Hairy House

Hairy House

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Not sure it was such a great idea to come here...

Oh dear, my feelings are as mixed as a tin of Quality Streets.
When we got here I was surprised, even disappointed, to find how alien I felt in England. But in the last few days, things have been changing. As I said in my last post, the town centre notwithstanding, Hemel Hempstead has it's moments of real beauty and its a beauty that seems to speak to me. When we first went to Australia, someone told me that what she really missed about England was the sense of history, and I remember thinking that I, brought up in the modern city of Riyadh, would not notice it. but it turns out that, in the ten years I spent in England, plus, I suppose, the holidays we had there before that, the country and its history obviously got under my skin more than I thought. Now I am revelling in being here; old brick walls bearded with dank smelling moss, lopsided buildings with bumpy, ancient slate roofs are beautiful to me.  My cousin told me a wonderful story the other day - she used to own a house on St John's road in Boxmoor, a part of Hemel, and found that, with the house, as with many of the houses along that road, she had also gained grazing rights to the moors - stretches of green marshy land adjoining the Grand Union Canal. Though she considered taking the family tortoise down to the moors, she chose instead to sell the rights, for a princely sum of £2 a year, to a woman who wished to graze her horses there.  I'm guessing that that arrangement comes from a very long time ago, possibly since before Australia was first colonised...And this in a town which is famous for nothing more than its magic roundabout and the hideous Kodak high rise.
We have left Hemel now and are staying with my parents in law, in their house in Naphill. It is a beautiful old farmhouse with a converted barn, a mish mash of oddly shaped rooms, low beamed ceilings that lower themselves at your head when you stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night, stone flagged floors. This morning we went for a walk to a pub 3 miles away, down winding, muddy roads, where the cold air was full of the scent of manure and leaf mould and the bleating of sheep, past thatched cottages, crooked houses with walled gardens, and all under a grey sky shredded with clouds and full of cawing rooks and the Red Kites which are apparently making something of a nuisance of themselves in the area, but are beautiful to us. And all the way, the thoughts were churning away: did we do the right thing by leaving this country? Should we have stuck it out, and stayed here? Should we make the move again and come back - leave the sun and our house which now seems like a mansion compared to the houses here, leave our animals and the blue sky and all our friends? Leave my students and my ladies choir and all the orchestras and people I play with? Because, you see more than anything, more than any beautiful old buildings or soft green grass, more even than the joys of being able to eat real Cadburys chocolate, has been the joy of being reunited with my sisters, seeing them nearly every day, seeing the kids playing with their cousins and laughing with their aunts and uncles. I just have to remind myself that this is, after all, the Christmas holidays.
And if we lived here, we would not be able to afford a thatched cottage with a walled garden - it would more likely be a tiny terraced house in Watford and we would only see the sisters on the occasional weekend. So, feet down to earth please...

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Oh to be in England...

"Welcome to London. The outside temperature is 7 degrees Celsius and there is heavy rain. Showers are forecast for the rest of the day." This after 13 hours on one of the most uncomfortable flights I've ever been on. won't bore on too much about it; suffice to say that, after years of flying Singapore Airlines and Cathay pacific, we had got used to the idea of being treated as valued customers and being served real food, so flying with BA was a bit like going back in time.
Exhausted and cold, it was a bit of a shock to arrive in England and feel like a foreigner in a strange land - I was surprised to find that I didn't feel even slightly as though I were coming home. However, a couple of drunken evenings with sisters later, having walked the woods with nieces and nephew and dogs, am truly glad to be here. Still to see my grandparents, cousins and parents - the latter are in France - but is wonderful to see four of my sisters and we have missed my older, American sister, sooooo much. I think the kids are slightly in shock to discover that their aunts are as weird as their Mother, but they are lapping it all up, being in the bosom of family again.
Yesterday we went shopping in the town centre  - Hemel Hempstead. Now, this is one strange town, I can tell you. Having been brought up as a part time resident of Hemel, I think I can say with some confidence that Hemel people are always slightly ashamed of their home - of being Hemelites. It is thought of as a "new" town, as, following the blitz, it sprang a growth of hideous, fungaloid council houses for those who had been rendered homeless. When we were kids it was a fairly middle classish area - the town centre was built round  a road called The Marlows, and consisted of all the standard shops. - M&S, WH Smiths, Woolworths, Boots, Sainsburys. Then at some point it became pedestrianised and the heart seemed to gout of it. Large Tescos and Sainsburys were built outside town and, in spite of the building of a "mall" the place never really recovered. Nowadays it is one of the most depressing places I have ever seen. 1 pound shops, 99p shops, discount shops, Presents for Less shops, Crap-from-China market stalls abound and even attempts to liven the place up with slightly more classy shops at one end have done little to dispel the feeling of despair and abandonment. (Or possibly this was just a reflection of my feelings when I discovered that there was no longer a Thornton's Chocolate shop.)
The trouble is that I know that there is so much more to Hemel than meets the eye - so much more to Hemel than most people are aware of.
Back in the dim and distant mists of my youth, m y sister Bernadette and I, along with our good friend Jenny, decided that we would work for our Girl Guides Local history and heritage badges. After all, there couldn't be much to learn, we reasoned, we'll be able to get our badges really quickly. In the end, we spent the entire summer trawling Hemel, interviewing numerous people, visiting numerous sights, drawing, photographing, delving into fascinating stories. By the end of the summer, we filled a room with essays and pictures with all our discoveries. Our "tester" was flabbergasted, asked to borrow our work to show to her local history society and we never saw it again. However, we didn't forget it all.
For instance, I can still tell you that Hemel Hempstead appeared in the Domesday book several hundred years ago, as Hilly Homestead, though it was first settled by the Romans - the local train station is built right on top of the remains of a Roman Villa which has never, for obvious reasons, been excavated. Three small cottages outside the town contain the oldest murals painted in Britain - depicting the martyrdom of St Catherine (she of the Wheel) by the Romans, which is thought to have been painted at the time of her death. A small and unremarkable private school - Lockers Park - not far from my parents house, was once owned by a relation of Anne Boleyn and it was here that she was courted by Henry the 8th. St Mary's Church, a small but beautiful little church not far from the Marlowes, dates back to the Crusades and bears a mark scratched into one of the columns by young men off to fight in the Holy Land, in the hope that it would ensure their return. Just opposite said train station, is the grave of the last Highway man to be hung at the scene of his crime and it is said that if you run round his grave 100 times, he will come out to scare you away, though I can tell you, from experience, that this is not true. All throughout the town are scattered little historic gems, beautiful timbered pubs, ancient houses with walled gardens, tiny cobbled streets.
But walk down the Marlowes, which has wound its way through the town for hundreds of years; see the discount shops, the market stalls with their polyester jumpers and strings of plastic leopard print phone covers swinging from their ceilings; inhale the smell of cigarette smoke and petrol fumes, and it can be depressingly hard to remember Hemel's fascinating and curious past.
But at least the world didn't end yesterday.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Off we go!

