I recently had a text conversation with my sister that has led to this month’s Outsidethesquare activity:
#92 Write a short story—in Messages
While Homo sapiens might think he’s the cleverest species on earth, I wonder sometimes if we still have a thing or two to learn from animals.
Think about it. No meerkat would dream of frolicking in the open knowing predators were lurking, and yet we’ve reached the stage in our evolution where we’re heard to boast—boast, no less—about not wearing a mask during a pandemic.
So this winter, I decided to take a leaf out of the playbook of our feathered friends and
#91 Migrate North for Winter
It was serendipity, really. There was an excellent reason to travel north to Sydney for a few weeks during the worsening pandemic down south, and I figured that migratory birds wouldn’t do this if it were dangerous, so why not give it a go?
Years ago, when I was young (not free, just young), retired people I met would mention they wouldn’t see me for three months because they were wintering in Queensland. When I was a child growing up in western Victoria, the older people in my life didn’t travel to exotic places like that. If they left bitterly cold Ballarat during winter, it was to go to their bitterly cold holiday home in Torquay or Lorne. The glamour of an ocean view was enough back then.
But time moves on, so now I’m free (not young, just free) and it’s my turn to experience the heady excitement of sun in winter. And let me tell you, being able to wander the streets of a city with the warm sun caressing your back in July is quite wonderful.
So I indulged in some psychogeography on my walks,marvelled at the clever logo on the tool box of a decorator that effortlessly demonstrated his skills—
These migratory birds are really onto something.
And to think we use the term ‘bird-brain’ pejoratively!
And so it came to pass that the great School Reunion Luncheon of 2020, the very one for which I’d lovingly reconditioned my old school dolls (blog post #86) fell victim to Covid-19.
There’s to be no 50-year school reunion this year, and based on our ages, it may be some time before it’s safe for us to travel, or mingle, again.
Perhaps we should
#90 Hold a Reunion Entrée prior to a Reunion Luncheon
to stave off reunion hunger.
When it became clear in March that the May celebration wouldn’t be happening, a member of our class of 1970 emailed us all:Alas, the conversation went nowhere. It appeared that no-one was “tech savvy” nor were they keen, nor able, which was probably just as well. Can you imagine the horror of a Zoom meeting, wrangling forty old school chums who hadn’t seen each other for fifty years?
As an alternative, I threw out the idea of creating an electronic “Reunion Book”, where everyone who’s interested provides information about their life in the intervening fifty years, replete with photos, old and new for compilation and dissemination.
Which is how the production of the great School Reunion Book of 2020 fell to me. Questionnaires were sent out and duly returned. Dozens of old school photos arrived and the great task began.
It was then I discovered that emailing a book that has loads of photographs is … well … impossible. Way too many megabytes. Sharing the document via Dropbox was recommended as a way around this, but my experience with that particular program was still painful after it lost a couple of chapters of my novel. To my relief, it turned out that the class of 1970 is a cohort of women who don’t engage comfortably with computers. Not Dropbox then.
By then dividing this into three volumes, and saving each of these volumes as a PDF (for export), it was possible to reduce over 150 megabytes of data down to a mere seven, which could be emailed back to everyone. The things you can learn late in life!
where did all the boys go?!
Volume Two held all our life stories and current photos, outlining in more—or less— detail what we’d been up to since leaving school. Hearing so many tales about the boarders’ homesickness made me realise that it hadn’t been the jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts that we day-scholars assumed.
One of my classmates wrote a particularly poignant remembrance of being left by her parents at boarding school for the first time:
Standing inside the front door there’s just the dark silhouette, the two of them walking out and away from the front door. It was a large sturdy heavy wooden door that easily glided open and glided shut, with a click. It was a ‘characterful’ door, stained glass in the top half of it and/or either side of it. As the two of them walk away there’s the dull realisation that you are staying …
Another story recalled those mortifying moments of adolescence:
I’ll never forget that school concert when our Latin Class had to sing My Darling Clementine in Latin—“Oh Divina Clementina”—dressed in togas and holding scrolls, (you couldn’t make this up, could you?) and my toga fell off in mid song. There’s no coming back from that.
Volume Three contained all the unofficial photographs people managed to dig out of storage—long forgotten school picnic days, a class trip to Tasmania in 1969, and several ‘formals’ held with the boys from our brother school.
I only recall these dances as a vaseline blur. We all knew that ‘men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’ so I’d refuse to wear my much needed spectacles on these occasions, which meant I had no idea if the aforementioned ‘men’ had me in their sights or not. The events were terrifying.
