5p

I found a five pence coin in the road on my way to the station the other morning.

“5p!” I exclaimed, with almost as much excitement as if it were five pounds.

Over the past few weeks, at least once a week, I have found penny coins on the road. And I almost always stop to pick them up. So finding 5p was five times as good.

It’s like I’m six years old still, and those coins can be converted into lollies (sweets, candies) at the corner store, at a rate of one coin per one sweet.

I remember the store was dark and narrow, and it was run by Bill and Meg. It sold some grocery basics (bread, milk, newspapers; things only adults care about) but the attraction to me and my friends was the wall of lolly jars. My friends and I would go in with our fistful of coins and spend many a long minute choosing our ten lollies for ten cents.

“I’ll have one of those, one of those, two of those…” And Bill or Meg would have to fetch up the jar of lollies, open it, remove one sweet, replace the jar, open another jar… And then when the first child was done, the second child would step up and the same process would repeat.

For as little as 10c we could spend a long time in that shop, deciding which ten sweets we would have.

Bill and Meg must have hated us.

I wonder about the people who dropped these coins I’m finding. They probably don’t have the same memories about the small coins as I do because one penny doesn’t get you anything these days.

Giving directions

Coming back from the shops yesterday, we.passed a man in a car who asked us for directions to the medical centre.

The medical centre is around the corner from my house, a 3 minute walk at most. This is the medical centre I have been going to for the 17 years I’ve lived in this neighbourhood.

But when someone asks for directions and I try to describe landmarks I was at a bit of a loss.

To got to work I either walk down this road or take a bus down this road, but when I’m walking i don’t look around and when I’m on the bus I’m hooked into my phone or into a book. I don’t look around, look at things, take in what’s new. I’m not actually present. I’m not taking in changes that are going in around me in my neighbourhood.

I need to work on that.

Winter. Hats.

It’s getting on to that cold point of the year – not quite winter but cold enough for me to think about shifting my coat to the next level of warm (the grey wool coat). But I’ll try and brave it out to November, build up my cold resistance for a few days more.

It’s cold enough now that on my walk to the station in the morning my head and ears get cold. But the evenings are worse – the clocks have just changed and so the mornings are brighter but the evenings are cold and standing around the windy bus station waiting to go home my head gets achey.

Is it time to bring out the winter hat?

Some people on my train are already in their winter hats. This morning there was a woman in a beret with a little bow in it. She wore it on an angle and it looked cool. There was another woman in a fedora. She also looked cool. There was a man wearing an odd kind of cap/hat thing that reminded me of a gamekeeper on a Scottish estate. (Yes, I agree that’s a specific kind of look.)

I don’t have a cool hat. I have two winter hats and they are both knitted beanie hats with a pompom on the end. There’s the casual one (red and black stripes so it looks like football team colours) for hiking or outdoors; and the all-black one with a fake fur pompom for “city” wear.

A few years ago big floppy felt hats were in for winter (I don’t follow fashion, I just notice what I see people wearing on my train and on the way to my office). I really liked these hats, they made me think of cool 70s hippy women. I went to a store and tried one on – but I didn’t look cool, I looked stupid.

Same with berets. On other people they look cool when worn at a jaunty angle. When I wear a beret at a jaunty angle I look like someone who is unable to dress themselves properly. Even un-jaunty berets make me look stupid.

I had some hope that a fedora might suit me, but no.

So this winter, like all the other winters, I’ll be wearing my beanie hat.

And if when you’re out and about wearing your jaunty beret this winter and you see me giving you a hostile stare, it’s not personal, it’s just hat envy.

L

Time

There’s never enough time, I think.

If only I had more time, I think.

I would be able to do so much if only these other things weren’t take up so much of my time.

But it’s all a lie. There is enough time. I have enough time.

I just need to prioritise what I do with my time and use it more effectively.

Example: I think after a day at work I deserve to relax and watch some TV. And why not watch something that’s kind of relaxing and lets me feel I’m getting a bit of history education like The Crown?

