You’ve gotta roll with it

Is it happening where you are too?

I’m talking about the current Australian passion for TP jokes, especially visual ones.

It’s not as if we’re short of interesting news at the moment, and this is the sort of thing that normally gets a 3 minute slot on a very slow day. But somehow, toilet paper humour has tickled the nation’s funny bone, and we’re laughing at ourselves.

And a couple more in the Newcastle Herald.

On the other hand, if you like the more traditional silo art, this link will take you to a good selection. In these locked-up days, you can’t do the real art trail, but thank heavens for the wonders of websites and viewing this stuff from the comfort of home, without the need to spend hours in the car. (Did you see what I did there? Virtue out of necessity, and all that?)

We have to take our humour where we can find it these days, don’t we?

Only connect…

These immortal words are the epigram at the end of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

Although they signify a different idea, they also express perfectly the idea I’d like to put forward today.

In these strange times, when so many of us are confined to a much smaller world than has been our habit, wouldn’t it be marvellous to expand that world in other ways? Let’s actively write our blogs and express ourselves. Let’s create something meaningful from the ugliness of fear, disease and confinement. Let’s do what we so rarely do properly these days.

Let us speak to each other.

Not face to face, of course. That would be silly and irresponsible. But we can still use the technological marvels our lovely world gives us. No-one who blogs lacks a communication device. Whether it’s talking by Skype or FaceTime or Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Line, Viber, Tango, Kakaotalk or WeChat, on a desktop or laptop, tablet or phone, there are many ways to talk face to virtual face with others.

I already talk with several blogging friends. I actually meet up with a few of the closer ones, and they have become valued members of my social circle. I’d love to do more of it. Yesterday, I had a great conversation with Sue of From the Magpie’s Nest. Sue and I have been collaborating on F2F for years now, but since a couple of initial conversations, we haven’t talked face to face. Yesterday, we caught up. It was great! There was a lot of laughing, our dogs got involved, we walked each other around our sewing rooms… I couldn’t imagine why we hadn’t done it sooner.  I also had a lovely chat with Dale of daleleelife101 about something I’d sent her and our recent visit to her tiny corner of paradise. I’d really love to widen the circle.

So, is anyone else up for it? I can only offer Skype or FaceTime; my phone isn’t an iPhone and for a smart phone it… isn’t very, so I don’t want to overburden it with more apps than I absolutely need. If you have a PC desktop or laptop you can do Skype. If you have a Mac desktop or laptop or iPhone, you can FaceTime. All it takes is a user name for Skype, or an email address or phone number to hook up for FaceTime. If I can expose my grey hair and wrinkles and double chin, so can you, or whatever you might be self-conscious about. This isn’t a beauty contest, it’s friends making meaningful contact in ‘interesting times’, through the wonders of technology.  Go on. Give it a try.

I’m looking forward to hearing from some of you. As a famous 1990s ad for a phone company in the UK used to say:

“It’s good to talk”…

One thing not in short supply

Well, we’re shut down.

No surprise there; the only surprise is in how long it took. The Federal Government has mandated the closure of ‘principal places of social gathering’ with effect from midday today. Shops and businesses will close unless they can offer their employees and customers a safe distance to work in, which translates as 4 square metres (13 square feet) per person. Essential businesses remain open: supermarkets, petrol stations, convenience stores, banks and pharmacies. Oh, and the bottle shops (liquor stores or off-licenses). Of course…

We don’t have to stay in our homes, it will simply be harder to gather with a large number of other people and share our viruses around, and at home, at least you’re probably safe.

Knowing it was coming, I went into town this morning. I mailed something, I went to the pharmacy to get each of our prescriptions filled in case of emergency, I got some blood test results and I bought a bit of food. Bread, eggs, fruit and vegetables, that sort of thing. I maintained a safe distance, sanitised my hands and waited behind safe lines to pay with a card tap instead of folding money. Others were not so compliant. I had people reach across my face for things, hanging around in the centre of the aisle talking on their phones and preventing others passing them safely, and worst of all, abusing the checkout lady because they couldn’t bulk buy whatever they liked. As if she had any control over bogan buying behaviour, or the timely decisions of her head office in limiting quantities so everyone could get a bit. I couldn’t buy flour. Well, too bad…

But there’s one thing my online community has in abundance, and which it’ll never run out of.

The more you have, the more you make. Use it, share it, give it freely. It doesn’t need sanitising, it can’t carry the virus, and it will nourish your soul.  In the ugliness of restriction, fear, disease, social isolation and shortage, shine a light. Make something beautiful, clever or useful, and share it. Bring a bit of beauty into the lives of others. Build community in the midst of isolation, invite friends into your virtual creative space. Blog as you’ve never blogged before. Encourage and support, rather than scoff at fears and reject ideas.

Because we need this.

