Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Blue Room Book Review - Sincerely – Women of Letters – Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire (ed)

The title's a bit of a misnomer, as there are blokes in there too, and this, the second volume is an improvement on tome one. That is no mean feat as it was pretty impressive too. As with the original our editors allocate prominent Australians topics to address in letter form.

I had two complaints about the last time around and one of those, whether intentionally or not, has been addressed. There was a marked reduction in 'f-bombs' – only a few chose to sully an otherwise fine contribution with an injudicious over use of them – I have no problems with a judicious sprinkling. This, in my view, resulted in the collection being 'softer' – the letters were seemingly more heartfelt, even quite poignant in some cases. This time there wasn't so much stretching to be 'edgy', to confront, as in the original volume.

There were some special pieces here – I can think of only one effort I moved on from unfinished. Clever was Kristina Olsen's paean to the alphabet, and the same could be said for the way George Negus twisted his prose ode to 'the woman who changed is life'. Being a fan of the Go-Betweens, I was moved by Joe Laffer's epistle of tribute to the late, great Grant McLennan. From what I've already discerned about Joe, as well as a terrific singer, he is a young man of definite substance. His piece on the writer of 'Cattle and Cane' and other classics only reinforces that notion.

Julian Burnside's 'Dear Jenny', a tale of how his mother-in-law helped shaped the author's activism, also demonstrates how the meanspiritness of the Howard years has diminished the traditional Aussie axiom of a 'fair go' for all. It is yet to be revitalised by any current political leader. Did a Tracey Lehman cause Adam Elliot's sexual proclivity? In his letter the Oscar winner presents a convincing case that this may well be the case. The cruel streak of the ilk of that little miss in the playground, something I unfortunately witnessed many times over the course of my forty years' teaching, is a feature of my former calling I do not miss. Kamahl's undying love for his Sahodra is sweetly presented, as is Justin Heazleward's love for his Tasmanian nan. Deborah Conway’s description of  busy family activity is suffused with gentle humour, particularly when a most personable canine is added to give life some extra lustre of sorts. Emily Maguire's contribution is something I could have well used in my teaching days to counter the Tracey Lehmans I came across, for she was, according to her letter, inclined to behave deplorably towards her peers as well. The wonderful Samantha Lane, one of my favourite 'Agony Aunts', reminded us all just how important the right natural body smell is to relationships. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat you may exclaim! Read it, and see what she means.
For various reasons the above were the standouts for me, but truly there was hardly a dud. And the other complaint not addressed? Still there was the constant fumbling in the back pages that I had to engage in to get a handle on those personages whose contribution to our Australia I was not familiar with – so much simpler to give the potted biographies immediately after their wordsmithery, surely!!!!

Now it is a given that male fantasies and Marieke Hardy go hand in hand, do they not? She would definitely appear on this thinking man's list of the world's most alluring women – another Blue Room list coming up perhaps? Perhaps an indulgence, but can I daydream that, perhaps in a parallel universe, she could mistake me for George Negus –  not too much of a stretch I feel – and therefore ask me for a considered letter to 'the woman who changed my life'. If this were to be the case, it would go something like this:-

My Darling Loving Partner
I was tempted by your letter describing yourself and I was tempted by your phone voice all those years ago. Already we differed in one regard – you were/are a phone person, I am a man of letters – but when you sent me your first photo, all that was quickly irrelevant – I was smitten. It was a portrait taken in your capacity as a maternity nurse – and you were cradling a new born. I was in adoration before we had even met. I fell in love with a photo. I've had similar feelings in recent times watching you so lovingly cradle your grandson, the impish and highly personable Little Ford Man, as well as my own gorgeous Tessa Tiger. My wonderful Kate's pregnancy wasn't the easiest, but you were there for her, giving advice and the encouragement she needed. It meant something coming from someone so well versed in the area; it being a major factor in getting her through that difficult time, along with her own bravery, resilience and determination. How can I ever thank you enough for that? It was the same when my son was going through a tough patch of a different sort. Your soothing words and sage presence gave me the strength I needed to help him. How can I ever thank you enough for that?

As soon as we met I knew – I knew I wanted you in my life and I was so impatient with my own shortcomings that could mean I wouldn't measure up. Somehow I did, and these almost two decades spent with you have been the happiest of my life.

That photographic image all those years ago conveyed the essence of you as a person, and you have never deviated from that essence in all these years I've shared your world. First and foremost is your humanity- never more to the fore when helping friends going though tough times, such as when we were losing our beautiful Bev. There is your strength – starting from scratch from the ashes of a marriage with your Ilsa and Alex to guide through their young lives, and being there for them, and other family members, when loved ones passed on. As is your just desserts, as adults Alex and Ilsa are both a credit to you. There is your unfailing glass half fullness – your optimism is a daily fillip to all with whom you come in contact. There is your sense of humour, always there when I get above myself, always there to create laughter in any situation. Your ease with other people, and your ability to make those people feel special, are hallmarks of your incomparable generosity of spirit. I am so much a better person having you in my world.

There is so much more that I adore about you. There is your ability to make much from little, as nurses are so poorly remunerated for all their caring and skills. Your culinary expertise is impressive. You have created a wonderful home for me to share with our imperfectly perfect abode on the banks of the Derwent. There is the care you take with your self presentation that always means I am so proud to have you on my arm. You've even had a go at improving my lousy fashion sense. You have an artist's eye, and an attention to detail that escapes me. You see where I need to change and gently guide me there, not with haranguing, but with humour and encouragement. You have made me more tolerant and calmer – although you'd probably reflect there is still away to go.

When I met you I was a muddle, but now contentment fills my world. I know there are still challenges ahead, but with you beside me, I feel better equipped to meet them. I love the life we have together and I love that you know when to give me space to be me. I appreciate that you trust me, and, even though I may on occasions flap like a seagull or become Mr Wobbly, you seem able to put up with it.

When your hand reaches out and settles on the small of my back in the dark of the night, I know that heaven is truly here on earth. You are all I want, all I need till the end of my days. You are my love – now and always.                                                                                                                               Your man.

Women of Letters Website =

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