It’s autumn here in the Antipodes. Although the days are still pleasantly warm enough, the nights are starting to cool down. Sleep comes easier at this time of year. The summer doona is back in the linen press, replaced with a warmer one that always reminds me of a cloud — so much that changing the sheets makes me feel happy.
There many aspects of autumn that I love, but one of the best things about this time of year is that the ocean temperature is still delightfully warm, and the beaches are less crowded. An April dip in the Pacific brings me a quiet sort of joy. Sometimes I think autumn in Sydney might be a reward for surviving the drooping humidity of late summer.
But enough rambling on about the season. Even though we have just slipped into May, it’s time for the April THREAD.
THINK | HEAR | READ | EAT | ADMIRE | DO
It was ANZAC Day last week, so I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, who served in the Royal Australian Navy during World War Two and was present in Toyko Bay when the Japanese signed the surrender ending that awful conflict. We went to a small Dawn Service on April 25th at the caravan park at Seal Rocks, to which we had escaped for a couple of days to cap off the Easter holidays. It was a solemn and simple commemoration: a couple of school kids reading short reflection on the bravery of the ANZACs and the Ode, then a trumpeter playing the Last Post. There was a minute’s silence before he continued with the Reveille, followed by the beautiful and moving sight of a lone uniformed horseman with an Australian flag paying tribute to the Light Horsemen who served in World War One, riding along the beach as the sun rose over the sea.
I wondered, as I stood there, my hands cradling a candle in a paper cup, whether my grandfather had seen Seal Rocks from his ship when he sailed back to Sydney Harbour, having survived the war in the Pacific with all its horrors — not least of which were the infamous kamikaze pilots. Perhaps he saw the coastline, crowned by the lighthouse that has warned ships away from the rocks since 1875. Maybe he didn’t — and it really doesn’t matter. I felt gratitude as I stood there, surrounded by my family and by strangers. There were people of all generations, from well dressed retirees to kids still in their pajamas and dressing gowns, all gathered to remember those who served, especially the fallen, and to pay our respects to those who continue to serve. It also felt distinctly Australian, perhaps because as we sang the first part of the National Anthem I felt all of us there knew exactly what it feels like to be girt by sea, or maybe because despite the solemnity of the occasion the vast majority of us in attendance were wearing thongs or ugg boots or no shoes at all.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them. Lest we forget.
Ahhh…moving on. Because we’ve had a few hours in the car getting to and from Seal Rocks, I’ve been hearing a couple of podcasts The Bloke has been listening to lately. The first one is called Billy Joel A to Z, a podcast by a couple of comedians called Elon Altman and Dave Juskow who happen to love Billy Joel songs and have decided to go through all 121 songs he recorded from A to Z — or, more accurately perhaps, from A Matter of Trust to Zanzibar. I’d never heard any of it before, so landed where The Bloke was up to (towards the end of the F’s), and found it entertaining enough. It seems I made the same complaint many listeners do, which is that they do not play the song they are talking about at the beginning of each episode — though given licencing laws I can understand why. Some of the content is genuinely funny, especially the song parodies they come up with, and if you’re a fan of Billy Joel’s music, it’s worth a listen. That said, I would also recommend listening to the specific song they are dissecting before each episode so it makes more sense.
Since the NBA Playoffs are upon us and The Bloke is a big basketball fan, we also listened to the latest installment of The Mismatch. Fortunately, I’ve been watching some of the game highlights on YouTube so was familiar with some of the big topics covered (not least of which was Draymond Green’s suspension), but at the end of the episode it came out that their theme song was recorded by Father John Misty, which led us down a rabbithole of his songs — kicking off with Mr Tillman, which has the kids and I have counted as a favourite for quite a while but The Bloke had never heard, until we found ourselves pulling into our driveway at home.
I mentioned during the March THREAD that I had just finished reading Ian McEwan’s book Lessons, which explores — in a significant amount of detail — the life story of one Roland Baines, starting from his primary school days at an English boarding school and finishing when he has become a grandfather. Beejay Silcox summed the novel up well in her review for The Guardian:
McEwan’s 17th novel is old-fashioned, digressive and indulgently long; the hero is a gold-plated ditherer, and the story opens with a teenage wank (few books are improved by an achingly sentimental wank). But Lessons is also deeply generous. It’s compassionate and gentle, and so bereft of cynicism it feels almost radical. Can earnestness be a form of literary rebellion?
