Archive for the ‘domesticity’ Category


November 25, 2018

The domestic bath tub, I have been reading, is an endangered species.

This must be a trend which has been a long time coming. My father, who died 2 years ago aged almost 90, told me he hadn’t taken a bath since he was a teenager. It had been showers for him. When, aged 8 or 9, I was deemed old enough to take a shower rather than a bath, I too embraced the change. It was a step into adulthood and also modernity – a bit like the point later where I took up coffee (albeit instant at first) in preference to tea.

It seems everyone is in too much of a hurry these days for a bath, and they take up too much space.

Nevertheless, as an adult, living in (mostly) older and unrenovated rental properties, I have always had a bath, and taken one when time allowed. It is a simple and cheap pleasure.

It’s not only good ideas that come to you in the bath. It was in the outside bathroom at Bailey St, Newtown, at the cruelly early age of 27, that the cold tiles behind my resting head revealed to me that I was losing my hair.

D, too, appreciates a bath. Once we were living together we settled into taking more baths than either of us had taken before because we could share the water in a kind of Jack-Sprat (and wife) solution. I would go in first, when the water was hottest. D (who likes the water a bit cooler and to soak much longer) would follow.

So it was a blow when, on our last move, we were forced to move into a house without a bath. It had disappeared in the landlord’s renovations which took place immediately before our arrival.

D is determined. He managed to rig up a substitute in the outside laundry: a narrow and deep box made by him from non-waterproof chipboard which he lined with plastic and filled with a hose from the laundry tub. But it was cumbersome and not something which could be lightly enterprised. At the end the water needed to be siphoned off onto the lawn.

D is a great curbside scavenger. When we passed a discarded bath tub he would slow and sometimes stop to inspect it, but none was worth retrieving.

A week or so ago, D arrived in the car to pick me up from somewhere with a large wrapped object in the back: a small fibreglass bath which he’d found at the Salvation Army store at Tempe and bought for $50. It was a gamble. When we got home, we measured the bath and the shower recess. Yes, the bath would fit! We manhandled it in. We found a plug. There remained only the problem of how to get the water from the shower head to the bath without losing water or temperature.

This is D’s solution:




We’re very pleased with it.

Mystery solved

May 31, 2016

Our house has been in disarray as we ready for a move.

For a couple of weeks I have been mystified by a terrible smell in my bedroom.  Had I stepped in something and walked it inside?  Was it the smell of manure drifting in the window from the neighbours’ gardening?  Had I had an accident?  There were some suspects.  I eliminated them, no matter how unlikely, but the odour persisted.

Sometimes I noticed it, other times not.  I’ve read of studies about how quickly we filter out olfactory stimuli. These have been about how quickly we stop appreciating pleasing fragrances such as perfume. It works both ways.

This morning, tidying up ready for more packing, I found the culprit.  Neatly folded in a tea-towel and resting on a chest of drawers was an opened bag of once-frozen peas that I had used as a cold-pack.  It must have been some weeks ago – my best guess, for a cooking burn.

Another lesson for life: always put the frozen-pea cold pack back in the freezer.


Overnight birdwatching

September 17, 2015


I have been staying up too late at night.

Last Saturday I went to hear the Australia Ensemble. After I dropped my AE companion, P, at her home I made an almost-midnight sortie to Woolworths for the week’s supplies. After a Skype with D who was in Taipei on a visa-run out of China (he has been in Shanghai since June; his multiple-entry visa is only good for 90 days each visit) it was 1.30 before I sat down to dinner.

Some hours later, at the quietest time of the morning, I heard a muted “whoop-whoop-whoop” noise from outdoors.

I have heard this sound at night before. I told myself that probably it was a pump or something similar associated with a hot water service or other nocturnal mechanical process, but I could not help the romantic hope that it might be some kind of nocturnal bird. I took a torch and went into the back yard to get a clearer aural fix on where the sound was coming from.

I decided the noise was coming from the front of the house and so turned back towards the house, intending to renew my search out the front.

All of a sudden, I was flat on the ground. I had tripped over the tap supported by a star-picket pictured at the beginning of this post. This was not the first time I have walked into this garden feature when preoccupied with some higher object, but it was definitely the worst. “You fuckwit,” I said to myself, though not so quietly, after the first grunt of shock and pain.

