The Lady at the ATM.


A cold wet Sunday morning in a Dordogne village. We’d found the Parking and were walking up a footpath towards what we hoped would be some shops. We wanted to buy picnic provisions. Ahead was a woman in black pants and a pale blue parka. She walked steadily up hill, legs a bit apart for balance and shoulders bent. She stopped and searched in her shopping bag and faced the wall.

We caught up with her and stepped out onto the road to pass her. She turned to face us, looked me in the eye and spoke. She was holding a bank card in her right hand and moved it between me and the ATM whilst talking and pleading. Her eyes were a clear blue, her hair, whitey grey and tied back into a sort of bun, and she had a very pleasant smile. She was actually asking us to help her withdraw money. I was shocked at her trust in us.

‘Avez vous quatre nombres?’ I asked, counting out four fingers. ‘PIN number?’ forgetting  that the French call it an identity number, or something like that.

She kept on talking, holding her card towards us, smiling, putting the card towards the slot.

We kept on talking, going on about quatre nombres.

It was getting nowhere.

We had to say, ‘Pardon, Madame,’ and open our hands in a helpless way, and set off up the hill. She smiled a beautiful wide, curved smile, we smiled back and we all sort of bowed to each other.

We turned our backs and continued up the hill. My eyes stung and I burst into tears at her vulnerability and trust. I thought of Mum and wondered if this old woman also had macular degeneration and couldn’t read screens. I thought that she probably usually went into the bank and withdrew money over the counter. Maybe, this  Sunday she had run out of cash. Maybe she was genuinely confused about life. I thought about how hard it was to be old and how much harder if you were alone.

We walked about another block up the road and reached the square and some shops. There on the road was an old man in black, his back and legs curved into an S. His feet were in huge black suede, orthopedic shoes which he lifted barely off the ground, very carefully, one slow step after another. It took a long time for him to cross the road on a diagonal towards the bakery. Another old person finding an ordinary errand huge.

We bought some bread, found a green grocer and had just finished up when the door rang open and in came the lady from the bank. ‘Bonjour m’sieur et m’dame’ all round, for and from everyone and a very big smile for us as we left the shop.  That felt a bit better.


The 109 Tram to Port Melbourne

The 109 tram was pretty crowded by the time it got to Elizabeth Street  but I found a seat  up the back next to a boy who was also on his way home to Port Melbourne. He was sitting separately from his friend and they were enjoying looking at each other and having a bit of a laugh.He was in shorts and a teeshirt and I vaguely wondered why he wasn’t at school.

The tram gradually emptied as it got closer to the Port. I noticed a little flurry and realized that a Ticket Inspector was working his way towards us.His reader okayed my Mykie and the boy passed him one of two cards he was holding.

‘It mightn’t have anything on it,’ he said.

The inspector read it.

‘No. Nothing on this. Hasn’t been used since June.’

‘Try this one then.’ The second card was passed across.

‘No, mate. This one hasn’t been used since March.’

Hmm. How’s this going to work out , I thought.

‘How old are you, mate?’ asked the inspector, keeping it all low key.


In the meantime, the young man in a suit across the aisle from me, had snuck round the back of the Inspector and validated his Myki. He took another card from his wallet, handed it across me to the boy and said,’Try this.’

The boy passed it to the Inspector, it read safely and was handed back to the boy. The Inspector moved on.

The boy passed the card back across me to the young man.

‘Thanks, mate.’

‘No worries.’

A stop later, I turned to the boy, smiled, and said,’That was lucky.’

‘Yes. Mum would have killed me.’

‘I bet she would. I bet she’s given you money to top up, too!’

‘Yeah!’ he giggled.

We all smiled.





Return to Tango – 9 months on.

Well, the time I’ve had my new hip in my body is the time needed to grow and deliver a baby. A strange thought!

But not really, when I think about it. It has actually taken that time for me to feel comfortable, mostly, with this new addition to my body. The hip itself has just sat there, quietly surrounding itself with new bone, but the muscles have grumbled mightily and taken a long time to stretch out, develop and feel easy.

I’ve been sore a lot of the time but, as my physio and pilates teacher said, I am asking for a high degree of rehabilitation by wanting to return to tango with all its physical demands. That’s made me feel better about it all.

And I have been really improving with my dancing. My axis is stronger than it was even when I started learning- I think my hip was starting to weaken back at that point. My legs are also stronger now because of the excellent, very specific and focused pilates classes I do and I have much more strength, control and stability than I did. Now, my body can actually manage to do what I want it to do – most of the time.

