Last home

Vignettes of this place

flit past the window:

huge deciduous trees

look benignly

over emerald parks.

The brassy chords of summer

resolve to subtle rain

luminous grey skies

pianissimo in B flat major.

After a while

another tram will glide past

shrieking around corners

like an electric whale

seeking its pod.

Melburnians move

between circles,

dress in layers;

rendezvous under

the Flinders Street clocks.

When you do these things

here becomes home.


Suddenly a new dimension
the past a fairground where
the machines only play
one tune -- yours won’t be
    the same.
While the coin plays
its way through, wander
the sideshows of things 
you know used to matter
   just not now
   or why.

Lights dazzle
organ polka peals
receding as the carousel 
revolves, the horses dreaming  
of their next ride
knowing where the rider will 
dismount, only a little changed.

Isolation day 23

Spoiler alert — some of this post is based on an email. We are all recyclers now!

I have always found Easter a tricky time, somehow. We always used to get to Easter Saturday and think “Okay, so what happens now?”. It’s still challenging, but for new reasons.

Yesterday started out perfectly, with an Easter egg from my beloved. It deteriorated, however, after a couple of culinary implosions. I baked a couple of loaves, from a recipe I have used many times, but they both sagged in the middle. Had we not been watching Deutschland 83 at the time, I might have given them the extra five minutes they probably needed. The rotten things wouldn’t even slice properly. I struck back by putting one loaf in the fridge, to slice up the next morning when it was a bit stale. (This actually worked well; I must remember it for saggy loaves in future.) The second loaf I put in the freezer.

Later, I was cooking lamb shanks for dinner in the pressure cooker. These shanks were about the biggest I had ever seen, and I couldn’t fit them all in the cooker. (I had to reserve one, which I cooked in the wall oven the next day.) At the end of the cooking time, when I opened the pressure cooker vent, a hideous amount of white fatty stuff spewed out. This sprayed all over the tiles, the toaster, kettle and so forth. The cooker must have been a bit full, and the shanks were pretty fatty, so this eruption was fairly undesirable! When I made my toast this morning, the corner was still faintly redolent of lamb shank. I left the top of the cooker soaking in a detergent solution so that the pressure valve wouldn’t be gummed shut.

What made it even worse was that I had cleaned up that very corner of the kitchen a few hours before, after using the pressure cooker to do a batch of chickpeas. (That earlier emission was only steam, but there was rather a lot of it, and it condensed on the benchtop, in the top of the cooker itself.) Over the last few weeks I have been using the cooker as a kind of Swiss Army knife in the kitchen. As well as chick peas and shanks, I use if for rice, various soups, steaming vegetables, and so on. I see I will have to resort to the stovetop and convection oven a bit more.

This morning started out better, scoring a goal in the IT support stakes. Along with her laptop and proper keyboard, my beloved had brought home a huge monitor from work weeks ago. After some experimentation I was able to hook this behemoth up to the laptop. This rig now takes up most of the dining table. I even connected her laptop to our printer, through our wifi. She did a morning’s work, then had a lamb shank, potatoes, and greens. (Yep, the one that wouldn’t fit in last night.) I took the meat off one of last night’s shanks and put it in some vegie soup that I had made a day or so ago. (Yep, in the pressure cooker.)

We watched an episode of Escape to the Chateau while we had that. (The show turned out to be one we had seen before — Channel 9 is putting them to air in seemingly random order.) The day turned out lovely and sunny, but I just felt more and more out of it. My sleep has been disturbed for — a week? two? I really can’t remember. Anyway, my beloved went back to work while I went and slept, only for about 45 minutes. This little sleep was really refreshing, though, and I felt much more positive.

In this vein, I stumbled across a short video on The Guardian by a psychologist, Lea Waters, about how to encourage positive thoughts and feelings. Finding this was fortuitous (and fortunate, in that I was feeling particularly lousy). Anyway, I recommend it. Some of the things she talks about:

  • giving yourself a break from the information overload about the pandemic;
  • making a playlist of songs that have positive emotions or lyrics (OK, I didn’t do this);
  • thinking about times when you were happy (apparently the brain is not good at distinguishing between past and present, and you might fool it into being happy now);
  • looking for things in your situation for which to be grateful; and
  • talking to the people with whom you are in isolation about things that you are enjoying reading, listening to, or doing. 

