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Farewell party for Nell

We had some of Nell’s friends around to say goodbye after her short visit back for Christmas. From left to right around the table: Sally, Emily (who came to Stinson Beach in the summer and  is going to film school in LA), Stephanie, Nell, Claire Secombe and her boyfriend James, Amy, Jodi, and someone I forget. Nice party, although both Amy and I felt quite marginalized, and Aslan (not in photo) was, I thought, especially rude to mum. Partly I suppose it was just the natural cliquieness of old friends getting together, but also I wonder if it makes a difference bringing up kids to talk at the dinner table. I think some of them just didn’t know how to talk to adults. There was also a little bit of a fracas at the end when it became apparent Nell had forgotten about Sally’s visit, although she sorted that all out by herself and it was all o.k. in the end.

I took Mum to the Desert Museum for the afternoon, and the animals were uncharacteristically active, perhaps because of the cold. The mountain lions were prowling, even the black bear was moving.

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Northern Mockingbird

Another cold morning.

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Oysters and champagne on Christmas eve

The Connollys came round, and Sam Xu was there as well. We ordered half a bushel of oysters from the 17th Street market, also delicious wild Mexican brown shrimp. The oysters were good, some a little muddy, and not salty—perhaps from a river. I sat up the end with the kids, counting 23-year-old Trudy, and she told me about her thesis, which was on the deceitfulness of laughter, a comparative study of Horace’s Ars Poetica and a modern philosopher whose name I forget. Sounded precious, but Trudy is a delight, getting more and more like her mother. The oysters, and the shrimp, and the bread and salad, and most of the cheese and pate, and much of the champagne and wine, all got eaten. We wrote letters to Santa and sent them up the fireplace, after Sally reminded use we needed to light a fire. I asked for “the usual”, and Terry something similar. Sam had something substantial written on his. Afterwards Amy and I stuff stockings, went to bed around 1:00 a.m.

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Stories from Mum

We’ve been sitting long after dinner with mum talking about her past. Here is some of what we’ve heard:

At the end of their exams in the summer 1951, Dad and MuM and Spicek(sp?) the polish guy drove around Italy, Switzerland, and France in an old Vauxhall called Sir Henry Parkes (because it was better at parking than driving). In Rome they stayed in a large house owned by the Polish ambassador to the Vatican, who couldn’t go home and had no income, so was renting it out. He spoke French, which Spicek couldn’t because he had missed out on his education during the war. When they got back to Oxford they parked the car in the back alley (you had to have the parking lights on all night if you parked it in the main street). It never started again. When they left they bought a new car, and Oxford Morris that they brought home to Australia.

Mum and Dad used to go to Mr. Bywaters for Christmas. He spent a huge amount on a Stilton. Australia was beating England in cricket, and the Bywaters brothers used to come in early in the morning, close the windows (which the Australians had opened), and talk about the cricket. Mum and Dad used to say it’s too early, and the boys would say it would be tolerable your lack of interest in cricket if it weren’t for the fact that the English were using. This was the beginning of Dad’s interest in cricket. Mr. B. used to spend all Christmas finding the windup toys for hot breakfast.

Since Dad didn’t have a scholarship (the beginning, mum says in retrospect, of his I am a failure complex), Mum got a job as a social worker in the Radcliff hospital. Others got jobs as substitute teachers ("supply teachers") in the West End, or on the Oxford Atlas. Her budget was 3 pounds a week on rent, 2 on housekeeping, and 1 on entertainment. She spent a stint in the pediatric wing, heartbreaking, one child had an ileostomy and eventually died, another had liver failure and, while the doctor gave the parents the bad news in guarded language, only wanted to tell mum about the cut on his finger. He died too. She said there wasn’t much malnutrition because of Lord Warning’s rationing "… don’t throw out potato peelings, because you’ll hurt Lord Warner’s feelings."

Australia sent over the ewe mutton, cooked for an hour in the pressure cooker with a clove of garlic. She was in the butcher buying her 2 shilling leg of ewe mutton. He said, you know, Australia was great during the war, we couldn’t have managed without it, but please, tell them when you go home, no more ewe mutton. Ambrose Heath, "the piece of cod that passeth all understanding", food columnist for the Guardian.

Now, on the way back from Italy to Switzerland, Mum said to Dad and Spicek, you guys are men and like tunnels, but I like mountains, so they went back over the mountain roads from Milano. This is why they got stuck in the floods in Bellanzona. Because their car wouldn’t start, being Sir Henry Parkes, they still had a place to stay on the second night of rain. The Ministry of Tourism had declared that all the restaurants must stay open for tourists, so a busload of French people showed up wanting food. Mum helped serve, and they said "Pasta, pasta, toujours pasta!" After they had all gone to sleep in their bus, the owner brought the real dinner and the good wine. Mum says she used to keep touch with then by Christmas cards for a number of years afterwards.

The sad thing is Spicek lost all his film because his photo equipment was stolen from the car. There is a photo he took of mum praying in Chartres as background which she regrets losing.

Mum says Dad left the communist party because they started telling him what sort of music he could play at his grammophone evenings. We heard this story because Mum told a story about Dad going up to Rex Mortimer in Ian Turner’s presence and saying "how’s the revolution?". Ian was shocked that he would give him away.

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Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Cold, crisp winter morning.

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Kestrel at lunch

It was a warm, muggy, overcast morning. The lunch was a small bird, possibly a verdin. He seemed to be plucking the bird, bending down and tearing, feathers flying after each time.

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After the Christmas party

It was nice to have the old Christmas party again, and see people like Roger and Cheryl and Pat and Mike from old days. We also had some new faces, neighbours from the Wash (the Wehingers and Pews). We overcatered, or perhaps people just eat less these days. Carols work differently with the piano in the new position, with people spread more out around the room and, I thought, singing less. Julia said she had almost refused to come when she heard there would be Christmas carols. She didn’t know Rob’s doctrine that it’s o.k. to sing Christmas carols with atheists. Alan Newell commented that Rob wasn’t wearing his “hat” (as he called it) and Rob said, yeah, well, when you go to a Christmas party on shabbas you don’t where the hat. We went out and lit the orno and sat around for a while with the stragglers (Doug and Laura, David and Julia, the Indiks).

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Dan comes to practice

Dan came round to practice on the concertina for Christmas party on Friday. He plays from ear, so I play the scale for him and he picks it up. It’s an odd instrument; every second not is at the other end.

Over dinner, he told us stories of growing up, like the time his Converse sneakers, paid out of weeks of wages, were stolen out of his locker at school. He went out and bought the cheapest sneakers he could find, died them pink, and wrote on them in Magic Marker: “these are Dan’s and I’ll know if you take them.” Also the one about the time he argued about his grade with a Western Philosophy teacher who asked the students to come and talk to him about the grade they deserved. He said he thought he deserved a D because he hadn’t got much out of the readings. The instructor talked him up to a C, then gave him an A.

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Prairie Falcon in flight

He flew from telephone pole to telephone pole, just ahead of me, and eventually flew off to a more distant location, perhaps to avoid my pursuing camera. Interestingly, this one seems to have more of the adult markings on his breast and belly: spots rather than stripes. I wonder if this is the one I saw three weeks ago, grown up, or if it is a different one. Here is another photo of him (which makes the identification very clear):

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Hunting Cooper’s Hawk

Saw this guy chasing a small bird (unsuccessfully), giving me a glimpse of his rounded, banded tail. That, combined with this photo showing the red bellow and shoulders, grey head, and banded flight feathers, makes me think it was a Cooper’s Hawk. I followed him around the wash, flushing him a couple of times, until he got tired of the game and flew off.

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