Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: christmas

Cuts, colours and the magic of Christmas

Some say the bloom of the Jacaranda tree heralds the beginning of Christmas, or cherries in the shops (this is Australia I’m talking about), or children lighting candles. In a less innocent world, we speak of Black Friday, online shopping, and Santa’s Sled wending its way from China. For me, there is another, magical Advent marker.

Namely, the Christmas cut and colour.

What? You didn’t know of this was a phenomena! You clearly haven’t worked in the public library service. We are a female dominated industry and some many of us are no longer young. One by one, from around mid December, my colleagues and I, take turns to flex off work early. Only to return, the following morning, a brighter, crisper version of ourselves.

I’m not working at a single library branch anymore. So this year, the ritual has been less apparent. But it is happening, as surely as the sun rises in the east, I know it is happening and, as I’m going to a work party tomorrow, the need to get my act together has been looming.

My husband says I should abandon the pretence, go grey naturally (aka, keep him company). But here’s the thing. Sometimes, when I tell people I’m a Mam-gu, they say:

‘Oh, no, surely not! You’re way too young.’

Which I kind of like. It makes up for the fact that people keep asking me if I’m pregnant (gotta take the good with the bad). When people stop making these comments, I will surrender my youthful image. Until then, I’m a slave to the Christmas cut and colour.

I have a great hairdresser in Coburg. My first haircut after moving north, my son said:

‘Wow! You look like you haven’t been going to the same suburban hairdresser for twenty years.’

Having my hair cut in Coburg, is an altogether different experience to the chatty, know-everything-about-you event in the leafy suburbs. My hairdresser is from the middle-east. Her salon is filled with family and friends. She talks on her mobile phone, while cutting my hair, switching back and forth between languages. I’m no one. Just a fly on the wall. But I keep going back. Even when the salon had its windows shot in by the underworld, I kept my appointment. A good haircut is worth the risk. It is also expensive (far more expensive than its same-for-twenty-years equivalent). Which is why I now do the colouring myself.

I started dyeing my own hair while in Wales. My friend, Veronica, and I, decided, we’d cut the cost, by sharing the packet of hair dye. Veronica’s sister had been a hairdresser. So she had a little bowl and brush. It was my idea to turn a plastic glove inside out so we had a right hand one each (still pretty proud of that thought). Halving the cost seemed like a good idea at the time. Next day we both noticed the cover was, well, let’s say a little…patchy.

A month later, I lashed out, bought an entire packet and did the dyeing without help. But I didn’t have a little bowl and brush and I was in a rush so I could scuttle back to my room before the other Maelor residents caught me (gotta keep up the pretence). Trouble is, I didn’t have a good mirror in my room. So I didn’t notice the dye all over my left cheek. The end result, a dark-haired woman who looked like she’d been beaten about the face with a rolling pin.

With this colourful (pun intended) history you’d think I’d be begging the hairdresser to do my Christmas cut and colour. But, no, I learned to use a drill in Wales, unblock toilets, catch bats, paint walls, frame artwork, pack sculptures, take down exhibitions, eat chips with cheese, and do second-to-none hill starts. I owed it to myself not to back down. I applied the dye, without mishap, wiped my face, the bathroom sink, the floor, and, oh, yes, maybe also the shower screen. I sat, with the arms of my glasses wrapped in cling-wrap, while reading Dyddiau Olaf Owain Glyndwr (that’s gotta be a first for the author).

Now, it’s done. My youthful facade is fully restored. The nativity scene is set up in the living room, Jacaranda’s are blooming, the cherries are in the shops. Tomorrow, I will turn up at work, a brighter, crisper version of myself and no one will mention the cut and colour, or the wisps of grey I’ve somehow missed, because we have a ritual to maintain, part of the time-honoured Christmas magic. So let the festivities begin!

Nadolig Llawen pawb a blwyddyn newydd da i chi i gyd!

