A Day at the Races

I got to be a lay-dee yesterday.  Tra-la!

This is my oldest brother, Shaun. He took me with him to a corporate function at the races. It was lavish and lovely. The people were so nice and I chatted away until my voice was completely gone.  So today I am ordering lemon and ginger tea via sign language!

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We were hosted by Swire Shipping, with whom my brother does a lot of work. He ships modular hotels around the place on their ships. Swire Shipping is over 200 years old, and have had an enormous impact on the development of Australasia and the Pacific. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with people about my childhood home of Papua New Guinea. Swire and their affiliate businesses are heavily involved in that region, and many of them know my hometown, Lae, because they have lived there too.

The Grand Hyatt in Melbourne was our base.  I loved the marble bathroom, what a beautiful stone to walk on! So soft and satiny. I felt like Queen Rach just going to the bathroom!  The day started very early for me, with rollers in the hair, scarf on top and down to their award winning buffet breakfast. I felt a little conspicuous in my rollers and scarf, but nobody batted an eyelid.  The service and food at the Grand Hyatt were incomparable. I thought the breakfast smoothie bar was super cute!

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Back in the bathroom I tackled the face thing. I was worried that my makeup wouldn’t last the distance of a whole day at the races, in the 25 degree heat. Melbourne really put on a cracker day for it! But I needn’t have been concerned. Our venue had a ‘pamper room’ where we could go for perfume spritzing, hair and makeup touch-ups. It was so lah-dee-dah!  The area where our function room was located was lined with the most incredible gardens. It was a riot of overblown blooms and colour, colour, colour. Beautiful women sashaying around everywhere in the most incredible fascinators and dresses.  Just breathtaking, really. What an event the Victorian Derby is!  Like nothing I have ever experienced.

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My beautiful jacket and dress (by Chocolat) made me feel elegant without sacrificing comfort. It was the perfect thing, so breezy and pretty!

I’ve never been to the races before, so I had to learn about betting and sweeps. Our venue had a great view across the track and we had a bookie in the area with us for last minute bets. My brother, who has good instincts, did well with his betting, finishing far better off than his outlay. I bet the princely sum of $10 each way on Highlad. He came in last, of course. But I didn’t feel at all unlucky, waiters and waitresses swished around with trays of finger food and replenished my PIMMS whenever I needed them to. Then it was sweepstake time and one of my horses came in!  That won me a ticket for the major sweepstake, and I won a very cool prize!  One of those action camera thingies that you attach to your head and video stuff. It even works under water!  I was so chuffed! And slightly tiddly by then… so you know, effusive in my joy!

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The horses were so magnificent. I can finally see why horse racing is the thing it is all over the world. It is a celebration of the extreme beauty and power of these extraordinary animals. I can see how they have come to represent so much in powerful circles. It’s not just the money they make for their owners and trainers, it is who they are. They are elite athletes and the sight of them, in person, thundering down that track is exhilarating! It was nothing like the TAB TV’s blaring out of dingy shops on the street, it was classy, compelling action.

My little pair of flats in my handbag were complete genius.  I walked back in comfort to our coach, feeling terribly sorry for all the ladies inching their way painfully along the track in their stilettos. It was a brilliant day and I loved it so much. Thanks so much bro, for flying me over to be your plus-one. Thanks Swire Shipping, for a beautiful couple of days in the big smoke. It was great to meet you all!

Event in Australia? 10 Packing Hacks

I love noise cancelling headphones!

I am flying Virgin Australia over to Melbourne and my hubster lent me his pair. They actually do completely, remove all the noise! No engine noise/ air conditioner/ people. I’m plugged into the inflight sound system, so I can still hear announcements, but most of the time I am listening to Gordi. Have you heard this beautiful song? I usually dread the feeling of being stuck in a tin can hurtling through the sky with hundreds of strangers. But today I am cocooned in my own little audio bubble. It’s beautiful.

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now someone just needs to invent smell-cancelling nose plugs!

My brother rang last week to see if I might be interested in going to the races with him. It’s a two day corporate thing and his lovely wife couldn’t attend with him. Lucky me, I’m going in her place!

I get to attend the races for the first time ever!  Derby Day is an important part of the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne and the theme is Black and White. I am all set; my hatbox stashed in the overhead locker.  Sacred Elixir and Highlad, GO you good things!

