On toes and too much to do

The truth is that life has been truly, madly, deeply bonkers and busy this last ten days; too busy even to brag about my brilliant welcome-to-mum beetroot soup. Because, although I say it myself, it was rather good.

Mum arrived on one of those early morning flights about ten days ago and kept going all day. She didn’t have much choice. Bertie dog was ill and passing blood – my courtyard was a mess – and so we spent the first afternoon scrubbing down the paving stones and then had an hour-long appointment at the vet’s (he’s since recovered after lots of tests and mega doses of antibiotics). After the vet’s I had an hour to prepare dinner, change and get my head in gear for a meeting with a publisher in Carlton. I only just made it as I ran into heavy traffic and had to ditch the car and jump on a tram.

Our second day started well and ended badly. We took Bertie for an afternoon walk in the park and went off the path and under the trees to avoid the sun. Don’t ask me how but, within minutes, a stick with attitude had singled out Mum’s leg and gashed it in two places. What would have been a bandaid affair for me or you, resulted in a major wound for Mum. Just as Bertie had stopped bleeding, Mum started, ruining her new shoes in the process. Yikes!

We got an appointment with the unpopular male doctor at my local practice the next day. He’s a belligerent, opinionated kind of medic totally lacking in any bedside manner. Mind you, Mum can be quite a tour de force herself especially when it comes to insisting that they use her special dressings the had brought from England. Was she planning to have wounded legs? Did she fear bashing her legs so much that it turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy? Sometimes I do wonder. Mum is the one who banged her leg on bed post in Singapore, had a similar stick incident on a beach in the Mornington Peninsula and, on a holiday in Cornwall in 2001, dropped a TV on her head. That really was quite a drama; she had tried to tilt the television downwards but it wasn’t fixed to the bracket so toppled over.

This is not to make light of her recent wound. Her leg was very sore and swollen but, more than that, Mum was furious it had happened and frustrated at not being able to swim, walk Bertie and help me clean and clear out cupboards in preparation for my renovations. I probably added to her frustration by running around like a mad chook flipping from thing to thing – writing grants and feature articles, buying a finger glove and special chicken-flavoured toothpaste for Bertie (he’s got a bit of plaque on his teeth apparently), doing the body corporate accounts (I can’t make them add up), clearing out cupboards (Mum is appalled at the stuff I have amassed – “you never used to be like this”), taking stuff to my local charity shop, testing paint colour on the walls, and toing and froing with the builder and other suppliers on everything from shelf heights to electrical points, Laminex samples, tiles and telephone points. Renovations are like migraines; you’ve got to go through it to know what it feels like. Believe me.

Then I’ve been emailing the folks back in England and dipping a toe in world of eBay to sell some of my clutter. So far I’ve sold a dress and am two dollars out of pocket. It sold for a dollar and I underestimated the postage. And talking of toes, my sister in London has dislocated her toe and it hurts like hell. She got out of bed in the night to attend to her husband who has had major knee surgery and has his knee in a brace. Are we accident prone in our family or just Drama Queens, or both?

Anyway, in between all of this whirling around, we’ve had some lovely moments of R & R: a lazy lunch in the garden with gorgeous rose wine, lunch at a local cafe in between a gentle bit of window shopping and, the highlight, a visit to Tim and Bruce in Hepburn Springs where we sat on the veranda watching greedy cockatoos nibbling on pears, read books, chatted about all and sundry, and had a beautiful dinner (Chicken Coronation, none the less, and Nigella’s plate trifle). With renovations looming in my own house, it was gorgeous to get away.

Bertie's hair clip...

Bertie’s hair clip…

I came back wondering how I could de-clutter not just my house but my to-do lists. And I’ve come up with a way to make combing Bertie’s ears less of a chore (see my last post about the bossy groomer). Getting out the knots and grass seeds is one thing, but food gets stuck in his hair and makes it all matted and he hates it when I try to comb it out. So, short of coming up with an edible chicken-flavoured comb, I bought a hair grip, one of those Lady Jane things, and I pin his ears back before he eats. As he gobbles up his food in about 30 seconds, he doesn’t even notice and it works a treat. The only thing is that I get the giggles as his little face looks so funny with his ears back. So I have to work hard at keeping a straight face when issuing the SIT and WAIT commands. These are two of the commands we’ve got down pat unlike leash walking…

On Sunday morning, he yanked on his lead and nearly pulled me down the front steps. My sandals caught on the step and my foot got bent back and I ended up with a huge bruise and rather sore toes. What was I saying about our family and the Drama Queen gene?

