Home is the Sailor and The Best of Intentions
"'Life in the Blue Mountains is neither city nor country, though country tempo prevails. In this strange world, part-wilderness, part-resort, nature is not yet driven out, there are birds trees, pure air and clear light but man has not beautified his surroundings or worked the stony soil.'
"Set in a Mountain village and written with affectionate warmth and humour, these two novelss illustrate the vulnerability of the elderly and the difficulties facing those who feel responsible for them.
"The eccentric old Commander in 'Home is the Sailor' is happily independent in his own home, inventing bizarre ways of coping with domestic problems, until his daughters' misguided intervention results in calamity.
"In 'The Best of Intentions' the loneliness of Mary Crow's past life is intensified by a fading memory and anxiety about the future. When her gradual decline is accelerated by misfortune, medical ethics become the unwitting agent of prolonging her ordeal.
"What are the choices in old age? To risk independence and a continuation of the self-determination available in the prime of life; or to accept infirmity and hand over personal rights to thse who can provide the safest, most comfortable, if barren care?
"Nancy Phelan portrays the options with deep concern and compassion, yet with ironic humour. There can be few among us who will not be touched in our conscience by these moving stories, which show a rare ability to write from the point of view of the aged rather than the well-wisher. The background of the novellas, the Blue Mountains of New South Wales is vividly conveyed."
At the anchorage, Sinbad, the yellow cat, had gone when the Commander woke. Getting out of bed the old man inhaled, exhaled, slapped his chest, rubbed his ribs, took a deep cleansing breath and flung himself forward from the waist, expelling the air in short blasts. He loosened up spine and shoulders with circular movements, stretched arms above head, bent and touched toes several times. After knee and ankle joints had been exercised and arms swung like windmills he ran on the spot for a minute or two, then calmed downed with a few slow breaths.
Barefoot, in flannel pyjamas, he made his way to the kitchen and lit the gas under the saucepan upon the stove. While the water came to the boil he uncovered the corned beef sandwiches made before bed and left between two plates. He stirred the rolled oats that had been soaking all night, threw a half-cupful of tea into the boiling water, added milk, turned the gas down to a simmer and set the porridge upon another jet.
As he worked he thought grimly about his daughters. Margot and Angela! Incapable of understanding! If they had their way they would stop all this and shove in a housekeeper to make his life hell.
From the Hyland House hardback edition, 1987.
The novella, Home is the Sailor was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 1987.
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Last modified: December 8, 2004.