Thursday, 27 March 2008

Booking through Thursday
This week's question:
While acknowledging that we can’t judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardcover vs. softcover? Trade paperback v mass-market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?
It doesn't really worry me. So long as it doesn't have a tightly-glued spine or pages with narrow margins and tiny type, I can't say the design of a book affects my choice, or my enjoyment of it, very much at all.
Which is not to say that I don't relish a well-designed book, with a gorgeous font (Bodoni, or Bembo, or any of the Garamond family) on luscious stock, perhaps with deckle edges and a heavy, textured paper dust jacket. Yum-oh!
Frankly, my enjoyment is affected much more by bad editing, and mistakes in grammar or spelling. Heebie-jeebies!
My sister-in-law told me once of someone she knew (in publishing, I think) who flatly refused to buy any book that had embossed type on its cover. He'd shut his eyes and run his fingers over the cover and if there was any hint of raised type, he'd reject it. There's a good Aussie word for that and it begins with w.
In fact, there are several words for that ...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Booking through Thursday
This week's question:
You’ve just reached the end of a book . . .
what do you do now? Savor and muse over the book? Dive right into the next one?
Go take the dog for a walk, the kids to the park, before even thinking about the
next book you’re going to read? What?

Hmmm. I'm a definite diver.
These days, I have a to-be-read pile, and since I've discovered Australian second-hand bookshops in a big way (still way more expensive than amazon etc, but with lots of UK titles as well), I've got a lot waiting for me. So, by the time I get to the end of a book, no matter how good it is, I've already started working out what I'll move on to next. And then it's done in an instant.
I also find that while I'm reading one book, I can still mull over something I read recently, so there's no need for any hiatus. Just a big breath and dive right in.
Oh hospitals ...
The staff are absolutely outstanding. Dad's nurses have that amazing mix of intelligence, care, skill, compassion and understanding, topped off with a detached efficiency when it's called for, and I am astounded at all they do and know. They should be paid squillions and work in palaces. They're always ready with a smile and a laugh, and nothing any of the patients asks of them is ever too much trouble. They run in and out of wards, from one bed to another, all day. They're so impressive.
Dad's also in the hands of physiotherapists, nutritionists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and doctors, and at last his condition has a name: polymyositis. It's an auto-immune condition that can be managed but not cured, and he's likely to be in hospital for another month. But the doctors are optimistic his health will improve, that he will regain strength and eventually return home.
He will need another month in hospital. We're hoping that some of that will be back in his hometown, Albany, so Mum at least can get back to some semblance of ordinary life. It's really tough on her. She doesn't know Perth very well at all, and much of the big teaching hospital and its daily workings confounds her. She just wants to know her husband of 58 years, whom she still calls 'darling', will eventually feel better and more comfortable, and be back in her care, back home with her and the dog, and leading as ordinary a life as possible.
It has been a long, horrible few months since he first elected to have a knee replacement in the first week of January. Not that this present condition seems a result of that surgery, but we can't help feeling that if he'd continued to manage the arthritis in his knee with acupuncture and painkillers, he'd have been so much better off! The little we know, though.
I know Dad's the one in the wars, confined and putting up with everything day after day after day, and in spite of all the fabulous staff, I have to say there are times I absolutely dread going to the hospital ... the sickly pastels, the goings-on behind drawn curtains and in wards with signs that say 'Next of kin only', the obstacle course of apparatus outside in the corridors, the beeping of hi-tech monitors, the sound of the sucking machine from the poor lady opposite Dad who's had some unspeakable procedure on her nose and throat, all the needles and clear plastic tubes, 'canulation', the 'bloods' lady, fluids in and fluids out ... aaagh! The whole experience makes me long for the scent of oranges and lemons and lungfuls of fresh air!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Out of the woods ...
... well, almost. Dad has not had a stroke, but seems to have been subject to a total body shut-down because of the quantity and toxic combination of medication since he had surgery in January. He's still seriously ill, but - we hope - out of danger. We are SO relieved!
Thanks for all your concern and comments. It all means so much.
Mum and I are staying in a college near the hospital - spotless and spartan, but a godsend. All the accommodation in Perth seems to be booked out, apart from the $400 a night chain hotels, so it was brilliant to discover that this college, with its beautiful quadrangle and trees and birds, keeps a 'motel' wing for visiting acadamics and conference delegates, plus worried relatives of patients in the hospital nearby.
On Sunday we'll move to a house in Fremantle - dear friends Chris and Pam are leaving for a month in Europe and have given us the keys. So very lucky to have such brilliant friends. Karen has our washing on her line at the moment, and is cooking us a curry dinner, and tomorrow we'll be off to see Dace and Konrad for arvo tea.
Must get back to the hospital!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

