It’s funny how one minute you can be having quite a good day, and then something happens that makes you stop and realise how much you really miss someone.
This afternoon I was parked by the river, having some downtime before my theatre company rehearsals tonight, and enjoying the filtered sunlight through the trees and the breeze blowing off the river.
An older gentlemen with a cane walked past me. He was tall but a bit bent over, quite well dressed but too thin for his trousers, and he walked along the path almost shuffling gait of someone who is no longer quite confident about where to put his feet. Lots of things about that remind me of my father; what moved me most, though, was the way he swung his cane as he walked: just like Dad used to, not so much relying on the cane like he was supposed to, but rather using it as a fashion accessory.
It was just a little thing, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. I suddenly wanted more than anything else to be able to hug my dad and tell him I love him. In that turn of a moment, the sense of loss was so profound, and the tears are still flowing as I type.
My head tells me I am being silly, but my heart is telling me that it hasn’t healed yet.
In a few minutes it will be time to dry my tears and head off down the highway. I’ll be fine by the time I am there, but I won’t forget the man with the cane. I don’t know who he is, but I hope he is as loved cherished, and well-cared-for as my dad was.
If there’s something word nerds love, it’s word-nerdy books.
Personally, I love a great dictionary or thesaurus. I also enjoy books that explore different aspects of the English language and how we use it.
These three books are books I have particularly enjoyed over recent months.
Word Perfect by Susie Dent
This is a wonderful compilation that will please any word lover or etymology enthusiast.
Dent writes with clarity and good humour. The word for each day, and Dent’s definition and etymology of each, are interesting and quirky.
The challenge is to only read each day’s offering instead of running ahead an consuming it more quickly.
Grab a copy, keep it by your favourite chair, and enjoy a wordy treat each day. You won’t be sorry.
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
This is a most interesting and entertaining book that traces the histories of words and phrases used in English.
It is a collection of most diverting rabbit holes in print: a world of fascinating information that draws you deeper in each time. Not once have I managed to look up the word or phrase I wanted to reference without discovering another entry nearby that was just as captivating as the first… or second… or third entry I had read.
It really is a treasure trove of words, etymology and history that will delight any lover of the English language.
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Usage and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
This book is a delight. With the aim of helping writers achieve greater clarity and better style, Dreyer examines the “rules” of English as we know them, and provides a clear and understandable guide to using the English language most effectively.
The book is written with humour and a relaxed tone, and delivers content that is far more accessible for the everyday reader and writer than my beloved and very worn copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which is now far less modern than it was when I first obtained the book.
Dreyer’s English is an ideal reference for today’s writers, regardless of their preferred form or the purpose for which they write. It’s also entertaining enough to pick up and read on a Saturday afternoon, without feeling at all like it’s time you’ll never get back.
On Saturday night we were out for a family dinner — we’re finally allowed to go out here, now, after months of lockdown and restrictions— and one of the young kids at the gathering commented to me that they liked the pretty balls on the light fittings, and then asked me if that’s what they were called.
I explained that they are called baubles, and added that the beads on her bracelet could also be called baubles because they are pretty things designed for decoration. They’re both different kinds of ornaments, and it’s cool how there are often multiple useful words to use for things.
This got me wondering about the origin of the word ‘bauble’. I suspected it was French, simply because of how it sounded, but such assumptions are not safe. As always, my trusty Macquarie dictionary and Etymonline had my back.
‘Bauble’ came into English in the early 14th century, meaning a decorative trinket or ornament. It came from the Old French word ‘baubel’ meaning a child’s toy or trinket. That may have come from the Latin word ‘bellus’ meaning “pretty” which gave us belle, as in ‘belle of the ball’, or it could be related to ‘babe’ or ‘baby’. The sense of bauble meaning something of little or no value is later, dating from the early 1600s.
Long ago, ‘bauble’ was also the name given to a staff with a decorated or carved head, carried by a court jester and designed to mock the sceptre carried by a monarch. This meaning has fallen out of use, much as the position of court jester and the practice of a monarch carrying a sceptre have done.
So, now ‘bauble’ only relates to the pretty things. It is important to understand, though, that just because something can be called a bauble does not automatically mean that it has no value. It’s fair to say that while some baubles, such as Christmas decorations and the beads in a child’s bracelet, might usually be fairly inexpensive, there are other kind of baubles that tend to be more valuable.
Thus, the two meanings of bauble remain distinct, even though they can both apply at the same time.
