In Newcastle I catch up with Blob of the Summer Pudding.
Although now living on the opposite side of the country in Perth, he, his partner and their smiling baby with the (oddly enough) pudding bowl haircut, are spending the uni holidays on the east coast. We exchange post New Year greetings and I hold up my forearm and show him the brown peeling patch where I scalded myself with the Exploding Coffee Plunger on New Year's day.
Blob instantly counters with his third degree burn scar, also on the forearm, a small neat scar exactly the shape and thickness of the grill bar at the top of his oven. The flesh was perfectly cooked, he tells me. It even smelled good.
He goes on to applaud my meagre summer pudding efforts but hastens to amend my mental recipe.
After poaching the fruit you dip the spongy biscuits into the juice, he tells me. And that makes it easier to fit in the bowl. How did you make the dry biscuits fit together?
I tell him that I laboured for many moments, trimming them neatly into shape. This makes him chortle.
I ask him to clarify his stance on the sugar syrup. Could it really be a whole cup of sugar to a cup of water?
Blob waves his hand airily at me. His scar flashes in the air.
It could and it is.
We are staying at my parents’ new house. It is smart and modern. It reflects their changing lifestyle, as older people who are looking to their twilight years and so forth and so on.
This means they have basically moved from a sleepy university suburb to the one where the prostitutes and bikies live. Here, they are closer to the beach, they can walk to their favourite café, and they know where to get their amphetamines. They have a white tile floor downstairs and a shiny red glass splashback in kitchen. In their tiny back yard they have eschewed lawn for paved courtyard and a spa - or at least the hole which will accomodate a spa.
Also, they have a kickarse big fence so they can hang out their washing in the nicky noo-nah.
It is quite jolly and feels very cool and modern and all my friends whish they had one the same. The upstairs bit has a little sewing room and computer room but also two whopping big bedrooms for guests, and a lounge area too so that if we all have an argument we can separate and cool off, or alternatively one group of people can have scintillating conversation downstairs and other group can loll upstairs and eat chocolates and play Wii sport.
In Newcastle, I also catch up with grumpy granddad.
After leaving the main hospital he spent a couple of weeks just before Christmas in a sort of hospital holding pattern. He was transferred to a hospital out in the sticks; along with various other old, disabled and chronically ill people who have to hang around and wait until someone dies so that they can get their room. We were warned that he could be transferred around the region, from ward to ward until a room in the aged care facility he had requested (ie. paid for) became available. He was lucky. The Someone died fairly swiftly. This room is just across the car park from where Grandis was living before his leg was amputated.
At Christmas the family gather in his new room with gifts and babies and photos. We perch on chairs and on his bed and loiter about in doorways. We nibble on platters of dried fruit and cheese and nuts brought from home and my stepmum gives Grandis a container of diabetic friendly fruit cake.
Grandis accepts his gifts and hugs and kisses graciously. He has a chair to sit in but it is huge, an enormous high armchair on wheels, too heavy and bulky for him to push himself around. It is as if he is riding on a cargo ship.
How are you finding it? We ask him, hoping it’s all fabulous.
He nods, ok ok. BUT THEY DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE GLOVE OF WATER.
Story of glove and errant testicles has to be explained to newly visiting relatives and also stepsister’s brand new boyfriend who refuses to be alarmed at the image.
THE NURSES HERE ARE VERY RELUCTANT, Grandis concludes.
I pour Grandis a whiskey in his plastic sippy mug. My sister T and I give him our matching presents. We both bought books for him, bought them together, both squabbling in the bookshop over the best looking crime/spy thriller in the largest possible print.
My younger sister Nurse K, ever practical, gives him what he really wants; a large bottle of whiskey. This we tuck away in a drawer. When Grandis lived across the carpark, he was allowed to have his night time cup of whiskey, they overlooked it as long as he didn’t burst out of his room trouserless and singing I Did It My Way. But here, where the patients are wheeled around a massive plasma screen to watch Mary Poppins of an afternoon, we realise we are not entirely sure of the new rules.
And indeed, the next time I visit, his fruitcake has been thrown out and his whiskey confiscated.
My stepmother is greatly annoyed. That fruitcake was for diabetics! Grandis shrugs a little. I suspect the fruitcake is secondary to the loss of his whiskey. Not all of it, he hastens to tell me. The other bottle is in his wardrobe. The problem is, he can’t get out of bed on his own. My stepmother has Words with the management. Confiscate! Can they really just take away his food and alcohol like that?
Management is slightly contrite about the fruitcake but can only allow the whiskey if the doctor agrees. They will hold the bottle and return it when doctor gives the ok.
This time when C and Tricky and I visit, I bring along a bottle of medically approved whiskey which my dad has given to me. There is a little sticker on the side, stamped and dated.
Except, it’s actually rum which was another of his Christmas presents, the original bottle of whiskey having been emptied. Grandis has requested this decanting just in case he is only allowed to drink whiskey. Such is the life of the rebel Aged care patient.
When I show him the dodgy bottle he nods his head slightly and slides his eyes from side to side in case anyone is watching. There are twenty people around us in chairs and wheelchairs. They are all, to a man, either asleep or glued to the screen watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…
THINGS ARE OK, Grandis tells me as we watch Tricky wind his way through the room, gazing from one crumpled old face to another. One or two gaze back, soft smiles, sad eyes.
Grandis has ordered some custom made shirts that are easier to slide over his head, and they come in a range of colours. He has ordered “pillar box red, royal blue, bottle green, and a champagne or beige colour”. It makes him cheerful, buying clothes. The lady who makes them comes in nearly every day.
Oh, does she work here?
HER MUM'S IN THE DEMENTIA WARD.
He tells me that the problem “down below”, the one that needed the glove of water to begin with isn’t getting better. And it seems to have fascinated the nurses.
THE OTHER DAY I HAD FIVE OF THEM DOWN THERE, ALL HAVING A LOOK, he booms.
I glance around but frankly nothing can distract these people from Truly Scrumptious.
I SAID TO THEM: IF WE GET ANY MORE COMING I’LL BE CHARGING ADMISSION.
I snort at this but Grandis shakes his head in sorrow.
WENT RIGHT OVER THEIR HEADS. NO ONE SAID A WORD.
I realize he misses the main hospital. Even though he lost his leg and almost died there he had an appreciative audience.
You’d have got a laugh at the ‘John, I say sympathetically.
When we leave I ask Tricky to say goodbye. Grandis is high up in his chair and unable to lean himself forward very far. I hold Tricky up and he obligingly makes himself as stiff as a board so that he can reach him. Grandis says: KISS GOODBYE? and Tricky turns his face a little so that his cheek is suddenly mashed against Grandis’s mouth.
Back at my parents place I make Summer Pudding the 2nd. With Blob’s words ringing in my ears, I soak my spongy fingers in the juice. Having learned from my last attempt I have found the bowl and appropriate squashing plate well ahead of time. With my sister K jiggling Baby L in her arms I swiftly assemble the pudding. We discuss perhaps using such things as chocolate custard. K says she dreams about making deserts with sponges and chocolate custard – the kind you buy from a supermarket.
Yum yum I say. Supermarket chocolate custard.
K suddenly beams at this. Her husband says it sounds horrible and won’t let her make it.
I secretly agree with him but I am trying to be supportive here – I remember what it was like having a 10 week baby, so if she thinks supermarket chocolate custard works, I'm with you sweetie.
Several hours later, SP2 plops easily from the basin. Like some swollen internal organ. Something vulnerable about it.
It sits, gleaming darkly under the kitchen lights. The berries I suppose. Not an attractive colour but it might be the reflection from the red splashback.
I cut quickly.