Tuesday, August 26, 2008


"Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth"

On November 19 & 20 this year, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will perform Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, a work Elgar saw as the best of himself, the music set to the poem of the same name by Cardinal John Newman. It will be led by the incoming chief conductor and artistic advisor, Vladimir Ashkenazy, features the very fabulous mezzo Lilli Passikivi (“warm voice from cold Finland”), English tenor Mark Tucker, English baritone David Wilson-Johnson, and the great Sydney Philharmonia Choir.

Newman’s poem tells of the fear of impending death of the dying Gerontius, the primal fear of loss of self, the end of ego, the realisation that the self isn’t any more, let alone wasn’t ever, and then the ascent of the soul, with its guardian angel, to Heaven...well nearly. It is a very Catholic view of death and the thereafter.

That I am going, that I am no more.
As though my very being had given way,
As though I was no more a substance now,
And drop from out the universal frame
Into that shapeless, slopeless, black abyss,
That utter nothingness, of which I came.

Released from the body, the soul ascends, "my fear is fled", past Demons, Angelicals, “my soul is in my hand: I have no fear”, escorted up the Sacred Stairs, to catch a glimpse of the Divine, only to then stay awhile in Purgatory:

Farewell, but not forever! Brother dear,
Be brave and patient in thy bed of sorrow
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.

About the time of this performance, the Vatican is expected to complete the canonisation, the elevation to sainthood, of Cardinal Newman. Sainthood is the declared belief that Heaven has been reached, one is in the presence of the Divine and enjoying a direct relationship with God.

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman was the great Catholic thinker and writer of the 19th Century and a strong and literate champion of the Catholic cause , particularly against Anglicanism, (most manifest in Henry Manning and his works), a cause to which Newman was especially valuable having switched his allegiance from the latter to the former. Cardinal Newman was inspired as early as the age of 15 to a higher calling, including the belief that a single life, a life of celibacy, was a worthy goal in a life of devotion, a goal which few could meet. His experience of God was inspirational and experiential, not rational. He wrestled with the issue of the authority of the Church, especially where it might lead to conflict with conscience, although his public stance was that it would never come to the irreconcilable. Fr. Frank Brennan SJ, a man I see as our major voice of social conscience, in his Melbourne Newman Lecture in March this year, highlighted the issue of conscience versus Vatican as he called the attendants to a toast:

Newman's confidence that there would be no prospect of an overlap, let alone a conflict, between the matters on which the Pope would speak infallibly and the matters on which the citizen would have to decide political and moral questions accounts for his notorious declaration:
"Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink — to the Pope if you please, — still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards
. “

Pope vs Newman is not finished yet. As a prelude to canonisation, the Vatican is in the process of moving Newman’s remains, after the necessary changes to the law forbidding tampering with the dead, to a place worthy of such a person, a place appropriate for people to visit, venerate, and seek inspiration. What’s wrong with where he’s been buried for the last 120 years?
He is buried where he lived, at Rednal, Worchestershire, a residence with chapel and cemetery. Interestingly, Rednal was bought with surplus funds from moneys raised to pay the 100 pound fine, and 14,000 pound expenses, from a successful libel suit which had arisen from his accusations of immorality in the process of his defence against another’s anti-Catholic preachings.

Newman lived at Rednal with Ambrose St John, his lifetime male companion, for 32 years, from 1843 till St John’s death in 1875, at which time Newman wrote: "I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband's or a wife's, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or anyone's sorrow greater, than mine."

He stayed there till his own death on August 11 1890, declaring “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John's grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will". He later added "This I confirm and insist on." The character of the guardian angel, Newman’s (Gerontius) escort to heaven, is considered by many to be Ambrose St John

For 118 years his body has lain in the same tomb as his beloved, and under the one headstone, with the one inscription:

Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth

The truth, the uncomfortable turth, would be there for all who should come to see, reflect, and venerate. There lies not one man, but two men, in love in life and joined thereafter.

It is his remains, and only his, that are to be moved.

John Henry Cardinal Newman

Fr Ambrose St John

Saturday, August 23, 2008


The dogs are walked and there's fresh flowers in the house, bunches of Astartea, a myrtle hybrid whose little pink faces follow you around the room, and some glossy green foliage of the Old Man Banksia (Banksia serrata). The myrtles are a plant family with essential oils which release on crushing into wonderful familiar scents. Eucalypts, cloves, and allspice are myrtles. Here there are clumps of these happy little shrubs close by, where a low sweep of the hand from the bush to the nostrils never fails to startle with its sweet pungency.