I’ll be away for four days, just a wee trip across the ditch.
We kiwis travel across to Australia a lot, and many of us have family there. At some stage, you may find yourself heading off for an event too.  Weddings, funerals, parties, conferences, concerts.
Here are my packing tips for a weekend event across the ditch:

1. Curate your outfits so that you are not taking unnecessary items. A lot of people don’t like to decide ahead of time what they are going to wear, but for any international trip (and with luggage allowances what they are)  it really matters that you don’t overpack. Pare down to one outfit per activity and one extra for flexibility.  Choose a jacket that can do double duty with more than one outfit.

2. Plan your wardrobe. I often draw a little sketch of each days outfits because my brain works better that way. This time though, I took photos because I wanted them for this post… then it was easy to stitch them together into one image on my phone.  I reckon not having to think about what to wear is a holiday in itself… almost as good as not having to think about what to cook for dinner!

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3. Coordinate your packlist. It helps me when everything is matchy-matchy. Less variety, sure, but it means that I can change things up easily with less items and limits the number of shoes I need.  This weekend, I’m following the Derby Day theme and packing mostly black-and-white with a few splashes of green..

4. Predict the inevitable. If you have one, use a wheely cabin bag. Mine was just about empty on the way over, in fact, I carried my handbag in it. The cabin bag gives you extra space beyond your suitcase, just in case you (oops!) slip into the shops accidentally and need to bring things home. It would be rude not to…

5. Hydrate on the plane. For some reason, airplane air systems desire to suck all the moisture from my hair and face. I usually arrive looking more like a sultana than myself.  I first found 1 Above flight water on my way over to Sydney for a shoot last year. It’s incredible stuff. I buy the tablets rather than the bottles so I have enough for the return trip.  One turns 500ml of water into the smartest hydration juice for travellers. One tablet’s worth should be consumed over 2.5 hours, so I needed two for my flight.  They come in packs of 4 or 10. Incidentally, it also makes for outstanding hangover juice.  Just in case your event includes merrymaking!

6. Unpack as soon as you arrive. Hang everything in the wardrobe, arrange your toiletries where they need to be. Plug in your chargers.  Pop your PJs on the pillow. There. It’s much easier to relax when everything has its place.

7. Take a mesh laundry bag. I pop all my worn things in there as they come off which keeps the hotel room tidy and makes unpacking once I am home super easy.  Straight to my little laundry back home!

8. Be smart. Make sure you have comfortable shoes as well as those killer heels for the event. I’ve packed a wee pair of $7 canvas flats from the Warehouse, they’ll be in my handbag for race day so I can switch into them for the journey back from the track. Nothing worse than reaching that point (you know the one) where you cannot bear one more second in heels.  I intend to avoid that ol’ barefoot stumble back into the hotel.

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9. DIYH. Finding a hairdresser for race day is nigh on impossible. So I’ve packed my trusty hot rollers and some bobby pins and I am going to DIY my own hair.  Hot rollers are so much easier than curling with an iron; once they’re in, I do my makeup and once that’s done, so is my hair. Love them. I use Vidal Sassoon hot rollers from Farmers.  This is what they do…

 

10. Be prepared. Just in case, pack some panadol.  If you’ve had a little more champagne than you would in your regular life, a couple of panadol and a big glass of water before bed will pay dividends next morning!  And if you are sharing accommodation with family like I am… those noise cancelling headphones may just save your sanity. Tee hee!

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This weekend, I am wearing:
The Chocolat Otto Jacket (gifted)
The Chocolat Printed Drape Tunic
The Chocolat Sydney Crop Top layer in milk
The Chocolat Defender Jacket
The Chocolat Anthem Singlet Dress in paint print
CM stretch satin skinnies (available from TCD)
TCD green boxy crop (four years old)
Taking Shape ponti pencil skirts (from last season, I bought these at the airport clearance store)
Millers comfort shorts (size up in this style).

12 Must-Haves for the Family Laundry

I never used to care much about laundry matters. When it was just myself and the hubster, even before then, my interest in the laundry really didn’t extend beyond whether or not my clothes were ready yet.

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But my family grew. I now run a household of six, which amounts to roughly ten loads of washing a week once you factor in towels and sports gear.

