A fond farewell to a friend, writer, and fellow Celt – thanks for a treasure trove of lovely memories!

Me with Kay Watson (Ceinwen) December 2013

Four days ago, I received a call from an unfamiliar number. Celtic feyness or a sixth sense made me pick up, instead of my usual practice of letting the call go to Voicemail.

‘I’m Sylvie, a friend of Kay Watson’s,’ a voice said, ‘and I’m ringing to let you know Kay passed away yesterday morning.’

I’ve reached an age where news of illness and death more frequent than I’d like and in recent times coming too often! Kay was one of my oldest students; first attending writing class at 80 years of age and publishing her memoir at 89. She only left when a move to a distant nursing home in her mid 90s made travelling and attendance difficult. 

Sylvie informed me that Kay had celebrated her 100th birthday at the beginning of the year and was thrilled to receive the obligatory greetings from the Queen. This snapshot of a grinning Kay in February speaks volumes!

Kay’s 100th birthday card from Queen Elizabeth II

We live in Covid times. The death of a family member, friend, or acquaintance presents difficulties when lockdown dictates funeral rules and visits to homes, especially to those in the aged care sector. So this will be a digital trip down Memory Lane to celebrate and farewell the life of one of the wonderful students I’ve been fortunate to meet during my time as a writing tutor.

Kay was remarkable and touched my life in many ways. The desire to honour her legacy has motivated me to shake off a torpor that’s had me avoid blogs and blogging for several months.

Many of those who follow Up The Creek With a Pen are ex-students or members of writing groups and will have met Kay in class or at the regular Sunday readings held by Mordialloc Writers’ Group until I retired in 2017. When writing, Kay preferred to be called by her Welsh name of Ceinwen, a language she still spoke fluently. Ceinwen was one of the few Welsh speakers in Melbourne, who could also read and write in Welsh, skills she often used on behalf of St David’s Welsh Church when they wanted to welcome visiting Welsh celebrities like the Welsh Choir or celebrate St David’s Day, the Welsh National Day in March.

Ceinwen means lovely, blessed, and fair – well-chosen descriptions of the Kay Watson I knew!

Kay’s memoir published 2010

My association with Ceinwen, inextricably, linked with Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, where we met because of common interests in writing and social justice. Between first volunteering, then being employed as a creative writing tutor, plus running the Mordialloc Writers’ Group and Readings By The Bay, my association with MNH lasted 21 years. Ceinwen attended Monday morning writing class for 13 of those years, also the Sunday Readings and meetings of the Union of Australian Women Southern Branch, which I coordinated. Her memoir launched on the 15th anniversary of the writers’ group, epitomised what local community writing classes and groups encourage and celebrate.

The Monday class at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, Ceinwen’s beginning as a writer!
Kay dressed in signature orange (to match her hair she always said!) reading one of her poems at Readings By The Bay. She was a skilful knitter and knitted this suit herself!

The Launch of Ceinwen’s Journey, 2010

Good Afternoon – my name is Mairi Neil and I coordinate the Mordialloc Writers Group. Before I begin…

I acknowledge the people and elders, past and present of the Boon Wurrung Clans and the Kulin Nation. I acknowledge and uphold their unique relationship to this land and surrounding sea, a relationship of over 40,000 years. The Mordialloc Writers’ Group believes reconciliation is about recognition and healing with Australia’s Indigenous people. Together, we are Australian, let us bridge cultures and create a just society. 

Croesoa Welsh welcome for those who have specifically come for the launch of Ceinwen’s Journey, Shining in Reflection, a memoir by local writer, Kay Watson. Kay attends my writing for pleasure class here on a Monday; is a fellow member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, and the Union of Australian Women Southern Branch, but above all she is a friend, so I am honoured to be able to launch Ceinwen’s Journey, which is a super read.

Kay is here today with her son Clive and daughter-in-law Sheila. We are also honoured to have publisher Hassanah Briedis, and I’d like to acknowledge our local member Janice Munt and convey the apologies of Federal member Mark Dreyfus and Senator Mitch Fifield both in Canberra this weekend. Several regular members of our writers’ group who couldn’t attend send congratulations too. Just as well not everyone could attend because we have already run out of chairs!

