101. Dear Mary – Journal Entry 13th Aug 1982

On Thursday I gave the family a meal they least like—liver. Mum, Barbara, Johnny and I like the way I cook it, but the rest of the family are not fond of liver, in any form. Before the new recipe I would fry largish slabs, but now I cook very thin slices and it is delicious and tender. Fortunately, Marcello brings fresh calf liver from work as the liver from the butcher is rarely fresh. 

The recipe is as follows: Finely chop one or two onions and slice the liver into thin strips. In a large pan, fry the onion until tender, then set aside. Add chunks of butter to the pan and when foaming, saute the liver pieces over low heat until just cooked. The slices need to be stirred gently, just until they lose their bloody appearance. Place the liver on the onions and squeeze a little lemon juice over them to taste. Next add some chopped sage to the pan and fry briefly, add a tablespoonful or so of flour, stir well, then add a cup of white wine and whisk. Add more liquid if the sauce is too thick and if you don’t have wine, water with a dash of vinegar would be a fine substitute. Finally, stir in a large handful of chopped parsley or chives and slide in the liver and onions. Add salt to taste and grind in lots of black pepper. Don’t let the liver cook further or it will become too rubbery. Serve with buttered rice and a plain vegetable dish. We usually fry eggs too, especially for those who are not keen on liver. Bacon or sausages can be added for extra flavour but it is the sage which gives this dish a special flavour, although garlic can be substituted.

Anyway, as mentioned, I gave the family liver on my birthday and chocolates much later with coffee. On Saturday Johnny will be cooking a special meal and Karen is coming home for dinner. I asked for paella, which I’m very keen on, banana splits for pudding followed by chocolates and coffee.

14 August 1982

Well, we had our paella meal, although as this one didn’t have many prawns, Johnny added scallops and mushrooms. Tiger prawns, unlike banana prawns, have distinctive stripes and a sweet flavour. Needless to say it was delicious and I ate so much that I couldn’t eat the individual servings of pudding: a whole banana sliced lengthwise with a blob each of vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream and whipped cream, and crushed nuts strewed over the lot. Before dinner, Karen and I went for a long walk on the beach. The weather is delightful now but summer will be upon us, before we know it, with frogs in the lavatory bowl and flies in the kitchen! M, R and Z rang for my birthday on Thursday, it was so good to chat with them. Unfortunately, I have to report that mum hasn’t been well: about six weeks ago she had a medical examination and was told that her blood pressure was worse; she then worried about that and of course everything started to deteriorate—she had head pains, belching at night and insomnia. Last week I took her to the clinic to see the GP and I think she will be back to normal in a fortnight. Barbara insists on taking mum to the park on Sundays for a picnic.

Nathaniel is talking quite well now and TJ is beginning to lose the staring, unresponsive look which newborns usually have. I call him “Kumarakut” because he looks so small, round and brown, almost glossy. Monika hopes he won’t lose his brownness the way Nathaniel had, however, I don’t think she needs to worry because TJ is darker than Nathaniel as a baby. I wonder how TJ will like it? I think he can expect a rough time until he grows up and no longer cares. Monika has her hands full when both kids are crying at the same time.

Life is hard work with very little play because Johnny is tied up with extra lecturing, besides all the other tasks he must complete. I’ve taken on four subjects this semester, twice as much as before. Gareth has his studies too, and so we all have to keep going, even on weekends. However, semester ends in November, with a two-week break in September for the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. Tough times, like good times, must come to an end. Mine is, of course, self-inflicted, and will continue well into next year. Thank you very much for your cheeky card; I pinned it on the noticeboard along with the label from the back of the envelope. 

27th August 1982

It seems our correspondence could easily be concerned with just swapping recipes—thanks for yours! Do you think the sweet mango pickle would last longer if vinegar was substituted for the water? The onions could be cooked longer perhaps or left out?