We are humans and have to feel connected. Without the reliable physical contact and emotional support of normal life, many of us are going to feel lonely, afraid, depressed and despairing. Creativity and virtual contact can help bring us all through this.

Yes, out there is the monster: COVID-19, the Coronavirus, SARS CoV 2, however you want to name our enemy. But in our hearts we have love, solidarity, courage and hope.

We will not be defeated.

The bottom line

The TP shortage continues unabated.

I’m down to 13 rolls. Small ones. This is not a scary number if you know that next week you can go and buy your usual 24-pack. But I can’t. I’m also not prepared to stand in a queue of potentially lethal bogans on the offchance of snaffling a single twin-pack. There is another way.

(In the interests of full disclosure, these links are unaffiliated and I don’t get anything for posting them. I’m just showing you what I’ve been looking at.)

I can’t afford to install a fabulous all-singing, all-dancing bidet toilet. The Husband secretly lusts after one, with multiple programs and sensors, adjustable water temperature, a variety of spray intensities, warm-air drying and a heated seat. For a couple of hundred, you can buy a bidet attachment to retrofit to your toilet. But it doesn’t heat the water or dry you after. I can afford a shattaf hand spray which can be installed by a reasonably competent DIYer. Which I am. That’s what I’m after, ideally. The Husband, tropical-climate princess that he is, feels that the cold-water-only spray may be a bit chilly in the winter. Or what they call winter here in the tropics, which is a balmy spring day to the rest of us. So we’ve agreed to try an intermediate stage before we agree on a long-term solution.

I’ve ordered a ‘portable bidet‘ from Squeezy bottle, long stem with right-angled spray head on the end. There’s an amazing selection of these devices out there, so I read all the user reviews and picked the one that gave the strongest spray for the smallest size. Sadly, the vast majority of these items are now out of stock, as it seems the toilet tissue issue has bitten deep. Got in just in time!

To accompany this device, I have made a selection of dry-off cloths and a pump bottle of lavender water. Do your business, spray with water till clean, dampen cloth with lavender water (still a work in progress), and wipe. There should be nothing visible to worry about. If there is, you haven’t sprayed enough. I’ve seen a YouTube video demonstrating these things in action and she was able to dislodge a large lump of very sticky peanut butter from an apple. Very tastefully done, but enough to show it worked. I’ve seen another, demonstrating another device, using Nutella and the top of a clenched fist. Much less tasteful, especially when he licked off the Nutella afterwards…. The device is effective but initially a little challenging to use if you’re new to the concept. The used cloth goes into a lidded container. No, it’s not smelly, except if you count lavender water. It’s just water, remember?  You could get in there with soap if there’s a lot of clean up to do.

For small jobs, my cloths are 6 inches square and made of flannel with serged edges. For the bigger jobs, I halved old face washers and serged the raw edges. These are 12 x 6 inches. I have a spray pump bottle filled with water and about 5 drops of lavender oil. I’m looking at adding some glycerine, aloe vera gel, etc, to see if that increases long term bum-comfort.

While I wait for the portable bidet to arrive (mid-April, eek!), I’ve had to resort to a temporary solution. Voilà. The bottle formerly known as Toilet Duck or other local variation, henceforth to be known as Bottom Buddy. Wash it out well. Fill it fresh for each use – unsurprisingly, the Husband likes warm water, the great big girl’s blouse. It works surprisingly well. Scoot forward on the seat and lean forward for rear cleansing and aim the nozzle at the, er, bullseye… In other words, hold the bottle as you would for toilet cleaning, but pointing at yourself. For front cleansing, scoot back and lean backwards. Simples, peoples… Squeeze, gently at first and then to the pressure that works for you. Release and repeat. Use all the water. Take a cloth, give it a couple of squirts of lavender water. Wipe and dry. Put the cloth in a lidded container till it’s time to launder them.

I repeat, this is not stinky or chunky. There are no Klingons,  dags or dingleberries. However, wash the cloths hot, as you would with terrycloth nappies/diapers. This is no grosser than pullng your underwear back over a bottom that hasn’t been washed at all after doing your business. Hot water and soap takes care of it all. If it works in the shower when you wash yourself, it’ll work in the washing machine.

If you can, wash the bottle and nozzle after use. It shouldn’t touch the body, but a little back spray is possible.

I know how much damage ‘foreign materials’ flushed away can do. I’m not ever going there. To one raised on the paper scrub-clean, this takes a little getting used to. To most of the Asian world, it’s normal. If you’ve been using a ‘wet wipe’ after anyway, as I have for years, it’s not so weird. The big downside about this? Forgetting what you’re doing and dropping the cloth in the toilet. Yup, you’ll have to get in there after it. So don’t forget.

