short stories

Balsamic Vignettes #10


Pure ‘straya can be found in the likeness of two sunbaked youths, floating awkwardly on an air mattress, while waving the Australian flag secured atop a coral-coloured pool noodle.

Spotted in the gentle surf at North Mollymook.



“Language is the armoury of the human mind and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquests.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


Researchers study Language Attrition in elderly.

10 Jan 11 @ 04:47pm by THOMAS MORCOMBE

Language attrition is the weakening or loss of a first or second language by an individual. It is more common to speakers who routinely use one language more than the other.The phenomenon of language loss has caught the attention of two McMaster, Canada,  professors who are determined to explore how and why this occurs.

After observing second language loss in their own mothers who were native speakers of Chinese and German, Dr. Denis Yu and Dr. Selina Stroinska of the Department of Linguistics and Languages are researching the occurrence of second language loss in the ageing population. In other words, how non-native speakers who learned English and used it competently in adulthood, begin to lose elements of the language in their elderly years, reverting to their native tongue

Their research has lead them to discover that the older a person is, the easier it is to slip into their home language. If their current tongue is their second language, then the brain will, in later life, recede into a comfort zone where it can slow down and take less effort to process and think. Often they will struggle for words and meanings or not say anything at all. Research has shown that this tendency to slip into mother tongue is often coupled with diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The majority of the elderly may just find it easier to answer/respond in a comfortable and familiar tongue.

The study looked at the environment of the senior; an area where only the person’s second language is spoken is more likely to strengthen this language due to frequency and exposure, however, it they are not being directly spoken to, then they may not employ this language. To accommodate this phenomena, there has been an increase in specialised nursing homes, such as the selectively Greek or German Speaking nursing homes.


Dewi’s Dilemma:

To change the T.V channel or not.


  1. This music is no good to dance to. The beat is too cepat[1].
  2. Duduk di sini[2], my back hurts a little bit. Getting up might help me move around. A young carer came in and changed the channel.
  3. Hari ini hari Minggu. Dia menonton V Video Hits[3].
  4. Aduh! I didn’t know women could move that way. I didn’t think it was physically possible.
  5. Saya suka pakaiannya, dia cantik sekali[4].
  6. I suka[5] So frilly.
  7. Televisi terletak di depan saya. Televisi dekat saya[6].
  8. Saya beragama Catolik[7]. Aduh! Perempuannya kasar sekali[8].
  9. This is Christian Aged Care. Bolehkah saya[9] have some “Songs of Praise” or something?
  10. Saya tidak suka penyanyi yang terkenal ini[10].
  11. Saya lupa banyak[11].
  12. Kadang-kadang, saya suka lupa. Akibatnya, saya tidak harus pikir[12].
  13. The carer is tonton ini[13].
  14. Saya tidak mengerti[14]
  15. Saya berbahasa Indonesia[15].
  16. Saya orang Indonesia[16].
  17. I wonder if they know we don’t care for their Video Hits.
  18. Laki-lakinya akan bermain piano[17].
  19. Laki-lakinya akan matikan televisi menjadi saya mendengarkan musiknya[18].
  20. Tetapi, kapan laki-lakinya, tidak di sini, Katrina mengunjungi aku dan bermain music yang tua[19].
  21. Saya suka sekali Katrina. Karena dia berbahasa Indonesia sedikit dengan aku[20]. Or, at least she tries to.
  22. Tapi saya lupa waktu[21].
  23. Channel dua? Atau tidak channel dua[22]?


  1. Which button do I press?
  2. V Video Hits isn’t on anymore. It’s an advert tentang di laut dan obyek wisata di Yunani[23]. I wish. Saya belum mengunjungi Eropa[24].

[1] fast

[2] Sitting here

[3] It’s Sunday and he’s playing T.V Video Hits.

[4]I like their clothes. So dressy.

[5] Suka: like

[6] The T.V is in front of me. I only need to reach.

[7] I’m Catholic

[8] These gyrating women are not being respectable.

