Finding Inspiration

 

Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle

Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle

I’ve recently moved to Newcastle from Sydney and I’m really enjoying the new environment. Apart from the beautiful beaches and the relaxed lifestyle, there are new stories to discover and explore. (And let’s not forget the ‘cyclone’ and then spending a week without power.)

Sometimes I seek the stories out, walking along beaches and streets, sitting having a morning coffee and listening to conversations and, of course, meeting new people. But occasionally, inspiration finds me.

The dark-bricked Christ Church Cathedral sits atop a ridge in the Newcastle suburb, The Hill. It is a commanding presence, demanding obedient acknowledgement. From the King Street entrance, the Cathedral looms above, beautiful Moreton Bay Figs casting much-needed shade over a staircase winding through the park grounds to the Cathedral. The first flight of stairs isn’t out of the ordinary, grey cement, low risers and a steel handrail leading up the lower slope. But the second flight of stairs changes, they become more than just an access way up a particularly steep pathway.

The  names

The names

On each of the risers the names of three people are engraved, detailing the age, any known relatives, the profession or place in society and the date of death. Each step is a memorial to three of the two hundred and fifty-eight people, the men, women, children and babies who had died and were buried in the churchyard. this is all that remains of their stories; their graves and gravestones long-fallen into such a sad state of disrepair, that they could not be salvaged.

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For some, there is little more to say, an infant who struggled for eleven hours before dying, leaving nothing but the grief of parents. But others hint at more sinister deaths and circumstances; ‘murdered by natives’, how? and why? I immediately wonder. Or the tragedy of three young siblings killed in a bushfire. There are many drownings in the harbour and off the beaches, recalling a time when even professional seamen couldn’t swim. And what of their families back in England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales? Did they ever learn that their loved one was buried in Newcastle soil, above rich coal seams?

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Behind these briefest and barest of summaries of two hundred and fifty-eight lives there are stories, ideas for stories, stories that could be updated, given a contemporary context, stories that could be used for a story’s starting point or woven into an existing story. Perhaps they may even form the basis of a blog post. A reminder that inspiration is all around us and sometimes we only need to take a different path, turn left and climb a set of stairs to be reminded.

All that remains of the graveyard today - some headstones are so worn they are no longer legible.

All that remains of the graveyard today – some headstones are so worn they are no longer legible.

As I reached the top of the hill, walking passed the remains of the graveyard, incongruously positioned next to a very unattractive carpark beyond the cyclone-wire fencing, I turned back and took in the view. Two hundred and fifty-eight names bearing witness to the busy lives of contemporary Newcastle, the harbour and Stockton beyond, the industrial landscape of the busy port and all the stories waiting to be told.

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The Beauty of a True Masterchef

For all of you missing Masterchef, a little teaser, an ‘amuse bouche’. This is only a short film, but it shows Peter Gilmore creating  & talking about a dish inspired by snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef. Gilmore is owner and chef of Quay, Australia’s top restaurant and voted in the world’s top 50 restaurants last year.

I was really taken with the use of the tweezers, the surgical precision used to create something of such temporary beauty and pleasure.

I celebrated my wedding anniversary here a couple of years ago and enjoyed a gorgeous lunch on a sparkling Sydney Spring day, overlooking the Opera House and Circular Quay .I still remember the warm, friendly service and the small details that created dishes that were delightful to look at as they were tenderly placed in front of us onto the crisp linen table clothes and the melt in your mouth, exquisiteness of the delicate flavours. A perfect lunch.

It comes courtesy of nowness.com, one of my favourite websites for art, fashion and the fusion of beauty and ideas.

Enjoy.

A Simple Pleasure

A rain-dampened frangipani

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.

The sunset view

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.

Summertime and the living is Festive

Nielsen Park

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.

Me - entangled

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!

Interior of the Spiegeltent

Gubba - an Indigenous mythical bush creature

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.

Gypsy Music

More Gypsy music

Getting ready to Swing at the Trocadero

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.

Happy Hanoi Christmas

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…..

My hotel lobby

 

Frosty and friends

I hear those sleigh bells jingling

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

Walking in a Christmas Wonderland

When Buddhism meets Christmas

Lanterns in Christmas decoration Street

….Hanoi style.

Early mornings in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake

It’s cool and misty here in Sydney this morning,  much like my first morning in Hanoi, Vietnam.

outside the Temple of Literature (1076)

Hanoi is an incredibly bustling, in your face kind of city. The apartment buildings are narrow and tall, not so much neighbouring one another, almost on top of each other. Daily life is accompanied by the constant tooting of motorbike and taxi horns.  Road rules are followed with a level of flexibility that you don’t see in regulated, orderly Sydney and yet it all works. You step off the pavement and move into the flow as bikes, taxis and cars move around you, occasionally you feel the breath of a passing motorbike as whizzes it passes you. Closely.

You're never too old...

 

... For some pom-pom dancing ...

 

... by the Lake

But the early mornings are far quieter. For a visitor, walking around Hanoi in the early morning (I left my hotel at about 6ish), it gives you the chance to see  the residents  of Hanoi moving at a different pace. Breakfasts are cooked on the pavements, food is bought from the back of bicycles and plastic tubs in the gutter, stalls are set up and  exercise is taken around the Hoan Kiem Lake.

An early morning chat

The morning after bench

These were my favourite times in Hanoi.  A time when I felt that I was witnessing Vietnamese life as it is lived, not just experienced as a tourist destination.

Fan dancing Hanoi style

 

The Latin class

 

Ballroom by the lake

 

Back towards the Old Quarter

Waiting

Back from the flower market

Making the morning teaThe Old Quarter

 

Breakfast in The Old Quarter

Early Morning TV

Cleaning out the chooks

The Old Quarter

Bargaining Fish