For several weeks now I've been hanging out for this flight to England, imagining myself getting on the plane and lying back for 8 hours to Singapore and then a further twelve hours to London. just goes to show that one should check one's itinerary.
one hour to Sydney and now a couple of hours in the airport, now one of mummify disliked airports in the world, before we can get on our next flight which will take us to Hong Kong where we will be landing at 2 amish and then waiting around for a couple of hours - not long enough to do anything.
Sydney airport. the first bit was great. We had to get a bus from the domestic terminal to the International, which took us right across the various tarmacs - a strange world where one is immediately diminished by the huge beasts of the air around you. A journey that stirred up so many different emotions; excitement, sadness, anxiety, excitement again. Airports have literally been the cross roads of my life so many times over the years, taking me away from Africa, away from Saudi Arabia, away from England, taking me to new countries to new places and discoveries and homes. Oh to be able to jump onto any plane and go anywhere. (Though of course I would choose England and my family.) But if only we didn't have to come home again - not that I wont miss Brisbane, wont miss Guinness and the cats and the chickens and all our friends, of course I will. but there is so much of the world out there, lying undiscovererd....)
If I had had my wits about me, (or if, in fact, I had looked more closely at our itinerary) we would have packed a lunch to take, to eat in Sydney, but of course,over the last few days I have been making sure that we ate all our remaining food or passed it on to our lucky neighbours ("Gee Thanks Lucy, lovely rotten bananas"). So it was straight to the food court in Sydney airport where we opted for our last Australian pies - the most expensive pies in the world.
Then it was into the rat maze - cordoned off queues that snake up and down, up and down with hundreds of people all shuffling, dopey eyed, up and down for what seems like years. Trust me, this is not a nice place to be stuck with a grumpy teenager, though to be honest, I was quite surprised to find that he was still a teenager by the time we got through it all. You keep zig zagging past the same people - you going one way, they going the other - and after a while, you start to smile foolishly at each other, then to exchange pleasantries and eventually, to pass on news about your families and children, grandchildren, great grandchildren etc. Then you eventually get to passport control before joining another shambling rat maze so that you can go through security - this though you have already been through security at Brisbane airport. Then at last you are set free into the woefully seat limited duty free area, where four members of your family disappear into the toilets and only three come out again. At this point, you go running frantically around the shops - book shop first, since this was Lydia - visions of white slave traders dancing in your head, before bursting into tears at a lovely lady in a jewellery shop. She directs you to Information who are just about to call security, when your husband runs up to say that the prodigal daughter is found. Whereupon Information gives you a $10 voucher for Cadbury's chocolate. Now only an hour or so before the flight to HK, goody goody.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Just stuff about Music I suppose

So, I have taught my last pupil, and played my last three performances of the year this weekend!!!!!! Am now officially on holiday!!!!!!!!!!!

