Berlin in summer

1970 in Berlin – that was a summer to remember.

It was a long time coming. When we arrived – February – snow covered the ground. Cold, cold air bit into our noses, our wrists, our ears, my knees. Our Sydney winter clothes were hopelessly inadequate. My son whimpered when we opened the front door of the yellow villa. I carried him a few paces, then put him down.

What kind of idiot would wear a mini-skirt in February?
Strangers in the snow
A little later, in giant mittens

He did not leap for joy at his first sight of snow. It was alien, freezing. The two-block walk to the supermarket was an Antarctic trudge. To add to our misery, we were passed by a woman in a fur hat and boots, pulling a sled. On the sled was a red splodge. As we squinted through the snow glare, this proved to be a small child, coocooned in a zip-up snowsuit.

I was mentally practising my textbook German, but language was not going to be the only challenge.

Spring was late. The last snow fell on the first of April. Our neighbours from the left-wing commune next door shouted cheerfully to one another as they scraped snow off the windscreen of their 2CV. I always greeted these people but they never replied. Maybe they managed a curt nod once or twice. I was hurt. Perhaps they thought someone their age who was already a mother must be unbearably bourgeois? Only later did I learn that our landlady’s preferred tenants, including the couple upstairs, were US Army intelligence.

Let’s skip spring, the little green-tipped snowdrops and the buds on the linden trees. The window boxes bright with pink flowers.

Flowers, colour, warmth…

Summer! It sang. It shimmered. Nightingales chorused in clear skies. The parkland smelt of freshly-mown grass. Everything was green, green, green. Squirrels leapt from one branch to another, or, to the fury of the landlady’s husband, foraged in garden beds.

My husband rode everywhere on his bicycle, while my son and I were now experts at using the local bus and S-Bahn. By this time, German phrases came to me without much effort. One day we got ready for the day out. I put a sundress over my swimsuit and packed a towel. We set off for the Wannsee, my son thrilled to be wheeled along on his father’s bike.

Cycling over cobblestones, Berlin

Past the supermarket, past the station, and into the shady woods. Finally, in a burst of light, there was the lake, with its small sandy beach and great stretch of water. There were a few wooden bathing boxes, like the ones in Clarice Beckett paintings. The sea was calm, but a few small yachts were in sight. White swans glided across the water and begged for snacks from picnickers.

Berlin’s well-fed, very confident swans

Children were everywhere, the pre-schoolers running around naked. Their mothers stood squirming awkwardly under long kaftans, shedding undergarments, before emerging in sensible one-piece bathing costumes.

I flung off my sundress and sat on a towel. The stress of our first months in Berlin was evaporating.

My son wanted to dash into the water, but I held him back.

“Sunscreen,” I said. “Be still for a second while I put some sunscreen on your shoulders.”

Summer friends at the Wannsee

PENELOPE NELSON

October 2021

Dublin Triptych

1953 1975 2006

1953

“This’ll fix it” said the vicar, as he socked me on the jaw.

I had just been picked up out of the gutter and was more concerned about the state of my bike. This was Day One of my solo cycle journey from Dublin right up to Portstewart on the North Antrim coast. At the age of fourteen this was my first overseas adventure alone. A few moments before I had been happily cycling down the main street of Swords, just north of Dublin, when without warning a small van in front of me stopped suddenly, causing me to run into its back and injure my jaw. The driver must have heard the impact and accelerated away from the scene, leaving me and bike in the road. My face felt strange.

This was when the vicar came over and saw straightway what my problem was. He told me had been a medic in the British Army in the War and had fixed many dislocated jaws. Then without further warning he punched me hard on the side of my face. I was too surprised to be alarmed.

The story gets better from here. My face felt sore but back in shape. The twisted frame of my Raleigh All-Steel bike was repaired at a local garage and the vicar and his wife sent me on my way after an al fresco lunch under a huge fig tree in the vicarage garden.

Looking back, cycling round Ireland alone at fourteen sounds adventurous, but not in a world where teenagers nowadays sail single-handed around the world,

The Crusader

That day before in Dublin I had shaken hands with a dead man – quite an experience for a teenager, especially as the mummified corpse was claimed to be eight hundred years old. Dubbed “The Crusader” he resided in the crypt of St Michan’s Church. The guide said it brought good luck to shake his hand, which felt hard and leathery. Recently I read that twenty-six thousand people a year now visit The Crusader but the practice of hand shaking has long been abandoned. The corpse is now set back in his coffin with hands tucked in beside him. Not that that stopped a weird occurrence in February 2019 when , taking advantage of the non-existing security, someone stole The Crusader’s head. I don’t know how many people have enjoyed good luck from shaking his hand, but The Crusader clearly made his own luck when just a week later his head was recovered by the brilliant Garda and the culprit was arrested.