In this morning’s ABC FM ‘Keys To Music’, Graham Abbott and the Melbourne Symphnoy Orchestra were looking into Britten’s Sea Interludes. We were tuned in. K. had made the porridge, and a good porridge too, with fresh sliced pear just cooked enough to still give that distinctive juicy crunch against the smooth creaminess of the oats. I was starting the weekend’s Minestrone.

As was pointed out, 'Peter Grimes' (1944), from which this orchestral suite derives, is not an opera about the sea; it is about people, a small fishing village and an outsider. After Christopher Isherwood rejected a request to write the libretto, Montagu Slater, a writer of the political left, willingly agreed. Slater was to emphasise the conflict between Grimes and the village, portraying him as a victim of small minded prejudices. Britten himself noted during its composition: “It is getting more and more an opera about the community."[*]

The opera starts with an inquest into the death of one of Grimes' young apprentices. He is cleared of foul play, but suspicion lingers. He feels unworthy of the widowed schoolteacher Ellen, in a class above him, till he is more prosperous, a struggle which drives him to unreasonable ends, but not to success. Although Ellen would have accepted him as he was, he is unable to see himself as her equal and during a quarrel with her over her concern for his rough treatment of his new apprentice, he strikes her. This brings about the end of their relationship, his dream of happiness, and is the beggining of his end. A landslip outside his hut kills the boy, not directly Grimes fault, but the village can now never believe in his innocence. His sanity slipping, he is advised to take out his boat and scuttle it, to suicide, and he does. The next day dawns as the village life continues unchanged, nothing more than a page torn from its book. Peter Grimes is a masterful commentary on the iniquity of judgement.

The Four Sea Interludes that make up Opus 33a (there is another interlude and passacaglia in the opera) are Dawn, early shafts of light on a cold grey beach morning as fishermen prepare their nets; Sunday Morning, church bells ringing the chattering gossips in to their service; Moonlight, at once dark and delicate, with a disturbing sense of impending disaster; and the Storm, which actually sits between Sc 1 and 2, Act 1, mirroring the turbulence in Grimes’s mind, following his plaintive song of release from anguish: “ What harbour shelters peace?”

What harbour shelters peace?
Away from tidal waves, away from storm
What harbour can embrace
Terrors and tragedies?
With her there'll be no quarrels,
With her the mood will stay,
A harbour evermore
Where night is turned to day.

Graham Abbott concluded: “I ecncourage you to explore it (Peter Grimes); I encourage you to explore ANY NOTE witten by Britten.” Amen.

[*] "Britten" David Matthews


Easy peasy Minestrone for a cold weekend:

In a big heavy based saucepan, soften 1 or 2 fine chopped onions in just enough good oil till onions soften and clear, then add equal amounts of coarsely diced carrot and celery (say, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks), including some celery leaf, and gently soften over low heat.

Add about 8 (skinned) big ripe fresh tomatoes, breaking them up with your wooden spoon as you mix. (To skin, bring tomatoes just to the boil in a pot of water, cool and the skins peel off easily)

Add a small tin (400gm) of (washed) cannellini beans, or (overnight soaked) dried ones, then gradually add up to 500ml (heated) chicken stock, fresh made or shelf is fine these days. Bring to a gentle simmer, add more stock or water to suit. Some whole (flat leaf) parsley sprigs added now gives extra good flavour (take out before serving)

Add coarse diced potato and sweet potato (handfull of each), and maybe more stock or water to your preferred consistency.

Season to taste, and let simmer, covered with tight lid, for an hour or so, adding a big bunch of shredded spinach leaves along the way. Simmer away, lid on, till the veggies are nicely cooked, till you’re ready, or better still, leave aside and reheat later; the flavour is always better.

Serve with fresh grated parmesan and crunchy bread or a herb bruschetta. And a drink.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


By late yesterday afternoon a bank of dark clouds had built up over the southern treetops. The dogs had just been fed, so we set off regardless for a quick walk in the bush, and just made it back before the rain set in.

It was not till the moon rose that I realised the storm clouds had moved on; the sky was black and the ground soaked. Over the gully, a creamy moon eased itself up, getting higher, whiter and smaller, till it was a perfect silver circle high in the sky. Without a cloud blanket, we were in for another cold one.

The night was broken and the dogs were restless. The old dog seemed awake most of the time, an occassional soft growl from the floor, one of those 'I know something you don't but should' kind of growls, and the pup was unusually unsettled. By first light both of them were nudging at the verandah door, so we opened up early. There it was, a big heavy frost, everywhere white, including the breath.

