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Itís getting on for 11pm here in Prahran. Outside, the rain is falling. I can hear it; that and the sound of wet tyres on Chapel Street mingled with the incessant low din of the television playing to no one in the small, outdoor smoking room of the Court Jester Hotel across the road. Thereís a chill breeze on my back coming from the ill-fitting window behind me that leaks what little heat there is in the room like a sieve. I didnít think weíd still be here in this cold, damp house a year on but, here we are.
I like to think this will be the last cold winter. Of course, that's what I told myself last year. Little did I realise how slowly things would progress. Oddly enough, I've grown accustomed to the cold. The irony is not lost on me. Winter in London was never like this. It's a different kind of cold altogether and had we not had central heating there Iíve no doubt my perception of an English winter would be very different. Who knows, perhaps I'll look back on these cold winters with some sort of fondness. Life can be like that sometimes.
It's been demanding. I keep thinking about how life will be when things get back to normal, or at least settle down again. Itís not that things aren't good right now, but a lotís changed. Life is different. I feel different. You don't go through something like this and remain the same.
And that has to be a good thing.
But it's the feeling of optimism that's perhaps the most surprising thing. It's not just about what we're doing: it's much more compelling than that. It's a sense that the best is yet to come.
And that's a great feeling.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, to break in a new pair of boots by walking a couple of miles to meet Ben for a gallery opening this evening. By the time I arrived I was hobbling in agony and remembering why they've been sitting in the wardrobe all this time, both here in Melbourne and in London before that. I bought them on an impulse while on the Island several years ago and every time I've tried to wear them the result has been the same. Fortunately the flow of complimentary champagne helped dull the pain.
The news about my dear friend Bronwen isnít good. She's apparently suffering from heart disease and a dismal assortment of associated ailments. The fact that she should have been dead over thirty years is hardly compensates for anything. The final test results should be in within a few days but there's really little scope for a positive spin on things. It's odd to think she's only a couple of years shy of the age Mum was when we met. She's been such a rock in my life and I can't begin to imagine a time when she's no longer around.
We can never really take our health for granted. At any time some terrible ailment can blindside us. I'm very conscious of being in an age bracket in which my chances of succumbing to something debilitating are increased and yet it's not something I tend to dwell on. For whatever reason I seem to have acquired a sense of, if not invincibility, then certainly durability. I take my health a lot more seriously than I used to. I keep fit, I eat well, I'm eight kilos lighter than a year ago and I do what I can to be healthy.
Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like had we never met. Weíve been together for so long I find it hard to imagine having built a life without you in it. I was never one to be on my own. For as long as I can remember Iíve had a powerful pairing instinct. If Iíd paired up with someone else, what would life have been like? Everything would have been different. Absolutely everything! The journey weíve shared and the challenges weíve faced have made me the person I am today.
No, I canít even begin to imagine it.
Every Sunday morning at eight my dear friend Robert pulls up at my front door and we drive off to find a place to walk for an hour. We started doing this a few months ago when, half in jest one Saturday night, I suggested that he join me for a brisk walk the following morning. To my surprise he accepted and since then, other than when heís out of town, weíve been walking together every week. Weíve been friends for over 30 years and our Sunday walks have renewed a friendship that weíd both begun to suspect weíd outlived.
Iíve just completed a painting which, much to my delight, is one of the finest Iíve ever done. It grew organically out of an idea I got from a documentary about the most recent paintings by the Japanese octogenarian artist Yayoi Kusama whose recent retrospective at the Tate Modern in London gave me serious pause to reflect upon an institution that I once took blithely for granted. Iíve christened the work
, a name which came to me while painting it. To be able to produce something so satisfying and, well, so beautiful, is something of a revelation to me.
As I approach the anniversary of my second year of being back here in Melbourne it occurs to me that I am at last beginning to feel at home here. I am becoming increasingly enamoured with Prahran, the suburb in which we live. It is a lively, sometimes bohemian little enclave just south of the city and one with which I have maintained an on-going relationship with now for over 20 years. Despite this historical context, itís nonetheless taken me a long time to let go of the years spent in London and accept that Iím back here to stay.
Weíve been building a house for so long I can barely remember a time when we werenít. What started out over three years ago as an exciting adventure has turned into a regular soap opera. The saga seems to go on and on without ever reaching completion. To date weíve got just the first floor standing. That in itself has taken three months. It was supposed to take two weeks. We were meant to be in by Christmas. At this rate weíll be lucky to be in by February.