Before I extol the virtues of Kay’s memoir, I’d like to remind you of the group’s record of achievement – seven anthologies that have enabled 55 local writers to be published – many for the first time. Anthology number eight to be released at the end of this year will ensure our stories, poems, memoir, and novel extracts continue to represent this community’s culture. Local anthologies are valuable historical documents. We are the keeper of your stories as we write our own.

A word or sentence, an object or photograph, a line of poetry, a colour or a memory, and many other triggers besides, inspire writers and the breadth of Kay’s writing provides examples of all of these starting points.

Kay Watson does not suffer from writer’s block! When she first attended writing class a decade ago I acknowledged her wonderful ability to tell stories, and to tell them well. She is blessed with an amazing memory and the stories she wrote in class (and still does) are rich in detail and prompt fabulous discussions, tears and laughter, plus wonderful history lessons when we share lived experiences!

Kay with Heather Yourn (dec 2019), another longterm member of Monday class who came to my classes until 91 yrs of age. Heather wrote insightful stories and poems too. Kay and Heather had a special bond. When Heather moved to Mt Eliza she’d pick up Kay and bringing her to class because Kay lived at Patterson Lakes .

What Kay can’t remember is compensated by her vivid imagination! (Although no made up stories in this memoir!)

Her words flow effortlessly, in class every story seems true and once the excitement of this launch is over, she could produce an anthology of her short stories and poetry. But judging by her look of horror perhaps not – it is stressful putting a book together…

Kay’s memorable contribution is a story of a life spanning 89 years, written with modesty and understatement, yet she lived through the hardships of the Great Depression, the hungry uncertain years of the Great Slump, and the rationing and devastation of the Second World War when she was separated from Arthur, the love of her life. Then came children, several sojourns to Europe and the trials and tribulations of family life in the United Kingdom and retirement in Australia. 

Kay triumphs over the adjustments of resettlement, not only from England to Australia at a time of life when many would be reluctant to move from their comfort zone, but an earlier move to England from Wales. This childhood upheaval perhaps the greater challenge because she had to forgo her beloved Welsh language for the scouse accent of Liverpool. (It could have been worse she may have relocated to Glasgow!) 

Mind you adapting to ‘Strine’ has not been without dramas – like many new migrants she turned up to gatherings here in Australia with ‘a plate’ because she was told to, never realising it was supposed to have food on it!

Kay begins her story in 1921, a time of oil lamps, and tin baths used once a week before being hung in the yard. A time when wash day did indeed take all day, and children amused themselves with homemade toys, and their imagination, while mothers lit boilers, hand-washed everything, and if lucky, had a mangle to wring out the clothes to be dried in the back garden on a line of rope between wooden poles. The art of washing clothes no mean feat in the miserable weather of the UK.

At home, Kay spoke Welsh, at school English, and often home was a house of women because her Merchant Navy father spent time away at sea. These are memories of a time when the pace of life seemed slower, a time when not everyone had a car, a time when you made your own entertainment. Definitive childhood experiences leave their mark but it is amazing what memories are triggered in writing class.

First Love by Kay Watson

Keith Taylor was 15 years old and sat in the desk in front of me at school He had acne and hair sticking up like a chimney sweep’s brush dipped in oil. Not very tall, he was always straightening his spectacles with a forefinger and constantly sniffing instead of giving his nose a good blow.

I fell madly in love with Keith.

He lived in the next street and we walked to school together. Considered ‘grammar school material’, he helped me with my homework. We went to the cinema on Saturdays, and I watched him shine at football at the local recreation grounds. He was always there for me, saying, ‘You make me so happy you’re my girlfriend,’ and ‘I love your dark shining eyes.’

I gave him a photograph of myself and he kept it in his desk at school. ‘Why do you keep it there?’ I asked

‘To look at you often,’ he said, ‘because I’ll get into trouble turning around in class to look at you.’

No wonder I overlooked that he didn’t have film star features!

Love permeates this book: love of God and church, love of family, love of community, love of travel and love of having a good time. As all of you who know Kay, laughter is never far from her lips.