If this all sounds a bit happy-clappy to you, well, go on enjoying being a misery guts! It’s a free country. I can say, though, that I felt better when I did some of the things mentioned above. A walk with my beloved down to the park was a help, too. I am grateful that I have her to go for a walk with, and told her. And the day stayed sunny. 

All of this emotional stuff is stirring things up creatively, a bit, though. I wrote a poem yesterday that I am still fiddling with. (It’s about trams — I should call it Saved by the bell.) And on my way home I made a note of a couple of lines that came to me, that I expanded and scratched around with when I got home. Yep, I remembered to take the notebook on our walk. Tomorrow will be another sunny day; there will be sheets to wash and a Zoom exercise class. Talk about the universe in a grain of sand!


Isolation days 17 & 18

This post covers Sunday 5th & Monday 6th April. I wrote the part covering 5th April on the day, but didn’t post it. I didn’t want to discard it, so I am doing effectively a double post in one.

Day 17

For most of my devoted readership, today marks the end of daylight saving. I find this is a day that always gives me a little lift; the morning have been so dark for weeks. I was up early this morning and adjusted the clocks. In previous years, this seemed to take quite a while, and required consulting the instruction manuals for several appliances. There are still four clocks which need to be reset manually:

  1. the  one in the microwave;
  2. the one in the convection oven immediately below it;
  3. the alarm clock in the second bedroom; and
  4. the LED travel clock in the master bedroom.

The time display in the kitchen speaker resets itself automatically, as do the internal clocks in our phones, tablets, and laptop, and the all-important one in the Blu-Ray recorder. (I always do a dummy recording just to check that this has reset itself to the correct time; otherwise all the programs I have set up to record, don’t.)

Remember the old clock radios? I found them either too noisy or too bright. I had one in the 70s which had a drop-leaf time display; I used to lie there waiting for each minute to tick over. The newer ones with an LED display were silent, but they would light up the room. The best alarm for me is the one that is part of my fitness tracker. (This doesn’t ring, but vibrates.)

I have read a few things recently about the value of having a daily routine in isolation. Someone who practices this is the American author Vivian Gornick, who is 85 and walks “two or three” miles a day. She describes her daily routine in the NYR Daily:

I work in the morning, walk in the early afternoon, read for four hours in the late afternoon, make a little supper, watch television for two or three hours, go to bed. The part of that schedule that sustains me is the four hours of reading. Then the world disappears, my distraction evaporates, I am wholly at peace, and end up feeling something necessary for survival: refreshed.

(Apologies for cross posting. NB: the link above points to the main NYR Daily site. The information in the quote  was contained in their weekly newsletter, for which one can register from the New York Review of Books site. This registration is free. The good NYR Daily even seems to make its archives freely available in full text, even to hoi polloi like me. .)

I envy Vivian the time she sets aside to read. I am a bit short on p-books that I feel up to reading, but the e-books from our local library are not a bad substitute. Too much screen time, though, is definitely a bad thing for my sleep.

We have evolved a sort of routine. The mornings are a good time to put a load or two of washing on, giving it a chance to get dry over the day. We are both more energetic at this time of day, so it makes sense also to schedule a walk after breakfast. (I recommend this, even when you mightn’t feel like it.) When we return it is time for a bit more to eat and a coffee. After this, I often do some writing, or play some music. After lunch we might watch a show, recorded or streamed, or read for a bit. I tend to get sleepy around two-ish; unfortunately, this seldom translates into much actual sleep. Either way, I get a bit of a second wind in the late afternoon, and this can be an opportunity to do a couple of small tasks before cooking dinner. (My exercise class on Tuesdays and Thursdays are my the only regular appointments; fortunately these occur on the morning of each day.)

I saw the other day that Bruce Dawe had died. It is not every Australian poet whose passing makes it into the newspapers. That his was so noted says something about the accessibility of his work, the exposure this received through being featured in school syllabi, and the sheer length of his career. I haven’t read much of him, but I liked the obituary in The Conversation ; this mentioned the blending of the lyrical with the colloquial, together with its bravery, wit, and sensitivity. It also spoke of his commitment to

 poetry’s place as a voice for, about, and from life as it’s lived by the most desperate and the most ordinary of us.

