Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Arvo chez moi.

Restoring a panelled timber door looked so easy on the YouTube video I watched. (Haven't worked out how to link to it when I'm typing on the iPad, sorry.) These two American blokes donned their latex gloves, grabbed a swatch of fine grade steel wool each and rub-a-dub-dubbed with the grain, et voila: new door. They were rubbing with de-natured alcohol. Had to Google that one. Turns out it's simply what we Aussies call metho - methylated spirit.

So I've got my timber door lying on my outdoor table under my back veranda. Gloves on, steel wool in hand, liberal splashes of metho and lots of elbow grease. But it wasn't so easy. See, those American guys didn't have to deal with the P-factor. That's Pete, my son, the territory marker. During one of his mindless adolescent rages he graffed his name with red and blue spray paint all over the door. That's the side of the door that faces into the wood panelled hall in my lovely Californian bungalow. We've lived with that horror for about ten years now. And the various stickers that he decided to plaster on top of the scrawl.

Worse though, he kicked in a couple of timber panels. So I've spent a couple of headachey hours on my well-ventilated back veranda - ie. outside - inhaling metho, sweating into my latex gloves and once again dealing with the inner monologue. 'You dirty dick,' it's saying. 'What were you thinking? Well, clearly you weren't. Pity you probably won't have kids of your own so you can see how it feels.' And then I'm thinking I'm insane for having these stupid conversations with Pete in my head. Meanwhile, I couldn't quite get all that livid spray off my door but it's faded some. Will have to apply a stain.

Al came out to offer advice when I started filling huge cracks with wood filler. As if he's ever used any. Seems the job I did around the woodwork in Pete's old room looks pretty good so I told him to mind his beeswax. I think Al wanted to play with the wood filler cos it looked like fun, and it was. I'm now doing what my dad did while I was growing up: hogging the fun jobs around the house. I was 27 before I was allowed to lay some ceramic tiles on the toilet floor at our newly built holiday house down at Airey's Inlet, the original house having burned down in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bush fires. It was immensely satisfying laying those tiles and grouting. Dad had to concede that I'd probably done a better job than he would have. Suppose the new owners will be ripping them up quick smart.

We've just sold our holiday house, by the way. Not that it was a holiday house any more. My parents retired down there nearly twenty years ago. We had to sell the house to pay the exorbitant bond required for mum to live in her aged care facility. To say it's been a fraught process is an understatement. If you've ever had to clear out your parents home, you'll know what I mean. Lots of tears.

However, my daughter came over today and we unpacked a crate of some of mum's stuff. Oddly, it felt like Christmas, yet when we'd wrapped and packed it a few weeks ago I felt like setting a match to the house to save us all the trauma.

I've just cooked a pot of rice in mum's Sunbeam rice cooker. I've never felt inclined to buy one, given we don't eat that much rice and it cooks up easily enough on the stove top. But now it seems I can't live without it. Thanks mum.

Meanwhile, the wood-filler is drying on the door. Hope my restoration job works. Even if it doesn't, it really was fun playing with that tube of gunk.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Back up the ladder.

Seems I'm not past it at all.

Was really fretting about being unable to paint a room in my house, as my previous post will attest. I did actually call a painter who was happy to drop around and quote on finishing the job I'd started. Got lucky with Greg, local painter & decorator. He didn't turn up. Reminded me why I've generally detested having to engage tradies, barring a few who've done jobs for a reasonable price. 

So I had to figure out how to complete the job myself. I solved everything by blaming my tools - my wobbly plank suspended on two heavy ladders - & buying a stable, light aluminium ladder for $129.

Hey presto. I could get up and down that ladder with ease; could brace my knees against its top step whilst dealing with my 3 meter ceiling.

Having given my OCD free rein - or is it reign? Either works - I've now almost completed the room, which is glowing with some ethereal light, probably because I've painted over the brown trim I'd so 'fashionably' chosen circa 1995. I've replaced it with a neutral shell for the walls and ceiling, a shade deeper on the ceiling rose, cornice - btw, fuck painting a cornice!! - and woodwork.

And btw too, fuck rolling around on polished floorboards trying to get a straight edge along the skirting board. Suppose my behind got a good workout as I walked backwards, wet paintbrush in one hand, on my bum cheeks. And that was just the primer. Still have two coats to go. (Is this what the pros do?)

Have been mightily satisfied by my first 'poly-filler' experience. Pete's gouged out window now looks almost new. Can't blame Pete for that bit of vandalism. The damage to the underside was caused by a crowbar, or whatever, when we were broken into in the late 80s. It's only taken 20 or so years for me to get around to fixing it. 

Where's Al in all this? When he's not bragging to his mates in the pub about the benefits of having a wife with OCD who likes a project, he's in the kitchen making my hard-earned dinner.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Should Act My Age.

I've had to concede defeat today. I'm past it.

Nearly 20 years ago, with both my kids in the early stages of primary school, I donned a pair of navy overalls and a shower cap, climbed up ladders onto a scaffold and painted the entire interior of our Californian bungalow. I look around where I'm sitting now, at my duck-egg blue walls, with white trim, and see that I did a really good job. 

And I improved as I went. 

Unfortunately, we're overdue for a bit of cyclic maintenance and this is most obvious in son, Pete's bedroom. I've accepted that he's not coming home - as if - but it's taken me about 18 months, what with everything else that's been going down in my life, to get around to clearing his room out ready for painting.

Monday I went to the DIY store and bought all my painting accoutrements. Had to buy new brushes, rollers, drop sheets; the works. After school yesterday I attacked the walls with sugar soap; scraped all those errant blue-tacky bits off. All the time I was going at it I was saying, Pete, you dirty pig. Can't imagine what some of those splattered stains were. My son was definitely one for marking his territory.

In the evening I visited my neighbours to borrow their ladder. I needed a second ladder to create my scaffold. That done, dragged the hardwood plank in from the back yard. Was only a bit rotten on the edges. Brushed off the cobwebs and snails. Voila. Set to go.

Up early this morning and straight into it.