It has been Kay’s Faith and a keen sense of humour that has helped her through the sad times – of which there have been a few – especially the tragic loss of her beloved daughter, Dawn when only 21 years of age, and the recent loss of her husband and soul mate, Arthur.

You don’t reach 89 without having the rough as well as the smooth and yet this is not a sad book, it is indeed a celebration of a life well-lived. 

Writing your life story is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage. When we write we reveal ourselves, expose ourselves to public scrutiny. We revisit good and bad times and often learn things about ourselves – each sentence can be as much a surprise to self as it is to the reader. It may be cathartic or be a shock but it is a wonderful gift to be able to use our very flexible and beautiful language to connect with others. And it is magic when we get it right – as Kay has done.

Sounds and Smells of War by Kay Watson

The war.  Air-raid sirens screech, enemy aircraft drone overhead. Wham Wham! Anti-aircraft batteries and crump of exploding bombs. We heard these sounds and more sitting on cold slatted wood seats in dank, brick, air raid shelters surrounded by dampness and fear of death. Our five senses overloaded every night.

Glass splintered and smashed, dancing on the cobblestones as windows hit by shrapnel. The suction and compression from huge blasts, pushed us together. We grabbed each other, held tight for comfort because there were no doors on the shelter and we could see the angry red sky blackened at the edges.

City docks aflame. The acrid smell of exploding paint drums and melting rubber in the air billowing smoke and flames from the burning sugar factory, which formed a fiery sheet on the surface of the water. 4.00am. After nine hours, the all clear siren sounded. We emerged from the shelter to the scent of burning wood. Smelly black dust hung in the air. We faced our homes, many destroyed, front doors blown off, shattered windows, rubble strewn gardens. Bewilderment. We hugged our blankets and pillows, and small babies in smelly nappies long overdue for changing.

Our kitchen relatively unscathed meant I had a cold wash. How I enjoyed the aroma of Lifebuoy Soap, the luxury of feeling clean and refreshed. We gathered the broken crockery from the red tile floor. An intense smell of soot from the kitchen range permeated upstairs, even inside chests of drawers. The force of the blast had scattered clothes from cupboards. They smelt musty and wet from the fire brigade’s efforts to save the house. Mum stood motionless and stared at the mattress, pockmarked like cinders on a hot face, by the incendiary bombs. Friends invited us to stay until we found a place outside the city, wreathing our faces in smiles. We smelled their coffee. Even burnt toast, delicious in those days.

The bitter days now behind us but the way to the new is in the shadow of the old. I enjoy more pleasant smells, especially seasonal ones, each flower bringing its own smell to my garden. Also the sea and seaweed clinging to rocks, the salt tangy ocean, the red earth of the desert and most of all sounds of birds like a choir of chirping minstrels.

There are interesting photographs in this book too – examine them closely because they all hold stories.

Please enjoy this magnificent achievement, a memoir to treasure and join with me in congratulating and welcoming author Kay Watson.

That day was probably one of the highlights of Kay’s long life and made more memorable by the support she received from fellow students in the class. One of the students, Helen, arranged for her partner to make a magnificent (and delicious) cake, in the shape of a traditional Welsh hat and many people followed the Aussie tradition of bringing a plate (food included, of course).

Another longterm student of Monday classes was Amelia, in a similar age group as Kay, they shared a close friendship. Both lived in Parkdale and loved writing poetry about the environment, especially the sea. Sadly, Amelia predeceased Kay. I read some of Amelia’s poetry at her funeral.

Kay and Amelia Auckett

I can’t attend Kay’s funeral but will finish this blog with some of her lovely poems that featured in the annual class anthologies where she favoured writing about her memories of the UK countryside. There are a few photographs too, of Kay’s classmates, several who have now passed away. There is also a picture I treasure of Kay with my mother, who was born in April 1921. The pair met a few times at Mordialloc Writers’ events and got on well but sadly, Mum died in 2009, a few months after this picture was taken.

Kay with Mum (Anne McInnes)

It is not overstating, to say everyone loved Kay and her stories never disappointed. During WW2 she was in the WAAF’s Entertainment Unit blessed with a wonderful Welsh singing voice and the actors and entertainers she met in the concerts to entertain the troops filled a list of celebrity who’s who, but I loved her travelogues. She’d bring in pictures of her and husband Arthur’s holidays to Spain and France and write about fascinating adventures.