I’ve been having some private lessons to help fine tune and consolidate my dancing. This is excellent as I had developed some defensive techniques to wriggle around my weaknesses and it’s terrific to be sharpened up.

Even so, I need to be careful about not doing too much – very frustrating. I do just one class and then only a few dances at the following Practica. A few weekends ago, Sidewalk Tango ran a terrific Vals Workshop which ran for two hours followed by a Practica. I managed the Workshop but was pretty tired. However, I was so pleased to be dancing comfortably that I danced on for far too long at the Practica. Not good. My body was very, very overtired and I was hopeless at class that week and even the next week. Plus, I’ve been a bit sore again and my ankle is now grumbling- on the other leg!!

So! This post has been rather like all the others, a mixed bunch of success and tribulations, but marking a general improvement. It’s not a fast and easy process.


Great Barrier Reef Swimming.


I’ve been off the boat for twenty seven hours now and I’m still swaying slightly. For a week, I’ve been moving on board the Coral Princess as she cruised the Great Barrier Reef’s outer reefs and islands or with the motion of the Coral Sea as I snorkeled through the warm tropical reef waters.

Our first snorkeling was off a small island where we had moored. Before we swam, we had a glass bottom boat tour over the reef and were introduced to the coral and fish. The density and colour of the coral was really interesting to see because the only other coral I had previously seen was brown and disappointing. From shore, I waded awkwardly in fins, a too tight wet suit, and the new feeling of a mask and a snorkel before whooshing ahead to discover an undulating world of Technicolor coral and fish.

The fish leapt into life in velvety iridescence. Their markings were vibrant and electric: blue, bright yellow, emerald green, purple, orange and every other colour and pattern combination possible. Large, lorikeet hued parrot fish pushed and nudged at the coral as they fed on the algae, reminding me of a hungry baby butting away at a breast. Curtains of tiny damsel fish hung trembling in the deeper pale blue regions as squadrons of fast swimming blue, black and white fish streamed past. A pair of round yellow, white and black striped butterfly fish posed for a moment before wiggling off-stage.

That’s only a fraction of what I saw. I felt there was too much to take in: the colours, shapes, groupings and movements defied words and I decided to stop thinking about what I was looking at and just float around with them all.

And then there was the coral, the backdrop to the free moving fish. The colouring of the coral was similar to the fish but muted and they too had a large variety of forms: large rounded forms like the mustard coloured boulder corals or the brown and yellow honeycomb sprawling across the reef. The branching corals in white with iridescent blue tips or just plain electric violet contrasted with the velvety contoured and curved elephant ear corals ina yellowy green. The soft corals waved with the current: a faded mauve one on a white trunk flourished its tendrils and the brownish spaghetti coral waved like a carpet of long grass.

Many days, we swam off the back of the boat. By then, I’d jettisoned the wetsuit and the fins and swam in just bathers, a sunscreen Tee shirt and reef sandals with, of course, the all important mask and snorkel. It felt free and easy like that and I loved just slipping into the water without a lot of fuss. There were times when I was swimming with no sight of land at all, with the moored boat the only fixed point. If I was quick, I could be first in the water and feel that I was the only human in the sea for miles and miles around. We would have buoys to swim within and were watched over by at least two crew members all the time. Unlike Victorian waters there was no shark threat, no strong currents and the water was WARM! It felt really safe.

Out on the Ribbon Reefs, further from shore, the water was clearer and the coral spectacular. It was basically the same as our first swim but, now, brighter and absolutely in focus. I could see the polyps let out from the coral swaying as they fed from the passing water. I could stop and float above a colony and observe in fine detail the branching forms, the colour gradations and the tiny fish nudging through the branches feeding within the safety of the coral branches.

In many ways it felt like floating above a forest. The reef resembled trees, shrubs and grasses with the fish being particularly exuberantly coloured birds flying through the branches. Sometimes I felt that I could be looking at an Alpine rock garden. In other places there would be a barren patch of sea floor covered in white broken coral branches which had been knocked over by a cyclone, looking just like a storm damaged forest. Over this white floor there could be a sea cucumber – black, leopard or the spiky pineapple type- perhaps curved like a fat comma as it munched its way through the fallen detritus, excreting it as white coral sand.