Painting around the skirting board and into the lower corners, no problem. But then I had to get up the ladder. Farque alors. I was freaking out. Never have I felt so wobbly and insecure. I painted carefully around the cornices and the top of the window but was hampered by the adrenaline shooting through me. Was sure I'd fall at any minute. Climbed down; did a bit of self-talk about how secure the ladders and plank were. But it wasn't them, it was me. Despite me being quite flexi and fit for a 57 year old, I couldn't freaking do it. Half the room now has one coat of paint. But I cannot go back up onto that plank.

Was quite teary when I phoned Al, husband, to say I'd given up. It's awful thinking you're past it, but past it I am. In fact, what was I even thinking imagining I'd have the agility I had in my thirties?

No matter. One of the compensations of being this age, in my case, is that I can afford to pay someone to finish the work.

Will just have to be mollified by looking forward to riding over the Westgate Bridge this Sunday en route to Altona. I'm cycling in the 50k leg of the Round The Bay ride. Can't paint, but.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back on-line?

Eighteen months ago, I'd never have imagined how my life was going to buckle and take a very different course.

Despite the evidence of my dad's terminal illness - and let's face it, life is terminal when one is 83 - in some naive part of my then 55 year old brain, I couldn't imagine him actually dying; couldn't imagine the debilitating grief that would unexpectedly unhinge me and come in waves. I knew the theory, but having been a child migrant, I hadn't really felt much when grandparents, aunts and uncles died. I was detached and numb back when I was sixteen and my mum, driving us home from a horse-riding outing, had pulled over to the side of the road to convulse in sobs over the steering wheel of her blue Austin 1800 because her mother had died. (Yes, I see that there is perhaps some redundant detail there, but the occasion of my grandmother's death did imprint itself so that those details are easy to recall.)

(Perhaps I'm inclined to writing long sentences today because I'm half-way through Peter Carey's extraordinarily brilliant page-turner, Illywhacker. God that man can write!)

My brain has been somewhat off-line for the past five months or so. (The fact that I'm now writing, and reading a complex novel, tells me I'm healing a bit; returning to what is normal for me.)

My dad's death in May last year, and its immediate aftermath, didn't help me to prepare for what we've been dealing with since April. During that time I've had to become my mother's gaoler. I've shared this role with one of my sisters and our husbands. So we've had to take away our mum's autonomy, albeit because she could no longer manage to live alone on her isolated coastal property.

Ultimately, because this living arrangement was no longer sustainable, given mum's dementia - hate that word - I've had to put my mum in an aged care facility. If you think leaving your infant at childcare or school is hard, think on. Hope you never have to deal with your beautiful mum begging you not to leave her; telling you she'll do anything, just give her another chance. 

That was the worst experience of my life. Absolutely no other option. It came down to my sanity, and that of sister, Reggie, or continuing to share custody of our tricky old mum.

But this tale has had a happy outcome. My mother loves her new home and she's struck it lucky, not only in the place she's living, with beautiful Queens Park, Moonee Ponds as her front garden, but also in finding a new female friend with whom she can stroll around the lake and reminisce.

All the stress has dropped out of our lives and my mum is calmer and more relaxed than I've seen her in at least three years since my late dad's diagnosis.

Still, I think it was a bit cheeky of the 'entertainment' - think piano accordion and drum machine - to be playing Please Release Me Let Me Go and I've Never Felt More Like Singing The Blues to a captive audience of octogenarians in the home.

The irony wasn't lost on my mum either as she sang along.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Refuge in a bakery.

What is it with me and seeking refuge in a bakery full of delicious aromas; sweets and pastries I'd best not eat?

I'm in Cedars Bakery, High Street, Preston. Just had half a sumptuous chicken pie that contained some surprise potato that I haven't bolused for but hopefully the 7 k slightly hilly cycle home should take care of that. That's if I can bring myself to leave this warm haven and go home. Al isn't home until this evening which leaves me and mum.

If you read back through my posts, skipping the France bit, you'll know that my mum is quite lovely but that I'm having difficulty sharing my house with her and her 'memory loss' - the euphemism for dementia.

She's been back with us now for a week and it's hard work. She demands attention. She can't just 'be'. She needs reorienting every morning and it's all about mum. 

I started working parttime a couple of years ago for my health's sake, so I could wind down from my stressful secondary teaching job. Now, though, I've lost my weekends and my days off. If I'm not constantly attending to mum and answering her repetitious questions about how much her house is worth, where she lives, whether there's anyone else in the house and who is that man in the kitchen - Al - how to work the washing machine and a myriad other inane questions she gets the huff.

'You need not worry about me any more,' she'll say, cross, pouting, frowning, pseudo 'in charge'. 'I will find my own place to live.'

But that isn't an option. She would need to live in supported accommodation. I've checked out a few places and they're not for my mum.

At my house she can safely go to the supermarket or walk down to the local shops. I even got her to go to the Anglican Church two blocks away yesterday. She's always gone to church. I'm hoping she can find a community of support that doesn't involve sitting around with old people wearing bad dentures trying to tap a balloon into a waste basket. 

Meanwhile I'll keep cycling, trusting she's okay alone and knowing she'll have forgotten how angry I was when I left her an hour or so ago.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bordeaux to Paris

Massive day today. Started yesterday really, when Al nervously drove the camping car back to Beausoleil Camping, in Gradignan, 10 k from Bordeaux centre. As they say in the guide book, it's a clean small ground with shaded blocks. We chose it for its proximity to McRent, Merignac, where our camping car was due back this morning at 9 sharp.

We did the big clean up last night; emptied cupboards; donated some food to our neighbours who reciprocated with a couple of delicious chocolate ice creams. Good trade. 

We were both on tenterhooks this morning though, knowing we had to get the damaged van back for its inspection. Could have done without the 'deviation' - detour - on the morning route. Had Sat Nav Jane confused. 'Turn around where possible,' she says. 'Take the next right and make a U turn where possible.' Al was swearing, but we followed the yellow 'deviation' signs several k out of the way it seemed while Jane continually 'replanned' and eventually found a way through to 'you have reached your destination'.

