I was so excited to be invited to contribute to this project and all will be revealed soon…
There are some pleasures so simple, so quiet that it’s easy to ignore them as a moment of beauty in one’s life. But over this very wet summer I have been deprived of one of these pleasures on a very regular basis.
Early in the morning, when the dew still glistens on the grass and the droplets hang on back-lit spider webs like decorations on Miss Haversham’s wedding table, I take my cup of tea into my garden and wander. It’s a small inner city garden so this is not a lengthy exercise, but it is a time of quiet solitude. My gaze wanders across the blush-tinged frangipani, herbs, the potted citrus trees, the blood-red roses,whilst trying to ignore the hot pink trampoline that has recently taken up residence.
Some mornings, my cat stretches lazily and pads around next to me, as I de-aphid the roses, try to find the caterpillars munching happily and hungrily through my lemon tree’s leaves and pick some frangipani blooms to float in a bowl. But mostly it’s just me, my cup of tea and my roaming thoughts.
But this summer of record rainfalls, I have retreated to my study that overlooks the back garden. The grass is lush and way past its mowing use by date, the herbs are also enjoying the rain, but the blush-pink frangipani are brown-bruised and the roses covered in black spot. And my roaming thoughts are contained, restrained and more often than not, accompanied by my not very quiet 5 year old.
I’ve tried a change of venue, taking my morning tea to my front balcony and gazing across the harbour, watching the morning rowers, unfazed by the rain, the ferries and the rippling of the water as the rain disturbs its surface. And it’s beautiful, no doubt about it, but it’s not the same as being in my small plot of nature, touching, nurturing and thinking.
I’m not one for bush walking, camping or other more earthy displays of communing with nature. But even my urban soul yearns for the calming influence of nature on balmy Sydney mornings that isn’t met by a morning walk or a harbour view. Nor is it a particularly beautiful or exotic garden, but it is quiet and peaceful in the early morning and allows me to think freely in a way I don’t do elsewhere.
So, I’m longing for La Nina to pass. For the weather to return to the drier and fresher air of a Sydney Autumn so I can resume my simple morning pleasure.
The last day of the coolest, wettest summer Sydney has experienced in many years looked a little like this.
As Sydney’s gloomy, damp January drew to a close, my youngest daughter’s first day at school approached. Her excitement had been building over the last few months, with endless questions about ‘big school’. But as the day loomed ever closer, her excitement morphed into nervousness.
She had eased in her ‘super fast trainers’ and her black Mary-Janes and proudly worn her uniform at every opportunity, including to my uncle’s 75th Birthday tea. Lunches had been packed into her lunchbox and declared even yummier for being eaten from the hot-pink, insulated lunch pack.
I watched my youngest child excitedly preparing for school with a mixture of pride and sadness. I was proud that she was embracing such a huge change with confidence and eager anticipation, but I couldn’t deny the sadness I felt. This would be my last first day of school. An end of an era. And more than that, I knew that once she started school I would lose not just the time spent with her, but the innocence of a pre-schooler.
On her first morning she marched confidently through the school gates and rounded the corner into the playground and froze. The playground was buzzing with first day excitement and energy. Friends calling to each other after the long summer break, boys snaking between groups of adults and chattering girls as they chased runaway tennis balls from their handball games. Like a champagne bottle shaken before opening, it was an explosion of noise and energy spraying out in all directions. And dotted amongst this overflowing spray were little bubbles, like my daughter, suspended in overawed stillness.
It wasn’t just the cameras that gave away the kindergarten parents, they also shared the startled looks, the badly disguised anxiousness, the searching for a familiar face of the children. But unlike their children, they hadn’t participated in a school readiness programme at pre-school. On their first day, they haven’t yet realised just how profound the change is, the adjustments that they will have to make and the letting go they will have to do. Most still think they are able to protect their child from the rough and tumble of the outside world and don’t know that very soon they will no longer be the most important, all-knowing figure in their child’s life. That role will be assumed by their teacher and, as the years progress, their peers.
The transition into school life is tricky, rarely smooth and hassle-free.Friendships will form and fracture, schoolwork, homework and the balance of extra-curricular activities all have to be juggled. It is an important preparation for the years to come when as a parent, you will experience and need to negotiate periods of loss, change and the developing independence of your children.