One travel story sticks in my mind because she had the class in stitches and there were no accompanying snaps. A group of friends had hired a yacht to sail the Mediterranean islands. When the weather turned nasty, they headed for a nearby isle to drop anchor. On going ashore they discovered it was a nudist colony and to use any of the facilities, they had to, in Kay’s word ‘conform’.

I miss teaching writing in community houses, miss the many students who enriched my life with their stories and imagination. I learnt so much and will always smile when remembering the friendship, laughter, entertaining and emotional stories, and the sharing of scrumptious morning tea that were all part of Writing for Pleasure on Monday mornings.

Childhood Home by Kay Watson

I long to see the old place again, just once on a winter’s day

frost makes white the lonely fields, and skies are silver grey.

I think of our cottage and winter walks down the lane

snowdrops nod their heads, their stems stiff like cane.

Those long dark nights, and cold short days,

the low angle of the sun casting shadow haze

adding form to the landscape and drifting snow,

patterned frozen puddles where summer sunflowers grow.

I shall return in summer and breathe the rustic air,

pause at the stream to rest and reflect on things there –

remember my childhood of long ago – and I’ll sing

of the joy and peace Mother Nature always brings.

Meadowland by Kay Watson

Warm sun thaws and meadows tenderly lie

beneath the paintbox of sunrise,

the bridle of earth and sky.

Cowslips join waves of ripening corn 

to float and dance, spellbound entranced

warming my heart like a cloth of gold.

Ever changing breeze sighs through my hair

like a joyless eye, 

it is eventide when sun sinks in the west 

and drowsy butterfly folds his wings, 

birds fly to their nests no more to sing.

Flower petals close, the daisy asleep 

is that primrose buried in slumber deep?

Thoughts scatter in fancy’s flight

sweet dreams close eyelids, till dawning light.

The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.

Thornton Wilder

Thank you Kay (Ceinwen) Watson for sharing your journey!

Kay signing a copy of her book for Alex at Readings by the Bay, 2010

Empathy, Acts of Kindness, Friendship – All Make Life Better

kindness is free

We dropped a couple of boxes of chocolates and a thank you card into the Kingston Veterinary Hospital when we were shopping at Thrift Park the other day because the staff at the clinic always go ‘the extra mile’.

Over my lifetime, I’ve had many pets – usually dogs – and count myself lucky most have lived long lives because it is never easy saying farewell. Dogs bring such joy and unconditional love and warmth into your life, no wonder they’re the ideal therapy pet.

But how heartbreaking when you have to say goodbye like we did last week, to our Aurora, and so many friends on Facebook were kind in their comments acknowledging how important she was in our life.

screen shot 2019-01-29 at 12.55.52 pm

Saying goodbye to a pet you’ve had for 14 years a wrench, and no matter how you rationalise these decisions, grief is profound. Compassionate vets, animal attendants, and understanding friends help ease the pain.

The young women we have been dealing with at Kingston Veterinary Hospital were not only loving and considerate with Aurora but cared about our welfare too. They even sent a handwritten sympathy card with a laminated imprint of Aurora’s paw – one for each of us.

card from vet

I’ve written about kindness before, the importance of it for humans in the medical world but we shouldn’t forget our relationship with the animal kingdom.

The Life Stories & Legacies writing teacher in me has to remind those who read my blog that they should not forget to record the stories of their pets because usually those stories reveal a lot about yourself and family life.

Dogs are my favourite pets and I can’t remember the family home every being without one – in fact, often two dogs.

They can be fun stories to write, dramatic, and of course sad but because family pets are like children (some people even prefer them to children) – they can be naughty, mischievous, loving – destructive (even if unintentional) – each one having their own personality and therefore great characters for you to write about.

Here is a piece I wrote in response to an exercise I gave to my class asking them to write a snapshot of their morning and to include at least one of the senses: sound, sight, smell, touch without forgetting that all-important emotional engagement for the reader.