At McRent, after Al humbly proclaimed 'I have to report an accident' to the male receptionist - don't know what else to call him. The receptionist and some other guy - perhaps a mechanic - inspected the van and 'oh la la-ed' as if the van was their own personal property that we'd deliberately wrecked. I walked off. Needed to keep my comments to myself. 

For the next 40 minutes - I marked the time - we were ignored; given a silent treatment of sorts while a report was prepared. Very tense. Eventually I couldn't stand it any more and asked, in French, if it was possible for Monsieur le receptionist to communicate with us what was going on. After all, this was the same bloke who'd been effing and blinding back on June 18, regaling us with the story of how his friends called him 'fuck off' because he swears so much.

'I am preparing a report,' he told me curtly in English. 'And you are unlucky because my dad died last night so I don't want to talk.'


'I'm sorry,' I said.

'It is not your fault,' he replied.

After that we endured another 20 minutes of seriously abject silence before finding out that the excess we had to pay on the van was close to €1600. Farque alors. It's only €500 when one rents the same van in Germany.

And then a turnaround. 'Can you call us a cab?' I asked.

'Where do you want to go?'

'The airport?'

'It's okay. I will drive you otherwise it will cost you a fortune.'

Couldn't say fairer than that.

At Bordeaux airport we caught a shuttle bus to Gare St Jean, the railway station in Bordeaux and then bought tickets to Paris. The fast train travelling at 350k on some stretches between Bordeaux and Paris was quite amazing.

So here we are, in our hotel room at 11.13 on Tuesday night. Al has passed out after the strain of driving that camping car for three weeks. Me? I'm too excited to sleep. I wanted to skip and twirl when we stepped out of la Gare Montparnasse into a Paris evening. I've been to Paris twice before: once in 1980; again with Al in 1985. Now I'm wondering why I've deprived myself of coming here on our last two visits to France. Don't know why it feels so emotional to be here. Perhaps it's the stress we've endured since our bad day about ten days ago. Perhaps it's because, as I've said before, I'm the French pretender, and Paris is the place to do it.

As soon as we arrived this afternoon it felt right. We checked into our hotel - lovely - showered then hit the streets again. When we consulted our map, a woman stopped to help us, drew a map on a scrap of paper and worked out a good route for us to follow tomorrow to enjoy what she thought would be the best of Paris, given we only have a day to spend here. 

I'm thinking already that on my next French vacance I might simply rent an apartment in Paris for a time.

We certainly won't rent a van in Bordeaux, France again. The service, and the van, was definitely second rate compared to our experience renting in Munich. It also cost heaps more per day to rent in France. The van was a bit grubby, for example, some unwashed cutlery; a picnic table, for which we'd paid extra, with missing components, so it was as stable as spreading a Venetian blind across a couple of trestles, ie., useless. No kettle, so we had to boil water in a saucepan with a loose handle. amazing what you get used to. (Yeah, first world probs. But we paid €122 a day for that van.)

The driver's seat, which turns around to make a lounge chair, was missing a locking device so occasionally, as Al would be negotiating his way around mountains, the chair would come loose from its moorings and Al would be swinging around like Luke Skywalker riding shotgun in Starwars. Potentially catastrophic. And the chemical toilet. Let me just say blerk. I thought it was verboten to crap in those things, but clearly ... Well, enough said. 

Anyway, I'm in Paris now, at least for another night, so I'd better get to sleep so I can ride the velolibs or whatever they're called tomorrow.

Bon nuit.

BTW: found out from a couple of Brits yesterday that I can buy a new TomTom GPS/sat nav that factors in the size of one's vehicle. That would have saved us a bit of trauma. Next time.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Playing the endgame.

We've set ourselves up in a 'camping', as they call them in France, about a half hour's drive from Bordeaux near a village called Crėon. We drove for four hours from 8.30 this morning to get here.

I didn't sleep last night. Was wide awake at 2.30 am after receiving the information from sister, Reggie, that mum would be dropped at my house in Coburg, Australia, on July 15. Okay, back on duty in my brain, which has already got me on high alert.

But it wasn't just that that woke me. It's playing the endgame on a holiday like this, and let's face it, it's been a rollercoaster. 

The endgame requires a strict schedule. Dispose of the bikes, somehow, return the camping car, and this time face the damage bill for an avoidable prang that's been eating at us since it occurred over a week ago. Then there's figuring out how to make all the public transport connections, cos poor me, I get to spend two nights in Paris.

Sounds absolutely pathetic, but it's white knuckled stress for a neurotic like me. 

As far as driving goes here, the other drivers are generally polite and cautious. The roads are safely marked and chicanes slow down traffic. But it's foreign. It's not home. And we're driving a sizeable truck, even though it's called a 'compact car'. As I've already mentioned, some roads are so narrow you suck in your tummy to get through and god help you if a car, or semi, yes, is coming the other way.

Thinking of all this got my stress hormones happening. Sister, Jane reckons I'm an adrenaline junkie cos I keep returning for more. I'm not though. I hate adrenaline; makes me feel desperate and today it had my blood sugar in the 20s. (I have T1 diabetes.)

I got up at 4.30 this morning, sick of lying on our cramped smaller than double bed and went for a ride through the camping ground to find the facilities. Was kind of fun. Wondered where the stars were. When it lightened it was foggy. I've only seen stars once on this rain sodden trip to France, where incidentally it's now HOT AND BLUE. Yes, just when it's almost time to go home

When Al woke up at about 6.30 he was unusually anxious too. That caused me even more of an adrenaline surge. He needs to be in charge. Don't like it when he goes all dithery on me.

After a brief confab during which I bitched about the cold shower I'd just suffered in the dark sanitaires with some madam making her tea and having an early morning fag, Al and I agreed to make a dash from Cahors, where we'd arrived late the previous arvo, to Bordeaux to try to resell our bikes at Ecocycle Merignac, from whence we'd bought them.

And that was it. We were on the winding road carefully following Sat Nav Jane's directions for close to five hours, despite having done a similarly long drive from Carcassonne to Cahors the previous day.

(Carcassonne, by the way: put it on the must see list.)

