Crap food

It hasn’t been easy inside my head of late. Feeling persecuted on many counts. The world-wide swing to the right scares me. The sense there’s not enough to go around, a state of mind that induces a type of desperation whereby we stop caring about our most vulnerable.

Not a society to which I want to belong. 

But I do belong, and I’m part of the privileged, even as in the back of my mind I can sometimes feel as poor as when I was a child. 

But poverty is relative. My family never went hungry, but we ate crap food, or at least to my mind it was crap. 

The cultural stereotype of the food my mother cooked from her life in Holland: bulk stodge, potatoes with every meal usually mashed because they went the furthest, mixed with onions and carrots or apple sauce or something with an Indonesian flavour, like Nasi Goreng with a fried egg on top. 

One egg to share. 

Eggs were a luxury, like chicken, which we rarely ate. Sausages and cow’s tongue. 

Maizina pop for breakfast, a type of porridge, more like gruel, made up of corn flour mixed with water and heated on the stove top to a gluey consistency and sweetened with sugar or golden syrup. 

Not an ounce of nourishment but it filled the belly. 

Bread, bread and more bread, preferably white, which had just come into fashion then. Tip Top and sliced, slathered in margarine and jam. And buckets of LanChoo tea, always with several spoonsful of sugar and a goodly amount of milk. 

We weren’t poor, when you read it like this. 

It was the real estate surrounding our rented house at 2 Wentworth Avenue in Canterbury – posh houses, double storey mansions along Mont Albert Road through whose fences we peered on our way to school – that left us feeling poor.  

I didn’t pay much attention to the cars people drove in those days but all those houses held more than one car in their long sloping driveways and their grass was green and kept short and their flower beds were filled with exotics that needed lots of water, which wasn’t a problem in my childhood until the drought struck in the late sixties and signs went up everywhere, 

‘Bore water in use’. 

The thought police were out in those days, too.  

People dobbing on neighbours who snuck out in the middle of the night to bucket water over their roses and were caught in the glare of torch light. 

The government restricted watering hours to alternative days and only for a few hours in the early morning or evening.

Rather like the way the government took to restricting the petrol you could buy during the strikes of the early eighties. Where cars were restricted to one $20.00 a tank only on alternative days depending on the first letter of your number plate. More rationing. 

My mother told me once about the coupons issued during the war, again to restrict supplies when there was not enough to go around.

Not enough to go around, the feeling today as the rich get richer and the poor get fucked over. It scares me. 

Old men and trees

The other night at twilight after I’d taken the dogs on their second walk for the day – my job in the absence of my daughter and her boyfriend who were away on holidays up north – I decided to clean out the pond.

It’s a round pond, bricked around its perimeter with a deep fibreglass basin that acts to hold the water. A terracotta gargoyle watches over.

The water in the pond reaches knee height when full and we top it up only occasionally, relying on rain water to keep it healthy. But with the recent absence of rain over several months the water level reached the half way mark and the pond was joked with weeds, so I decided to cull them. 

At their best water weeds look lovely, deep green leaves and buttercup yellow flowers that open all summer long beginning in spring. 

By the beginning of autumn though only the sodden leaves remain, and the pond becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos because although it’s fitted with a pump and fountain to keep the water flowing, the pump tends to choke with mud and leaves which cause an electricity shortage that cuts out the whole system. 

So, we stopped using the pump. Hence the still water and mosquitos. 

On this particular evening,  I put on my daughter’s gum boots, the ones she bought for her student stay in Edinburgh, knee high and fleece lined. I waded in.

The weeds were heavy as sacks of flour especially as they were tangled together in great knotted clumps.  I used secateurs to cut them down to size then threw them all over the garden. 

‘Good mulch,’ my husband said from the back door. 

I’d almost dragged out the last of the weeds when I thought to use a hose to drain off the excess water but again my husband advised I’d be having to get the water to run upstream. 

Impossible. 

No, I’d need to bucket out the water, which I proceeded to do. 

When the water was at hand height, I collected another bucketful and threw it over a flowering gum nearby. 

That’s when I heard a thrashing in the leaves behind me and imagined it was one of the dogs but when I looked around there was no dog and the thrashing over the dried autumn leaves grew louder.

In the growing dark, I could make out the outline of gold fish, huge by gold fish standards and I apologised to it profusely for upsetting its home. I managed to grab the slippery beast and threw it back in. 

A grandfather of a goldfish. 

I stopped bucketing out water. 

The next day in daylight, I decided I’d locate this fish in the last of the muddy water and rehouse it in the front pond. I’d refilled the front pond weeks earlier, so there was water aplenty there. 

The point of this story? 

I had no idea we had any fish left in our back pond. I figured they’d died long ago and even more so with the water levels dropping. What space could there be left in the pond choked by weeds?

But there it was.  The grandfather gold fish. Alive and well. 

This discovery reminded me of a time twenty-five years ago when I was hoping to fall pregnant following a miscarriage in the spring of 1992.

The year before we had cleaned out the pond and loaded it with fish. 

I checked every day and over time the fish babies appeared and the sight of them gave me hope.

My last daughter is the result of that hope. 

By contrast, I’m battling a sense of hopelessness this morning after the federal election results last night, which means we will have another term of a conservative government, one which still promotes the use of coal even in the face of climate change threats.

I fear for the future of my children and their children.

All we can do is keep up the fight against the narrowness of self-interested mindlessness that refuses to acknowledge the need to change our excessive impact on the environment. 

We must not give up, grandfather fish and babies as well.

It puts me in mind of something I read recently:

A creative society is one in which old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.