Mornings
Mairi Neil

The 5.24am rumbles past, and on cue, Aurora begins nudging my back.

‘Too early,’ I croak and snuggle under the doona for a couple more hours sleep.

‘Yuk, your breath stinks. These early morning kisses have to stop.’

In what seems moments, a glimmer of daylight dances on the wall, then a steady rhythm of click and tap from footsteps hurrying to the railway station, after slamming car doors.

It is useless to try and sleep. Aurora, also exhausted from her alarm clock routine, lifts her head and large brown eyes to plead with me.

‘Okay, okay, I’m getting up. Now please move off my slippers and give me some space.’
She scrambles to her feet as fast as arthritic bones can and my aged body does the same.

‘Happy now?’ I grumble.

The flushing of the toilet Aurora’s signal to almost trip me up in her eagerness to be first at the backdoor where Smackos sleep in a drawer waiting to be gobbled.  She snatches the treat from my hand and dribbles as the chicken flavoured snack crumbles before disappearing into her expanding tummy.

‘That’s it,’ I say, ‘the vet’s orders!’

We shuffle back to the kitchen together to start another day.

I put the kettle on to sing, and dangle a teabag into a favourite mug souvenir from sunny California before checking the view from the kitchen window. Jasmine trembles along the fence and I wonder if the sea breeze promises a sunny day in Mordialloc.

Aurora coughs and totters into the lounge room to claim her favourite armchair and wait for me to bring my steaming cup of tea to join her.

We watch ABC24 together and discover the good and bad news before she demands a play with the ball or walks along the street – most days, like a spoilt toddler she’ll get both.

 

Aurora.jpeg

Writing about pets:

  • Do you think that animals feel love?
  • Do you think a dog can feel love? A cat?
  • These are ‘conventional pets’ what about less loveable animals?
  • What about a cow, a snake, or a spider?
  • What makes you think so?
  • Have you ever cared for or loved an unusual pet?

While we sat with the vets who shared Aurora’s dying, I asked them what was the most unusual pet they’d looked after.

Jane, a tall stunning blonde with a delightful smile, surprised me when she said she had a pet snake, ‘Great pets, easy to look after and I only have to feed it every couple of months.’

Now that is an unusual pet, I thought and remembered a neighbour who used to live next door. She had pet pythons too and one escaped – it was three weeks before she confided in me, and only because when I was walking the dog past her gate, I saw what I thought was a snake’s head pop up from a pile of rubble from their renovations.

I took the dog home and nipped next door to say, ‘I may be imagining things but I thought I saw a snake in your front yard.’

‘Oh, so that’s where he got to – I’ve been looking for him for three weeks.’

‘Three weeks!?’

Pets generate lots of stories! …

images.jpg

Aurora – the Roman Goddess who liked to chew

We brought Aurora home when she was a puppy, and like all puppies, she was teething. However, despite numerous toys bought specifically for her, she found so many other things much more to her taste…

She joined our household a few months before Christmas, the timing right for her large teeth to grow perhaps because she kept us on our toes when we decorated the Christmas tree.

The coloured baubles on the tree, she either didn’t like or liked too much. Each morning when I came through to the lounge room there’d be a trail of pine needles and outside in the back garden tell-tale bright ‘flowers’ in the grass where she had taken the balls and they’d shattered.

When we moved all the decorations up to the top half of the tree hoping she’d find one of her toys more interesting, it was the electric lead of the fairy lights that gained her attention – maybe she didn’t like the carols that played along with the twinkling lights (I have to admit, I found them repetitive and annoying too) …

However, the coup de gras for our tree that Christmas was Aurora becoming entangled in the lights and tinsel and in response to my outrage running across the room and up the hallway with our tree in tow.

Needless to say, the Christmas decorations were packed away early that year – maybe if we had told our aptly named Roman Goddess it was Saturnalia she would have accepted the tree as a temporary fixture and left it alone.

Tinsel Aurora

Along with the tree and decorations, Aurora did enjoy a good chew of shoes – specifically not one, but two brand new pair of leather sandals I bought, on a ‘buy one pair, get the other 50% off’ deal.

For some reason, she only preferred the left shoe! That summer I made my old sandals last another season.