Five of what turned out to be his early poems are reproduced in The Penguin Book of Australian Verse, published in 1972. By this time Dawe was in his early forties, less than half way along his allotted span. The poems that get a guernsey in that collection include “Life Cycle”, about the Victorian Football League, as it was then, and the hereditary aspect of supporting a football team in Melbourne. (Dawe was born in Fitzroy.)  I remember going to a reading in Sydney in the 1970s, which featured him and Les Murray. The poem he read was “Drifters”, one from his first published collection. It appears below.

One day soon he’ll tell her it’s time to start packing

and the kids will yell ‘Truly?’ and get wildly excited for no reason

and the brown kelpie pup will start dashing about, tripping everyone up

and she’ll go out to the vegetable patch and pick all the green tomatoes from the vines

and notice how the oldest girl is close to tears because she was happy here,

and how the youngest girl is beaming because she wasn’t.

And the first thing she’ll put on the trailer will be the bottling-set she never unpacked from Grovedale,

and when the loaded ute bumps down the drive past the blackberry canes with their last shrivelled fruit,

she won’t even ask why they’re leaving this time, or where they’re headed for

she’ll only remember how, when they came here

she held out her hands, bright with berries,

the first of the season, and said:

‘Make a wish, Tom, make a wish.’

[I took this text from Yahoo! Answers . I looked at a few online versions; most of them make a dog’s breakfast of the line breaks. I hope this example preserves his intentions; I don’t have a hard copy version to check.]

Day 18

Incredibly, it is a fortnight since our last expedition to the Dandenongs. The motive for this expedition was the same, that is, quitting the premises for the morning in order to give our cleaning lady an open go. I also wanted to give the GT a run on the open road. A trip to the mountains fulfilled both objectives.

Before we set off on this hike, we walked up to Wattle Park, then set off on our drive. (As Dad would have said — on our way!) The route was the reverse of that which we took last time, i.e. we headed along Canterbury Road, and turned off toward Mount Dandenong. We had intended to stop at Olinda, but I turned off slightly short of that: my bad, but it didn’t matter. There was a cafe wherever we ended up, and my beloved hopped out and got us a couple of coffees. We consumed these in the car, then returned via Burwood Highway, enjoying its 70 and 80 kilometres an hour stretches. 

While in durance vile, it occurred to me that to memorise the phonetic alphabet would be a useful thing to do. (I am forever having to spell out my family name.) According to Wikipedia, NATO’s is the most widely accepted phonetic alphabet. It has other names as well: “It is officially the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, and also commonly known as the ICAO phonetic alphabet, with a variation officially known as the ITU phonetic alphabet and figure code.” Oskar Kilo! I had come across this alphabet ages ago, when a shift librarian at the RMIT Business Library. We were required to carry a walkie-talkie, and sign on and off at the beginning and end of each night shift.

Even longer ago, Dad told me a slightly schoolboy-humour anecdote about Sir Vivian Fuchs’ radio call sign. This gentleman participated in many expeditions, including a series of British explorations of Antarctica in the 1960s. It was at this time that he visited Australia. According to Dad, his radio call sign then was “Romeo Fox Juliet” — ideally rendered in an American accent. (Maybe “Fox” for the letter “F” was one of the variants mentioned above. Nowadays it would be “Foxtrot” — but don’t let me spoil the story.) 

Journalists and/or subeditors were naturally also alive to the comic possibilities of Sir Vivian’s family name. For many years we had a book of newspaper misprints, featuring a couple of headlines which exploited these possibilities: “DR FUCHS OFF!” and “DR FUCHS OFF AGAIN!”. I suspect many more people remember these headlines than they do Sir Vivian’s exploits. The latter must have agreed with him — he only pegged out in 1999.


Isolation diary day 14

I had rather a restless night last night. (My sleeping seems to run in cycles, which I can make worse by having too much screen time, but otherwise am largely powerless to influence.) At about 3.30 I decided to transfer to the second bedroom, and give my beloved a few undisturbed hours.

I had been thinking about poetry a bit more recently, and that of Thomas Hardy in particular. I came to read Hardy’s poetry by a circuitous route. I was browsing our bookshelves when I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago, and found my old copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge. This is neither Hardy’s best known novel, nor the most admired. It is, however, the one I read first, as a teenager, while we were living in Sydney. I still have that copy, published by MacMillan in their PaperMac series. I must prize it, having lugged it around all the places I have lived since then. When I took it off the shelf the other night, I found to my surprise that there was a second copy sitting next to it. This copy was also the PaperMac version: obviously not an expensive edition. (We had weeded our book collection before the last move, but for some reason neither of us could rationalise our copies of The Mayor of Casterbridge down to one.)