The reason we had to return the bikes today, Saturday, even though the van's not due back in Bordeaux until Tuesday morning, is that Ecocycle isn't open on Sundays and Mondays. We'd bought them for €320 3 weeks earlier. Given how few rides we've managed due to inclement weather it seemed every ride had cost us about €60. 

Anyway, we high-fived each other when we arrived at Ecocycle, found it miraculously open during that lunch-time shutdown - c'est exceptionnel, said Monsieur le bike seller - and sold our bikes for €168.50. Made us feel a tad better.

Now we have a couple of days sans bikes, to read books and relax by the pool; the type of thing one does on a holiday if one is not us.

Feel better.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yes, you can fit a campervan through the eye of a needle. En route toAlbi.

The needle's eye bit occurred later. It was after Al had pulled over into the edge of the narrow road to let another vehicle pass. Never mind me screaming Edge! Edge! An almighty crash ensued coming from under our van.

Al swore and stopped. I got up to investigate what had fallen inside the van.

Weird. Everything inside was intact. Checked the back of the van. seemed okay. Drove on for a bit on this seeringly hot blue day. 

Stopped for a sandwich. Realised a rock, or something else hidden in the undergrowth, had ripped a bottom panel from the passenger side of the van. How had I missed that before when I was doing my round? Didn't look in the right place.

Very, very stressful.

But then Al and I reassure each other; enumerate disasters we've survived - remember the passports and cash in Vietnam?  Yes, first world problems, but they feel bloody awful when you're experiencing them. 

We're good, we say. We're driving through unexplored territory in the south-east of France. Life is sweet.

Then Sat Nav had her say: turn left in 100 meters. Bum. We missed it. Jane readjusted, as she does, then drove us into a trap, perhaps as some sort of vengeance. (I'll have to stop anthropomorphising that piece of equipment.) We looked down an impassable lane: ancient mossy shoulder high stone walls on either side & a 'road' consisting of two tyre tracks. We were fucked.

Couldn't reverse. No option but to proceed with mirrors folded in. Figured we were up for insurance excess anyway but we hoped we wouldn't get further damage to the van. Crawling through at snail's pace with branches scraping the driver's side, we got through. The lucky bit was that Al was able to drive straight across the road and into a lay-by of sorts. He could not have turned the wheel without incurring major damage to our rented van. He managed to get through, with me sobbing - I'd held it in when we'd hit the rock earlier - and some branch scrapes on his side. That miracle man didn't touch the walls.

The French word for relief is 'soulagement'. I've used it a couple of times today. Once, when we found a mechanic in the middle of god knows where who kindly removed the broken panel on the van and secured the electrics. The second time was when we arrived here at Camping Albirondack in Albi, where the 7th stage of the Tour De France ends on July 5. 

It's hot, quiet and restful now we've stopped driving on those horrific lanes that pass as roads. We've got a cycle into the 'centre ville' to enjoy tomorrow, and I've shaved Al's head, which was getting a little too peach fuzzy, if you can imagine a peach with grey fuzz.  He is thus transformed. Wish I could do the same for me. Perhaps a little foundation?


Monday, July 1, 2013

Rocamadour. Who knew?

Today we/walked climbed down into this medieval village in the Dordogne region called Rocamadour. 

Yesterday we were so busy looking for a camping ground called Le Roc, that we didn't find, that we missed the signs saying that the road down into Rocamadour wasn't suitable for campervans. We made it through anyway. Twice. Not without palpitations,pulling side mirrors in and praying. We had to do the road a second time because we needed to return to a camping ground we'd passed earlier on our fruitless search.

It was alarming, but on reflection, one of those things one is glad to have done.

Have to say this place is wonderful. My legs, however, are killing me. So glad squats are part of my exercise regime. Good for climbing hills and steps. 219 steps up to the virgin's chapel at not quite the top of Rocamadour. The pilgrims used to do it on their knees saying a prayer for each step. Then there's a climbing zigzag path through monuments representing the stations of the cross. I stopped looking at them cos I started getting irrationally emotional based on my Judeo-Christian inculcation.

The walk was so arduous that I imagined Christ carrying some hardwood cross. With splinters.

Happily I've walked back up the 60 percent inclined hill and I'm installed in a bar, with Al, overlooking Rocamadour.

It's named after St Amadour, an abbott whose well preserved remains were apparently discovered there. Later they were destroyed by looters at some other time in history.

I'd never heard of Rocamadour; didn't know that it's the second cite in France , after Mont St Michel, despite all my French studies and visits. According to a shopkeeper, who patiently chatted despite my laboured French and helped me with a couple of words and conjugations, Rocamadour isn't that well known, in contrast with those places one immediately associates with France: Mont St Michel, the Eiffel Tower, the Loire Valley and the Riviera. She believes the south-east is a little overlooked.

If you are coming to France put Rocamadour on your list of brilliant places to see and do. There's lots of climbing and walking involved but it's so worth it.

The weather today is perfect: low to mid 20s; the sky with scudding white clouds; light refreshing breeze. Haven' t heard many English voices today but there seem to be quite a few tourists and Sunday day-trippers about. Nothing like the hordes trampling Mont St Michel though. I've been able to enjoy a leisurely stroll - on the occasional flat bits

There's a massive cave here too - grotte des merveilles - but I didn't fancy a visit. I overdid that one last year in a troglodyte cave in Loches. Had a bit of claustrophobia along the labyrinthine self-guided tour. I'll look at a photo.

Now, our late lunch was par excellence. Didn't expect that in a tourist spot. We ate at a restaurant with an outdoor terrasse overlooking the valley. The restaurant is called Le Terminus des Pelerins - the last stop of the pilgrims. We both had salads which were delectable: lettuce, tomatoes, walnuts, vinaigrette dressing; some sort of thin salami cut into bite-sized disks, a generous slice of tasty duck terrine, cured ham and a pat of goats' cheese to die for, as they say. We bought another 6 pats of the goats' cheese at a local store in Rocamadour, so good was it.

