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I discovered a book at Robert and Tony's called 'On the Shortness of Life' by Seneca this evening. I was quite a few paragraphs in before it dawned on me that I was reading something written 2,000 years ago. Its relevance and contemporary flavour took me completely by surprise. In a few pages everything that has occupied my thinking for the last few weeks was crystalised and given form in a way that left me scratching my head in wonder at the way in which the thoughts of someone dead for 2,000 years could resonate so fully with my own.
Visiting the house at Prahran. Every year it's the same. Everything has grown wild and wooly. The little Chinese plant I received as a farewell gift when I left the Art School now towers some 20 feet over the courtyard. The bougainvillea has pulled the fence a little more out of shape, while the jasmine on the lemon tree is once again invading the roof. It all needs a healthy, even brutal trim, while the side gate needs repairing and securing back into the wall. We have a great tenant but he's not gardener; hence my annual labour of love.
I always used to take the coach to Adelaide and back but in these days of cheap air travel (rising fuel costs notwithstanding) I fly. And unlike the mandatory aisle seat I book on a long-haul international flight, the quick trip to Adelaide and back demands a window seat. I never tire of the gentle, layered softness or the Hundertwasser landscapes below, nor leaving behind dull gray rain for the immensity of the blue and the golden sunlight of the sky. In a few hours I'll be with Mum. This might just be the last time that she recognises me.
Slowly but surely, Mum is slipping away. She still remembers me but I can see that she struggles to recognise me. She'll sit completely preoccupied with some minor diversion — a dropped crumb, a button that's not done up properly — and then forget where she is or what she's doing. We were going to go for a drive in the country today but when we reached the car she was too scared to get in. Instead, I pushed her around the garden at Narooma and talked about the roses and smelled the lavender bushes. She remembers little of her rich past.
Discovering new friendships within the family has been an unexpected pleasure in recent years, and my friend and nephew Ben, born just three weeks before Dad died nearly 30 years ago, has become like a brother to me. We may not see a lot of each other but we nonetheless share a friendship that deepens and matures like a good wine whenever we do, and this evening's stroll along a country lane with the moon and stars illuminating our way, followed by a few beers at the two local pubs in Mount Pleasant, has served to strengthen that friendship further.
I'd forgotten what fun driving can be. Growing up in South Australia, I had my license by the time I was 16, and that meant freedom. Of course, my old '59 Beetle, spotless when I got inherited it from Mum (though not for long) is probably the sole reason I'm still alive today. Anything faster and I'd have probably killed myself. The car I'm currently hiring is a nifty little Hyundai Getz. Though only small, on the open, uncluttered country roads here with the music up loud and the wind in my (thinning) hair, it's really great fun to drive.
Mum had a few lucid moments this morning. She was able to recall things from the past and describe them with relative ease. It was like a temporary reprieve, a lifting of the veil, a moment or two of reconnection before the confusion and haze settled once again and she regressed back into the twilight. She enjoyed Mandy, Karen and Mark coming by for lunch but it also tired and confused her, while my departure at 4:00 to go and see Helen, Joshua and Jasmine clearly distressed her. It isn't easy seeing her in such a vulnerable and confused state.
Sitting with Ben Kilgariff on the banks of the Torrens today, overlooking the boats where a younger Ben once worked and a younger Terry once strolled, we both mused at the idea of our older selves watching out over our younger selves. Ben was for so long the central focus of my life, and I of his. Many years have passed since then but still there remains a common bond of friendship, respect, trust, integrity and love. It's a bond we once pledged never to break or relinquish. Today bore witness to the fact that we never have, nor will.
I decided to video Mum today. I figured I might as well try and capture what I could. And she responded really well! So much so that I'm going to continue tomorrow. Some of her recollections were understandably blurred but I managed to get near enough to an hour and a half of footage which, let's face it, will be precious once she's gone. It's not the first time I've done this. I have hours of footage and audio of Mum. It's my way of ensuring that her legacy will live on for those in the family who follow on.
A surreal experience. Me and Mum on the Narooma bus. An outing to the Whispering Wall. Mum strapped into her wheelchair at the back of the bus. The wheelchair strapped to the floor of the bus. Me on a seat in front of her, craning round to smile and look like everything is perfectly normal while above my head a speaker blares out deafening honky-tonk piano and nauseating pub voices singing We'll Meet Again. In front of me, permed white heads bob to the music and the bumps in the road while Barossa Valley homesteads whiz past the dirty windows.