Each swim, I would look out for giant clams. Sometimes there would be an isolated clam on a patch of coral sand but often they would appear in pairs or trios. I was intrigued by the different colourings inside their curving shells but never saw a better grouping than one on our first Ribbon Reef swim. The zooxanthellae algae which live in the clam’s mantle develop different colours and in this group, the biggest clam was vibrant blue-violet with green spots (the clam’s ‘eyes’), another had produced a brown and gold leopard skin pattern and the third was an emerald green with yellow spots. These clams were about 70 cms to a metre in length. We learnt that clams actually close quite slowly to about 80% closed and then take much longer to completely shut, so the story of getting feet caught in clams is a bit of a myth.

There was a different type of smaller clam which burrowed into the boulder corals and just presented their white rims and coloured mantles. They could be closed into parallel white squiggles or could be partially open and feeding with their coloured mantles open to the moving water.

From the boat, the reefs would show against the blue as roughly circular brown patches of varying sizes. It was these we swam over, feeling in quite close contact to the life a metre or so below us. At the edge of the reef the sea floor dropped into a glowing, deepening blue. Fish numbers dropped right off. At first I had a strange feeling of perhaps not wanting to go too close to the edge, almost a fear of falling but then when I did ‘jump’ and kicked out over above the blue it was like floating and flying. However, this first time was a bit uneasy as I was outside the buoys by then and it seemed too far on the edge. It was quite good to flip around and return to the security of the reef life. The next time, however, it was really good and I loved floating in what felt like a strange zone of water and sky.

I’m going to miss the moment of anticipation as I sit on the diving platform at the back of the Coral Princess before pushing off into that extraordinary reef world. Writing this piece has helped me consolidate the memory.



Voleos in Tango:Shape-changing and the Washing Machine.

I looked down at my Delicate Wash slowly sploshing around in the washing machine and last night’s tango class on Voleos came to mind.

I realized that for some of the time, I felt like that washing: out of shape, out of control and at the mercy of another force. This is me trying to do a voleo if I am not yet on my axis.

On the other hand, I can also have lovely moments of Here Am I Being the Rotor. This is when I am the rotor: on my axis, tall and straight, and rotating strongly and firmly and vertically.

I’ll go for the rotor anytime!


Hip Replacement and Tango: 6 months

It’s been interesting the way the targets have sort of spread out and become less noticeable during this 6th month since the operation. The pace, whilst never ‘linear’, has become steadier with fewer clear cut markers or events.

However! The six month visit to the surgeon, Mr Phong Tran, was reassuring in that he is very pleased with both the placement of the new joint and the bone growth around it. I hadn’t been thinking about bone growth so it’s good to have had something happen without me consciously making it happen! I don’t need to see him again. I left with instructions/permission to do as I wish but not to fall over and break my hip.

Pilates continues to be excellent and I love it. Apart from obvious strengthening work there some very enjoyable balance work. I’ve had a couple of massages by the physio to loosen the hip area now that I have some muscles there to loosen. That was good.

My muscles continue to be sore and tight but are improving. Pool walking seems to work very well. This work will go on for about a year at which stage people tell me their bodies suddenly feel normal again. I still get tired but apparently that diminishes too.

Tango is going really well. I’m stronger than I was even when I started a few years ago. I seem to be taller. I can do a whole class now quite easily and have a few dances afterwards at the Practica. It’s terrific!



A 69 Year Old Grandmother


 “A 69 year old Brisbane grandmother takes on a US Biotech company in the High Court over human gene ownership, “ ran the lead sentence of a news item on the ABC on June 16. Subsequently, different versions of the headline have appeared , all noting the 69 year old grandmother.

This is a typical example of a news story headlined with the identification of a woman with a specific age, then the title of ‘ grandmother’, followed sometimes by the number of grandchildren.

It is both Ageist and Sexist.

It’s Ageist because she is identified by her age. The implication of noting age in a headline is that it suggests that age has a particular bearing on the content of the story. It’s unusual to read headlines about, “A 34 year old woman .…. “ or, “ A 34 year old man ….” However, it seems that after about 65, people, and particularly women, are often labeled and defined by their age in a headline or first sentence. The significance of their age is then not discussed at all in the article. It is not the defining characteristic of that person in that context.

There seems to be an assumption from some in the media that people, and especially women, over their mid sixties are not active participants in society. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary. It’s as if it is only their age which can be seen and which blinds the reporters to such qualities as a strong sense of justice, analysis, and persistence which have brought the individuals to public notice.

This social blindness extends to the Sexist use of ‘grandmother’.

Now, let’s go back to headlines and think of a headline which reads, “A 34 Year Old Childless Woman ….,” or, even stranger, “A 34 Year Old Childless Man …” It would only happen if the childlessness were a key part of the news story. So why was the reproductive information of ‘A 69 year old” included when there was no relevance of her family history to the news item?  

