Haunted

I checked the outside temperature this morning before I could allow myself to turn on the heating. I was cold but didn’t trust my own internal temperature gauge.

As if I need external permission to make adjustments. Especially as I get older. 

My mother told me these things as I was growing up and now it’s my turn to pass on the message to my children.

Your body changes as you age. Your sensitivity to the climate changes. You feel the cold more, the heat less. You can’t eat as much and your passion for certain foods, especially the sweet ones, diminishes. 

Though it can be different for different people. My husband and I battle over the amount of chilli he adds to his cooking, or sumac or Aleppo pepper. He’s heavy on the spices. As he ages, he wants more. 

As I get older, I’m more interested in the bland. At least food wise. Not too many shocks in taste to assault my senses. While my husband’s appear to have become less sensitised. 

 I cannot suggest that my experience is universal, but I find my mother’s words resonate.

How I hated to hear them when I was young. How I hated her prognostications for the future as if she was ruling out other possibilities for me. 

I have a friend who has read much of what I’ve written and tells me that my mother remains an enigma to her. My father less so. 

Why does it matter? Why must I try to resurrect my mother on the page? To keep her alive for posterity. To flesh out her form. 

My mother was a short woman – five foot two inches –  made more so, in contrast to my father who stood a good foot taller. He was lean and she was round. Like Jack Spratt and his wife. 

Jack sprat would eat no fat, his wife would eat no lean and so between the two of them they licked the platter clean. 

Such a metaphor for a marriage of contrasts. My parents too. She religious to her core. He atheistic with occasional agnostic tendencies when he went on search for meaning beyond his own miseries.                         

My mother read newspapers, the Catholic Advocate, the evening Herald and the morning Age in much the same way my husband reads his newspapers from top to bottom.

My father read newspapers, too, but much like me, he often skimmed the pages as if he was in search of something else there. Skim along the surface of the words rather than embed himself in them. In a rush. 

My father’s state of mind is one I inherited with my determination to keep on the move, to flit from one thing to the next. 

Yesterday I read the story of one Celia Paul, a British artist who was once the lover/partner of the great Lucian Freud, the grandson of the great Sigmund Freud and a man whose art I admire but whose personality I loathe. 

Lucian Freud apparently has some forty children to his name. He liked to spread his seed. There’s a megalomaniacal quality to the man and the way Celia Paul talks about her time with him, reminds me of the oppression of my own father. 

These men who insist you take your place further down the table while he sits at the head.

Ironically, my husband prefers to sit at the head of our table too but he can shift around if necessary, but only if necessary. 

Celia Paul came into my mind as I was writing because she calls herself an autobiographical artist and her subjects are portraits of family, her sisters, her mother and her son, Frank.

She could never complete the portrait of Lucian Freud that she tackled towards the end of his life. 

Reading between the lines, where she talks about portraits as needing to be imbued with love – otherwise they become forced – she did not love him anymore.

Such prodigious talent and such a bastard. 

These things trot around my mind. Watching the ‘fictional’ story of one Patrick Melrose on my computer screen, the story of a man addicted to alcohol who manages to give up cocaine and other drugs for a better life to the point he can marry and have two sons of his own, but dogged by the childhood trauma of a father who sexually abused him, who raped him repeatedly when he was a small boy.

 The images won’t leave me. I woke this morning to let the dog out for a pee and when I climbed back into bed the images formed in my mind, that small boy and his father and I could not get back to sleep. 

Although the movie only hinted at what happened in the bedroom behind the closed door, my mind went into overdrive filling in the gaps. 

I had a dream once, many years ago where two men broke into my house and one of them threatened to rape my small daughter. I woke in a panic yelling at him. Did he not recognise the size of his erect penis while her body was so tiny? 

It’s this difference in size, this vast confusion between the body of a child and that of an adult that the father in the film, and my own father confused.

I have also had dreams in which I morphed back into feeling like a child, as I’ve watched my children when they were little trying to wedge their three-year-old bodies into a toy Barbie car. A car big enough for doll passengers but not for a full-sized toddler. 

In my own dream I was in Richmond and trying to fit into my red sports car parked on the street, a miniature Barbie car, my leg first, and I could not even get my big toe inside. 

An Alice in wonderland dream but at least in Alice’s story there is no sense that she hurts people the way the father in Patrick Melrose’s story hurts his young son. 

Even as I write these things I fear putting images into the minds of others, the trauma this arouses and at the same time, I reckon we need to consider this, otherwise we won’t do our utmost to stop it from happening again and again.