Aurora always took her loot and hid behind the couch or under a bed like a saboteur waiting for the explosion – and she certainly got that when she reappeared – although probably not the satisfaction she desired.

All parents will empathise and understand the situation – who hasn’t experienced that feeling of dread when your toddler is just too quiet or has disappeared from view.

They’re discovered in another room,  under the table, in the backyard … and you just know you’re going to find they’ve scribbled on the wall, ate something they shouldn’t or have something they shouldn’t play with…

However, it’s what Aurora chewed after the sandals that make her the only dog I’ve owned, to be included by a well-known author when he autographed his book to me.

I can tell the story now and see the funny side, but at the time it was one of those moments when I definitely needed more than Minties.  And the event triggered a reaction in me I can’t quite explain – perhaps it was the build-up of grief or just a period in my life when I’d made many life-changing adjustments too quickly… but I had what modern lingo would call ‘a meltdown’.

Aurora replaced Goldie who we had for fourteen years but she also came into my life only a few months after I lost my Dad who I loved dearly.  I was still adjusting to a new job at the Melbourne University Student Union – a full-time job entailing travel into the city after years of working part-time locally.

At the Student Union, I was the receptionist/administrative clerk for the elected student office bearers. The job was full-on because we were in the midst of a campaign to stop the introduction of VSU (Voluntary Student Unionism), a policy that would literally destroy many student activities and collective strength, particularly at small campuses. The employment future of many people at risk – including mine even although I’d literally just started working there.

In 2006, Shadowboxing, a collection of short stories by Melbourne author, Tony Birch was released but as a widow who recently returned to full-time work to put my daughters through high school and university, I lived on a tight budget with no money to spare on non-essentials – and that meant I had to curtail my love of buying books.

Fortunately, one of the Women’s Officers lent me her brand new copy,  ‘Read it on the train and give it to me tomorrow. I know you value books and will look after it.’

She trusted me with her signed copy.

You will have worked out where the story is heading…

Long story short – Aurora stole the book from my handbag, which I foolishly left on the floor in my bedroom. When I discovered the chewed remnants the next morning, the air became decidedly blue – and chilly! My daughters ready in double-quick time to leave for their respective classes.

I slammed the front door with a cursory ‘see you tonight’ through gritted teeth. I’m sure the stumps shook.

All the way to work on the train, blame, shame, and curses seesawed – ad nauseam: Aurora, the girls, myself…

Every stupid or careless thing I’d ever done in my life whirled inside my head, I was sitting down but felt weak-kneed and fought off being sick.

  • How will the owner forgive me – it was a personally signed copy!
  • Why didn’t I take more care?
  • What made Aurora go through my handbag?
  • Why didn’t the girls take more responsibility for the puppy they wanted?
  • How am I going to get a replacement book?
  • And from where?
  • How early do bookshops open?
  • What will the other office bearers think of my carelessness?

Pride is one of the deadly sins  – was that my problem – deeply wounded and worrying about myself and how others will see me? I felt the destroyed book was a betrayal of trust someone had shown in me.

I didn’t deserve the high opinion the Women’s Officer had of me and had let her down – I dreaded the confrontation ahead.

I was a child again…  waiting to be strapped by an overbearing teacher, angry because I’d played in the ‘boys’ playground (yes segregated playgrounds were a thing in the early 60s in Scotland) …

I was twelve years old and explaining to my older sister I’d lost her silver signet ring in the ocean – the ring she’d let me borrow …

By the time I walked into work, I must have looked as distressed as I felt because the one office bearer who was there, came out of his office with a worried look,

‘Mairi, are you okay?’

I burst into tears. If he hadn’t put his arms around me, my trembling legs would have collapsed.

He was the Indigenous Officer and when he heard my tale of woe his reaction immediate, ‘He’s a mate. I’ll give Tony a ring, he lives nearby.’

I couldn’t believe it! Please let him be home and willing to help!

Within a short space of time, Tony Birch arrived at the Student Union with two copies of his book – and the special pen he kept for book launches! He found the story of Aurora’s appetite for literature amusing and was only too happy to rescue me from further embarrassment.

