Memorabilia? Mess or Matter?

Here I am in my neat new study

Author Nate Berkus in his new book The Things That Matter asks a poignant question which has me pondering about how to rid my life of clutter.

“Does Your Home Tell the Story of Who You are?’’ he asks. And I would respond with a resounding “yes’’ except for the fact that the fourth  bedroom in our new home, is a mess.  Here I sit amidst a pile-up of memorabilia which flows out the door and down the hallway and I don’t know how to start sifting through it.

This room lets me down badly.  It was always earmarked as my study, but instead it became the storage area for my stuff – and that means more than 20 years of material from my journalistic career and memorabilia from 60 years of living. It’s all shoved in here in an unruly manner. There are  years of records, files galore, scrapbooks, countless photo albums, a string of boxes jammed with junk and  myriad books and diaries. There are things here from my college days and from my chequered private life and it all has to be sorted out.

Deep in our souls we humans know what we need. Bring on the feng shui to restore peace and order into my life.   I crave a calm environment in which to live and work after a painful few years caring for my husband, Olivier, who died last year.  I want my own bureau again, to be surrounded by my own things and most of all, I want to be able to find anything I want when I want it!

Luckily, I have a purpose. I cannot find our hard drive which stores all the five years of photographs we took on our overseas travels to France.  It’s somewhere here in this dumping ground for everything that I haven’t looked at since I brought it all home at retirement. Of course, the easy way out would be to throw it all into huge black rubbish bags. And here is the dilemma. I cannot do that. Every piece of material in this room is precious.  Records of my life are here and it all has to be checked out.  Common sense tells me that I will never need a lot of this clutter again, but on the other hand I have a sneaking suspicion that the moment I throw one piece of paper out, it will be exactly what I want the next moment. Oh dear, surely I am a hoarder?

[Yet, I have a deep connection to my stuff and Thomas Jefferson voiced it well when he said “What we choose to keep around us becomes the museum of our soul and the archives of our experience’’.

The Internet though issues warnings about compulsive hoarding, calling it “packratting’’ describing compulsive hoarding as a “pattern of behavior that is characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment.” It can be linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and be categorised as a psychological disorder linked to depression.

Luckily, my children would chorus “It’s clutter mother’’ and claim I am my father’s daughter because Frank really did have a problem with hoarding things.  My dad, who was a sparkie, would wind any left-over pieces of wire into balls which grew from a thumb-nail size to that of a tennis ball. We would joke that the old dwelling in our back yard where he ran his electrical business reminded us of the Steptoe and Son TV series.  When my widowed dad married again at 81 and I bought the family home, I hired six skips to throw it all out. It was absolute junk. Yet, dad, almost wept.  There was enough earth underneath the jam-packed back yard to build a new house. And I did.

[Yet, I have a deep connection to my stuff and Thomas Jefferson voiced it well when he said “What we choose to keep around us becomes the museum of our soul and the archives of our experience’’.

So I have installed a bank of cupboards, filing cabinets and book cases all are ready for me to tackle my belongings which take up every square centimetre of floor space. Underneath is a precious Persian carpet I haven’t seen since we moved here almost two years ago.

At 11:10pm on the fourth day in the last little basket left to be sorted I find the hard drive marked “Photos’’ in my husband’s hand-writing.  I am so happy, I wish I could weep.

So now I am proud to say I have fashioned an orderly office with my life works packed away in every centimetre of space. However, very little was actually thrown out!

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Don’t Blame It On The Kids

Don’t blame it on our kids!

New research has found that the financial disadvantage women face in retirement has nothing to do with whether or not they have a family.

The research paper, What’s choice got to do with it? by Prue Cameron for the Canberra-based independent think-tank The Australia Institute, says women retire with only 59 per cent of super at retirement age compared to men, even if they work full time, don’t have children or care for elderly parents.