I'm back in Oz again
Just taking two secs on a friend's computer to let you know I've had to rush back to Australia to see my dad. No too good. I'll check in every now and again - thanks for all the comments. Back later!


Monday, 10 March 2008

Touch of the noble*The kids issued us with shopping lists while we were in Australia.
They wanted nothing very onerous or expensive — Lily asked for a few hundred Madura teabags, Redskins, Peppermint Crisps, the latest Panics CD, the new volume of Isobelle Carmody's The Obernewtyn Chronicles, and some eucalyptus oil.
Will wanted a pair of Aussie boardshorts and a cricket set. That's him, above, bowling to his delighted dad at the park yesterday.
Obviously, Will's out to persuade his mates about the joys of street cricket. And they're loving it! On Saturday, he had a big group down at the local park and they played for hours, much to the amusement of a family from India, and a New Zealander who was playing beach volleyball on the sand court in the corner.
It was a very, v-e-r-y informal game, with some weird deliveries ...
... and some great smashing hits. Justin, above, was a natural.
I was thrilled to see the Carmel Creek U-18 XI included a few bold girls who, like the boys, did their best with the eccentricities of bowling, after years and years of pitching baseballs and teeballs and softballs.
Will dressed for the occasion, in his red Queenslea House athletics top from his old school, Christ Church.
Trev, above, is clearly too much a rock star for this game. He's much more likely to end up on a stage than a cricket pitch, but he did a great job.
And this lad had the bat the wrong way, which led to hoots from the crowd.

* For the uninitiated, cricket — or criggit as it is called in Australia — is rather loftily known as 'the noble game'. I presume that this is because only toffs, the upper classes, the idle rich and those with private incomes had enough leisure time to indulge in playing and watching a game that can last five days.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Ideas, please!
So — touching wood that all is well in Albany — we'll be taking a trip to celebrate a very special anniversary next month.
The stars have aligned so it coincides with Will's spring break, for which he plans to go to stay with his big sister in Olympia. So David and I had thought about a week in Paris — and that sounded very exciting and romantic. But (a) it's a long flight for what would end up being only a few days, and (b) my cousin Samantha is getting married in England in August and we'd love to try to get there for it.

So, we've decided to spend three days in Washington DC, and four in New York. We have dear friends in Garrison NY, with whom we stayed while we were on our honeymoon, and we'll be visiting them again. And Susan, with whom we stayed in Chicago on our honeymoon, is joining us in NYC for a couple of days.
We've been to NYC twice, but we've never been to Washington. Given that we love art and museums and books and good food and music and comedy — can anyone recommend some must-see places and must-do things in either city? I mean, other than the obvious (Smithsonian, National Gallery, MOMA etc etc)? All ideas appreciated!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

True blueI know we're in California and all, and it's beautiful and on the Pacific ... but here we just don't get skies as blue — as really, really clear and blue — and sea as amazingly, vividly turquoise as we do back home in Australia (above). Just look at all that blue!
I had only a few days in Perth before I returned to Albany to be back with Mum and Dad, and David and I spent them racing about seeing his family and meeting up with friends when and where we could. But before the two of us headed back to Albany, we did manage to squeeze in a weekend at the beach-house down south.It did us so much good!
We forget, over here on the other side of the world, up in the other hemisphere, how stunning Australia is.
This (below) is our dear friend Konrad, coming back from a gentle hour or two fishing at the bottom of the garden, bringing home the flathead and a few herring which we had that night before dinner - so good!

