Archive for the ‘Helvi Oosterman’ Category

Socks no more

July 11, 2012

Helvi Oosterman

When I was a kid, we used to get hand-knitted woollen socks for Christmas. Mum was very busy and sometimes she had only enough time to finish one sock, and we had to patiently wait for a whole year for its partner. By the time I was ten, I had received roughly four and half pairs of socks…

Mum was lucky that she did not have to go shopping for the wool; it grew on the backs of our black and white Finn sheep, which was very handy. All she had to do was to send it to the local wool co-op to be processed into a knitting yarn. Some busy people called it  LWCO for short, but we had enough time to get the words out, and we used the longer version.

Our Mum was a gentle person, not one of those tough black and white people. She liked nuances and shades better and therefore she also asked the wool to be blended into soft grey. Of course in those days we had never heard of the Aussie Rules that tell you that girls ought to wear pink and that blue is for boys. We were blissfully ignorant of such rulings and were happy just to have warm feet.

Life was good; we did not even know that paedophiles existed in our charmed world. Our parents let us walk to school, so obviously no one had told them either about these bad people. In return we did not tell them of our adventures of swimming in fast flowing rivers and the games we played on breaking up ice floes in springtime…we knew of people who had drowned, but not THAT many…

Now the mums have to buy big black cars and become taxi drivers for their offspring, and by the time the kids turn ten they have sleepless nights before Christmas because they can’t think of anything new they still have to have. They have their laptops, WII’s, IPods, IPads and scooters and trail bikes, and socks and shoes to die for with labels etched into them. Even the pencil cases have to be bought only at some special Smiggle shop; pens and rubbers from K-Mart just don’t cut it…

On Christmas Eve Dad and Big Brother used to go to our own forest and came back with a proper Christmas tree, a spruce with sturdy branches, branches so strong you could hang  edible red apples on them, and of course home-made gingerbread biscuits and real candles firmly sitting in their holders…no, we never managed to start a fire…We made sure all the edibles were eaten before the 6th of January, the Finnish Independence Day, and also the customary date for taking the Christmas tree down and out.

Little Max saw a black plastic Christmas tree the other day at some shopping mall and thankfully thought it was horrid, so would have my Mum, if we would have talked about it too loudly on her well-kept grave.

They don’t make Childhoods or Christmases like they used to. I only hope that it is still politically correct to wish you all a very good Christmas…!

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No Grey Food for E M Forster

January 23, 2011

Helvi Oosterman

Forster was returning to England from somewhere exotic, maybe India, on the boat train, sitting in the dining car, he’s waiting for the breakfast to be served. He wrote about this episode later in Food and Wine magazine; it was 1939.

“At last the engine gave jerk, the knives and forks slid sideways and sang against one another sadly, the cups said ‘cheap, cheap’, to the sauces, as well they might, the door swang open and the attendants came out crying  ‘Porridge or Prunes, Sir? Porridge or Prunes, Sir?’ Breakfast had begun.

That cry still rings in my memory. It is an epitome—not, indeed, of English food, but of the forces which drag it in the dirt. It voices the true spirit of gastronomic joylessness. Porridge fills the Englishman up, prunes clear him out, so their functions are opposed. But their spirit is the same: they eschew pleasure and consider delicacy immoral. That morning they looked as like one another as they could. Everything was grey. The porridge was in pallid grey lumps, the prunes swam in grey juice like the wrinkled skulls of old men, grey mist pressed against the grey windows. ‘Tea or Coffee, Sir? Rang out next, and then I had a haddock.   It was covered with a sort of hard yellow oilskin, as if it had been out in a lifeboat, and its insides gushed salt water when pricked. Sausages and bacon followed this disgusting fish. They, too had been out all night. Toast like steel, marmalade a scented jelly. And the bill, which I paid dumbly, wondering again why such things have to be.”

Some breakfast that was. We all have been faced with inedible food at times, and Foster’s brekkie has made me think of what has been my most horrid food experience.

If I had been forced to swallow the doughy dumplings mum sometimes added to her otherwise excellent pea soup, I would now have to say that it was that soup. Luckily  my darling sister loved the dumplings and allowed me to slip them on her plate when no one was looking.

Having to eat raw oysters for the first time and at a rather formal lunch was scary and somewhat tricky, but a good white makes many unwanted things slide down easily. Then there was that dreadful cook in my primary school, and her even more dreadful food… I think that was IT, and only some warm school milk to assist you to  get it  down.

What about you, was it tripe, brains..or a crocodile steak?