Marie seals gift for Sir Richard with kiss

Marie seals her gift to Sir Richard with a kiss

When naïve artist Marie Jonsson-Harrison lived on the farm at Balaklava, she not only honed her skills as a top professional, she also day-dreamed about the scope of her work.

She thought one day she might like to paint an aircraft, but because of its unrealistic nature, she painted a bright artwork instead, entitled Virgin Brides including many naïve characters in white dresses – and also a few Virgin aircraft.

And yes, she thought back then, how nice it would be to meet the British magnate and investor,  the very rich Sir Richard Branson and present him with her colourful work.

Years passed, until  she met Adelaide TV identity Paul Makin and, when she heard Sir Richard was coming to Adelaide, she mentioned how she would love to give her him her artwork which he had inspired years ago.  Certainly it was a tall ask: the still handsome 63-year-old  tycoon best known as the founder and chairman of Virgin Group of more than 400 companies has countless levels of command below him even before he takes the telephone.

Of course, Marie had followed her hero down through the years and had read Sir Richard’s autobiography “Losing My Virginity’’.

Paul, with more than a dash of entrepreneurial style himself, said “Leave it to me!’’ and after the usual hurdles associated with meeting a famous A-listed world-renowned super hero and trying to manoevre around his minders, Sir Richard was coming to Adelaide.

But Paul pulled it off, taking Marie and presented her to Sir Richard before his minders could do a thing about it.

“He graciously accepted my artwork and seemed genuine when he told me “It’s lovely Marie’’,’’ says Marie.

”I reassure you that he is just as handsome in real life as he is on TV and a really nice guy to boot.  He took all the time in the world to say hello and admire my artwork,to chat and kiss!’’

How groovy is that to kiss Sir Richard?  And now he has one of Marie’s colourful naïve artworks to decorate his abode.

SPEAKING OF BIG DREAMS one of my long-time role models, filmmaker David Lynch has hit the news with an article in Weekend Australian – In Love With An  Idea.  He is about to release an album entitled The Big Dream, his second LP in three years. His Crazy Clown Tune was well received which must be a rush for the 67 year old who performed his own versions of rock ‘n’ roll delivered  in his “reedy singing voice’’.

In the article, by Ben Machell, Lynch presents himself as an “almost obsessive-compulsive creator” with a wellspring of achievements in music, art and film. However, his career on the film-making side seems in the doldrums, despite a heady list of films including Eraserhead, Twin Peaks and Lost Highway.

So, if funds for films are drying up, Lynch simply embarks on yet another creative outlet – music.

He likens creative urges to falling in love:  “If you fall in love with an idea it’s like falling in love with a girl. There’s nothing you can do about it. You have to follow through.’’

My interest in David Lynch was triggered by his daily practice of Transcendental Meditation, a method to settle the mind and trigger consciousness and creativity. His videos on the advantages of TM are inspirational and have helped me to maintain my own TM practice for much of my adult life.

It seems he has been stricken with the love urge a few times too.  In September, Lynch and his wife actress Emily Stofle, announced the birth of their daughter, Lula. Lynch already has three adult children from three previous marriages, his eldest being director Jennifer Lynch, now 45.

The Big Dream is out now on PIAS/Liberation and I might go and buy it.



Scarlett is a happy scamp at 12 months

Scarlett’s world has taken over my living room

Today is my darling grand-daughter Scarlett’s first birthday and I can hardly wait until tomorrow for her first birthday party.

This chubby little lady makes my heart burst with love each time she sees me and smiles in recognition. When her daddy says “where is grand-ma’?’ she turns, smiles and points at me.  I am part of her small universe and I bask in her sweet disposition. She is not shy and observes her world in wonder.

Bathtime is our special time when I visit. Over the year, I have watched fascinated anew at the miracle of a baby’s development. She has changed in such a natural manner from a newborn lying placid in a tiny baby bath on the laundry bench gurgling at the feel of water running over her soft skin to a lively little girl squirming to be let out of her seat in a bathtub. It is filled with myriad floating sea creatures. Rubber duckies are there, too, of course, but she picks each plastic piece up, surveys it, squeezes it and then laughs when water squirks out.  She has wriggled out of her bath seat and now is free of its constriction, easily pulling herself up from sitting position to grip the edge of the bath.

