Friday, April 29, 2011

Not the Royal Wedding

True love ...

Mister Macc and Miss Ming have been through a lot together ...

note the dust on everything

Hope the newly-weds have a long and happy marriage.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Another Inconvenient Truth

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an event should never be awaited too eagerly as the reality will be unable to achieve the mythic anticipation; however Marius and I are escaping for a short break to London.

London I hear you shriek incredulously.  Why not the Maldives, the Himalayas, Venice, Prague or Mumbai? 

The answer is simple: breakfast.

We always stay (courtesy of the corporate rate, there have to be some compensations) at a large anonymous hotel close to the Tube, close-ish to central London, close to a couple of wonderful supermarkets and some interesting musea, where they serve 'breakfast'.  A breakfast to die for and I probably will, of it.  Never mind.  After years of religiously-restricted breakfast choices, we are in for the full, er, hog ...

Huge and anonymous though it may be, the staff in the dining room always greet us by name.  We come regularly, (two or three times a year) but not that often compared to the corporate travellers who must frequent the place monthly.  Is it because we make such pigs of ourselves?  How many sausages can a person eat for breakfast, along with toast, fried mushrooms, eggs, bacon, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, hash browns if you want them, fresh fruit, tea, juice and a small pastry if possible?  Two, but I struggle.  Marius starts with three on the first day or so but he too regulates himself with time.

It sounds so greedy and disgusting:  my mouth is watering already.

To be fair, we don't often eat much else during the day, and not just because we are mean.  Such an imperial breakfast sets you up not only for the morning and the day, but most of the week as well.

They greet us by name because we smile beatifically on them as we get our plates.  We are such chums with the maitre d' that we get special requests like omelettes and kippers.  On one trip we were transporting home a large and precious glass-faced picture and he supplied us with several cardboard boxes from the kitchen, darling man.  He always asks after our offspring - by name - and finds time for a chat amongst his duties.

Even the concierge remembers us, and the doormen.  We have never made a scene, been unpleasant or requested lewd or bizarre services, so I am at a bit of a loss to explain these kindnesses:  you can always tell the difference between a professional welcome and true recognition, because something clears in the face when you are remembered.  Something outside conscious control or awareness, probably.  It is like a smile-within-a-smile.

We are quite boring.  The first evening after we arrive, we go to the local Singaporean place and relive memories of Nonya food from our days in Malaysia.  And we eat pork.    We have a round of favourite pubs and little restaurants we visit, almost invariably ordering the same dishes as last time.  People smile at us.  We can order wine or beer and nobody cares.

It is wonderful.

I feel confident in allowing the anticipation to build as I am confident there will be breakfast, there will be Nonya food, there will be pepperoni on the pizzas and mushy peas with the fish and chips.  All the other aspects of being in London are bonuses.

So, anticipation ... seven sleeps to go ...


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Battle Within

I am absolutely determined this 'adjunct blog' (nice phrase courtesy of Susan T...) is not going to become a record of my hospital life;  however, I feel a little guilty as not much will  get posted this week (has been posted) because this is the regular week from hell. 

My fairly quiet and restricted life consists of: get up at 5 am, wash what I can, eat, be driven to the hospital, get stabbed and infused for five hours, get driven home, drink several cups of tea and sleep for the afternoon.  And then do it all again ...

I took some surreptitious pictures from my bed with my phone:

Thursday is day 5 and I won't have to go for three weeks!


Monday, April 25, 2011

ANZAC DAY - 96th Anniversary

We got up at 4 am this morning to attend the memorial observations of ANZAC Day.  A few devoted people organise this event every year, inviting representatives from the Australian, New Zealand, British and Turkish governments.  Despite the hour - the ceremony begins at 4.45 to meet the dawn, and to mark the time of the landings - there is always a good crowd.  I think, more than anything else, observing ANZAC Day makes us feel part of Australia, regardless of where we are.

A brief history - in 1915, the Turks held the Dardanelles, preventing the British and her allies from entering the Black Sea.  Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, authorised an assault at Gallipoli.  Intelligence was poor, navigation worse, and strategy seemingly non-existent:  some 11,000 British, Australian and New Zealand officers and men were killed or wounded on the first day of the campaign.

It was also a dreadful day for the Ottoman Empire, who lost around 14,000 men on 25th April, 1915.

