Christmas Letter 2010

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Anders and Ditte

Anders & Ditte

Purple-iced cake with gold stars and paisleys

Cake by Fiona

Plus ça change...

Once again, this has turned into a New Year's letter rather than a Christmas letter. In the first draft, I blamed the trip to Europe for last year's onslaught of back pain, but I woke up this Christmas Day with the same problem. The extra heat, stress, and headless-chook-like running around seem to be the cause. Even though I had plenty of help, and did lots of planning and staging, here I am again. I'll be thinking very hard about Christmas 2011.

There are no photos from Christmas 2009, when we had afternoon tea rather than lunch. I was more or less immobilised (and very hazy) from mid-December till March. On the left, however, are my beautiful Christmas ducks from Jo.

I turned 60 in February and had hoped to have a party and invite all my fiends, but I was in no condition to organise anything. Still very tentatively hobbling around with my stick, I had dinner with family (my sister and my singing mates) at University House, and also celebrated with my swimming mates. My sister made me an excellent purple cake.

My back took its time to come good, but was greatly helped by moxibustion. The practitioner tells me that you can't get this treatment in China any more: it sets off the fire alarms in the hospitals, which are all modern now. (I'm off to see her tomorrow, again.)

I got back to swimming as soon as I could, with a great deal of help from Sue, the only one of the swimming mates I still swim with. We meet the others every week, though, to catch up. Sue, Jill and Morwenna: swimming would be much harder without you.

Sue, Jill and Morwenna
Great-aunt and Ethan

Great-aunt & Ethan

Amy's investiture as Vice-Captain

Amy's investiture
as Vice-Captain of
her primary school

Daniel playing football

Daniel playing football

♥ Danish ♥

Just before Easter I had about a week of "normality", during which I met Ethan, of whom I am a sort of great-aunt. Born in late January this year, he's the son of Adam and Kat. Adam is the son of my friend Jo.

Then I got something else wrong with me, which derailed the next couple of months. The less said about the first part of this year, the better. The niblings - Amy (11) and Daniel (nearly 9) - used their time more constructively. Some examples are shown.

One good thing: in March, I started a course with the University of the Third Age (U3A). I've been a member for ten years, but haven't enrolled in anything before. Fear of having to sit for too long, or write for too long - that sort of thing. This time fear was irrelevant: the subject matter was Danish! An explication of my obsession with Danish is to be found in København Part 1 in my 2009 Travel Diary.

I started learning Danish late in 2009 in a small class with a private teacher, who then left us to go travelling round Australia. The opportunity to start again in 2010, with other beginners this time, was too good to miss. It turned out to be a pleasant group, all with different motivations for being there. Two students are pretty fluent already. Our volunteer teacher bridges the differences very capably, and has a welcome penchant for Danish songs. We all share afternoon tea duties, and have excellent end-of-term parties.

There's no pressure, which has its pros and cons. We're only doing two terms a year. In between, I've worked through the textbook I got in 2009, but I don't effortlessly absorb grammar and vocabulary as I used to.

I had the opportunity to measure my progress when I attended this year's Danish and Norwegian Christmas Church service at St John's. Last year I didn't understand a word. This year, I knew one of the hymns, was able to pronounce all the rest, understood quite a lot of what the Norwegian minister said, and picked up one or two words of the Danish sermon.

Yes, that seems unreasonable to me too, since it's Danish I'm learning, but the fact is that I understand spoken Swedish and Norwegian much more readily than spoken Danish.


Mid-year, my health finally took a turn for the better. Dac and I spent the June long weekend in Sussex Inlet with Fiona and the kids. From the nerve-racking, substantially unsealed drive via the Turpentine Road, to the possums visiting from the trees outside our flats, it was fun and refreshing.

Possum at Sussex Inlet

Visiting Possum
(Photo from Fiona)

Back home, we embarked on a series of gentle walks around Canberra which I've been blogging about - Weekend Walks. Taking photos on the walks is a good pain management technique, and I enjoy researching and writing about the places we've visited. I've even developed a new obsession: local railways.

Now that I have the blog as a record, I can direct you there for information about my cousin Christine's visit and Clogging at Floriade. I also had a visit from dear Susan and Stephen, from the UK.

Top: Daniel and Amy with Marshmallow and the babies; bottom: closeup of the mice

Daniel and Amy
with mice

Cody the golden labradog



In September I made a brief visit to Sydney to attend a commemoration at the Jessie Street Women's Library of Helen Leonard (1945-2001), a wonderful activist on behalf of women. I met HL in the late 90s when she was national convenor of the Women's Electoral Lobby. I miss her, and it was good to spend some time immersed in the details of her life.

Speakers included one of her teachers at Hornsby Girls' High (Jean Gledhill), Anne Deveson, Eva Cox, and an audience member who'd been at primary school with HL. I was pleased to be reminded of her mischievous nature and very pleased with Eva Cox's statement that "it's the 'bad girls' that get things done".

HL was a photographer, and left behind a considerable record of the Australian women's movement. The library had mounted an exhibition of her work, and appealed to the audience to identify people in the photos. I wasn't much help with that, as the Canberra period of her life wasn't represented. A pity: I'd gone there hoping to find a photo HL took of me which was absolutely the best photo anyone has ever taken of me.

