Last night, Karen and I felt quite nervous when Gran had not returned by ten o’clock. Eighteen months ago she had been in a terrible car accident after a pensioners’ dinner where drinks were plentiful. On that occasion, I sat up for my mother until a policeman came at midnight to break the news. One woman died, the second suffered several broken limbs and my mother sustained an injury to several ribs, a punctured lung and quite bad bruising to her face. The driver, a newcomer to Emu Park, was unharmed but an active eighty-two year old, a beloved long-time resident, was killed instantly in the crash.
With this in mind, I walked down the street just in time to see the bus pull up and to my great relief, Gran stepping out. She was closely followed by Ivy who walked part of the way home with us and had been in the same crash. We bid farewell to Ivy at her gate and continued home in the warm night air; Gran had enjoyed herself thoroughly and talked all the way home.
Summer is almost here, spring begins on the first of September and the wet season usually starts on Christmas Day.
5th Nov 1981
Today, Guy Fawkes Day, is Johnny’s birthday. Originally from Bradford, Johnny studied at Edinburgh University and has enjoyed climbing throughout Scotland.
Gran has encouraged us to celebrate birthdays and there is now a birthday ritual in our household. Weeks before the date, the person whose birthday is coming up, puts up a present list which is almost always ignored. Johnny didn’t put anything up because no-one reminded him, however, we knew he wanted a wide squat two-handled cooking pot for paella he had been admiring for months, in an industrial kitchenware shop.
A very detailed menu for the dinner is also pinned onto the noticeboard, in this case, whole grilled fish, cream sauce, chips, mushrooms, beans and lettuce followed by melon shells filled with melon balls, canned cherries and slices of kiwi fruit. During the meal, we had the usual quiz questions from Mastermind, some of which are so hard we couldn’t even answer on the third or fourth attempt. It was a hot evening and we drank too much Tasmanian cider.
It should be clear by now that our family enjoy cooking and eating enormous meals. We love the meals Johnny and Gareth cook on the weekends and feast days. Johnny lists the menu for a fortnight and tacks it onto the noticeboard in the kitchen so members of the family can check what’s been planned to avoid missing their favourite meals. It’s very convenient and takes the hassle out of deciding what to cook for dinner.
9th Nov 1981
I’ve taken a while over this letter and shall attempt to finish it today. Could you tell me more about the aims of the Women’s Institute you have joined? I noticed in Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, that the Federations of Women’s Institutes have compiled books such as Cornish Recipes: Ancient and Modern (1934, 11th edition), The Isle of Wight Cookery Book and Through Yorkshire’s Kitchen Door (31st edition).
For nearly ten years I enjoyed doing things I had not had an opportunity to do like looking after a child full-time, housekeeping, gardening, going to club functions, driving a car, cooking and sewing. I had to teach myself to behave acceptably in Anglo-Saxon society and Johnny rarely corrected me, which made the learning period longer than necessary. I still have difficulties cleaning the house because I would rather garden or read a book and although I realise it is a common issue, I notice that everyone’s house seems cleaner and tidier than ours. For the past three years, I have been studying mathematics and computer programming after completing a one-year bridging course based on the English Polymaths course. I enjoy studying, even though I make heavy weather of it, and I’m fortunate to have Johnny to help me. The College of Advanced Education serves Central Queensland and does a fair amount of external teaching with a focus on practical applications rather than pure or theoretical subjects. Johnny’s department, Maths and Computing, has a heavy external teaching load.
Gran and I enjoy gardening although I tend to focus more on herbs and vegetables while she prefers flowers and ferns. A couple of years ago with a few of the neighbours, I started a local market and sell candles and potted plants. It’s good fun but very time-consuming.
So much has happened since I wrote in the diary a week ago. Last Saturday, mum’s blood pressure shot up to two hundred. She felt ill at bowls so we brought her home early. She managed to play through to the end of the match. When she got home she was raving about not wanting to see Les and asking God to forgive her. This was surprising as only earlier that morning she was discussing her plans to move to Les’ house and we hadn’t realised it was cracking her up. Mum hadn’t slept for the past week and she didn’t sleep at the hospital either, despite being heavily sedated.
Mum and Barbara had planned to have lunch at Les’ on Sunday; he had bought three pork chops for their meal and a bottle of orange squash for Barbara. In the meantime, before mum had her turn, I scratched my eye on a leaf and in bed for two days as a result. With all the trips to the hospital for my eye and for mum, we didn’t get around to telling Les; he had a cold saveloy for his Sunday lunch. On Monday, he called to find out what had happened. After telling him, I also explained mum’s attitude toward him.
Les’ reasons for mum backing out of their friendship were that mum was upset at his asking whether they would be sharing expenses and that she had interfered in their lives by going to the priest.
The case against Les was that he ordered her around and fornicated too often; he was not suitable for her and she realised she didn’t love him; her health did not permit her to keep up with his pace. Other reasons were that she wanted to help the family, she was ashamed of his disability and was interested in other men.
The week was taken up with visiting mum in hospital. She was in a highly excited state but one that was not too worrying; she was laughing and boisterous, more than usual. Mum wants male companionship for her remaining years and the two other men who may be interested are a fisherman with a glass eye who says his dog died and that he is lonely and another is Ron who, like Les, has one leg. His wife walked out on Ron because she said he was inordinately jealous of her children from a previous marriage and that she had to support herself and the children throughout her marriage. Even after the children were grown up and married, he continued to be jealous and put a lock on the telephone. She accused him of stealing some of her possessions. Despite this, mum is keen on Ron.