Konrad and Dace put us up while we were in Perth - they are the kindest, best friends. Thanks to them, we didn't feel quite so homeless returning to Perth without a house of our own! Luckily, they were both able to come south with us for the weekend, and we played lots of cards, ate lots, drank lots and generally unwound.
This is the beach ...... and this is the path from the garden. From the house, you get these little jewels of blue between the leaves of the gums and peppermint trees. And you can hear the sea — only little waves lapping on the sand — as you lie in bed at night. One October night a few years ago, I woke up to hear whales singing and cavorting in the water. Unforgettable. We couldn't get Will to wake up and come with us, but Dave and I grabbed a torch and went out in the inky blackness to stand at the water's edge. Nothing to see, but you could hear them out there splashing and breeching.
And while we're talking wildlife, here's a pic of a couple of roos at sundown on the farm up the road.Click on the pic to enlarge it. There are more roos visible through the trees on the left. The two in the middle are studying me intently to check me out! Unfortunately, I was upwind from them and just seconds later they bounded off. Does your heart good just to see 'em!

Friday, 7 March 2008

Excellent women, part 1
When we were in our early thirties and had been reformed smokers for several years (I quit on September 6 1983), David and I amused ourselves one night — when we were missing the after-dinner light-up — by saying that when we turned sixty, if we were still hale and hearty, we'd take up cigarettes again.
Sixty seemed such a long way off then, and the sort of age when decrepitude and senility were just around the corner anyway, so seeing out our remaining few years with a hacking cough and an antisocial smell about us seemed an okay way to go.
Of course, now we're in our fifties, sixty is fast approaching and hey! We'll be old! Isn't that strange? I , for one, am still waiting to think of myself as a grown-up ...
Being about to turn sixty is what prompts Maria Sharpe, the engaging heroine of Virginia Ironside's fun book,
No! I don't Want to Join a Bookclub, to start a diary.
While Maria embraces her age with mixed reactions, the desire to remain 'young-at-heart', or to take up a new lover or weird pastimes is not among them.
Instead, feeling mature, confident, and endowed with experience and intelligence befitting her years, she looks forward to relaxing into her old age with acceptance.
'The great thing about age,' said the therapist [at a dinner party with Maria and friends] ... is that it's never too late. You can do so many things. Take an Open University degree, go bungee-jumping, learn a new language ...'
'But it is too late!' I argued. 'That's what's so great about being old. You no longer have to think about going to university, or go bungee-jumping! It's a huge release! I've been feeling guilty about not learning another language for most of my adult life. At last I find that now, being old, I don't have to! There aren't enough years to speak it. It'd be pointless!'

'... I find, approaching sixty, that the real pleasure is that so many things are impossible ...'
Of course, there are drawbacks to being old. Like Maria, we have to learn to deal with the infirmity and eventual deaths of friends and others who have been close to us all our lives. But this can be balanced by the joy of grandchildren and a brand-new phase of family-hood.
I've loved Virginia Ironside ever since I read her columns when I was a teenager in England and envied her that extraordinary name - so strong-sounding! Last year, when I shouted myself to a subscription to
the Oldie, I was delighted to find her name among those of this UK magazine's other illustrious columnists and regular contributors.
This is a crisp, funny book that is sentimental at times without ever resorting to the maudlin or wussy. Maria is acerbic, intelligent, a warm and loyal friend, and an all-round excellent woman. Recommended.
Booking through Thursday
This week's question:
You should have seen this one coming … Who is your favorite male lead character? And why?

Well, there are any number of male equivalents of the sort of female character I like (smart, gsoh, ddf, fta, ld/nd, n/s, w/own teeth and hair*).
Nominees could include Mr Darcy, Gandalph, and the guy who gets the girl in A Suitable Boy. But there is one who stands tall, head and shoulders above the rest: Atticus Finch.
He's a thoroughly good man, fits all the above criteria, seems ever-so-slightly vulnerable for all his strength and character, and looks like Gregory Peck.