Christmas in July – a license for petty tyranny

July is cold and wet in Melbourne and, as it is also my birthday month, a family dinner was required. Having just returned from the northern hemisphere, I requested a Christmas in July theme. For those of you on the far side of the world, this is what Aussies do to make up for the fact that we celebrate Christmas in the heat. For my migrant parents, Christmas meant jacking up the air conditioner and serving the full Christmas roast followed by plum pudding and hot mince pies. I followed this tradition until my family grew old enough to voice their opinions. At which point it was decided a summer feast was required. We now roast meat on the Weber and team it with a mix of salads and baked vegetables which we eat balanced on our knees while swatting at flies. It is a fun day and quintessentially Australian. But I do miss the traditional fare. Hence Christmas in July. 

 

The benefit of doing Christmas in July for my birthday is that it was all about me. 🙂 I chose the decorations, the food and the music. The later meant pulling out my Welsh Christmas carols CD. A selection that would not usually be tolerated beyond the obligatory half hour. Once the theme had been set, tasks were delegated. Andrew roasted the pork:

My daughter, Phoebe, created the dessert. My son, Seth, mulled the wine.

Half way through the afternoon, Andrew asked: ‘How long does this carol CD go for?’

 ‘Ages,’ I said, not bothering to smother my smile. ‘It is called 101 Carolau Cymraeg – 101 Welsh Carols.’

‘But, Liz, it feels like we’ve been in church all afternoon.’

Andrew was right. There is a reason we only sing the ten top favourite carols annually. But I wasn’t about to alter my selection. What is birthday for, other than a license for petty tyranny? Infact, I’m thinking of making Christmas in July a new family tradition. Though, I may buy a new CD for next year. 

PS. Yes, that is an old door in the background of the first photograph. No, it doesn’t serve and useful purpose. My husband is a collector. In light of which, 101 carols once a year is a minor inconvenience. 🙂

 

Blog twenty-two o Gymru – a second Christmas

If you thought Christmas was over, think again. The early Celtic Church celebrated Christmas on 25th of December – according to the Julian Calendar, which equates to  the 7th of January on the Gregorian Calendar (the one followed in most Western Countries today). Which is how, this week, I found myself sitting in a traditional Welsh carol service.

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Plygain, is the word for this occasion, in Welsh. An ancient, possibly pre-Christianity festival that became part of the Church calendar and was traditionally held in the early hours of Christmas morning. Attendees would often stay up all night, dancing to the harp, before setting out with flaming torches to escort the priest to the church for the commencement of the service.

Now if you know one thing about Wales, it is probably the love of choral singing. Although the mass, male voice choirs we associate with Wales today were most likely a product of of the industrial era, singing in harmony is a much older Welsh tradition. Here is what Gerald of Wales had to say about it in the 12th century:

When they come together to make music, the Welsh sing their traditional songs, not in unison, as is done elsewhere, but in parts, in many modes and modulations. When a choir gathers to sing, which happens often in this country, you will hear as many different parts and voices as there are performers.

Wednesday night a group of children kicked off the Plygain program. They rose, in silence, walked to the front of the church, pitched a note, and began to sing unaccompanied, and in harmony. After they had returned to their seats, a group of teenagers rose, and sang a different song. Followed by other groups, duos and individuals, all without introduction or apparent instructions. Until it almost every person in the church had contributed. At which point, the vicar rose, and I started shrugging into my coat, thinking we had come to the end of the service.

No, think again. After singing a community carol, the whole program started over, with the same group following the same groups, duos and individuals, until we had gone right though the ranks of the assembled for a second time. At which point the vicar rose again, we sang another carol and I had a strange sitting-in-the-front-pew-unable-to-leave-sense that the whole cycle was about to start over.

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I wasn’t bored, quite the opposite. Plygain carols are not familiar carols translated into Welsh. They are much older and often written in the Dorian mode and, if you add to this the unaccompanied singing in harmony, the effect is quite stunning. But I’d heard these stories of all night Plygain services, and I was sitting towards the front of the church which meant I couldn’t leave, without everyone knowing, added to which I had a sense that, if I did leave, I would have somehow failed the Welsh test.