Les called in the day after mum got home. She had already sent him a letter to call things off and delivered the very same message in a loud and excited voice, asking him to bring back her towels and face cloths and pleading with him to forgive and forget before retreating to her bedroom. In the silence that remained, Les turned to me and said this was the opposite of what she had said at his place, and that she told lies.
I asked mum to come back to the kitchen to confront this new statement, but she yelled even more than before and threatened to throw something at him. She denying having said we should not have gone to the priest. She insisted that we were all for their friendship and that we wanted her to be happy. We helped her to her bedroom before she did herself an injury.
Les left saying he learned something new every day and that he was glad he had found out now rather than eight months later when he would be expected to spend his money keeping her. His parting words were that he had better change the oil in the car and that he had done a lot of gardening in the past few days.
20th Sep 1981
It’s a difficult time and Johnny is not getting much peace at home and doesn’t get much at work either. Mum thinks up little errands which take up time. She doesn’t seem to realise that Johnny has precious little time to himself and that while he is most helpful to all of us, the little tasks we set him should really be scheduled to fit in to his list of tasks.
I am cranky as hell myself and haven’t studied for two weeks from lack of opportunity but also lack of inclination. I tend to get side-tracked by gardening and justifying it to myself as thinking things out.
This morning, members of the family noted my non-study and Johnny repeated his intention to throw out students who did not take thirty percent of the course content. Mum said I went too far in my advice to other people so I went into the garden to think things out. Earlier I dug out the shallots so I could plait some into garlands; the other bulbs I stored in a cardboard box. Finally, I came to the conclusion that there is little point or desire to hang around the house full-time, administering to the family. I don’t do it well and resent the ‘sacrifice’.
How is mum going to live her life without the transport we provide? What about my own transport? If one goes out more, one needs a car to fuel. Is going out more going to help me study more? Do I want to study? What a fickle mind, only a few weeks ago I sorted that one out.
Yesterday Marcello came home with a bag of five corner fruit from a mate of his; he gave some to Glen, telling him that their Tagalog name was ‘bilimbing’. We enjoyed the rest for dessert.
While waiting for the bus which was running late this morning, I spoke to Mrs K about a horse that was somewhat neglected and tied up most of the time. She is going to find out how much they want for the horse and we will see if we can raise the money to buy it for someone who will care for it properly. Mrs K told me she had bought a share in the $200,000 lottery to give to the head of the Fire Brigade; he had burned off the grass behind the convent but refused to take the ticket. “Nevermind,” she said, shaking her head, “he will get the money if we win.”
When I got home, mum was up and about and told me of her decision to stop going to church; she asked if I could tell the nuns so they wouldn’t be worried and to let Pearl know that she wouldn’t be going to the Community Health socials for a while. Making the decision seemed to set her mind at ease. Les came to pick her up for their trip to Rocky for lunch and looked smart in his suit and hat with his empty trouser leg neatly pinned up. Mum came out looking quite dashing and smart too and both looked pleased to be going out together. Even Sam the dog seemed happy, sitting up straight in the back seat with an expectant look on his face. Off they all went in their six-cylinder car.
Monika and I picked mulberries and Nathaniel picked them into his own bowl too, after we showed him how to spot and pick the ripe fruit. Nathaniel is not well today and he is whingeing, his nose thick with snot. They had a great day yesterday in Rocky with Sue and when they came back, Sue and her mother Joan had to sit in the kitchen to give their car engine time to cool off; the oil level was low and smoke was coming out of it. Joan and I looked over the engine and discovered the cooling system had a large leak. I hope they have it fixed by now. Joan complained the car was costing her great sums of money and that she was heartily sick of paying for repairs. One either learns to do basic repairs oneself or gets some good man (preferably one’s own) to do it, rather than paying a packet to the garage.
And now to the rest of the family: Gareth’s news was that a girl chased him around school most of the day and that some boys were trying to frame him, saying he liked the girl; Karen had not had a good day at school. She was chosen to present a birthday cake to the Principal and another girl resented her for it, being nasty to Karen whenever she could. Yesterday she successfully riled Karen who was a bit annoyed with herself for having responded; Barbara seems to be coming out of her withdrawn state, despite the death of a male trainee after an operation.
10th Sep 1981
This morning, Nathaniel and I went for a ride on Barbie’s bus and it was good fun. He sat up the front with a clear view of the road and on the way back from Kinka Beach, he gazed silently at the kids we picked up. Sister Frances gave us two large papayas and when we returned from our bus ride, Johnny was waiting for us at the gate. Mum had been fussing about cashing her pension cheque so as to pay her board and have some shopping money. She was in bed, her mind fuzzy from lack of sleep and worry about wanting to be with Les and also wanting to be with the family.
Les called in that morning and in spite of my mother’s determination to stay in bed, he coaxed her to get up and go home with him. They spend that day and the next playing house, cleaning the kitchen and gardening.
Johnny is in Gladstone and we picked up mum from Les’ before returning home from our trip to Rockhampton by 8pm. Everybody was in a delightful mood: Karen had a little black dress; Gareth had a new pair of leather sports shoes; Barbie had a pair of sandals; Nathaniel came home with a box of large Lego, excitedly running to the next room to fetch his dad to play. Marcello made a Lego aeroplane which pleased Nathaniel.
11th Sep 1981
Mum was all set to move, saying Les was pressing her to move in with him. At this stage, Barbara seemed to be getting unnerved by my mother’s frequent visits to Les and kept saying that mum didn’t have to help him and that he could do the work himself. Johnny had a quiet talk with mum and advised her to take it easy, not to rush into living with Les because Barbara would take it badly and that over a period of time she may get used to the idea of her mother moving away. Mum agreed and said she’d try it for three months to see if Barbara could be reconciled. There was no question of Barbara living with them; mum quite rightly felt she would not have any privacy.