I know I'm given to hyperbole but credit where it's due. I'd put that salad up there with the best, most timely feeds of my life. Perfect food; perfect setting; perfect day. I'm becoming as repetitious as a politician.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Central France. Day 9.

So we participated in the fête du vélo d'Anjou'; loved the congeniality and Frenchness of it, despite the inclement weather. The first 22k along the Loire we were cycling into some serious wind and the occasional rainy squall. Didn't even take my waterproof cycling jacket off except when we stopped for lunch along the way. Suppose we're a bit of a novelty ourselves on this local ride. A few people found it interesting that we had come all the way from Australia for a second year of cycling on this special day when they close the roads to motorised vehicles along both sides of the Loire.
'See yourself doing this again next year?' I asked Al.
'Yep,' he said.
Me too. It's a great big day.

We decided to light out for the territory today. That is, try to find somewhere new and wonderful; easy to do in France.

Set up Jane, our navigatrix and allons-y. Off we go.

Now after about 2 hours on the road I get crabby. It's a bit tense finding your way with Al driving this behemoth. And he's doing a good job but he nearly cleaned us and a French woman up when he failed to give way to his left at one stage. He squeezed my knee in apology.  i know it was just a momentary lapse in concentration but I'm a panic merchant and I don't cope well with adrenaline.

Time for a lunch stop. Found a good relais on a roundabout. They all seem to be good. I love that all these tradies - chantiers? - stop for a 3 course 'formule midi' - at noon. There they are in their grubby work clothes slicing off gourmet cheeses after a good meal complete with vin de table.

Meanwhile, I had a delicious poelie of coquilles St Jacques - a creamy pan fried mix of julienned veges and scallops - and Al had a potful of moules - mussels - in a cream sauce and frites. We both pronounced our food delicious.

We didn't make it to our destination though. Stopped instead for a tour of the Chateau of Chenonceaux; huge tourist attraction that I'd read about as a student of French. The place was amazing but it was brimful of tourists - why am I always the one who has to concede? - and school kids, flashing their cameras on the tapestries despite the constant warnings not to. The village of Chenonceaux was pretty, quaint and equally touristique. Still, glad to have seen the place although I have to be in the mood to 'absorb' the feeling. Again, what am I? A clairvoyant with a mainline to Catherine de Medicis?

I couldn't face another 2 and a half hour drive so I suggested that we visit Loches, only 27k away.

Al agreed of course; he usually does. We drove through some beautiful tilled countryside to get here on roads barely wider than our van. When we arrived at Loches, having given Jane no new address, we tried following the signs to the 'camping'. We missed our way and went up tortuous lanes between old stone houses. Was so narrow we had to pull our side mirrors in. Always gets fraught at this stage. I think I started crying!

'We've got to love each other,' I said to Al, because up until then I'd been screaming abuse at him.

Jane, the bitch, was leading us a merry dance. 'Turn around where possible' she says, in her clipped British tones.

I switched her off and we winged it. Al finally found a lane he could reverse into. I leapt out and danced behind the van, winding my arms. Eventually we were back on track and I wondered if tonight would perhaps be the night, such was the frisson in my loins when I saw the 'camping' sign.

So we made it here to the 'Camping La Citadelle. 

And as soon as we pulled into the outer car park and saw the piscine - swimming pool - and the decheterie - place where you empty your van's waste water - we both declaimed: this place looks familiar.

It was. We came here last year. We'd already wandered around the citadel in the rain here. I caught a cold from 'Paisley Pants' - can't link to the post on my iPad - and got food poisoning from a crepe with Rocquefort cheese.

No matter. It's mild, the sun's intermittently shining and warmish and I've washed and dried my laundry which is good because I'm down to my last pair of undies.

Another Chablis? Pourquoi pas - why not?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wet Wayfaring Fools, France

Why am I writing and not out pedalling around the French countryside?  Because it's raining and cold, about 15 degrees. We've even had the heater on. Don't think we've had to do that on a previous SUMMER holiday in France. It's quite bleak. But there's no point in complaining about weather. The inside of our van is cosy and it's quite peaceful with the pittering of rain on the skylight.

Wasn't too bad for a couple of hours this morning. Took our 'new' bikes out for a spin and got that incredible feeling which I'd describe as smug incredulity.

As I said, we're in Montignac, Aquitaine. It's very picturesque; 10th century castle on the hillside; winding lanes between stone houses. Gorgeous. We came here because the campground, situated on a river in the grounds of a 17th century mill, sounded nice.

As we were eating our lunch today - me, confit duck; Al, duck cassoulet - we were remarking on the masses of tourists. Must have come in on buses, we said. Kept looking at an advertisement over at the office de tourisme. Lascaux, we were saying. Sounds familiar. Hmm. 

Perhaps it's one of the places I read about when I was studying French, I said.

Kept eating.

I'm sure I've heard about this place, said Al, forking a few more of his beans. Something about cave paintings?

Let's check out the tourist office later, we decided.

So, Al and I, wayfaring fools that we are, have stumbled into a place visited by about 250,000 people a year, yet we had no concept of the big deal.

It's only a UNESCO world heritage site due to the replica of caves containing 17,000 year old rock paintings.

Amazing. Call me an ignoramus, but I couldn't be bothered shuffling through with thousands of other tourists. 

Tomorrow, after a five hour drive, Saumur and fête du vélo - cycling festival - d'Anjou. And more rain.

Glad we brought the wet weather gear.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wet, wet, blisters, wet. France.

