Bittersweet Symphony

BSS

Still one of the greatest songs ever written…

Winter arrived this week.

We woke one morning — I think it was Thursday — and discovered that Sydney’s seemingly endless summer had disappeared overnight. The world was suddenly a cold and windy place, rain-soaked and grey-stained, where clouds had settled themselves just above the rooftops.

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life…

The change of season often happens suddenly here, though perhaps I have been more aware of it this year because I managed to come down with the dreaded lurgy about ten days ago, when the days were still sunsoaked, and tried (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to keep working and to soldier on. The day winter arrived was the morning I awoke with the dawning realisation that the wretched thing has grabbed me in its claws again — this time, by the throat.

…try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die…

Well, maybe not die. Not quite.

BSS 2

Well, maybe not a million — but, like I said, being ill makes me slightly prone to exaggeration.

I will admit, albeit reluctantly, that illness does tend to make me slightly prone to exaggeration. I suspect that the main reason for this is that I, like many mothers, feel as though my family requires a great deal of convincing that when I say I feel unwell, I actually mean it. For example, one night last week, when I had finally stopped coughing long enough to fall asleep in the spare room (to which I had banished myself so as not to inflict the lurgy on The Bloke), I was woken at 2am by the light of a torch being shone directly into my eyes by my younger child, who proceeded to announce that she had a sore ankle.

Seriously?! 

Like the creator of aforementioned the dreaded lurgy, Spike Milligan, I sometimes wonder whether my headstone will end up reading I told you I was sick.

Since the cold snap hit, however, I have stopped trying to convert the non-believers in my house and have simply, and quite uncharacteristically, given into being ill. I have wrapped myself in blankets, drunk endless cups of hot tea, and surrounded myself with fresh lemons, a rather alarming variety of pharmaceuticals, a welcome selection of books, and The Verve’s Urban Hymns album.

The Bloke despairs of my love for what he refers to as “whingey Britpop”, but since I am as steadfast as I am eclectic in my musical affections, there are certain things in the life we share that he is forced to roll his eyes and endure. It’s not just that he doesn’t like what he refers to as “that awful music”. The bigger problem, I suspect, is that I have — as some wag once put it — three moods: skip every song on my iPod, let the music play without interruption, or play the same song on repeat for days.

In my defence, I tend to put entire albums on repeat instead of single songs: last week, for example, it was twentyone pilot’s Blurryface — because let’s face it, you need a little dubstep when you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other. And this week, it was Urban Hymns, which is still think is one of the finest albums ever recorded (even if its moody atmospherics drive my dear and long-suffering husband demented).

…I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now…

BSS 3

It’s amazing how other people respond when you start looking after yourself…

But here’s the thing, the (in my view) really weird thing: regardless of what I’ve been playing on the stereo, since I started treating myself like a person who wasn’t in the best of health, my family started behaving the same way.

To my utter disbelief, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop bounced out of bed each morning (while I dragged myself, coughing and spluttering, into the shower) and made their own lunches. And packed their snacks. For recess and for fruit break.

Three days in a row.

Who knew they could do that?!

And then this morning, after I had rewarded them for their helpful behaviour by ordering them both a hot lunch from the school canteen, they offered to make me breakfast.

Who are you, I was tempted to ask, and what have you done with my children?

Upon reflection, though, it’s not all that surprising that my kids stepped up when I needed them to. I am forever telling them to ask for what they want, say what they mean, and throw in a please or thank you and they can’t go too far wrong. What I had forgotten, in my desire to impress upon them just how awfully unwell I was feeling, was that I needed to do the same thing. So when I actually started taking care of myself, they started taking care of me too.

Yeah, it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life. And it’s going by faster and faster with every passing year. But today, I heard that symphony in my kids’ asking me if I wanted them to make me some toast, in my GP taking the time to listen to my symptoms sympathetically instead of treating me as yet another flu case, in a wonderful friend’s text offering to drop my girls at school this morning so I could rest.

It’s bittersweet, but it’s beautiful too.

And as well as being grateful, I’m on the mend.

A Winter’s Tale

Southern CrossThe Winter Solstice has just slipped past down here in the Southlands, and with it the shortest day.  It’s about as cold as it ever gets in Sydneytown, when the sun dips down before dinnertime and the stars swing overhead in the early darkness, pricking tiny silver holes in frosty skies.  The Southern Cross shines brightest in the winter sky.

Winter.

Some say we don’t know much about winter, down here in the Antipodes. It’s not like we need to don down jackets just to pop out to the shops, and any child sporting a pair of earmuffs is probably impersonating Anna from Frozen rather than protecting their extremities from the cold. But having spent two years living in Canada, in a city on a more northerly latitude than Moscow where winter lasted the better part of eight or nine months, I can honestly say I have felt colder in Sydney than I ever did in Edmonton.

Sydney cold seeps.

Sydney stormIt gets into your bones. It is dank and it is damp. It rides in on southerlies, straight off Bass Strait, and settles into every exposed crevice. It saps and it leaches. It is persistent.

Winter weather in Sydney is a petulant child: sunny one moment and sulky the next, or threatening to storm before suddenly showing off, throwing ridiculously perfect rainbows and breathtaking beautiful sunsets skyward as twilight descends. It makes us stamp our feet and rub our hands, yet takes great delight at seeing our breath emerge in great clouds of white when we speak into the chill.

In wintertime, we seize the days of sunny splendour that remind us that summer does return to our city, we grasp them and will them to last.  We retaliate against unexpected rainstorms by buying yet another umbrella when the weather catches us out. Again.

But when the wind blows and the temperature drops, we often retreat.

As Edith Sitwell once said, “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

In WinterIn winter, we wrap our fingers around warm cups of tea. We roast and we slow cook. We bake. We pull portable heaters out of their hiding places. We wear ugg boots anywhere we think we can get away with it, and even in some places where we can’t. We curl up with books under blankets. We indulge in marathon Netflix sessions. We curse the fact that Season Three of Crossing Lines is still in post-production because we’re running out of episodes of Tom Wlaschiha…er, sorry, of Season Two…

And, somewhere in the midst of all our burrowing under covers, swapping recipes for soup, and muttering the motto of House Stark, there comes a point when Sydneysiders start to smile. It’s a strange and subtle tipping point, that begins with a slight upturning of the corners of the mouth, and usually ends up resembling a smug grin.

Because the secret to surviving a Sydney winter is very simple: all you need do is remember that around here, winter doesn’t last all that long.

And, besides, as Anton Chekov said: “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy”.