And they tell me the worldís supposed to end before then!
Itís not that I canít imagine getting old; I can. Itís not that I imagine Iím in some way immune to the effects of aging, either. Itís just that I know Iím going to age well.
I know a lot of people who talk about aging as if it was a curse. Sure, there are things to consider. I know my body is not as young or as supple as it once was but I also know that I have some measure of control over how I age.
I have so much more to do in life.
So much more . . .
I am now a full 8 kilos lighter than I was. It took a while but I got there. Taking up swimming late last year was the catalyst; that and walking to work, eating more sensibly, eating smaller portions and generally taking care of myself. It took a while to see any results. The first three months revealed little change. But I got there. I now have the flat stomach Iíve craved for so long and I feel the fittest Iíve felt for years. It just goes to show that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
Iíve become quite a fan of little art galleries. When I first got back from London I felt somewhat short-changed by the difference in scale with regard to the visual arts here in Melbourne, which is ironic given that Melbourne is considered an arts hub. Itís just that thereís no getting around the fact that London is one of the worldís artistic Meccas. However, two years on and Iím shedding the need to compare. Little art galleries are fine and sometimes they contain big surprises. At the end of the day, it comes down to visual expression, and thatís universal.
Stumbling by chance upon an old photo, my mind wanders back to a time that is no more. The image itself is of nothing remarkable, just my desk in London, its surface scattered with the unremarkable debris that punctuates a day, or a week, or a year. Looking through this window to the past, I become mindful of the scant attention we pay to the minor details of our lives. We become so wrapped up in the on-going drama of life that we sometimes fail to notice the visual cues that, someday hence, will remind us of what once was.
A lot of people worry about dying. Some even obsess about it. I wonít deny there are times when I go there myself. When I was younger I used to worry about it a great deal but these days much less so. Itís not that Iím in denial. I know enough dead people to know otherwise. Itís just that weíre dead such a long time it seems wrong to waste what time we have on the planet worrying about what happens when weíre gone. Itís not like we have any control over the matter and itís such a beautiful day.
Iím going to be 53 in a few days. Itís a curious concept. Oddly, Iíve been passing myself off as 53 for some time now, ever since I turned 52. Iíve a habit of doing that. Perhaps itís a measure of how little I worry about getting older. Call it foolish, call it denial, but Iíve always had an innate sense of my own physical well-being and, unlike so many I know, the older I get the stronger it becomes. Still, for the next few days I think Iíll focus on enjoying being 52, while I still have the time.
I often wonder where my sense of optimism comes from. Sure, I get down sometimes, usually when Iím tired or overstretched but no matter what takes me down thereís an irrepressible joy in life that always brings me back to the surface again. Itís as though Iím powered by an on-going sense of life opening up for me; an unflinching belief that the best is yet to come. Given that my father was a manic depressive I feel fortunate in having dodged that bullet. Life is too short to be wasting time on things over which one has no control.
As soon as I learned that Carol Henry was retiring from the Newhaven Pupil Referral Unit in London I had to call her. Carol is arguably the most entertaining colleague I have ever worked with and this news has given me an opportunity to reflect upon how the two of us almost single-handedly set up the KS3 Centre in Abbey Wood. Her departure will be a great loss. She was as mad as a meat axe and could be infuriating in the extreme but a more dedicated soldier in the service of children in need would be hard to find.
Queensland Justice Minister Jarrod Bleijie recently condemned an installation in front of the Supreme Court of disembodied eyes by celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama as a waste of taxpayersí money. One of the criticisms he levelled at it was that the eyes looked as though theyíd been done by children. Such ignorant comments never fail to intrigue me. Working as I do with children who create extraordinary works of art on a daily basis, Iím continually in awe of their raw, innate talent. Itís something that an artist of any real artistic merit would give their back teeth to achieve.
The news about Bronwen has taken a positive turn. Having put her trust in the French medical system sheís discovered her condition is potentially less dire and more manageable than she was led to believe by the venerable NHS back home in Britain. Sheís not out of the woods yet but the spectre of a degenerative heart condition is receding. We talk on a weekly basis and she sounded much improved this evening. I canít imagine a world without Bronwen in it. Sheís been such a major part of my life that to say Iím relieved would be an understatement.