Fortunately, my Welshness was not put to the test on Wednesday evening. All the men in the church rose, sung a final song, Can y Swper (supper song) and we were all invited to the Neuadd y Pentref (village hall) for a bite to eat. I wasn’t intending to stay for supper. I have allergies that cut out a host of foods (never easy to explain in Welsh) added to which it was my weekly protein only day (even harder to explain). Besides, I didn’t know anyone. There is nothing worse than sitting alone in a hall full of people who have known each other for years.

Escape wasn’t an option, however. People were way to friendly, which is how I found myself sitting at a table trying to explain why I only had half a boiled egg on my plate. After I had gone through the explanations about the egg and growing up in Australia and studying Welsh as an adult, some of which I’m sure got lost in translation (there was this woman who came all the way from Australia to see our Plygain service and can’t eat anything but boiled eggs), I asked questions about the Plygain tradition. Here is what I learned:

  • Traditionally the evening starts with children
  • Then teenagers
  • Then a group from the church
  • After which the order is random
  • Plygain is not a concert
  • All are welcome to participate
  • The song list is not known beforehand
  • Once a song has been sung, it is not to be repeated
  • Which is why everyone performed more than once (traditionally three times)
  • In the same order
  • As it is a kind of test (see I got that bit right) on rising to the occasion
  • Which means groups have to prepare for every eventuality
  • And, finally, Can y Swper is not a song to announce supper (what were you thinking?)
  • It is a song about the Last Supper
  • Because traditional Plygain services do no focus on the baby in the manger
  • The tell the whole story
  • From birth, to death, to resurrection

 

Blog twenty o Gymru – the winter solstice

I am sitting on an Arriva train heading out of Wales, the fields on both side of the tracks are water-logged, flooded, the rivers beneath the rail bridges turgid. To my rear, leaden clouds enshroud the mountains of Snowdonia, to the front, remarkably, I see a blue sky. The first blue sky I have seen in weeks.

It has been a remarkably wet month, even by Welsh standards and with the days growing increasingly shorter, I had a sense of being entombed by winter. I didn’t fully understand this sensation. Or how completely nature was conspiring against me. Until someone explained that after the twenty first of December, the Winer Solstice, we would gain six minutes of extra daylight per day. Six minutes that’s forty two minutes a week. No wonder I’d felt that winter was burying me alive.

In Australia, we decorate European evergreen trees, at this time of year, and sing songs about Holly and Ivy. But we eat ice cream with our mince pies and have to keep our children up late in order to see the Christmas lights. These past few weeks in Wales it has been is dark by four o’clock in the afternoon. Cold. Yule logs, mulled wine and evergreen branches and Christmas lights feel appopriate. Little wonder the early church chose to align Nativty celebrations with the older pagan festivities. There is no competing with them. They are primeval.

Yet, in another sense, being away from family at such a significant time in our cultural calendar has made the nativity story more resonant. As I sat in chapel last week hearing familiar scriptures spoken in another language, I had a sense of its profoundness. The pregethwr (preacher) read a creative reflection written from the point of view of Mary. Were there other women in that stable? Women to whisper words of encouragement? To wipe away the muck and blood of birth? Or was she alone, frightened. Not quite knowing where to turn. I felt her aloneness. Maybe because earlier in the week I’d had my own Mary moment. My car had broken down in middle of a one way street in Machynlleth. I wasn’t a member of the RAC. I didn’t know where the nearest garage was. As I stood in the middle of the road, directing the traffic and Googling garages. I thought, what am I doing here? Alone? There is no one to help me.

Of course, there were people to help. But as I sat in Chapel listening to the voice of Mary, that sense of aloneness returned. I thought, this is the heart of the Christmas message – this poor woman, alone, in pain, weeping, surrounded by animals. Yet, into that aloneness hope was born. A hope that tells us that we are not alone, or friendless, that our lives have meaning and purpose.

I have crossed the border into England now. The sun is literally shining. Yet as I head down south to celebrate the season with family friends, it is the lessons of the dark remain that with me. I take this opportunity to share the with you: Nadolig Llawen!

