July 6. Today I was wandering around with various tasks on my list. Roy, my Cairn Terrier, came with me. He is going to have a rather horrible operation tomorrow: his right eye is to be removed due to glaucoma and a very high, irreversible, pressure. A step we do not take lightly. So we gave him a good day: not left alone, walks, treats and games.
While doing this, I listened to three podcasts. There is such a wealth at our fingertips in the libraries of podcasts. Free.
The first, titled The Good Fight, was with Anne Applebaum, historian and author of, ‘Twilight of Democracy: the Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends’. The interview was broadcast 2 years ago but remains very interesting. …’Yascha Mounk talks to Anne Applebaum about how authoritarians take power, the threat of social media, and the first six months of Trump’s presidency.’
The second podcast of the day, hinted at by David Vincent in one of his posts on this site, is Better Known … ‘Each week, a guest makes a series of recommendations of things which they think should be better known. Our recommendations include interesting people, places, objects, stories, experiences and ideas which our guest feels haven’t had the exposure that they deserve.‘
These episodes are short – around 30 minutes – and most entertaining. I managed to listen to 2 of them (there are 127 episodes available).
The important one is dated 6 July, 2020. Ivan Wise interviewed David Vincent, asking him to talk about 6 things – places, people, ideas, things … that are of particular value interest to him. I won’t disclose the 6 things that David spoke about but I enjoyed his choices. It is rather pleasant not to have to listen to news about Covid-19 or the daily announcements of Trump’s nastiness.
June 15. Routines help us. We don’t have to agonise over the pros and cons of each action, each day. Its set. Our cairn terrier, Roy, understands the routine right from 6.45am when he knows it’s time for my husband to get up and feed the flock of wild red-browed finches – and make me tea. It’s barely light at 7am as we approach the winter solstice – only 6 days away.
After breakfast, Roy knows its time for THE FIRST WALK. This is often a short walk to our gate – half a km away. Since Roy is now 11 and a half (around 77 in dog years) this walk is taken slowly to check on the smells on the way. We have both feral cats and foxes that roam our property and he has a fierce antipathy to these animals. Roy’s’ eyesight is going – due to cataracts, but for dogs, it’s the nose that counts. A dog is a nose with a couple of eyes. And Roy has a superb sense of smell. He knows the cats are in our valley without sight of them.
After the walk, there is a period of rest for Roy while we can attend to other matters. Some time around 3.30pm he raises his head and will let us know its time for THE SECOND WALK. This is usually the best and longest walk. Since I realise he is older and a creature of routine and habit, I most often take him to Kensington Gardens Reserve where dogs can go off-leash: there are three ovals, lots of other dogs and even a river to swim in. Even in the park there is a regular path that I follow – slowly. The route is about 40 minutes at Roy’s pace. Along the way he lifts his leg countless times to let others know of his passage. When we are on the second oval, I usually meet a family of Australia Magpies.
These friendly black-and white birds come to share Roy’s treats. The Australian Magpie has a very interesting social life and a beautiful song. Their Latin name Cracticus tibicen (flautist) is a reminder of their singing ability. They are extremely territorial and will recognise human faces – I know they know me, as before I even call these birds, they arrive. Their wonderful range of singing is actually a bonding mechanism in the family. Their offspring stay with the group and help raise the next year’s siblings. The magpie is the iconic resident of Australia’s ovals but their numbers are declining and people wonder if this is due to pesticides, feral cats, habit destruction – or just too many people.
Roy and I head back to the car at an even slower rate – if that is possible. He knows where the car is and a certain stubbornness is his method of prolonging the enjoyment of the outdoors. Roy has a Scottish winter coat so does not feel the cold.
And then we go home to another of Roy’s day’s highlights: the prospect of dinner before the 6pm news. Unlike us, Roy does not have to deal with the sadness of most of the news. That is our routine during these times.
14 May. We both retired. 18 years ago. I found retirement was a process of adaptation. There were at least two years of adjustment as we settled into working out what to do. And we did get going, we got the message that this was a gift – time – valuable FREE time. So we… moved house; studied; travelled; planted trees; travelled some more with our local museum; bought a holiday home at the seaside; got a dog; planted more trees from our own seed; I wrote a short biography of my grandmother as requested by my 90-year-old father when he emigrated from South Africa to Chester, UK ; I wrote a longer biography of my father published after his death at the age of 97, and I wrote two novels about Africa.
And now, it’s as if a second retirement is before us, with a further consideration of what we should do. However, there are fewer options and in the background is the possibility of being stricken with Covid-19. Times have changed. We constantly hear that our age group bears the highest risk for hospitalisation and death. Especially so if you have a ‘comorbidity’. (Comorbidity is a word I have never used before. It ‘refers to the presence of more than one disorder in the same person’. I am assuming that old age is now regarded as a disorder, a ‘morbidity’.)
In Adelaide, South Australia, we have not been as constrained as many other major cities but still the flow of disturbing news has been a constant since early March … that’s two months for us to adapt to a second retirement from our first retirement.
And how has our life changed? For a start, each day is much the same as the previous day. Small, hardly noteworthy differences: driving to walk the dog in the park and fetch the mail; sometimes a big supermarket shop in the early morning … etc.