Your recent visit must have started something because after you left, two long-absent friends came to stay for a while. The first was a Canadian friend who brought his new wife to visit his old stamping grounds. Then last week another friend, whom we met in Manila about ten years ago, came to stay. Carmen is a Filipino married to a Swiss and now lives in Lund, near Geneva. We climbed rocks, raided guava and mango trees, and ate lots of curry with bread and pickles. She loved being photographed with the kangaroos at Cooberrie Park. To our delight, there was a mother koala with her baby for a photo. Carmen’s ten-year-old son wanted to come on the trip; I think he will feel the photos are a poor substitute for the experience. Carmen had spent time with friends and relatives in Manila and then with her parents and sisters living in Brisbane. She was very tired on arrival because on her journey down from Brisbane, the bus driver kept dozing off! Absolutely terrified, she took turns with another passenger to speak to him the whole way.

95. My Darling Guru – Journal Entry 5th July 1982

Johnny needs me to be affectionate, comforting and well organised. He is overworked and dealing with a tricky staffing problem. Nonetheless, he worries more about me than his other problems because I don’t seem to be getting on with my work. I’m also liable to go off on tracks which are often time-consuming or destructive. We discussed the topic of employment for redundant housewives; it was depressing and I foolishly scared myself again. Not a very pleasant evening.

11th July 1982

Staying in bed in the morning with a full and uncomfortable bladder, Johnny says, is “the height of sloth” but of course, I view it as harmless even though it is not. This attitude of has manifest itself in many ways—yesterday, for instance, I read a crappy book and wasted three hours of precious time. More seriously, I did poorly in the accounting examination through lack of application. I am inclined to blame my father who at the age of forty-five or fifty became fat, and because he sat or slept most of the time became even fatter. 

Nevertheless, let us stick to the existential maxim that one gets through life through one’s efforts. Also to be remembered, by chanting it constantly to oneself, is Solzhenitsyn’s advice to do tasks to their last half or quarter inch. My Johnny is a remarkable man and an excellent example of how a serious person lives. We have been together for seventeen years, so why can’t I improve myself? Can I do something about the “stuckness” I am wallowing in? I must look back as honestly as I can and jot down the good and bad things about myself:

  • As a kid I was wilful and demanding. I wandered alone quite a lot, pursued my desires and ideas and hence was in trouble much more than my siblings.
  • Recently Marcello accused me of neglecting him as a child: not feeding him properly, letting him run around filthy and unshod, not protecting him enough against getting hepatitis and ruining his liver. I answered that some illnesses are through neglect and some through straightforward neglect. This exchange happened because I asked him to keep Nathaniel warmly dressed since he had a second cold almost immediately after the last one. Marcello touched a very vulnerable side of most parents—their hope of having done the right things by their children and their anxiety about messing them up. 
  • My mediocre examination results are from a lack of preparation and study, not from a lack of ability.
  • I expect high standards from others but ignore my own slackness.

Despite this, the first half of the year has been reasonably good, better than the previous year, until I started to worry about money—a recurring theme of mine—and distracted myself from my studies by spending a lot of time with Toby. Then the relatives came; a marvellous visit, but again I really should have been well ahead. I could have done better in the programming exam and had to rely on my assignments to pull me through. I am still worried about the second half of ‘82 which promises to be very busy and Johnny tells me I may have to drop a subject because of my poor track record. If I work consistently and score reasonable marks, next semester I can take a full swag of subjects rather than spending an equivalent amount of study time on only one or two subjects. 

Habituation, that’s what I need to practice every day, says my darling guru. The past few days have been good with Johnny; he is laughing quite a bit even though his work is quite grim. So much administrative work when he ought to be doing real work for himself. How long will this go on?

I read a rather clever romance about a forty-year-old intellectual who falls in love with a first-year nurse. The man, a legend in pathology at the hospital in which he works, was very rich. Worried that women would want him for his wealth and position, he lived a fairly secluded life. The girl, a country girl from a large turkey farm, is attractive, friendly, mature and very sensible. They meet early in the story during a thunderstorm on a hill and take shelter in a shed where the man had been bird watching. She talks at great length under his skilful questioning but doesn’t tell him her name. A few weeks later she receives a letter addressed to her which contain photographs of the birds they had seen together. They exchange more letters and she uses him as an oracle, which amuses him; she is impressed by the quality of his answers to her questions, and also sends him problems from her friends who have nicknamed him her “professor”. The usual misunderstanding arises: he thinks she is interested in a young medical student and she thinks the professor only views her as a young, pleasant friend although she is interested in him. After their first meeting, he visits her parents in the country and asks their permission to court their daughter but not to give his real identity until they hear from her. Naturally, everything works out well in the end, though considering he is very intelligent, it takes a long time.