Well over half the class contributed to the Reunion Book, and we realise that when we do meet up IRL, we’ll be able to hit the ground running. No awkward, ‘And where are you living, now?’ or ‘Do you have grandchildren?’
Nothing of the sort. Now we know each other well enough to cut straight to the chase. I can’t wait to find out from Sarah* what it was like to run a chalet in Austria, or ask Marilyn* to give me some tips from the head of the Sogetsu school for Flower Arrangement after her years spent translating in Osaka, or quiz Barbara* about the archeological digs she enjoyed with her husband.
*Not their real names, but definitely their real lives
There’s a lot to love about Maggie Beer. Her warmth, her charm—which I’m assured by people who have worked with her, is utterly genuine—and her taste buds.
Especially her taste buds. If Maggie says this ingredient goes perfectly with that one, you can believe her, and if you have any doubts, just buy me a tub of her Pheasant Farm Paté for a demonstration of how happy her flavour pairings can make someone.
So when a recipe in her recent cook book, Maggie’s Recipe for Life—a compilation of recipes aimed at reducing the chances of Alzheimer’s and other lifestyle diseases—called for dried mandarin-skin powder, I simply had to make this ingredient for my pantry.
#89 Make Maggie’s Dried Mandarin-skin Powder
Now this is where Maggie sometimes challenges her adoring fans. For example, her recipe for the delicious-sounding eggplant, tomato and feta salad begins with the words, ‘Some years I grow up to six different varieties of eggplant in our garden’.
Of course you do Maggie, but did you know that the rest of us consider ourselves very lucky if a bog-standard Solanum melongena bush gives us two or three eggplants?
Oh Maggie, Maggie. What if we don’t have a ‘very old, very reliable bench dehydrator’, or even a very old, very unreliable one? Or indeed, any dehydrator at all?
So it looks like I’ll have to trust Maggie’s taste buds, accept that dried, powdered mandarin-skin is a worthy creation, and channel her thoughts to come up wth my own method.
The first step, of course, is to grow at least two varieties of mandarin tree. Foreseeing this need, several years ago I planted both an Imperial and a Satsuma mandarin tree. The former produced pip-laden, dry, shrivelled fruits that weren’t worth the space they took up in the garden. But the latter? Deeply orange in colour, sweet as pie, not a pip to be found, easy to peel and abundant. Simply delicious!
Here are the steps to preparing mandarin skin for its journey into powder, what I like to call, ‘respecting the fruit’ by utilising a ‘head to tail’ approach.
The words of Clive James’ moving poem to his father—My Father Before Me—woke me this morning. As the radio tribute’s final words were spoken, “My life is yours; my curse to be so blessed’, I thought of my own father on this Anzac Day.
#88 Pay Tribute to a Special ANZAC
and, to compound his bad luck, was on duty in Cowra on 5 August 1944 when over 1100 Japanese prisoners-of-war attempted to escape.
That day is described as ‘the largest prison escape of World War II as well as one of the bloodiest’. It was only when he was dying that my sister and I learned it was an event that had stayed with him forever.
Jack lived till he was 89 years old, but he never celebrated Anzac Day. In fact, he positively disliked it, so my sister and I have a rather different view of it to the rest of Australia.
He wrote to my mother from Cowra, the month before the outbreak, speaking of movements in the camp: “Most of my friends are gone, or else going within the next few days. Gosh … you have no idea how attached we can become to each other, it hurts saying goodbye knowing that we will probably never meet again. That is the only redeeming feature of the army – its remarkable, firm comradeship among men who have been in it for a fair while. They will do anything for each other.”
In a letter he sent to his father-in-law dated 6 September 1945, which we found after he died, he wrote: “Much has happened in the past few weeks, the war is over and we have been told we are the victors. Perhaps we are, I don’t know. Personally, when millions of men are killed, cities of culture razed to the ground and nations ruined economically, I don’t consider anyone to be the victors. Still, if peace can be maintained for the next century or so, this war will have achieved something.”
Unlike Clive James’ father, Dad was fortunate enough to return home safely, where he settled down and worked hard for his family in his own small business all his life.
They say, Lest We Forget.
The longer I’ve lived, the more the years have merged into each other, especially since ceasing work.
So if you were to ask me what I got up to in, say, 2013, I really wouldn’t have a clue unless I checked my photos and bank statements.
Today, I’m taking the bold step of predicting that in the future, not one child or adult living on earth at this moment will ever forget what they were doing in 2020.
