Archive for the ‘Helvi Oosterman’ Category

Lost and Found in Transit

June 23, 2010

Helvi Oosterman

Moving from a big place to a smaller home is not easy. You are attached to your life-long collection of things; to your furniture’, books, paintings, to your “sendogu”, Japanese for beautiful but not necessary objects. We were given only five weeks to decide what to keep and what not. We came to the clever idea of renting something two weeks earlier than we had to, and decided to pack in a hurry and unpack slowly. This way we were giving away things at both ends; tipping and burning on the farm, and taking to charity shops discarded items from the new place.

The most delightful loss of all was the shedding of three kilos of my weight, through stress and hard physical work. The second best was ‘accidently’ misplacing hubby’s humble underwear collection into the new recycling bin. May I explain here that I gave up buying his underwear years ago. This was my way of keeping abreast with any possible extra marital happenings; you know what they say about men suddenly shopping for Calvin Kleins…

Being busy and too tired to cook we got into a habit of grabbing some take away food; Mc Donald’s, Korean noodles, Italian style fettuccine (is there any other kind), soggy fish and chips, and more horrors.  Opening the white box of noodles made me puke, and even Milo refused to touch my hamburger left-over’s. The tasteless pasta was swimming in tomato sauce, Italian Style is not the expression to use here. I always thought that take-out makes you fat, the reverse was happening with me. Better lose the urge to shop for convenience food, rather than lose the will to live.

I also gained useful skills these last few weeks. For example how to get in and out Kennard’s rental truck; you put your left foot on some pedestal and swing the right one inside the cabin whilst hanging onto some kind of railing inside. The nice manager, Richard, had cleaned the truck just for me. All very nice but the seat was so slippery I was afraid of sliding out. Some fat lady has sat there before and the seat kind of sloped towards the door …As husband was struggling with the multitude of gears and other truck paraphernalia, I kept quiet and gained some of my usual calmness by Buddhist meditations. All the Christian prayers ,learnt at Sunday school, came in handy when the driver accidently reversed instead of going forward at a busy intersection…

Now to the gains: no more muck for lunch, but quick shop for sourdough bread and some nice cheese, and after unpacking the car, the trailer or the truck, it was to our newly found  real pub and fantastic twelve dollar steak for dinner. The usual Shiraz was not quite right here, so a big schooner of beer it was. We haven’t been to a pub for years, nor have drunk beer anywhere. Steak and beer was a good combo and we have now become regulars at the Bowral Royal. The nice barman, Hugh comes to chat to us and we even have our pub-loyalty-cards.

Among the plusses is the safely moved Persian Delight; Milo did not crush it at the back of the car. My Kalanchoe was not so lucky.

The books are stacked in the garage in their milk crates; I left some out even there wasn’t much time for reading. I had saved all John Updike’s books when packing. I’m now so pleased to re-read  his wonderful early memoir ‘Self-Consciousness’, and I love it.

This is what Guardian says about it on the back page: ‘If he (Updike) has an unmelting splinter of ice at the heart, that is our good fortune. Who wants words as good as these with water?’

Tags: , ,

Mother’s Day

May 7, 2010

Mother’s Day

Helvi Oosterman

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, but I feel it ought also be a celebratory day for Grandmothers, and let’s be generous and include the Pops, Diddas, Opas, Grandpas and Grands-peres, Abuelos and Isoisa too.

When grandson Jak was in six or seven, he supplied the following excellent reports of his maternal grandparents. They are of course about us:

Grandma is fun to play with.

Really good to me.

Always loving to me.

Never really angry to me.

Darling grandma.

Mostly always fun.

Always caring to me.

Grandpa is fun to play chess with.

Really nice to me.

Always loving to me.

Never angry at me.

Darling grandpa.

Perfect all the time.

Always caring to me.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you, and have a nice lunch with your extended families as well!

Foreigner’s Woes

April 22, 2010

By Helvi Oosterman.

Foreigner’s Woes…

Years ago you actually had to go to ‘The Office of Births and Deaths’ to get your certificates, no on-line quick fixes in those days. So off I went to town, by bus and in my best attire.

Before setting my foot in the office, I whispered a little prayer: Dear God let the nice young apprentice clerk to be there today. No such luck; it was the dragon herself manning the boot; the fat lady that is. The word obese had not yet crept in our vocabulary or collected on our hips or thighs.

