Hazel to Sarah Heffernan on July 16, 1993

The sixth of a batch of eleven letters taken from Hazel's laptop.

2189 Sharon Road
Menlo Park
California 94025

16 July 1993

Dear Sarah and Don,

Thank you for your long and newsy letter which finally caught up with us some time in the New Year now the halfway through year. I am not sure how much intelligible information I was able to cram into my last Christmas card to you but in essence we have been in the USA since October last year and will be returning to Australia in about a monthıs time. Rob organised a sabbatical at Stanford University which is just south of San Francisco and I was able to get 12 months' leave from work. It has been a thoroughly relaxing and self-indulgent year and we are wondering, or should I say, I am wondering how I will ever become a useful member of society again or more pressingly (as self-indulgence is well catered for here but expensive) useful member of the workforce again.

It was interesting to hear about your developments at work. By now you will have been running the hospital office for 6 months and I wonder how you find it. I do a lot of personal injury work and I'm glad I don't have to handle family law cases. The solicitors I know who have done so all seeem to end up getting silent numbers for their home phones as a result of angry and potentially violent clients. It's good to hear that Don has been doing more sculpture and carpentry. Since your letter, things seem to have picked up a bit in the UK although I see that the EEC saw fit to criticise as optimistic the UK government's forecast of deficit reduction. USA cable TV has a channel on which you can get the BBC World Service. There is of course no picture, so they play advertisements for adult movies while the news is being broadcast. It took me a while to get used to listening to the latest shenanigans in the House of Commons -- while reading that "Bare Babette in Bermuda" could be seen on another channel. The press seems to be full of Lord "Runcible's" Crime Commission Report. They seem to consider it a lost opportunity to restore faith in the criminal justice system.

Since we've been here, we've seen how the royal family sells as many rags and programs as it does in the UK and Australia. When my aunt and mother came for Christmas, their opinions on the subject of the royal family were in great demand and they were only too happy to oblige. They sat and soaked up the Californian sun and held forth on the foibles of the royal family. They had a great time. One reason for listening to the BBC is to get news of Australia. The Labor Party got back in to power this year against all predictions including their own -- there was 11% unemployment -- but the conservatives' promises included a tax on goods and services which, from Labor's point of view was a kind thing to do and kept them in power. So Australia is in a bad way too.

It was fascinating being here during the Presidential campaign. There was a very strong feeling of optimism when Clinton was elected which has eroded somewhat as promises have been watered down in the name of populism or as a result of interest group pressure. The major concerns here are social cohesion (there is in effect an economic apartheid which means that society is polarised along racial lines) and health care. I live in an affluent suburb of highly educated whites -- the only blacks I see are behind counters -- post offices, motor vehicle department, etc. and my black aerobics instructor. This beautiful, graceful black woman struts her stuff on stage to pounding music while a room full of us white flabby women try to copy her. It's probably a blessing that I can't keep up, otherwise I'd have a heart attack. Health care here is normally covered by insurance paid for by the employer which means that if you lose your job you lose your health cover and if you're unemployed you have no cover. So people will take a job just to get the health cover. The gun lobby too is a depressing part of America and so is the agonising difficulty of getting a President's budget or other legislative measure through Congress given the freedom from party discipline and separation of powers.

On the other hand there is so much going on here, so many people and so much variety. California is beautiful and I haven't seen as much as I'd like. We have visited Yosemite, other Californian national parks and resorts. We also drove across Arizona (with those strange cactus you see in westerns), stopped overnight at the Grand Canyon (and slid down dangerously steep paths covered in ice and snow) and spent a couple of weeks at a beautiful place called Santa Fe in New Mexico. Santa Fe is a collection of small adobe homes and churches nestling 7000 feet up encircled by snow-capped peaks with a relaxed community of Indians, Hispanics and Anglos and at the time we were there the sun shone brilliantly between gentle snow falls. It's an artistic community, quiet, peaceful but friendly and we really enjoyed it. My sister Pat (who lives in Hove) is coming for three weeks in a few days' time and we hope to explore the area north of San Francisco more fully with her. We have been lent a 1960s BMW by a car collector friend of Rob's which has done us great service since we've been here. However many visitors we have at any one time we have managed to cram into it.

I hope that Don's daughter is doing well in her pregnancy. By the way, our daughter Zoë arrived on Christmas Day 1990. I opened my presents, had a baby followed by Christmas lunch. There was a general air of abandon and the doctor arrived wearing a party hat. I agree that 23 seems very young. Mind you, doing it as late as I did is probably not the best either. Your trip to Provence sounds great bar the terrifying flood and I'm glad that your mother is doing well -- please remember me to her. My mother has done a rather nice health flip from thyroid problems to depression to a remarkably buoyant, positive and active frame of mind which she has had now for about a year. She says she's beginning to feel her old self again -- it's a refreshing development at the age of 77. She is helped by the fact that she lives practically next door to her sister who is 81. They have common interests as well as interests in common -- cards and booze. Rob's mother on the other hand is deteriorating rapidly -- she has dementia, probably Alzheimer's. It has taken a few years to go from a vague but witty personality, to list making, to continual forgetfulness, to slight paranoia, to confusion. I'm glad we'll be seeing her soon. Sorry to hear about Don's mother -- has Don's father reacted badly to the death? Is your brother managing a hotel near Birmingham? How was your visit to Devon?

I can't remember seeing any references to Creutzfeldt Jakob disease in the press, although I do remember Rob and I both read an article about its pathology in a journal. I don't recall any reference to litigation which I think I would have been doubly sensitive to on your behalf. I miss a lot of the press though and Rob is a better guide -- he can't recall anything either. We will make some inquiries when we get back. Assuming the suits were against the hospitals, they would have been defended by the relevant State Crown Solicitor's offices or the Federal office, depending on where the treatment occurred. I work for the Federal office. I can well understand that you are still coming to terms with Saul's death and the truth about it and I'm really glad that you've been getting out more.

Your letter ended with a very typical English winter's scene of fire and blind cat and memory of dead cat so I should tell you that I'm sitting in front of my laptop computer next to the patio which is next to the swimming pool and both are bathed in brilliant sunshine in typical Californian style. It would be great to be able to dip in and out of both scenes at will. Better close and do some serious mothering. Hope you are both keeping well -- write and let us know.

Last Updated 10 December 2000