[9] may I

[10] I don’t like these singers.

[11] I forget a lot.

[12] Sometimes I like to forget. Because of this, I don’t have to think.

[13] watching, this

[14] I don’t understand

[15] I speak Indonesian.

[16] I am Indonesian.

[17] That boy plays piano.

[18] That boy turns off the TV so that I can hear his piano.

[19] But when the boy is not here comes to visit and she plays old-timey music.

[20] I really like Katrina because she speaks a bit of Indonesian with me.

[21] But I forget when.

[22] To flick to Channel 2? Or to not flick to channel 2?

[23] about the ocean and tourist attractions in Greece

[24] I’ve not yet been to Europe.

Katrina’s Recipe for Success in Caring for the Elderly

Makes one Pumpkin Pudding



2 Gentle hands

1 Loving Heart, opened

¼ cup Sympathy

4 tablespoons Patience

2 Attentive Eyes

½ cup Acceptance, pre-washed/clean

1 teaspoon Compassion

2 Listening Ears

A small pinch Unconditional Kindness, to season


  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C or 160°C for Fan-Forced. This ensures Warmth.
  2. Melt to your audience. These are old people, patients at an Intensive Care nursing home. Be mindful that most of them are of Christian denomination, for this is Christian Aged Care. Think about appropriate behaviour and language.
  3. Spread love on the old people with 2 Gentle Hands. They are fragile and delicate. Gentle hands also promote an empowerment for the old person who may be incompetent, but they still hold dignity.
  4. Enfold your senior with 1 Loving Heart. It is crucial that this heart is opened, for they need room to move and breathe, yet help in their fragile age.
  5. Marinate your speaker/senior 2 Attentive eyes, however exercise respect when they are in need of privacy. They are under your 24 hour protection. Offer them your full attention, as this lessens their feeling of rejection and abandonment and heightens their feeling of being wanted.
  6. Knead ½ cup of Acceptance into the families who may be feeling guilty, as well as the patients. The patients may feel as if they were left and abandoned, however the families may have no alternative. This acceptance must be cleaned from prenotions of the anachronistic 21st Century life. Be mindful that these are the pearls of society, that they are from a past era and they have different expectations and values to you. A good way to exercise this is to create an environment suitable to the aged. Perhaps youth pop music is not appropriate, perhaps music of the Wartime genre is. Remember that your patients were greatly affected by this period.

** Residents such as Veronica were War time nurses and they harbour memories from the 1940s and hallmarks such as the War. Note that Veronica responds attentively to music by Glenn Miller and that perhaps an activity for the Recreation time on Friday afternoons could be a Wartime dance. Look into volunteers who are able to dance the Boogie Woogie, the Foxtrot, the Quickstep and Jazz. For lazier afternoons, introduce the Serenade.

  1. Soak in your senior’s story with 2 Listening Ears. Your residents are as old as time itself and they have seen and lived through experiences that you will not ever comprehend. When they begin to tell a story, cherish that moment in your day- it is a gift from a time gone by. They often want a listener, even if their speech is hard to comprehend.

**Residents such as Linda are selectively mute. She has not uttered a word for the past few months. However, note that she livened up when a visitor arrived to play the piano. (Log the piece and composer, perhaps attain a copy of this for when he is not available to play).

  1. Lightly season your patient with a few sprinkles of Unconditional Kindness. This cajoles them to see another day.

**Residents such as Dewi have Alzheimer’s. Implement your kindness when people like her become forgetful or distressed. See that she feels comfortable in a familiar environment and that she has a doll with her. Her doll is her lifeline.

  1. Combine your preconceived notions with ¼ cup of sympathy. If they spill their tea or lack in personal hygiene, remember that they are timeworn and can’t help it. Sympathy and a pinch of consideration go a long way.
  2. Blend in 4 tablespoons of Patience, because these patients are slowing down and reaching the end of the race. They may not approve of your actions and they may not approve of your way of washing them, cleaning them or feeding them. But know within yourself that it is for their benefit and try not to carry their burdens on shoulders of your own. This may be a little easier when coupled with 1 teaspoon of Compassion.


