Earlier this week I was chatting to BronS at work about websites, blogging and inspiration. I had just finished read Americanah by the fabulous Chimamanda Ngoze Adiche and was rhapsodizing (a bit), which launched us down the rabbit hole of discussing books and authors. It turns out that Bron’s a freelance journalist / book reviewer and met Chimamanda many years ago to review her first book, Purple Hibiscus. Synchronicity, much? Anyhow, by the end of our chat I’d made a note of another Nigerian author (also interviewed by Bron!) and now can’t wait to read Chris Abani‘s memoir.

But back to websites, blogging and inspiration. Bron had come along to learn how to set up a wordpress site, but was a bit hesitant. So I showed her mine as an example of not-too-hard. This in turn led us to talking about blogs, blogging and inspiration for content – and somewhere along the line I confessed to having lost ‘the spark.’

I hadn’t actually articulated this to myself until that moment, but it just came tumbling out. I heard myself tell her about my head being so full of things relating to MiL, to ageing and dementia and support, to how the family copes (or doesn’t) with her day to day incremental loss of self, that when I sit down to write it seems that’s all that’s there. “Since I’m pretty sure no-one wants to read about all that, I’ve mostly stopped writing,” I confessed.

Bron’s response was, “Just write about it anyway! You might be surprised at what people will find interesting.” And of course she’s right. I wrote a whole book about hips and suchlike just to get that saga out of my head – and this is really not that different. It won’t change anything (as far as MiL goes), but perhaps it’ll be cathartic and get rid of at some of the noise rattling around in there.

There are so many things about ageing and working with seniors that could be explored while I’m about it, actually: the lady at the pool who has a 104 year old mother, whom she describes as ‘a heritage attraction in her own right’; another pool-friend who has an 88 year old live-in MiL with terrifying teeth and no English; how so many seniors feel increasingly invisible and sidelined as they age; or the marvelous realisation that age provides the freedom to ignore many of the protocols that previously seemed to rule our lives. And so much more.

Thanks, Bron – I’ll give it a go. Watch this space, folks – and tell me about your experiences with ageing – or the aged.

Meantime, to quote one of my favourite authors:

All this and more.

Woke up this morning, smiled with the rising sun, two little birds pitched on my doorstep… singing sweet songs of melodies pure and true, saying, this is my message to you

Who knows why Bob Marley & the Wailers popped into my head this morning – perhaps it’s because I’ve been trying to learn to play it on my uke. Or perhaps it’s because the birds really were singing – and whistling – and laughing (this is Australia, after all!). Although, when I opened the blinds, there were more than two and they were in the trees, on the wall and on the power lines, not the doorstep.

Looking out at the front garden, the canna lilies captured my attention. These stunning yellow flowers on their tall stems, surrounded by lush leafy foliage, bobbing cheerfully in the morning breeze, brought an instant smile to my day. The smile – and its source – made me think of DaughterDearest. Whilst cannas probably aren’t her absolutely favourite flower, she’s the reason we have them growing (so prolifically!) in our garden.

Many years ago, when we first settled in Perth, DD discovered yellow cannas in a friend’s garden and promptly ‘souvenired’ some to plant at home. We moved house twice more after that and, each time, she dug up some of the canna rhizomes and replanted them into the new garden, where they took off without any hesitation.

Cannas aren’t actually lilies at all, but are related to ginger and banana plants. Their rhizomes are edible – although DD has researched this and tells me they need to be boiled or baked until slightly translucent. Possibly not my first food choice, but good to know. These glorious plants are survivors, thriving wherever they land, flourishing and making the best of whatever space they have available. No wonder they bring her to mind!

This set me to thinking about other people in my life and whether I associate any particular flower with any of them – and, yes, I do.

BoyChilde has had an ongoing love affair with cosmos for most of his life, having discovered them growing wild on family camping trips when he was quite little. These hardy little plants flower along the roadsides and in spring and again in autumn in many regions in South Africa. The pink, white and cerise (dark pink) flowers are so ubiquitous that many people consider the plants native to South Africa, although they actually originate from South America. The flowers symbolise order and harmony, are considered to be synonymous with tranquillity, peace, harmony & love, and are the flower for BC’s birth month. Coincidence? Hmmm…

This brings me to Sibling#1 – when she was a sweet young thing, carnations were her flower of choice. But when I think of her, it’s proteas that come to mind. These plants are native to South Africa, although they belong to the same family as the Australian Banksia. They symbolise ingenuity, diversity, transformation and courage – all of which is spot on. They’re also beautiful, have a heart of gold and perform well in wide range of conditions 🙂

Finally, BFF loves sunflowers, although for me she always brings frangipani to mind. I must admit that the first time I really paid attention to the beauty and fragrance of frangipani flowers was when I saw them in BFF’s bridal bouquet and, in edible form, on her wedding cake. Since then I’ve seen her grow these tropical tree/shrubs from cuttings and supervise their replanting; I’ve learned that they’re surprisingly easy to grow and, just recently, that they symbolise devotion, positive energy, strength to withstand tough challenges.