While feeding the chooks, I noticed a duck trying to eat a large green frog that I had killed last night. It was rather mangled and had been dragged around in the chook shit. The carcass was too large to swallow whole and the duck wasn’t getting anything off the frog. I tried to pull a limb off but it was surprisingly hard to casually pull off a leg. I left it, not willing to try harder.
I was still in the chicken pen when Les drove up to see mum. Joan and Sue arrived behind him to pick up Monika and Nathaniel. I watched mum shyly introduce Les to Joan and Sue. Mum and Les are now admiring mum’s flowers. There aren’t many but they’re hers and she’s proud of them. They are having coffee now. I had a quick chat to find out whether Les liked the boiled fruit cake so I could make him a reasonable exchange for his strawberries, enough for Johnny to make another batch of jam. Mum seems to be making an effort to get to know Les better and they seem quite happy together.
Would love to write and tell the folks back home that mum is having an affair! Actually I don’t think it would surprise them, even though mum has not done this before. I don’t think her capacity for such action is in doubt. She told me today that she didn’t have to be asked twice and seems very much in the air, absent-minded, giggly and thinking of snatches of romantic songs to express how she feels.
This is a queer position for Johnny and I, being all mature and responsible. We advised her not to get serious and worried about details but to get to know Les better and enjoy the relationship. There are certainly problems, if one cared to look further than the next few months. Would mum want to spend more days at his house? What would the mentally retarded daughter have to say about the new relationship? Would she welcome it or will it be a great loss to her? Mum has been Barbara’s closest companion until now. Why is Les pressing mum to spend the night with him at his daughter’s house?
Yesterday was the first cooking day of the season and I wonder if it is worth having a baking day; can one afford to spend a whole day cooking?
Made five loaves of brown bread, the evening meal, beef goulash for Wednesday, a pot of beans for Monika, a pot of beans for salad, lots of hot water for coffee and tea, three boiled fruit cakes, two chocolate chip cakes, a tray of buns and two small loaves of fruit bread. We lit the gas stove for the cakes and used the wood stove for the rest.
If planned properly, we could make savings of time and fuel by cooking more evening meals to freeze, making plain and sweet bread, storing cakes in the cupboard for immediate consumption and cooking beans or dishes that need long cooking times. Some things could be prepared the night before and we could start early in the morning. Dishes should be washed and tidied as one goes along or else there’s a lot of work at the end of baking.
Brown Bread Recipe (3 loaves)
Ingredients: 9 cups wholemeal flour (3 lbs) 1 dessert spoon of dried yeast (1 oz) or ½ oz fresh baker’s yeast 1 heaped Tbsp milk powder 3 tsp salt 3 cups water (1½ pints) 1 Tbsp oil
Please note, these measurements are approximate and with practice you will get the right feel for the dough. For instance, the water might be too much or too little for the flour you use, the main thing is that the dough should not stick too much to your fingers when kneading.
Take 7 cups of the flour, the yeast, milk powder and water and mix to a sloppy dough.
Cover and leave overnight.
This stage ensures a strong and elastic bread. If it is not convenient to keep the dough overnight at least let it stand for a minimum of 4 hours.
Put in the salt, the rest of the flour and a tablespoon of oil or fat and knead to a smooth dough. When smooth, continue kneading for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough may need more flour if it is too sticky. You can add 2 teaspoons of treacle, molasses or sugar if you wish.
Cover the dough with a sheet of plastic to keep the moisture and warmth in the dough.
Leave for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
Knead dough for 10 minutes and shape into 3 loaves, put into greased tins (cake tins are fine but loaf tins preferred).
Cover with plastic and leave for 1 hour or until the dough rises to the top of the tin.
Bake in a hot oven 225 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes and then turn the heat down to 200 degrees Celsius and continue baking for 60 minutes.
Take the bread out of the tins and cool on wire stands.
There is no need to keep the dough warm or to heat the water for the bread. Remember, use a plastic sheet to cover the dough and keep the bread bowl out of draughts. For a lighter bread, substitute a few cups of plain baker’s flour say 7 cups wholemeal and 2 cups plain flour.
Elizabeth David’s book English Bread and Yeast Cooking is an excellent manual to own, and interesting to read even if you don’t use her recipes.
Bread freezes well and if you put a frozen loaf into the fridge the night before, you’ll have fresh bread in the morning. This means you only have to bake once a week if you are willing to make a big batch in one go.
You may increase the flour without increasing the quantity of yeast used because leaving the dough overnight will increase the yeast.
Woke up this morning in a bad mood and must be extra careful not to pick quarrels with the family. I feel extremely touchy, my mind is not functioning clearly and I have a bad headache. Had a good breakfast of toasted fruit bread and black coffee.
Just picked a quarrel with Johnny on a minor point. I wanted to claim an income tax rebate on a jacket that he had bought and he didn’t think I should because it would be rejected. I challenged his statement and he quote an article in the National Times. I asked why I hadn’t had my attention drawn to it and he said he’d mentioned it to me but that I must have ignored it, the way I do with many of the things he tells me. I refuted his statement that he’d shown me the article. Maybe, he says, but then I’m difficult to communicate with for weeks on end so maybe he had refrained from showing the article to me. Johnny agreed there was a contradiction between his two statements then asked me to desist from being so picky, and to relax. I responded, “Someday I shall think clearly and beat you at your own game.” “There is no game,” he replied.
