy. Laughter has also been found to have very positive effect on cancer patients and others with serious illnesses. 

Afterwards there's usually time for coffee and a chat. This photo is from an earlier session as I couldn't stay today
Have we forgotten how to laugh?

I think it’s an indictment of our culture that we have to go to such extraordinary lengths to have a laugh these days. Life is a serious business and there are many things to worry about  –if it isn’t our own problems, our health, our job, our children or our finances, there is always the economy, global warming, floods and politics.
If it’s all getting you down, go and visit a laughter club near you.  They are now in more than  60 countries including Germany,  Malaysia, Peru, Japan, Denmark and  the UK and have at least 6001 members (that last one is me). One of the really nice things is that it doesn't cost anything and there is no registration or form filling - you simply join in.
If you are interstate and want to know where you nearest club is, try

Still not convinced? Then check out the following clip by John Cleese, who like many comedians, suffered from severe depression.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Here's Your St. Valentine's Card

Meish has kindly given permission to use this on my blog. Click on her name for other wonderfully cynical thoughts and yes, I am using a mass -produced sentiment produced by someone else, but it did rather tickle my funny bone and that's very important these days.

I'm not even that against a bit of commercialism or even that the card is mass -produced and I also like celebrating the passing of the seasons and marking out special days that break up the routine and allow people to drop their masks (or put them on) for a short time, otherwise life gets pretty boring. What does bother me is when these rituals themselves become routine or fraught with expectations and obligations.

Valentine's Day has its origin in pre Christian times in the ancient Roman Festival of Lupercalia. Unmarried girls/ women put their names into a drum to be drawn by young men who then remained their partner until the following year's draw. Sounds like a great idea to me. We should bring it back immediately. I just read somewhere that loneliness is much worse for your health than smoking.

New York apparently does quite a few things on that theme. There are plenty of Anti -Valentine's Day Parties for the cynics and singles among us, like the Annual Anti Valentine's Day Vampire Ball where the undead can dance  till dawn, but one or two places take things a bit further. Last year one of the pubs had a type of lottery where males and females got half a playing card each and no couples were allowed. They also gave out roses and chocolates to all the ladies, but you didn't have to stay together for the rest of the year, probably not even for the rest of the night. For the truly disillusioned, the aptly named Amnesia Club, had an Ex -orcism, whereby people could bring along pictures of their ex. to stick on the dartboard.

The origins of the name St. Valentine's Day are not so jolly. The Roman Emperor Claudius thought married men were a dead loss in wartime, so he banned marriages, but a bishop called Valentine, probably Valentinius, continued to marry couples in secret, for which  he was subsequently beheaded in 269 AD. Being unable to get rid of these heathen customs, the Church then tried to substitute saints' names to be drawn out of the barrel on Valentine's Day, so that people would lead exemplary lives according to the saint they had drawn. Apparently this did not prove a huge success and the girls soon took back control of the barrel.

Using other people's sentiments to express one's feelings is an old custom too, with books of loving prose and verse for men to copy appearing as early as 1797, so I won't feel too bad about that either.

One custom that appears to have faded away even before the risk of catching herpes and laws against Workplace Harrassment is Kissing Friday. Kissing Friday used to fall on the Friday after Ash Wednesday and allowed any male to steal a kiss from one female before the austerities of Lent.  Of course we would want Equal Opportunity these days and very probably a medical certificate saying you are not going to catch anything, it would be nice to have the option. Ash Wednesday falls on the 9th of March this year. I looked it up.

Meanwhile, I'll be celebrating St. Valentine's with a pink drink of some kind - thought I 'd try making a Raspberry Bellini  (basically fruit juice - strain out the pips - with champagne or white wine), though I'm quite partial to Carrington Blush  as well,  and maybe a Cherry Ripe or a Pink Lady marzipan bar.

Cheers to all you other Lonely Hearts out there and may this year bring the One of your Dreams.

Stoppress: sat 12/2/2011. I have just found the purrfect pink drink. It's a strawberry champagne mixer. I don't have the champagne yet, but I am giving it a test run with mineral water.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The X Files - a meeting with Ghosts and Old Friends

Talk about having one’s life pass before one’s eyes. I am going through the wreckage of my life so far. I  already parted company with most of the hardware – kids’ bikes, the bassinette, unfinished hobbies and several generations of dead computers – remember the 311?, even the spinning wheel - before I moved house, but I am now being confronted by about 30 years’ worth of old lecture notes, recipes, craft ideas that I never managed to find time for etc. etc. which have just returned from storage to haunt me. That’s where all this nostalgia is coming from in case you were wondering!

It’s not cool to admit to having been a hippie these days, especially when you look at old photos or movies of people in flares, body suits and crazy hair, but I’ll have more to say on that later, when I finish this job, the other one and the house maintenance. But I digress, yet again
Technically, if I wanted to, I could spend the whole of the next decade sifting through the last thirty years or so, but I have decided to be ruthless this time, because there is absolutely no storage here -nowhere for the children’s old school books, daughter’s martial arts belts all the way up to black, basketball trophies, old dolls or love letters, or the Alternative Books that showed you how to tie dye, build shelters, make candles and build a root cellar.
It’s definitely crunch time at the OK Corral but it does make some fascinating reading. One of the few nice things about getting older, is that I can’t remember reading half these books the first time, so it’s all like a new discovery although it does seem to be extending the process indefinitely.