So, most of the time is spent in the house or our garden. And somehow the day goes by very fast. We have ordered three vegetarian meals a week from a service called HelloFresh. The box is delivered to the door on Monday and consists of the ingredients for the meals plus a comprehensive guide to the process of cooking. This is entertainment as much as anything else, for these are meals I would not normally cook: roasted sweet potato risotto … pesto, roast pumpkin and fetta risoni …
My husband complains about the lack of MEAT. Since I am verging on becoming a vegetarian, this is not what I want to hear. During the week, there are 4 other dinners that can feature meat. The trouble is that the meals from HelloFresh are generous and we have leftovers. There is a definite greater interest in food and home cooking during this new retirement. We used to eat out 2-3 times a week.
The phone: we are spending more time talking on our mobiles (we don’t have a landline). We catch up with family and friends and since two daughters live in the USA, another daughter lives in Sydney and a son settled in South Africa, these calls go on throughout the day.
The computer is a huge resource and gobbler of time: for emails; Zoom meetings of my writing group and my husband’s geology club; for bridge games and lessons; for watching movies on ‘demand’. We are indeed lucky to have such a marvellous array of entertainment.
Every night, on YouTube, I watch the ‘Serengeti Show Live’ show for 30 odd minutes where Carel Verhoef and Sally Grierson show us their camp in the Serengeti and take us on a game drive. In 2018, we spent a week with their company, Great Migration Camps, on the shores of the Mara River. Watching these episodes, I can immerse myself in the landscape of Africa. And soon Serengeti Show Live will take us up Mt Kilimanjaro and then to Zanzibar. (Once upon a time in Africa, I lived in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro and then moved to live in Zanzibar).
I belong to the Adelaide Lyceum Club, a women’s club that was begun in London in 1903. (‘Clubs for women interested in arts, sciences, social concerns and the pursuit of lifelong learning’). We gather in interest groups called ‘circles’ and one of the circles I joined was the film circle. Our members have joined the Zoom brigade and meet to discuss certain films which are available online. Our SBS on Demand and ABC iView channels provide hundreds of films and TV shows free. Quite distracting in fact.
Don’t forget the dog! Roy, aged 11 has his own program, more insistent now that we are around almost 24/7. He wakes at dawn at 6.45am and goes out to check if any koalas or kangaroos are around. Whether they are or not, he wakes the neighbourhood with a morning bark. I am growing accustomed (as winter comes for us) to spend more reading in bed before a short program of yoga. This laziness delays breakfast as well as Roy’s walk up the long drive or in the local park.
Home maintenance and gardening fill in the holes in the day. April and May are planting months in South Australia as the rains arrive. I have paid more attention to edible plants this year – there’s nothing quite like picking your own herbs, lettuce and spinach for an evening meal. I have given up on actively growing potatoes but remnants are doing well. We have planted 20 trees that will give joy one day. I am reading City of Trees by Sonia Cunningham, a series of absorbing essays about our urban landscapes and how we are losing forests. Sonia Cunningham was a speaker at our Adelaide Festival’s Writers’ Week in March this year.
So, our new retirement is OK; we have lots to do, lots to entertain us. Soon we will be able to travel within the borders of South Australia and in July they might open up to other states … and one day maybe New Zealand will be included.
April 28. Casual walking out of a house, down the street, into a park or out to the countryside, has long-been the most practised and least studied form of recreation.
For most people in most times, it was the basic form of relaxation. Until the twentieth century, domestic over-crowding meant that it was often the only means of escaping the press of people and finding some privacy. Because it was essentially unstructured and unrecorded, it has rarely received the attention of historians. Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, to which I referred on April 24, is, like a handful of other such books, essentially an account of literary walkers, from Rousseau and Wordsworth onwards. The one exception is the now elderly account by Maurice Marples, Shank’s Pony (1959).
In Britain, however, one of its most common forms, walking the dog, has long been counted. During the nineteenth century an increasingly firm distinction was drawn between walking with a dog, and dog-walking. Next to the immobile pedestrian, the greatest fear of polite town dwellers was the uncontrolled dog. It was at best a source of noise, pollution, and unwanted physical contact for other pedestrians, and at worst a threat to life through the widely-feared disease of hydrophobia, or rabies. Taxing dogs, which began in 1796, was a means of policing their mainly urban owners. Rural working dogs were exempt. Following reforms to the cost and efficiency of taxation in 1867, reliable records were kept. By 1877, there were nearly 1.4 million licensed dogs in Britain, mostly in towns and cities. At least as many owners again were believed to be avoiding the tax. By the second half of the twentieth century the figure had reached four million, doubling again before the licence fee was finally abolished in 1987.
In most countries in the coronavirus lockdown, some kind of exemption has been allowed for exercising a pet. Last week a story went viral of an Italian woman who had been fined for exceeding the time limit for this activity. Her excuse was that the pet was not a dog, but a tortoise, and there was a photograph to prove it.
Initially I had much sympathy for the woman. In my adult life the only pet that I have owned myself, as distinct from the family cat, was a tortoise, named Herodotus, or Hod for short, after the first historian. It always seemed an appropriate companion for an historian, or indeed anyone engaged in the slow business of writing a full-length book. At this time of the year Hod would be trundling about the garden, eating buttercups and clover as he recovered his strength after the winter’s hibernation.
But then again, a tortoise really does, in Kipling’s terms, walk by itself. Cats are in fact always aware of human company and generally seek to be close to it. But a tortoise is entirely indifferent. That is what makes it so relaxing a pet. No complex emotional interactions. Our cat would walk surprisingly long distances with us when we were out on an expedition. Not Hod. It is not so much about mobility. On a hot day, especially if there is a tortoise maid in the offing, a tortoise can manage a turn of speed. Rather it is a matter of independence. There is just no way in the world you can get such an animal to follow you down the street.
I am afraid the Italian police had the right of it.