The ceremony here follows the same pattern each year, including a reading by a Turkish official, of words by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and a commander of Ottoman troops at Gallipoli himself, at an ANZAC Day service held at Gallipoli in 1934 :

Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives...
you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You the mothers
who sent their sons from far away countries
wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now living in our bosom
and are in peace.
Having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well.

There are the traditional laying of wreaths, the Last Post, and the minute's silence, followed by breakfast.  As most of the attendees are headed for work, we do not observe the other traditions of two-up and beer, sadly.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon 'For the Fallen'


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Pink Floyd Story

I think it is very quiet in the blogsphere this weekend, so it is safe to post another cat story without alienating my myriad followers and secret readers, eh?

In Exile-land it is usually best to do things early in the day, before the heat builds up or the traffic.  As Saturday is the only day the shops are open and Marius is home, there is always a bit of a scramble to decide what we will do.

There is the temptation to stay in bed and do nothing but drink tea and snooze, but usually we resist that impulse.  Marius almost always gets up at about 5.30 on the weekends - which is 'sleeping in' for him, while I lollop in bed for oooh, a good hour longer.  As promised, this morning I went for a swim - my second this year.

We like to swim early before the sun is on the pool and before it is full of er, young persons.  It is a huge, crescent-shaped pool, probably visible from space if you happen to be up there, but very awkward to swim laps in.  If there are young persons playing, there is no clear area for them away from the serious swimmers, and they do seem to lack courtesy. 

I like to have the pool to myself and this morning we were lucky, it was empty when we arrived just before 7, and empty when we left just before 8.  Well, empty of other humans.  Pink Floyd, the uninvited lodger, followed us to the pool and stayed to life-guard while we swam.  He mooched off to explore the gardens for a bit, and followed a pigeon who came for a drink, but otherwise, he sat under one of the sun loungers close to the side of the pool and meowed to me as I splashed about.


Pink Floyd yesterday at the pool

We first met Floyd last October, as a young-ish kitten.  He was waiting in our car port one evening when we had been to the shops.  He was very friendly, thin, and talkative.  I thought the other orphan cats must have told him we were a good touch because he was quite sure it was our house he'd been sent to occupy.  I took him up to the corner of the street to feed him some crunchies, which he wolfed into with great enthusiasm, but when I started to walk home, he abandoned the food to follow me and weave himself around my ankles.  I went back and stood over him and his food so that he would eat it.  He was far too thin to be leaving food for Mr Manners.  

Pink Floyd October 2010

Floyd stayed around for a couple of weeks, accompanying us on walks, enjoying our largesse and sleeping on our door mat.  He stood up to passing dogs and held his ground against the local tomcat bullies:  plucky for such a small chap.  He was pleasant to everybody.  And persistent in his attempts to sneak into our house and meet our cats.

He disappeared as suddenly as he'd appeared.  Marius was sure that being such a sweet friendly cat, someone had given him a home - or he'd found his way back to the place he'd arrived from.  Gradually we stopped looking for him, and forgot about him as we were quite occupied with other dramas.

About a month or so ago, we took a different route for our evening stroll, and walked in an area we hadn't been to for ages.  As we turned to come home, a ginger cat came streaking past us, then stopped and meowed.  Marius said, I think that's Pink Floyd.  He looked well, not too thin, no injuries or wounds, nice and clean .  He was more wary than he used to be, and quite a bit bigger.  We were pleased that Marius seemed to have been right - he'd found a home.

Well, he may have found a home, but having been reunited with us, he promptly forgot where that home was, and has taken up residence on our door step again. 

Some people on the compound have been known to adopt cats - or bring cats with them - and when it is time for them to leave, have decided that finding new homes for their pets or taking them back home is just too much trouble.  Some of the 'orphans' we've fed have definitely been some body's pet, once upon a time.

We don't know if that is what has happened to Floyd.  We don't know if he has wandered too far and got lost, got tired of his new home or if it got tired of him.  We've taken him for walks back to the area he re-joined us in, hoping to jog his memory about home, or that someone would recognise him and claim him, to no avail.

I don't feed him a lot.  I hope he'll get hungry or frustrated with the short rations and go home.   In the mornings when I walk Marius to the bus, Floyd is on the door step, trying to get it.  He starts meowing through the door when he hears us getting ready.  He's waiting when Marius returns, 12 hours later.

Sometimes  he jumps on to the kitchen window sill and talks to our two cats through the window:

Sometimes he simply sits and looks lonely.  Do you know anyone who would like a nice ginger boy?