6th Sep 1981
A slow start to the day. Feeling profusely periodic and woke up in a mess. I was aware of the mess a few hours before getting out of bed. The headache is still there making me feel sleepy and dull. Took a few premenstrual tablets yesterday and was very drowsy. Finally realised what was happening and drank lots of black coffee.
Sunday breakfast was leisurely with members of the family appearing or not appearing to eat. We tried out Marcello’s delicious new pork sausages brought from work.
Gareth is mowing the CWA lawn. We couldn’t get it done yesterday because the school had a street stall on the grass.
Johnny has been working on the Rover to fix a brake oil leak but we will have to take it to the garage, getting the nut off the assembly was too difficult.
According to a book review on women writers by the National Times, women who have time to write novels seem to dwell on trivia and don’t want to write about crime, violence, pornography, etc. Let’s get on with the story: “Gee, it’s good to have a woman in the house, she cleaned my bedroom you know. There was a cowboy program on T.V. and we sat and watched that. She made tea and we ate the cake you made, most of it is gone.” “Tell your mother there’s an old man down the road who’s lonely and whom she ought to visit now and then.” “I’ll tell her you got your washing done and hung out. But tell her I have difficulty getting them off the line. Honest, I find it hard to reach up to the clothes line.”
7th Sep 1981
After taking Barbara to the bus stop and gathering a bowl of mulberries, I put the chicks back in their pen. An animal, possibly a rat, had eaten a new chick. Now I will need to set some rat poison over several nights and bring the chicks inside at night. After a thorough search through the pen, I managed to kill a toad. I left two large green tree frogs to their own devices then realised they eat each other, so why wouldn’t they try to eat a chick?
When I came inside, mum was agonising over her affair with Les and wanted to discuss it further. We talked while I tidied the kitchen. I told her to either give up sex and go to communion or give up communion and enjoy sex, that she couldn’t have both. And that she was to enjoy the friendship and not get serious about details like divorce and marriage.
Today is another gloriously bright warm day with birds twittering, dogs barking and roosters crowing. Spring has definitely sprung.
What has the family been doing lately?
Gareth had a haircut last night and his hair lay well on his head without curling annoyingly (for him).
Karen complained about the Grade 12 girls going in for boyfriends, all but two have male friends. The male students, however, seem to be keeping themselves free.
Monika did very well over the birthday gift for Gareth’s classmate but will not easily forget the sick and dejected baby she had seen in the supermarket.
Johnny is not happy; so much routine and dull work to handle when there was more constructive, fruitful work to be getting on with.
We talked about the article on suicide in Co-Evolution Quarterly. Most suicides fail but the person is usually maimed by his attempt. The human body is hard to kill, and most beliefs of suicide are wrong – they don’t work – and worse they are permanently damaging.
4th Sep 1981
A pleasant day so far but one mainly of food gathering and routine work. Our birds lay lots of eggs today and we had our first picking of mulberries. I gathered a whole basketful of broccoli which I shall cook for dinner tonight.
After waking at 5 am and a brief struggle, I made a flask of coffee for Johnny, did my exercises and went out early to the bakery for a high-top brown crusty loaf. Johnny has an important meeting today so I tried to leave him to think and get dressed. We enjoyed breakfast together with the not-so-crusty bread, Johnny’s chunky marmalade and some homemade peanut paste.
Mum had finished mixing and baking the orange and sultana cakes so I made a few cakes straight after breakfast as I realised I would not have time later in the morning. Mum is out with Les for lunch, I wonder how it is going?
While waiting for Barbara’s bus to come, which took a while, I chatted to Mrs K who grumbled that our glorious Fire Brigade had not responded to her call for a burn-off behind the convent. We decided that if Cowdrey persisted in staying away and that she had permission from the policeman, we (the neighbours) would help with the burn-off. Out west, according to eighty-one-year-old Mrs K, property owners called their neighbours to help burn fire hazardous paddocks.
Barbara is still somewhat withdrawn and probably still upset from hearing that Patrick went on a trip to Brisbane; any news or mention of Patrick triggers another episode. There is to be a camp in Emu Park for the Activities Centre trainees during the first week of the school holidays; how strange it will be having Barbara camping down the road.
The Ratepayers Association meeting last night was lively. Laurie Daly is a very good chairman, I must tell him so and thank him for one of the nicest meetings we’ve had. The Association would like to repair the jetty perhaps with the help from the Council, however, it seems an excellent community project with all the organisations helping to raise money. I suggested we familiarise ourselves with the existing area plan so we can be constructive and critical about the new town and coast plan when it comes out in a year. Merle suggested spreading ideas around Emu Park with pamphlets and wanted notices sent regularly to remind people of the date and time of Association meetings. Everyone discussed the future needs and shape of Emu Park.
What an odd situation to be in. Mum returned from her lunch at Les’ place and announced she had fun and what would Johnny say? I said it was none of his business.
What would the neighbours say, I laughingly ask myself, two seventy-year-olds carrying on an affair in the middle of the day, after curried sausages.
After the work for the day is done, the dishes washed after dinner and the family have gone to their rooms, sometimes a feeling washes over me; I would like to be alone to do whatever I wish.
Usually, this desire is not very strong or isn’t there at all. I love Johnny and his company, however, occasionally I long for a corner where I can go to be by myself. The feeling doesn’t last long but I wonder about it. Does Johnny feel the same way too? What triggers this particular antisocial feeling? On the occasional night that Johnny is away, there seems a quiet time, a freedom, where one can do whatever one wishes.
Today, I wanted to lie in the dark, by myself. This could have been brought on by Johnny filling out the Census, asking me how old I was and at what age I had left school. Then mum chimed in saying she left school after grade three, what a sad life she had not being able to join into the writing games at the National Fitness Club and how Barbara would not crochet to keep herself occupied.