Consequently, for a long long time I have had wistful laundry dreams.  Dreams of a space that has everything I need. Our laundry is tiny so I didn’t really believe it was possible to have my dreams come true… but my Bobby Dazzler has done it!

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Our small but smart laundry. We sourced most things for this refit from Bunnings, the fittings are from their wardrobe organiser range. Ready made bench, adapted to fit over laundry tub. Hooks from Fagan’s in Whitianga, Tiles from Tile Warehouse. The walls are Resene Half Drought.

I kid you not, I find myself hanging out in our laundry these days by choice. The warm quiet of that tiny room; the scent of clean clothes and the knowledge that everything is as tickety-boo as can be. It’s my new secret hideout!

A great deal of analysis and thought went into our laundry.  It needed to be functional enough to make the kids doing their chores easy. Because this job is too big for one of me.  The way I have set it up, they can sort their own dirty laundry, and find their clean laundry easily. The sock sorter knows exactly where to find the pile of odd socks. We’re set.

Just in case you are renovating or planning your own laundry, here is my curated list of laundry must-haves.

  1. A drawer for all the socks so they are in one place for pairing. No more odd socks drifting around the house!
  2. A long hanging rail with coat hangers for drying knitwear and delicates, longer at one end for maxi dresses and drapey items.
  3. A retractable shelf for all the laundry potions, within easy reach of machine, with baskets for pocket finds* and miscellany.
  4. Rails for hanging smalls and delicates to air dry.
  5. Bench space for dumping big loads before folding, de-pilling and de-linting.
  6. Sorting baskets. I recommend three large (lights, mediums and darks) and one XXL for linens
  7. Hooks for all the various laundry, PE and sports bags
  8. Shelves for air drying washed shoes
  9. Shelves for stacking clean laundry into piles for collection
  10. A massive capacity washing machine
  11. A reliable drier for the rainy days.
  12. A juiced-up, battery-charged, de-pilling machine and a lint sticky roller
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Sock drawer! Even when these are unsorted, people who can’t find their socks know exactly where to come to dig around for their pair. Best. Bit. Ever.
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Sorting baskets. These are almost a metre tall and go back the depth of the bench. The kids bring their laundry down and sort directly into these baskets. Saves so much time!
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This shelf slides out between the drier and washer, so I can get right to the back of it without having to contort myself.

*Family Rule: if it is left in the pockets, it belongs to me!  This gem was passed down to me from my Mum.  Helps the kids remember to empty their pockets before sorting their washing, and provides me with a handy coin stash.

Last time the washing machine broke down, I asked the repair man what kind of washer he would buy himself. He said, instantly: a Maytag. This brand is usually seen in coin operated laundries. Mine is a 10kg top loader and can take two sets of King sheets in one load, or six towels. I’ve had it now for 7 years and it is still going strong. That repairman put it down to the sturdy steel componentry. He was right. It’s brilliant. Without it, I’d be doing double the washes.  If you have a big family too, consider the humble Maytag. She’s chunky, but determined!  I like that kinda gal.

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My hanging rails, shelves and the removable bench top over the laundry tub.

What’s on your laundry must-have list?

Dressing Dolly :: Obi and Chocolat

 

I am about seven years old, standing in a suburban Christchurch store gazing at a selection of Sindy doll clothes. All of the narrow boxes contain a few items of clothing, stitched into a flatlay behind the cellophane.  I’m deeply impressed, ’cause you can mix and match different things together and everything goes with everything else!  I can’t wait to try every possible combination!

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This inspired moment must surely be the origins of my love for fashion and all things coordinated! I’m a girl who likes to get up and know that she has at least five outfit options to choose from, all of which have matchy-matchy potential.  I think this is why I love wearing black, or mixing it up with variations of colour or print. It truly does make dressing so much easier. It makes me calm.  When my first baby was born, I used to lay out the whole weeks worth of tiny little pink outfits in readiness. Ah Sindy. You were onto it.  Mix and match is a phenomenon designed for girls like me.

 

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Yesterday I had one of those very cool “is this my life?” moments.  I was at a bloggers event run by High Society, one of New Zealand’s biggest NZ made fashion houses.

The room we were ushered into had been decorated by the very clever Xanthe, with spools of thread and ribbons, the table runner hand-drawn as an oversized measuring tape. Along the table were little beribboned boxes, one for me (!) and one for each of the bloggers sitting beside me.  We were there to meet the designers of High Society’s fashion labels, Chocolat and Obi.  I could see the new summer ranges hanging on the wall beyond them.