Poor me. So it rained on our parade.suck it up.
All okay now but anyone who's flown 'steerage' for 23 hours would have to agree that it's a penance. Yes, I'm sure I've committed something - heaps - to deserve it, if only in my thoughts.
Flew to Singapore, Charles De Gaulles, Paris then straight on a train for about 4 hours arriving in Bordeaux mid afternoon, Sunday, having left Melbourne mid afternoon Saturday. Still freaks me out.
Bordeaux is beautiful. I'd link to it if I had the means. It's ancient & ultra modern special combo with the architectural antiquity, history & space age public transport. Seems everything connects.
We found our way out to our b & b, booked through Airbnb.
 Knocked on the door of this stone house. No one home. Our host had left a key in the letter box giving us access to her entire beautiful home. I'm amazed at people's trust in others' goodwill.
Virginie, our attractive host, welcomed us when she returned from the pool. Oh BTW, it was 31 degrees.
She recommended a few good restaurants. We ate great mussels, squid & smoked salmon at a bustling restaurant called Le Petit Commerce. Got very busy. A queue formed, probably cos it was damn good.
Next day, Jane, our sat navigatrix, walked us a few k to our Ecocycle store. Virginie, our host, had recommended this for good velos d'occasions - second hand bikes.
Unfortunately they were closed Mondays. Bummer. Walked to another grotty bike shop a few k away, LibertyCycles, but didn't like the look & they were closed for 2 hours, as the French do at lunchtime & good on them.
Relieved to find a pharmacy that wasn't closed cos I had a painful blister, despite my brill Eccos & orthotics. Maybe I should walk more regularly. Nah. Prefer cycling.
Anyway, the white-coated assistant in the pharmacy cleaned & dried my 'wound' & applied a plaster. Brill service. 
More amazing service simply buying bus tickets in a 'news agency'.
Thank you, I said, bowing out backwards.
No, it's I who thank you, said the shopkeeper, bowing me out.
Yeah, big deal, but so amiable. (Who am I? A minor character in a French farce?)
Even the ticket inspectors on public transport are obliging. Helped us get on the right bus; very solicitous.
More slogging the pavements & gawping, helped by friendly locals. Felt we had to visit a cathedral cos a solicitous old dame recommended it. We'd already passed on it cos we'd seen another church earlier - yeah, muse around with one's cap off gawping beatifically at the stained glass & marble monuments - 
but we didn't want to let madam down so we went that way then ducked down a lane. Hoped we wouldn't catch up with her on the main drag.
Good dinner later: I had the veal with morels & julienned veges; my companion had the pork fillets.
And then it started raining.
My expensive Netti cycling jacket didn't stand a chance. And as for my goretex lined Eccos? Once the rain had breached the waterproof lining, the lining held it in little squelchy pods. Trench foot basically. Al the same. 
Next day more relentless torrents, during which we managed to buy 2 bikes & solve the goblin's riddle of where to collect our campervan. 
Phew. Really exhausting, but the shoulders have dropped somewhat since arriving  in a place somewhere near Perigueux. 
In the background, the sound of water rushing through a 17th C mill & birds singing, evidently delighted that it's stopped raining, as am I.
Al's more readily getting the hang of driving this time.
Me? Loving speaking French & stuffing my bouche - mouth - with fromage, pâté & vin blanc.
Apparently I have a good French accent too. Bit of revision this past year has paid off.
And my Continuous Glucose Monitor is the bomb. I'm almost normal. As if.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Time out.

I try hard not to be annoyed with my elderly mum who's filled my empty nest in a big way. She's not consciously doing anything annoying. When I greet her in the morning she expresses this histrionic joy that I'm in the house. Take her a tea in bed, as Al and I do, and she's overwhelmed with rapture about the best cup of tea ever in this the best of all possible worlds.

I'll be in the kitchen, getting my breakfast prior to setting off at 7.30 am for school. Mum will stumble through in her fluffy red dressing gown and almost cry with surprise that I'm still home. "I didn't know there was anyone home!" She'll wail. " I thought everyone had left! Oh! I didn't know you were here!" Her voice is loud, over-enunciated precise, heavy on the consonants. This is mum apologising for being in the way; getting in my way.

On Tuesday morning she inadvertently blocked the doorway I was trying to go through. I was in my cycling gear, complete with mandatory helmet, gloved up against the 3 degrees outside, headphones already inserted. As I did the requisite dance to get around her I knocked over a stool, scattering stuff all over the floor. It seemed, at the time, vaguely metaphoric.

I try not to feel irritation.

When I get home around five, exhausted from the demands of teaching 70 adolescents & cycling 7k of hills to get home, mum's at me. Same histrionic elation bordering on tears at my 'surprise' return to my own home. She's been alone all day apart from her 4k stroll to the local supermarket - see, she's still very capable & fit. She'll have chatted with a few strangers. Yesterday she paid a bill at the local post office. She was drinking coffee when I walked in. Channel 9 news was turned up to stun - but she swears she's not deaf.

All I wanted to do was remove my jacket, crash helmet & contact lenses and chill..

I tried not to be irritated as she kindly, kindly offered me coffee, wine, anything, when all I wanted was some peace after the day I'd had. I was actually summoned by the principal yesterday for some perceived transgression. That was fun, siting outside his office while he finished his phone call, this guy who was at teachers college with me & is now my boss.

My house is no longer a refuge. I hung around at the local shops the other day just to grab some time out.

I'm currently delighted to be kept waiting at the doctors because it's relatively peaceful.


Apart from my lovely doctor's free counsel this morning - I didn't have to pay - I discovered something else. Despite mum living here, I should resume cycling on my days off. I haven't been able to ride lately because that means leaving mum on her own for even more time.

I cycled to the doctors this morning; a flat 9 k round trip. It was blissful. Two hours time out on a cold, sunny morning. Therapeutic, unlike the more fraught school rides where I'm mentally preparing lessons or trying to expunge the day's trials depending on whether I'm coming or going.

Mum seems to have survived my absence.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Me and The Third Ager.

If you met my mum now, you'd see a slender statuesque, somewhat stooped 80-something. She always looks good in her fashionable, casual clothes; her accessories match, her feet wear Rockport, her hair is well-cut and she pops a bit of lippy on before she goes out.

If you met my mum now, as I keep explaining in a slightly hysterical voice, to anyone who'll listen, you'd meet a smiling, solicitous, wide-eyed woman. She'd lean in close and encourage you. She'd want to know who you are, where you're from and what you do. I really think you'd like her.

But don't leave her presence, even for ten minutes. Because upon your return I could introduce you again and you could reenact the entire scenario. Mum, having completely forgotten you, wouldn't find it repetitious or strange because it would be completely new to her. If I mentioned you enough, dropped you into several conversations, told her a few of your exploits, it might sink in. But then again.