Tony knew the Women’s Officer and replicated the message in the replacement book before signing a book for me – including Aurora’s name – ‘since she’s such a fan’.

I’ll never forget the kindness of that day.  They helped me through the ordeal with a minimum of fuss, maximum efficiency and a sense of humour.

The book returned with the owner none the wiser, keeping the episode secret justified with ‘no harm done’ but knowing what a hotbed of gossip university circles can be, I’m sure ‘the secret’ has been one of those anecdotal tales laughed at over a few beers or after-dinner coffee.

A forgotten memory recounted as I’m doing now and as long as that book sits on my bookshelf, Aurora and her most memorable escapade, never forgotten!

flowers of remembrance.jpg
a lovely message and flowers from daughter number one

It so happens that my dearest friend, Lesley, had to make a similar decision about one of her dogs the day after we farewelled Aurora.

Lesley is my dearest friend in Melbourne. We have known each other since our children were babies. We have literally been through all the big life changes together – birth, deaths, and marriages.

Whether it’s 11am or 11pm we have coffee and unburden ourselves to each other, drawing strength from our shared love and respect and being able to vent about parents, children, the economy, politics, health, neighbours – you name it we discuss it, laugh and cry, forever grateful we have each other.

And so we scheduled a long chat over coffee and a walk.

Our catch-ups and walks around the neighbourhood of whatever cafe we patronise, always a balm to the soul.

This time, we chose Alba’s in Warren Road – a place that is friendly and serves good coffee and tea. We often visit Alba’s because it is close to home and although popular, we always manage to find a table.

On our walk of the surrounding streets, we noted how many of the gardens and parks are suffering because of the recent 40 plus degree heat.

Others bloomed, thank goodness.

We were saddened to see what had obviously been a wonderful garden, neglected and dying.  A mini orchard in fact with heavily-laden nectarine and pomegranate trees.

Perhaps the original owner has died and new owners wait to sell or build and the large block will go the way of so many others in the suburbs – townhouse or apartment development.

I just hope someone enjoys the benefit of such luscious fruit before the trees are cut down if that’s their fate.

At least the area still had some green space in the form of a lovely little park we walked through to return to Warren Road and Lesley’s car, and a young woman walking her dog was grateful for the shady trees.

The lush foliage made the path a welcome and cool respite from the concrete pavements.

We were grateful many of the streets have retained nature strip trees, probably planted 20-30 years ago because they offered great shade as well as adding beauty to the street. Trees and their shade make a huge difference to comfort as our summers grow warmer.

The Andrews Labor Government is carrying through on its promise of money for pocket parks and that will certainly help create green spaces for every community.

A lecture I attended made this very clear and local council and government ignore the science at their peril.

The last few days of over 40-degree heat prompted several discussions about the importance of shaded streets on Talk-Back radio. let’s hope everyone who can do something to improve the situation will take note!

The City of Melbourne is asking people to register ‘exceptional’ trees that are important or meaningful –

City of Melbourne’s Exceptional Tree Register was adopted by Council in 2012. It enables us to recognise, celebrate and protect the exceptional trees that exist on privately owned or managed land in our city.

Perhaps a tree like this beauty Lesley and I passed – there are plenty still left in suburbia and I hope they remain.

 

Albert Street, Mordialloc

Mairi Neil

Albert Street is quiet today
a heat haze hovers
school students absent
and no U3A
the silence partly explained
by the summer holiday

Cars parked by the train track
left by commuters to the city
who’ll be late back hoping
the hovering haze will disappear
absorbed by night’s veil
and the breeze from Mordy pier

No more horses clip-clop in Mordi –
suburbia stole their stables
Pharlap and others
now picture book fables
the birds departed too – no magpie trill
or noisy minors screeching at will

It’s going to be a scorcher
the weather boffins say
and since many trees axed
the birds flew away – leaving
an uncomfortable silence
as if there’s been foul play

A whisper of wing but
no chittering chatter –
there’s no reason to sing…
an absence of wildlife
accompanies heat haze
passersby seem in a daze…

Rows of houses, rows of cars
silent, sweating, waiting
from sunrise to stars
rows of houses, rows of cars
hot steamy fixtures trapped
behind climate change bars

It’s a scorcher today and
most people avoid the heat
obeying Met Bureau warnings
they desert street after street
surrounded and smothered
by heat-hugging concrete

bless garden sign

I look at my front garden and so many of my trees and plants the result of potted gifts or random cuttings from friends. Now I will have more time (theoretically) to work in the garden I have plans to try and make it even more attractive for passersby because I know how much pleasure I get when I walk around and see beautiful gardens.