My right knee was very sore, as knees are if you fall on them. I’ve had a bit of trouble with this knee recently so was a bit concerned that any recovery might have been set back. I went inside, thinking frozen peas and ice packs.

Then I noticed my left trouser leg was torn. I must have torn it on the star picket. I took off my trousers. Underneath I was wearing black woollen long johns (sorry if TMI). I could see a tear in those and a glint of red blood. Did I catch a glimpse of white? I could not even bear to look at it more closely, let alone take off the long-johns which I now hoped were acting as a kind of supporting bandage. This was too much for me to deal with myself. I called a taxi and gathered the necessaries: earplugs, reading material, extra warm clothing. By about 5.10 am I was at RPA (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital).

I knew the taxi driver was overcharging me for at least the radio hire fee but I wasn’t up to arguing over cents that I would have given him as a tip anyway.

It was a good time to arrive. I was seen straight away and hardly waited at all before the excellent nurse Sean rinsed the wound out (having first mercifully made sure I had a local anaesthetic) and bound it up. I was put on a bed in the ED. The surgeon had been sent a photo of the wound by SMS. He came in and told me I would need to have the wound cleaned out and stitched up under general anaesthetic. I would be in overnight.

First, I would need to be found a bed. At about 9.30 I was told I would have a bed but it took a few more hours before I got to it. More disappointingly, at about 8pm a nurse told me that I wouldn’t be operated on that day. As we lawyers put it, I had not been reached. A cheese sandwich, an apple, some apple juice and some yoghurt were cold consolation for a fruitless day of nil-by-mouth.

Fortunately, Endone was ungrudgingly dispensed, which kept any pain at bay and also, it must be said, helped the time to pass in a hospital haze.

I got to the theatre a bit before 11 on Monday morning and came round in time for a hot lunch back in the ward.

For the second time this year, I was to spend two nights in hospital. The last time I spent a night in hospital before this year was 40 years ago. I hope the mathematical trend does not continue.

I now have the letter for my hypothetical GP whom I am meant to see in the next week – not that you can get an appointment with any doctor so quickly. So I now know that the gash was 7 cm long. This is hardly very much and less than the tear in my trousers. The real problem was that it was down to the bone.

Apart from being constantly asked your name and date of birth, the other thing that happens when you go to hospital with an injury is that people ask you how you sustained it. Some of them write down what you say. Somebody (not necessarily anyone you told the story to) then writes the discharge letter. This is what mine says:

Admission notes extract

It sounds unbelievable: birdwatching at night, injured by a wooden stake. I don’t think it’s what I told anybody, but there it is now in the records.

I was listening, not watching, and the stake most definitely was not wooden. I am certain I always said it was a star-picket and I never said it was wooden.

Hospital records are business records and so are admissible as evidence and even if they are not strictly evidence of what happened, they can easily be evidence of what a patient has told hospital employees, which could well be either an admission by the patient if the patient is a party to litigation or admissible hearsay evidence by a dead person who is no longer available.

Professionally, I shall now treat such records with caution, and with skepticism (if it is in my client’s interests to do so). After all, patients are often not the most reliable informants, especially when they come into casualty, and hospital staff may also jump to conclusions. A lot of what they record is only incidental to their main task and their mind may not really be focussed on details which somebody may subsequently wish to rely upon.

Here’s a picture of the scene of the crime, taken on my return. It must be exactly as I left it. Maybe I tripped over something else first rather than simply walking into the tap:


But now the best thing.

Just now, staying up too late again, I heard the same “whoop whoop” noise. I went out, to the front this time and very carefully. The whooping stopped as I got closer to where it had come from, but there was movement in the tree and twigs and other detritus falling down. I returned with a torch and in amazing, slow winged flight, quite close to me, this bird emerged.

tawny frogmouth

Not my picture: Wikipedia’s.

It didn’t seem especially scared of me but perhaps it was just following its instinct as it perched motionless on a branch, caught in the beam from my torch. Its eyes were red against the glare. It seemed cruel to prolong this. I moved around so I could look at it from behind but a little while after it flew, not far, to a branch where it could, once again, look at me. I left it alone.

So now I really have been birdwatching at night.