 

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Kylie Niovara-Dave and Jon Dyball took us on a tour of their design studios, their cutting rooms and machining floor. I met Dolly, the clothes horse with the extra added boobage, who helps Kylie and John with their plus sized pieces. She made me think of my Sindy dolls all those years ago! I could imagine how dressing dolls could evolve into dressing people. Of course, both designers use real-life fit models also and are passionate about creating clothes that truly work for their customers.

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John spoke first, with great enthusiasm, about his creative process and the influences on his summer collection. You can expect from his label Obi, an attention to luxe prints, luscious fabrics and pieces that will work for their pricetag. I loved his passion for all things Japanese, the variations in texture and interesting juxtapositions. John has a gift for finding beautiful lines, colours and textures and weaving them together into a soulful, interesting collection.  I loved all of the pieces he showcased, here is a small selection, just look!

 

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Avise, Vigeur, Joliesse. We bloggers sat transfixed as he talked us through the ins and outs of each piece and how he makes sure his customers are catered for. I was particularly delighted that he understood the issues we (ahem) over forty ladies have with hot flushes!  Many of his items are sleeveless but with coordinating throw over options for coverage. There is a focus on the comfort + style equation, with flat fronted side elasticated waist bands. As he said “we’re over being fashion victims”. Yes, John, we are! I’m all for fashion that I can feel at ease in.  In trademark Rachie style, I did gush a bit (sorry fellow bloggers, I’m working on cooling that down!)  It’s just so hard to shut myself up when I am excited about something!  See? All these exclamation marks… oh my life.

 

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Nicky, Monique, Taylor and Becca; fashion bloggers.

Then it was Kylie’s turn.  Kylie is just how you imagine a clothing designer to be, she is wearing layers of edgy black mesh and her hair is a razor cut work of art. When she begins to talk about her collection, I am impressed with the confidence she has in knowing what her customers want; she listens closely to the feedback that comes directly from their retailers. She is loving the sense of ownership that is developing in this, her second year with the brand. Chocolat caters more exclusively to the Plus Size body and it shows in her cleverly constructed garments. I listen to her intently.  She is a creative powerhouse who thinks deeply about detail, drape, line and print and colour. Her collection speaks my language.  There is (happy sigh) lots of black, with a painterly print I just can’t get enough of, and a marimekko-ish finer print in the more structured corporate styles. Her colours are ‘lickable’ brights, orange tang, slushy blue, k-bar green (those are my names for them, because they speak to my eighties inner child)!  My eye is drawn to a super cute black and white spot jacket. It is adorable and I think it will do happy things for my waist. Kylie took me down to the factory floor to try some of her pieces. It was, dear reader, a little bit of fashion heaven!

 

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When I have been browsing stores before, I can find it hard to get a good grasp on a whole collection. Lookbooks help, so I do sometimes scroll through those online before shopping, just to get the gist. But yesterday, seeing whole collections displayed on the rails really captured me. I could see Kylie’s collection as an entire work of art, how each piece works with the others. It inspired me to find a way to shop more items in a collection than I ever have before.  In fact, 5 awesome pieces came home with me yesterday. Is it possible to have more than one ‘favourite’?!

 

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I’m off to the Victorian Derby Day with my brother next weekend and the theme is black and white. The short jump across the ditch isn’t a big packing challenge, but I like to be organised. I’ll be away in Melbourne for two nights and three days. Stay tuned for the outfits I have picked out from this beautiful Chocolat summer range, mixed in with a few other faves. I know I’ll be able to wear and wear every piece, and like my old muse, Sindy, mix and match to my heart’s content!

You can buy Chocolat and Obi’s new collections online or in store at Magazine or Zebrano. So gorgeous. Every single item.

Wanna play?