Don’t just save this recipe for a special occasion, share this recipe as often as possible. Serve warm to enhance sweetness and share with family and friends.


“One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no-one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way” –Vincent van Gogh

On her frequent travels to the City, she catches a train that zips through the underground tunnels, eagerly rushing towards the vibrant pulse of the centre.

On the infrequent times she catches the all stations, the wild train is tamed and stops at the timeworn Nursing Home, to pay its respects to the elderly, then races on leaving few on the station. Many travellers offer a passing glance, hardly aware that they are seeing a compound of society’s jewels cowering behind laminated door numbers.

She is one of the few who opt to visit the old place, but walking up to the Nursing Home, the feeling of bravery is lost. In retrospect, she admits that, when walking past countless doors, choosing one number to behind which to explore only deepens her heart ache and she fights back tears. She visits the nursing home to see her grandfather, Brian, but during her long hours there, she calls in on a few of the other residents.

Today, she walks over to Veronica and sits by her bed.  As usual, she notes the figure of the Holy Mother on her bed-stand next to two cards of well-wishes, which provide a bloom of colour to the bleak room. To the fragile woman’s left, a sepia version of her youthful self in a Nurses’ uniform. The younger Veronica smiles up at the camera and from this, May notices subtle differences between the Nurse Veronica and the fragile Veronica. Presently, Veronica’s face is wrinkled, to the extent of which the lines may be traced to roads on a map, each offering a path that leads to an experience she had whilst in that uniform.

May sits and offers her hand, then cradles Veronica’s (which by stark contrast is icy cold). Her skin if lax and smooth, each finger ending in painted pink nails, (from the carers who decided to ‘pretty her up’). As she grasps May’s hand, she looks not at fledgling visitor, but through her and with each twitch of her mouth, Veronica clutches her hand stronger.

Today, she tells a story. One that doesn’t take long. One that May struggles to understand. Her speech is of incoherent and her listener must pause to decipher what she’s thinking. Her eyes smile and somehow, May finds she does indeed understand and proceeds to lose herself.


I went caravanning with the mates down south over the Christmas/New Year break a couple of Christmases ago or what is more than that actually it may have been a good few decades because we all had time off work back then us being part of the Union and all and I sat with my mates to respect the old year as it took a             bow     and joined the setting sun then dipped my hat   to the new one as it came around again like a refrain and we all sang along and thought of things we should have done but that’s alright because in that caravan you’re on the open road and there wasn’t really a sense of urgency to betray us in the dark at all except that maybe the hot and sticky rainy season told us to clear off from our outside barbeque to sit and play cards inside and far off on the horizon a bright white stiletto hit the earth and thus began Australia’s seasonal light sound and water show so lucky we took the time to patch up the leakage problem in the caravan before we set off because the rains that came down that year were phenomenal


but now I don’t even know what day it is let alone when New Year’s comes around these days I mean what year is it now?

I don’t know why I’m here or what I’m doing sometimes I silently melt by my window and peer out over suburbia and think to myself *sigh* because the path forward is a desolate one but quite frankly sitting by the same view day in day out fails to bother me actually for my prior life saw me gaining a birds-eye view in the skies of Papua for king and country and all that


to begin at the beginning I helped build and fly aeroplanes and my beauty was the Jewel in the Sky and when in that freedom I must admit greying hair grimy faces gritty half-smiles don’t count for much at all because from up there the fear is not in the falling but of the impact after tumbling dipping dropping then plummeting

so maybe I never actually held the substantial weight of a weapon of destruction or felt the wall of pain as the jolt from a backfiring gun explodes up my shoulder and I never had to decide if a life was less than what its worth by demolishing hope in a skerrick of a second


I am still considered a war hero because of my war effort

is it something to be proud of? I remember the heat of the camp as storms made the fields steam like a kettle and I remember the deafening roar of a thousand monsters being woken prematurely to hunt and feed and I remember the blood spray encrusted on the faces of those loved and lost is it really something to be proud of?