………………………………………………

“Don’t spit. Spitting spreads consumption”. I still remember my surprise at seeing this sign on a Dublin bus. I had lived in a poor neighbourhood in London’s East End, but had seen nothing like the poverty and decay of much of Dublin, away from the elegant Georgian squares. It seemed that little had changed since the 1920s when my father had done an obstetrics course at Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital. He told me that when he was doing his midwifery practicals, he would take a new copy of a newspaper with him, as this was often the only clean material in the house in which to wrap the newborn.

Still, even Dublin’s poverty provided me an interesting experience: street urchins about five years old, pleading, “Give us a penny, misthur”. It was the first time anyone had called me “mister” and I recall giving away lots of pennies.

……………………………………………….

Some years later I read somewhere that Dublin Zoo (which I had visited) was so successful at breeding lions that they had even exported some to Africa. When I checked with the Zoo recently I was told that while they had been breeding lions since 1855, and sent many to wild life parks and circuses, there was no evidence any had been sent to Africa. Disappointed at this myth-busting I did a Google check and found a whole page of references that Dublin had indeed sent Lions to Africa – British and Irish Lions (Rugby Union team) had been sent to South Africa, many times.

Still it’s odd to think that those fierce lions that thrilled me at our annual circus visit in London as a child were not wild beasts brought direct from the African savannah but were most likely Dubliners from several generations back.

MGM lion

Of the eleven MGM lions, two were born in Dublin Zoo: Slats born 1919 (pictured above in 1924) and Leo born 1957.

1975

In this year I made a business trip to Dublin, my first visit there for over twenty years, on behalf of the British multinational for which I then worked. I was not too keen to go. Ireland in the 1970s was wracked with sectarian violence and, while most of the bombing and killing were going on in Northern Ireland and back in England, Dublin was experiencing some of this terror as well.

Just before I set off I got a request from one of our subsidiaries, a firm making specialist commercial vehicles, to check out a proposal they had received from an Irish professor. Details were scanty but it appeared the prof had designed a special vehicle and wanted to know if we wanted to make it under licence.

So while in Dublin I visited University College, where Seamus Timoney was Professor of Mechanical Engineering.. We met in his workshop, where the professor pointed to a large vehicle painted in camouflage and proceeded to tell me about the unique, patented suspension system and showed me a piece of the unique plate steel with which the vehicle was clad. It was an armoured troop carrier! Timoney claimed it was superior to anything the British Army had.

Now this was the 1970s and British troops were driving around in similar vehicles in Belfast, just 170 km to the north. There is perhaps a time and a place for all good ideas but this was not one of them: A British company making armoured troop carriers for the British Army using Irish technology was unthinkable. The politics would be explosive , both for the British and Irish Governments.

Interestingly, a quarter of a century later Timoney Engineering licensed an Australian firm to make 350 Bushmaster Troop Carriers for the Australian Army

The Bushmaster

2006

“All these Eastern Europeans working for lower wages and doing the Irish out of jobs,” said our taxi driver with venom as he drove us into Dublin from the airport. This was the response to my innocent enquiry as to what’s the latest news in Dublin. To me it was ironic as, growing up in London, I was old enough to remember that in my childhood “immigrants” were not black West Indians but white Irish.

Happily, Dublin was now booming with little trace of the poverty I had seen fifty years earlier. The streets were congested with new cars and tourists. Ireland was in the European Union and using the Euro. The country was European HQ to many multinational firms.

At our hotel we fronted the perennial problem facing overnight travellers (we had come in from Toronto). Our rooms were not yet available as it was only 9 a.m. The charming and sympathetic receptionist (Eastern European, I guessed) suggested we spend the morning on the Hop On, Hop Off bus. This we did but dozed through most of it, not getting off even at the Guinness Brewery. Twice round the circuit, once on the left of the bus and once on the right. We did alight at Merion Square with its elegant Georgian terraces surrounding a park.

……..and there in the park was Oscar Wilde reclining on a rock and wearing a vivid green jacket with pink lapels and stretching out his legs clad in blue-grey trousers. First impression was that Oscar was made of fibreglass but later we discovered he was made of various coloured rocks from Norway, Canada and Wicklow. Seeing a polychrome statue was a surprise. For thousands of years statues seem to have been uniformly grey granite or white marble. Back in Classical Grreek and Roman times statues were often painted, though those pigments have long since faded.