Milo moves out

January 17, 2011

Helvi Oosterman

Milo moves out…

Milo is a dog who knows what he wants. When he turned into a grown-up dog, when he stopped being a puppy, he decided that he was ready to sleep outside. It was more exciting to be out there with the wombats, kangaroos and the occasional blue tongue lizard, and all the weird Australian birds.

The cold did not bother him; frosty nights of Southern Tablelands did not drive him inside. He popped in on Tuesday nights to watch The Inspector Rex, but only if the little boys happened to be visiting the farm. The old sofa on the big verandah was his bedroom. Surrounded by many cushions, which he nightly arranged into a cosy bed, he was off to doggy dreamland only to scratch the door in the morning to be let in to share breakfast with us.

When we moved into a new home and surroundings, we thought it best that for time being he’ll sleep inside. The huge floor cushion made of an old Persian or Afghan carpet, bought in Byron Bay, became the base of Milo’s new bed. He made clear it was too rough even for a rough-coated Jack Russell, and I had to add one of those large European style pillows for softness. He now had a proper double decker, and he was happy.

There is a right time for everything, and when we discovered that the Bowral’s more humid warmer weather had  brought the fleas, which we never had in Brayton, Milo had to move out, or at least sleep outside. We bought a little Doggy House with a blue roof and over-hanging eaves to keep the rains out. Hubby and other family member were doubtful about this house moving. I knew that it would be successful. The time was indeed right and Milo was ready to sleep away from us again.

Yesterday our old neighbours visited us with their three year old daughter. It was a warm day and we had the doors to the street and to the garden open for a breeze. As we were all talking excitedly, happy to see each other and to share news, we did not notice that Hannah was not around anymore. We rushed upstairs, checked the bedrooms, the front and the back garden…no Hannah.

And then, there she was, crawling red-faced out of Milo’s little house…

Agfa Clack

December 14, 2010

Agfa ClackPosted on December 15, 2010 by gerard oosterman

There must have been some spare money about but when about twelve or so I had a Kodak box camera given by my parents. It was a simple box and had two little mirrors in which to focus on the subject. The film was wound on an empty spool two and a half times and then inserted in the camera; the box would be closed ready for the 8 or 12 photos that it then could take. What a glorious gift it was. The photos took about a week to get developed and sleepless nights would be followed by euphoria when the big day would arrive to get the photos. Money for the development was earned by collecting old newspapers and rags after school.

After the go-a-head for migrating I had spotted a camera far advanced to the Kodak Box. It was an Agfa Clack. Forty five guilders.  A small fortune. Many times I stared at the shop window.  As I remember, it had two apertures and two shutter speeds and was flash capable. The approval to migrate coincided with parents taking me out of school in order to work to help and fatten the communal Oosterman wallet. Something at least for the totally unforseen and unfathomable future.

It was all a bit shaky and nervous during that time. Friends would be left. No more handball games on a Sunday with girls and budding breasts…. Eric Nanning, Anton Van Uden, Louis Gothe, all would disappear within a few months. The same for our street, the ice cream (between crusty wafers) shop, and hot ‘patat de frites’ as well, soon be gone. What need for a good camera, etched the good times in photos’ eh?

The job was delivering fresh fruit and vegetables to the very top of The Hague’s society and its burgers, Including royalty and most embassies. The delivery was done by carrying the goods in a huge wicker basket fastened above the front wheel of a sturdy and large steel framed bicycle.  I peddled like one possessed. There were lots of orders and the boss was strict. No loafing and it was winter.

The stingiest of tippers are The Hague’s wealthiest, the best tippers the staff of embassies. They all had jars of money to be tipped to deliverers of goods. The US embassy was unbelievably generous. My earnings were always tipped into the parental wallet, ‘for our future,’ I kept being assured. All tips were mine and at times they eclipsed earnings, especially after a delivery of imported black grapes to the Yank kitchen at the back of the Embassy, the tradesman entry… A ten guilder tip gave me almost a quarter of the Agfa Clack in one scoop. Not bad, considering I had filched a couple of those grapes from the delivery. Geez, they were those black ones as well.

I soon came to that glorious walk to the camera shop and bought my camera. A couple of weeks later, a leather case with carry strap. Soon after that a battery operated flash with 6 globes. Even sooner came the day, just after Christmas on a bleak and rainy day that it came about, that we all walked the dreadful walk up the gangplank and boarded our ship to Australia. Goodbye all. And that was that. My Agfa around my neck.