Except watching The Crown I don’t really feel relaxed. I’m watching it with my work brain on and all I can see is someone promoted into a job for which she hasn’t been properly prepared or briefed. She’s prioritising work and it’s taking a toll on her personal relationships. After watching two episodes I’m feeling stressed about the lack of adequate support networks. So what was supposed to be relaxing is just me taking my work home with me and projecting it into a TV show.

My phone eats a lot of my time. There is always stuff to look at and scroll through; games to play; the annoying little Duolingo owl who keeps popping up to remind me to practice my Portuguese. I could choose to switch my phone off of course and be more present in the moment NOW but I don’t. My husband and I have become the kind of people who sit together but separately looking at our phones. I find that sad but I’m not doing anything to stop it.

On our recent holiday (which I will write about soon) we had switched off roaming data and were in a Wi-Fi-free zone for some days. It was great because our phones were reduced to being cameras and we didn’t have anything bleeping at us to take our attention away from where we were and what we were doing. I wonder if that played some small part in why we enjoyed this trip so much and are already talking about going back?

Or perhaps it was just because it was a holiday, and time in some ways had less meaning. Most days there were no deadlines for being up, being dressed, being out and about. Things took as long as they took and every day felt like a week.

Perhaps I’m struggling with time this week because my brain is still on holiday time not on London/work time. Perhaps it’s the changing of the clocks that marks the end of “summer time” that has left me feeling out/of/sync.

While my head is still holiday-frazzled, I will go back to my time-honoured time-control mechanism – the list. While there may not be a schedule, there will be a list, and I can control time in some way by writing own things to do and ticking them off as I go.

 

 

Books, books, books, and theatre

One thing about our Walk the Lines project was getting to know which suburbs of London have the charity shops with the best selection of books for sale.

On Saturday we were heading out to Hammersmith to go to a play, but we went early because we remembered a street with a concentration of charity shops with lots of books – including an Amnesty International books only shop.

I love books and I love buying books and buying books cheaply from charity shops has the double endorphin boom of (1) Yay, more books and (2) Yay, helping a charity.

Although I have to admit it’s more (1) than (2).

I came home with seven books. Husband unhappily got none as Hammersmith is not rich in second hand science fiction which is his genre of choice. Although technically he could count Boris Akunin’s Turkish Gambit as his as he wanted it to fill a gap in our Fandorin collection.

We took our new-old books with us to see the play, Solaris, based on the book and movies of the same name. I mentioned Solaris to a colleague at work and she said, “Oh, based on the movie with George Clooney.” I mentioned it to a different colleague and she said, “Oh, based on the Tarkovsky film.” If I’d mentioned it to my Polish colleague she would probably have said, “Oh, based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem.”

(I haven’t read the book, but I have seen both the movies.)

To give you a short overview of the plot: the setting is a space station orbiting the watery planet Solaris, studying it. There were three crew members; but when a new arrival from the Institute arrives to bring them home at the end of the mission she finds out one of them, her former mentor, is dead, and the other two are behaving very strangely. It emerges that as they have been studying the planet, so too the planet has been studying them and in its attempt to communicate, the planet has caused physical manifestations on board the space ship – people and things from the crew’s past have appeared on board.

The new arrival, Kris Kelvin (played by Polly Frame), is confronted by a manifestation of a former lover who died, Ray (played by Keegan Joyce). Joyce does a good job of presenting Ray as a kind of ghost, a one dimensional being based on Kelvin’s memories of him. In the second act, Ray begins to articulate the voice of the planet but within the framework of Ray’s personality as it is remembered by Kelvin.

It sounds very highbrow, but actually it’s not. It’s not even very science-fictiony (if that’s a term). For me the play asked the question – if you could go back and revisit the past, or revisit a person from your past, would you do the same things and behave the same way or would you do things differently? Could you do things differently?

The characters in the play also argued a bigger question: Is Solaris a malevolent force or is it a lonely sentient being that just wants to communicate?

I liked the staging – the frequent scene changes marked by closing of grey vertical doors as if representing the exteriornof the spaceship – or is it the slowly blinking eye of the planet Solaris? The visuals of waves played on the grey surface were hypnotic, mesmerising, and hovering just on the edge of nausea-inducing.

