The Thrifty Fictionista in Lockdown (again)

How I imagine I look…

Lockdown Day 1, and the Thrifty Fictionista has once again taken to her bed.

Not because I’m sick, not because I’m occasionally inclined towards melodrama, but because it’s vaguely cold out — meaning it’s fine and sunny and not the slightest bit windy, but the temperature has dipped below 20 degrees Celcius, which is regarded quite decidedly as ugg boot weather in my part of the Antipodes. We’re not wimps, really we’re not…

Besides, now that Greater Sydney has been placed into Lockdown (again) there is literally no chance anyone is going to come knocking on our door, so there’s nothing to stop me from typing away on my trusty laptop under the cover of my delightfully warm doona. The Bloke and the kids are down the other end of the house, and given we are going to be trapped together for the next thirteen days none of them is feeling the need to interrupt me (yet). I even have a hot cup of peppermint tea on my bedside table, though that did require me to give one of my two TBR piles a bit of a shove so it would fit. TBR, for the uninitiated, stands for “To Be Read”, which is both a sacred and dreadful practice of stacking large quantities of books you plan to read on your bedside table, the precipitous nature of which may or may not impede your spouse’s ability to successfully procure clothing from their side of the wardrobe.

Lockdown level annoyed…

At the top of the nearer TBR pile is a biography of Rudolf Nureyev I dived into after writing my last post, the reading of which I have been interspersing with bellyflops into romance novels of dubious quality (not usually a genre I pay the slightest bit of attention to, but every now and then my brain craves a book that is the mental equivalent of chewing gum).

In my defence, my brain probably does deserve a bit of a break. A large chunk of my morning (in between moaning about being in Lockdown again) was spent rescheduling the holiday we had planned to take next week, cancelling the cat sitter, and working out how to make my elder daughter’s 13th birthday next week feel less like she’s spending in Long Bay Jail?

I only meant to read one…

Apologies — am just back from a spot of online shopping; I had to throw out my favourite pair of blue jeans the other day due to the development of a hole in an unmentionable place, and since I can’t go to the Mall or anywhere else for the next two weeks, needs must. I suspect this digression may also enlighten you, dear reader, to the state of my mind at the moment and why I am resorting to reading trashy romances. It’s like a tin of worms in there, folks. Or maybe a bag of fleas?

Anyhooooo….the Thrifty Fictionista, currently warm and toasty but evidently sporting the attention span of a gnat, has now finally recalled the real reason she began tapping away at her keyboard on this fine, sunny, slightly cold but doona-covered afternoon: if you’re boxed in, the best solution is a box set.

YASS QUEEN! It worked for me last time we were in Lockdown (or was it the time before that?), when I cracked through an enormous box set of Sarah J Maas fantasy novels, tomes weighty enough to anchor the QE2 in Sydney Harbour…were it not for the fact that we have closed our international borders indefinitely and the mere sighting of a cruise ship off the coast is likely to send most Sydneysiders into a panic faster than you can say “Ruby Princess”…

Quality lockdown reading…

This time the box set I have chosen is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. I suspect I’ve already read the first two (the ones that both won the Booker Prize) a long time ago, and the third one — well, it’s as gigantic as the others, and I am looking forward to reading all three. At its best, historical fiction is immersive, and what better time than Lockdown to lose yourself in another time and (hopefully not plague-ridden) place?

And we’re not really all expected to clean our houses from top to bottom all over again are we?

No, seriously — are we?

Terra Incognita

map 2It’s been a while since I’ve written about my travels with The Professor — or found the time to write here at all, for that matter. Despite my best intentions, I managed to overcommit myself during the first few weeks of the current school term, which put paid to any attempt to unravel the many complexities of the universe in this, my little patch of cyberspace.

Coronavirus and all its attendant concerns and controversies have made this mad world an even more perplexing place to navigate lately, and they have also served to highlight even more vividly the difficulties our family is facing as dementia slowly and inexorably claims my father’s brain.

Last week we received confirmation the resort we had planned to holiday at with our extended family over Christmas this year will be closed until April 2021. That tropical island getaway had been shining like a beacon of hope at the end of this crazy year, but now that the Trans-Tasman travel bubble has failed to materialise and the thought of any trips further afield has faded away, we are being forced to confront two realisations: one, that our Fijian vacation will, at the very least, have to be postponed; two, that the longer the borders take to reopen, the less likely it will be that the Professor will be in a suitably fit mental state to make the trip.