 

pssst…. check out these bloggers…

Oh She Writes :: Taylor

Dressing Up :: Monique

This is Jolie :: Beth

This is Meagan Kerr :: Meagan

The Style High Club :: Nicky

 

The Embrace

 

Some years ago I came across a seminal video clip that was going gangbusters on social media. I think my cousin, Kylie in Australia posted it. It was made by Taryn Brumfitt. I remember most the way she looked at herself in the mirror. The things she said out loud that sounded like the script I’d had swirling around my own head about my body.  She was talking about the shocking way we look at ourselves as women, and why that has to change. As I watched her clip, the tears began to run down my cheeks. I felt that old familiar despair about my body. I felt shame. That tired dirge within my heart, a deep disappointment weighing down my soul. It had to change.  I added Taryn’s clip to the arsenal of information I had begun to gather around my fledgling body positivity. I’ve thought a lot about this body of mine since then, all the things it has endured. I thought about how truly wonderful it is to be here, in it. This vessel deserves thanks. Not deprecation.  I hugged myself in a long, forgiving, kind-hearted embrace. It was the beginning of this new phase in my life, the start of something brand new. Liking myself exactly as I am (how sad that liking ourselves is almost revolutionary). It’s been liberating!
Thanks Taryn for your part in this shift for me!

 

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A little drawing from my sketchbook of me, embracing myself.

 

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Taryn Brumfitt’s viral social media post.

 

Taryn has since made a full length documentary, EMBRACE, exploring the potent body-ideal saturation of our media and the various ways that affects self image. She discusses the powerful, soul destroying ways we fight the unattainable fight and why we do. Sharing perspectives from a cosmetic surgeon, an anorexic girl, a plus size model, photographers, campaigners, educators, an actor, a public figure, and the general public. The themes and message in her documentary are world-changing.  I urge you to find a screening near you. I hope it will be available soon on DVD. It’s incredible. Last night, I took my daughter and my Aunty to see that documentary. It was a special screening hosted by Meagan Kerr and Monique Doy.  At the end of it, my eleven year old girl hugged me and said “Mummy, everybody needs to see this”.  She’s smart, my girl. She’s right.

 

The documentary was hit by controversy when it was first screened here for the Film Festival. Due to the images of female genitals during one part of the film, it was considered to be sexually graphic and had to be reviewed by the censorship board. The purpose of showing those private parts, was to address a very real problem for young women; asking crucial questions about the rise of labiaplasty among young women. Labiaplasty is surgery to removed the inner labia and create a more ‘streamlined downstairs’ sometimes known as the ‘designer vagina’. Women, especially young women, are clamouring for this surgery because their vulvas don’t look like the ones in pornography. They may not know this is the standard to which they are altering their bodies, but pornography and soft-porn magazines are often the only place women see other women’s vaginas. The proliferation of porn across our internet means young people encounter multiple images of one particular type of vagina (to be technically correct, vulvas). The type fashionable in the porn industry. Waxed or shaven, minimal labial folds. A vagina more stylistically akin to that of a pre-pubescent girl. It’s a sick world, and we wonder why?  Taryn shows a  range of female genitalia to shine a light on the fact we are meant to be unique. In showing realistic, post-puberty vulvas she valiantly attempts damage control. Thankfully, our censorship board watched the film and approved it’s screening. I actually dearly wish that we could make it compulsory in all schools, for girls and boys. But there are some themes that are significant triggers for our youth and it needs to be approached with care.  NB. Suicide, self harm, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery.

 

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Photographer B Jeffrey Madoff

My favourite part of the doco was when Taryn was shooting a special diversity project with New York photographer Bernie Madoff. I’ve been involved with a few diversity shoots, bringing up the rear (pun intended) and representing women over 40 and over size 18. I adore shoots with other women where encouragement and acceptance are part of the scene. It’s a rare thing in this world, for women to accept and encourage other women, just as they are, for being who they are, not just what they look like. It’s intoxicating. It’s a force I want to see more of in this world. Not just for me, but for the generations coming through. Empowered women empower women and when they do, happiness… wholeness, happens.  I’ve been involved in education, the disability sector, and now the plus size fashion world. Advocacy seems to be part of my purpose. But I can’t help wondering if all of the disparate sectors of my life, of my society, are together the thing that lights my fire. Diversity.

 

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Shoot for Euphoria Design’s “Confidence is Beautiful” campaign. 2016.

I want to see more fully grown women fronting women’s fashion brands and having a stronger presence in the media. Women of various ages, various stages, body types, abilities, ethnicities, backgrounds and gender histories. I want the fashion world to give us all credit for wanting more than the one type of ‘woman’ (girl) we see everywhere. I want more representation, not just because I love modelling and I am not a typical model, but because it matters for our young ones coming up. It matters for them to see that women are diverse. It matters for them to see that they have a place.  Here, with us. The women of the village. If we don’t show them they have value, that their image is beautiful, how will they ever embrace the realities of growing upward, outward, and older?