The spaceship was not your standard stipped back grey metal interior. It was white, and somewhat anachronistic with proper beds, wine and cigars, CDs and VHS tapes (with Hugo Weaving “on tape” as the deceased mentor and Solaris expert Gibarian).

Although the play could not be considered light entertainment, it was certainly an engrossing and thoughtful journey with good performances across the cast.

My Dad

It’s five years since my Dad died.

Five years since I realised people saying, “Sorry for your loss,” “Thinking of you,” or “Keeping you in my prayers” (especially if they are not praying people) doesn’t help make you feel better. From my experience, “Sorry for your loss,” is one of the most trite and useless phrases in English language.

So I’m sharing today the reflection my siblings and I read at the funeral service. It’s the hardest public speaking I’ve ever done. We had to take it in turns to speak because none of us had the strength to read the whole thing alone.

So here it is, a reflection in honour the man who taught me the fine art of scraping clean a jam/Vegemite/peanut butter jar.

***

Reflection

S: John Stone was an ordinary man. He was born into an ordinary family, growing up in Fortitude Valley with his brother Michael and sister, Maureen. He served his country during World War II in the Fifth Division Australian Infantry Force but was not decorated or mentioned in dispatches.

R: He started his working life at a dry cleaner’s, and after the war worked as a postman and as a Clerk for the Post Master General and Telecom. He lived his family life as an ordinary man in an ordinary suburb. Apart from his birth and his marriage, his name was never mentioned in the newspapers. But to his family John Stone was an extraordinary man.

L: All his life he worked hard for his family and was a good provider. He was a kind and patient man and a faithful and loving husband to Beryl. He paid his taxes – to the cent! And every bill was paid in full, well in advance of its due date. He paid for Catholic education for his family of four even if there was not that much money left over after the bills were paid.

M: He attended his church services regularly while his health was good. He was a man with a sense of duty. Throughout his life he seemed to have a sense of contentment; he never had grand expectations and was happy with whatever he received. He always kept abreast of what was happening in the world; he read the newspaper daily from cover to cover until his eyesight failed him and in his 80s he even developed an interest in computers. In his late 60s he surprised us all by joining a Uniting Church tour to Far North Qld and Thursday Island.

S: He was always considerate and polite to others and even when in hospital and at the nursing home when very ill, he joked with the nurses and thanked them for his care. He frequently told us “Don’t worry about your old Dad” and “Take care of yourself.” Even when discharged from hospital he would disappear for a few minutes to say goodbye to the others in his ward and wish them the best. Through this, he taught us how to deal with struggles and illness and how to always think of others.

R: His grandchildren were always on his mind. He would always inquire about their health and would send them his love. His love of words and language made him a formidable opponent at Scrabble and even with his short term memory loss he could supply “puerile” as the answer for that tricky crossword clue.

L: People may not have seen him as a funny man, but those close to him were familiar with his dry, quirky sense of humour and the jokes that would take you a couple of minutes to catch onto. He was a gentle man, a caring Dad, a devoted husband, a loving grandfather and someone we will miss greatly.

M: He was no saint, he had his stubborn moments, and was prone to quote “Clancy of the Overflow” at unusual times, but he always inspired us to not let him down. John Stone was an exceptional man, and we have been blessed that we can call him our Dad. The world is much less for us with his passing.

***

Cheers Dad.

There and back again by train

There is a difference between going away and coming home.

London to Glasgow by train.

I have my own little rituals around train travel.

I like to get on the train with a coffee.

And I like to listen to Tears for Fears Elemental album, as it was one of the few cassettes (yes it was that long ago) I had when I first moved to the UK and I listened to it a lot while I rode the train back and forth from London to the north and back again.

We join a queue at Euston to get onto our train. The queue moves slowly – why? When we get to the front and the narrow channel opens out into the train platform there is no impediment, apart from people getting to the front of the queue and stopping to wonder which carriage they are getting in, holding up everyone behind them who knows where they’re going (like us).