It still feels like a sucker punch.

So do the times when Dad gets stuck in a loop, and tells the same story over and again, despite every failed effort to deflect or distract or redirect him onto a new neural track.

Or when he has what we call “Alice Days”, and is alone, and sometimes flailing, in his own Wonderland, unable to recall how to answer the phone or what was said only minutes before.

I am grateful that he still delights in words — and wordplay, when he is able to — even if he does recite the same poem or witty ditty he learned as a schoolboy eleventy million times in the course of a single afternoon. I am pleased he still finds pleasure in reading books, despite borrowing the same volumes from the local library time and again because he doesn’t recall enjoying them only the week before.

Sometimes I grow weary of the slow grieving process that inevitably accompanies the Professor’s decline, of watching the ever-closing window and never knowing how much time or lucidity is left before it shuts.

map 3I am utterly humbled by my mother, and am in absolute awe of her patience, compassion and devotion to the previously active and highly cerebral man who once anchored our lives, who now feels like he is floating above us, tethered only by interwoven strings of love and tenacity.

I try, as my mother always does, to meet the Professor where he is.

I hang on to the good days, when the repetitions are rarities, or when he’s not wandering through a mire of memories of times long before my birth.

I find it’s easiest for me to hold his hand on the Alice days, hoping he finds the same comfort in the familiarity of that simple touch as I do.

And most of all, I hope — fervently — that he is not undone by disorientation and distress as dementia erases the lines from the maps he has always known, forcing him into Terra Incognita as the charts fade, into the unknown.

map 4

 

 

Return to the Rat Race?

clock carsRestrictions on movement have slowly begun to lift here in old Sydneytown, but as they do I am being forced to confront the reality that there are parts of self-isolating that have suited me ever so well.

My role in the house as Chief Whip Cracker and Keeper of Clocks has, mercifully, been largely relinquished since mid-March, and I cannot say I am sorry. The relentless hurry and scurry from the office to this school and onto that lesson and back to the other training session ceased, literally overnight, and my strung out self heaved a massive sigh of relief.

I freely and willingly admit there have been times in the past weeks when my attempts to simultaneously supervise home schooling while producing meaningful, accurate work have collided in spectacularly disastrous fashion. At times this has necessitated me apologising to my children, and more profusely to our neighbours (occasionally with the addition of home-baked chocolate banana muffin peace offerings), and on those days I would have given anything —  anything — for a return to our regular routine.

But, even though increased work commitments have resulted in me having far less time to myself lately (and precious little solitude), not having to be anywhere at a particular time has enabled me to eke out the occasional moment of quiet stillness. Not wanting my children to be permanently attached to screens has resulted in us playing games of Scrabble, of me teaching them how to make pumpkin soup and chicken pie, and of all of us rediscovering our love of cycling.

None of us has done anything noteworthy or brilliant during this time — we won’t be receiving any awards for breathtaking new novels written during lockdown, or prizes for sensational artworks or astonishing craft projects. We only managed to complete one jigsaw puzzle before it felt like all the tiny pieces were threatening to take over the house. To be honest, we’ve barely managed to keep the house clean and tidy, and my work things have been extracted from and returned to two increasingly battered carboard boxes at the end of the hallway every day for the past however many weeks.

clocks 1And even though we’ve not always managed to harmoniously coexist, we have slowly got better at being with each other all the time, especially when we’ve taken a moment to sit down and speak honestly and openly about how seriously crap this situation has been and still is and how miserable we’re feeling about it.

As life slowly returns to something resembling “normal”, however, I am finding myself increasingly unwilling to pick up the accoutrements of Chief Whip Cracker. I have never been comfortable as a Keeper of Clocks, nor with the mental load associated with having everyone in the right place at the right time with the right equipment , and I am strenuously resisting resuming that role.

Being at home with my family, though challenging, has made me think seriously about how I want to spend my time.

I don’t want to jump straight back onto the helter-skelter hither-thither treadmill.

I don’t want to be the one constantly keeping track of everyone’s time.