Once a week her parents take her to swimming lessons and I have watched poolside, snapping many photographs of her fearlessness in the water, safe in the arms of her daddy.

Scarlett is not walking yet, but crawls at a slick pace and will push a chair across the room, as she learns to walk.  She is fascinated by my dog, Oscar, but if he gets too close she will give him a swift kick. One gets the sense that this little child will be OK in life whatever it serves up.

She has a great appetite and will devour soup, vegies and two buckets of baby yoghurt in one sitting, mouth wide open for each spoonful, then after her nightly bath, she will happily hold her bottle, empty it and then discard it, curling into the crook of my arm, her eyes already closed.

Bedtime is no drama.

Recently Scarlett entered the wider world of childcare when her mummy returned to paid work and this move produced fierce opposition and a flood of tears each time. Now on the fridge there are two photographs of a happy child taken by childcare staff to prove she is actually content in their company with her little playmates.

As her grandma, I am a registered adult to pick her up and I can think of no greater joy in life than to push the empty pusher around the corner from her home with Oscar in tow to collect her up from childcare.  Each time she recognises me and heads on all fours in my direction, giggling in joy, I am awash with warm love.



My Sister, My Self.

 Have I told you about my younger sister – my only sister – who was born on my 16th birthday?  What brings her to mind is that  I wrote a message in her birthday card tonight telling her that she is the best birthday present I have ever received.  And it’s time to write about why.

I can still remember my 16th birthday as if it was yesterday (and Anne is now in her early 50s and I am in my late 60s); I was gripped with fear as my mother repeatedly clutched the kitchen table in labour, groaning in an agonising sound I had never heard before. And then she hobbled out to the car doubled over in pain and dad and mum disappeared  to the hospital.  It was an anxious wait until 1pm when dad phoned to say that I had a baby sister named Anne. After three brothers – all born after me – this news was sheer joy.

I became her little mother thereafter, a role mum was happy to hand over, Anne being her fifth child – and I would sneak baby Anne into bed with me after mum had gone to bed – stealthily  returning her to her cot before my parents woke.

When I married for the first time, she was my flower girl and when I married my lovely Frenchman, Olivier 40 years later, she was my matron-of-honor.  We are not only sisters, we are soul-mates.

The night before my wedding, she and I arranged the altar flowers in the chapel kitchen reminiscing about our shared life events and how sad it was that our mum wasn’t there to see me marry Olivier.  My three children adore her because she is young at heart and is a fun-loving party girl, somehow metamorphosing back into responsible mother before dawn after each party when she would let her hair down.

This leads me to tonight when Anne and I and her much-loved husband Ken dined together at Madame Wu’s on The Parade at Norwood.   I gave her a French T-shirt with glittery stars scattered across its white cotton front  which had the words “Star de la saison” .

I have often wondered what my sister thought of me down through the years struggling as I did with two divorces, three births, a serious road accident, multiple operations and a hectic journalistic career.  The morning Olivier died, she was there at the hospital by my side before the undertakers arrived and in my grieving since,  I have been embraced as part of her very large family. Anne has had five children, three are married, a daughter is engaged and only one, the baby Nathan, is still at home.  Her day job is the general manager of Otto and Co, timber merchants, and husband Ken is the managing director.

Which brings me to the card she gave me tonight which tells me her thoughts. It reads: Sister, Friend, thanks for being Both. With Love on your birthday.

However she wrote far more significant sentiments. “As an older sister you display a wonderful example of how to travel through life: with not only courage, dignity and poise but with a sense of achievement and fun.  Love always Anne and  Ken.

Words have such power  to praise, hurt or heal and her message lights up my life. She is  a true blessing .