100 words seem so inadequate to express the multitude of things going on in my head right now. A wonderful meeting with Margie Hooper and Melissa Puust this morning at Lucia's in Adelaide Central Market. The ongoing news of the foiled terrorist plan to blow up a dozen aircraft. The look in Mum's eyes when I said goodbye this evening. The enormous moon rising over Yelki as I drove back to Willaston. The warmth in Tom's voice on the phone. Watching a scary movie with Karen and Mark. Teddy's welcome phone call at Mum's this evening. 100 words? Not enough!
My farewell with Mum was easier than anticipated. Each year I wonder whether it will be our final parting. Once again, despite the odds, I suspect not. An afternoon with Gary Megaw in Adelaide. Such a significant person from my past. We spent the afternoon drinking coffee and looking at the stunning Margaret Preston exhibition. An easy flight back to Melbourne and now a train ride out to stay with James and Fusun. An opportunity to relax with good company. A chance to chill out and laugh. Adelaide was fine but it's always good to get back to Melbourne afterwards.
Another brilliant night with James and Fusun. Another enjoyable day with the Dimmicks. Daisy leading me the hand to do some painting. Tom now almost the same height as me! Frances sharing her aspirations for further study. Marc engrossed in Second Life. Making arrangements to see Gabrielle on Wednesday. Toan and Robby telling me of the sale of their house at auction yesterday. Lewis Taylor on the iPod, really hitting the spot on the way to Bennie Street on the train. So many good people. So much affection. So many friends. So much love. A good day for counting blessings.
Monday night at Donna's in Castlemaine, thinking about what a great day it's been and what a wonderful friend Donna is. Country walks, good wine, tasty home-cooked food and the company of someone known and knowing. Feeling good about where I find myself, both geographically and within myself. Thoughts too of Tom, my great nephew and godson, of how he's grown, and how these warm feelings bring a smile to my face. I've missed so much of his growing years, and therein lies a sadness, yet also, when we meet we connect so well, and therein lies such warm delight.
A day spent in the garden at Prahran. Heavy duty trimming and pruning. This was our first house. We now own it outright. Coming back each year to attend to the garden plus any other jobs that may require doing, I reconnect with it. We had a good tenant but he's no gardener. Funny. It took so long to get these plants established. Now it's a major operation to keep them in order. But on a warm sunny day with the familiar cacophony of Prahran providing the soundtrack, I feel a warm sense of satisfaction. This is still our home.
Being lost for words is no excuse because it's at times like these that words are most important. Today - a tram into town with Robby; the Picasso 'Love and War' exhibition with Gabrielle and Patrick; this evening with Ben Hornung. I could write so much, but let's be spare. Companionship, shared history, linkage, empathy, friendship, love. Words may be inadequate but they're all we have to write with. Words are what we use to communicate, to express ourselves. We experience the world and try to express and/or communicate the fruits of that experience with our limited grasp of the language.
A day spent with James at the house in Prahran, the first time we've ever spent a whole day together. How absurd is that? To have become so close to someone over such an extended period of time, yet to have spent so little physical time together! The dynamics of our extended family are indeed puzzling, yet today, for all it's lack of glamour — mending gates, cutting branches, clearing gutters, cutting keys — will by the very fact of its uniqueness remain etched in my memory and heart forever. Not simply a great nephew, James has become a truly great friend.
Ten past three in the morning at Warburton with David and Ange. Yet another brilliant night. We're cradled in the mountains, the rain falling outside the balcony where we sit and chat, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Indoors, taking blurry photos as David sings his heart out on the guitar. And a little later, up the hill, meeting Sarah for the first time and being privileged to see her amazing journals and share beer and a smoke with Ange's friends and family. A night of renewing a friendship of long-standing and making new friends along the way. Life is good.
Tonight has been a very special night, a night I will always remember, always treasure. The five of us together for the first time. Such openness and honesty, love and sharing. It was an experience of family and friendship that was both new and incredibly affecting. I appreciate anew just how powerful a family bond can be. At one point we all stopped and realised, hey, this is us! So recently reacquainted, children no more, we have come together as a network of kindred spirits; a network that we can all plug into, providing support and being supported.
Something very special happened last night. By 8:00 this morning Ben and I were the last ones left standing, having smoked and drunk ourselves straight on an inordinate amount of alcohol. Today, after a few hours sleep, I was up, dressed and over to see Elisa and her partner Damien, a wonderful guy and so clearly a perfect match for Elisa. They completely appreciated the impact last night had on me (all of us) and appreciated me sharing it with them. They're going to go to Joe's Garage and introduce themselves to Ben. I've no doubt they'll hit it off.
Talking late into the evening with Corinne at Winchelsea about life, the universe and everything, I begin to feel melancholic about saying farewell for another year. I feel as though my heart has been constantly expanding since arriving here and much as I love London, this country and the people I love here have a powerful pull. It's a feeling that I wrap around myself like a warm quilt, feeling safe, secure; at one with myself and everyone else. I'm going to miss everyone. Sure, we'll phone, text, email, etc but you can't beat a smile and a warm hug.