Staring at it all, my eye caught a small dark shadow far down the lawn, as if some little thing had died. I hurried over the ice. Oblivious to its predicament, alone through the night, lay one of K's black leather shoes. The puppy must have taken it out last thing for the wombat, a little present for Wally.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

OA 2009

It’s that time of year when the next season analysts deconstruct it all. It is like most of their seasons, a wide mix, a valid attempt I suppose to try to please most of the people most of the time.

The difficulties are pretty extreme. Apart from the usual nightmares of programming for any company, anywhere, Opera Australia has its own special problems. They are woefully under funded, relying more than most on box office, and a box-office in Sydney that is tied to a (SOH) theatre with low seat capacity, and therefore low returns per performance. As long as it is the building and not the performance that fills the house (Sydney fills, Melbourne doesn’t), they’re stuck, low seat/performance ratio, crappy small pit, bad acoustic, inadequate stage size and facility etc. Joan Sutherland said she didn’t like singing there as she felt she was only singing to the front few rows. She was right, she was.

Then to all this add the usual, but meaningful cliché, the great tyranny of distance. It may preserve what is one, if not the, last ensemble companies on the world, but it is still a big hurdle in both directions.

So we get bums-on-seats shows with long runs (My Fair Lady, G & S), popular classics (Butterfly, Aida), and still manage a good dose of baroque and 20thC, and something in between. But no Wagner, no Strauss. The ideal theatre in Sydney at the moment for big opera is the Capitol. From the SMH 2003, Bryce Hallett, in discussion with Simone Young, then doing Mastersingers there, noted:

“As demonstrated in 2000 during Opera Australia's Elektra season at the Capitol, the sound from the orchestra pit left no doubt as to why the Opera Theatre must close in 2006 for its pit to be enlarged and the acoustics improved. "It's fantastic to see these happy chappies [the musicians] in the pit," Young said yesterday. "There's room to move and we have the proper size orchestra. I flatly refused to perform Wagner in the Opera Theatre pit and the singers and musicians have found being at the Capitol a rewarding experience. The sound being made is extremely close to the pit in Munich where Wagner's opera was first heard in 1868." “

The Elektra, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Deborah Polaski, was, by the way, a box-office and critical success. They were great times, 2000, Olympics on the way, nothing beyond us. Only 8 years ago. We are now in the incongruous situation with a Federal government reaping huge export revenues, a hopelessly inept and financially strapped NSW State Government struggling with the basics of transport and education, lean times at the household level, and a country facing basic infrastructure flaws like power and water supplies.

No one is likely to throw a billion dollars at the SOH to fix up the Opera Theatre any time soon, despite the fact that it would do for this city and country exactly what the building itself did all those years ago. Get the lottery going, with gambling money going somewhere useful instead of the pockets of a few. In the meantime, can’t we manage just one major work a year in the Capitol. Get the Adelaide Ring up here even. One a year, then away we go. Sydney needs it, badly.

Back to OA 2009. I was interested in how much Mr Hickox was up for:
Werther (Sydney) 6 performances
Peter Grimes (Sydney) 4
Radiance (hello marketing people…look at me) Concert (Sydney) 1
Cosi (Sydney) 9
Flute (Melbourne) 4
Lady M (Sydney) 7

That’s 31, with 4 in Melbourne.

Anyone who knows me (that's K, the dogs, and the big eucalypt outside the bedroom window) will know that I am particularly interested in:

The R (I can’t bring myself to say it twice) Concert
The Four Last Songs (Barker) and the Rossini (sans Grigolo, thankfully) but the Pines of Rome?

Peter Grimes
Everything, both conductors (Hickox and Andrew Greene), Stuart Skelton (based now in Florida I hear), Peter C-W (so strong in the Death in Venice), Susan Gritton, Elizabeth Campbell, but most of all (marble halls) Neil Armfield.

Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk
Zambello nails it this time, Susan Bollock (at last) & Wegner is a fine character performer (Daniel Sumegi in Melbourne)

Jim Sharman for anything and everything.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


One is YOUNG and FREE, the other is OLD and NOT

Take your time….

Not sure?



Around midday yesterday in a crowded staff room, all eyes fixed on the flat screen, R announced that it was unfair. It was probably the swimmer with the best slippery swimsuit who won. “It’s not natural” she hissed. Now, R is rumoured to be trapped in the certainty of fundamentalism, of the Christian variety. “Then what we need is nude swimming” I countered. As she blushed I wondered which naked gender she had suddenly visualised.