Looks like a Greek sculpture gone wrong...

Looks like a Greek sculpture gone wrong…

Hazard-proofing my house and drinking gin

I started to build a fan last night – you know, one of those cheapo made-in-China jobs you can buy at the supermarket. It’s not very hard to put together but, then again, I’m not very handy. I’ve only got as far as making the base or ‘cross stand’ and it’s going slowly as I’m using a $7.99 gimmicky little screw driver shaped like a pen with different heads contained in the pen lid. But with temperatures in Melbourne soaring – it’s currently 42 degrees and there’s no let up until Saturday – and my 82-year-old mother due to arrive from England next week, needs must.

The not-even-half-assembled self-assembly fan

The not-even-half-assembled self-assembly fan

Mum’s legs and feet – bless her – are already swelling up (and this in the frosty chill over there) at the mere thought of the interminable plane journey and the heat when she gets here. So I’m doing all I can to make her stay as comfortable and pleasurable as possible. So far, I’ve stocked up on 40% proof gin (and some tonic), red wine, Earl Grey tea and a jar of four fruits jam to go with her toast. I’ve bought a special mattress topper for her bed, cleared away three storage boxes of photos albums (all 38 of them documenting my life from 1963 to 2013) so she will be able to actually get into the bed, and am planning fun things to do and lovely meals to eat. I thought I’d do a cold beetroot soup for lunch on her first day– root vegetables are meant to be grounding (that’s why Bertie dog has a special raw meat preparation with grated turnip and pumpkin), so I reckon that should help her to find her feet even if they have doubled in size.

Some of life's essentials

Some of life’s essentials

We’ve got quite an itinerary planned. On our first weekend, we’re off to stay with Tim and Bruce in Hepburn Springs (luckily they have a well-stocked drinks cabinet too), then Mum is spending a night in Mt. Eliza with old family friends, she and I are renting a cottage in Gippsland for five days, my brother is taking her to Anglesea and then there are trips to the Botanic Gardens, favourite cafes, favourite friends, sitting in on my Monday night choir and more.

I’m thrilled she is coming out and will make the most of every minute we have together. I’m looking forward to sharing aspects of my life in Australia with her. As we reminisce about the good old days, we’ll be creating new adventures and re-stocking our bank of memories and stories. And while I work – how else do I keep the Bombay Sapphire topped up? – Mum has said she is happy to help with the ironing, cooking, grocery shopping and pre-renovation cupboard sorting. Perfect!

But there are still a few things to sort out. It’s not just the heat we have to worry about. Like many young, energetic and over-excitable dogs, Bertie has a habit of jumping up to greet visitors. And it’s unlikely I’ll be able to train him out of the habit in a week. Mum’s skin is very thin and rips and bruises easily so apart from having a supply of Steri-Strips to hand, I’m recommending that she wear long trousers and long sleeves until Bertie has got used to her being here.

Anyway, by last night I was feeling quite happy with all my plans and preparations… until Dad rang. “Make sure there are no whitebacks or white tails or whatever they are called. I would hate you or Mum to get bitten.” Dad has never forgotten that when he and Mum last stayed here there was a white tail in the bed. Not just on the bed but IN it. I was proudly pulling back the bed covers to show them the mattress on one of the new twin beds I had bought and there it was snuggled under the covers. “Actually, Dad,” I replied, “I have noticed rather a lot of spiders recently, from lots of little spiders on the sofa to a white tail on my bedroom floor. Enough said! I spent the rest of the evening charging round the perimeter of my house spraying webs around the downpipes, vents, gutters, window sills etc. And then I went out to the shed. And, sure enough, there was a spider with a fat body (yikes, a redback?!) busily making a web in the hinge of the door. I didn’t dare look too closely. I just sprayed and ran. Then I sprayed the ledge of the laundry window only for a cockroach to jump out and fall into Bertie’s water bowl. Arghhhhh!

It’s at times like this that a quote from Bill Bryson’s book Down Under comes to mind: “Australia has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip.”

Perhaps it’s time for me to pour a G ‘n’ T and let all thoughts of toxic nips or spaniel scratches just float away. Mind you, what about jellyfish in the sea? Should I worry about those too? More gin, anyone?