The Crusader was not the only Dublin resident who lost and found his head. In 2010 Oscar’s porcelain head had to be removed because cracks were forming. .It was replaced with a new one of jadeite.

Oscar Wilde

However, it was not Oscar Wilde or Eastern Europeans which left the most lasting impression of that Dublin visit. It was, late one afternoon, seeing two diminutive female Garda walking towards a couple of large, drunken louts who had just discarded their empty tinnies in the gutter. The policewomen sternly ordered them to pick up their litter and place it in a nearby bin. It was reassuring seeing these big lads meekly obey – a good tale of respect for the law and for the environment all rolled in one.

Dublin Garda

First female Garda 1959 – perhaps the grannies of the two we saw.

Robin Sen

Sydney 2021

A challenge: what is the most memorable city you’ve visited?

This could be the beginning of a series.

PN

Our four legs ran as three

In lockdown, exercise means doing tai chi at home via Zoom, or walking round the nearby blocks time after time. Now, finally, the fully vaccinated can play a little croquet. One day recently I was overtaken by nostalgia for more athletic times…. So much so that I took to rhyme….

FIT AT ANY AGE

Survived the childhood trauma,/ The last pick for each team,

I keep hoping, now much older,/ To fulfil my fitness dream.

My tai chi moves are just okay,/ I stroll around the block,

I muddle round at croquet/ and fail to beat the clock.

Arthritic and asthmatic,/ Excuses ever mounting,

Shortsighted, unathletic/ 78 and counting…

But do I lose heart, do I sigh/ At losing all the time?

Never! I remember/ The glory of my prime.

At the Beulah Park Sports Day,/ 1989,

They marvelled at our triumph/ My friend Lynette’s and mine.

My friend Lynette

Oh, what an exhibition/Of pluck and nerve and grace

To fulfil our life’s ambition/ And come first in a race.

Our ankles taped together,/ Our four legs ran as three,

Three-legged champions/ My friend Lynette and me.

In case you think we’re fibbin/ The proof is here to see:

A green winner’s ribbon/ For Lynette Wright and me.

Three-legged winners’ trophy, Beulah Park Sports Day

PENELOPE NELSON

October 2021

Goldilocks – not recommended for children

It begins innocently enough with a small girl skipping merrily through the woods. Questions arise right from the start.. Did she go with parental approval or did she slip out without their consent? Either way this appears to be a case of parental neglect, bordering on child abuse. If she slipped out, why was the gate not locked.? How irresponsible of the parents to let a small child go off into the dangerous woods -and alone! Hopefully a nosey neighbour will dob them in to Child Welfare.

Did her parents never warn her about “stranger danger” and the risks inherent in going into other people’s houses? It is hard to restrain a horrified shudder as we learn of her barging into an unoccupied house.

Nor are the occupants of this house entirely blameless. Not only have they carelessly forgotten to lock the front door – and in an isolated location with no Neighbourhood Watch- but they have set off on an exhausting forest trek with a small infant before ensuring his nutritional needs have been met. So the porridge is too hot. Don’t they have any cold milk and Cocopops to sustain the little fellow? Child Welfare is going to have a busy time in this dysfunctional neck of the woods.

It gets worse. The story descends into a panegyric of theft ( she nicks the porridge) but also of vandalism ( she wrecks the joint). And where is the personal hygiene? Before tucking in she neither hand sanitises nor gives the utensils a wipe.

Finally this awful story degenerates into a celebration of failing to take responsibility for one’s behaviour, as Goldilocks does a bunk out of the window – silly girl was lucky not to break her neck – before facing up to merited punishment. The opportunity is missed to show the bears in a compassionate light. How morally uplifting to see Daddy Bear forgiving Goldilocks and escorting her home, chaperoned of course by Mummy Bear, safely to her parents.

This is a dreadful tale devoid of any morality. And what about the racial overtones? The flaxen-haired Teutonic girl and the ‘other’ whom we must assume are black or brown or a least tinted (there are no snowy polar bears in the woods, though global warming may change that).. All the bears seem able to do is ask stupid questions “Who’s been sitting in my chair?” and rolling their eyes.

Far safer to sing to your kids something like “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic”, a song which eschews social distancing – the bears’ parents are not stupid enough to let them into the woods alone but are happy to see them trot off in a tight cohort of their chums (no hint of any inter-species conflict here). And what a helpful conclusion to the day as the teddies go off willingly to a six o’clock bedtime. What a useful model!