“Are you a twitcher?” Sean the excellent nurse asked me as he directed a thin stream of saline solution into my leg (it was cool and strangely refreshing). I demurred at that. I haven’t the patience to be a true birdwatcher. But I find it difficult to see how anybody could not be interested in such few birds as come our way.

It’s a Shelley thing: flight signifies freedom, at least as a romantic dream. Flight also accounts for birds’ resilience in a man-made environment. It’s not resilience of all species because obviously many birds have disappeared from loss of habitat, but I also love how others, like the (often hated) ibis or, in the inner west, the Rainbow Lorikeets, have established essentially feral populations in the new environment.

Just this week, I have heard the first channel-billed cuckoos, the butcher birds have sprung into renewed song and yesterday afternoon I am sure I spotted a king parrot. Even if it was only a crimson rosella (the call suggested parrot) that is an unusual sighting for the Inner West. It was in a stand-off with a truculent looking cockatoo in a much fought-over tree with hollows, and I doubt the parrot/rosella will prevail, but it cheered me to see it.

To see a tawny frogmouth in Ashfield is really special.

Self portrait with stationery

January 26, 2015


Patriotism does not greatly attract me. That is not to say that I am any more free than anyone else of an attachment to where I was born or where I live, but the clamour of the nation state holds less appeal.

I have observed Australia Day as it originally appeared to me at the time I was first able to notice such things: the last day before school – a kind of delayed end of the old year.

It’s just over 2 years now since I moved to my present house. I still believe the previous house was nicer, and perhaps it was.

Meanwhile, I decided today to sort through the above oddments which, as part of my last move, I gathered up from one of my desk drawers. So far (ie, since the picture was taken) I have managed to throw out the pens which didn’t work.

There is at least one object there the nature and use of which (even if ever so slight) remains a mystery to me.

Signs of the times (2)

May 8, 2014



Our new car doesn’t have an ash tray.


Searching at the supermarket the other day for bars of soap, I could scarcely spot them amidst the shelves of shower gell and liquid soap.


The weather has taken a nippy turn.  Last winter in a retro and frugal mood (our house in Ashfield is electricity-only and so expensive to heat) I bought a hot water bottle.

As a heat-seeking child  I resented the covers on ours. I finally learnt their rationale after a winter’s night in the (unheated) lumber room in Shanghai sleeping up next to an uncovered and not even particularly hot hwb when I awoke with two enormous blisters on the back of my calves.  In fact you can get closer to a covered hwb when it is hot and it will keep its heat through the night better.

D has knitted a cover for me using yarn of his own devising.



October 23, 2013


Fires have surrounded Sydney.  Last Thursday was probably the most dramatic day for smoke and eerie light.

At Ashfield station, this flame tree is past its prime but seems appropriate:


In the city, the white westward-facing buildings gleamed against the jaundiced sky:


Upstairs (not that I have ever take the stairs up) you could see the smoke heading out to sea:


Meanwhile (OK: it was a later day of less extreme conditions):


Middle aged

July 8, 2013

Our weekend was quiet.

On Friday, I was exhausted.  I could barely manage to cycle home, though I managed a stop at a liquor shop on the way.  I sautéed some onions in anticipation of a beef stew to be made on the weekend.  I must have eaten something; I certainly drank something (Sauvignon-Blanc, as is all the rage these days) as I propped my feet up in front of the television.  It was my eyelids which really needed propping up; I was in bed by 8pm.  My last conscious act was to telephone D from my bed with my mobile to ask him to turn the hotplate beneath the onions off.  It was ridiculous, but I have a capped plan.

I meant just to have a nap, but if there was an alarm, I slept through it.  I woke at about 1 am and after paying tribute to the Sauvignon-blanc went back to sleep.  Perhaps I woke a few times in the late early morning but I was up by 6am.  For me, on a Saturday morning, that is pretty unheard of.

I did the laundry (coloureds; woollens); I sautéed more onions; diced celery; washed up and had a bath.  By about 10 am I was at the supermarket – things are still quiet on a Saturday at that hour. At the greengrocers I bought vegies and banana bread. Back home, D emerged by about noon and we had coffee and banana bread together.  We decided to get to Newtown to replenish our coffee supplies at Campos Coffee (if you buy 4 bags they give you a nice little woven nylon-ish carry bag – we find them useful though perhaps by now we have all that we need.)

