13th Jan: Tonight I saw 2 unusual things near a fish & chip café where I had dinner: a curious sign and a creeping tree beanie.
8th Jan – Tonight I found the very first comment on my blog. It took 8 days.
9th Jan – I was having coffee in the far back corner of a café when a short European man dumped a heavy cardboard box on my table. I jumped. When he went off to speak to the manageress I took a peek and saw 8 plastic boxes full of honeycomb.
10th Jan – I saw a bike chained to a rack, its front wheel twisted by vandals. But something about its melted form was worth remembering.
11th Jan – The Housing tenants are sweeping their path, hosing the gutter, picking up rubbish and putting away the seven chairs they usually gather on to smoke and drink and abuse passers-by. A 9-year-old girl picks up debris while her corpulent grandmother holds open a large plastic bag, a cigarette dangling from her lips. The authorities have visited.
12th Jan – A Swiss friend made une tresse, a plaited bread roll, for me.
Another photo from my father’s war album.
There’s also his postcard-sized painting on the same theme:
6th Jan: I put out seed for wild rosellas and a rat came to nibble on the leftovers.
7th Jan: Outside the most expensive shoe shop in Canberra, an old Chinese lady sits behind two Styrofoam boxes, one holding large bouquets of hydrangeas, pink, purple and blue; the other holds herb bunches. She counts her cash, moving her toothless jaw in and out.
Every day I see or hear at least one thing that makes me look, or listen, twice, because it’s not something I was expecting. Here are the unusual things I’ve seen so far this year, this leap year, when there will be 366 days. A bonus unusual thing.
1st Jan: The housing tenants across the street welcomed the new year with coprolalia.
2nd Jan: A thin dirty woman in a mini-skirt, ankle socks slipping into her clogs, was walking past the video store, hugging the glass wall. She stopped to pick up a dead half-cigarette, pulled out a lighter, lit the cigarette and smoked it.
3rd Jan: Neighbour no. 1 phoned and neighbour no. 2 emailed to tell us that neighbour no. 3 is a police informer with a gun.
4th Jan: My son’s new employer, a jeans shop owner, wants him to wear their $300 jeans. They’re made with special bacteria and can’t be washed. The bacteria eats the dirt.
5th Jan: A pretty twentyish blonde girl serving me at the car repair place bent over to write down my details. I saw ‘Joshie’ tattooed in beautiful black copperplate across her left breast.
Fertile Ground: In a long crack in a short concrete wall, a Johnny-jump-up grows, unwatered and ignored until now. Years ago they grew in a pot plant near the little wall, a very poor specimen which I abandoned. Hope reigns.
On 22nd December I decided to keep a list of concerns that people shared with me over a two-week period. I’m not much of a talker and didn’t expect to have many conversations to draw on. Yet even in brief exchanges, my ears pricked up when people invariably told me their troubles. I was shocked by the number of things I could write after only a couple of days, and realised how often news of problems goes straight over my head. There have only been two days where no one complained about their life: 1st and 2nd January. Probably because we’re all on holidays…
Here’s a short undetailed list of the problems of the average Australians I chat to:
* the Christmas season aggravates the aloneness of the lonely
* some adult children never contact their parents, even at Christmas
* some small children go to one parent’s family on Christmas Day leaving the other parent alone for Christmas
* some struggle to keep their partners happy
* some have the flu or gastro
* others are in hospital
* a few lost their jobs in the pre-Christmas week
* others have been applying for jobs for months with no result
* some have threatening neighbours
I don’t have solutions, but I listen and feel sad with them.
I got the idea of noting down people’s problems after reading the first few paragraphs in the book of Nehemiah. He had asked his brother about the condition of the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and learnt they were in disgrace and Jerusalem’s wall was broken down. His reaction was to sit down and weep, and then mourn, fast, pray and set about helping them rebuild the wall.
While I haven’t sat and wept, nor mourned or fasted (not possible at Christmas), I have prayed. And like Nehemiah, cupbearer to the king, I have had some opposition, and some success.
To my surprise, in my summer years, I find language and words filling my life. On any day, I spend hours dealing with language. This weekend, for example, the last day of 2011 and the first day of 2012, I have helped an eight-year-old learn to read; I have read chapters and chapters, on a recommendation, of Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (it’s my third go at this book); translated part of a 19th-century French novel into English; written six postcards telling foreigners of the wonders of Australia; written a calligraphic quotation for a German penfriend; listened to my neighbours, government housing tenants, swearing twenty to the dozen as it pleases them on this New Year’s Day.
I recently (last month) graduated with a Master of Translation Studies, and now I’m in search of things to translate. There’s the interesting 19th-century novel, the one I worked on today, and there’s a French book on teaching three-year-olds to read which I use when I’m tutoring and which would be just as valuable to others, if they could read it. And there’s my older thesis about French villagers who sheltered refugees in the 1940s, the one I wrote in French and would like, before my winter years, to translate into English.
Meanwhile, I’ve found this blogging way to share my father’s photos, and later his poetry, as a background for my interests, though the connections will at first appear vague to a reader.