We are so lucky in Melbourne. When I travelled through Siberia I can remember some host families exclaiming at pictures of my garden, amazed at plants flourishing that they’d only seen inside, or in books.

When you walk around the streets in many parts of Europe not blessed with our weather, house and apartment windows have flowers on the windowsill or window boxes.

It is easy to understand why they value the beauty of flowers. Their deep long winters make people long for the new life and joy plants represent. Some flowers are almost revered because of the length and severity of the winter and the displays inside shops and public buildings are quite elaborate.

On leaving Irkutsk, I searched the marketplace for a basket of Pussy Willows to leave for my host, as a thank you gift. It was April and those flowers have a cultural as well as seasonal significance, being linked to the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the celebration of Palm Sunday.

In Russia Easter is important, celebrated commercially in much the same way as we do Christmas. Several people in Siberia commented how lucky I was to be in Moscow at Easter because of the decorations and events.

There are no palm branches in Russia; believers traditionally carry pussy willow branches to church. Even although my hosts were not religious they still continued the cultural tradition of decorating their homes at Easter.

Walking the Neighbourhood

Strangers often stop and chat or make comments when I work in the front garden, and I’ve given cuttings to them or let them take flowers for special occasions or just to enjoy at home.

In days gone by, especially pre TV and computer, it was a common pastime for couples or families to walk the neighbourhood in the evening, chat with people still working or watering their garden or perhaps relaxing on verandahs.

When Lesley or I, or my evening walking buddy, Jillian, stroll past apartment blocks, we see balconies utilised by the occasional clothes horse and perhaps an ornamental plant but no people. As density living becomes the norm, the need to have more community gardens and parks will intensify and perhaps greater thought put into the design of buildings.

It is a different world now with different ideas of leisure and relaxation but there is a lot to be gained staying grounded in nature and being accessible to meet neighbours.

It was the tail-end of winter when I stayed in Irkutsk. The buildings were houses built in the much-maligned Stalinist era or just after, yet designed so that people’s paths crossed daily. There was play equipment for children, seats for people to sit and chat and necessary shops close by.

Even in the coldest of mornings, I watched people sweep the paths, put the rubbish in bins and then go off to work or take their children to school.

 

At the corner of Albert Street, Mordialloc, an aged care centre has been built but there is only a carpark seen by the public and no interaction at all unless the carers take residents for a walk.

Occasionally, I see a small walking group of folk from the aged care facility and can imagine their pleasure at being outside and seeing the neighbourhood.

I’m so happy when they pause beside my garden or sit on the seats outside the Allan Mclean Hall and exchange greetings.

 

shoes for chronic pain

A Walk Down Memory Lane
Mairi Neil

On a gloriously sunny day
they venture from the security of Bayside Aged Care
tentative steps into a world sometimes strange and hostile
carers cajole, encourage, guide…
vitamin D burrows into pallid skin

Jasmine and honeysuckle trail over fences, heighten senses
a child’s toy abandoned in a garden stirs a memory
washing flapping on the line, a sound from long ago
a garden bed weeded, ready for spring bulbs
sparks discussion

The ginger cat sprawled across concrete path
raises a curious head before resuming sun-baking
a noisy Jack Russell barks a territorial warning,
snuffles at the fence, wet nose nudging painted palings
the shuffling slippered feet no threat

This occasional stroll more frequent in fine weather
hesitation      pauses
clucks      whispers

silent contemplation…
They admire the rosemary bush at my gate
It’s for remembrance …

Of what?

She remembers lavender perfuming sheets
He sees possums dancing along the power lines
He hears doves cooing goodnight
She hears children demanding attention

And smiling at random thoughts
they remember the warmth of a lover’s embrace
and the cicadas’ serenade…