 

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Shoot for Autograph Curvy Model Search. 2015.

 

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Backyard shoot for Sera Lilly jeans. 2015.

Taryn Brumfitt makes room for us all with this documentary. With her wonderful fun loving sparky approach, she elbows the status quo out of the way and asks finally, and loudly, REALLY?  Is this what we want for our gender moving forward?  She calls us to wake up and begin the revolution in our own mirrors. She’s a rockstar, and I wholeheartedly embrace her movement.

#Ihaveembraced #TheBodyPositiveMovement

 

Neil Diamond & The Lounge Lady

 

I woke up yesterday morning with tears running across my cheeks. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, times are hard around here right now. But I was. I didn’t wake up crying even when my own Mumma was dying. I didn’t wake up crying when I thought my type of Dysautonomia would progress until I could barely function. I didn’t wake up crying any of the times in my life when it might have been warranted. But yesterday, I did. I stumbled out to the kitchen that is so full of memories of times with my in-laws. I popped the kettle on and thought about how integral having a cuppa was to my relationship with my mother in law, Mary.

We didn’t always agree on things, she and I. But we did agree on the necessity of a good cuppa.

Mary has Parkinson’s Disease. She was diagnosed not long after I joined the family and I remember well how it rocked everyone. Mary and John are stoic and proud Englishfolk. It was clear over the years that they would deal with it their way. Our wider family, the social workers and district nurses, the network of support around them, watched on with a kind of admiration for their determination.  John doggedly problem solving his way through her caregiving, devising natty little devices for pill dispensing, modifying her walker, endlessly adjusting, adapting, and rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. And Mary herself, a consummate non complainer, tried hard to mitigate the ravages of Parkinson’s on her brain and in her body. Eventually, as seems to be the pattern for elderly couples where one is terribly sick, the caregiver gets increasingly rundown and their own health struggles set off a cascade of events. It has happened even to John and Mary, the indomitable two.

This week, I’ve been with Mary while John is in hospital down country.  She’s in a nursing home in their little regional town. He’s having rehab after spine surgery. Mary’s nursing home is so beautiful. The views across Buffalo Beach take my breath away. But I’ve noticed that the high needs residents don’t appreciate the view. That the ravages of age steal distance vision.

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These unfortunate few stare mostly into space, occasionally focusing on the person in front of them who is typically asking loudly and brightly a series of questions.  A nurse enters Mary’s room:

“HELLO MARY!  HOW ARE YOU TODAY?”
Mary jumps at the sound of the voice so close. Her rheumy eyes try to focus, her hand reaches towards the stimulus. The tremors are bad today and her body is almost bent double, contracting up and in on itself. Muscles tight and unwieldy.
She mumbles something but her words are indistinct.

“LET’S GO TO THE DINING ROOM SHALL WE? TIME FOR LUNCH!” the nurse shout-speaks chirpily.  Lunch will be in half an hour, but it takes that long to wheel and cajole everyone into position.  Mary’s eyes brighten momentarily, and very slowly, she licks her lips. She likes her food. I smile at my memory of this whippet thin woman, carefully  portioning out her own meals to half the size of everyone else’s at family dinners. She has thrown caution to the wind. Food is good. I think of the bucket of liquorice allsorts I sent up last weekend, now half gone. I’m glad she can still find enjoyment in something.

“HOW’S THAT CAST? SORE?  MARY, ARE YOU SORE?”
“I’m-alright-thankyou” she whispers, barely audible, but they are the first words I’ve heard today. I know it is habit, her responses to questions like this. Every time she moves, she winces. The cast is heavy and cumbersome against her constantly moving frame. Her frequent falls have resulted in a complication in her already broken shoulder. The bones beneath her socket joint hang loose and jut into her ribs under her arm.

“OK THEN! UP WE COME… ARE YOU READY TO STAND? I’LL JUST REACH AROUND AND HELP YOU UP …GOOD GIRL!  HERE WE GO…”  the nurse braces to lift our waif-like Mary. You’d be surprised how heavy a waif can be when you are lifting all their weight without assistance.