Friday, April 22, 2011

Long Weekends Everywhere Else

Welcome to your holidays you lot.  In Britain you are starting an 'enforced' break of - is it 11 days? - to enjoy spring, rebirth and the sacrifice of a not-quite-so-young bride.  In Australia, because of the late Easter, ANZAC Day coincides with the long weekend, making it a five day 'super' weekend.  I bet the supermarkets are empty and the highways full.  In North America you are also enjoying an Easter break, as will many parts of the rest of the world.  Lucky you.

Here it is an ordinary weekend of Friday/Saturday, standard fare. 

It is starting to heat up.  The temperature under our car-port showed 27 at about 7 am.  Yesterday it hit 40 while I was out.

This morning Marius went for his swim:

I came along for the walk.  I am only just able to swim again - which I love - but am still a little wary of getting out of the pool.  I'll probably swim tomorrow morning.  Well, swim is possibly an exaggeration as I have to be careful not to be too enthusiastic and wreck myself, as it were.

I had company sitting in the shade, as I was escorted by my friend Ratty and our uninvited lodger Pink Floyd.  They would never normally come up by the pool if there were people around, I'm sure, but they both seem to be besotted with me (nice to have a fan club even if I do bribe them) and tend to follow me around if I am out and about.

Ratty, formerly known as Black Ears
We have known Ratty since last September I think.  Until then, we had a little cafe in the clubhouse, and the chef used to feed both the birds and the wild cats with scraps from his kitchen.  Then unexpectedly, the cafe closed and there was no one to feed the strays, which is where muggins here stepped in.  There was Ratty and his little side kick, Little Guy, who was tiny.  Our number one cat Miss Ming, was once a starving stray, smaller than my hand but over 6 months old, and although I wrestle with the ethics of it all, I can't bear to see animals suffer, or cats starve. 

We began donating the odd bit of left-over fish or uneaten cat food to the pair of them, and gradually took over their nourishment with cat-crunchies.  Ratty and LG always hung out together, slept curled up together and rubbed each others' heads.  They would run along the road to greet us, calling to each other, tails up, and then run back to where we fed them, tails entwined, rubbing their shoulders together and their bodies.

LG was always Little Guy until I started to suspect she might be Little Girl - a suspicion that has been confirmed.  Until recently, they were always there and always together, sometimes with others, but they were the faithful ones.  Once Ratty disappeared for a few days and LG was quite bereft and lost without him.  We were all pleased when he returned from his adventures.  Now LG seems to have taken up with one of her boyfriends - a raffish black panther creature - and we don't see her any more.

To begin with, these wild cats were wary of us, happy to be fed but not touched.  Then cold-hearted Marius set to work to break them, taking several scratches, but now they love pats and cuddles and purr quite contentedly.  They even leave their food to come for walks if they think they haven't had enough patting attention.

There is a separate story for Pink Floyd - which I will save for another day.  Suffice to say he and Ratty seem to be making friends:  they will always be joined by jealousy.

Ratty keeps Pink Floyd away


Thursday, April 21, 2011


I was chased by a black landcruiser this morning as I drove across for my physio.  Toyota landcruisers are the vehicle of choice here; usually white, and usually V8 super powerful monsters. 

Sorry, petrol is very cheap (about the same as bottled drinking water).  It costs us about $12 Australian (roughly as exchange rates are all over the place currently) to fill the tank from half- full.  Cheap petrol means huge beasts of vehicles are cheap to run and they are often used as toys.  Sometime I will figure out how to take a picture of the rubber calligraphy that is left on the roads after the boys have been out playing, without risking my life.

We have seen some amazing, frightening stunts on the roads, and in this case I am not talking about bad, dangerous driving which can be heart-stopping enough.  It is not uncommon to see a landcruiser circling a roundabout on two wheels.  One evening we saw a young chap pull out of a side road at about 100 km/hr and spin down the busy road, also up on two wheels.  At the time we thought he had simply lost control driving too fast, but with experience I realise it was a deliberate show of bravura and, er, skill.

When driving there are bullies who think they own the road - not that unusual anywhere, to be fair - but here if you are ahead of them, they will race up behind you, flash their lights, drive on your bumper and honk until you clear out of the way.  It can be very intimidating.  Somtimes this happens even if there is a slower vehicle in front and say a bus lumbering on beside you.  No where to go but still the onslaught of aggression.