PS: someone has just informed me it is six minutes per week – not per day. If I’d thought about it for half a minute, I’d have realised that. Infact, the true figure is a little over two minutes per a day. But it felt like I was losing six minutes per day – so I’m leaving it in. 🙂

 

Never trust a skinny cook

Our neighbour back in Vermont has a little statue in her kitchen holding up the following placard: never trust a skinny cook, and I must say I have always eyed it with suspicion. Sure, we have Huey’s Kitchen and the Two Fat Ladies, but what about Nigella and Delia? Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver? No, you needn’t be fat to cook well I’m fairly certain. At least, I was until Christmas Day. Now, I’ve had my confidence shaken.

Before I explain this sudden loss of confidence, let me set the scene.

In February 2013 I downloaded Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar book and followed the program. I marched through the first half of 2013 anticipating a glow of health, added vitality and a shrinking waistline. It didn’t happen – matter how hard I exercised or how fast I pedalled on my bike. In fact, I put on more weight (due to the nuts, bread, butter and creamy cheese I was consuming). Disappointed, I started lurking around on the I Quit Sugar forums. I found others were having a similar experience. One brave soul admitted she’d taken to combining the I Quit Sugar program with the Dukan Diet and the weight was falling off.

Now, I’d always thought that Dukan was like quinoa – some exotic ingredient newly discovered by the western world – and I was pretty certain eating it wouldn’t be compatible with fructose malabsorption. But I borrowed the Dukan diet life plan from the library. To my surprise, I found that Dukan wasn’t a food he was a person. Added to which, I wasn’t surprised to find the weight was falling off that girl on the forum because Dr Dukan wouldn’t let her eat anything. Not bread, or wine, or chocolate or tasty cheese or rice or pasta or potatoes. No! I snapped the book shut and returned it to the library. There had to be a less drastic way of losing weight, surely?

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Seeing as we’re in full throttle explanation mode here, I may as well also explain that, in addition to fructose malabsorption, I have another health condition. It requires a medication – a medication my body needs in much the same way as a diabetic needs insulin. This medication has side effects. One of which is to slow the metabolism. The other is to make me hungry. Added to which, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not getting any younger. You will also know that being unfit and overweight puts one at risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, various cancers and Alzheimer’s disease, just to mention the well known maladies.

Of course, none of these conditions are entirely preventable. But to give myself the best chance of ageing well I needed to have my weight sitting within the healthy weight range. But achieving this in our sugary, carbohydrate weighted, sedentary society was proving elusive. I needed a diet low in fructose and high in calories. One that would not only help me to lose weight but to maintain it. Sadly, the Dukan Diet appeared to be the only option.

I borrowed the book again. In fact, I borrowed it three more times – snap! snap! snap! – and took it back again. The fourth time, just as I was seriously anticipating a one day trial, a customer at the library asked when my baby was due.

From that moment, I was officially on the Dukan Diet.

I’m not going to bore you the virtues of this program. Only say that I’m never hungry. I’m not as tired anymore. I lost weight rapidly – about a kilo a week. I’m enjoying exercise for the first time in my life and you can eat loads of interesting things. The only catch is, you have to be willing to think differently. In fact, you have to be prepared to have your whole understanding of food blown out of the pond. Anyway, enough of the explanations. How does this relate to the slogan about skinny cooks?

Good point. Let us return to my original predicament.

I reached my goal weight just before Christmas and set about planning my first Celebration Meal. Despite having slammed the I Quit Sugar program’s weight loss potential, I still feel it has a great deal off merit. Between Dukan and Wilson, I hadn’t eaten sugar since February and I wasn’t about to reintroduce the powdery white stuff it into my diet. I therefore purchased Sarah Wilson’s Christmas Cookbook. Its berry ripple cheesecake recipe looked divine. It had almonds, hazelnuts and butter in place of a biscuit base and rice malt syrup as a sweetener in the topping.

‘I’ll make the dessert for Christmas Day,’ I told the family. ‘You just bring a fruit platter.’

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On Christmas Eve, preparations were in full swing. I made a chicken liver terrine and some vegetable dips to stop myself over-indulging in soft cheeses and cashew nut dips. I made a quinoa tabbouleh. Why not? I’d embraced an international food plan, I may as well get my head around the quinoa thing too. I’d bought a ham that was reasonably low in sugar. Stocked up on mineral water. Baked myself some oat bread toasts to have in place of crackers.

