Slowing Down to survive the Season

How was your December? Did you remain in one piece? By Christmas Eve I was bit done in.  I’d been through an intense month at work, flown to Singapore for a few nights to meet my 86-year-old mother who came in from England. On day two her viral aches flared up big time and I got gastro so there we were in our twin-bedded luxury hotel room, me rushing to the bathroom and my mother whimpering with pain, making the next day’s onward flight to Australia a bit of a challenge to say the least.

On arrival in Australia, Mum got the gastro (which lasted two weeks) and I had to fly straight up to Brisbane for work the following morning at 7am. Still a bit of digestive disaster, I had stayed overnight in a pretty basic motel at Tullamarine and, distracted by worry about Mum,  managed to leave my laptop on the conveyor belt at Security. Inconvenient, but I did get it back the next day; as a dear friend quipped, security is a pretty safe place to leave your computer.

The previous week, rushing for a train, I had nearly fallen down the steps at Flinders Street and the Friday before  Christmas I was so caught up in thoughts that I threw the ball for my dog Bertie into the road rather than into the trees. Bertie has zero road sense and, but for the timely appearance of a Guardian Angel disguised as a fellow dog walker, he would have run out in front of the cars. Like so many of us I was galloping mindlessly towards the end of the year.

By Christmas Eve, although the gastro had gone, I had a touch of Bridget Jonesitis (the world can appear very smugly married at Christmas time with everything screaming happy families and TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY).  Remember Colin Firth’s reindeer jumper in the film of Bridget Jones’ Diary?  To add to the heady mix, I had some personal life entanglements – the jolly season does tend to heighten emotions – and the night before Christmas I experienced a resurgence of grief for my father who died last December.  How I wished I could pick up the phone and chat to him. Dad loved Christmas and was always the life and soul of the party – I can remember him drinking a bit too much and playing catch with a bowl of Christmas pudding one year.

Never one to be defeated and wallow, I took a deep breath – well several – and spent the evening dipping into some inspirational texts, quotes, poems and other self-help bits and pieces which I have collected and curated over the year, treating myself to a philosophical and spiritual immersion.  One of the texts I returned to was by Henry Scott Holland, a piece that was read at my grandmother’s memorial service and at my father’s funeral in January. Here’s an excerpt.

“Death is nothing at all…I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the way in which you always used. Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air or solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed.”  

My father and I enjoyed lots of in-jokes, references that only we understood, and we invented multiple silly languages that involved Mr Bean-type gesticulations. That humorous and playful thread still connects me to the essence of my father. Then I came across Mad Dogs and Englishmen (as in they who go out in the midday sun), the song written and sung by Noel Coward (although some attribute the words to Rudyard Kipling) in 1931. It satirises the failure of the British to adapt to foreign climates and starts like this:

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun,
The Japanese don’t care to
The Chinese wouldn’t dare to.
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one
The Englishmen detest a siesta.”

While my father was not an embarrassing English man ‘abroad’, he was quintessentially English and always had dogs at his side. I can picture him now striding across heather-clad moors with his black Labradors. How these memories nurture me.

Then I dipped into a bit of Buddhist compassion – for self and others, remembering to slow down and simply be present to what is and to surrender to things and situations I can’t control and change; life doesn’t always deliver what we want.  I love the concept of coming back to the senses as a way of circuit-breaking the chatter of the mind. There’s a softness to kindness and compassion – it’s the opposite of achievement-driven rushing. And softness can twin with resilience; I remember an Ayurvedic retreat where we visualised a strong spine, our support system, while breathing in and out peace.  Just ten deep breaths can re-set an agitated system. Ahh…By Christmas Day I had undergone something of a 360-degree transformation. When I walked my dog in the morning, I felt my feet on the ground, listened to the rustling of the trees and the orange of the canna lilies and the purply blue of the agapanthus flowers jumped out at me. I spent a joyous day with my mother and my brother and his family celebrating in the traditional way.

A few days later, I heard a wonderful program on BBC Radio 4 about sloths and the benefits of taking life at a more leisurely pace. Slow-moving animals live longer – and even creatures associated with industriousness have some less active members among them – think un-busy bees and lazy ants. The only time that sloths speed up is when they have sex and that’s all about survival. As they normally keep a low profile to reduce their exposure to predators, raucous sex and lots of movement puts them at risk, making it sensible to get it over with quickly. Well, we don’t have to take too many leaves out of the sloth’s book, but a few maybe, and those that we do, we should digest slowly – they take a week to digest their food!

Happy New Year to all my readers! May it be evenly-paced, kind and mindful.

Holidays and Honey-Dos

I learnt a marvellous new word courtesy of my American guests over the Festive Season, namely honey-do, a chore or task performed by one’s partner, husband or significant other around the house or garden as in “Honey, could you do x, y and z?’

My Christmas holidays were much busier than I planned. In addition to the emotional tripwires that creep up on me every Yuletide (missing family and traditions in the Northern Hemisphere, end of year fatigue, a bit of the Bridget Jones Blues, and this year, midlife angst about my career and earning potential or lack thereof), I seemed to be very much on the go, which, of course, is one way of avoiding the difficult stuff swirling around in my head.

What with Airbnb guests (yes, we’ve had lift off and I’m on my third booking), parties and social gatherings, gardening, cooking (including special home-made dog biscuits for Bertie), cleaning, buying new fans, returning faulty fans and choosing new models that actually work, household honey-dos, dog walking, grooming and shampooing and a LOT of chatting, I got into a rather over-stimulated spin. Then this week, the week I had set aside to mellow out and finally relax, I started to look for jobs (a job in itself), and then yesterday got locked out of my house.