ROBIN SEN

Sydney, September 2021

Can craft change the world?

The 2020 election debates in the USA were terrifying. In the first, Donald Trump barely let Joe Biden say a word. Before the second, I was terrified. Would Trump trample all over Biden again?

What can you do about terror? People take pills, I know, but they don’t have immediate effect. Getting drunk? I didn’t want the hangover.

Magic? Getting closer. Maybe old crafts have a mysterious power.

I turned to home sewing. The day before the debate, I cut out 12 pieces of fabric, 6 for a long, linen summer skirt and 6 pieces of cotton to line it. That meant I would have 10 long, straightish seams to sew.

The debate began. I whirred down the first seam. The candidates made opening statements, more civilly than in the first debate.

A bit of debate. Whirr-rr. Whirr-rr. A lot of Trump. A bit of Biden. Whirr-rr. Whirr-rr. My skirt was coming together.

I took a break to make coffee. Amazingly, Biden made a few points without interruption or insult from his opponent.

Whirr-rr, whirr-rr. Before too long, the skirt had come together. Then the lining. Whirr-rrrr…..

By the end of the debate, only the zipper, hem and waist needed to be done. Later I made a belt and put my art deco nurse’s buckle on it.

My magical anti-Trump skirt

Can I really claim that a bit of home sewing had any effect on the US election result? Perhaps not, but who can say it didn’t?

There are scholars who think craft, ordinary home sewing, knitting and other folksy skills can help make a better world. Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd, Associate Professor at Nottingham Trent University, researches the intersection of fashion, making, design and sustainability. She has written a book called Folk Fashion, Understanding Homemade Clothes.

In a recent interview on ABC radio, she reflected that wearing something your Mum had made was once a source of shame. “It looks like something from a store” was a compliment. These days, however, home sewing is less an act of frugal necessity, more like an enjoyable leisure activity or a type of self-expression. It is also one small bulwark against the throwaway fast fashion that clogs our world with waste.

I looked up this fascinating scholar’s website: amytwiggerholroyd.com and sent her an email with a picture of my anti-Trump skirt. She replied at once:

What a great story! I love the way that textiles can carry these invisible and personal meanings. Whenever you wear it I’m sure you’ll remember the experience… and the worldwide sigh of relief at the eventual election result.

I wore the skirt a few times last summer, but now that spring’s arriving, I intend to wear it again this year, and perhaps for years to come.

PENELOPE NELSON

September 2021

Cultivating my garden

Nightmares on the television. Gun-toting Taliban victors with disconcerting smiles. Ever-rising Covid cases in New South Wales.

So I retreat to cultivate the garden.

Once, not so long ago, I really had a garden. My garden notebook says IN BLOOM AUGUST 2009: jasmine, magnolia, pink and red camellia, clivia, alyssum, geraniums, maybush, a few bits of bougainvillea and a couple of jonquils.

Then we sold the house. Crowded tropical planting is not the fashion. In March 2012 I was silly enough to walk past. I wrote on the inside page of the notebook GONE! Margaret’s avocado tree, the frangipani, all the coast rosemary, all the ivy, geraniums, tree ferns, wisteria and its arbour, all the monstera deliciosa, jonquils, narcissus, bilbergias, alyssum, seaside daisies. In their place were a very large garage and a few lines of well disciplined greenery.

Now I have a balcony. In the planter we have a long line of liriope, a reedy lily turf with small purple flowers in summer, and a couple of tree ferns. In pots we have frangipanis and agaves. I also planted some giveaway seeds from Woolworths, the star being this pansy:

What could be more optimistic than planting a seed? What a colour combination! Eat your heart out, Monet!

One of the consolations of lockdown has been a long run of sunny winter days. The liriope thinks it’s growing season, so I have been out with the watering can and the Seasol, fertilising.

There’s a rank, dead-fish scent to it, but miracles are happening down in the soil. Gardens really do lift the spirits.

PENELOPE NELSON

August 2021

Convict women defied authority

Australia’s female convicts are often depicted as sluts and thieves. They stole, certainly, but usually from desperation. Their privileged contemporaries deplored sexual behaviour that did conform to middle class codes. But what were convict women really like?

Babette Smith’s new book, Defiant Voices, celebrates the defiance and resilience of the 25,000 women transported to Australia. It took courage to stand up to the power of the courts, which could rip prisoners away from family, children and homeland, and send them to the far side of the globe. Smith finds many stories of women who swore, shouted, mocked and sang in the face of judges, prison guards, naval officers and employers.