It was time to start making the cheesecake.

Now here’s the thing about the Dukan consolidation phase. You are allowed a couple of celebration meals a week. These are meals, not whole days, and, as I was planning to celebrate over Christmas lunch, this meant no unauthorised nibbling on Christmas Eve. If you’ve ever seen me cook you would know this was going to present a challenge. I like to lick bowls and spoons and generally have an all round taste-fest while baking. Not good for the waist line. Or part of the of consolidation roll out plan. I steeled myself to be strong.

I made the cheesecake base. Here is the list of ingredients:

“* 1 cup shelled pistachios or hazelnuts
* 1 cup shredded or dessicated coconut
* 1 cup almond meal, or other nut meal, or LSA
* 120g unsalted butter, softened”

(Excerpt From: I Quit Sugar. “I Quit Sugar Christmas Cookbook.” I Quit Sugar. iBooks).

Do you notice anything missing from that list? Yeh, well, I didn’t. Added to which, I didn’t nibble either – which is where the skinny cook thing comes in. If I had, I may have noticed an absence of sweetener. This is not guaranteed, of course. My sweet tooth is nowhere nears as acute as it used to be. But maybe…just maybe, if I had, a disaster would have been averted. We will never know because with the evangelical fervour of a new disciple, I was girder strong.

I mixed the topping. Still no nibbling. Added the rice malt syrup, confident this would make the cheesecake taste delicious. It didn’t because it was only half a cup of rice malt and half a cup is not enough syrup for people who are used to consuming cane sugar in their cakes, pies, chocolates and barbecue sauces – not to mention their potato chips, savoury biscuits. But I didn’t know this because, as I said, I wasn’t nibbling.

The cheesecake came out of the oven looking great. Not as air-brushed like the one in the cook book but more homely and comforting. Perfect for a family desert on Christmas afternoon. At least, I thought it was…

We had a delicious Christmas lunch – turducken, ham, roast potatoes, a chick pea and feta salad, a tomato and bocconcini salad, a sweet potato and baby spinach salad and, of course the quinoa. After a break and some present opening, desert time arrived. I got the first taste of imminent disaster as I lifted the cake from its pan. Some of the crust came off in my hand. I nibbled. Hmm…nutty but…something not right? What? Another nibble. Crashing realisation. There was no sweetener in the base. None. Not even a teaspoon of Stevia. I was looking down the barrel of a cookery disaster. I plated the cake and placed it on the table. Served it with coconut cream and raspberry coulis.

‘I hope it’s alright.’ I smiled nervously. ‘I used rice malt syrup as a sweetener.’

‘It’ll be fine,’ people said raising their forks politely.

It wasn’t. I knew as soon as they took their first mouthfuls. There were no oohs! And aahs! Or little moans of ecstasy. No requests for the recipe.

Only silence. A vast sugar hungry silence.

People were polite, of course, they were polite. My daughter said she liked it. My son used the words lovely and creamy. But it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t (though to my sugar deprived taste buds it tasted pretty damn close to marvellous). After everyone left my husband confirmed my suspicions. Sarah Wilson’s berry ripple cheesecake may have tasted fine to a room full of people who have also quit sugar (it’s intended audience) but not for the average Australian. I fact, I would have to say it was the least successful Christmas desert I have ever made.

So, never trust a skinny cook? I’d have to say my experience supports the slogan. If I ever cook an I Quit Sugar cheesecake for the family again, I’ll be adding stevia to the base. But I doubt I’ll get a chance. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I will not be trusted to cook any of our family celebration deserts ever again. And I’d have to say, fair play. A sugar-free-newly-converted-Dukan-Diet -devotee should not be allowed to cook desert on any occasion.

Christmas 2013 – a few family snapshots

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This was mum’s first Christmas in Melbourne for quite a few years. We were all pretty pleased to have her with us.

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It was also nice to have Mia’s company. Especially as she dressed for the occasion.

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Here are Phoebe and Andy carving the Turducken roll (turkey, duck, chicken).

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We all made a salad to share. As you can see there was nowhere near enough food.