I also remember that those I fight I do not hate those I guard I do not love

except Stella Stella Stella she is a beautiful shining star which glints and sparkles in the night sky and stars in Van Gogh’s colour-by-number the one that’s up in the house I built in the Mountains she holds a musky air moth balls from our wardrobe but also has a sweetness that not unlike Nanna’s sugared figs that looked like frosted garnets so Stella she comes to call on me and also my daughter I love her too she comes sometimes to take me to Mass on Sundays and this is good because although sometimes she can’t steer my tub chair around sharp corners with her wrist her daughter comes to help and aids my trip to Mass instead and I remember in the cool of one morning a while back she leaned intrusively down and peered at me through thick black eyelashes to examine my face and announced:

-We’re going a different way today

because the nursing home got a new elevator

and so she took me in the new lift and what a smooth ride it was! The metallic box whirred and purred and slunk its way from the 4th floor to the ground yet I hardly noticed we were moving until I saw the doors open to a widening gap of light but next to the orange glow was an old old old man staring at me with papery thin skin and wrinkles like a road map and he looked at me through smeared lenses with thick brown frames that reached from his bushy white eye brows to midway down his cheeks and his eyes were an eerie pale blue that looked through me and he had the same shaving scar that I have and I wondered why this old old old man was examining me but I saw that he moved when I moved and

he was

was actually



and then she took me past a stairwell where everything was washed in a dreamlike golden light but it actually wasn’t coming from anywhere because it was just a muted glow from the amber stained glass then as I was being pushed there I wondered why there was stained glass down here and not in other areas of this nursing home and I drew upon my knowledge of building and architecture and I thought about how the stained glass must have been down there for many reasons like-

AND then I saw a majestic statue of Our Lady and she looked simply          ethereal         she had a snowy veil an ephemeral snapshot in all its glory that held every crease and fold since they day she was carved- her white gown sustained elegantly behind her she just stood there as a powerful presence that filled the whole stairwell and she looked bigger than me but I used to be tall didn’t I I used to bump my perfectly slicked hair-do on the doorframe but when I looked at Our Lady she looked bigger than me because-

maybe she’s holding everyone’s problems

or Not

maybe I just got smaller

I’m not sure any more and so Louise wheeled me past her on our way to the chapel and I went to Mass and since then I’ve only been back that route to the chapel once and that was actually just last week and as a matter of fact I enjoyed the ride of the new lift a whole lot more because I closed my eyes it was like listening to a slide trombone effortlessly flow from one fluid note to the next and I relished it all the more because I knew I was going to see Our Lady and that made everything that morning all better that morning I remember that I was having problems with:

  • the nursing staff on duty because one of the nurses took my watch off to bathe me and I don’t like that because if someone does that I can’t remember the time or the place or the date or anything and so it was not a pleasant experience at all
  • the night prior to my being wheeled to the chapel I think Iris came to sit by my bed side and she looked a little paler than usual and she mentioned one of her relatives passing to the other side so I think she was a little sad about that and that it’s all coming to a close
  • I had heard someone shuffling down the hall that morning mumbling of the woman in the room only two doors down from me and how she passed away silently that night To be honest I hadn’t noticed because that woman has a very     loud     clock that ticksandtocksandticksandtocks but even as the undertaker came in the clock still ticked and tocked

so everything was just grating on the frayed ends of my nerves and I sat and thought that all was lost all hope all meaning all reason to try all reason to stay all reasons to give up were

-Gone. This place is seriously hopeless.

my thoughts exactly wait- erm- how could Louise answer?

-Our Lady! Her statue’s gone! Oh, well, I didn’t expect much more from them.