She’s right of course. A few hundredths of a second separating competitors from a million dollars all because of an immune system pushed to the limit, a headache, a dodgy prawn. Every finalist should get a medal, all the same, an Olympic Medal, a you-got-there medal. No flags, no anthems, just applause. The winner gets the bunch of flowers.

Suspend nationalism, corporate anything, sponsorship, empty seats of rich stay-at-homes and all that would be left would be friendships, understanding and the chance of some peace. Perish the thought.

As for those sour IOC officials, what’s the problem? How can they manage to not be grinning from ear to ear? Scrambled eggs a little runny? A pea under the mattress?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


It is now well confirmed that any reprise of the enormously succesful Adelaide 2004 Ring Cycle has been shelved. Why? Apparenly after three feasibility studies, the Federal Government has decided against giving its share of the $15 million project. As Barry Humphries, a man with insight best described as piercing, noted in his inaugural Arthur Boyd Lecture in London, there are things that remind you that our Prime Minister is from Queensland. Add this to the list. As for Peter Garrett, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, I can’t think where to start, and it appears neither can he.

So instead of this

then this

followed by

and finally

we end up with this, some ‘best bits’, broadecast live August 9 from the Festival Theatre Adelaide, on ABC FM:

Australian soprano Lisa Gasteen joins the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to perform works by Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Wagner - Tannhauser: Dich, teure Halle;
Lohengrin, Act 1: Einsam in truben Tagen (Elsa’s Dream);
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1;
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 3;
Tristan and Isolde: Prelude and Lovedeath;
R Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier: Suite, Op 59;
Salome, Op 54: Finale.
Arvo Volmer conducts.

The problem with the ‘best bits’ is that they’re no longer the best bits when they’re not part of the whole. They’re now just bits, extracted, as if jewels from some crown, and reduced to mere familiar moments devoid of meaning or perspective. It’s like flying to Uluru or to Broome. You may think you see and understand, but what you don’t know is exactly where they (and you) are, and more importantly, why they (and you) are really there. So it is with the likes of Wagner and Strauss. Without the where and the why, all that is left is a musical vagrancy, most often disguised with the suspicious ‘gala’ tag.

Nonetheless, the concert was enjoyable. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was in fine form. They are seasoned Wagnerian players, as well documented in the Melba recording of the fated 2004 Ring, and were in good hands with Mr Volmer. Lisa Gasteen sounded particularly warm in the middle and lower voice, and even the upper voice, if a little stretched in the first half, had some of its steel polished off. It may be the Festival Theatre, with its LARS acoustics, giving a softened warm sound. But there is a big vibrato, tolerable in its warmth, although I was even starting to wonder if a vibrato could ever end up a trill.

The interval feature included an interview with Arvo Volmer nicely batting a few rather gauche questions. He made good mention of the need for piano and forte to extend beyond pure dynamics and embrace the character of the sound. Then came a musical treasure: Richard Strauss playing his own reduced scoring for the Salome Dance of the Seven Veils, recorded in Leipzig in 1906 on a Welte-Mignon piano roll, a digital invention of the early 1900s that managed to reproduce the sounds of the piano with remarkable realism. It was nothing if not astounding, for the depth of character and quality of the sound, the template for how the composer heard this music, and last but not least, it was Himself.

My order is in the (e)mail.

Monday, August 11, 2008


K and I were back at the Opera House on Friday night. Most of the city seemed already home, red and yellowed with chopsticks in their hair, bracing for what one commentator had told us was an Olympic opening ceremony that had everything needed except the seat belts…more on that later.

I never arrive at this place, the one building that always makes my heart skip, without feeling some sense of reverence, and I am not a person prone to reverence. It is the only building in Sydney that lifts up my soul. It is my cathedral.

We met up with C and G at the CafĂ© Mozart. There’s lots of pre-performance goings-on here. Under the huge concrete ribs which hold up the great Aztec platform on which it all sits, where the lighting in sometimes wonderful but often not, where the queues move mostly faster than you expect, where the food comes from the posh kitchen at a fraction of the cost, where elbows bump and tables rock, where everyone has an eye on the clock, here is expectation. Enjoy the show. See you at interval. Is there time for the loo? We like to reenact the old George Molnar cartoon when the Opera House first opened, where a wide-eyed couple dwarfed by the foyer, lost in the newness of it all, agreed to meet at interval “underneath the Whitlams”.