Black cat on a petshop counter

It was nice to spend some time with Fiona and family - they hadn't been able to come down in the July holidays. Animals were a feature of my visit. Amy and Daniel had pet mice, and the pet mice had had babies. A dog had been added to the household, and there was a friendly cat living on the counter at their local petshop.

Geoff; Marie; Thomas with Malachi

Geoff; Marie;
Thomas & Malachi

Val and Amy and the Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda

Val & Amy &
the Esplanade Hotel

Jug by John Dermer

Jug by John Dermer

Salt-glazed pot by John Dermer

Salt-glazed pot by John Dermer

Fiona and Val having afternoon tea at the Windsor Hotel

Fiona & Val
at the Windsor


In October, despite assorted trips and falls, I went with Fiona and family to Melbourne. On the way down, they stopped at Bright. I went on to Mount Beauty where I visited Geoff and Marie, and Thomas and his splendid cats. It had been at least a decade since I'd seen G & M (longer since I'd seen Thomas) and I hope never to leave it so long again. Spending time with them, falling about laughing about our shared past, seeing things anew in the light of their wry perspicacity - these things make me want to run away and move in next door to them.

G & M & I spent a day at Yackandandah, which included a visit to John Dermer's pottery at Kirby's Flat. I was given a jug of his, back in the 80s, and I've always cherished it. Out there in the rolling countryside, in the pottery surrounded by lovely gardens, while Geoff and the potter compared notes on contemporaries from art school, I was unable to resist buying another beautiful Dermer work.

In Melbourne, Fiona's lot had a big flat, and I had a small one, at the Quest Hotel at Prahran. We went about in trams. There was a young woman on the reception desk who was an expert on public transport - every hotel should have one! We consulted her before we went anywhere.

It was bizarre to be told that I had to catch a bus the day I wanted to go clothes-shopping at Richmond, but the bus went from the door of the hotel. It was even more bizarre to notice that it was the same bus route I'd taken from Helen's flat in North Fitzroy to the orthopaedic shoe shop at Elsternwick ten years before.

If you look carefully at the following photo of Daniel and Fiona, in the reflection in the tram window, you can see me taking the photo, Amy beside me, and Ricky beside her.

Daniel and Fiona on a tram

There were many interesting dining experiences in Melbourne, and a visit to the gallery for the European Masters exhibition from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. Revealing my uneven tastes, I was more excited to recognise, one day when we'd been down to St Kilda beach, the Esplanade Hotel, where RocKwiz is filmed.

Fiona took me to tea at the Windsor. I was last there in 1981 or so. We had a good time, and then we hopped on the free City Circle tourist tram. Little did we know the trip would take over an hour, what with stops and starts and extensions. The others were anxiously awaiting us in Federation Square for quite a while.


Helen sent me the following picture (actual size) of the geese on the pond at the end of her street:

A large number of geese, swimming in a row

She took it with her phone, as you would if you saw that many geese in a row. I miss her more than I can say. She and Chloe lead a busy and constructive life in the Netherlands. This year they received a bequest from Helen's grandmother, via Julian, and used it to buy land in Tasmania. I live in hope of having them a little closer to home one day.

Speaking of Helen's grandmother, Margaret Brown: I omitted to say my farewells in last year's letter. She died on 2 June 2009. I've made a page to commemorate her.

Mayhem and Mischief look at Dac's iPad

Fascinating fishpond
on Dac's iPad

Mayhem and Mischief on Dac's denim jacket

Luxuriating on
Dac's denim jacket

Mayhem and Mischief

The cats are well. You'll have to take my word for it, as no one but Dac and me and Brian ever sees them. Actually, they're starting to get used to Fiona after 16 months of determined pursuit during her visits. But apart from that, they are mystery cats. Hungry, purry, stick-tailed, curious, and very shy. Mayhem keeps taking his bells off, but Mischief still has hers, so we haven't had any bird incidents. At the moment they're bringing in a lot of insects. :-/

Below you can see Mayhem looking hopefully at the remote-control helicopter Brian gave Dac last Christmas.

Mayhem is transfixed by Dac's helicopter
Action shot of one of the doggos helping Dac fix Brian's computer

Dac at Brian's place

Dac at work

Dac at work

At home

To return to real life, Dac updated his computer this year. Normally I inherit Dac's old computer, and Brian inherits mine. This time, after a fairly recent crash, I didn't need an upgrade. Here's Dac setting up Brian's "new" computer, with the help of one of Brian's doggos (Maggie?). Dac has mostly stopped fixing other people's computers, but he's kind enough to go on looking after the ones he used to own!

We lead a quiet life - pretty routine. It's good! Makes you appreciate the special occasions more. Dac goes to work, I go to swimming and other appointments. Dac plays computer games, I listen to podcasts from Radio National. Dac reads books on his iPad, I order books online from the local library. I watch anything Scandinavian on SBS - oh, and RocKwiz.

This is the sight that greets us at the corner of the Pearce oval most mornings, as I drive to swimming, taking Dac to work on my way. (Thanks to Judy C for the photo!)

Sulphur-crested cockatoo peeping out of a hollow in a gum tree

Writing this letter, I find that blogging has spoilt me for web page creation. It's nearly impossible to get things to line up while still observing the odd accessibility standard. My skills are lamentably out of date, but have fallen behind clogging and Danish in my priorities.

And that is the end of the letter. Perhaps it'd be a good idea to make it a New Year's Letter from now on: one less thing to get done in the Christmas rush. I hope you've all had a happy Christmas, and wish you all the very best for 2011.