When I was looking for something to read before going back off to sleep last night, it was Hardy’s poetry that I thought of this time. This was an odd choice in some ways. Hardy is much better known as a novelist than a poet: in the latter genre he is caviar to the general. Even when I was doing English, I didn’t encounter a word of his poetry. One could do great slabs of Wordsworth, and acres of Milton, but Hardy was not on offer. Hardy’s poetry has its devotees, though. I must have made a mental note to read him at the right time, which rolled around last night.

My weighty Norton Anthology of Poetry has sixteen of his poems, and I looked at about half a dozen before I eventually got to sleep. I am guessing this is the best known one; I had read it, but hadn’t remembered it as being Hardy.

In Time of “The Breaking of Nations”

Only a man harrowing clods
    In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
    Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
    From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
    Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
    Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
    Ere their story die.

The Poetry Foundation

I only had a vague idea about when Hardy was around: I had thought of him a Victorian author. His dates were 1840-1928, so I can say I was not quite incorrect in this. The Norton Anthology dates this poem as 1915-16, and they also supply a footnote on the title: ‘See Jeremiah li.20: “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee I will break in pieces the nations, and with thee I will destroy kingdoms.”‘ The line “A maid and her wight” is puzzling, though; what does Hardy mean by “wight”? According to the Cambridge online dictionary, this word has several meanings, including “deserter”. The alternative meaning of “a living being, especially a human being”, however, seems to fit better.

To me this is a poem of deceptive simplicity. particularly like how all the lines, except two, have no end punctuation. The rhythms are subtly irregular. The subject matter, and some of the vocabulary, is archaic; the man harrowing clods, the maid and her wight. But the elements of the poem are irreducible: earth, fire, desire. It is is as weighty and abrupt as something fallen to earth.

From the sublime to the gorblimey: what else have I been up to today? We didn’t go for our usual walk this morning. My beloved was booked to meet a friend at our local park. They arranged for the latter to bring her a takeaway coffee; they consumed these while walking around. As well, I had a strained quad muscle after our walk yesterday, and didn’t want to do further damage before the exercise class I had coming up at 11.30, via Zoom.

Beforehand I did a couple of loads of washing, laid out the mat, weights and resistance band, logged into the appropriate web site, and got my equipment ready for class. My beloved has also been working industriously away for several hours, with the exception of a lunch break. I haven’t really done much — not even been for a walk — but somehow it seems as if I have had a full day.

Isolation diary day 11

So I called yesterday day twelve! Big deal! As most of you will have found, one day resembles another to a fair degree. Back when the isolation started, I actually cut a post-it note in half, and stuck it on our kitchen calendar to mark the current day. I stuck the other half of the post-it on the nominal last day of my sentence. Of course, the latter date, whatever it is, falls in April, so the two yellow bits of paper are on different pages of the calendar. (They will soon be on the same page, however, and start drawing ever closer.)

I slept in a bit this morning, until about 7.45. After breakfast, coffee #1, and a few other things, we headed out for our walk at about 11.00. This was rather later than our usual excursion, and had gotten quite warm by then. (On the weather report this evening, I see that was about when the maximum of 26 degrees was reached.) We did our usual route in reverse, probably just for a change. (By the way does anyone know why people have started saying “Change it up” recently, instead of “Change it around”, or just “Change it”?) Anyway, when we got back it was time for another coffee, then lunch. Coffee #2 was better than its predecessor. I still had some grounds in the container this morning, so I ground a smaller quantity of beans, which turned out to be fewer than I needed. (I am still getting these settings right; I might need to turn the quantity dial to 2 cups, and press it twice.)

We entertained ourselves during lunch with an episode of State of play on Stan. Afterwards I managed to place our second online grocery order through Woolies. For some reason, the their web site wouldn’t accept the password that I had set previously. So I had to reset it — twice, or possibly three times. Each time I was sent a message containing a reset code. I had to click on this code to be taken back to the web site, where I would reset the password. The messages were quite slow to get through, and all filed underneath each other in my email inbox. I managed to open a message twice, and click on a link I had aleady clicked on, so had to go through the reset process all over again. I finally managed to log in, retrieve the list of items I had ordered last time, add a few more, and place order #2. There was a delay right at the end for some reason I couldn’t fathom. After a few goes I worked out that I had to supply the CV code, or whatever it was, for the credit card. (This was unexpected. As far as I can remember, when I order something using Chrome, this code is usually stored in the browser.) So it all ended up taking about half an hour. Still, it is better than trooping along there in RL.

