December 2017 archive

Collections

In my fourteenth year, we moved houses from the inner suburbs of the east in Camberwell to the outer southern suburb of Cheltenham and during that move I took care to ensure that certain of my things came with me.

Precious things I had begun to collect earlier that year.

What is it about adolescence that we begin to see life differently, when the passage of time seems to race ahead so we’re constantly in a hurry, or else, the passage of time seems to drag with every hour, an imposition on your capacity to entertain yourself.

Or so it was for me, especially during the long summer holidays, when we had hours to spare. That’s when I began to collect the treasures of my life, the ticket stubs from the first movie I ever saw at the Balwyn Cinema, The Swiss Family Robinson. There on the big screen, a film which in my memory I confuse with Treasure Island,  Long John Silver and his peg leg.

I collected holy pictures in a cigar box my grandfather had thrown into the rubbish. Brazilian stickers glued to the front and the box itself of thin balsa wood, delicate to handle with its flip lid and still smelling of tobacco.

I collected slips of paper on which people who mattered to me, among them my favourite teacher, had written a few words of instruction, a message about when and where to meet, a sign always of our connection.

In the new house in Cheltenham, all white walls and shining laminated bench tops, stiff venetian blinds and no curtains, given my parents could not afford the extras, we took to putting our things into rooms in an orderly manner.

There was no room for clutter in this new house, at least not in the beginning, at least not while we could see the effects of newness all around us.

And so I needed to collect my objects in small containers, which I could stack neatly in the back cupboard of the bedroom I now shared with my younger sister.

It was a time of hopefulness, this moving time. A time for new beginnings that did not last long before my father reverted to his drunken marauding self and the once white walls developed the stains of what they soon witnessed and lost their innocent glow.

My husband and I bought a new car recently and the smell of the interior reminds me of this new house in Cheltenham. It’s pure unblemished state.

I have loved the sense of newness in most things I encounter. New shoes before they’re scuffed. New clothes before their crinkled and stained. New ideas, before I recognise in them something of the old ideas on which they’re based and they become familiar.

Everything becomes familiar over time and over time things get old. Old and no longer so useful.

These days, I am surrounded by many old objects, including the trunk below my writing desk that is filled to the brim with the memorabilia of my adolescence, collected since my fourteenth year and continuing well into my early twenties.

I have a large key in mock wood folded over itself so that people could sign the inside in honour of my then coming of age when I turned twenty one. I also have the pale blue gold embossed autograph book I received at the end of my primary school years and into which many of my friends and several members of my family have penned small verses. This from my brother:

The night was dark and stormy

The billy goat was blind

He ran into a barbed wire fence

And scratched his never mind.

I laughed at such verses then. Salacious to my young mind, not so now. Twee now, but that’s the way it is with so many elements from our past. They lose their piquancy, their sting, their fresh smell. They become musty, old fashioned and down right boring.

But I do not have the heart to get rid of them yet.

Next year, I tell myself I’ll get a skip placed strategically in the front yard and I’ll clear out my writing room into it.

I’ll clear out this room to make room for new ideas and fresh papers, though these days, papers become unnecessary when so much is available on the internet.

It’s not the same of course. Those material objects, the ones we can handle, the ones whose colour fades over time, hold the greatest pleasure for me, even as the typed or handwritten words on fading sheets of paper all but disappear.

Desperados

Our dog has always been a scavenger but it never worried me until two severe bouts of pancreatitis nearly killed him. He’s now on a restricted diet of low fat kibble twice a day.

Given the kibble is all he’s allowed, the dog wolfs it down, but it’s obvious, he’d give anything for more.

In the morning I put out two sachets of wet cat food into the two cat bowls and beckon the cats to eat. I stand guard over their bowls until the cats arrive, sometimes too slowly for my likes, and then I close the door behind the cats as they nibble down their breakfast in the hallway.

Back in the kitchen, the dog gets his three quarter cup of kibble dispersed to his bowl.

It’s gone in a fraction of the time it takes for the cats to eat and then when they’ve had their fill, they leave a few scraps behind and I open the hallway door to let them out.

As fast as I can, I whip those bowls out of reach before the dog gets to them and tries to lick them clean.

Even then in the absence of bowls, he licks around the floor and sniffs for any left over scraps or even the smell of food other than his.

I have never witnessed such desperation for food. So desperate that there are a number of times during the autumn months when we catch the dog chewing at something in the kitchen and on closer inspection find he’s dragged in a stash of acorns from under the pin oak in our back yard.

He chews acorns to a pulp.

The dog is so desperate, that on his walks around the neighbourhood on lead, as he sniffs the kerbside grasses and checks out ideal places to shit and wee, we can’t let him linger too long, nose to the ground, in case he finds some scrap of something he considers edible.

Once when I was out in the off leash park with my grandsons, the dog ran into the bushes and came out chomping on a piece of someone’s discarded toast.

I couldn’t retrieve it from the dog, his grip so firm, once a piece of food is in his mouth, you might as well not even bother to try.

And then for the next day, I worried that it’d make him sick, too much fat for his damaged digestive system.

In like manner the dog stole a couple of uncooked sausages that my husband was busy preparing, and we’ve had to keep a firm eye on the salami that hangs out drying in a back room.

Even now the dog is under my desk sniffing for scraps.

Desperado.

When I was young and first in love with my husband, we took to visiting a couple of friends who loved to play EmmyLou Harris’s song, Like desperados waiting for a train.

Guy Clarke does a brilliant version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSxs89qT-r0

It became our song for anyone we considered desperate in any way, out of grief or rage or hunger.

The dog is like a desperado waiting for a train.

I can feel a desperado at times too, waiting for that train.

It’s a relief when the dog stops still and rests and I need not worry about the state of his gut.

Especially at this time of year with all the Christmas distractions around, including those forgotten food scraps.

We need to stay vigilant.

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