The prisoners saw no shame in their crimes when the alternative would have been starvation. Their refusal to show repentance in court angered and bewildered authorities:

When the judge pronounced a sentence of transportation,the two women were…extremely insolent to him and … ‘in vulgar language.. told him, “We have plenty of law but little justice.” Two other women joined in. …As they were about to leave the dock, they ‘jumped and capered about and laughing at the judge said, “Thank you my lord.”‘

page 29, Defiant Voices

The average age of female convicts was 25, but many were teenagers and a few were as young as 12. They banded together on board ships, at Female Factories and in workplaces, always ready to call out anything they considered unfair. In later life they often proved to be valuable employees, and many escaped their convict status through marriage. Noisy rebels often grew into respectable workers, wives and mothers. Some lived much longer, healthier lives that they could have hoped for in England or Ireland. Mary Reibey (page 111) became a successful trader who helped found the Bank of New South Wales. Catherine Mangan (page 146) , who left four children in Ireland, was often in trouble for drunkenness, but had another six children with her ex-convict husband and died at the age of 87. Sarah Leadbetter, (page 79), a pretty 19-year-old thief, met William Lawson of the New South Wales Corps on Norfolk Island. In 1812 they married and by the 1820s Sarah was the mistress of Veteran Hall at Prospect, arranging piano lessons for her daughters. Susannah Watson (page 233), Babette Smith’s forebear, left four children in England that she never saw again. The baby who came to Sydney with her died at the age of three. Susannah had a further two children in Australia, and in a letter to her daughter in England, described her new home as a “plentiful, extravagant” country. Except for the loss of her English children, she regarded transportation as the best thing that happened to her.

Defiant Voices has illustrations on nearly every page, many drawn from the National Library’s convict era material.

Young and defiant convict lass

Babette Smith dedicates the book to “the thousands of family and academic historians whose research into women convicts has produced such riches.” A few decades ago, in deference to widespread shame about our convict ancestors, archives and libraries made it difficult to access information about them. Now convict ancestors are celebrated rather than obscured, and many archivists, librarians and university lecturers owe their jobs to the widespread thirst for information about our past.

Defiant Voices brings a vast array of material on the convict system together with dozens of lively vignettes of individual convict women. This compelling book combines scholarship with original insights.

PENELOPE NELSON

July 2021

Babette Smith, Defiant Voices, How Australia’s Female Convicts Challenged Authority, National Library of Australia Publishing, 288 pages, $49.99 – available from the NLA bookstore online, and other online outlets

Sport, sport and sport

With apologies to Lord Alfred Tennyson: Better to have played and lost than never to have played before. (1)

Every year Australians get excited about tennis, epecially around the performances at Wimbledon, and every four years about a range of sports, some of which (e.g. artistic swimming, snchronised diving) only excite the nation, or are even heard of, at the Olympics. This year Stewart McSweyn has been selected in the Australian team for the Tokyo Olympics in the 1500, 5000 and 10,000m track and field events. An outstanding achievement. But we all know that there are only two sports that matter, even to Stewart’s mum. Stewart has a twin brother Angus. In an alarming interview on the ABC 7.30 program his mother, in a Ripley’s ‘believe it or not’ moment, actually said, ‘Angus is the more gifted of the two boys. He could easily do things when playing cricket and football.’

Here follow my confessions. I was no good at either football or cricket, yet despite my inabilities I enjoy both as spectator sports. I look back on three great moments in my sporting life (football, cricket and tennis), with a sense of pleasure, largely because of the enjoyment shared with my extended family.

AFL Football

I gradually came to accept that ‘forward pocket’ was a place where they hid the school house team captain’s younger brother. I happily accepted that position. My expectations, and I suspect those of my teammates were low and happily I was able to meet them.

Several years ago at a family gathering a football appeared, a regular event on such occasions, and the assorted siblings, in-laws and nieces and nephews began a game of kick to kick. For those not familiar with this termiology Wikipedia has the following entry: ‘a pastime and well-known tradition of Australian Rules football fans, and a recognised Australian term for kick and catch type games. It is a casual version of Australian Rules.’ Anyone can join in, with an opportunity for showing off both kicking and marking skills. A favourite nephew, not known for his sporting prowess, kicked the ball which dribbled off his foot and caused much hilarity, punctuated by a comment from another favourite nephew (all nephews are favourites) who observed loudly: “Don’t worry. We regard you as the Robert of our generation.” Both of us took this to be a great compliment.