Giulia, one of my first Airbnb guests and now a temporary flat-mate, locked the screen door as she was unable to close the front door. I had left it on the latch so she was doing the right thing by securing the property. What she didn’t realise is that my screen key came off my key ring a few weeks ago and has remained on the kitchen bench ever since. All a learning curve: Note to self – be clear about screen door with guests and make sure everyone including me has a full set of keys!

It’s been a new thing for me having not just one but two people in my house (the spare room is twin-bedded). Most of the time it’s fun having congenial company and ready-made dinner, movie and dog-walking companions, but there are times when I need to slink off to a quiet corner and read or simply NOT talk.

Dan and Vickie hail from Colorado and are cycling across Australia on their beautiful custom-made tandem. Amazingly, the whole bike (see picture) can be disassembled and fitted into a couple of cases. They started their Australian journey in Sydney before riding down to Melbourne and around Tassie. They came to me in preparation for the next leg of their journey to Adelaide via the Mornington Peninsula and Great Ocean Road. From Adelaide they are following the coast and crossing the Nullarbor to Perth. Not a trip for the faint-hearted!

They were with me for a couple of weeks and we started out by having dinner together at an excellent Turkish restaurant on Christmas Eve and finished up with an evening spent building self-assembly fans. As you do. Dan is a star honey-doer and helped me prune tall shrubs, take the bins out, hammer down rough nails on a couple of carpet dividers, rig up a way of keeping the laundry (Bertie’s bedroom) ventilated on hot nights, search under the washing machine for a missing pearl earring and much more. He even helped me word a difficult text. How nice it was to have a house husband!

Breakfast at the Sandy Beach Kiosk with Dan and Vickie

Breakfast at the Sandy Beach Kiosk with Dan and Vickie

Had Dan been here yesterday I wonder if he’d have found of way of opening the screen door without the key! As it was I had to drive to the Monash Campus (not my favourite place owing to a job from hell last year) where Giulia is studying. I do have a local honey-doer though – my brother. Like Dan, he’s practical, solutions-driven and likes a challenge. On Wednesday just as the mercury hit 35, my air-conditioner failed to work. As luck would have it my brother was passing by and came in to investigate. I was ready for the worst – last time it went wrong and I called out a service guy, it cost in the region of $800. Just what I don’t need on top of the midlife career crisis! After tinkering with the inside controls, Tim went outside and turned the unit on and off in an effort to ‘re-boot’ it. And it worked and is still working. What a star!

Then, last night, I decided to have one last look for the missing pearl earring. I lost it about a week ago when I had come in from walking Bertie. I heard it drop – a soft drop – while I was in the laundry but there was no sign of it anywhere despite Dan’s inventive use of a coat-hanger to sweep under the washing machine. I bought the earrings back in 2009 when I was on Thursday Island. They are high quality pearls and I love them. So you can imagine my delight when I re-checked the pocket of the jacket I had been wearing. There was the missing pearl in the inside pocket. I didn’t even know there was an inside pocket.

It’s been a funny few weeks and I’ve been rather topsy-turvy but I’m now Girl with Two Pearl Earrings and a Functioning Air-Conditioner and am counting my blessings! What’s more, last night I chanced upon one of the most stunning sunsets ever. Enough to lift anyone’s spirits!

Sunset on St Kilda Beach - 8th January

Sunset on St Kilda Beach – 8th January

Mad About the Boy

Many of us – men and women alike – enjoyed the humour and frivolity of Bridget Jones Diary when it came out in 1996. So I was disappointed to read a thumbs-down review of Fielding’s follow-up title, Mad About the Boy. Especially as we’ve waited 14 years for it! UK Telegraph reviewer Sarah Crompton reports that she didn’t laugh until she reached page 34 and had this to say about the book: “Reading the first two thirds of Mad About the Boy is like listening to someone who once had perfect pitch, but now can’t sing a note. It lies as flat on the page as its heroine’s overcooked spaghetti. Every line feels full of effort.”

Like Sarah Crompton, I regarded the love-seeking BJ as a soul sister and adopted – more by osmosis than by design – some of her vocabulary. In fact, I had forgotten that we have Fielding to thank for ‘smug marrieds’ and ‘singletons’. She did all of us single women such a favour by finding a replacement word for spinster with its dreaded on-the-shelf connotations.

But my relationship with Bridget goes even deeper. Two of my friends actually call me Bridget. That’s because there’s something about me that reminds them of BJ. Although I consider myself far more savvy and self-aware than BJ and don’t have to worry about counting calories, I’m British-born, middle class, know men who wear jumpers with cringeworthy motifs and did once use a pair of old tights instead of a muslin bag to infuse herbs in a stew. Who could forget Bridget’s blue string soup? And then, the big knickers; well yes, I do have some in my possession, but I don’t actually wear them. Well, not anymore…

So what a shame that Fielding appears to have lost the essence and voice of the original Bridget. According to Crompton some passages in the book waiver between sub-Mills and Boon style and a frolicsome Fifty Shades of Grey sort of voice. That’s enough to tell me that the now 51-year-old Bridget and I have gone our separate ways. Mark Darcy, her dream husband, has died five years before the book starts and Bridget is now a Born Again Virgin obsessing about her weight, appearance and new toy boy Roxster – all this in between managing nits and the school run (she’s also the mother of two small children).

I may share a similar vintage to Bridget but that’s where the comparison ends. I’m a smug singleton (we can be smug too) and mother of one very adorable canine child, Bertie. What’s more I’m absolutely mad about the boy. And I’ve already got him into reading. He loves a good page-turner.

Puppy dog reading My First Puppy

Puppy dog reading My First Puppy