This is what happened to me this morning.  The black landcruiser had all its windows blacked out with heavy tinting - even the front windscreen.  I could see nothing from my rearvision mirror but black glass.  It could have been controlled remotely, or driven by a robot, an alien, or a child.  Very menacing.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mating Season

It is mating season for the peacocks;  it always seems to be mating season.  They scream and call throughout the night, challenging each other, shadows, suspicious looking  trees and windows.  I've never seen two peacocks fight, but I have seen them square up to their own reflections.  One challenger was in the shiny bumper of a neighbour's car.  The peacock kept staring at it, stepping back, then returning with a lance-like beak.  I don't think they are terribly bright birds, for all their finery and lumbering bulk.

The noise they make is penetrating and sounds like babies being tortured, or cats crying.

One of the mature males has a magnificent tail about twice or three times his body length.  I haven't seen him display yet this year, but I will try to get some photos to show you.  When they have a female cornered, they rattle their long tail feathers and strut back and forth.  I think it is the noise as much as the feathers that mesmerise the poor unsuspecting hens.

This is not a good photo as it was taken at dusk, but you can see how long his tail is, relative to his body.

They are beautiful, majestic, of irriedescent gleaming blue and green and I never tire of watching them.  They are also destructive beasts, messy and threatening if cornered.  Luckily they are also cowards.

They like to forage in groups and are often about on the street:

The one with the blue neck is an immature male, who hasn't yet grown his tail (maybe next year).  The frumpish ones in the background are females.

Some how they remind me of Virginia Woolf's extended essay Three Guineas  where she exhibits the male species in all his fancy robes, dressing up.  Of course the females have better camouflage, as do the chicks.   Perhaps survival is more important than finery?


Another juvenile male, with an embarrassing stump of a tail.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Tim asked a very good question:  does the current post feel like a hardship assignment?

To be honest, I am not sure that 'real life' wouldn't feel equally like hardship.  I've done this for what feels like so long (current stint 11 years) that I have forgotten what it might feel like to be settled. 

When I am home in Australia staying with my elderly parents, I have to guard against my impulse to buy groceries as if facing the siege.  Here, and on previous posts, groceries are problematical.  Things appear in the shop in reasonable quantities and then disappear, never to be seen again.   I remember once waiting for six months for worcestershire sauce to be restored to me.  Although the varierty has improved, one French chain of supermarkets has enormous shops the size of hangers, with whole aisles, from foot to ceiling, ten or more metres, of the same thing:  same brand, same size, same close-date-expiry.  The worst is the search for edible fruit and vegetables ... but oh that has to be another post.

Marius has a great job, satisfying, demanding, interesting:  world leading in his field.  We've past the nest egg stage, and really, we are not into a wardrobe of fast cars, gold bangles and designer everything.  We are very fortunate, financially, I know.  We can afford to go on nice holidays and stay at decent places, but again we don't do much of the 5-star stuff.

We pay, emtionally, through the nose, as you would have gathered.  The biggest external hardship though, is the medical system, and for me that is a real problem.  I have an exceedingly rare (1-10 in 1 million) disease that nobody knows how to treat, and I have been in more hospitals and seen more doctors than you can count.  The medical system here is good, virtually free and ...  oh god, impossible.  I have monthly infusions of immunoglobulin in a room that looks like a scene from a newscast about a suicide bombing, where they bring the dead and dying in on wheelbarrows, only without the blood and body parts.  There are twenty of us packed into a four-bed room, some on stretchers, the sick ones in hospital beds (lucky me), in arm chairs, in wheel chairs and waiting room type chairs.  I share a drip stand ...  strangely, the room is mixed, with a dividing curtain.  I have been promoted now and I usually get to be with the ladies.  Waiting rooms for clinics, pathology, emergency, are all segregated, so if my husband brings me, we either stand together in a corridor, or he has to wait outside.  If he ever has to bring me to emergency, we haven't worked out what we will do, because men are not allowed in to the ladies' emergency, at all.

Sorry, I'm ranting.

Yes, I guess you would call it a hardship posting, but there are much worse ones that I will never try:  we have an agreement.


Censorship or something

Whew ...  that was odd.  A little while ago, I sent an email from my gmail account to Elisabeth - more as an experiment than anything else.  I didn't think about it, but it was the first email I had sent from that account, er, here.

Immediately following my pressing 'send', my account turned to squiggle writing, and closed.  I tried to access my blogger dashboard and it had turned to squiggle writing too.   Ah, I thought, I know the answer, switch everything off and try again ...  which I did.  I got a message from 'g   gle' saying there had been suspicious activity on my account and they would have to verify me.  Send my phone number for a new code ...   which I really didn't want to do.