Cricket

The apogee of my adolescent cricketing was the award of a trophy for “most improved C2” mounted on a plinth of brown bakelite (polyoxybezylmethylenglycolanhydrate). Was this for encouragement, consolation or perseverance, or the obviously well-deserved recognition of a brilliant display when I’d made 8 not out in the final match of the season? My brother regularly found the opportunity to mention this at Christmas family gatherings when the collected nieces and nephews played cricket, even if only tippity run, ‘a form of backyard cricket; the defining rule of the form, which requires the batsman to run if they hit the ball.’

Several years ago I decided to present the trophy to m brother for a Christmas present, since over the years he’d obviously drawn more pleasure from it than I had. At that stage he was playing in Victoria in a State representative seniors’ team. In the end common sense and dignity prevailed and the trophy must still be in the house somewhere, though we don’t have a pool room. That very same Christmas my brother gave me a surprise present. He had been to the local historical society, located the records of the South Warrandyte Cricket Club, and especially copied for me the minutes of the meeting at which it was determined that the most improved player in the Club should be me.

Tennis

Lest anyone think my life was blighted only by football and cricket I recount one other magic moment. It was my mother’s 75th birthday I believe when we all celebrated at a friend’s home. There we all played tennis, but uncharacteristically my mother announced to the family that she would no longer be playing singles tennis against any of us. When asked why, she gave an unequivocal answer: “I’ve never been beaten by Robert and I’m not going to give him a chance at this stage of my life.”

I now play Croquet and there are several aspects that delight me about the game. It is cerebral; the desire to win is not paramount (or is at least subservient to the intention to make an opponent lose); and in the most recent COVID shutdown croquet was recognised not as a community sport but rather as an opportunity to exercise. And I can beat my brother at croquet.

Great sporting moments in my life may be tinged with both bathos andpathos, but I suffer no psychological injury, and futhermore a consequence of not taking sport at all seriously means I am perhaps the only family member not to suffer long-term cosnequences of any sporting injuries.

Best to be a good sport rather than good at sport, though if like Ashleigh Barty you can be both then life is even better than best.

…….

(1) There is no record that Lord Alfred Tennyson ever palyed sport and his sole reference to sport in his writings indicates that he knew little of cricket. His gene pool ultimately gained respect when his grandson captained the English cricket team.

ROBERT J. KING

July 2021

Women and masks

I fell in love with a woman wearing a mask.

Not once, buy twice.

The first time was with English actress Margaret Lockwood starring in the film The Wicked Lady.(1945) as an aristocrat by day and a highwaywoman by night. She was the most gorgeous creature I had ever seen in all my seven years. The film also had a hanging scene in which hawkers were selling model scaffolds and victims to kids in the crowd. How I longed for one of those scaffolds but none were to be found in my searches through the town’s toyshops. I must have been a horrid little boy.

Which reminds me of another precocious little brat aged about ten who had a hit in the charts in the 1970s. He was even prepared to mask up to win the heart of his woman: “I’ll be your long-haired lover from Liverpool, I’ll do anything you ask. I’ll be your clown, your puppet, your April fool, I’ll even wear a mask”. Maybe the songwriter could not find anything to rhyme with ”ask’.

Long before the present pandemic, women in masks had become commonplace in Western cities. It wasn’t always so. Writing in The Times in 1869, William Russell on a visit to Egypt with the Prince of Wales, typified the idea of exotic, feminine Eastern promise when he wrote: ” If eyes can be an index to the character of the rest of the face, many of the ladies must have been very beautiful”. Then he went and spoiled it by adding ” but some showed the ravages of ophthalmia, which the artifice of blackened eyebrows only made more evident”..

It is ironic to reflect that in many Western countries masks have made the fastest trajectory in history from being illegal (for concealing identity for whatever reason) to becoming compulsory (to protect us and others from infection).

Best mask joke seen so far: “Puppy: ‘Mum,. why are humans wearing muzzles?’ Mother dog: ‘ Because they won’t learn to sit and stay.'”

Who, you may ask, was the second masked woman I fell in love with? She of course is my wife, Helen, though she was not wearing a mask when we first met. That has come much later in response to the current pandemic. Which brings us to Bondi Beach where the ABC TV News made us poster material (without the usual bikini and board shorts) while recently taking a Sunday afternoon stroll along the promenade enjoying the opportunity for permitted outdoor exercise.

In our masks at Bondi on a lockdown Sunday

ROBIN SEN

Sydney, June 2021