Socks No More

December 10, 2010

 

Helvi Oosterman

When I was a kid, we used to get hand-knitted woollen socks for Christmas. Mum was very busy and sometimes she had only enough time to finish one sock, and we had to patiently wait for a whole year for its partner. By the time I was ten, I had received roughly four and half pairs of socks…

Mum was lucky that she did not have to go shopping for the wool; it grew on the backs of our black and white Finn sheep, which was very handy. All she had to do was to send it to the local wool co-op to be processed into a knitting yarn. Some busy people called it  LWCO for short, but we had enough time to get the words out, and we used the longer version.

Our Mum was a gentle person, not one of those tough black and white people. She liked nuances and shades better and therefore she also asked the wool to be blended into soft grey. Of course in those days we had never heard of the Aussie Rules that tell you that girls ought to wear pink and that blue is for boys. We were blissfully ignorant of such rulings and were happy just to have warm feet.

Life was good; we did not even know that paedophiles existed in our charmed world. Our parents let us walk to school, so obviously no one had told them either about these bad people. In return we did not tell them of our adventures of swimming in fast flowing rivers and the games we played on breaking up ice floes in springtime…we knew of people who had drowned, but not THAT many…

Now the mums have to buy big black cars and become taxi drivers for their offspring, and by the time the kids turn ten they have sleepless nights before Christmas because they can’t think of anything new they still have to have. They have their laptops, WII’s, IPods, IPads and scooters and trail bikes, and socks and shoes to die for with labels etched into them. Even the pencil cases have to be bought only at some special Smiggle shop; pens and rubbers from K-Mart just don’t cut it…

On Christmas Eve Dad and Big Brother used to go to our own forest and came back with a proper Christmas tree, a spruce with sturdy branches, branches so strong you could hang  edible red apples on them, and of course home-made gingerbread biscuits and real candles firmly sitting in their holders…no, we never managed to start a fire…We made sure all the edibles were eaten before the 6th of January, the Finnish Independence Day, and also the customary date for taking the Christmas tree down and out.

Little Max saw a black plastic Christmas tree the other day at some shopping mall and thankfully thought it was horrid, so would have my Mum, if we would have talked about it too loudly on her well-kept grave.

They don’t make Childhoods or Christmases like they used to. I only hope that it is still politically correct to wish you all a very good Christmas…!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

August 23, 2010

Helvi Oosterman

We took the two grandsons out for a shopping trip and lunch on Sunday. This was meant to take our minds off the election misery and poor Milo’s hospital stay. Being rightly stressed by these two happenings on the same weekend and seeing seven abandoned shopping trolleys at one intersection on our return home in this most gentile and green suburb added to my irritability.

Of course these ‘stolen’ trolleys have already previously driven one family member into an almost heart attack causing rage, so the boys responded to my complaining about ‘I don’t understand this kind of low-life behaviour’ in their own instinctive ways; Thomas by burying his head in his newly purchased book wanting to give a miss to this typical family lament, and leaving the seven year old Max to air the third-generation views.

‘They are red-neck hillbillies, lazy Bogans, stupid bullies’…and to please us, after all he is our smart people person who knows the right thing to say in any situation: ‘They are Abbott Lovers!’

If Hung is our chief political writer, little Max can be our own social commentator, our Hugh MacKay !

The Toy Story: To buy or not to buy

August 3, 2010

Helvi Oosterman

 

Little boys love rummaging in those two-dollar shops that are mushrooming in the poorer parts of our cities and country towns. They are never happier than when you empty your purse or handbag on the table and divide the collection of coins in equal lots. ‘Oh, so much money,’ says the youngest who has not yet developed his monetary skills, and who still thinks that having $ 4, 76 equals being rich.

They find weird things like slime, and ‘stuff’ that you throw at windows or smooth painted doors, and that sticks there if you are lucky, and not if you aren’t. The rubber skeletons made in Taiwan are huge favourites. On the way home the skull usually comes loose and this will cause some grieve.

A quick promise of another one on the next trip, usually dries the tears and allows the welcome sleep to come and sooth the pain. Then there are the little hard balls that bounce and which you usually lose on the street on the way to the car, but thank god your brother or cousin has a six-pack of soft balls, that don’t bounce but allow themselves to be squeezed into any shape by sweaty little hands.

The little boys also always find a game that consists of a tiny plastic box and an even tinier ball that you have to shake through a maze, and finally out of the box. After a few tries, and no success in releasing the box-prisoner out, the game becomes boring and it’s carelessly dropped on the floor at the back of the car.