When I first set up Isabel's accounts I'd had the same problem and managed to circumvent it by asking Prima (number 1 daughter) to set it all up for me in Australia, without needing to use a telephone verification code.  Do you have to give a phone number to set up an email account where you are?

I have been rescued - clearly as I am able to write this - as Primus (number 1 son) logged in to my gmail account at home and was happy to give his telephone number to the authorities.   Having appeased the snoop-gods I won't make the same mistake again:  no more emails from me.

If I suddenly disappear again, it is most likely I have crossed some cyber-boundary inadvertently ...  or I have been thrown in jail.


Sunday, April 17, 2011


The weather remains quite indifferent here in Exile-land.  The sun is trying to shine through the broken clouds this afternoon.  This may seem ordinary to you, but for us, clouds are a rarity.  Our skies have generally two conditions in the daylight:  hazy blue or heavily veiled (with dust and pollution).  On my first post I showed a photo of white ice-creamish  cumulus clouds building before a rare downpour.  You may not have realised how rare they were, or why I would bother taking a photo of them. 

One of my favourite opening lines, from a novel I read about 35 years ago, the title of which escapes me:  the sky was the colour of cold porridge.   (It was set in Spain and featured an elderly Rolls Royce, if any one can help me.)  This morning the sky was definitely porridge-like, shaking out fat drops of rain as I escorted Marius to his bus at 5.45.  I even wore a light rain jacket against the wet, although it was so humid when I took the jacket off the inside was as wet as the outside.   

I am famous and hated amongst the wives because of my early morning escort job  (the only reason they would know is because the husbands must report on my devotion).  They think I must get up and cook Marius breakfast and pack his lunch, but their estimations of my virtue are well beyond the mark.  I stumble out of bed and put my clothes on and sometimes I open the curtains downstairs, but that is the limit to my efforts.  We don't talk much - safer before 6 am, don't you agree?  We hold hands but that is more to keep me steady than romance.  No, it is romance too.  We always have a passionate goodbye kiss at the last corner, in front of the guards.  This is party motivated by a genuine feeling of farewell, and partly to thumb our joint noses as it were, at the authorities, because kissing in public is illegal. 

I walk the long way back home.  The jacaranda are flowering on a few front lawns:

We have a jacaranda on our footpath at home-home, so seeing them flower always gives me a bit of a wrench.

Then I turn the corner for the walk along the back of the golf course, where the peacocks live.  It is a bit grim, don't you think?

Along the way, I usually meet Ratty and LG, but they will have to wait for another day.

I am beseiged by workmen wanting to service the air conditioning units, the lights, and the supervisors checking up on the supervised.  There is a new maintenance contract in place, with a keen (and pleasant) manager.  Perhaps things will look up?


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Rain Goddess is here

The other day I wrote that a friend had visitors, including one lady who is known as the rain goddess.  She last visited these parts two years ago, and yes it rained then too.

This morning Marius was unwilling to go for his swim - it is only 21 (!) very windy and wet.  He maintains it will fine up and he will go for his swim in an hour or two (it is Friday, remember, the 'weekend').

I mentioned the lack of drains and the propensity for flooding.  I didn't mention the slurry of muck that results from the rain washing through the dusty air and mixing with the dusty layers which coat everything.  It is revolting.

The cats are annoyed because it is too wet to sit in the garden. They keep going to the door, mooching around and coming back in shaking a disgusted paw.  They look accusingly at me, as if to say, what have you done to us?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Politics in Exile-land

I feel constrained in my ability to write openly about life here – I mean wider life as opposed to my hortus inclusus.  You may be aware of some upheaval in public life in the region over the last few months.  This has understandably made officials even more twitchy than they usually are.  You may be aware that electronic media are surveyed and noted. You may be aware that all phone calls are recorded and that any deliveries – packages or post by private courier – are opened, x-rayed and examined.  Or none of that may have occurred to you. 

These are some of the reasons I don’t use names and places, so as not to attract the attention of any automatic data scanners.  I don’t want to become a person of interest, even remotely.  I am uneasy.

There are several layers of meaning and message in communications, we all know that.  We have learnt to view news reports with a certain amount of scepticism, with questions and judgement, searching for the underlying truth. 