Myriad Memories of St Remy de Provence

Here I asm in St Remy de Provence in 2004.

Time for reflection on sweet memories of my favourite village in France.  Here is a photograph of me on market day in St Remy de Provence in 2004, and it is so exciting that I will be there again in six weeks. Yes, it will be nostalgic to return, but also cathartic to know that I can travel to France without my late husband, Olivier and enjoy myself.  I will be hiring a car!!! But, wisely,  have a reliable girlfriend in the passenger seat to ensure I stay on the right!!! side of the road.

Take, for instance, memories of market day in St Remy de Provence when hundreds of stalls jam the town meandering around to the ring of boulevards which encircle the old city built where once there was the moat.   From outside the ancient Basilica of St Martin along Rue Carnot through the village to Boulevard  Gambetta there are food stalls, jewellery stalls, cheese tastings, charcuterie, flower stalls laden with lavender and stall upon stall of linen with familiar Provincial patterns. The market holds so many pleasant memories.

In my memoir, From France With Love, I recall my first visit. “A blend of intoxicating aromas, sights and sounds assails us and the stallholders entice us to buy their wares. There are myriad smallgoods, pates, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, leather goods, clothing and accessories. The air hums with joyful chatter. Everywhere there are buckets of fresh Provencal herbs, lavender and olives and trestle tables laden with jewellery and Manchester. Along Rue Carnot we shop haphazardly among stalls selling cooked chicken and raw fish, pastries and scented soaps until we reach Place Pelissier, the open space heart of the village , where locals and tourists jostle for a bargain.”

To me, St Remy is the quintessential French village, and while it is home to 10,000 people, it has an intimacy of a Provincial village with its narrow, winding streets no wider than a cart and old shop facades, and all the usual food outlets – the fishmonger, the boulangerie, news agent and fresh fruit stalls – offering typical French village life. Around the Place de la Resistance with its mature plane trees, opposite the Basilica (which dates from 1122) there is a string of cafes and bars – all frontingPlace de la Republique. Olivier’s mother, “Mammy” lived around the corner from here, past the post office, no more than three minutes’ walk away.  Our ritual was to walk to the village daily to buy a French stick and indulge in café noir. I would sit in the café which spreadeagled around into Boulevard Marceau and write postcards.


Here too, that first year, Olivier and I danced at that very spot to the music of singers and a band performing at a street rock concert on a stage mounted on the back of a huge truck outside the Basilica and I wrote about that dream night too in From France With Love: “When Madame changes the mood and croons love songs, we dance cheek to cheek and he guides me through the thro9ng. Ah, that’s much better, I think. It’s so delightfully seductive that I almost melt with warm feelings for him.”

There are many grand Renaissance “town houses’ which have been renovated into prestigious art galleries and St Remy’s fashion stores carry quality  French-designed fashion and accessories, while the many shoe shops carry the  same ranges as in Paris.

What I love about St Remy is the circle of Boulevards, particularly Boulevard Victor Hugo, where every delectable specialty food store is located. The chocolate shop, next door to the biscuit factory outlet, has hot chocolate running out of a fountain in the window and on the other side of the road, there is a huge “maison” marketing the olive products of the region.  There are rooms laden with myriad porcelain pieces, manchester, bread or cheese boards and anything you could imagine is decorated with the images of olives. Forget all those Francophilia shops in suburbia, this is the real thing. Further down on the Boulevard Mirabeau there is the delightful Musee des Aromes to learn more about the distillation of Provence aromatic plants.