12th July 1982

Johnny and I had a wonderful evening last night. I told Johnny the story of the professor. Gareth joined us and Johnny read T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and some of Hilaire Belloc’s poems.

We discussed the story further this morning and Johnny asked the same question—why did the professor take such a long time if he is allegedly so intelligent? He had even gone to meet the parents after their first encounter. The tale could have been improved by making it less implausible and removing remarkable coincidences or chance meetings. Maybe a twist added: he does not win her before the callow youth does and they are both miserable for the rest of their lives, if only he had spoken to her before…or he approaches her and is turned down on account of his great age…

It was a lovely drive to the hospital today with Gran for her new bottom dentures, Karen and Shannon return from Cooee Bay today, Marcello took a sickie to work on his car, Monika is helping him remove rust spots, Gareth is back at school and Barbie is back at the ATC.

Johnny is on leave today but has gone into Rocky to do the grocery shopping. He will be away in Brisbane for two nights so will get the shopping done today and then bring the girls back home. 

Great rapport between Johnny and me at the moment; when I reflect on it, there always has been, except when I feel nagged or guilty about something. I decided to discuss my latest fears with him. This was the right approach and led to fruitful discussion and resolution. However, I don’t agree that that’s what a mate is for; mates should cultivate and preserve charming illusions about each other considering much mystery is lost by morbid or senseless discussions and delving into telling-it-all. As if “being honest” was what made good relations between people! Being honest usually means saying a few home truths that could have perhaps been left unexpressed. My darling guru is a very discreet man.

94. Letter to Z – Journal Entry 24th June 1982

Dear Z,

We all thoroughly enjoyed your visit; it was great to see the whole family and our only regret is that we were not able to take more time off. However, as Johnny says, you are all most welcome anytime. Why not come up for Christmas? Be warned though, it is usually very quiet apart from the midnight tree-raiding and special feasts. Our only outing seems to be a slow walk on the beach mid-morning after a huge Christmas breakfast. This is usually followed by another family beach cavort on New Year’s morning. Christmas time is mango season and unfortunately, the beginning of wet weather.

Thank you for the photographs. Gran has now carefully arranged them into her album. Monika ordered extra copies of those she took and we picked them up from Yeppoon yesterday; I’m sending you a batch for distribution, as you see fit

For a few days after your departure, Nathaniel walked around saying rather forlornly, ‘Z dorn!’. He excitedly pointed you out in Monika’s photographs and even remembered the dressing gown you used while you were here.

I am relieved examinations are now over. I had two exams and Karen had six. Barbara is going for five days to the annual ATC camp at the bottom of Phillip Street. Gran and I will probably bake several large chocolate cakes for them, like we did last year. Karen is back for a few days before going on a week-long camp in the Bunya Mountains; it will be freezing there.

The temperature dropped dramatically last week. Even though we are on the Queensland coast, it was down to 7℃ inside the kitchen with the most dreadful wind from down your way. It’s a glorious morning but still quite cold, so I am sitting at my desk with the heater on. Next semester will be busy because I was rash enough to sign-up for four subjects.

I am particularly looking forward to a subject called Methodology, part of the Associate Diploma in Computing, that teaches students to think clearly; something I am very much in need of! The prescribed textbooks are: Thinking about Thinking by Anthony Flew and Learning to Philosophise by E. R. Emmet. The lectures will be given by CIAE’s resident philosopher and I am curious to see a philosopher in action.

I recall two evenings spent listening to Johnny and a philosopher discuss a range of topics. They had the extraordinary ability to explore and develop concepts, many of which represent the most important aspects of humanity, civilisation and education. 

I shall quote from Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He categorises people as Romantics or Classics.  Romantics, Pirsig says, are intuitive, aware of appearances, imaginative and creative… Classics, however, see underlying forms and because he is essentially in favour of Classics, he describes their style or approach to things thus:

The classic style is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical and carefully proportioned. Its purpose is to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known. It is aesthetically restrained. Everything is under control. Its value is measured in terms of how well this control is maintained.