“OH DEAR, DOWN WE GO.  MARY?  ARE YOU WITH US? MARY!  HELLO MARY? BIG DEEP BREATHS, MARY!”
Mary had momentarily fainted. It happens most times she has to stand. Her eyes roll back in her head and she is a ragdoll. Quite different from her usual rigid bodied self. Now ensconced in the wheelchair the nurse takes her down the hall to the dining room. It is next to the Lounge, the communal area lined with other octogenarians, glumly sitting and waiting to be taken in for their hot lunch.

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Neil Diamond is on the telly. A gentleman fixes his tearful eyes in my direction. I have come to expect emotion in this place, I wonder if maybe Neil’s crooning is making him sad.
“Have you seen my wife?” he asks me, his voice trembles slightly as though he knows the answer will be bad. I remember being here when his wife passed away. I pat his hand. “No, I haven’t, I’m sorry. I am sure you will see her soon” I feel guilty as I say it. But to tell him the truth again and watch the grief anew. I just can’t do that (I’ve seen the nurses tell him many times and he is always so distraught. “Was I there for her?” “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” “Where did they take her?”  “Oh no… no…”  he’d keen, his hangs wringing in his lap and the confusion and distress furrowing his age spotted brow).
No. It’s too unfair.
Within minutes he has forgotten again. His face is blank.  I’m glad I didn’t tell him.

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Mary has nodded off. I let Neil’s music transport me back to happier situations. I am toe tapping and humming. I see the slippered foot of the man in the chair beside keeping the beat. He grips my hand.  Meanwhile, Neil drawls and gyrates in his sequin jacket “I’M ALIIIIVE”! The irony is not lost on me.
“I would have been a jockey you know!” say the earnest man. His eyes are twinkling, one of his pupils is blown. I wonder if he did that falling off a horse. “I could do things with horses other people couldn’t do.  But no. No… encouragement…” he sighs, suddenly dejected.
“Oh do shut up!” shouts the lady just past him. “I’ll kick you in the butt one of these days!”
“You shut up, you fat slob” says the woman beyond her. “Take no notice, Love” she says pointedly to the man beside me, rolling her eyes openly at the upstart.  Many of the elderly could care less about politeness. They’ve run out of time for niceties. They just say it like they see it. This Lounge can be a brutal place.

A nurse aide moves Mary into position at her dining table, deftly swinging a giant bib across the front of her. As she does it up, she tells me that Mary helped her children learn to read at the school, some thirty odd years ago.  She was a teacher aide at Mercury Bay Area School. Suddenly Mary is animated. She says the name of the nurse aide’s kids. “That’s right, Mary!” she smiles and then, turns to me, “-sharp as a tack! There’s a lot of people who love this lady”. She pats her gently on the shoulder.  I nod. Kiss Mary on the forehead and say my goodbyes.  I’m sad. We love this lady too. It stings a bit that she can remember those kids, but she has forgotten who her own grandchildren are. The synapses that connect that information to her conscious mind have been stolen by Parkinson’s Dementia. She’s had only one thing to say to our girl Bee this week. That she never did like the colour of Bee’s hair. She hasn’t been able to notice that Zed is even here. These kids who come with me every day to see their Nanna. These kids who have never complained about the grim realities of spending time here with her.  They love her too. Regardless. Gosh I am proud of them. They hug her and kiss her goodbye and she clings to them. I think she knows at some level, some basic biological level, that they belong to her. I comfort them with the facts that her brain misfires sometimes. Tell them, for her, that she loves them.

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I’ll be back tomorrow. She won’t know me then either. I’ll be just another friendly face among the many attending to her. My voice will be loud and bright like theirs; do we do it to dispel the despair of it all? She’ll look at me with confusion. She might shout at me like yesterday, or stretch her face into a semblance of her beautiful smile. She might hold my hand, or demand I help her go to the toilet. She might just be drifting, somewhere between Life and the After, talking indecipherably with her long passed sister, long red braids twisting around her youthful hands, skipping along a street somewhere back in England. I hope that she feels loved, wherever her mind has gone. That the warmth of my hand transmits all the humanity of my heart for this frail, vulnerable lady.

I guess the tears are okay. I guess they are just a part of the lifelong process of accepting mortality. Someday, someone might have tears about me. Mary once told me that she thinks of this mortal coil like a fixed sized plane. As babies get born, all our souls get kind of crowded here. Sometimes, other people have to get off, making way for new life. She said it made her feel better thinking of it that way.