I don’t want to rejoin the relentless rat race.

I do know that I have to, somehow…the problem is, I don’t yet know what I am going to do differently in the future, or what the the new “normal” will look like for us or whether it will work in the long run.

I do hope it feels different, though.

Tunnel

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Easter Delights

Easter has come and gone for another year, the difference being this year we didn’t go away. Of course, the bigger difference is why we weren’t allowed to go away, but I’ve had just about enough of anything to do with Coronavirus and am preferring to focus instead on delight.

It’s still possible, as I noted last time I wrote, to find moments of delight in this crazy world of self-isolation. Despite it sometimes feeling like the four walls around us are closing in, there have been a number of things that have kept me going over the Easter break — particularly since we’ve not been able to share it with friends and family as we usually would.

So here, in no specific order, are four things that brought me delight over the four days of the Easter long weekend:

The Hilltop Hoods Restrung Albums

Easter 1I love the Hilltop Hoods and the raw honesty of their hip hop. But I also grew up in a house where we listened almost exclusively to classical music, and have an abiding appreciation for many things orchestral. Operatic, not so much…despite my eclectic tastes.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that I think one of best things the Hilltop Hoods have ever done was re-release a few of their albums with a new “band” — the Adelaide Symphony — referring to the revamps as “restrung” works. The result is simply brilliant: a mixture of glorious horns, lush strings, great beats, phenomenal lyrics and a lexicon that will truly blow your mind. Check out The Hard Road restrung as an example…you can thank me later.

Opening the Peppermint Tea Box

Easter 2Initially I wondered whether I should include something in this list that appears, on the surface, to be completely mundane. But then I realised this is exactly what finding delight in life is all about: when the minty scent rushes out of a freshly opened box of peppermint tea, I never fail to smile. I feel enormous contentment. My heart sings.

These are the sorts of everyday delights that become a recurring pleasure, things I look forward to even though they seem, at first, to be so…ordinary. These are the small things that bring great joy to our lives, if we look for them and let them.

Bare Feet

Easter 3It is a truth universally acknowledged, to paraphrase Jane Austen, that an Australian is in possession of a pair of feet is only ever in want of a pair of thongs. Or ugg boots, as the season dictates. Part of the great wonder of living in the Land Down Under is our love of informal footwear — surpassed only, I suspect, by our preference for going barefoot whenever possible. During the summer, this phenomenon extends in the beachside suburb where I live to clothing: it is not unusual to see people down at the shops wearing wet swimmers and, at best, a towel…definitely no shoes. After all, they’re probably only at the shops to pick up a Golden Gaytime or a Chocolate Paddlepop, so what’s the point in getting dressed?

In the current “climate” — which could be called autumnul with a dose of pandemic — one of the unexpected delights of having to stay home is that I am able to indulge my love of going barefoot the vast majority of the time. On the rare occasions I venture to the shops I wear thongs. Sometimes, now that the evenings are cooler, I get my uggs on. With shorts. Because that’s how we roll, and we love it.

But being barefoot? It’s the best.

Jacinda Ardern

Easter 4Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s high time I acknowledge one of the great delights of the Asia-Pacific Region: Jacinda Ardern. Let’s face it — she sorted out Easter for concerned citizens the world over when she answered a question in a press conference regarding the current employment status of the Easter Bunny. Clearly stating the Easter Bunny was performing an essential service and would be able to deliver multitudes of chocolate eggs set the minds of many small people at ease, and explaining there might be a slight delay in delivery due to current social distancing measures was a masterstroke appreciated by parents who hadn’t quite managed a supermarket run in the leadup to Easter Sunday.

To follow up this classy performance with a Facebook post including an Easter Egg template she encouraged Kiwi kids to colour or decorate and display in their window so everyone in the neighbourhood could do an Easter Egg hunt on their daily walk showed just how much Jacinda Ardern gets it. And inviting those kids to email her the finished product directly? Genius.

From where we’re sitting across The Ditch, Jacinda Ardern looks like a bright ray of sunshine we’d like to bask in.  Watch out New Zealand…as soon as they open the borders we might all just move over.

So there you have it, folks: four Easter delights.

If you’re feeling so inclinded, let me know what made your Easter delightful this year.

BJx