“Grandmother” often seems to be code for something. It suggests an old woman who is nurturing, family focused and who exists outside the interests and issues of the ‘real world’ and about whom nothing else can be said. It seems a matter of great surprise to the reporter that this person is behaving like a member of general society and is also, amazingly, a grandmother.

If you do a quick Google of ‘69 year old grandmother’ you find a strange range of headlines: “Meet saucy 69 year old grandmother from Edinburgh…’, ‘This 69 year old grandmother is as hard as nails – about bench pressing’, ‘Grandma(of course 69) attacks would be car jacker’. It’s interesting that they are all about her physical prowess.

I have very rarely seen a headline identifying a man as a grandfather in the context of a story which is not about grandfathers. Google brought up one about ‘M M is a 69 year old grandfather of four, nurse, black belt..’ and another, ‘Grandfather, 69, shot dead after opening his door to 20 year old man’.

It is difficult to separate the Ageism from the Sexism in this issue and I think that the two sets of careless labeling are tightly interwoven. Men are less likely to be identified by age and their family circumstances.

I do have to declare an interest in this matter. You could attach a variety of labels to me, including the fact that I am both 69 and a grandmother. However, I would not like to to be defined that way unless both labels were the most important part of the context in which they were used.





Back to Tango after Total Hip Replacement: 5 months

It’s been about 4-5 weeks since my last post about actually getting back on the dance floor and a lot has happened. I’m now at the stage where I can do a whole class and a few dances afterwards at the Practica and feel tired but happy. My legs are tired and thighs fairly tight the next day but the tightness goes with some exercise and stretching.

My new hip has made a huge difference to the strength on that leg even though the muscles are still tight and not terribly strong. Generally, my dancing is developing back to being smooth with some very occasional little bits of wobble and loss of control.

Interestingly, I’ve found that my concentration is harder to maintain but that’s improving. I think it’s because I’m still a bit anxious about ‘how I will manage’ and how I will go with different partners.

What has helped me hugely has been Pilates. I found a physio who specializes in hip and core stabilization and have been going to her small, 3 people, classes once a week. She works gradually and progresses the exercises at a really good rate. I have a set of exercises to do at home. She told me to be really careful about the dancing but recognized my need as a ‘mental health’ issue and therefore important to do.

It’s been important to loosen these muscles as they work and strengthen so I go and have a monthly Remedial Massage.

I’m back to taking a low dose anti-inflammatory once a day to help the knees which still have remnants of tenderness from the bursitis and to help the hip joint itself settle down. That helps and, if I need to, take an occasional Panadol Osteo to remove the pain of tightness if I’m going to exercise and want to do that properly.

All in all, I’m at a good stage of strengthening and feeling normal life returning. I do get tired though. The physio says that it takes 6 months to gain strength in the muscles and another 6 months to develop control.


Mountain Tango

   Empty path

Picking my way along narrow, steep mountain paths in the French Alps, I found that I was being accompanied by tango music from our Melbourne Sidewalk Tango classes running through my head. The beat gave a rhythm to my steps which were often up and down and around awkwardly placed rocks. My peripheral vision was of an ongoing rock garden filled with Alpine flowers or snowy peaks or the valley below. However, my attention was always on my feet and the path they were about to walk on – too much scope for accidents otherwise. So I’d stop and stand still if I wanted to look up from the path.

It came to me gradually that I was dancing a sort of tango with the mountain as my partner. I embraced the mountain leaning slightly forward, feet placed firmly and cleanly. Grasping the walking poles, I took care to plant them one at a time in a steady balancing position. There is a direct contact with the mountain. The gaze varies according to the difficulty of the path.

Mountain tango

In the open embrace, when the walking is fairly straightforward with the poles used quite lightly, the gaze is centred in a widish circle slightly ahead of the feet and monitoring where to step. The close embrace is used when the path is steep and rocky. Here the gaze becomes intent on the actual area of the feet and path and the pole grip is firmer and closer to the body. It’s intense and focused. I realized that when I was lifting my foot and leg cleanly and neatly over and around rocks so as not to trip, I was actually doing Decorations.

There’s a closeness between me and the mountain path where I have to be attentive to its every configuration and follow its lead. Sometimes it leads me in a steady, smooth walk, sometimes it will ask me to step over a rock, or, with more complexity, ask me to choose a series of short, safe foot places in a short rock climb.

My body and mind are totally engaged in this tango with the mountain.


You’ll note the dress code is very different for mountain tango.