All of that to say, I am looking forward to the Methodology subject to see what effect it has on the students, myself included. I must ask Johnny about last year’s students; I imagine it would be difficult to measure clearer thinking.

Gran, Monika, Gareth, Nathaniel, Johnny and I are very keen on naan bread and I now make it once a week. A major breakthrough thanks to R, for helping develop the recipe. We now have a twenty-five-kilo bag of rye flour to make chapatis, which I find are infinitely better than bread. Chapatis can be made much quicker, they freezes well and a few at a time can be used for breakfast or lunch.

By the way, our house number is not “2” even though it is on our kitchen door; Gareth found the number under our house and decided to put it up. Our official address is 11/17 Clement Street. You can use 11/17 Cnr Phillip and Clement Street, however, Phillip Street will suffice. Emu Park is a small town and I am sure your mail will find us.

Gran seems to have settled down to her gardening and social activities. She managed to water her garden for years with only a trickle until Johnny installed a new tap for her near the barbecue. The radishes, shallots, lettuce and brinjals are thriving now that the sprinkler has a better flow of water. Gran is much happier with this simple fix.

I shall post the photos with this letter when we go to Rocky later this morning.

90. A Birth and Fish Feast – Journal Entry 10th June 1982

What better way to start a brand new, best ever notebook than to record the birth of a child: TJ born on the 8th of June and brother to Nathaniel, a day after Gareth’s birthday and on the same birthday as Clare Cosgrove. Monika is still in the hospital and due back in a few days.

Thank you Johnny, my Johnny, for finding an unruled notebook for me to write my diary.

Our neighbour Hector also had a birthday so we rang and wished him a happy birthday; we are one of only a few people who know it’s his birthday. When Barbara took him some flowers he told her his daughter was coming for dinner and he was looking forward to it.

Z rang for a chat and announced Mary finally packed all her bags, her purchases are at last over. However, Mary is not looking forward to leaving the girls and Australia, she likes everything here. When Mary stayed with us in Emu Park, I noticed she took a keen interest in all that went on around her and loved the meals Johnny cooked; she insisted I list them all and is keeping a detailed diary of her visit to Australia.

Marcello and Monika have taken some lovely photographs of Mary and her family.

M, R and Z moved easily with the household, pitching in and helping with the work, so the burden was not on any one person.

Among the many memorable meals we had while they were here, I must mention the fish feast that was prepared by M, R and me; the diversity of colour was particularly appealing. Early in the morning, Marcello, Monika, M and R went with Merv to Rosslyn Bay Harbour and caught about thirty-seven steely backs or bony salmon. M made a good South Indian fish curry, R made Bengali stuffed fried fish and I made a herb fish curry.

I shall attempt to describe the fish feast in greater detail: M, R and I initially discussed what we would do with the fish and jointly drew up the menu. First, we picked fresh coriander seedlings, curry leaves, chillies and chives from our garden—a very pleasant activity for M and R after two years of Melbourne city life. M’s curry was excellent, a pleasant dark brown colour with ground coriander, cumin and chilli, fresh coriander leaves and red chilli roughly chopped, and finally thick tamarind pulp and salt to taste. The curry sauce was left to simmer for quite some time, getting browner and thicker with glimmers of red chilli flecks throughout. The prepared fish fillets were slipped in at the end and cooked only for a short while.

My curry, which we chose in contrast to M’s Madras fish curry, was mostly green and yellow, a mixture of finely chopped herbs and turmeric, with a handful of glossy whole red chilli thrown in, and lemon juice as the souring agent—fish curry is greatly improved with a sprinkle of lemon juice, vinegar or tamarind pulp, just before serving.

R made a lovely green herb and white coconut cream stuffing for his fish dish. Whole fish were slit open and cleaned thoroughly, stuffed carefully with coriander, mint, chilli and coconut cream, then shallow-fried until a dark golden brown. When served, the exposed green stuffing was a pleasing contrast to the brown crispy skin with extra stuffing served in a little bowl on the side.

Accompanying dishes were plain buttered rice, chopped tomato and onion salad and a large bowl of yoghurt.

Needless to say, the family were quite impressed and appreciative, our dinner talk as loud as ever.