I retired to the little room and lay on my stomach in the dark. I knew Johnny was occupied with the Census forms so I had a few minutes to myself. I also knew that when he came to the study, he would ask me what I was doing in the dark. Sure enough: “What are you doing?” he asks several times. “Why are you lying there?” several times more. “Why don’t you apply your standards to yourself? If Barbara did that, you would go berserk.” Or words to that effect, I’m not sure of the exact phrase.
The comparison to Barbara is an uncomfortable one and something that has occurred to me often. Is this the manifestation of “going round the bend”, this withdrawal that is so noticeable and painful in Barbara and for which she is put on Melleril? And for which she is kept busy? Or is it a response to our almost continuous “keep Barbara busy” campaign?
Writing about the way I feel helps to sort out my thoughts, otherwise, my thinking is muddled, over emotional and explosive. I’m not sure though, whether I’m clearer in my thinking this evening. What did I expect Johnny to ask? “Darling, are you alright?” And on receiving my muffled, “Yes, thank you,” for him to leave discreetly? Why? To him it was yet another instance of Gita flopping around, not doing anything. Or is it simply a product of feeling full after an excellent dinner cooked by Johnny and having my periods?
Time for a shower.
Recently I have been most unsure of myself, feeling inadequate, ignorant, unreliable and unstable. I had made an enquiry unthinkingly, with all sorts of wrong assumptions, and hurt the feelings of an old lady; on another occasion I said something that angered Johnny and I felt annoyed with myself that he was annoyed at me; and finally, I didn’t do well in Calculus, an easy subject, not using the time set aside for study.
Also, I nag or criticise the family and on some days, I pick on everyone. Why do they have to put up with me?
Bah, this is boring.
Perhaps, as Johnny says, I have a curious paralysis when actual work has to be done. Oh, I can talk and plan and get excited but the parsnips don’t get buttered.
27th Jun 1981
What right do I have to be upset? I suppose in my menstrual condition, any little incident can set me off-track.
Early this morning, frustrated at my inability to sort out computer programs, I went outside.
The mist was heavy. The clothes on the line, grass and lettuces were covered with dew, and the morning was mysterious; familiar sights looked strange. Two Rouen ducks were standing on the lawn near the Guinea chicks’ cage. A dog had been marauding again and several birds had been taken in the night because we had failed to repair the fence.
There was a distinctly eerie feel about the day.
This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page and scroll through to the bottom.
Extreme irritation seems to be the only indication or symptom I can identify over the past two weeks. I seem to have lost my girlish laughter and enthusiasm. Just about everything irritates me, the most irritating thing being me; Johnny and my mother next.
29th Sep 1980
Got over my irritation after talking to Johnny about it. Then this terrible evening where I was remorseful and then angry at Johnny. Must sort it out. Johnny says I must use my loaf, my excellent mind. I shocked myself at my angry response over a reasonable comment. I’m not working at the relationship. I’m self-absorbed, irrational and indulging in petty behaviour. Nor am I applying the same rules to myself as I apply to others. Johnny is afraid to say anything because of my unpredictable response and wants me to consider what it’s like to be Johnny having to live with Gita. He has to wait for the sun to shine again. What’s wrong between Johnny and Gita?
Let me list some of my recent petty behaviour:
I refused to use the stylus because Johnny had it when I needed it for my assignment. I was in the middle of writing, said he wouldn’t be long and then left it on his desk after using it to chat with one of the kids. I was furious but should have quietly pointed out what happened and carried on with the pen;
I was upset last night at Johnny shouting at Barbara over setting an extra place at the table;
I was angry and slightly bewildered at Johnny being nervous over my borrowing books on programming on his account. I gave him the book even though I needed it for my work. Then I made a mental note not to borrow books through Johnny. I will get my own ID on Monday so that I can borrow books on my own account.
Rather dangerous resolutions are taken thus, almost without thinking, which could cause further alienation: Not wanting to talk to Johnny about certain things because we seem to end up arguing or I clam up. Why do I clam up? Either because of a refusal to explore oneself, the topic is not important enough to bother arguing about or I don’t feel like standing up to Johnny; Not wanting to ask Johnny anything on study if I can help it. He is Head of Department and I am a mere student (a rather awkward position really) and also I don’t study very hard (then why don’t you pull your finger out) and might embarrass Johnny.
Surely it can’t be all my fault. I’ve listed most of what Johnny says about me, what can I say about Johnny that could contribute to bad relations between us? I couldn’t think of anything. He is good in most ways and also lets me know when I am triggering him. What about Johnny? Having taken the best years of his life and all of his money, what does he have? What about growing old together. Isn’t this another version of “I don’t want it anyway, keep the bloody thing?”
And having paid such a high price and involving so many people, can I just say, “Things are not working well, let’s call it off.” Especially as I’ve been told it’s mainly my fault. What can be done to make the relationship work all of the time?
When I try to explain, I’m told it is not time, I only think about myself or get a rude reply which means “Precious isn’t it?”
I said last night that I had a nasty habit of reacting badly when criticised. Johnny’s comment on being shocked at my selfishness over the book really threw me into despair.
I am such a shit, I feel a shit and occasionally I want to act like a shit. I feel so sorry for myself that I feel sick, yet if Johnny says I’m full of self-pity, I get angry at him. Go on, really roll in the tears and snot…
To get back to our conversation, there I was confessing a nasty habit I had become aware of and Johnny mocks me with it the next morning! He repeated some of what I had said in a slightly mocking tone, saying I sounded almost proud that there was nothing I could do about it. He’s probably right. How was he to know it was an exposed nerve he was jumping on? Then he says, “Dramatic Gita, very dramatic. You said it, so why look surprised if it’s referred to again? You didn’t say it was a deadly secret, never before confessed to anyone, not even yourself and that it was not to be referred to again.”