I contemplated a film at the Spanish film festival but then noticed a missed call from a friend St and a message inviting us to dinner with St and Kx at their relatively recently moved-to house in Rockdale.  They are gym-goers and dine and retire early (the invitation was for 6) so this pretty much accounted for the day in prospect.

After a dash to Newtown (D checked out Vinnies but is disappointed at how expensive it is getting) we were back in time for me to have a short swim at Ashfield pool which is a short walk from our place.  You can get a lane to yourself and it can also be sunny if you choose your time carefully so as not to clash with the shadow cast by the setting sun and the roof to the spectators’ risers.  Two of the lanes (by then not in the sun) were taken up with the Korean children’s swim school which has now taken up residence.  The children’s energy was awe-inspiring and the young male coach, I thought, rather handsome.

By about 5.30  we were on the road to Rockdale, with a stop off at the liquor shop again to buy a bottle as our contribution.

Dinner was splendid even and belied its billing by our hosts as low key: a clear chicken and corn and vegetable soup and rice-paper spring rolls with pork; chicken or duck with rice and a side of green beans; a dessert involving puff pastry, lemon curd, meringue and passionfruit.  The only other guest was staying with them, so it was up to us to make the move to leave when they started to show signs of sleepiness at about half past nine.

During the dinner, D had affected plans to go out to Oxford Street, but by the time we were home it was a quiet after-night in front of the telly (an average-ish Midsomer murder; Chopin saved my life ) and the benefit of my previous early night was all-but undone – it was 1 am before I went to bed.

Sunday up at about 9.30 – I can rarely keep my body clock to any early adjustment.  More cooking ensued: it is the time of year for winter stews so vegetables of one sort or another need to be readied for that.  The whites were washed.  After D arose, we headed to Dulwich Hill with a craving for The Valley Lebanese Bakery’s cheese olive and tomato pizza.  Sadly, it was the day the proprietor’s parents hold the fort and the oven was already off.  You have to respect a business that is confident of its success in this way.

D had dipped into Vinnies – he says the Dulwich Hill branch remains relatively true to the original spirit.

Emboldened by a few big cheques in the previous week, I bought some fancy bread and cheeses at The Larder, which was running a promotion with an appropriate regional cheese for each day of the Tour de France.   Our choice, Livarot, was for Tuesday, when the race goes to Normandy.  The other was a Gruyere which doesn’t make the grade for the Tour:  the courtly proprietor told us that the race does go very close to Switzerland the week after next.

We then pootled down to Addison Road markets still in search of food.  Who would have thought I would turn into a market-goer?  D and I both find these markets very congenial – they feel quintessentially “inner west.” It’s hard to nail down, but children, dogs, bicycles and piercings all play a part.

We were back in Ashfield again just in time for me to steal another swim in the last lanes of the dying sun, punctuated by whistles from teenage girls’ water polo and a larger contingent than on Saturday of young Koreans.  Back home, while it was still light, I mowed the lawn.

I cooked (even more) to Rossini (Lady of the Lake – the first Walter Scott opera) from Covent Garden on ABC FM.  When the cooking did not require my immediate attention, I sat down to listen.

Dinner was the resulting chicken stew (with leek, mushroom, carrot, celery: it will resurface later this week as the quantity made was large) with a side of cauliflower ($2 each at present: it is the season) and some of the Livarot. Quinces, bought a while ago and probably past their best, were finally tackled (it’s a bit of a job to core and peel them) and furnished my dessert (D is not so keen on them).  It was again too late for D to bother going to Oxford Street.

That is the first weekend in about 6 weeks that I haven’t gone into work for some part of at least one day and mostly some part of two or (on the long weekend) three. That’s good for the cheque flow (which helps for the fancy cheeses of course) but it can wear you down.  It was good to take a break.

Sign of life

February 13, 2013



On the floor of our car. A blurrier image below. Presumably there are some moisture issues there.


A bad start

June 1, 2011

This morning, I accidentally poured water into the coffee grinder instead of into the water reservoir of my coffee machine.

I blame my caffeine-addicted matitudinally withdrawn state.

This must be close to a textbook example of catch-22.

Domesticity V

November 22, 2010

I have a bit of a fetish for crested crockery.

Pity about the coffee-ground-encrusted wiping-up cloth in the background and the yet-to-be-washed milk jug. Domesticity is always a struggle for me.