The newspapers here are different from the ones you may be familiar with because they serve a different purpose.  These include the circulation of funds and patronage, maintaining ties or signalling a disjuncture in established relations.  There are always photographs – touchingly edited or enhanced – of the leadership team, almost always on the front page.  There are self-congratulatory stories of achievement, of awards you’ve never heard of and never will again, admonishments to the falling or fallen, and bizarre reports of commercial activities.  These latter would be called advertorials in most journals, here they are hard news.

There is no published dissent, no planning disputes, no differing views of policy, no investigations. A strong theme pervades the news though - money and everything it can buy.

Often, the outcomes of legal proceedings are presented.  I am not a lawyer and do not follow legal process;  even I am alarmed at the conclusions drawn, the evidence accepted, the decisions reached and the sentences passed.  There are many messages buried in both the events recorded and the recording of them.  Certain groups are identified as culprits openly while others are whispered only when their identification cannot be avoided. 

I have learnt to read the paper through half-closed eyes, squinting to find the truth in its columns.

Recently there was much celebration because of a future sporting spectacular.  Understandably, there is international interest in the country, its people, its money and its politics.  I read online newspapers regularly, as does my son, on the other side of the world.  It was a coincidence that we discussed the front page of a particular paper that we had both been reading that day.  What I read, a glowing profile of an important person, did not appear at all, on the site he saw.  Instead, he read a critical review of a news organisation and its links to foreign policy.  Subtle and only discoverable by chance.

I cannot write safely about politics, there are no politics.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Some treats in the garden

After my miserable display of the suburb I live in (Much Grimness), I decided to show you some of my flowers.

Note the dust on the leaves:

This one is the arbus incognitus, which we call the 'tryffid tree'.  When you go the nursery, also know as the plant souq, there is often a significant language barrier, and most plants do not have labels.  We liked the colour so we pointed and haggled:

After all my lamentations on Written in Exile about the dearth of rain in these parts (What we dream of in the desert), the heavens obliged this afternoon and we had one of our rare 5 minute thunderstorms.  I suspect the reason is that a friend of mine has visitors, one of whom is reputed to be the rain goddess, for obvious reasons.

Look, rain drops on the fountain:

Perhaps that is not convincing, so here are rain drops on the umbrella:

The rain will wash the dust off the leaves so tomorrow morning the garden should be sparkling.

The rain is so rare and generally light that there is no infrastructure to cope with it.  Any road drains (very few exist) are not located at the low point, so roads and roundabouts flood.  The dust combines with grease and rain to make the road surface slippery, awash with ball bearings, if that is not a metaphor too mixed. There will be more crashes and prangs and slow trips home from work this evening.


Monday, April 11, 2011


My wonderful parent sends cultural care packages to me about once a month.  The news is slightly dated (I just look at the pictures, right?)  I haven't told you yet that we have no postal service here.

The wonderful parent collects the magazines and papers for me, then wanders up to the local office of oil-exploitation international  and hands over a fat envelope of goodies.  In due course, the envelope arrives in Exile-land, where it spends some weeks in custody before it eventually makes its way to the office of Marius, and he drags it home to me, darling man.

Yesterday he brought an obese envelope (only vaguely searched this time) home, containing the Limelight issue for April, a couple of London Reviews of Books, and an Engineering journal  (sorry, old habits die hard).

I began to drool over the Limelight at lunch time.  I have to take my time so that I don't use up all my goodies at once, you know.  Limelight is a monthly magazine produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which began life as the companion to ABC Classic FM, and has now morphed into a useful arts review for the whole country, with an emphasis on classical music, but not restricted to it.

In the April editorial, Francis Merson writes about the difference between classical music and other types, and apologises for sounding like an elitist snob.  He says "try sitting alone in a darkened room for an hour and doing nothing but listening to, say, Lady Gaga ...  When you turn off the senses extrinsic to listening, classical music comes into its own.  Just using your ears" .

The reason I mention this is because I read  Tim Jones' s post

about a speculative/horror/fantasy collection, the other day, and left a comment that it wasn't for me.  He replied:  "I discovered from a little informal poll I conducted on Twitter last week that a surprising number of people have the same horrified reaction to the thought of reading poetry that you (more understandably) have to the thought of reading horror fiction. 'Tis passing strange.  "

When I read the editorial about classical music, I wondered if poetry reading has a similar problem, that people don't stop to listen to the words and block out everything else.

Merson contiues "It's a challenge, for me at least, to do nothing but listen.  You need to set aside time for it.  You need to concentrate on the music alone (and not on your next deadline).  But when it works, you open yourself up to the transcendent ecstasy good music can bring ...  So perhaps it's not so much what you listen to, but whether you listen at all."