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We are declaring this year the year of the home made gifts. Not much for me in those bags and boxes. Seth said they looked up Dukan treats but couldn’t find any appetising biscuits. They considered tucking a fillet steak in their box but it didn’t fit the festive theme.

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Liz had a glass of wine as part of her first celebration meal on phase three of the Dukan Diet.

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Mum got a bottle of Bailey’s. I do have a photo of her kissing the bottle but decided not to upload it. We’ve only just got her into the retirement facility.

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Phoebe made gingerbread houses. We also had a stealing Santa but best not to show those photos either. Too much grabbing, gloating and horror (yes, someone gift wrapped a toilet duck refill).

We had a lovely day and hope you did too.

PS. I am yet to learn how to put photos alongside each other in an artful manner (it seems the WordPress gallery format isn’t going to do it for me). No, I can’t seem to set the spacing either. Yes, I have just discovered the photoshop express framing app, and, no, I can’t take a good photo. But hey, I grew up in the seventies with a Kodak Instamatic. At least the people in these photos
all have heads.

A merry Facebook Christmas

It was Christmas Eve. My last desk shift before going on annual leave. I had reservation lists spewing from the printer. People lined up waiting for assistance. One man who simply didn’t get the concept of a fifteen minute computer. Of course, It didn’t help that PC terminals two and three were out of order. Or that the air-conditioning simply wasn’t coping. People were hot and cranky and, to tell you the truth, folks, I was right there with them.

If one more person asked: ‘What’s a good book?’ There was a chance of murder being committed.

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I checked the clock. An hour and a half and I’d be on holidays – devouring my own pile of reading materials. But not yet. I turned back to the waiting queue. Next up was an older man and, with my-public-library-honed senses, I guessed life had not been kind to him. I saw it in the St Vincent de Paul style of his nylon trousers, the thinning grey hair that needed cutting, and his eyes like an old dog’s cowering.

I smiled, trying to muster a professional attitude. ‘How can I help you?’

‘Please. I want to use Facebook.’ The man said.

I pulled up the booking screen. ‘Our computer bookings are pretty tight. But we’ve had a cancellation. Would now be alright?’

He leaned forward, resting a trembling hand on my desk. ‘Can you help me?’

‘I’ll do what I can.’ I waved my hand to indicate the line of people. ‘But we’re pretty busy. Perhaps you could come back after Christmas? We have an internet assist program.’

‘No, it’s fine. Now’s fine. My son’s there. On Facebook, I mean.’

Right, I thought. Tell me something new. Who’s son isn’t on Facebook? Or daughter for that matter. ‘Like I said we’re pretty busy.’

The man shook his head, glancing sideways. He leaned forward, lowering his voice. ‘It’s just…I haven’t seen him for fifteen years.’

My mouth fell open. No matter how long you serve the public. Or how comprehensive your reference training, there are some queries you will never be ready for.

‘I won’t try to contact him.’ The man added quickly. ‘I told my brother, I just want to look at him.’

Great, I thought. A possible pedophile. Why else would a man not see his son for fifteen years? Apart from abuse? Or family violence? Then again, maybe it wasn’t the case? Family breakdown happens for all sorts of reasons. Often due to mental illness. Or simply the vindictiveness of another party. The trouble is I had no way of knowing. And here this man was asking me to grant him access.

Fortunately, librarians are not the moral police. The man had an information need – in this case a request for technological assistance – and Facebook was a public site. I had a professional obligation to help him. But that didn’t stop my gut churn. Or the sudden sharp image of my own teenage sons. I found myself hoping this man’s son was over eighteen years of age. Or, if not, that someone had helped him with the privacy settings on the Facebook account.

‘I’ll book PC number five, I said. ‘But you’ve only got forty minutes.’

We walked over to the public computer terminals. Logged the man in. Pulled up the Facebook membership screen.

‘Do you have any email address?’

‘No.’ The man shook his head.

‘Have you ever used a computer?’

‘Once.’ He said.

Great. No email address. No information technology skills. Possible access restrictions and a deadline of forty minutes. At this rate the man would be lucky to see his son before the new year‘You’ll have to work fast,’ I said. ‘Can you type, at all?

‘Yes.’