She was a large stern looking woman with equally forbidding looking glasses. As fairly new to the country I had practised what to say and how to say it: Could I have a birth certificate for my child, XXXX  Oosterman;  I added  Oosterman with double ‘o’…

That was a mistake; she thought I was talking about double ‘w’. Those were kept close to the floor at the bottom of her huge filing cabinets, and she would have to bend down and she wasn’t very bendable. I could see that this could get very unpleasant, so I quickly uttered:  Oosterman with two o’s, o, o…

Oh, oh, Oosterman, she muttered relieved. This was much better as the o’s were housed quite high in cabinet hierarchy, no unnecessary unsightly bending needed. Still, heart in my throat fearing further problems, I squeaked: It’s Oosterman with one ‘n’, not with two…like in German.

I don’t think she heard or understood me. Thank God

Vegemite or not

April 16, 2010

August 28, 2009


Vegemite or not… by Helvi Oosterman

Leaving your mother country, you’ll leave behind mother’s home cooking and most times also Speciality foods of your nation. In my case it was the flat Finnish rye bread, which I hadn’t encountered anywhere else on my travels. The Estonian black bread became a reasonable substitute in Australia.

Some countries of course have food to die for ; their recipes have crossed the borders and we all enjoy our spaghetti Bolognese , our Danish pastries, Russian beef stroganoff and Swedish meatballs. That’s the easy bit, but what happens when visiting or moving into a foreign land, and you are offered those countries’ less known or some of their more peculiar tid bits.

First trip to Amsterdam and you are given your first raw herring with raw onions. How’s that for a new culinary experience. Not as good as roll mops out of the jar, but not bad either ; I could learn to love this. Greek olives or dolmades are easy to like, but what about the funny drink Ouzo, that could be problematic. Sweet and sour pork, Mongolian lamb don’t need getting used to but please, don’t ask me to tackle bird’s nest soup or hundred year old eggs, ever, never..

English roast dinner even with the peculiar Yorkshire pudding goes down well, but a pea soup with a pie floating in it, a floater, they call it…good for piglets at pigs Arms maybe..?  Haggis, now that’s something that only the starving amongst us dares to touch.

season's first herring. Dutch herring eater. 

New Zealanders wrap their fish in banana leaves and bury it in sand over hot coals to cook and this of course can taste fantastic, depending on type of fish and the cooking time. Kiwi friends of ours did this once; they buried their catch in the Balmain back yard…sadly the Snapper tasted like compost and smelled like burning rubber.

Getting used to Aussie food was not so hard; it was a matter of learning to like bland or plain food; the chops and the three veg. Sometimes the greens came out of tin, especially if you were eating in a road side milk bar, on your way to Brisbane. Sister in law, having been a waitress, had had her share of difficult customers, therefore she in her turn turned ‘difficile’ when dining out. Are the mushrooms fresh, she queried. Straight out of the tin, was the Taree cafe owner’s answer.

Husband had been in Australia many a year before I came, but he had never managed to even taste Vegemite. For me it was love at first sight , I have to have it at least twice a week.Our kids couldn’t be without it either; when living in Holland, we had to do with Marmite…no match to Vegemite. The jars were cute though, ideal for my dried herbs.

Penelope Blows You Away

April 7, 2010

By Helvi Oosterman

January 26, 2010

By Helvi Oosterman

Whilst you were all waving your flags and having your barbeques, I was running into the Norton Street Cinema in Leichhardt. It was a humid Sydney day, but I did not care: it was my second last chance to see Almovodar’s Broken Embraces; it was going to start at twelve midday, and I was not going to miss it, I was going to run for it.

Most movie lovers were blown away by Pedro’s previous master piece: Hable con ella, ‘Talk to her’, and after seeing something so sublime, I was worried about his latest offering. David Stratton on Movie Show gave him four stars for this one, and explained that even lesser films by Almovodar are heads above the rest.

I wasn’t disappointed. Almovodar is something else, he’s creative, he’s funny and, he’s over-the –top, but it all works. His talent brings to mind another eccentric and brilliant movie maker who also was gay, the German Rainer Fassbinder. Fassbinder had, as his  muse, the beautiful Hanna Schygalla; Almovodar’s is the equally stunning Penelope Cruz. Under his guidance Penelope shines; to watch her walk up the stairs in her red peep toe high heeled shoes and wearing a red suit is a scene to remember.