As to all those lecture notes, maybe I should have been doing How to Keep your Husband 101 or maybe How to Make Men your Slaves 202, or possibly  How to make your Children Obey your Every Word 505  or even How to get Paid what you are Worth 702, instead of doing all that studying. What profiteth it a woman, to know all the world, only to find herself thrown over for much more street -smart twenty -four year old.
The children are just as bad. You put up with them for twenty years and just when they are old enough to hold a decent conversation, they move in with someone else. I am pleased to be throwing out the box of family recipes though – all that stodge and pasta and school lunch ideas, though I have kept a couple of odd ones because they just might not be on the internet. I’m keeping the one for Elderflower Cordial as I still have aspirations and then there’s my mother’s recipe for venison for instance, which was a big hit one night, plus the one for wild boar. You just never know when some Gallic hunk - an Asterix perhaps, might bring one to your door. Oh yes, and I am keeping the recipes for weeds. The way things are going, they could come in handy sooner than expected, especially when you see the state of the vegetables in the shops. I suspect all the good ones are going to Queensland.

I am definitely throwing out all those menu plans for formal dinners for twelve to forty guests and fifty ways to fold a napkin, both left over from the Bush Nook days, which I’m sure I will never need again. After being in the hospitality business for ten years (seven of them in the Food Lover’s Guide to Tasmania, boast, boast), I don’t have a hospitable bone left in my body and the people I know in Hobart would fit comfortably in a phone box. *
Should they be insane enough to come to dinner, they had better bring it with them as there is hardly ever anything in the house, except perhaps a glass of wine since I found a whole stash of bottles in amongst the storage stuff.
 I am however, keeping the After Dinner Games and a few board games. We had such a good time playing them and hope springs eternal.  Now that the offspring are tiring of things like Silent Raves (where everyone has their headphones on and dances and listens to their own MP3 Player) and are beginning to rediscover the joys of Board Games  with real live face – to –face people (They are really taking off in Canberra. Played Ticket to Ride (Zug um Zug auf deutsch) recently with my offspring) there may be hope for them yet. Also handy in case of power failures or being stuck on someone’s boat].
Enough reminiscing, back to work!

Only about ten mystery boxes  to go, not including Teaching Materials,  Published Works and news clippings. I have finished Crafts, Recipes and Household Hints, Children’s School Achievements, Holiday Activities and Home Improvements. Then there’s Accounts, Art, Architecture, and Decorating, Environment, Travel, Fashion Design, Photographs, Self Improvement – I’ve given up on that too -  Work in Progress,  a big, scary box labelled Miscellaneous, and a whole filing cabinet of stuff for which I  seem to have lost  the keys. I am vaguely hoping it  is Bank Statements and letters from Centrelink.
 It does feel good to be getting rid of all this mental clutter, but sometimes it's a bit like letting go of old friends and while all remains of past lives must go to make way for something new, I might get some inspiration along the way.

*Don’t think for a moment that I’m desperately unhappy with this state of affairs. I ‘m rather enjoying being by myself for a while. It’s the first time in twenty plus years that I’ve actually had time to look through all this stuff and wonder what possessed me to keep it in the first place. It is also the first time in several decades that all the drawers are tidy and all my stationery and what’s left of the art materials are in one place.  

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Priority Customer

It’s 5.30 a.m. Ever since I gave the garbage men those shortbreads at Christmas I am their Number One customer and they always start their round here on Wednesday mornings. This is not necessarily a good thing as they bang and bump and grind their way to my door in the wee hours of the morning, but at least I get my bin emptied, which didn't happen when I first got home and I am glad that I am a high priority for someone as the Age of Invisibility dawns for me.

This was certainly not the case when I went to look at televisions this week. The little old one I borrowed from my son, quite literally went up in smoke while I was watching a murder mystery on Friday night. The smell was terrible and I was a bit afraid that it might explode so I carefully took it outside and in the morning I had to go and ask the neighbours Who Dunnit. If I had known they were watching the same program I suppose I could have sat on my balcony with binoculars and watched the rest from there. Then again, it loses something if you don’t lip -read well [people used to do that you know when television first came in and the Olympics were on – sit outside electrical shops on stepladders] and it wasn’t a great night to be sitting outside.

Anyway, since then I have been exploring the brave new world of television. Things have changed a bit since we got the last one about 25 years ago. There’s LED, LCD, High Definition, Ultra high definition, 50Hz or 100 Hz, Plasma, Blue Ray and a choice of screens the size of houses. I practically had to twist someone’s arm to come and talk to me and I am still not much the wiser. I did work out that I couldn't afford one and the easy terms over 48 months make it cost about three times as much, so it may have to wait a while. 

In the meantime, I expect I will have to call my son on Friday nights and we can all sit around his fourth generation iphone. I have already been treated to a couple of episodes of “Futurama” on it. While it certainly has an excellent picture, much better than the old TV and does ensure a little family togetherness, it isn’t quite the same and I do rather miss the evening news.

I am not sure what I have done to offend the Electricity Gods. Since I have been home, the computer  has died, the dishwasher demised in the middle of Christmas Dinner (not yet replaced - can wait till next Christmas!) and now the TV that has survived all manner of trepidations until this minute. Please tell me what I am doing wrong here.