All this is very well but we are far from a solution. As I see it there are three options:
Give up the relationship
Live together but live separate lives
Make the relationship work excellently
I had thought of points 1 and 2 before July 1979, but not in detail. It was difficult to live with Johnny being critical of my behaviour. I find myself difficult to live with.
I thought of point 3 after Johnny rescued me from myself. Now it seems we’re back pre-July 1979. Johnny is critical of me so I don’t want to live with him. Terribly noble of me, no?
It would seem as though I’m doing the opposite of building a good relationship; trying to destroy it. But why? Is it classical psychology textbook behaviour? Having damaged the relationship, I am looking for ways to justify its destruction? Johnny, I’ve done this for you, can’t you behave better? Why must I always use my head for us, why can’t you?
Johnny appears to have given up all topics of conversation except what I want to talk about. It is quite ridiculous because I don’t have much to talk about. This complete dependence on me to keep the talk going, simply because I know very little and it is easier for Johnny to talk about what interests me, is not fruitful.
I don’t know what to do. I love him, I want him, I need him. I think he needs me. Then why do I think I don’t love him? Because if I did, I would look after him better than I do.
29th Sep 1980
Why do I feel so glad to see him when he returned early from the island yesterday afternoon? He had caught the hydrofoil back. We had coffee together and then I cut his hair. He cooked the evening meal, a simple meal of mashed potatoes with chives, a lettuce salad and veal marsala. He looked good with his face sunburnt and his hair short.
Later, after discussion, we reached the conclusion it was not a question of whether I loved him or not, but rather whether I was in a loving mood or not!
Quotes to remember:
“Mother, nothing can mask the taste of liver,” says Karen in reply to something I had said.
“Mr Fraser has finally made it to the family noticeboard,” says Gareth. Part of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s picture was on the back of the latest tide tables.
3rd Oct 1980
Last night the family had a discussion over dinner on whether we ought to give up Christmas presents to buy lino for the kitchen floor. Everyone decided against it.
15th Oct 1980
Solved the floor problem by removing the lino, scrubbing and oiling the floorboards. Looks very nice…
Notes and Links
This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page and scroll through to the bottom.
The nasty mood continued. I had a particularly bad one and I was hurtful to Johnny.
We had a rather important discussion last night with reference to Ellerbrock’s article on Acne: we talked about faith healing and wondered how it worked; then looked at worry and stress and the damage it does. I said the body was in a state of siege and defined that to mean normal functions were stopped because the system was ready for an emergency, of an undefined sort, which could play havoc with the endocrine and nervous systems. Faith healing would appear to induce a relaxation that could be beneficial and is, in fact, beneficial because it would leave the body to get on with the repair.
Another important item of discussion was my observation that I would like to get back to being one hundred percent respectful and loving towards Johnny-blue-eyes. Apart from the problem of being together and thereby losing excitement through habituation, one has a closer idea of a person’s weaknesses. But now I realised that all of Johnny’s weaknesses are very minor and could be dealt with politely and easily. No, the problem as Johnny sees it is a cultural one, where being courteous and loving towards one’s spouse is not a prevalent habit, nor does it seem to be appreciated – though those who know us think Johnny and I have a wonderful relationship.
This morning I upset myself through a couple of minor skirmishes with Barbara and mum, but I did it to myself by not treating their incident as routine and minor. Being courteous and formal keeps emotions in check (and in perspective) rather than getting emotional then doing and saying things out of proportion to the incident.
I’m sick of lecturing to myself – why can’t I buckle down, steady up, just get on with it, instead of getting emotional and excited – to the point of not being able to breathe properly. Then I use this as an excuse for not doing work?
Johnny’s on holiday and it is very good to have him at his desk. At the moment he is trying to get a bumper bar for the moke. The bullbar we had proved too heavy for the moke and it snapped a steel mounting. A new bullbar costs $90, plus fitting costs, and the wreckers don’t seem to have anything suitable. Oh well, yet another bill. We could use the $50 I earned towards half a bullbar or tow.
19th Aug 1980
Illnesses must be regarded as madness of the body, indeed as “idees fixes” according to Novalis.
To get back to Johnny and my small talk a couple of nights back, I re-read Ellerbrock’s article again and found these hypotheses of his alarming, though Johnny says it’s something we’ve known about for a while.
“Human language, [a product of perceptual/cognitive/affective processes] reflects the error and distortions inherent in those processes; the language learned and used, with inherent errors, in turn, leads to additional perceptual and behavioural errors.”
“Irrational verbal behaviour, so readily allowing the making of statements contrary to reality, and irrational non-verbal behaviours initiate circular feedbacks which tend toward multiple repetitions, with corresponding amplification of the harmful responses of the body and the brain.” Both quotes from Ellerbrock, Co-Evolution Quarterly.
Anita called briefly yesterday to introduce us to her new husband. They seem very happy. It was good to see two people getting on well, especially after a long first marriage to someone else; presumably, Peter was married before too.
Madonna brought her horse to graze in our paddock. He’s albino and hence called Pinkie. His eyes are a peculiar colour, his mane and tail plaited with pretty string.
What else happened yesterday? Johnny went into Rockhampton to a meeting and came home with half a pig from the Schulz household, Gareth made a macrame hanging, Gran went to a lecture on prayer. Nathaniel is not well, nor is Gareth, and Barbara has the sniffles too. Marcello is not well this morning and was up most of the night because of Nathaniel’s crying. Johnny and Gareth cooked us an excellent roast mutton with turnips and yellow rice, followed by brandy snaps. I did some weeding and Barbara helped by bringing the grass for mulching around the plants.