I had my Christmas playlist on in the car. I defamed of a white Christmas with Frank Sinatra , I shared a grown-up Christmas list with Michael Buble, and then it happened. ‘Christmas Without You’ by Human Nature began to play. I held it together for the first verse, but I also knew it was time to pull over. There would be no driving through the rest of the song.
I couldn’t even play the whole thing. I had to turn it off because the big, ugly, messy cry was already just about out of control.
Knowing Christmas this year will be spent without two people I love dearly is hard. I’ve had to consciously motivate myself to do the shopping, put up the tree and hang the tinsel. This is highly unusual for me: I am generally a big kid when it comes to Christmas. . Buying and wrapping gifts is fun, but even that brings its own reminders of whose presents won’t be under the tree.
I will keep on playing Christmas music, but I have edited my playlist for this year. I have taken that song out, along with Blue Christmas, Please Come Home For Christmas, and All I Want For Christmas Is You. There will be fewer sad songs and more bells, reindeer and snow along with baby Jesus and the angels.
I will do my best to enjoy Christmas with my loved ones. I will drape tinsel over the broken bits, and perhaps keep some spare strong tape handy in case I come unstuck again. Bring on the merry and the sparkles.
In Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy — the one that stars with “To be or not to be…” — the overthinking prince lists a number of problems that make life hard to bear. Most of these are things to which we can relate quite easily: oppression, love that is not returned, the wheels of justice turning too slowly, and people being rude to you.
Most people, though, would read the speech and get to the phrase ‘the proud man’s contumely’ and be completely stumped. It’s not a word one comes across terribly often. In all honesty, it’s probably only literature scholars and high school students studying ‘Hamlet’ that are likely to come across the word, and only one of those groups are likely to know right away what it means.
Contumely is a very old word that means disrespectful, offensive or abusive speech or behaviour.
Contumely is interesting in that most English words that end in -ly are adverbs, which describe verbs, but this is a noun. It doesn’t follow the grammatical pattern of English because it is not originally an English word.
It came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word contumelie,. That came from the Latin word contumelia, which meant’ reproach’ or insult’, and is related to ‘contumax’ with means ‘haughty’ or ‘insolent’.
These days, we’re far more likely to use terms like ‘insolence’, ‘disrespect’ ‘scorn’ or ‘abuse’ instead.
Still, it could be fun to respond to someone’s arrogance with ‘I do not have to tolerate your contumely’. Hopefully, it would leave them as perplexed as those high school students reading Hamlet’s soliloquy for the first time.
It could also be useful to know that someone behaving with contumely would be described as contumelious.
This word evolved in the 15th century, so it follows the common pattern of the noun form being used first and the adjective coming afterwards. Mr Darcy’s haughty dismissal of Elizabeth Bennet at their first meeting, a lawyer strutting and posturing in the courtroom, or one’s mother-in-law’s disdain for their general existence could all be described as contumelious.
It’s the first time in my life that I will not be able to wish him a happy birthday. It’s the first time in many years that I will not hug him, kiss his cheek, and provide the cake, complete with candles for him to blow out while we sing that silly song.
I miss him so much. I miss his big laugh, his cheeky grin, our talks when I got home from work, our hugs, our days out together, shared dinners and coffees, cheeky afternoon teas at the bakery, and holding his hand just because I could. He was part of every day, whatever else I might have been doing.
The “firsts” are pretty awful, to be honest. The absence of someone you love on a day which you have always celebrated with them is jarring. It feels as though the world has tilted again, and everything is just a little more out of kilter. It feels… wrong.
My siblings have all experienced their first birthday without him since he passed away in June: two in September, and one just last week. I called and wished each of them happy birthday, but I also wept for them because I knew what they were thinking and feeling, even if they didn’t admit it. Some things don’t need to be put into words.
And yet, for children to bury and grieve for a parent whom they loved dearly, and who has lived a long, happy and faithful life is also so …right.
Therein lies the awkwardness of it all. We are all glad he is no longer suffering, and we would not have wanted him to linger in a realm of pain or disease or anguish but, at the same time, I miss him so very much. The emotions are so powerful that they threaten to overwhelm, but not one of us would bring him back to go through it all again. That would be cruel and selfish.
On the first Father’s Day since his death, I chose to do positive things in his memory. Now, on the first birthday, I find myself trying to achieve that again. There is still pain and grief, though. regardless of how I try to window-dress the day, and it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and not suppress or deny them. The healthier choice is to experience them and work through them in appropriate ways.