Google the critics if you want to know more about the film, but please go and see it, it’s definitely worth it.

Kisses and French dressing by Helvi Oosterman

March 9, 2010


My remaining five  mysteries

By Helvi Oosterman

As you have all been waiting, with bated breath no doubt, for my remaining five mysterious things; no more suspense, here they are. To please dear Asty, I’ll start with something ’sublime’ and leave the mundane mysteries last:

6. Why are so many men cagey about shaking hands with females, whilst at the same time happy to pump their mates’ arms almost to a breaking point? Here I stand with my extended hand only  to be conveniently ignored. Are we girls a lower caste, or are the men afraid to appear too intimate with us. After all the French men hug you and plant not one but four kisses on one’s cheeks without fear of retribution. Swearing when there are females  present is another baffler. Don’t tell me the old story about ‘ladies’; we only have them in England, and they go together with the Lords…

7. I also like to know who ever came up with this unforgivable term, a ‘naughty’ or it’s brother ‘nookie’ when referring to making love. He wasn’t a Frenchman, that’s for sure.

8. We had lunch with some newish friends; the quiche was very good and the desert was divine. There was a salad to go with the main, but it wasn’t dressed, the vinaigrette was missing; what to do? Follow the hostess and sprinkle some oil from one bottle and a few drops of vinegar from another. But this is not the same as having a real vinaigrette made to proper quantities of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, French mustard, pinch of sugar, some fresh herbs and even garlic if you so prefer. Is this two-bottle custom from middle ages?

9. While we are talking food I have to ask what is this calling some cheeses ‘tasty’? Are the other cheeses tasteless, perhaps? I have a husband who sometimes still buys those packets of pre-sliced processed ‘cheeses’, these slices are individually wrapped and at times very hard to get to. I suggest that he eat them with wrapping and all; they both taste the same more or less.

10. Now we are coming to the one mystery which I actually hate, really the only thing I hate; the flies. Why are there so many flies in the Australian bush? My dreams of picnics on the river were killed by millions of flies as soon as we took the tucker out. One Christmas I decked the table on the veranda with my best linen and tableware; as soon as the prawns arrived we all had to run inside as the flies swarmed from nowhere to attack the food. On my dad’s farm in Finland we did everything outside during summers, we had our coffee breaks, lunches and at times even dinners al fresco. We were not bothered by flies. I know the northern part of my fatherland is made inhabitable in summertime by mosquitoes , but that is a story for another time. I remember visting Bali when it was still pretty dirty and when the food scaps and other rubbish littered the place, and of course plenty of unclean water for flies to breed in; yet hardly any about…

I hope you can show some light into my little mysteries; be truthful or inventive, all explanations thankfully accepted!

Ten Mostly Mysterious Things to Me (the first five)

March 4, 2010

November 21, 2009

By Helvi Oosterman

We make lists of our ten favourite books or movies frequently.  At dinner parties we have light hearted discussions about which ten items we would rescue from a burning house or what ten things we would need to comfort us if we had to spend a month alone on a lonely island.

There are things that have puzzled me in the past, some of these have been explained to me; most of them are utterly trivial, some irritating, and all of them just a source of amusement to me. Here they are, not in an order of importance as most of them are not overly important at all.

  1. Why do we dress baby boys in blue and girls in pink? Is it because we are shy about asking baby’s gender, or  that we don’t really feel like offering to change baby’s nappy to find out the sneaky way…
  2. Driving through lush green valleys of South Coast, I see a sign indicating that I have entered the City of Shoalhaven. Where , where…?  Not a house, nor a shop anywhere, plenty of cows, farmers on their tractors, but churches or city squares, no. Same in the city of Sydney, you arrive in a suburb of Campsie and I’m told in smaller writing: City of Canterbury. Maybe you have a town , thus named in England, but this is just another suburb and the only city here is Sydney.
  3. I’m in somewhere, in someone’s office to sign some transaction or other; I’m well equipped with my driver’s licence, my passport, my rates’ notice, my husband with all his papers. This is not good enough; you have to go and sign this in front of a justice of peace, there’s a dentist on the second floor, madam. No way am I going to interrupt a busy tooth doctor at work, he doesn’t know me any better than this lousy clerk. Time to throw a little tantrum and time to ask his name and to call the boss. The boss wants me out and signing happens without any dental surgeons at present.
  4. I’m a member of a local club and showing my card, any card really will do as I sometimes accidentally show healthcare card, and yet the girl at the desk waves me in. If you are not a member you are forced to sign some papers, put your address in, just to have a chance to eat a bowl   of pasta with a glass of white.
  5. I still sometimes enter a chemist shop, where the chemist himself, the mixer of potions, stands on something elevated, on a kind of podium. Why? Is he better than the newsagent bloke next door, humbly standing there at the level of his customers? Is the chemist keeping a sharp eye on shop lifters; you can spot them better from his lofty position?