Not intending to sermonise, I thought perhaps the two were related:  if we don't listen properly to poetry, give ourselves over to it entirely, we don't open ourselves up to the potential experience.

Next time I will try to draw parallels between poetry and traffic models ...


Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Landscape

Yesterday afternoon, we went to the local shopping centre to buy a few groceries (this endeavour will be the subject of a future complaint ... ) and I took my camera with me specifically for you.  I wanted to show a little of the environment so that you wouldn't think I was making it all up.

This is the outside of our compound.  I am not allowed to photograph the security entrance, complete with chicanes, iron gates, vehicle blockers, security cameras and guards.  In spite of this high presence of supervision, we have had problems with theft and burglary.

Note the veritable forest ...

I am not going to belabour the point. 

We try to time our journeys to avoid the traffic.  Partly because Marius does not like traffic, and partly because it is dangerous.  We have one of the highest road fatality rates in the world.  I took this picture through the front windscreen, on the way to the shops. It is not typical because there is no traffic and not much rubbish.  Note the brightly coloured houses (there is a law regulating colour choice to various shades of beige) and the beautiful front lawns.

I don't know how they got away with the red gate - it is probably undercoat.  The trees are hidden away behind walls, covered in dust.   The coloured shrub past the gate is bougainvillea, which is a hardy vine that seems to survive the heat.

When we moved in to our house the yard consisted of rough grass and a couple of spindly bush/tree things.  In order to compensate for the moon-like landscape outside, we dreamt of a hortus inclusus within.  Now I understand the Biblical focus of paradise as an enclosed garden.   We constructed a fountain (this is what happens with two engineers) to create a bubbling backdrop of sound, which is drowned out by the groan of air-conditioners, sadly; and planted bougainvilleas, jasmine, oleanders, hibiscus, ornamental grasses, papyrus and our arbus incognitus the 'tryffid tree'.

It is not quite Gardener's World, but it is a haven away from the rubble.  In the early morning, I sit at the table and write, drink tea and commune with the cats.   In another month or less, it will be too hot and too humid to sit outside at all.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday in the Dust Capital of the World

I need to explain weekends in Exile-land, they are not what you might think.  It took months for us to work them out, but roughly this is how they go:

Thursday night is Friday night;
Friday morning is old-fashioned Sunday morning;
Friday afternoon is Sunday afternoon;
Friday night is Saturday night;
Saturday is Saturday; but
Saturday night is Sunday night ...

and Sunday is back to work, which really hurts when the rest of the world is playing golf or whatever.

Surprisingly, having Friday off is not that difficult to get used to.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Patience [sic]

I set off at 6.13 this morning and entered the “car park” at 6.27, which was not bad going really.  (Another example of my time exclusion theory of traffic, ie there are times it is impossible to arrive at a destination – you can leave at say 6.13 and arrive at 6.27, but if you left at 6.20 you wouldn’t arrive until 6.40 – it is impossible to arrive at 6.30.)  The majority of the route is sign-posted at 100 km/h, although I think that is too fast for the road environment and the traffic level.  I usually hover between 80 and 90 km/h.

The delays occur at the roundabouts, where most of the smashes occur too.  Sadly, they are generally not low speed crashes, as oncoming or “interfering” traffic seems to encourage a race to the death; and inspires acts of blinding stupidity and aggression.

My appointment isn’t until “after 7 am”, when the physiotherapy department opens.  If I don’t arrive by 6.30, there are no legal parking places left, certainly none under shade cloth.  Shady parking spaces are a premium and necessary.  The thermometer outside the kitchen window showed 24 at 5.15, which is cooler than yesterday, and today it is not as humid.  Too hot for the hour if you ask me, but I know it will only get worse:  we were blessed with an extended “winter” this year as it is only now heating up.  In past years it is usually 45 during the day by now.

I think I have been itching to write about Exile-land, to get it off my chest, as it were.  The last two poems I posted on Written in Exile  were definitely linked to this urge.  ‘Should I Disrobe?’  I think I answered yesterday here.  I would like to say a few words about ‘Flamenco Boy’.

I expect I will write quite a bit about two non-human sorts of creatures (safer really as I am less likely to offend them): cats and peacocks.  I live with two cats who own me, two street cats from Malaysia who will have a starring role in a future post no doubt.  I am not a mad “cat lady”.  Well, I might be, but I am not admitting to it.  Let me say at this point that there are several orphaned cats who live on or near the compound.