We waited up for Gran who came in at 10:30 pm and then Johnny and I settled down to spend time together in the study until 1 am.
Notes and Links
This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
In a fortunate turn of events, I was able to track down my mother’s best friend Cynthia. My mother, Marcello, Gareth and I spent time with Cynthia in 1968 when we stayed in Kathmandu, Nepal, prior to moving to Australia in 1969. Cynthia has since adopted the name Kami and resides on Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada.
When did you and mum first meet?
I was working at the British Council there at that time and was living in this old palace called Thamel Lodge, in a little round house with a thatched roof. Your mum, you and Marcello, came to live in one of the little apartments. The house was quite primitive, for a London girl like me, with a mud floor. I had problems keeping it clean, although I had been roughing it for months on the road and had lived in a few rather bizarre places. Somehow, we swapped homes – your mum and you two kids lived in the little round house and I lived in the apartment. She knew how to look after and clean the mud floor.
What sort of person was she, with you?
We bonded straight away and we were great friends. She was very open and very knowledgeable and I immediately looked up to her as this rather special being. I had been working in Thailand, learning about other cultures, and started to have a fascination with India, although Nepal and India are very different. So she was like my teacher or mentor even though she was only two years older than me. Gita already had four children and I hadn’t even married or had a child. She seemed to be well-educated, she read a lot and knew a great deal about poetry and literature. I got her a bit of work at the British Council as she had worked for them as a secretary before, in India.
What was Kathmandu like at that time?
It was full of temples with very devout Hindus practicing there. People would go to the temples everyday and put flowers all over town on the deities. One was a Shiva lingam, you know what a lingam is, and they would worship it. Gita was there right at the influx of the hippy era, I was there at the beginning of that and it was extraordinary. There was nowhere at the time to buy western clothes so you had to wear traditional dress like the kurta and salwar kameez. We had all been travellers when we arrived in Kathmandu, so our clothes might have looked a bit worn. Many of the early hippies were just free-spirited people who were studying the Asian art, culture, religion and customs but later the term was associated with drugs.
What kinds of things do you remember doing together?
I was working every weekday so we would catch up on the weekends. I don’t think she had much money at the time so I would come over and have dinner with Gita and you kids quite a lot. There was a nice man from Calcutta, a Mr Bose who was working in Kathmandu and missed his family, so he ‘adopted’ us, your mum and I and you and Marcello, and then Gareth. We would all go out for picnics. One thing I remember was going to a jazz concert with American guitarist Charlie Byrd at the National Stadium in Kathmandu, and when the band (who were angry about their disastrous concert) were leaving in their hired limousine, I asked for a ride home for us as Gita was pregnant with Gareth at the time. There wasn’t a lot of mixing in those early east-meets-west days in Kathmandu and although Nepalese men showed interest in me, I actually only had one Tibetan boyfriend. It was quite difficult to have Nepalese women friends at that time unless you met them through their work. Your family and I discovered Kathmandu together.
I know you supported mum at Gareth’s birth, can you tell me about it?
Well, I was very excited as I had never been that close to anyone who was pregnant before and when I left home most of my friends weren’t married or having children. She went into labour in the night and we had to walk to the Bir Hospital because after dark there were no rickshaws or taxis. There were no telephones either so we couldn’t call anyone and anyway we didn’t know anyone with a car. Along the way, whenever she had a contraction, Gita sat down on the footpath. I was quite worried because I didn’t know how long it was going to take or whether I would have to help with the birth on the way. We finally got to the hospital and it was a bit of a shambles there.
Was it a difficult birth?
No, not really, we were met at the Bir Hospital by a nurse and I don’t think we were even signed in. She said to me, “Are you a nurse?” because I was going to go with Gita as support.
I said, “No.” I didn’t want to lie because I had never been at a birth before, didn’t know what to expect and I thought I might faint or something! The nurse told me that I could go and lie on a bench in the corridor. There were patients lying on the ground on mattresses because there weren’t enough wards. Of course I couldn’t sleep and I could hear the sound of rats scuttling around on the ground. I was thinking, Oh my God, these people are on the ground, at least I’m up on a bench, it was like a nightmare. I don’t know if Gareth wants to hear this… The nurse eventually came and got me, nothing had been cleaned up, I saw the afterbirth in a bucket, it was a pretty bloody place. I was so happy to see Gita with a healthy baby!
How long did she stay there and how did she get home?
She stayed in the hospital, in a bed, overnight. I brought flowers but there was nowhere to put them. They eventually found a tin can. I came to pick her up soon after and we got a rickshaw home.
Did you help mum with the baby and with looking after us?
Not really, because I was working all day but we did hire a woman to help with the housework. In those days it was expected that foreigners would provide employment for local workers. In those days you didn’t have throwaway diapers (we used to call them nappies in England) and so they had to be boiled and washed everyday.
Marcello asked if you remembered the time when I was electrocuted? He literally saved my life.
No, I think it might have happened when I was away because I left for Japan. You stayed on some months after I left and when I came back you were gone, to Australia.
How did you meet your husband Minoru at that time?
Gita wanted to learn Aikido, the Japanese martial art, from Minoru the Japanese instructor. Because he only taught men and boys, she wanted me to go with her. That is when he really started getting friendly with me. Then Gita decided she wanted to learn Shiatsu massage, which he was also offering mainly to the foreign community. So he came back to your little round house and used me to practice on. That’s when one thing lead to another and we ended up together.