Gold coloured swords, and hatchets so blunt they that can’t cut butter, let alone hurt a friend, are high on the boys’ shopping lists. The first duel is not even finished when one fighter’s sword breaks in half, and this in turn breaks the dueller’s heart. Luckily you still have your inflatable plastic animals, dragons and dinosaurs to blow up. This kind of hard work is best left to kindly granddads. It takes a while to get them fully shaped, almost painfully slow for the little boy who wants to take his zoo into the swimming pool. It’s not a long walk to get there, long enough to deflate the dragons though, too many prickly things on the way…

When the three year old turns into five year old, the amount divvied up for a shopping trip has to be doubled. A couple years later it has to be enough to buy a Nintendo and so it goes. Finally they are not cute toddlers anymore but have turned into nice ten year olds who come to stay with their musical instruments and laptops under their arms.

They don’t cry so easily anymore over minor breakages; they know more about computers than their grandma, who in her turn still knows a little bit more about spelling and comes in handy when all are  sitting at same desk.

Those endless excursions to dime stores have paid off handsomely; the boys understand maths, and can do adding and subtracting without calculators. They have also learnt about the value of money and are all saving up for their BIG purchases, and they thank Opa for teaching them about frugality, that most wonderful of Dutch virtues!

Of Bob and Blanche and Botoxed Beauty

July 27, 2010

Helvi Oosterman

Never fancied Bob Hawke, the man, I’m not talking about Bob the Prime Minister here. All those polyester pants and white shoes, and the hair, talk about staying stuck in the time warp…

The imitation put-on, Aussie accent and the rolling of the eyes…give me a break, anyone sharing my birthday should not have a mouth permanently parked at twenty past eight, and that whining voice, please!

Then enters Blanche, a good-looker of a girl, blond, blue-eyed, enviable cheekbones and mouthful of nice teeth; she not just a beauty, but she can write as well, and rather well, they say. I haven’t checked if it is so. Blanche and Bob fall in love, it is not just an affair; they do get married later on, so true love it must be.

Now Bob is Octogenarian and Blanche has reached her retirement age, 66. For some reason she is not happy to age naturally, or as they say, gracefully. To me it seems like she has been blessed with ‘she’ll- keep-her-looks’ gene. Blanche begs to differ though, she doesn’t believe it. She gets busy with Botox and takes even more drastic measures in her quest to stay ‘young’.  This is not possible, she does not have to either; she is not an entertainer like our Kylie, who now looks younger than when she was still only one of our NEIGHBOURS.

Blanche is not someone who is battling to keep her job as a newsreader on Channel Ten, where the youth is the only currency. She’s also married to the much older Hawkie, and him being soo much in love, she’ll be his babe forever without having to look like a baby. Not being in the public eye anymore, (but sitting at home writing stories, some fact, some fiction, if we take Keating’s word for it), it might be time to pull on the old trackies, look dishevelled and get on with the real story, ageing.  

The smooth ironed-out pics in last week’s SMH almost fooled me into believing that Blanche has been successful in her quest of eternal youth; the harsh lights in Kerry O’Brian’s studio told a different story. The permanent wide-eyed-look-of- wonder, the overly luscious lips, made me think it was Hawke who now looked younger, HIS face still expressive, eyes still rolling…Strangely the old boy Bob now appears as the more attractive one of those two.

 Many of us feel sorry for Hazel. The gods have not been kind to her, first ‘Bob and Blanche’, and then her books, Alzheimer’s must have come to Hazel almost as a backhanded blessing…

Of Alex Miller and Christopher Hitchens

July 24, 2010

 

Helvi Oosterman

I’m missing my books, they are physically here, in milk crates and sturdy boxes, stacked high in the garage of my temporary dwelling, but I can’t get to them without disturbing the equilibrium of our possessions waiting to be transported to our permanent abode in three months time.

It’s not only the books I’m missing but also the simple white built-in book cases, we had on the farm. One wall in the family room was ‘sacrificed’ to our old and most faithful friends, books. The bedroom shelves were a home for books in process, not to be written but to be read.

This small townhouse is easy to heat, we have nice neighbours, the living room is cosy and sunny, enough rooms to house the grandsons during school holidays, a garden for Milo, and not too far from shops, coffee lounges and libraries. This will do for us but I find myself complaining about the lack of shelving. The second bathroom eats up too much of the space; a space that I could use to put up a bookcase, however temporary. I’m totally unfair, and find the handy floor-to ceiling shelving in the laundry irritating. I’m even angry about the dishwasher: What’s wrong about using the kitchen sink!