The architecture in St Remy is also historic, the most authentic being a Renaissance mansion, richly decorated, which now operates as the Musee Des Alpilles. Its remarkable inner courtyard includes a bust of Vincent van Gogh sculpted by Ossip Zadkine.  Hotel du Sade dates from the 15th century and there are family connections to the notorious Marquis du Sade. It is distinguishable by an arch that stretches across the narrow street just off Place de la Mairie, but was closed for renovation.  Behind it are the ruins of Roman Baths. There is St Paul de Mausole Monastery, the asylum where Van Gogh recovered from a breakdown and from where he painted iconic images of Provence. I remember going to a “garage” sale there as old nuns dispensed with their unwanted items. There were religious icons aplenty, valuable silver and superbly maintained linen, too. In the 16th century, Michele Nostredame lived in Rue Hoche, a dwelling in the old fortified walls to be the town’s most famous son and each day we passed the Fontaine Nostradamus the village’s central fountain decorated with his bust.

Five kilometres away is the Greco/Roman ruins of Glanum which includes some spectacularly preserved Roman structures including an intact Mausoleum datged from 40AD and an Arc de Triomphe from the same era with defineable carved battle scenes of Troy.  A few more kilometres down the road past many olive groves  is the exquisite medieval hilltop  village of Les Baux de Provence. Sure, it’s now a restored tourist trap, but those 16th and 17th century Renaissance mansions reconstructed with tourism dollars gives us a taste of how life was centuries ago when the village was owned by the Prince of Monaco. In one of those restored mansions Olivier and I oogled over an amazing exhibition of antique erotica.  Its ruined castle, Chateau des Baux  is silhouetted against the sky and from here there are panoramic views of Provence with its vineyards, olive groves, iconic avenues of pencil pines and far away to the horizon, seablue hints of the mystical Camargue. Then there is Les Alpilles, the stunning mountain range which forms the backdrop to it all. Dug deep into the mountain range is the disused quarry which has become the Cathedrale d’Images des Baux de Provence with huge images from top photographers  projected onto the floor and the 20-metre high walls.

Back in 2005 in St Remy de Provence, I bought the exquisite floral fabric which is now the curtaining in my bedroom.  It was in St Remy de Provence over the new year period when my daughter Serena, husband Jon and the two grand-children came from the United Kingdom and stayed in a villa on the outskirts of town. We were granted a tour of the chocolate factory and I remember how little Angus,  eagerly eyeing off the goodies, could no longer wait patiently for the chocolatier to offer him some. “Can I please try it?”, he said.

Another memory was the running of the bulls in the streets of St Remy. Unlike the notorious Spanish occasion, these young bulls run free in a contained street course with the crowds mostly barricaded behind tall fencing. The sport is to see which are most likely to be aggressive enough for the bull fighting ring. It is surprising how some bulls are simply timid and don’t even want to leave the big truck which opens to the street.  Young bucks from the village, taunt the beast and when one of them charges, they flee up lamp posts. The rest of us sit on high walls or behind barricades and one time, my husband  Olivier became separated  from me in the crowd and then I spied him out there on the street hiding from the raging beast behind a rubbish bin. Iwas horrified and screamed -a silly act given the noise of the spectacle.

In these same streets we watched the Fete de la Transhumance on Whit Sunday when herds of sheep are driven around the perimeter by shepherds and, of course, the dogs and afterwards, we walked with the villagers to sit at trestles under the pine trees to enjoy  a community luncheon.  Far more glamorous was the cultural festival to choose La Dame De Saint-Remy,  where single young women dress in traditional Provencal costumes to be chosen as an ambassadrice for the village. Each entrant is presented on a white horse accompanied by handsome young picadors.  Is it really nine years since Olivier and I sat in a restaurant on Boulevard Victor Hugo cheering on not only the women but the whole procession which presented the traditions and livelihood of the region.  It was all part of the patchwork of my rich French life with Olivier in St Remy.

This chapter has now closed. Both mammy and Valentine have died and no more than 18 months after his mother’s death in July 2010, Olivier himself passed away in May 2012.

The cheese shop in St Remy is outstanding

When I return to St Remy in September this year, I have no doubt it will be nostalgic, I will probably weep, the way Olivier wept the first time he took me to the quarries at Les Baux in 2004 as he remembered his late wife, Colette.  However, mostly I will be filled with happiness as I relive all of these wonderful experiences with him.