* In personal ad shorthand: smart; good sense of humour; drug and disease free; likes fun, travel and adventure; light drinker/non drinker; non smoker; with own teeth and hair.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Due Preparations for the Plague
I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of Janet Turner Hospital before I found this amazing novel in a bookshop in Perth, while I was grabbing a few Australian books to bring home to the US. Now I'm counting my blessings at all the books of hers I have yet to read.

JTH lives in the US — she's a professor of English at the University of South Carolina — though she was born in Melbourne, brought up in Brisbane and still considers herself a Queenslander.

Due Preparations for the Plague is one of the most gripping novels I've read in years, a very intelligent psychological thriller that is as tautly written as it is tense to read. While the main action takes place over five uncomfortable, claustrophobic days in 1987 — when a terrorist group hijacks an Air France flight from Paris to New York — the narrative shifts and swings dizzyingly through time, location and from person to person, at times as bewildering for the reader as its ghastly events are for the characters involved. And on top of that is the question of who can be trusted, and who's watching whom ...
Like the plague of the title (borrowed from Defoe), terrorism and war are inevitable occurrences, yet how can we ever be ready for them, let alone come to terms with them?

The terrorists are persuaded to let all the children off the Air France plane: 'Passengers reach out to touch and caress as the little ones are pushed down the aisles.' We see them in 1987 and again in 2000, once they've 'grown' from damaged, tortured youngsters into damaged, tortured adults unable to get past the cataclysm that so shaped their lives. They keep in touch via the internet and try to piece together any information about the hijacking they can lay their hands on, in the hope of healing/catharsis/redemption. Or an understanding, at the very least.
But can the truth make any difference to them? As kids, their release from the plane inspired high hopes of a happy outcome for all those left on board. And as adults, they're still clinging naively to hope.

In this novel, published
in 2003, two years after 9/11, JTH makes incisive observations about both sides in this drama and draws chilling parallels between American intelligence operatives and the terrorists. CIA recruits, for example, are told by their instructor:
'In our profession (
making the world safe for stability, as we like to say; and sometimes, relishing our own esoteric wit, making the world safe for moral systems) it is a given that chaos is all; that order is not only arbitrary but evanescent, and that it is the task of a small strong circle of like-minded people to establish and guard it. Exactly which system of order we sustain — morally and politically speaking — is immaterial. We support the system most likely to stay in place.
'Hence our dilemma. I am not speaking here of personal disintegration, or of that futile and panicked attempt to withdraw from the field ... This is not a field from which you can retire.

' ... Retirement from this career is not an option. We keep your soul in an escrow account. Take note: of the twenty of you in this room, the creme de la creme who have made the cut and registered for this course, nine of you will leave us before the end through one of the two trapdoors I just named. The wages of sin in the Intelligence community are erasure. I know you understand this. If you did not, you would not have reached this class.'

It's suicide on both sides of the equation, then.
JTH sprinkles the text with quotations from all manner of sources and references to others throughout history who were tainted by 'the madness of true believers'. Shakespeare, the Bible, Boccaccio, Defoe, Buddha, the Ancient Greeks and a host of others all get a look-in in this crackerjack read.
Thoroughly recommended.
Albany revisited
Though I was only there because my dad was so sick, I had a great time revisiting Albany, capital of the Great Southern region of Western Australia. It's a beautiful port town of about 20,000 on Princess Royal Harbour, secure from the wild seas of the Southern Ocean — next stop south is Antarctica. The region is famous for wheat and sheep farming, meat and dairy cattle, and, increasingly, wine.This pic (above) is of country near Nornalup, on the coast about 60 miles west of Albany.
Being about 250 miles south of Perth, Albany's weather is a lot milder, with more rain and far more bearable summers.
I was there on Sorry Day, Tuesday February 13, when our new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, formally tabled a motion in federal parliament apologising for injustices and wrongs done to Indigenous people, especially those who were part of, and continue to be affected by, the Stolen Generations. It was such a moving and important day. My brother, Garry, and I assembled with about 500 others near the harbour in Albany ... (that's Garry just left of centre, above, with white T-shirt and long ponytail)
... and we all marched up York Street, Albany's main street (below), to celebrate this historic occasion. On another day, I visited friends who have moved to a beautiful bush property near Albany ...... and after lunch on their deck, ringed by bush, flowers and trees, with birdsong to accompany us, we fed the splendid wrens that came happily in for a feast of desiccated coconut. These (above) are all females, with only a hint of blue on their tails. It's the males that have earned them their name::: The drive from Albany to Perth was, as always, a beauty. I sang along to the entire CD of Attempted Moustache, a fabulous album from the '70s by Loudon Wainwright III (father of Rufus and Martha) and stopped here for lunch:This fabulous spot was just north of Kojonup, which proudly states on signs as you enter the town that it was Western Australia's 'first shire with 1,000,000 sheep'!
A bit farther on, I stopped at Arthur River, a tiny town which is almost exactly halfway between Albany and Perth, to take a look at this little country church on the side of the road.Built by and for old settler and farming families, it was consecrated in 1880 and is still in use today. I was particularly moved by the grave of young Cissie ...
... who lies in the churchyard within view of the golden wheatfields and eucalypts.