Everybody has their time and then one day, they move over. That’s just the way of it.   Take it away Neil:

…everyday

There’s a brand new baby born
And every way
There’s enough to keep you warm
And it’s okay
And I’m glad to say
That I’m alive

 

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

a book review

 

image of The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs book cover

 

When I was seventeen, there was a Guggenheim exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I went there with my art class, and returned, time and again. It was a window into the world of my art text books. Here they were. I stood as close as I could to Brancusi’s, Calder’s, Dali’s, Moore’s and Mondrian’s. I breathed the air next to them like I might catch some ions of genius leaking from the very spirit of each work. I stood back and squinted at them, turned my head and observed them in their minutae. It seemed to me, a spotty gangly teenager in a distant antipodean gallery, that these foreign artists were the master race; their works a gift from the greatest muse of creative expression. The soul of life itself.

The Joyce Girl is Annabel Abbs’ inspired story of an Irish girl in the 1930’s. She lives in Paris, right in the midst of the bohemian art world of my Guggenheim heroes. A dancer, dreamer and artist, Lucia lives in a straightjacket world of obligation and overwhelm. She is the daughter of James Joyce, celebrated writer.  She is known historically as integral to the production of Joyce’s lengthy work, Finnegan’s Wake. She is caught in the undertow of her father’s work, sublimated by her roles as dependent daughter and co-dependent muse. Her own genius, obscured first by the narcissism of her father, despised by her mother and brother and later destroyed by the inept machinations of mental asylums, is explored first hand. She is finally given voice by the author Annabel Abbs in this novel. Heavily based in the facts of Lucia Joyce’s life, we see first hand the struggles of a troubled girl trying to make sense of herself.

“An ephemeral arch of colour, swaying and dissolving. Flashes of imprisoned light. Trembling loops of movement. A wind washed rainbow, my bands of colour shivering and melting. I crouched and twisted. Needles of rain, spiked and hard. I stretched and spread my fingers, soft rays of warm sunlight. I was a swathe of luminous colour. I was the gold-skinned weaver of the wind. Sun-spangled sovereign of the cosmos”  -Annabel Abbs ‘The Joyce Girl’

I loved many things about this book. But, oh, Abbs’ descriptive passages of dancing! She is expert in describing this artform with a keen sense of the visceral experience of dance. I realised that my legs and feet were flexing and moving as I read, and I do love a book that transcends the brain barrier.  I enjoyed Abbs’ turn of phrase; sometimes, I felt she was touched by a Joyce-ian way with words which added depth and relevance to the experience of reading this book. It was immersive.

I so loved the characterisations of some of the artists I had studied as a teenager. That world of Bohemian Paris, where artists came for freedom and connection, was painted with a vivid hand. I felt like I had stepped inside my Guggenheim exhibition. That I could walk alongside Alexander Calder and listen to him expound on shape, form and movement. It was transporting.  And when the time came to explore the deeper psyche of Lucia, Abb’s sensitive writing captured the child Lucia with care. It was emotionally difficult to read, but a necessary and bittersweet journey with Lucia through the dark travails of her mind.

Most of all, I loved that Abbs gave Lucia’s story an audience. I doubt that before reading this novel, I would have read Carol Loeb Schloss’ biography of Lucia Joyce’s life, To Dance in the Wake. But now, I will. Lucia is a woman of history, of art, of feminism, whose story should be told. Abbs’ story of Lucia; childhood trauma, repressed memory, subjugation, dysfunctional family relationships, unrequited love, unfulfilled ambition and incarceration… I am certain is an echo of the many women whose independence and freedom were stolen during times when mental institutions were dangerous places and Psychology a fledgling discipline.

My own Great Grandmother was institutionalised when her children were very small. Now we assume she had undiagnosed postnatal depression. But I wonder who she really was, and now there is no way of knowing. These stories should be told. These voices should be heard.

I recommend The Joyce Girl. Thank you Annabel Abbs for writing this important novel.  I will take it with me on my own metaphorical dance of independence and freedom.

 

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Lucia_Joyce_dancing_at_Bullier_Ball_-_Paris%2C_May_1929.jpg
Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Lucia_Joyce_dancing_at_Bullier_Ball_-_Paris%2C_May_1929.jpg