On my daughter’s first morning, the school bell quickly rang and the morning assembly was held in a playground shaded by gum trees and frangipani. Without any ceremony, our little ones were whisked away by their teacher. Little faces looking back over shoulders for the reassurance of their parents. And I headed home with a sense of emptiness, on my last first day.
Most people wouldn’t think of writing as a physical activity. It’s a solitary, sedentary activity accompanied by the tapping of keys or the scratch of pen across paper. A strenuous brain activity, a mental exertion. Although, those who don’t write assume that it’s not hard for those of us who do write, a natural talent that comes, well, naturally. If only that were true. And if only my back didn’t tell me that my bouts of writing are also a physical exertion that takes it toll.
There are periods of time (sometimes as long as a month) when my back doesn’t bother me at all. Usually this is a good indicator of the amount of writing I’m doing – not much. And then there are times when my back and neck ache, tighten, send pins and needles down into my wrists and leave with me headaches which a dose of codeine and a sleeping tablet are the only cure.
I walk, stretch, use heat packs and have a close relationship with my osteopath. I do yoga and ballet all to help my back and neck from totally seizing up, but the best thing I could do to relieve the pressure and strain on my spine is to stop writing. But that just isn’t going to happen.
Last weekend I had a massage, something I’ve looked on as a bit of luxury, time-wise and budget-wise. Before I completely spaced out, as the hot stones were placed along my backbone and the aroma of goanna ointment filled my head, I realised two things. Firstly, the mental space, the dream-like world you enter in such a nurturing environment, frees your creative thoughts and it’s amazing how many tricky problems can be resolved in quite unexpected ways. Secondly, that having the tender, tight muscles along my back, across my shoulders and into my neck so soothed by the massage is so beneficial, it should be deemed an occupational workplace safety feature, like Blundstone boots on a film set.
So, just as I try to regularly nourish my creativity, I am now going to have regular massages for my writer’s back. I’m not going to consider it a luxury, but a necessity for the longevity of my writing career and the communal sanity of those near and dear to me. I have too much writing and rewriting to do to be blocked by my writer’s back.
After the coolest and wettest December in 51 years, summer has finally arrived in Sydney. Long,hot, still days that build to a hot blustery southerly buster. Days of lying on the beach, sticky peach juice running down a sweaty wrist, mingling with coconutty sunblock and the audio wallpaper of cicadas chirrupping and cricket commentators chatting over the 5 day long test games.
It’s also the time of year when many families head off their annual holiday, taking the roads leading to the north and south of Sydney for quieter coastal retreats. But I love Sydney in the summer. Lounging on Nielsen Park, building sandcastles, floating in the safely shark-netted water and sipping a cappuccino. Watching the bats fly over the twilight sky over the moonlight cinema screen, catching ferries on the sparkling Sydney Harbour and just generally enjoying the laid back, relaxed summer ambience that infuses my city.
And of course there is the Sydney Festival. The annual arts programme of theatre, performance, music and art. over the next three weeks, you can sample cabaret in the intimate and art nouveau styled Spiegeltent; symphony and opera in a large open air picnic atmosphere (cost – free); take in the works of Picasso at the Art Gallery of NSW; listen to Holly Throsby children’s songs or maybe PJ Harvey is more your thing. If you can’t find something to enjoy at the Sydney Festival, you’re just not trying!
My festival kicked off on Saturday at the Festival First Night (in our case afternoon) at the free family day in the Sydney’s Hyde Park. We became entangled in a sculpture installation with Polyglot Children’s Theatre and listened to a band of gypsy musicians rehearsing at a bus stop and wandered around corner to just in time to watch a big band in rehearsal with a group of swing dancers. Our afternoon rounded off with stories from Indigenous folklore and lazing on a lawn to mellow music that perfectly captured the essence of a late summer afternoon.
Over the next few weeks I will be refilling my depleted creative well by attending several performances. It’s an inspiring start to a new year. My days will be filled with sun, sand and sunblock and my evenings with dance, music and theatre. It doesn’t get much better.
The last thing I remember clearly was singing, ‘Clang, clang goes the clanger’. Loudly.The way you do in the car. I was uncomfortable, tired, yawning, shifting away from the glare. Or had I already put my sunglasses on and relaxed? My daughter, sitting in her car seat in the back, was annoyed that I’d stopped mid-way through our third rendition of the 12 days of Christmas to sing along with Judy Garland. But was it then? Or was it earlier?