My generation has been lucky enough to miss a World War, and life has been mostly smooth sailing for us. That is, until a novel Coronavirus reared its ugly little genetic parcel of RNA and decided to inflict Covid-19 on the world.
#87 Plan for “The Year of Living Safely”
It’s going to be extremely tough for so many people, as jobs dry up, money disappears into the ether, and our lives are physically restricted. But maybe we should be relieved that no one is dropping bombs on us, there are unlikely to be food shortages, and no mastermind is trying to exterminate an entire race or entire religion. Even if we have to stay home for a year, if we help and support each other, we can probably muddle through somehow.
Planning for the next however-many months of my life at home has made me realise that the past 7+ years of writing this blog has been the perfect preparation. Embarrassingly, I’ve discovered that my life in retirement has been almost entirely home-based. (I saw a meme once that suggested the trajectory of your life is determined by the song that was top of the hit parade in your country on your 14th birthday. Mine was Tom Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home!)
So rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ve prepared a reminder of some of the fun and frivolous (and generally inexpensive) activities previously featured in this blog. As we’re urged to restrict our shopping, a few of them may need tweaking, but they’re all amenable to this.
A few other ideas spring to mind now, such as ‘Learn how to cut your own hair’ or ‘Move the furniture around to pretend you’ve renovated’. But I’ll leave other, more qualified, people to give tips on exercising-in-situ, virtual travel and the best books to read.
Meanwhile, stay safe and please, for the sake of our wonderful health professionals, as well as all our fellow travellers, stay home!
It began with an invitation. A school reunion — a BIG one — to be held this year in May.
After the momentary horror of acknowledging that so many years had passed since I left school, my thoughts turned fondly to the girls I knew back then and the fun times we had.
Recalling our school sports days, I idly wondered what had happened to the two dolls my sister and I had always taken to these events. They were dressed in the school’s summer uniform of the day — thanks to our mother who’d organised it from some magical doll outfitters she’d read about — and they became popular mascots for our sports team.
Maybe I should dig them out from whatever forgotten box they’d been living in and donate them to the school? Wouldn’t that be a good thing to do?
But alas, over the years, the moths, silver fish and possibly even mice, hadn’t been kind to the dolls. It looked like I’d need to learn how to:
#86 Recondition old dolls.
One was missing part of her skull and all her hair. The other had only one eyelash, making her eyes appear rather lopsided when she blinked. They both looked unloved and rather tatty, but fortunately, nothing that couldn’t be repaired, so I began by machine washing Blinky’s uniform, while Baldy waited her turn.
A Google search of dolls and their bits and bobs was an eyeopener. Unbeknown to me, there’s an entire world inhabited by dolls of all shapes and sizes, their never-ending wardrobes, and a vast selection of missing anatomy parts. Enter a local internet site called Gum Blossom Babies which proved perfect for all my needs.
The choice of wigs was amazing.
There was the ‘Annie’, with her ‘riot of ethereal curls’:
or ‘Betty’, sporting the ever fashionable sausage curls:
But mindful that such showiness was frowned upon by the nuns in our day, I settled on the ‘Doris’ a simpler, brown, no-nonsense wig that was a fair approximation of Baldy’s original tresses.
The skirt portion of both their uniforms were full of holes and unsalvageable,
but after washing them, then carefully unpicking the lower section of the uniform, they could be used as a template to measure new skirts using matching fabric. Thank goodness the bodice was in good nick, because I didn’t like my chances of re-creating those little sleeves and collar!
Pleats, I’ve discovered, are a bit of a nightmare, both to create and to press into perfectly crisp formation —
until a friend introduced me to
the Rajah pressing cloth, a chemically impregnated cloth (gulp) that works like magic on pleats.
Once these new skirts were reattached to the bodices, Baldy’s missing pate and fresh ‘Doris’ wig were reattached, and Blinky was given a new eyelash.
The straw school hats, to which my mother had meticulously stitched the school’s hat band replete with the school crest, only needed the elastic replaced, and the blazers came up beautifully in the wash.
Oh, the memories!
It would be such a good thing if I donated them to my school when I return there for the reunion, wouldn’t it?
Unless, maybe, just maybe, I hang onto them a wee bit longer?
I mean, I can always bequeath them in my will …
For someone who wrote a novel about the risks of embracing social media when you’re not sure what you’re doing, I initially wondered why I chose this latest activity.