Mum's rich fabric of memory is wearing thin, fraying, and that's very hard to live with.

It's an extremely complex situation, as you can imagine. I'm not coping very well with having my mum living at ours.

In another post, I compared living with my aged mum to having pre-school children. But it's more taxing than that. There's a lot of joy in raising your kids - well, at least for a few minutes a day. They're learning, and you go and look at them while they're sleeping and you're filled with love.

I'm not finding any joy in my current situation, other than the idea that I'm saving my mum from being in some sort of supported care with others with 'memory loss'. My head hurts and I'm even more of an insomniac. I went out without any emergency glucose today because I'm not thinking straight - I have Type 1 diabetes. Happily I didn't need it.

Basically, I'm in my mother's service except when she's sleeping or when I'm at work. I bounce out of the door on my three working days looking forward to some respite, but unfortunately I don't get that because I'm a secondary teacher and I need to put the educational and emotional needs of my kids above my own.

While I'm writing this I can hear Al chopping veges in the kitchen whilst chatting, apparently happily, with mum. She's explaining to him that she doesn't want to be a burden and that there are plenty of other places she can go. I wish she'd go into the lounge and watch TV so I could write in peace.

On my right I have about 300ml of chardonnay.

As I've said many times, chardonnay helps. Mum enjoys it too. Oils the wheels of human endeavour.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Paying it forward. Me and my old mum.

For the 'time being' my life has dramatically changed. But somehow it's not dissimilar to the life I had for 11 years when I was a stay-at-home mum for my two kids, born 16 months apart. Back then I learned to be in the moment and not expect to have any time to myself until after the kids had gone to bed. And even then, Al and I were alert.

In those days we didn't sleep in. We were grateful if the kids sat close together on the couch, cuddling blankets and soft toys, sucking their fingers, gazing at cartoons on TV for ten minutes. You can achieve critical mass given ten minutes.

At times I'd be half asleep in the morning and Pete's little fingers would open one of my eyes for me, to see if I was awake. Kind of cute, on reflection. When you're a parent to little kids, once you're up you're in service. You know, you know. Jeeze I hope I'm not turning into a latent 'mummy/mommy blogger'.

So now I'm once again in service; a labour of love. My mum, aged 82, has taken over my daughter's old room. She's been living with Al and I for three weeks now, since I did my mercy dash down to her seaside home.

I brought her here so she'd be safe, warm and well-fed and so she wouldn't be alone.

But it's a little taxing. Mum has dementia. There now. I've said it. Memory loss sounds so much kinder.

I suppose she has classic symptoms, if my Google searches are any indication: confusion, memory loss, mood swings. So she gives me a bit of a hard time, especially first thing in the morning when she demands to be taken home. Ah, Life, as sister Reggie says.

Mum was brilliant, in her heyday when she was Director of Nursing of a massive organisation. In my late teens if I needed her, I'd often be hard-pressed to get her on the phone, given her professional status. 'Sorry, Sister J is unavailable,' I'd be told by her secretary. 'She's in conference. I'll let her know you called.'

Mum has also put in the hours as an exemplary grandmother to her eight grandchildren. I'm not sure I could have coped without her. Many are the afternoons Reggie and I dumped our three babies with mum for a couple of hours. We'd go shopping, sometimes coming home to find mum with three babies aligned on a blanket on the floor while she changed three lots of nappies.

It's good to think of this while I'm sitting here in the lounge with mum, watching a bit of afternoon TV. It's not unpleasant with the autumn sun blazing in through the curtains.

We've had our little trip to the shops with my elbow getting a good workout as I lead mum around. I've sourced a walking frame for her, but she doesn't like the look of it; prefers to hang onto me.

The local shopkeepers are getting to know her and oblige with a chat. And props to our Lebanese cafe guy who keeps telling my mum that she and I look like sisters. (Hope he's joking.)

But there you go. I remind myself, as I'm putting her a bit of foundation and lippie on, that she's just me in 25 years.

One good thing: she responds well to a chardy, and so do I. Think the sun's over the yardarm now.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Empty nester?

You know how writing is therapy? That's often why I write. However, I've been warned off the topic I'm about to mention by one of my sisters - hi Reggie - and my daughter, Didi. I won't bother giving her a shout out because she'd rather spoon her eyeballs out than read anything I write. Gen Y. Suits me.

So. My mum is recently widowed - Dad died almost exactly a year ago - and she's been living alone in a small house on a large coastal block 90 minutes drive from me. Reggie lives three hours away in another direction and sister, Jane, is in the Northern Territory - not that there's anything wrong with that.

We three daughters called my mother daily, so I'm thinking that's about three hours worth of regular talk and support, albeit on the phone. Al and I visited mum every other weekend. She also had a large group of church and book-group friends in her village on the coast.

Happily, mum has enjoyed good physical health. She single-handedly cared for my dad during the last couple of years of his life when he was unable to look after himself. She achieved that feat through a special combination of nursing skill - she was a trained nurse; 'triple certificated sister' as we used to recite in our youth - and intense love. My mum and dad were the special two from the minute they clapped eyes on each other when my dad had come off his motorbike, broken his leg and ended up in Harrogate General Hospital in North Yorkshire, UK, where my mother was sister on duty.

Mum had been coping on her own until a couple of weeks ago.

Now she's with me.

She's on the couch now, at midday, with a cuppa and day-time TV. I think she's managing the remote control. She's wrapped in cosy blankets, because she's invariably freezing, and she's propped up on pillows. I hope she's okay because I'm about to go out for my endocrinology appointment that I booked several months ago.

I'll be riding my bike. And I'm so happy to have a doctor's appointment on my day off, despite the fact that today I've already taken mum for a fasting blood test at sparrow's fart, and a mid-morning CAT scan.

The 15k round trip cycle will be a break.

And I feel so guilty for needing a break from my brilliant mother whom I adore.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Full Blown Type 1 Sook

Just so's you know. I'm sitting in Michel's Patisserie in Brunswick. I'm having a moderate sook.