After what must have been a gruelling time backing up the Sydney International Piano Competition, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra were up for Stravinsky’s Firebird and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 (marketed as Bartok No 2, changed, more's the pity, somewhere along the line) with the Tashkent born Israeli Yefim Bronfman and Californian born David Robertson conducting.

I arrived with baggage: the 2001 SSO Firebird under Charles Dutoit, who somehow manages to most always be able to get an exacting discipline from the orchestra while at the same time making music where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Certainly he did it on that special night in 2001, where he drove a tense and shimmering performance of Firebird to a brilliant cracking forte climax and a ravishing sweep of strings that seemed to hover somewhere above the concert platform in swirls, such that the final chord was met with that rarest of moments: stunned silence, broken only by an orgasmic moan of ecstasy from a man in one of the side boxes, a moan I suspect he wasn’t even aware of till he heard it in his own ears, swiftly followed by thunderous applause.

Enter Bronfman, a large bear-like man, unruly hair, and was that a scowl? People shifted in their seats. The Steinway Grand looked nervous. Even Nathan Waks had moved back a row in the cellos. Mr Robertson followed, trim and neat, clipped straight hair, which would later bob its way through with the exaggerated beat, and was that a cummerbund?

So it began. Daaa daa de DUMB daaaa, de DUMB…

There were two concertos being played here, one was Bronfman’s, like a St Bernard straining on a leash, the other Robertson’s, keeping it all tight and compact, and dare I say, a bit boring. By the end of it all, Bronfman must have decided he was going to lock it in Eddie (it was being broadcast live) so he fixed his stare on the conductor (you rather had the impression the conductor had forgotten there was a pianist), keyboard left to its own devices, and they belted the finale out TOGETHER. Bronfman didn’t look happy. I know how he felt.

K liked Bronfman a lot. Our seats give a good view down the keyboard and this bear could play. At interval I joked to C that Robertson looked, and worse conducted, like a smart young republican senator. C said this was a terrible thing to say, and he could think of no worse insult, except that we had indeed heard two concertos.

Firebird, the original 1910 full score, was given the same tight leash treatment. It was so slow that where there should be tension we got lethargy, shimmer became quiver, brass became just brass. Someone (who if they are wise will stay anonymous) had arranged for special effects, through what sounded like loud speakers, no players could be seen, to give weird and very distracting surround sound gimmicky up here, over here now, guess where I am, brass bits. Boston Pops sprang to mind.

I did buy a Decca reissue ($12 – Vienna Phil , von Dohnanyi, 1979) from the jolly Spider Music lady in the foyer. Back in the bush, K and I listened on Sunday afternoon with C’s loaned planar speakers. Wonderful stuff: brilliant detail, racy rhythms, and a fantastic sound stage, rolling around the room, while the snow flurries we get here every few years danced outside the windows.


The old dog sleeps close by the bed now. She’s showing signs of the irregular rhythm and failing heart that two years ago killed her litter sister, her friend, her rival, our good companion. The gentle snoring is more reassurance than disturbance; she is still here.

The new puppy is 18 months, and has grown into quite a long-legged beauty. There is a little bit of one ear missing. Ask the old dog.

When allowed, and sometimes when not, the pup is quick up on the bed. She doesn’t just lie on the bed, she doesn’t just lie next to you on the bed, she finds your body contour and morphs into the missing jigsaw piece with a pressing commitment to closeness that only those who know about these things will understand.

Don’t know? Don’t ask.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


When I’m in Sydney, I pass her childhood house at least once a day. After years of neglect, it was auctioned and sold recently. I’ve sat on the bus stop outside it and thought about a mother singing right there, just in there, to the young girl who would become known to the world as “La Stupenda”.

Over the hill and a short walk away is the Sydney Cricket Ground where her mother went on languid Sydney summer days. Now the games are fast forward day-night commercial circuses, the local night skies warped by the glare of the floodlights.

Further up the street my father opened his first bank account at the Commonwealth Bank. One shilling. The bank has gone and a metal ATM is in its place. The little streets are crowded with fashionable boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Only the red brick Federation post office looks unchanged.

After decades falling down as Lucia on all the world stages, and now 81, she fell in her garden in Switzerland picking flowers. Both legs were broken. Hospitalised since June, at last there’s some good news. From Opera Australia's "Allerta" this month, Richard Bonynge has a special message from Dame Joan Sutherland:

“Joan would like to thank everyone who has sent such kind messages, and such beautiful cards and flowers to her during her time in hospital. She is unable to answer each message individually but wanted everyone to know it has been such a help in her recovery. She is doing well and is expecting to go home very soon.”

