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.
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.
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?