Why? Because Type 1 Diabetes is a bastard to live with. All that ordinary stuff that people take for granted, like plating up with over 100g of carb without recrimination, other than perhaps a little weight on the hips.

Well, I've got the weight anyway & I've just had a remarkably ordinary wholemeal ham & cheese toastie with an Earl Grey tea & skinny milk. So pure of me given I'm surrounded by sweets & pastries.

But I'm really sulking cos I'm in the middle of a bike ride & I can't control my blood sugar. Prepared for the ride. 30g of breakfast carbs - Special K & skinny soy milky. Reduced basal insulin - see below - pre an easy ride - about 10 k anticipated. Bg -blood glucose - 12.7 at start of ride. 4 k down the track it's 7. I have 10 mins of feeling smug as I swan around K Mart buying a couple of copies of Perks of Being a Wallflower & the latest Diary of a Whimpy Kid for my middle school kids.

But my bg had dropped to 5.7. Wasn't hungry but thought I'd better carb up, hence aforementioned sandwich. I still have to cycle back to Coburg against a fierce wind. But by the time my food arrives I've checked my bg again. 4.8. Dropping quickly. So I have a 4 jelly bean starter pre lunch. Hate that.

So here I am hanging around in a very un-French pastry shop, waiting for my bg to settle itself.

Just pisses me off. It is a bother. Nearly said 'handicap' - after all I am a 'full blown Type 1 diabetic'. OMG! Hide!

However blogging is cheaper than therapy & I feel better now. Hope I haven't made anyone feel the need to hug a tree.

Bg 10.4. I can pedal off now, having bolused .15 units of insulin to cope with the 14 g of carbs - half of the total amount - I've eaten.

Hope it works. No longer sulking.

(Bg 14.7 after 11 k ride. Bummer.
However, the good news: the wind changed direction while I was in sook mode. Had it at my back all the way up the Upfield bike track.)

Note: basal insulin is background insulin that is regularly pumped in tiny doses into my body through a cannula inserted under my skin. Bolus insulin is extra insulin I pump in to metabolise additional carbs I eat. I check my blood glucose by pricking a finger & squeezing a drop of blood onto a test strip in a small blood glucose monitor that I carry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy coincidence

Period 1 today, I was at the front of my year 10 class, all eyes on me. Suppose I was striding around a bit, waving my arms as I tried to make some point about the film The Sixth Sense, which we're studying at the moment. I had everyone's attention, and then I heard the computerised tones of Fur Elise, coming, I supposed, from between my breasts. (My insulin pump, wearing its baby sock, fits very snugly between the girls.)

Anyone who wears an Animas 2020 insulin pump will no doubt be familiar with this tune.  It's a warning that you're getting low on insulin or it's a reminder that you've suspended your pump.

I also seemed to be contravening the 'switch off your mobiles in class' rule, much to the amusement of 25 students.

I did the only thing possible. I reached inside my shirt front to press the button to stop the sound. As I did so, cos you've got to admit it would look funny to see your old teacher grovelling between her tits in the middle of a lecture on a film, I explained that I wear an insulin pump and that it was warning me my insulin was running low.

At the same time a boy in the back row interrupted.

"Actually, miss," he said, "I think it's mine."

And it was.


It was a unique and strangely joyous experience for me finding a fellow Type 1 in such close proximity. Let's face it, unless you work in the industry, or you're at a special conference or some-such, you're unlikely to find two insulin pumps - let alone Animas pumps - in the one small room. What are the odds?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pleb TV and me

Do you think I'm a bit strange for saving up last night's episode of Packed to the Rafters to enjoy on my day off?  Surely it's light-weight and beneath the dignity of me, an Expert Teacher - well, that's my official designation. And that's an Expert Teacher of English.  Would you think I'd have less plebeian tastes?

Well, my tastes vary.  I'll happily engage with low brow popular programs, like Big Brother.  I'm also extremely partial to a talent competition - The Voice, X-factor, Australia's Got Talent. Whatever. Have to admit to passing on American Idol though. I got bored with the auditions and the almost generic vocal gymnastics of the wannabes. The formula palls and I don't understand the appeal of that Nicki Menaj.  Getting old.

I'm a sucker for a good series.  I've made Al promise to watch, should he outlive me, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men amongst other things.  He rarely watches a series with me; says he can't be bothered. He prefers to read whatever SF novel has taken his fancy. Given that I read all day as part of my job, and often into the evening, I prefer to watch something. It really is easier, more relaxing than reading.

The thing with that white-bread Rafters, though, is it occasionally mirrors what's happening in my own life. (I'm taking a punt here, that son Pete's girlfriend, the one who unfriended me on Facebook, and unfollowed me on Twitter, is not reading this. If you are, Mel, hiyee! At least you're getting a pseudonym in my blog.)

Last night's episode saw the return of the second youngest Rafter, Nathan.  He's been a bit of a ne'er do well throughout the series. He arrived back at the Rafter's modest home with news of a new wife - he'd been divorced from the first beauty. It became hilarious, and close to home, when Julie and Dave Rafter met their new daughter-in-law - who looked considerably older than their son, Nathan.  Because she was.

The expressions on Julie Rafter's face - props to your acting skills, Rebecca Gibney - looked pretty much like mine would have when Pete turned up with Mel a couple of years ago. That combo of trying to look accepting and pleased while masking your disappointment that your son has fallen in love with someone half a generation older than himself.  Like Al, at our own terribly interesting meeting, Dave Rafter was much more tolerant and composed; possibly proud of his son snaring such an attractive older woman.

Happily, Mel didn't reveal, unlike Saskia, Nathan's wife at that meeting, that she was pregnant.

Rafters is also dabbling in dementia, given Julie's dad, Ted, is suffering memory loss. This is very close to home for me, given what my elderly mum's experiencing. Not hilarious at all.

So I took an hour out of my busy day - well, I've done a load of washing, cycled 8 k in the heat and made a banana cake for Al - to LOL on my own and shed some tears over Packed to the Rafters. Some episodes are a bit lame, but last night's hit the spot.

BTW, Pete and Mel are still going strong three years down the track and the age diff has ceased to concern me.