Once past the barriers it’s like the start of a race. Despite most of us having reserved seating in this train everyone picks up speed and starts pacing toward their carriage like it’s a competition to get there before someone else. Which way is faster, to go around the outside or stick close to the train where you will be held up by people stopping in front of each carriage?

We go around the outside and take our seats without hassle. In fact we have timed it so perfectly there is just about enough time to stow our suitcase, sort our immediate train journey needs and for me to locate Elemental and press play and then the train starts to move.

Goodbye London.

Inner city, grey suburbs, greener suburbs and then we’ve broken free of the capital. Fields, farms, livestock; interspersed with villages that look either modern cookie cutter construction, cute and rural or industrial.

This morning’s blue sky has given over to grey clouds.

We are travelling north for a wedding, only two days after our tenth wedding anniversary. I think we also went to a wedding for our fifth wedding anniversary. Late September must be a popular time for weddings.

A man on the train passes by with two cans of Budweiser. Did he buy them on board? Why are they selling beer at 10:10am? Who needs a beer at this time of morning? He goes through into the next carriage. Good. People who are drinking at this hour are going to be noisy and this is a 4.5 hour train ride.

For a brief moment I see a canal and a motorway out the window and I think about the industrial history of this country encapsulated here – road, canal, railway – all travelling in parallel. But then the landscape shifts and the motorway disappears in a different direction.

47 minutes in and Elemental has finished. I think I will listen to it again. It suits the grey skies outside (where did this morning’s blue go?). In fact it starts raining just after Rugby.

I’m using the enforced quiet time on this train to paint my nails. Not as easy as it could be because at high speeds this train tends to wobble. But I have bright light and 100% focus, while normally I try to paint my nails while watching TV in the semi darkness.

The train drops speed to pass slowly through Stafford station. The platform is crowded with people. Where are they going? Where have they come from? Once we clear the station area the train picks up speed again and I take a break from my book to look out at the flat flooded fields. Green grass alternates with brown tilled soil which alternates with golden stubble decorated with round bales of straw. Cows in one field, sheep the next. Sometimes a horse or two. I go back to my book.

I finish my second round of Elemental just after Crewe. Time to switch to the Moody Blues, Long Distance Voyager. Seems appropriate for today’s journey.

We make a first stop almost 2 hours into the journey. Warrington Bank Quay. I take the opportunity of a non-moving train to get another coat of nail polish on.

Wigan North Western. It’s raining quite heavily here. The next stop is Preston, where I once lived, poor and unhappy, bullied at work, spending most of my income on rent, living on porridge and vegetable lentil soup. I had nice flat mates though.

I think about my bullying former boss. This still brings a small knot of tension to my stomach. Then I remember how good it felt when I walked up to his desk and told him I quit.

We leave Preston and its unhappy memories behind and roll onwards, northwards. This is not a good album after all. I switch to a playlist.

At Lancaster the sun starts to break through the cloud for maybe 15 minutes before bigger deeper darker grey clouds dump rain down in sheets and dissolve the landscape. By Penrith the sun is out again and the train passes under a rainbow. At Carlisle it’s grey again and a Scotrail train at the station announces our proximity to the border.

Glasgow is in sight when I get a panicked call from my sister. She is house sitting for us and has failed to take on board our instructions about how to unlock and relock the front door. We have to do some over-the-phone counselling about how the door works as the countryside gives way to the city and we approach Glasgow Central.

We cross the Clyde river, which is surprisingly still, compared to the raging streams we had seen on our trip up. Then the train slowed and stopped, and we arrived at Glasgow Central.

Glasgow to London by train

Get on train without coffee, still feeling unwell after overindulging at yesterday’s wedding party.

Feel unjustifiably angry at the inability of fellow passengers to properly stack luggage in the luggage rack.

Train leaves Glasgow.

Read book. Doze. Glance regularly at phone to work out when we have crossed the border back into England. Feel a little bit sad when we do.

Buy and eat a sandwich from the on-board café.

Continue to read book. Doze every now and again.

Arrive London Euston.