‘Right then.’ I opened up a Gmail membership screen. Showed the man how to move between empty information fields. ‘I’m going to leave you to fill in these spaces. Once you’ve got an email address call me back and I’ll set you up on Facebook.’

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I left the man to his own devices. Took a complaint about library fines. Helped a man find some books on dog obedience. Fielded a few more ‘what’s a good book questions?’

About fifteen minutes later, the man waved me back over to his PC. He’d done a good job. The fields were all filled in. If life had treated him hard, it wasn’t for want of intelligence. I jotted down his email address. Pulled up the Facebook screen. Asked him to fill in the details while I ducked back and took more enquiries. Finally, the man was ready. He had a Facebook membership and a basic profile. He’d used up a fair bit of his forty minutes by this stage. But there was nothing I could do about that. The library was too busy for me to sit and help him.

‘Right,’ I said, pulling up a chair. ‘Let’s see if we can find your son.’

The man gave a taut smile. His hands clasped tight in his nylon lap.

I typed in his son’s name. The search engines churned. A menu of names and profile pictures appeared. Silence. I glanced sideways. Saw the man’s eyes had filled with tears

‘That’s him.’ He said. ‘The one at the top there.’

I clicked on the image. Heard the sharp intake of the man’ breath. Felt my own eyes begin to blur.

His son was a handsome, dark-haired young man with laughing eyes and a swag of friends. In his face I could see traces of the beaten man sitting next to me.

‘He’s smart.’ I said, pulling up his son’s profile. ‘Doing bio-med at Victoria University.’

Beside me, the man took a shuddering breath.

I lowered my voice. ‘He looks like you too.’

‘Yes.’ The man said. ‘Yes, he does.’

‘I’m afraid, you’ve only got about five more minutes.’ I told him gently.

‘Yes.’ He nodded. ‘Thank you.’

I left the old man and walked back to the reference desk. Printed out the allocated item list. Searched for books with an Xmas Status. Circled the ones with a return date greater than two years. Passed over the current copy magazine reservations. Glanced back at the man on the computer. His eyes hadn’t left the computer screen. Not once, no matter how often I found my eyes straying in that direction. I knew his time was up by the change in his expression. He rose, stiff-legged and walked towards the information desk.

‘Thank you.’

‘My pleasure.’ I said. ‘I’m glad you found him.’

‘I’ll tell my brother…tell him that I’ve seen him. He’ll know what to do.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘That’s a good idea.’

The man turned to leave. He looked so old and shrunken. And it was Christmas Eve. And all of a sudden, the ‘maybes’ didn’t matter. Or my initial waspish assumptions. Only the words fifteen years. And that man staring at the computer screen.

‘Hang on!’ I called out after him. ‘Hang on a sec!’ I raised my voice. ‘Please, don’t leave yet?

The man stopped, turning slowly. I gestured for him to take a seat. I pulled up the Facebook screen. Logged into my account. Typed in his son’s name. Enlarged the picture. Copied the image and dumped it into a word document. We were supposed to charge people for printing. But I didn’t care. I chose the colour option and sent the document to the staff printer.

‘Wait!’ I said, ‘I’ve got something for you.’

Dashing out to the workroom, I plucked the image from the printer. Checked it was clear. Saw the laughing face of this son staring back at me. I turned, fumbling with the door knob. Stepping back out into the library, I saw the man waiting. I stepped forward, my hand shaking and passed the the A4 sheet of paper to him.

‘Merry Christmas,’ I said, ‘from Facebook.’

Christmas 2013 – the view from our empty nest

You have probably come to this page via an email link or an invitation – an invitation in which I shamelessly used the excuse of Christmas to lure you to my blog. Fear not, I have not dragged you here under false pretenses. In the interests of my continuing professional development, I am currently working my way through the ANZ 23 Mobile things program. As a consequence, this year’s family news will be in the form of a Pinterest board.

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If you’ve never used Pinterest don’t panic. Just follow the link.

If you are panicking and the whole damn Pinterest thing isn’t working for you, drop me a line. I’m happy to send the Microsoft word version of our news. Otherwise, here’s the view from our empty nest.

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