We sat at the station so engrossed in conversation, waiting for the train to arrive, that we didn't notice the replacement bus for the train which was cancelled drive up, collect passengers and leave. By the time we realised it the bus was long gone and the next train more than six hours away. So we went back to the house and talked for the rest of the morning. We go back a long way do my sister Corinne and I. I don't regret the missed train. It was good to be in each other's company, whiling the hours away.
Another day working on the house in Prahran, scraping back peeling paint, adding filler, sanding back and painting. And another night with James and Fusun including a drive over to see Tom, Daisy and Frances. So much laughter; so much fun; silly photographs. James and I discovered our right palms have identical markings. A joke about being each other's right-hand man. What a long way we've come! What a friend! What a brother! And lying on the couch, listening to the rain, the possums on the roof and watching the shadows dancing around the walls, I feel pretty damn good.
I remember the day we first saw this house. We walked through the front door and simultaneously both knew we wanted to live here. This was our home. It still is, although it's been six years since we lived in it. Each year I come back and do whatever odd jobs are needed to maintain it. It's a small house but we love it. And as I close the door on another year of maintenance, I can't help but think of Teddy, all those miles away in our other residence in London, where I'll be in a matter of days.
As I sit here in the departure lounge at Tullamarine Airport, condensing what I'm thinking and feeling into 100 words is proving to be challenging. It's been a deeply affecting time. I've reconnected with so many significant people and been on the receiving end of so much hospitality, friendship and generosity of spirit. I feel reinvigorated and refreshed in a way I haven't been since I can remember when. I am truly blessed with extraordinary friendships. Walking back from seeing Ben at Joe's Garage this afternoon my heart felt so full of life I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
A very long day on a plane. Two planes, actually. Melbourne to KL and KL to London. Watching the in-flight movies, sleeping when I can, listening to music, reading and thinking. Finally, arriving at Heathrow, seeing Teddy again, coming home and settling back into being back. Hugs and kisses and lots of smiles. After such a brilliant trip it is good to be back in London again. It's been an absolute blast; my best trip home ever. I say that each year but it's true. Now however, it's time to lay down in my own bed, with Teddy, and sleep.
It feels good to be back again. After a good sleep I called Mum in Adelaide. She seemed vague about my having visited her, which I suppose is a blessing of sorts. She way happy to hear from me, and happy to chat to Teddy, too. Walking around town this afternoon with Teddy on a cool summer's day, I couldn't help but feel settled and contented. London may be a grim place in winter but in summer it positively shines, the crush of millions of tourists notwithstanding. It's home, like Melbourne is home. I just wish they were closer together.
Bronwen phoned yesterday with bad news. She has a sizeable lump in her breast. After 25 years or more in remission, having beaten cancer three times previously, the implications don't bear thinking about. She'll know more in a couple of weeks. We can but hope. Over the years I've come to believe that Bronwen was invincible — fragile but invincible. It may yet turn out to be benign and that's the hope but it serves to remind me that our tenure on life is a limited one. Even at best, the prognosis will doubtless be invasive, stressful and frightening for her.
I arrived on the Isle of Wight today, the place where I was born and, as always, I went to sit in the New Church in Bonchurch, one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I know. While there, I browsed the enormous old bible that always sits open on the lectern and, for some reason, curiosity impelled me to look at the first page of the book, where I discovered two devastating handwritten testimonials, one a wife's and one a son's, of a John Barker, husband and father, killed on November 3rd, 2004 by a suicide bomber in Iraq.
I climbed to the top of the Bonchurch Downs this morning to witness a stunningly beautiful sun climb above the sea and bathe the landscape in a golden glow. A little later I was having morning tea with the locals at the church hall and later still rekindling childhood memories at the Ventnor Heritage Society. This evening saw me with Andrew, Sarah and the kids sharing good food and good wine, enjoying the ambience of a friendship of long-standing. I love this island, and these people, and walking home with Muse up loud on the iPod I felt genuinely happy.
What better way to round off an amazing month? A cookie-enhanced walk through the Landslip listening to Kate Bush's 'Aerial' (a near religious experience!), rediscovering the giant hydrangea bushes of my childhood, sitting on a wall at Shanklin Beach watching four generations enjoying each other's company and finally an evening spent at Blackgang Chine with Andrew and an assorted tribe of nieces and nephews, zooming down tunnels of water on well dingy boats, followed by wine and conversation late into the early hours of the morning, luxuriating in the warm glow of our deep and very special friendship of long-standing.
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