So, does this mean that the flowers we relate to – or relate others to – can somehow provide insights into a person’s character? I find that implausible. And yet… in the four instances I’ve sited, it works. Perhaps just the eye of the beholder?

A couple of years ago I wrote about how much I enjoyed my parents reading to me when I was little and the impact that had on me – both then and in later years. One of the outcomes of being read to from as early as I can remember, and then being taught to read pre-primary, is that it seemed logical to teach my own children to read before they went to school. Since I’m not a teacher, it was a learning curve for all of us! But that’s a tale for another day.

To start with, DaughterDearest and BoyChilde were subjected to being read all the usual baby books, toddler books, books beyond their understanding but important to me, and more.  J and I made up stories for them too, ruthlessly pillaging some of our favourite SF of the time and embroidering it to make it child-friendly and relevant. Those stories all started with ‘once upon a time’ and were all packed with derring-do, mystery and adventure. Story time was fun for everyone!

So it was no great surprise when, once reading was conquered and writing whole sentences emerged, DD started to put her own imagined worlds and adventures down on paper, drawing pictures to accompany them and then reading these increasingly elaborate tales to us. Later she took to writing poetry as well, some short pieces and some epics, all fired by her need to express and unpack her internal worlds. I’ll be a writer one day, she told me.

But of course she already was. To be a writer all one really needs is to write – and write – and never give up. And she never has. There are countless notebooks full of poems, sketches, short stories, novella length tales and more. DD has read widely and still does, and over time has found a rhythm and style that suits her chosen genre. Conquering the writing marathon of NaNoWriMo three (or more?) times encouraged her to be more disciplined in her writing practise, but it wasn’t what made her a writer. To quote DD, “I’ve been creating stories since before I could read – and learning to read only encouraged me!”

And the result? Well, her fans (including me) are marking time while we wait “patiently” for book three of her first published series. Yup – there are two e-books out there already, folks, just waiting to be feasted upon. They’re modern fantasies (with a fairy tale slant) and terrific adventures, full of mystery and intrigue, magic, friendship and a whole lot of that there derring-do!

Give them a go and let me know what you think. Hey, let her know what you think! 🙂

I had a great day out last week and felt quite inspired by the end of it to write about how fortunate we are in WA at present. We go about our business in a rather laissez-faire fashion, visiting friends, attending events/workshops, enjoying meals out and about and travelling within our borders. We (mostly) maintain the 1.5m social distancing, use hand sanitizer liberally and flinch if anyone coughs or sneezes, but we’re largeley behaving as though everything is pretty much as normal.

I was going to elaborate on some of these happy-making thing… then I read a social media post a friend in Melbourne shared and felt a strong surge of what I can only describe as survivor guilt. Here I was being upbeat and positive, using public transport without a mask, going to an art workshop and a live jazz event, back at the indoor pool exercising – and all whilst many, many other Australians are struggling to just get through the day.  In that moment it felt it inappropriate – wrong, even – to be enjoying myself and feeling so fortunate when, just on the other side of the country, things are anything but rosy. This is rather how I felt during the bushfires earlier this year, but then I could fundraise and send some tangible assistance across to Gippsland. Now I somehow just feel guiltily helpless.

Melbourne has been in lockdown or partial lockdown for so long that people are all out of spoons, the capacity to cope and get through each day stretched wafer thin. Melbourne friends confess that they get irritated when people say ‘we’re all in this together,’ because the Melbourne ‘this’ is a very different kettle of fish to ours. There they’ve run out of enthusiasm for baking bread, home decorating, zoom and face-time, revisiting random old hobbies and even cat videos (!). As for friends/family elsewhere urging them to keep their spirits up, saying it’ll all be over soon – that really takes the cake!

Don’t get me wrong: they’re not complaining about complying with the regulations – they’re just tired. So very, very tired.

And it’s not just Victorians. This applies to people in every region and country where movement and activities have been put on hold in the interest of public health and the greater good.

Yes, isolating definitely works. If people aren’t shuttling all over the place it’s easier for authorities to track pockets of infections and to manage treatment and quarantine. WA has shown this to be the case over the past many months of no community transmission. But it’s not easy and it hinges on is for people to have a clear understanding what Covid-19 actually is, what their rights and responsibilities are, and for those in charge to have a coherent (but flexible) plan to manage the situation and disseminate accurate and up to date information to the public.

On that note, hats off to our local (WA) pollies for coping remarkably well under sustained pressure both from the Federal Government and from some elements of the business sector. (Add congratulatory emojis of your choice here).