I’ll let you know how it goes. So far, I’m really pleased with the result, but I think the purpose made bottle will be a bit more user friendly than the Bottom Buddy. I may also need to make more cloths, or change the spray formulation. This is simple, cheap, and easy, and you know what?  It feels good!

I’m also working on a small travel-sized kit with a small squeezy bottle you can fill from a tap, a small spray pump of lavender water and a couple of cloths, in a zippered waterproof bag .

And yes, visitors will remain untraumatised. I’ve kept my remaining TP rolls for them.

Neither snow nor rain…

‘…Nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds’

This sentence is the creed of the mail carriers of the United States Postal Service. These days, I feel they should add ‘Nor heavy traffic, crazed Uber drivers, nor COVID-19 social distancing…’

This beautiful card was made for me by the lovely and generous Alys, who specially chose teal stamps because she knows my affinity for teal and that it’s the signature colour of Ovarian Cancer and the quilts a team of us makes to raise funds for the cause. I particularly love that she’s included a vintage stamp in teal from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) which was originally in her own father’s stamp collection.

Also, don’t you love how she’s made use of the trimmed-off edge of the heart on the front to make a frame for her sweet message inside?

So, having carefully and beautifully crafted it, she has entrusted it to the stalwarts of the USPS and their unstoppable motto. They in turn have passed it to our own considerably more laid back and, um, idiosyncratic mail carriers, and the other day, I had a call from our tenant to say it had arrived at our old home, and would I like him to bring it round. So there was even a third mail carrier involved!

We don’t write letters much any more, and the mailmen, or ‘posties’ as they’re called here, generally bring officialdom and financial depletion to our doors. I think that may change. As we become more and more isolated and fearful, and as we lose acquaintances, friends and loved ones, will we not feel the need to reach out to others in some more tangible fashion than a phone call, SMS, Skype or email? So, write. Write to business associates, acquaintances, friends, relatives and close family. Write to the paper (“Disgusted of Burpengary’, ‘Outraged of Wonglepong’). Write to the ones who mean something to you, or who can’t get home to you.

Of course, there’s a small fear some virus may have set up housekeeping on the letter despite its time languishing in trucks, planes, sorting offices and mail bags, away from sources of infection. So, before you write it, wash your hands. Don’t cough over it, don’t lick the glue on the envelope or the stamp. At the other end of its journey, if you’re super concerned about infection, wait 5 days before you open it (if you can), and wash your hands after you read it. Ideally, don’t cover it with kisses or blotch it with tears. Both will guarantee a hotbed of germy goodness…

But after all that, you’ll have a beautiful, tangible and poignant reminder of love, friends and family in the time of COVID-19.



On being a decent human

it’s getting a bit scary out there, isn’t it?

Food shortages are beginning to bite, never mind the toilet paper crisis. Those who aren’t hitting the supermarkets and loading their trolleys/carts with enough food to feed a family of 6 for a month are beginning to find it hard to find the basics. Even the raw materials like flour and sugar are getting scarce. It’s looking a lot like survival of the entitled. Personally, I haven’t bought toilet paper since my last 24 pack, which is how I normally buy it. That was before COVID-19 was even a thing. I’m using less these days, and I have a plan for when I finally run out, even if things haven’t returned to normal on the tp shelf-stocking front. I may even end up sticking with it when tp is freely available again, it’s a much more ecologically-friendly solution.

We only have to look at Italy to see how bad it can get, and how quickly. First, people think it’s just another flu-like virus, nothing much to worry about. Then there are the poor Chinese, whose government pretended nothing was going on, followed by a few unlucky cases who caught it in China, came home, and gave it to others. And so on. It’s all a little unreal, something that happens to someone else. Most of us still don’t know anyone who knows someone who’s got it or is even self-isolating. But slowly, that’s beginning to change. There’s an uneasy note in the news bulletins now, people are beginning to avoid touching and then meeting each other, others are working from home…

But what is worrying me more than a little is how the vulnerable are coping. Who is taking supplies to their elderly neighbour? To their daughter’s friend’s mother on chemotherapy, their work colleague recovering from a heart attack, the slightly scary schizophrenic guy on the corner? And by vulnerable, I don’t just mean the elderly, immuno-compromised and alone. I also mean those on whom we rely, and who in turn rely on others to make doing their jobs possible. Who will look after the out-of school-children of the doctors, nurses, and researchers, the first responders, the teachers, the supermarket workers; who is buying groceries for them? Who is supporting the power, phone and fuel workers?