Now, folks, I need a rest and a coffee break; these baffling things take a lot out of you. On your permission, I’ll stop now, and if you absolutely demand, I’ll reveal the remaining five…

What not to Wear (for men) by Helvi Oosterman

February 19, 2010

January 23, 2010

By Helvi Oosterman

When popping into Pigs Arms for my daily pink drink, I have been alarmed by the gear you blokes wear at this watering hole. Room for improvement?  Yes, yes…

First of all you should know that the wearing of narrow-legged beige shorts with sandals and the knee socks is only permissible for very old blokes residing in Queensland. As we know it’s no use trying to change old dogs’ habits…none of you here of course do fit into this ‘too-old-category’.

Thongs should be flung out, not only for the aesthetic reasons but also because they give their wearer a funny walk. Whilst you are trying to keep them on, you have to carefully throw your legs about without bending your knees…not a good look!

Coloured shirts with white collars make you look like a nursing sister, even if you obviously aren’t. We gently leave Mr Turnbull to wearing his shirts, he’s suffered enough already. Most likely we have Lucy to blame here.

If you happen to covet a navy blazer adorned with ‘gold’ buttons, stop coveting!  Only dapper Italian males can wear them with panache. They have enough nous to pair them with grey flannelette trousers, and to throw a pale blue Armani shirt and a subtle silk tie by Hermes into the mix.

Tapered- down- wide-at-the-waist tough denim from a discount store is best left to elderly carpenters and country plumbers. Clearly to be avoided after hours…

Now we all know that President Bush had a knack of wearing cowboy boots with flair; he has the bandy long legs and the right kind of Texan gait the boots demand. Still, any shortie trying to add height by stepping into them should be stopped immediately.

Head-to-toe R M Williams gear is not making you look like a wealthy land owner, rather it gives you away as a city slicker who has recently purchased a minor hobby farm and who has not yet had time to dirty his hands on a hard-to-start tractor or on an obstinate generator.

Fluoro work wear is designed for folk in hazardous occupations, not for idle Telstra blokes heating their billy cans for morning tea break on the roadside. Nor is it meant for unemployed youth hanging around shopping malls.

Teaming trackie pants with black dress shoes is also verboten, and very long and very pointy shoes can only be worn by rebellious teenagers in black pipe jeans. I’m personally very tolerant and give my blessing when it comes to eccentric Finnish groups like the ‘Leningrad Cowboys’…

Red woollen jumpers, so loved by English gentlemen and by our own Curry Colonel, usually matched by equally ruddy faces, are best replaced by other colours; say navy, camel or even forest green. They are more complimentary to too-much-Shiraz affected gobs (sorry about the bad choice of words, I did not want too much repetition).

White shiny suits are a must, but only if you are an Albanian pop singer taking part in the Eurovision song contest. Long wavy black hair and white shoes are allowed to compliment the outfit. For everyone else, even for Bob Hawke white shoes are an absolute no-no, no matter what Blanche says.

White, black and sand coloured canvas loafers are highly recommended though, for young and old as suitable summer footwear.

Shortish navy or khaki elastized waist, drill shorts, worn by likes of Paul Hogan and Steve Irving are only passable on young well  built swimming pool maintenance workers. It also helps if they have short blond hair and a wide smile and if they wear acid/bleach damaged Blundstones to boot!

What not to Wear by Helvi Oosterman

February 14, 2010

November 9, 2009

Just to get you boys here.

You older folk here might remember the times, when anything Indian was all the rage; long cotton caftans for the girls and rough hewn grandpa shirts for the boys. Those were the days when your tie-dyed, floor length wrap-around skirts, not only kept your legs warm but at the same time swept the streets or maybe just the foot paths clean…

The council workers whistled at you, not because they admired your legs, but because you were doing their job for them. I remember wearing a long caftan when six months pregnant, looking rather majestic, almost a cross between Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, Brunnhilde from Wagner’s Ring comes to mind. Hubby too suffered for his latest acquisition, sandals made from old car tyres with some brass buckles tagged on them that gave his feet bad rashes.