Indeed she was                                                           missing

and I wasn’t too sure what to think

and then Louise stopped wheeling me for a bit and she put the journey on hold so that I could just sit and rest for a little while under the stained glass glow and it was very nice to sit in the warm sun even if it wasn’t that warm at all and I liked to sit there and count maybe all of the little dust motes that floated around in the sunlight and I think I got up to about 47 and then I lost count again because I was side tracked thinking about something else and then Louise came back to me pushing a very large mass that I think was Our Lady but she was not the same her figure was a little different and that’s because I noticed her hands

both of them I think were jagged and coarse not the same colour as her skin They were raw perhaps broken off

and I wonder if that was because maybe she was trying to carry too many people’s burdens in her crumbling hands and maybe like me her arthritis took its toll and maybe she literally cracked and just         fell       apart            it was very sad to see that very sad indeed because she looked so strong and then I felt a little chilly so I pulled my crocheted multi-coloured blanket up

and then I went to Mass and when I went to Mass I thought about how:

I didn’t want to be there

I didn’t want to be there at all

I didn’t want to be left there all by myself

I didn’t want to be separated from my family

I didn’t want to be separated from my family by my family

I wanted to be home back home in the home that I actually built for us in 1954

I wanted more than anything to be out of this place

The Carer.

“Blessed are they who make it known, that I am loved, not left alone.” –Beatitudes for Old People.

Damn. Late shift tonight. This means he’s missing Top Gear. He missed it last week too.

He sighs and carries out a tray from the kitchens to place on the cart. He takes a whiff- fullbodied, meaty and wholesome meatloaf. As he reaches for the condiments, he looks at the measly box of bibs. They’re only plastic and there aren’t many of them. The residents need them; their old ways guarantee that the food makes a detour from its route from plate to mouth. Even considering this, he must ration the bibs out to the messiest meals of the day. He makes a quick decision to leave the bibs for tonight’s dinner and use one per resident next breakfast.

As he skilfully wheels the cart out, he hands a tray to the family of the resident in room #47. They’ve agreed to feed him his puree for tonight. That’s one less for him, (him internally congratulate yourself).

Eyes bore into him, then the hard plastic tray. They survey their relative’s most despised meal; Meatloaf. Eyes flick back at him. They probe where the bib is for tonight’s meal. They interrogate on meal variety.

And he can see where this is going-

*  *  *

The Relative will announce; “We come every Tuesday night and there’s always a bib.”

The Carer will sigh at this bold statement, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have enough for today.” (He mentally notes that his statement is in fact a statement and therefore didn’t require a response.)

“But this is a commercial facility. You should have enough funding for these. They’re just bibs for heaven’s sakes,” he will huff.

The Carer will stand his ground, “Sorry sir, but there’s not enough money for smaller things, such as the bibs. We have staff pay cuts and I have to work longer hours. There really isn’t much coming in from the Government at the moment.”

The Relative will divert his gaze out the now darkening window. “Except the new lift. Look, I don’t really care about your problems. I wanna know why I’ve paid top dollar to have my father-in-law cared for in here and you can’t even provide a bib so he won’t spill his puree. Let’s not get started on the puree, it’s not even hot!”

In resignation, The Carer’s head will tilt a little, to the left side and he will shift uneasily on his feet. “I’m sorry about that sir, but if you’d like, I’ll reheat the food. I’d like to reassure you that my colleges and I try to make do with what we have.”

A bead of sweat will roll down The Relative’s forehead. “Yeah? Do tell. I’m not really seeing much here. Frankly, I’m dissatisfied with the treatment and care of my father-in-law.”

The Carer will choose to let this stranger into a pocket of his life. “I wash this man. I wash your father-in-law. I try to lessen the time he’s exposed to the water, because then his skin will wrinkle like a prune. I try to get the temperature right while minimising the thunderous groans from the pipes in the walls. Then I ask him to choose his clothes every morning and then I dress him in the quickest and most comfortable way possible.  And after that, I wheel him to his room and I try to give him as much attention as I can, before I must move onto the next patient.”

The Relative will glance at his wife. Perhaps they approve of the current political party in power. Perhaps they didn’t realise there is a hole in the state health system. Even if this is Christian Aged Care, there should be some government funding.