This is probably one of the few times I wish I was a social-media-savvy ‘influencer’. Some of the things I’d talk about:

  • I wish I could encourage people to be kinder, less selfish, more altruistic. Seriously, what are you going to do with that mountain of 300 toilet rolls? Just give some away…
  • I’d happily accept a proper government-implemented rationing system if it meant everyone got their fair share and we saw an end to those hideous fight scenes in our supermarkets. Don’t tell me we’re not at war and rationing is an over-reaction. You just have to watch TV to see that fair shares are badly needed.
  • If the crisis becomes truly huge, I’d like to see the start of a volunteer organisation of the successfully-recovered and now immune, the Antibody Positive, the A+, to help those who are sick or self-isolating or even not yet affected.
  • I’d like to see people fined savagely for spreading disinformation or scaremongering or endangering others by refusing to self-isolate, for sneezing and coughing rudely and dangerously over other people, and for COVID-19-related abuse of anyone of a remotely Asian appearance.
  • I’d like our leaders to show some backbone and make necessary but unpopular decisions for the sake of our future health and economy, rather than leaving it to the discretion of individuals and organisations. I’d like them to acknowledge that this crisis is here for the long term, that it’s real, and I’d like them to stop patting me on the head and telling me all will be well, they have things under control. Because they don’t.
  • I’d like to start a national ‘Visit your elderly relative’ movement. Don’t leave it too long; if they’re in a care home of some sort, all it takes is one unwitting infectious case to be introduced, and the residents would scarcely stand a chance. Many homes are already considering a total lock-down, excluding even immediate relatives who are displaying no symptoms. I’ve just had a FaceTime conversation with my own 97 year-old father in his nursing home in the UK. My brother takes his iPad when he visits Pa, so we can talk face to face, as it were. That may not go on much longer, and I’m acutely aware that each conversation may be the last one. Make your visits count. Tell them you love them, ask if they need anything. Don’t forever regret that you didn’t bother.
  • If you have children, talk to them. Give them real information, not facile reassurances. There’s no need to frighten them, but they’ll need some sort of proper explanation for why everything is changing, why their parents aren’t going out to work and why they aren’t going to school, why people are wearing masks and public places are emptying out. They need to know people can get very sick… and even die. They need to know you’re being careful, and responsible, and kind to others. Don’t promise them what you cannot guarantee to deliver.

Let’s all be humane humans. We are better than the doom-sayers, the gossip and scare-mongers, the grocery-grabbers and profiteers, the irrational abusers and the ones who post cheap cracks about someone they don’t like deserving COVID-19.

This world may be a slightly emptier place when it’s all over. But wouldn’t it be good if those of us who are still here when it’s over were also a bit kinder, more rational, more generous and less profit-driven?



Playing with paper #3: paint and metal

The final stretch, then….

I tried to revive the dried-out little tablet of bole from my gilding kit, but it’s past hope, as is the size and sealer. I got it second hand, years ago, and it was already a few years old then. In case you’re wondering, bole is a sort of clay pigment you add to water and glue to make a coloured foundation onto which you apply your gold leaf. The terracotta colour of the bole enriches and intensifies the colour of the gold laid over it, as well as producing a flat, matt surface for the gold leaf. So, being impatient, unwilling to buy more bole and keen to use what I have, I’ve made my own equivalent with acrylic paint. It won’t be as good, but the colour will help even if the surface isn’t perfect.

I used Reeves® acrylic colours, equal quantities of burnt umber, crimson, brilliant red and flesh, which has produced a nice oxblood red. I wanted a darker shade than the classic bole terracotta because instead of gold leaf, I’m using copper, of which I have a far larger quantity. I bought it for a project over 10 years ago which never happened, and it’s perfect for this purpose. Knowing perfectly well that I won’t get an immaculately flat surface on the inside of the bowl, I’m going for a bumpy, worn and slightly more rustic look (might as well make a virtue of necessity, eh?).

I had to wait till the paint was perfectly dry before applying the school glue (again, an improvisation, but internet research seemed to show that it’s an acceptable hack). I quickly found that rather than waiting till the glue is just slightly tacky as suggested, I had to work very quickly and place the larger pieces over a thin coating while the glue was wet. I could then patch over missing or damaged areas using a small brush for the glue and cutting the foil into smaller pieces just slightly larger than the glued area.

The copper leaf comes in books, on backing sheets, so it’s easy enough to pick up and lay down, but you do need to press it gently into all the bumps, cracks and crevices. This is where the soft makeup brushes come in; if you use a harder bristle you run the risk of damaging the delicate foil. Once it’s all down and dry, you rub it very, very gently with the brush in a swirling motion to rub off any loose bits.

I’ve bound the edge with leftover bias binding, and am going to seal the whole thing with Mod Podge® (yes, I found that too), but for the purpose of posting that’ll be invisible and it takes a long time to dry between coats, so I leave you with the unsealed bowl as a final shot.

I must say, I’m slightly tempted to add a narrow black ribbon to conceal the edge of the pink binding. The only problem is, I’d have to buy it. What do you think? I just find the pink a bit, well, meh… Speak now, before I seal it!

And that’s it for the first, but certainly not the last scrappy bowl…