I am not, emphatically, a “peacock person”.  Before we moved here, I was dimly aware of peacocks as donors of fine feathers and having somewhat cranky natures.  Now we seem to be intimates.  One morning on my walk I counted 19 (nineteen) marching up the road in the opposite direction – a flock of peacocks, peahens and indeterminate juveniles.  They usually wander in smaller groups of two, or three or five.  They often visit the garden to hunt for peacock grub in amongst my plants.  They parade along the top of the walls, or recline on my scrap of patio and sometimes they poke their heads in through the back door – if I haven’t got there fast enough to close it. 

My cats do not like them.  The smaller one stands her ground as if to say ‘You may be big, but you are a bird.  I am a cat.  This is my garden.  Prepare to die!’  Not that she has ever tried to take one on.  The big cat runs inside and hides under a chair.

The peacock that illustrates ‘Flamenco Boy’ was tapping on my bedroom window one day a few years ago, challenging his reflection to a duel.  Afterwards I noticed there was blood on the glass where he’d hit himself.  I tried to get his picture but only caught up with him in the street.  I like the way the photo captures his swinging tail and his lifting feet;  otherwise it is quite grainy and rough.  (I do not consider myself a photographer by any means.  Technology simply frustrates me.)

It is nearly time to go in.

There are cars circling looking for a parking place and people pull up beside me and glare when I shake my head to say ‘No, I’m not leaving, sorry.’


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Introducing: Living in Exile

Bienvenue, Salamat datang, Welcome, Sala'am ...

Come in and close the door.  Make yourself comfortable.  I have something to tell you.

I have been pondering about my blog Written in Exile for a few weeks, considering if I am too distant from its pages and from my readers.  Hmmmm ...  how much to disclose?  how much to reveal?  Written in Exile is my public face.  Living in Exile will be my private one.

I need to warn you, this blog will be full of complaint, whingeing and misery.  I will try to say some cheerful things too, but an awful lot of it will be moans about the weather, the lack of bacon, decent bookshops and ...  probably I won't be able to resist the medical system.

I thought perhaps you would be interested to know a little of what it is like to live in Exile-land.  If I have visited your pages, you will probably have a pretty good idea where I am.  A little imagination will tell you otherwise.

I am an intensely private person, in person - you might say painfully shy hiding behind the pretense of politeness and bonhomie - but if you glance at me unawares, you will see me frozen to the spot, cup dangling from my hand, desperately trying to find something to say and someone to say it to.  On the page, however, I am ebullient, gregarious, friendly and at ease.  Even tautological.

I live in a small community where everybody is bored and entertains themselves with gossip and envy.  I have a wonderful husband and gorgeous young adult offspring - it is these people, as well as that awkward physical person, that I need to protect from my online goofiness.  So, sorry if it offends, but I am sticking to the pseudonym and will most likely not show my visage to you.  Don't worry, 'Isabel Doyle' is pretty close to who I am regardless of my passport.

Which brings me to another difficulty - which passport?  I am one of the few people alive I imagine, who thanks to an accident of birth can legally claim three passports, none of which the 'authorities' can deny me. 

I usually travel - for all official purposes anyway - on my Australian one.  In it, I have my full name.  It also has a number of visas from countries where I have lived.  Here in Exile, they struggle with western names.  Mine has an apostrophe after an initial letter.  My visa here has dropped the apostrophe (a sad common occurence in these computer times) and the first letter.  Let us say it is a 'D'  as in D'Este for example.  If your name was D'Este, you would probably think of yourself filed alphabetically under 'D' wouldn't you?  Without the apostrophe and the initial letter, here you would be filed under 'E'.  Any official contact I have, they ask for my name, ask me to spell it, and then can neither understand me nor find it - because to them, I don't start with 'D'.

Even my credit card is bizarre:  it has one name on it  - one of my middle names.  Have you ever tried to complete a credit card form with only one name?  I cheat and repeat it:  Isabel Isabel.  It usually works.

See?  I am complaining already.

I thought, after enjoying some of the lovely photos on other people's blogs - eyes stretching across moorlands, feathery fields, mountain ranges and beaches - I should show you some from Exile.  There actually aren't a lot because it is hard to compose a shot of grey dust, rubble and beige buildings with nary a tree in sight.  I will search for something with colour.  Soon.

Look!  Clouds!

And the trees suggest I am a liar - I assure you these are the only trees in the country!