I’m still not sure whether I enjoyed Lessons. It’s densely written, full of allusions and references (if you care to pick them all up), and of historical and socio-political detail (frequently from more than one point of view). I will admit, however, that since I finished reading it I have thought about passages in the book often — particularly in relation to women and the creation of art. As McEwan writes towards the end of Lessons: “The larger subject was the ruthlessness of artists. Do we forgive or ignore their single-mindedness or cruelty in the service of their art? And are we more tolerant the greater the art?” This is a question that makes me wonder about my own creativity, because although I may possess a room of my own (or more accurately, passageway?!) à la Virginia Woolf, I know I do not possess the sort of ruthlessness portrayed by Roland’s first wife in Lessons. Does that mean I will never create something great? I wonder…
Not surprisingly, after reading Lessons, I needed something entirely different — and so devoured Samantha Shannon’s epic A Day of Fallen Night, which returns to the same fantasy world of The Priory of the Orange Tree. Happily, it did the job I needed it to.
As part of our return to menu planning, we have been eating some old favourites and some new creations lately. After ordering a massive box of green vegetables when my usual fruit and vegetable delivery was on a hiatus, I made a silverbeet version of what was meant to be Spinach and Feta Pie, based on a recipe from Jamie Oliver. I’ve not used filo pastry for ages, and forgot how versatile it is, not to mention how crispy and tasty. The kids told me this one definitely needs to be added to the list, along with various other favourites like Beef and Bean Nachos, Satay Chicken and good old reliable Spag Bol.
I also made a batch of passionfruit and pear muffins this week. These were intended to be blueberry muffins, but upon opening the freezer I discovered that Miss Malaprop her helped herself to a bag and a half of frozen blueberries while making smoothie bowls. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and the pears were on the verge of being relegated to being thrown out or turned into crumble, so…yeah. At least we had something to go into lunch boxes until the next lot of blueberries arrived.
I have been admiring the resilience of my dear little cat, Tauriel, lately. She had emergency abdominal surgery just before Easter, having (very unfortunately) blocked her own bowel with a furball. Despite being in obvious discomfort — not to mention slightly off her head on methadone and fentanyl — she has patiently endured the post-operative recovery process, with all its vet visits and oral antibiotics (I only got scratched once). Since being given the all clear to return to her regular feline pursuits, Tauriel has been rather more affectionate than usual and has even given me her version of a hug. Truly heartwarming stuff.
My admiration has also been kindled by a dear family friend of ours, Valda, who was experiencing some health issues recently and subsequently received an unexpected and unpleasant diagnosis. She has displayed great dignity and calm as she faces this challenge — which, upon reflection, is hardly surprising, because as for as far back as I can remember she has been a dignified and calm person. She also has a wonderful sense of humour, which I sincerely hope serves her well in the coming weeks and months, and she has always been very kind to me and mine — so fingers crossed some exceptionally good karma is coming her way.
And that brings us, as always, to doing, and also returns this post back to where it started — at Seal Rocks. After having a great initial experience in the surf at our local break in late January, I mused one evening that I might like The Bloke to teach me how to surf when we went for our ANZAC Day getaway up the coast. He, having being provided with this flimsiest of excuses, decided this would be a great opportunity to purchase (yet another) surfboard for our burgeoning collection — a foam topped one for beginners of my size and (lack of) ability.
On our first day at Seal Rocks, the surf was too big for beginners such as myself. But on the second day, The Bloke deemed the conditions to be more manageable and decided it would be a good time to take me and my new blue board and push us out to sea. The water was very clear, and the most beautiful shade of turquoise I’ve seen in a long time. It was also reasonably warm, but a little bit dumpy. Friends — I had a go. Not a particularly successful go, given I grazed both my knees on the surface of my new board (which turned out to be a weird combination of rough and slippery). Sadly, I did not manage to stand up on the board a single time without immediately pitching sideways into the surf. Then, having experienced the excruciating ignominy of attempting to paddle back out to the break and discovering that — despite my genuinely best efforts — the board was travelling backwards through the water instead of forwards, I was forced to make a demeaning retreat to the sand and walk along the beach beforing attempting to catch one more wave.
I ended up riding that last wave in on my belly, boogie board style, to The Bloke’s (probably) eternal shame. Clearly, I did not cover myself in any kind of glory, but lived instead to tell the tale — however humiliating. That said, I have not given up and to my immense surprise, my ego has rebounded from the experience far more swiftly than I thought it would. I will, despite my relatively ancient age to be taking up such pursuits, try surfing again at some point…most likely when The Bloke is next willing to suffer through what will likely be yet another embarrassing spectacle. Such is life?!
Anyway, that brings us to the end of the April THREAD.
I would love to hear what you’ve been up to and what you’ve been consuming — via ears, eyes, mouth or any combination of these.
Until next time, mind yourselves.