The past week was my almost-holiday between terms. This is the relatively quiet time when I generally get to enjoy some downtime, with only a few hours of work thrown into the mix each week. I managed to be out of work-mode for a while, but have had to wrack my brains a bit to figure out just what – exactly – I did with my time (other than the usual daily thingos).

Well, first there was brunch down in Fremantle with a dozen or so people to celebrate a couple of birthdays, followed by a quick foray down onto the beach to laze around, paddle or – for the bravest amongst us – to swim.

weekthing1

On one day we adventured off to meet our puppy for the first time. At all of six weeks old, Miss Molly turned out to be a-dor-able in every way. We get to bring her home in early November – and then the fun really begins!

Over the next couple days I managed to pack in quite a few things, now that I think about it. I rode my bike in the sun, zipping off on sundry missions to shops, library and friends. I’d almost forgotten just how much l love my bike and what fun it is to fly down hills with the wind in my hair. More of that to come over the summer, for sure. I read some books, planted some seedlings and a rose bush and finished the penultimate round of edits on my memoir. One more reader on that, then it’s time to hit up a publisher and see what emerges.

week of things234_oct14

Thursday morning was spent at work – so that wasn’t downtime at all, really, but putting nine volunteers through a training programme on the new computer system will make life easier for me next week, so it was a worthwhile investment. Afterwards I visited a damaged sibling – she broke her ankle earlier in the week and needed some cheering up. It felt good to be the one visiting and cheering for once, rather than on the receiving end. I think I make a better visitor than patient!

I attended week 4 of my ‘Smart Busy’ programme at Murdoch Uni, which motivated me to declutter several cupboards and get rid of some unnecessary stuff. VERY satisfying. During that process I came across some artwork that my brother did for me for a wedding invitation – nearly forty years ago, when he was living in Melbourne. How the wheel turns: I’m now in Perth and he’s in Johannesburg. Sadly he seldom sketches these days, but I’ve sent this one to him to see if it inspires him to start drawing again. We’ll see how that goes.

week of things56_oct14

A family dinner on one night included experimental Magic Bean Cake. It’s gluten free and very chocolatey – lots of good quality cocoa in there. Made as per the recipe it turned out super delicious and the unanimous vote was that it’s a definite do-again option. We had it for dessert, dusted with icing sugar and served with raspberries and custard. Yum. You can find the recipe I used hereOn Saturday we hit the veggie markets for fruit and veg and came away with an amazing haul of great stuff at bargain prices. I now need recipes for things to do with oranges – lots of oranges! Maybe the next magic bean cake should be orange flavoured…  The week has finally staggered to a close with gardening, a waterlogged German Shepherd (our water baby strikes again) and a trip to the cinema for ice-cream and a vampire movie.

It’s possible that I now need to go back to work to recover enough for more ‘down-time’!

I wonder what other people do when they’re feeling unsettled? I usually go for a ride on my bicycle, peddling away any pent up angst or uncertainties, the wind in my hair and – with luck – no bugs in my teeth. Even a short ride usually leaves me feeling cheerful and more able to cope with whatever it was that sent me out on the road in the first place.

But winter in Perth can really put a spanner in the works as far as that goes. Days of drizzle and cold winds tend not to inspire me to gear up and head out – and somehow the exercise bike sitting in the corner of my games room doesn’t have much appeal as an alternative. Staring at the wall or the pool table while I pedal and the dog tries to chew my feet simply doesn’t compare to the open road.

So last unsettled week I just kept busy with work, chores and errands – until I found myself pulling in at a local cafe en route home one day. It being that time of day, I ordered something to eat, although I was slightly bemused to find myself out for lunch – alone and on a rainy afternoon. Neither of these things is my idiom – I tend to enjoy lunching out al fresco – which indicates warmer weather – and usually in company.

To add to my bemusement, my spontaneous solo-lunch venue selection was the South African shop a couple of kilometres from my house. This is not somewhere I’d lunched before, although I had been in for coffee and cake with friends a few times. So why here? Why now? And why did I feel so relaxed and comfortable about being there? Probably just a surge of nostalgia at the end of what feels like an endlessly long week, I thought.