Many years later  the tights arrived on the fashion scene; welcomed by all comfort loving females, mums, daughters and grannies. They were taken up by skinny girls, fat sheilas, old and young, tall and short. My slightly underweight girlfriend gave me a backhanded compliment: “Helvi, you look good in them because you got big legs, I look like a starved baby bird in those”. Ah well, who needs enemies when your friends tell the truth about your short  comings. These tights, as you all know, were usually teamed up with oversized t-shirts or large tops  with huge shoulder pads. These pads were not sewn but usually Velcroed to shoulder seams and easily removed. On long train trips they could double up as pillows, after all some were almost bigger than average size Tontine.

Not all that long ago the fashionistas got inspired by India again; the bright colours were in and black was out. Tired of looking like Sicilian widows, we now took to rainbow colours, glitter and sequins like ducks to water. Many of us suburban mums   of course even looked like ducks, waddling in our tiered skirts and heavily sequined tops weighing us down. All those vivid colours that so flatter darker skinned slim Indian girls, made us look like stumpy Christmas trees.

Oops, almost forgot about those hipster jeans, maybe it is because I really want to forget about them; all those tummies and bottoms bared, and in country towns still bravely exposed, even  when the city girls have moved to the” waist highs” a long ago.

This morning I had to go to town early for an appointment. Popping in to buy a newspaper at the mall, I noticed a group of young girls still in their nighties hanging around. I assumed they had had some kind of sleep out or a pyjama party and were on their way home. The polyester swishing could be heard as they walked past. Later on I came to realise they were not nighties,but this season’s new look: floor-length summer dresses that reminded me of those caftans. Only the caftans were cotton and pleasant to wear, these long  poly dresses must be as hot as a visit to a sauna.

I feel like a cooling swim is needed right now!

Of Proust and Penguins

February 10, 2010


September 19, 2009

By Helvi Oosterman.

I’m standing in front of our floor to ceiling book cases and I don’t know where to start my weeding; we are moving to a smaller place and I have to select which books to take and which not. I have three milk crates on the table: one for daughter, one for charity and one for the cottage. The ones I want to keep can stay until we actually move.

I take books out at random. ‘The End of Certainty’ by Paul Kelly is the first one. It was a birthday present from Allan, who passed away far too young at fifty. His beautiful hand writing makes me choke at the loss of a dear friend and I want to keep the book. ‘In the box’, says the boss who hasn’t even read it. The next one happens to be a slim volume by Marguerite Duras, a French writer who used live in Vietnam when it was still Indo-China. I start reading ‘Practicalities’; beautiful short essays about life, love, writing, Paris and wasting time. I feel I’m not wasting a minute re-reading this and not sticking to the task at hand: I have to keep this one;  it’s only a slip of a book.

On the bottom shelf, out of sight are my yearly diet books; I have bought one every January, new year, new me. Easy goodbyes to all; from Atkins to Scarsdale to South Beach. I count only seven;  many of them have already left the house to end up fattening girl friends’ book shelves. Then I pick a stack of yellowed old Penguins, Mishima, Kawabata, Hermann Hesse and Böll, which have escaped the previous throw-out. They are like very old friends now;   I put them back on the shelf.

I’m not doing too well, and I decide to take a break and walk to check the cottage collection. I find that most of them are results of previous culls, books that I had not chosen myself. Even so I managed to bring back an armful: a book on Finnish art, a long lost one of V.S. Naipaul and ‘By Way of Sainte-Beuve’ by Marcel Proust.

I have spent some hours by now and not much to show for; maybe the best thing to do is to tackle one shelf daily until the job is done. We have time;  we haven’t even put the house on the market yet. Husband walks by and looks at the empty boxes, he can see that I’m getting a headache and am close to tears: Maybe I can help tomorrow? This is not what I want;  he’ll only leave his Patrick Whites and some boring stories about Aussies migrating to Paraguay and maybe George Perec’ s  ‘Life, the User’s Manual’. ‘You can help with the cook books and the gardening ones’, I say as I have already promised to give them to family members; I have enough recipes in my head by now and my new garden will  be very small.

Oh no, I have totally forgotten about dictionaries and other language and reference books in the office and all my favorites in the bed room!