For a bit of light relief after all that, I played one of Mariss Jansens’ CDs that I hadn’t previously played: his newer recording of the Shostakovich Leningrad symphony.  This is probably the longest of the Shostakovich cycle, and undoubtedly the heaviest. I will have to go back to the earlier one, part of his complete set — I think the performance that time was done with the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. The newer one was with the Bavarian Radio Symphony; being an SACD, it is superbly recorded, if rather low in volume. I will give it another go before deciding which I like better. This symphony gets very loud; anticipating this, I hadn’t turned the amplifier up quite high enough. I will turn the wick up a bit more next time!

We didn’t get any new appliances today, but we did get some rain. Also, possibly inspired by the Shostakovich, I wrote a poem.

See them coming

During the pandemic
that everyone knew would be declared
we stayed home and cooked
watched TV
not the news.
When we let ourselves out for walks
we crossed the road when people came.
They did it too.
No-one had to pretend to be cosmopolitan
everyone was a stranger
we could avoid them openly.

A white cat hovers in our driveway
on the damp concrete
next to the nandinas
it can see the street but still
climb the fence.

It’s one of about four
which used to pace around our courtyard
then they stopped coming
it’s like the Berlin Wall dissolved overnight
and there was nothing any more to patrol.


Morning update & instapoems

As noted in the last post, I had the first Bicalutamide last night. I felt fine; maybe slightly dizzy: if so, it was very subtle. I slept well, and all was normal when I got up. After having hung out and brought in a load of washing, booked the car in for a service, made a phone call, driven down to Maling Road for a coffee and to get some meat, and other miscellaneous fiddling around, it still is. My beloved was going to take the day off today, just in case. However, this morning, I said “no need”. (I reminded her that I am a card-carrying wimp.)

Having thus gained your attention, here are a few instas.


I’m glad I saw
the bust of Nefertiti
how many eyes
have stared at hers
felt her in the room
heart stop
to see her


Connoisseurs of the nature strip
delight in discards
rescue old crap
from lonely landfill
have antennae for what might
one day come in handy
they are optimists
adoption agents
suburban flâneurs
they give the humblest object
a look over
then resume their
eternal rounds.
These old codgers all have
honorary commissions in
the army of utility.


Words prayer flags
moved by hope
fluttered by love
prevailing breeze of habit
leaches colours
do they mean the same
answered or not


Workover I

Anyone remember when contemporary music (as it was then) had titles like Anaconda IV?

The title of my post might seem to recall these sententious times. I meant to allude to the more laboured method I have reverted to with the poem below. (The subterranean metaphor is irrestible.) I have been burying it, digging it up, and worrying away at it like – at least the simile is justified – a dog with a bone. At least it is a change from the Instas! Here it is; fingers crossed. (That would have been a good title, come to think of it.)

After this apologia, what forgiveness? Oh for heaven’s sake, just get on with it!

Present laughter

Cherry blossom bloom
intrinsically pink
individual as pearls
solemn as geisha
lovely in their futility

their self-communing
sleigh bell chatter
like music, about only itself
cadenza that can only end
in the bronze peal of spring
the dragon’s breath of summer

Instapoems III


Min Kym talks to Brahms

he is intense

can the evening

not end?

She takes her leave

walks home;

next day his cigar

haunts her gown


The bones of a sign frame

a rectangle of sky

lost without the words

it sent constant

as a lighthouse


The glittering city

glows like an irradiated snake

river of souls

in unchanging flow

necessity moves gently

to the conclusion

implicit in the cell

all we do stops

along the way

that never rests

the life that takes

us over for itself.


Instapoems II


A tennis ball glows

abandoned on a lawn.


Outside a bungalow

a porch light greets me with

automatic courtesy.


Low sun slants

over the road

jagged cracks

like horizontal lightning.


Two early flowers

camellia and rose

shyly red.


Red is the colour

of hope,

black, of rest.