Whatever it was, sitting there surrounded by sounds and smells from my childhood felt safe and comfortable. The background chitchat in a combination of English and Afrikaans was relaxing and the vetkoek smelled wonderful – and tasted even better. I’ve never tried making it, but vetkoek is essentially deep fried bread dough, drained and filled with some or other tasty filling. It may not sound too appealing, but I can assure you that it’s remarkably moreish, real comfort food. The outside is crisp and not at all oily and the inside is soft and fluffy, like hot bread. I chose a curried lamb mince filling (traditional) and enjoyed every finger-licking morsel of it.

The serious business of eating dealt with, I sat back with my latte and thought about how I was feeling. I’d arrived tired and slightly directionless and had ended up feeling as though I’d been wrapped in a warm snuggly blanket, looked after and cared about – even though, in reality, none of those things had actually occurred. The staff had made me welcome, certainly, and the service had been efficient and pleasant – but that was all. Nevertheless it was, well, nice to sit there – surrounded by hints from my past.

taste of nostalgia_august14I love Australia and wouldn’t swap my life here for quids, but tiredness and stress do strange things to people. No doubt I was experiencing no more than a sentimental connection to the simplicity of my childhood and to Africa, which is part of my core identity. But sitting there, with a taste of Africa still on my lips I felt at ease. As I gazed absently at the chalkboard  and started reading the names of places I’ve been to and through in the past, the words I-AM-FROM-AFRICA made me smile. Yes, I thought, yes I am.

 

I must admit that I’ve never actually thought ‘there must be a German word for that’ – but that changed when I came across a copy of a highly entertaining book by Ben Schott this weekend. Courtesy of Schottenfreude I suddenly have words for a range of weird and unusual situations – and feel almost sure that there’s a word for being happy about that too. Amongst my favourites in the book is entlistungsfreude (the satisfaction achieved by crossing things off lists). Although this does bring strange little Miss Hawkins in A Five Year Sentence (Bernice Rubens) to mind and make me feel mildly anxious about the times that I write things onto lists just in order cross them off… But we’ve all done that, right?

Last Friday I really needed a word to encapsulate that moment when the world slips out from under you – and now I have leertretung (pronounced lair-treh-toong). Schott’s definition of this is to step down heavily on a step that isn’t there or, even more appropriately, void-stepping – which fits the bill perfectly.

It turned out to be quite a void-stepping sort of day, starting with the moment I clambered down my little kitchen ladder onto a step that wasn’t there. Technically it was actually there, I just managed to navigate right past it and indulge in a quick leertretung to get my heart rate up. Schott probably has a word for the sound I made as I hurtled to the ground – and for the one I made when I landed with a thud loud enough to bring the dog running, but I haven’t found them yet. I do know the Anglo-Saxon equivalents, though, and that’s probably good enough for all practical purposes.

Having fended off the worried dog and rejected her friendly are-you-okay face-licks, I pulled myself together in time to field a call from my mother-in-law. The news was that her lovely daughter was finally about to lose her battle against stage IV melanoma. She told me that Aj was fading fast and it would very probably be her last day with us. I don’t recall putting the phone down or walking to my study or dropping onto my desk chair to gaze vacantly and tearfully out the window, but that’s where I found myself a little while later.

We all provided what support we could throughout the day/evening, but there was really nothing anyone could do and Aj passed away at home on Friday night with her family nearby.

Is there a German word for coping with a sudden unexpected surge of sadness? Would knowing it make me feel any better about the loss of this vibrant, quirky young woman who has fought the melanoma monster so valiantly for the past two years? I think not. But knowing it might distract me for a brief moment. Perhaps void-stepping is descriptive enough, encompassing that feeling of disorientation and unexpected panic when the thing one expects to be there (a step, a family member) simply isn’t.

My heart aches for the loss this family is enduring. Aj was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. As a mother myself, I can only begin to imagine the complex layers of sadness, pain and regret at the loss of a child. They remain our kids even when they’re all grown up and have families of their own – and it defies logic for them to die before we do. I don’t have the right words – or enough words – to express this kind of sadness.