“If we had more funding, I’d have more actual staff members on duty tonight. I think this would ensure more attention for each individual resident. I think if we didn’t have funding cuts, we could buy a more bottles of Sorbelene, so that we wouldn’t have to ration it out per person. I think this would help improve the quality of the patient’s lives. If we had more funding, we could have the physiotherapist in for a few more days every week and perhaps we could get some of the younger residents moving again. I think if there was more funding, we could afford to have air-conditioners throughout the nursing home so the residents don’t have to sit in the habituated discomfort every January.”

The Carer will remind him that his uniform is the baby blue of volunteers, as opposed to the lichen green of paid workers.

“I think if there was less neglect from the Government, this wouldn’t be a nursing facility, this would be a nursing home.”

*  *  *

He foresees this conversation. He’s had it before. Now, he looks at the son-in-law and he apologises for the lack of bib. He also apologises for the meatloaf on the patient’s plate, even though he knows he doesn’t have any of the resources to make anything more, en mass for the nursing home at present. He bites back a sarcastic comment about The Relative buying the Matron a cookbook of recipes, because of all the drama he’s causing.


“Where words fail, music speaks.” -Hans Christian Andersen

He’s playing Comptine D’Un Autre Ete L’Apres Midi by Yann Tiersen. I’d know that anywhere. I can’t remember how long he’s been playing, I don’t remember when he started. All I know is that it’s playing now and I don’t want him to stop. I was once at home, with mother. And I remember she was a beautiful pianist. This has to be my biggest regret; not learning how to play piano. Not learning how to read music. I think it could’ve been a major part of my life.

No I think it should’ve been.

Actually, I think it was.

*  *  *

October, 27th, 1958

Radio Reporter: Thanks. It’s really great to have you here today.

Robert:  No, my pleasure. It’s great to be here.

Radio Reporter: Right. So, you’re a family man, I see. You have a lovely wife, Judith and a beautiful daughter, Linda. How do you balance family life, between that and your high-flying career?

Robert: Well, it’s… it’s actually a good question. You see, I have to spend a lot of time with the boys…

Radio Reporter: Ah, for all the audience out there who aren’t too clear, I’m speaking with Robert Walliams, violinist in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He inherited his talents from the great Timothy Walliams, conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Robert now travels with the Orchestra to all corners of the world and let’s face it, he lives for his violin. Is there any other instrument you respect?

Robert: Well, as part of the orchestra, of course there are, I mean, each and every piece is integral to the overall symphony. I’m a strings man, myself but my wife, she’s a piano lady. I love watching her fingers caress the keys, but only when she plays it. I dunno… there’s just something about her tempo. It can even get little Linda to sleep.

Radio Reporter: Yes, Linda! Tell us a little bit about Linda. I know there’s a bit of a story there.

Robert: Well, Judith and I, we’d been trying for years to have a child… but, in the end, the only other possibility was adoption and now we’re blessed with Linda, our girl.

Radio Reporter: But… she’s not entirely part of the family, is she?

Robert: Now that she’s grown up, no. Well, yes, but no. Um, she is every bit a Walliam as I am, but, she just… doesn’t really have a knack for music, you know what I mean? I mean, I play the violin for her and my father tried to teach her the notes and all, but she’s a lost case indeed, it’s just not in her genes. In terms of music, the only thing she really responds to is Judith’s piano… that French piece by Yann Tiersen. Not bad, that one. If she likes that piece by Tiersen, then she has good taste, I’ll give her that. Elegance too… must have something to do with the foster home she came from…

Radio Reporter: By the sounds of it, at least she’s responding to classical music…

Robert: Oh, I know! None of this Rock ‘n’ Roll happening these days. Ravel’s my man and I’m sure classical music will have a resonating effect on our Linda. But it’s like music is just a foreign language to her.

Radio Reporter: Well, thank you for coming on the show, we appreciate you giving up your time for us and to our listeners out there, we’ll be back shortly after this newsreel.