So, a visit to my parents’ grave with flowers was my first priority for the day. I made a video message for my siblings and their families, all of whom are long-distance from me, from the final resting place of our parents. At least that way, they could share in the visit too. I chose yellow roses, because Dad loved his roses. Yellow roses are symbolic of friendship, but also of remembrance and new beginnings or rejuvenation of spirit, so they are perfect for Dad’s first birthday in heaven.
My best friend and I visited one of Dad’s favourite bakeries — the same one where I took the picture of him enjoying his coffee — and drank coffee and ate sweet things in his honour.
Later on, we will be having Dad’s favourite thing for dinner — pizza — followed by birthday cake, because there has been one on every other November 17th that I have known.
I have also spent some time in quiet contemplation and giving thanks for my Dad. I know I am incredibly blessed to have had such a loving and supportive father with whom I got along so well, when so many people don’t ever get to know what that’s like. I am thankful for my family, for my husband, and for my best friends, whose support helps make days like today a tiny bit easier. Again, so many people don’t have that, and I know I am incredibly privileged to have those people in my life.
I have thought, too, about what comes next. Soon there will be the first Christmas. The first New Year’s Eve, and the first calendar year that hasn’t had Dad in it. And 360 days after his graduation to heaven, I will have my first birthday without him. And then, soon after, the first anniversary of his death, and then of Helen’s.
These anniversaries and the emotions that go with them may be painful, but they are poignant reminders of deep love and the profound blessings of knowing and sharing life with such amazing people.
On such occasions, there should at least be cake. Dad would have insisted on it.
Anyone who knows me well enough to be in my front yard knows how much I love my maple trees that I have carefully and lovingly grown as reminders of my beloved Canada. I can’t get there anywhere near as often as I want to, so the least I can do is have a bit of Canada in my own garden. It’s not too much to ask.
Today, though, someone who was in my front yard — unbeknown to anyone who lives here, of course, heartlessly ran down one of my maples.
Yes, it was a fairly small tree. That is irrelevant, because it was on its way to being big. Big maples cost lots more than smaller maples in Australia, and small ones cost more than enough. More importantly, it was my tree.
The only notification they left of the destruction of my tree was the tree itself, now horizontal rather than vertical. No note. No phone call or text. No apology. No identification of the culprit.
I am so sad. I’m sad for the loss of a tree that actually meant something to me.
I’m also sad that whoever is responsible felt it was okay to not be honest with me.
If I knocked over someone’s tree or broke something that belonged to someone else, I would be guilt-ridden and desperate to replace it.
Apparently, not everyone I know is quite so principled.
Fortunately for them, I have absolutely zero clues as to who is responsible.
Unfortunately for me, that means that my already cynical INFJ mind will not just go “oh well…” and let it go. Self-destructive as it may be, a little voice in my head will wonder ‘Was it you?’ every time I see people I should be able to trust. The question will probably never come out of my mouth, but it will be there, nevertheless.
The group of people in whom I have absolute trust was already a very small group indeed. And people wonder why.
Face to face teaching is back in full swing in Victoria, with all students over the age of 12, and all teachers, required to wear masks.
The kids generally don’t like wearing masks, and I totally get that. Still, that’s not an excuse for defiance. It’s currently a legal requirement, so whether or not we like it is a moot point.
Most of the students are quite cooperative. Some kids, though, are getting sneakier— or perhaps just less conscientious— about wearing them properly. The challenge for teachers is to find ways to remind them without being awkward or, even worse, coming across as nagging. As anyone who has tried to get a teen to do something they don’t want to will attest, that’s only ever going to create more resistance.
As I am wont to do, I have reverted to humour in addressing the problem.
When a student has their mask pulled under their nose, I tell them “don’t fly the flag at half mask”.
When someone is not wearing a mask, I say, “Oops! Your face is naked.”
When the mask is sitting under their chin, I tell them to “pull their face pants up.”
In a quiet classroom environment, or if I want to remind someone without drawing attention, I simply make eye contact, hold my hand horizontally near my chin and lift it to above my nose.
These responses engage the students by surprising the m and making them think about what I’m saying. They generally respond with a smile and then comply. The occasional student tries to argue, which invariably ends in disappointment for them.
I am always happy when it works. I was also very pleased when, while I was on yard duty, I heard one of my students tell another kid to pull his face pants up. I smiled with great satisfaction and whispered, “Good work, kid! Keep it up!” Nobody noticed, though, because I had my mask on.
Masking Awkwardness With Humour #TeacherLife #humour #blogpost