:: We had a great sleep last night; first night in our own bed for over a month. I love our bed. And our cotton sheets. And my pillow. We'd stayed up until as late as we could — hey! there's a guy from Perth who's a dead cert for the American Idol finals — and slept really soundly, despite three interruptions from the alarm on David's new bedside clock, which he had inadvertently set to 'sleep' instead of 'off'. Fixed now!
:: With all the comings and goings and toing and froing, I've completely missed Chapter III's first anniversary! Such a fun year it's been, and I'm delighted to have several friends in the US, the UK, Australia and elsewhere who come by often and regularly, as well as my family and mates from back home, who were the inspiration for it all. Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Happy landings Home to a cool, bright sunny day in San Diego, with a lovely feeling that spring may be on the way down here.
The pic above is the view from the Jumbo just before we landed at Melbourne on Saturday arvo. Nothing to do with today's post, but when I close my eyes, I can still see the inside of a jumbo from row 50 seat F in the centre section ... aaaagh!
We drove south from Los Angeles this morning, dazed and a bit stiff after the thirteen-and-a-half-hour flight from Melbourne and 19-hour time difference which meant we arrived before we'd taken off.
The hills of Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base, and the only section of the 100-mile drive that is not built up, were a mass of dense green, sprayed with masses of the lime-yellow flowers of wild mustard and clumps of bigger orange flowers amid the yellow that I failed to recognise at the speed we were driving.
Utterly gorgeous. Only a few weeks ago, these hills were brown and parched where the wildfires of last October had burned through, in some places right up to the edge of the freeway.

:: I was unpacking upstairs when Mum told me on the phone that Dad was back in hospital again, after a suspected stroke. Gulp. Now, a few hours later, the news is not so grim: a CT scan proves he has not had a stroke (praise be) but everyone is baffled as to the reason for the symptoms he's showing - dizziness, fainting, and a numb and floppy left leg (not the one with the new knee).
Anyway, let's be more cheerful. Here's a pic of Mum and Dad out for a stroll at Middleton Beach, Albany last Wednesday, my last day with them ...Despite the summer's day, dad is wearing the socks I knitted him in the middle of last year! They've been washed and washed, and have been darned at the toe, but he insists on wearing them.
:: And this is me having a last yummy cuddle with my gorgeous grandson, Mack, just minutes before we left for Perth airport and the plane to Melbourne on Saturday.:: I'm far too tired (trying to keep awake to go to bed at the right time to ward off jetlag) to do more than sign off and watch a taped episode of American Idol - YAY! It's back! So I'll see you later!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Homeward bound
I'm in Melbourne (fabulous, fabulous) until Tuesday, when David and I fly home to the US. I'm just briefly logging on, via a friend's computer.
It was sad to leave Perth, and our friends and families - especially Simon, Marnie and Mack - but all seems well in Albany with my dad and brother, so that's a huge relief.
We've had a wonderful day in Melbourne, having arrived last night and been immediately whisked off to dinner by some of our friends. Today began with breakfast in St Kilda, then lunch on the beach there.
Melbourne has long been one of my favourite cities in the world, an opinion David shares with me. But this is our first time together in this city - and that's something to celebrate!
Back next week with pics and the full monty.