Itís extraordinary to think that so many of the people who have ever meant anything to me are listed on my Facebook page. Some I couldnít have imagined not seeing on a daily basis when I was a lot younger. Now when I see their names I smile and think about how the passing of time changes so many things.
You turn a corner and things change
. . . How very true! The vast majority I rarely if ever even touch base with anymore and yet, itís good to know that theyíre all there, readily within reach if ever I need them.
People often donít believe me when I tell them how many hours I spend at work each day. From the outside looking in, it certainly does seem remarkable. Being a one person department however, the main reason for the long hours is thereís no one else to delegate to. Everything: the curriculum planning, the assessment, the report writing, the mounting of work, the hanging of student displays and all the associated signage; it all comes down to me. I donít resent it Ė indeed, I lap it up! Ė but it does sometimes beg the question of how long I can keep it up.
I love my art room. I have two, actually. The second, smaller one is looking a little neglected of late, mainly due to the fact that I run a one person department and teach every girl from Prep to Year 6. Something has to give. But whenever anyone walks into the larger of the two theyíre always blown away by the explosion of light and colour, not to mention the bustle of activity. Itís always included on the new parent interview tour. It is above all a happy, industrious environment where creativity and imagination can flourish. And flourish it does!
If thereís one thing that keeps eluding me at work, itís curriculum planning. Iím never at a loss about what to teach. Iím constantly researching new material online and Iím constantly reviewing and refining what each class will be working on next, but trying to get it all into the online planning system we use is a constant challenge. If itís a choice between entering data and taking a lunchtime class or putting up a new display of work, the latter two always win out. Itís the nature of the beast. Thereís just never enough time to get everything done.
One of the great pleasures of teaching art to young children is the unbridled enthusiasm they bring to the subject. While there are times when they hit the wall and seek me out for direction and input, more often than not itís simply a case of setting them up and letting them run with whatever new project weíre doing. The level of engagement is extraordinary and the quality of what they come up with is a constant source of wonder and delight. I often joke that I have the best job in the world, but really, it isnít a joke.
Iíve finally stumbled across a formula that works for me: 3/7 equals 10 out of 10. Put simply, itís a formula that facilitates success. For example, when I decided to start swimming again I also decided that if I went three times a week I was more likely to sustain the commitment than if I was to try and go every day. In other words, I was setting myself up for success and it worked. Similarly, I am now doing yoga three times a week and, more often than not, I end up doing four. Itís a system that works.
The weekend rolls around and I have so many things I want to get done but so many things seem to get in the way. Thereís the washing to do and the shopping. Thereís the filing of bills and the writing of emails to the builder that donít seem to get written during the week. Thereís the cleaning to do and meals to think about. These things donít do themselves. Inevitably, I find myself thinking about all the demands of the coming week and by the time Sunday night rolls around, Iím too tired to paint, or draw, or write.
Given the fact we both had somewhere else to be early in the day, my friend Robert and I opted for a quick walk down the jetty before ducking into the Portbella Cafť Bar for a warm beverage. I really look forward to our weekly get together. For the first time in ages I have someone I can really talk to. Weíve known each other for so long, thereís nothing we canít put on the table for discussion. For many years I feared the friendship we once shared was irretrievably lost. Rarely have I been happier to be proven wrong.
I arrived at work today to discover the trees had been wrapped in colour. For the last few weeks an army of students and parents have been furiously knitting up a storm. Yarn bombing they call it. Iíve seen it online and I imagined it would look effective but nothing prepared me for just how transformative and beautiful the final outcome would be. Given how poor the weather was yesterday when the trees were being wrapped I was completely blown away by such a riot of texture and colour. It marked a stunning start to the inaugural Lauriston Art Festival.
Another day, another year older. Iím 53 today. Fifty three. It doesnít matter which way I write it, the weight of those numbers in undeniable yet strangely, they donít feel heavy. There was a time when the thought of being 53 would have been an incredibly depressing one. I suppose when youíre younger the fear of becoming irrelevant looms large, not to mention the fear of losing oneís youth. I guess Iím just lucky. Iím fitter than Iíve been for years and I can pass for being ten years younger. Indeed, I consider reaching 53 as something of a milestone.
The Tip Jar