Not a great shot of the family into which I was born, including my father. I’m seated behind his leg. He had rushed into this spot after activating the camera’s timer, ready to capture us all for posterity. The insert in the corner features my father with my older sister in Holland during better times.

Online vandals

For the last several days, my blog has been down. Closed for business. Unbeknown to me, it exceeded its bandwidth. In other words, it had taken up more space than it warranted for the month. 

All because some unknown person, persons or cyberbot decided to download thousands upon thousands of pages from within, much more than your average reader might want.

My trusty technological exert tells me, it’s most likely hackers hell bent on mucking up the smooth running of my blog. 

Online vandals who get pleasure out of ruining things for others. 

I’m not taking this personally. I doubt it’s directed at me the person, rather it’s one of those virus type things that float around in cyberspace ready to pounce when ever there’s a gap, rather like the way a virus attacks your body when you’re run down, stressed or otherwise vulnerable.

Not that any of us can ever be immune to viruses in totality. 

We’ve blocked the culprits and hopefully this will be the last of them, but you never know.

If you’re reading this, my blog is back up and running.

Oh, happy day.

No blog, and I felt a whiff of homelessness, that sense of not having a safe space in which to hunker down at night. No place for my thoughts to stretch and turn.

When I was fifteen, I stayed with a family other than my own for several weeks in a type of foster care arrangement to give my parents time to sort themselves out. I did not think of it  as foster care at the time. I thought of it more as visiting another family for the purpose of having a roof over our heads, and regular meals away from the tumult of my father’s erratic behaviour. 

I did not consider my responsibilities in this arrangement were other than to be polite, keep myself in check, help with dishes after meals and otherwise work hard on my studies and participate in family meals. 

All of which I did with varying success. 

I was not alone in this. My younger sister and I shared a double bed installed on the second floor in a large house that looked for all the world as though it had been built in Holland or some other country where the roof sloped down almost all the way to the ground as a way of letting the snow side off. 

No snow in Melbourne as far as I knew but this family was Dutch, more Dutch than my own family in its love of tradition. A family of five, four boys and the youngest, ten years younger than me, a girl. 

I did not know at the time that the mother of this household had agreed to take us on in the hope that we might be like extra daughters, older daughters who might offset some of the burden of the large family by offering to take on part of her share of the washing and maybe even the cooking. 

But we offered nothing. We were of the view that we were there for our convenience and not hers. 

It went awry, three months down the track when my older sister invited us to go to her place for dinner one Friday night. Without telling our hosts back home in our foster home in Camberwell, we accepted the invitation.

I was fifteen and full of myself, full of my own needs and wishes, full to the brim with a sense that if it was ok for me then it should be ok for others. That was until mid-meal when my sister asked if I had told our host mother than we would be missing out on dinner and home late.

I rang my foster mother then and there; my plate empty of my sister’s cooking.

The air froze over the airwaves between us. ‘I have your dinner ready,’ my pseudo mother said. ‘This is not good enough,’ and she hung up. 

I dreaded our return. I dreaded the thought of what she might say when we finally passed through the back door of her Dutch snow house on top of the hill in Camberwell. 

As much as I tried to put it out of my mind during the long train trip back from Cheltenham and the flat in which my older sister lived with a school friend, back to the Dutch house. 

When we reached the back of the house, the screen door was snibbed shut. We knocked several times to silence and finally dared to ring the doorbell. 

Lights went on and the man of the house, the father of this family of five, stood in his brown dressing gown, striped pyjama legs sticking out over wool slippers. 

He unsnibbed the door. 

‘You can’t stay here anymore,’ he said. ‘After you call your sister to take you away in the morning, please stay in your room.’

My threatened homelessness lasted only one night. One night when I could not move, not strip out of my school uniform or get ready for bed. I propped my head on my pillow and panicked for a solution.

In the morning, I would go to the top of the hill and walk down to the presbytery of Our Lady of Victories Church and ask the parish priest to intervene. 

The woman of the house was a devout catholic. The priest could get through to her, soften her, turn her against her intention to eject us. 

 I must have fallen asleep and by the time morning came and with it light, it was too late for the priest and I walked on tip toes down the hallway through to the telephone. My sister promised to come later that morning and I bolted back to my room, terrified of seeing the mother of the house, whom I decided now hated me so thoroughly we could never again make peace.

I never saw my foster mother again, except in photographs, not even to say goodbye. In time she became my older sister’s mother in law, but that’s a whole other story.

At least my blog has been resurrected and I am not homeless. I never was. The nuns took us in as boarders and my younger sister and I entered a different institution where the rules were more clear cut. 

My new home at boarding school.