Whatever frailty has overtaken her body, this great woman's courage, endurance, and perserverance which were the hallmarks of the legend seem undiminished. Anyone who saw her, whenever, wherever, with whomever else, knew this: she was the goods. Legs broken maybe, spirit never.

There are more summers and roses yet, thank goodness.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Last night was a cold two-dog night. It was the unmistakable downward cadenza of the Satin Bower Bird that, through the slightly open bedroom window, told me not only had the day and I returned, but so had he. Hello, and did I tell you I missed you?

Moving in flocks, satin bower birds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) leave their dense forest homes in autumn to winter and feed in open woodlands. In spring, they return to the same territory year after year to nest and breed. This is the kind of signal of change, of a season, that the indigenous people have assimilated into their thinking about time and place, unlike the awkward and inappropriate four northern hemisphere seasons we have inherited and have yet to discard.

Each male makes his own bower, a cathedral arch of delicate fine sticks and straws, decorated with forest treasures like flowers, feathers, and berries, with blue the most prized. The bower is perfectly aligned north south. With song and dance he entices the female into his archway, where she squats as his performance unfolds around her, his excitement increasing with flashes of purple blue feathers, wild violet eyes, and offers of gifts in his beak.

After mating, the female moves away to nest alone leaving the male and his bridal bower for another.

There are quite a few bowers around here. Whenever I stumble upon one I move on quickly. Years ago, when I first happened on one, it was photographed and boasted about to anyone who would listen. Later when I revisited to peer at it again, it had collapsed, with no sign of activity but only a sad little pile of twigs on the ground. It wasn’t mine to boast about, and I was embarrassed to have intruded into such a private place, and felt a strange silly guilt that I might even have taken his energy away with my image.

He had taken his blue treasures though.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


J called this morning. We always end up, or rather start up, talking about work and books. She told me Ja’s husband, who had a stroke about a year ago, after years of grog and cigarettes, is not really as good as she makes out. Either she is in denial, or is downplaying it at work, or both. Apparently he can’t even remember all his children’s names.

Then there was a weird moment during the conversation when my words came out in the wrong order, and worse, now I can’t even remember the actual mistake. It was something like wanting to say “ in terms of her life”, but actually saying “life in her terms”. The words I wanted to use had already been formed, but the sequencing went wrong. I wonder if I am getting amyloid in my brain. It makes you think about all the things already happening inside you, the time bomb, and strangely it was only last night listening with C to The Song of The Earth (Minton, Kollo, CSO, Solti) that we touched on Mahler's tick-tock motifs, and time, and denial. My word blip was just a little slip-up, but it does make for feeling very brittle about just about everything, and the uncertainty factor gives gratitude about the past and present but is alarmingly scary about the future.

And then there's D’s husband, a cardiac cripple. Last week he was unable to get out of bed, and when she takes his blood pressure it is either very low or very high. She is living on the edge, wondering, if not hoping, if he will die any day soon. On Wednesday she thought he would die during the night, and hardly slept and cried for three hours. They sleep, or don’t sleep, in separate rooms.

This, of course, took us, J and me this morning on the phone, to Helen Garner’s latest book, The Spare Room. We both loved it. J had heard her interviewed on the ABCs The Book Show. After we had hung up, I went straight to the ABC online, and found the transcript. Reading through, I braked at the word ‘liminal’. I didn’t have a clear idea of what it meant and 'subliminal' wasn't helping much.

It turns out that ‘liminal’ is a state of transition with unlimited application. In Helen Garner’s context, it is that wonderful zone between fully awake and fully asleep. I love that feeling.

Twilight, therefore, is the liminal time between day and night. It reminded me of the expression the French have: “Entre chiens et loups” – between dogs and wolves. When our dogs were young, they would often face-off just after the sun had dipped below the horizon, when the air temperature suddenly drops, and on their hind legs rear up at each other, forelegs flexed onto the others chest, heads back and growling or ducking sideways to take hold of that furry collar on the others neck, biting and pulling, each perfectly balanced but needing the other to stay up and continue the regression to a wilder state. It was the only time of day they did this, when the light was greying, with shapes still there but drained of colour and detail, the night not yet and the day slipping away like a mother silently easing herself from a child’s bedroom.

Everything is liminal. I am a liminal being.