As an extension to my somewhat shaky adventure, #77 Learn the Art of Successful Marketing, my sister and I decided we needed the help of a real marketer to work on promoting our novel, Secrets of the IN-group. Which is how we came to:
#85 Take a Book Blog Tour
To explain what a book blog tour is (and I’m only fully understanding it now it’s over), it’s a method of introducing your book to potential readers right around the world without leaving home. Most appealing.
It works like this: the marketing expert we employed hires a ‘middleman’ (or in this case, ‘middlewoman’) called Goddess Fish,
an on-line promoter with a stable full of social-media-savvy book-bloggers who each have hundreds, if not thousands, of followers.
Any one of these book-bloggers will agree to showcase a new novel on a chosen date. When Goddess Fish Promotions can lock in 10 or more separate book-bloggers for 10 consecutive dates, we, as the authors, provide them with all the material they’ll need to showcase the book over the ten day “virtual tour”. Photos, excerpts, deleted scenes, anything that may be of interest to a prospective reader and tell them more about us and our writing.
The material we provide has to be different for each book-blogger, so that visitors to the sites can take in the whole tour if they want and learn about different aspects of the book each day. As an incentive, they can also enter a raffle at each stop along the way.
To our surprise and delight, in next to no time we were told a 10-day tour spot was available, and were presented with several book-blog sites, all with intriguing-sounding names:
It’s Raining Books
Fabulous and Brunette
All the Ups and Downs
Locks, Hooks and Books
Musings from an Addicted Reader
Andi’s Book Reviews
Long and Short Reviews
lt was only when an email from our marketing expert arrived on Christmas Eve that we discovered the “tour” would commence on January 13th and we’d need to prepare all the information for the eleven different posts we’d been given by January 6th.
I suspect we were the only people who’d spend the entire period from Christmas Eve to January 6th preparing their material.
As the sites we were offered on this tour are located in the USA, we rushed to the first listed website late on January 13th AEST, with the anticipation of children on Christmas morning.
To our surprise, our not-particularly-romantic novel was sited next to an array of advertisements for … um, slightly different types of books:
Only then did we wonder if our novel would have any appeal whatsoever to the readers following this particular book-blogger.
At least the post drew an immediate response from one of our friends:
She was joshing of course. She knew exactly where to look.
Over the next few days, though, the other sites gave us the opportunity to showcase different aspects of the book, such as which covers we considered before the final one was chosen:
The giveaways associated with the websites involved completing a ‘Rafflecopter’ entry form for a chance to win, and as everyone knows, a Rafflecopter is nothing more than a widget that enables websites to embed entry forms in their pages.
By this stage, we wondered if, like the women in Secrets of the IN-group, we were in way over our heads.
It was as if we were being given a brief glimpse of another universe, one running parallel to the one we inhabit, but understood and appreciated only by people under forty.
But as the tour, and our knowledge, evolved, it got better and better. We were able to answer questions from readers and engage with them immediately. When one book-blogger gave the book a great review, and mentioned how excited she was that a central character in our novel— Andrea—shared her name, we relaxed and realised that a virtual tour was easily as good as a real one.
It’s also resulted in a multitude of readers posting to Goodreads that the book is now on their “to read” list.
You can’t ask for more than that.
Sometimes, in the face of a wilfully stupid government that leaves you feeling powerless, all you can do is quietly undermine them.
So with large tracts of the east coast of Australia now alight with unseasonal bushfires and a government still intent on promoting coal and coal mines, I’ve channelled my anger and frustration into a small act of defiance this Christmas.
No big buying spree to prop up the economy, thanks all the same, Mr Treasurer. This is the year my group of friends decided to
#84 Hold a Sustainable Kris Kringle
So much better than the usual exchange of bought-at-the-last-minute ‘stuff’.
The brief was simple:
◊ Make it
◊ Bake it
◊ Pick it
◊ Plant it
◊ Re-cycle it
◊ Re-gift it
◊ Re-use it
◊ Re-design it
◊ Re-purpose it
And here are the ideas we came up with:
4. A jigsaw puzzle the original owner had completed more than enough times:
6. A re-cycled novel by Ann Cleeves (who writes the Vera series) presented in a Christmas-card decorated bag:
7. Cards of assorted sizes printed on a home printer from photographs taken locally by the gift-giver:
8. Bonus cosmetics received after placing an order for regular cosmetics:
Every aspect of this Sustainable Kris Kringle was perfect: the pre-planning, the collating and especially the exchange of such personal gifts at our breakfast gathering.
The vote is that we’re definitely doing it again next year.
With apologies to the economy, of course.
Image of Christmas Trees (at top of post) is my lettuce, having bolted in the pre-summer heat. [sigh]