And then saw my own face, an airbag exploding, a crunch, a violent shuddering. the instant realisation that I had crossed the median strip of a major arterial road into oncoming traffic.
Somehow I got my car back onto the right side of the road and stopped it. Or maybe it stopped itself. I sat slowly registering the smoke wisping in tendrils from under the bonnet, the acrid smell of burnt rubber, the car bonnet smashed and the airbag.I thought about the smoke. That’s not good. I should get out. I should get my daughter out. But I couldn’t move. I was trapped in a parallel universe of shock and trauma so profound that my fight or flight reflex couldn’t cut through the atmosphere.
I looked at my daughter, stunned, silenced but unharmed. Someone was sitting with her, checking her fingers. Someone was holding my hand through the window, the door jammed shut by the impact. She kept me asking me if I was okay, but I had no words.
A policeman appeared asking me if I was okay, could I get out of the car? Everyone in the other cars were unhurt, he reassured me. I stared at him blankly, wondering what he was talking about. I’d crashed. But had I gone into other cars? Well, obviously. The grasp on reality was painfully gradual. The guilt, the terror of what could have been, however, flooded my consciousness.
It was the 22nd December, 2011, 245pm, a busy time of day at a very busy time of year. Today is the 6th January, 2012, Epiphany. The day the Three Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. For me, Epiphany will always be the 22nd December, the day my daughter and I escaped death or serious injury by a matter of inches. Some fluke or random alignment of the stars. The safety belt and airbag, the quick reaction of another driver I never saw.
I have thought about my legacy. What would I have left behind if I had been killed? Too many projects not fully finished. I have realised the fragility of life, how easy it is to become a statistic in the holiday road toll. I understand that bad things happen, not just to other people, they can and do happen to me. It has left me spooked. Not yet ready to ‘seize the day’ and ‘live life to the fullest’. I have not made my normal hopeful list of New Year’s resolutions. I’m just very grateful to be alive. But when I say good-bye to family and friends now, there is a new intensity to the hugs I give. My youngest daughter, still sometimes anxious and clingy, is the recipient of cuddles that could crush.
The formalities are over. Dealt with a speed and expediency by the both the police and insurance company, which has been a relief-giving surprise. The car is a right off. Now my psyche needs to heal, not such a speedy process.
So, six days into this new leap year, I wish you all a year of love, fulfillment and good health. And some advice, if you are yawning when you are driving, pull over. Nothing is so important that you can’t be a few minutes late.
It’s Christmas Eve. The Turkey’s stuffed & cooked, the salads prepared, the ice cream made and the carols sung. So, I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
My wish is that you all spend Christmas with the people you love and cherish sharing such a happy family day.
Thank-you all for reading my posts over the last few months and for all your fantastic comments.
Many years ago (about 18, give or take one or two), I decided to let my daughters choose a Christmas Tree decoration each. They were almost overawed by the gorgeousness of all the baubles in the London department store. The jewel colours glinting in the downlights, the angels, santas, reindeer and elves – how to choose. That Christmas my eldest daughter chose a beautiful, but unfortunately very fragile (smash) glass church and my then youngest daughter chose an equally beautiful and fragile, but far more durable penguin.
Every year since then, we have all chosen a tree decoration and now my youngest is joining in the tradition. Even though my eldest daughters are 24 and 22, they still love the Christmas decoration tradition and over the years we have amassed an amazing and eclectic range of decorations. It is the most uncoordinated tree, lacking any theme or colour -styling, except of course, for the tradition of a family Christmas.
Each Christmas the boxes of decorations come up from the cellar and the unwrapping of crinkly tissue paper is the opening of memories. Remembering where and when the ornament was bought, laughing at a 6 year-old’s love of a huge red heart with gold braid trim. Reminiscing about the ones that haven’t lasted the distance.
Adding to the shop-bought ornaments are the ones my daughters have made, including an ancient Nativity Scene made from loo rolls and felt, paper chains and tinsellsed angels.
For me, this is Christmas, the drawing together of family, the sharing of memories and love.
There were many things I expected to see in Hanoi, but Christmas decorations weren’t up there on the top of my list. Let alone an entire street dedicated to Christmas decorations in The Old Quarter. And I only found this gem of a street because I was after silk lanterns to bring home.
And so this is Christmas…..