What an unreasonable woman, I hear Daughter muttering to her dad behind my back, fancy complaining about a dishwasher when there are so people who are homeless. Thank god the little boys are outside on their bikes; otherwise they would join in with their homilies: Don’t you know Oma that the poor African children don’t even have books.

I’m fair enough to realise that family is right and that I’m being totally selfish, or did I hear the word ‘childish’. Looks like I have some explaining to do. See, I promised not to buy any more books, life’s too short and it’s time to downsize, libraries are pleasant places, I’ll swap my existing books with family members and friends, and I’ll have enough reading material till the end of my days.

All those promises were made when I was in the middle of the moving, when I was tired and fed-up just looking at yet another box waiting to be filled. Now it’s different, I’m close to shops selling new, second hand, and even antique books; I’m an hour away from my favourite flea markets, those Meccas for book addicts like myself.

I give up, I have a low chest of drawers next my bed, it has a good reading light, ear-rings, bottles of perfumes (some never used= wrong choice of Mother’s day present),last week-end papers, a writing pad and other such things sitting on it. I clear it all away sniffling a bit, no, I’m not crying, I have the flu, I leave only the lamp. I now have room for at least five or six stacks of books, I’m cheering up.

I have finished the Updike memoirs, so I place Hitchens’ Hitch-22, a memoir, carefully on top of it. Some other lovely finds in between and on top, the one I have to read in more or less in one session: Alex Miller’s Lovesong. It’s beautifully written by an older Australian author, it’s hard cover, and what a cover!

The jacket is so eloquent that seeing it you almost believe that you CAN judge the book by its covers; in Alex Miller’s case, you can. Now I have to get the rest of his books…

Of Boys and Pull-Ups

June 30, 2010

By gerard oosterman

By Helvi Oosterman

The other day Susan Maushart lamented her teenage daughter’s lack of know-how or how-to with fitted sheets. In my youth we would have been so lucky to have sheets resembling huge shower caps. Our mums made sure that we became a deft hand with hospital corners; every girl but NO boy learnt this art of tight, nice and snug cornering.

Boys escape many lessons and it starts as early as potty training time; girls being clean and neat by nature move from nappies to panties in a couple of easy sittings, boys move semi permanently into pull-ups. They are too busy with their war games to worry about potties, and take to this comfort clothing with gusto. There is something magical down there, silicon maybe that keeps you dry even you have just wet yourself, or even worse.

For some blokes the pull-ups will return later on in life, but that’s another story…

Shoes are a must, but shoelaces for some reason are too hard for most males, and so we make life easier for them by inventing shoes with Velcro fastenings or with elasticized side panels.  Summertime the ugly and dangerous Crocs come in handy and later on you’ll graduate to thongs and by then you are also usually more than willing to learn to walk the thong-walk.

The toddler boys can just about manage to put their head through the biggest hole in the t-shirt, the hands and arms have to be guided by patient mums. Nothing tight or woollen or itchy or scratchy is to be pulled over any boy’s head; the tickets and tags at the back have to be removed. Later on that will make life difficult; how do you know what’s the front and what is back.

You have to be a girl to know how to find the right button holes for your buttons; the boys will have zippers or nothing at all. The zippers are no cinch either, the silly fabric gets caught in them and they are made of something hard that feels a bit cold on little male’s extra sensitive skin… So, pull-overs it is, not those old-fashioned knitted things (pullovers) made of sheep wool or something scratchy; let’s keep it soft and simple like Polar fleece. Hoodies are heavenly but not after mum has removed the tag and you end up with the pouch at the front. Please, mum, don’t dare to laugh…

Pockets are the favourite part of any boy’s attire, the more the merrier: one for the coins another for rocks, frogs and iceblock wrappers and other related rubble.

Toddlers, even of the male variety turn to teens one day, and aren’t they lucky to do it now when the shops are bulging with all the brilliantly coloured rescue wear, waiting there just for you to pull it on and find a girl or two in need of being saved from wolves or bushfires depending on where you happen to live.

The female teens are now wearing bras, leggings and flimsy tops and sadly not at all interested in boys dressed in workman’s gear. They are dreaming of older and more ‘mature’ boys who at least have learnt to tie their shoelaces and zip their pipe jeans up, and when needed, down as well.

Of course there are always girls, who are nice and wise, and who instinctively know it’s you boys who need rescuing, and when that happens, we know that the real dressing up starts, maybe a bit of dressing down as well.

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