However, as at 24 September, Victoria was home to 20,105 of the 26,983 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 773 of the 861 associated deaths reported in Australia since 22 January. On the upside, only 14 new cases (and 8 deaths) have been reported there in the last 24 hours – so the current quarantine lockdown strategy is definitely improving. The Victorian Premier continues to urge residents to go and get tested if they have any symptoms at all, no matter how minor. About 90% of results are made available within 24 hours, which is a remarkably fast turnaround.

So back to my friend in Melbourne: she too is tired – and more sleep is not the answer! A saving grace through lockdown(s) has definitely been her cat, which has provided companionship, non-judgemental affection and lots of amusement. But there are only so many conversations you can have with a cat – even a really cute one! Luckily she’s recently been able to have some sustained in-person contact with another human – and the joy she felt at just that interaction was enormous. These so-called ‘social bubbles’ were initiated on 14 September, allowing people living on their own to visit one another at home. Although a night-time curfew was still in place, it’s made life more bearable for many who have spent wayyyy too much time on alone of late. **Household bubbles are next on the agenda.

Writing about this made me realise that the survivor guilt that washed over me was uncalled for. What’s needed from all of us is a better understanding of what people elsewhere are going through, more sensitivity from us all in how we respond, and a real appreciation of how fortunate we are in our Fortress WA bubble – for now, at least.

I therefore reserve the right to make the most of glorious WA while we can and am very grateful to all Sandgropers for being diligent in complying with the Health Dept’s suggestions. Long may our little bit of Pollyanna-land last!

Beautiful WA

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**More on Victoria’s roadmap to recovery here. Some insights on living with Covid-19 lockdown for extended periods, here. And a short video to get the message across regarding how easily the virus spreads – in case it’s not already abundantly apparent!

Notice the red t-shirts!

The cinemas reopened in WA a couple of weeks ago and, after a somewhat draining week, an afternoon at the movies sounded like a particularly fine way to recover. So, last Friday I headed off to the Windsor Cinema to hide out from the rain and restock the spoon drawer.

The venue choice was partly because the cinemas, although quite small, have generous spacing between the rows of seats and the candy bar stocks the most delicious choc top ice-creams. But it was also because they were screening The Personal History of David Copperfield, starring the perfectly lovely Dev Patel in the lead role.

The odd thing was that, even though I was keen on the idea of going to see a film – the first in many months – and anticipated enjoying it, I simultaneously encountered an all-pervasive sense of disquiet as I took my seat. I couldn’t figure it out at first. Why was I feeling so disproportionately anxious? What was it that was making me so unexpectedly uncomfortable?

As I sat there munching away on my choc top and looking around, it finally dawned on me. It was people. Too many people in too small a space. Too many people too close to me!

I felt compromised, as though I either shouldn’t be there at all or, at the very least, should be wearing a surgical mask. I found myself counting and recounting just how many people were in the cinema. Initially only 10 people, which seemed fine. Then 13 and, finally, a total of 16. That was still less than 50% of the cinema capacity, but each additional person twitched my spidey-sense a bit more.

Despite there being at least one empty seat on each side of me, every sniffle or sniffle-sounding noise, every move made by people on either side of me, hit my hyper-alert button. My monkey-brain kept telling me it wasn’t safe, that I should flee – flee now!

My choc top took the brunt of my anxiety, disappearing in record time. With its help, the rational part of my psyche gradually settled me down. I acknowledged that the relative isolation of the past months and the current spike in Covid-19 cases in Victoria were probably undermining my capacity to just be in the moment and enjoy the outing. Listen, said sensible-me, we’ve had almost 100 days without community transmission of the virus in WA, the borders are still closed and we’re (most likely) quite safe… Just settle down.

So I did. I took a (not too deep) breath, sat back and, once the house lights went down and the show began, allowed the magic of the cinema to take over. The theatre suddenly felt enormous and the landscape infinite. Mostly, anyway.

I was still very conscious of the ‘crowd’ around me, but I loved every moment of the film. The costuming, characters, setting (Victorian England) and dialogue were superb. Some of my favourite moments included the Mr Dick’s crazy kite flying and Mr McCawber’s comment on his current abode being “primarily al fresco at present.

It was delightful and I’m so glad I went – and stayed.

Although WA’s borders remain closed for now, pressure is mounting for them to reopen. The last couple of weeks have seen a veritable Covid-frenzy in Victoria and (increasingly) in New South Wales, leaving many in WA fearful that a second wave of infections will inevitably hit here too, perhaps sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, we may as well make the most of the relative freedom we have. Enjoy the sunshine, do fun things and be in the moment, folks. But don’t get complacent. Stay at home if you feel unwell or have flu-like symptoms, have difficulty breathing or have had a fever without a known source. If so, call your doctor about getting tested, just in case, then self-isolate until you get your results. Be well.