Did we attend your wedding to Minoru in Kathmandu?
Yes, it was a very traditional Nepalese-Hindu wedding with a Brahmin priest and held in an old palace called Bagh Durbar. The wedding was all arranged by members of the Nepalese Royal Family as Minoru had been living with them at the time. They had tried to marry him off to a Nepalese woman but he was with me so they checked me out to see if I was suitable. They were happy that I had a good job at the British Council, so they deemed me suitable. I remember Gita saying, the Bagh Durbar palace, with its many rooms, was like something out of a Kafka story. Anyway, I had a red sari for my wedding dress. Recently I found out that there was a huge protest to save Bagh Durbar, so I wrote to say that this heritage building should be saved and also that I was married there. They found my picture on Facebook and posted it, with some of my words on top, on their Facebook page.
Where did you have your child Anna?
I was staying in Japan with my husband and he, and his family, wanted me to have the baby there, but it was very difficult for foreign women in Japan at the time. I remember reading an anthropology book which said that Japanese women are not permitted to cry out during childbirth! I thought, Oh my God that sounds primitive, so I went back to England to my family and had the baby. I realised also that I had made a terrible mistake and it was getting hard for me to cope with the expectations of me in my relationship with Minoru. I wanted to go back to my own country without all those restrictions. I did visit Kathmandu in March 1969 on the way back to England, but you had all gone.
Did mum stay in the one area the whole time?
As well as the little round house, Gita rented a room above a shop around the Buddhist Stupa of Boudhanath, where many of the Tibetans had settled. It’s a little out of town and I think it was mostly used at weekends. I remember staying there once or twice. It was very quiet, apart from the Tibetans walking around the stupa, turning their prayer wheels and reciting the prayer Om Mani Padme Hum. Now it’s overcrowded and not very nice.
Mum left India in difficult circumstances, leaving behind two children, did she ever talk about it?
Actually she didn’t talk much about it but she had told me that she had run away from your dad and that she was worried he would track her down as she had you and Marcello. She told me about Johnny and that she was going to move to Australia with him. Maybe she didn’t want to talk to me about leaving your brother and sister behind. There was so much happening at the time we were just dealing with what was happening then and there. Johnny would send letters to her through me.
Was there anything else you remember about mum?
When I was pregnant and leaving for Japan, Gita gave me a piece of fabric that came from an Art Colony in India and wanted me to make something special with it. So I had a maternity dress made – it was only just big enough. It was a bit short but it was ok to wear in England. I lent it to many people but insisted they give it back to me. Which they did. Now I use it for patches and my patched gardening shirt is on display in the Bowen Island Heritage Museum at the moment. I’ve also patched a pair of pants with it, so Gita lives on!
Can you tell me about how you came to change your name to Kami?
After I moved to Canada, I felt that Cynthia sounded too English a name – I didn’t feel like a Cynthia anymore. I had lived the better part of five years in Nepal and it had changed me. In Canada I was learning dance with an African and I mentioned I wanted to change my name. He suggested a very long name, Oledapo Kemi Funimolaya, and I adapted Kemi to Kami. I’m still Cynthia on all my official documents, so when I travel, I’m Cynthia, but everyone on Bowen Island knows me as Kami.
How did you feel when I contacted you, after all these years?
I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe it at first, that you had found me was miraculous in a way. When I looked at your photo in Facebook when you sent me the message, having only seen you as a little five year old girl with dark hair to now with grey hair, it took me a while to work out what it was about. I was in shock that day, and going to a reading a friend was doing for a book she had published. I was telling everybody, Oh my God something big happened. Then when you told me Gita had passed away I had what I could only be described as a delayed grieving – it was terribly sad. I had already grieved the fact that I was never going to reconnect with Gita after trying for years unsuccessfully to track her and your family down. I had lost her once already.
How did you and mum lose touch with each other?
If she was still alive and we had reconnected, I have a feeling we would have just carried on our friendship where we left off. She had such a different life to me. I lived alone for much of my life since Anna left home. I admired the fact that Gita had this big love. I had moved around quite a bit and tried for so many years to track her down. I searched and searched. I feel like there have been all these little messages since I lost touch with Gita. She gave me the Haiku book translated by R.H. Blyth when I got together with Minoru and then I found one at the Bowen Island annual book sale this year.
I believe you are writing memoir at the moment. Can you tell me about it?
Oh, it must be the slowest memoir in the world! I had been thinking about it for thirty years and I sometimes stall when I am working on it. It starts with me travelling overland from London to Kathmandu in August 1966, going through sixteen countries, how it was arriving in Kathmandu when there were very few foreigners living there and how extraordinary it was then. After that we were ‘thrown out’ after our four month visa expired which we had already extended for a month. Most of the travellers were asked to leave if they weren’t staying in the big hotels because we were renting in people’s homes. That was before the term “hippy” came up and they were still using the term “beatnik”. You couldn’t renew your visa unless you could produce a lot of money, were staying in one of the hotels or came with an organisation. There were a lot of NGOs there at that time.
Have you done any other writing lately?
I recently wrote a 750 word piece called The Tokyo Letters, for a flash non-fiction competition for a magazine in Mexico, about connecting with you. It came about when you sent me copies of the aerogrammes that I had sent to your mum, back when I was in Tokyo. I was reminded about what a horrible time if was for me and that Gita was the only person I could write to about it.
Notes and Links
This special interview forms part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
My mother’s early journal entries contain draft letters she wrote to Cynthia (Kami) and all photos here have been included by permission.
I have continued to use my mother’s pen name Gita in this transcript.
A photo gallery, for the early part of the Journal Series, has now been added to the home page here.