My first performance this weekend was with my children's choir at a nursing home. The children all turned up looking beautiful and Christmassy – except for my two who had just been for a sleepover and looked crumpled and hungover, oh what a proud parent I am – and we took the lift up to the sitting room where we were to perform. It was a large, bright room with comfortable chairs arranged in a semi circle in front of the television and, though a few of the chairs were occupied, you could have heard a pin drop. Five or six women were sitting, hands folded in their laps, gazing silently at us as we set up, heads nodding forward, eyes rheumy and bored. But, as usual, the kids stood beautifully and, heads up, sang their best. We sang a few folk songs from around the world, before launching into some Christmas music, by which time the audience had grown to about fifteen and it only took Silent Night to get them all singing with much gusto. Unfortunately, half the kids were on a tight schedule and they were all exhausted, so I had to bring the performance to an early close. By the time we left, the sitting room was crowded with old people all singing their heads off. But, to quote Bill Bryson – Here's the Thing. The nursing home, though clean and beautifully presented and obviously not too short of a bob or two, does not own a piano - and I want to know why not? When I get back from England, it will be my first priority to find out how many of these places don't own pianos and see if we can somehow remedy that. And my second priority will be to organise some groups to go round some of these places on a regular basis - weekly or monthly - to do some sing-songs. Just on the off chance that any musicians are reading this – if you're interested, please let me know....

Saturday and Sunday night were Messiahs, with the Brisbane Baptist Tabernacle choir under the baton of Fiona Gough. Every performance of the Messiah is very different, but these two were not bad, though I say it myself. We had lovely soloists – in spite of the fact that the tenor didn't look old enough to have broken his voice, he sang beautifully and the Bass was glorious and the counter tenor gorgeous, though I felt sorry for him. It is always interesting to see the audience reaction when he starts to sing. There is an instant craning of necks, as people make sure that it really is that big bloke over there with the beard who is singing in that high pitched - though beautiful – voice and quite often people even get the giggles, though they always do their best to hide it – because of course, one must never giggle during the Messiah. And that's one thing I just don't understand. Why do people take the Messiah so seriously? I'm sorry, but you can't convince me that a man who must have set literally hundreds of thousands of words to music, did not know what he was doing when he wrote a whole chorus with the line “All we like sheep,” sung over and over again. (The phrase in full is: “All we like sheep do follow”, but did he emphasise the “following”? Not a bit of it!) Ditto the baritone solo “ And I do sha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-etc-ke”.

Anyway, it's been a huge and exhausting, though rewarding year. I have been working quite a bit as well as homeschooling Juliette – middle daughter – which has been, at times, frustrating and scary, but also a wonderful, wonderful chance to spend time with her before she sets off to High school next year. But I'm knackered, so as far as I'm concerned - bring on that plane flight! 36 hours of having meals cooked, no washing up, no cleaning, no having to drive anywhere or yell at kids – bliss! Now off to make Mince pies!!!!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous?

Tuesday night was a rehearsal for the Messiah. Handel's greatest work as far as I'm concerned – Handel's only great work, actually, as far as I'm concerned. Yes, there are moments of gorgeousness in the Fireworks and the Waterworks suites and Zadok the Priest is wonderfully stirring, I know, but everything else I've played of his seems to have been a study in tedium. And yet he has put together this wonderful work where every chorus, every recit and every aria is ravishingly beautiful, cleverly witty, or simply sublime. Sometimes I wonder whether there were two G.F. Handels - or maybe he just had a split personality? Anyway, we had our first run through with the soloists on Tuesday night. I am leading the seconds again, which is trickier than you might think - I've played first at leat 52 times, so unless I concentrate hard - and concentration is not my forte at the moment - it goes a bit like this: tum te tum tum - must find Lydia's glasses before we go, tum te tum tum - and buy more dog food and clean the library so that if we're burgled while we're away away, the police won't think the burglurs have wrecked the place - ta-ta tum tum - and got to see if I can find my old winter hats and gloves for the girls and persuade Sam that he wont want to wear shorts in the snow -ta-ta tum tum whoops, I'm playng first violin again, ahhhhh!!!!  
Tonight we have a run-through with choir before two performances over the weekend, in the Baptist Tabernacle, which, as I think I may have said before, is also known as The Hottest Place on Earth.

Wednesday night, in contrast, was a performance of The Classical Mystery Tour at the Lyric Theatre QPAC. The CMT is a Beatles tribute band from the US who seem to tour all over the world giving performances with orchestras. They came a couple of years ago and it was pretty good, but this year was possibly even better. We get to play all the original orchestrations and, looking out at the shaggy headed group on stage, if one half closes ones eyes and pretends that they are about twenty years younger, one can really pretend that one is back in the 60's – minus the hysterical fans. This is Brisbane after all, and though the audience ended the show on their feet, cheering and yelling, Twisting and Shouting, there was none of the hair tearing and high pitched screaming that you see on the old pictures of said pop group. Still, the whole night almost made me proud to be British – and I don't believe in National Pride. Yeah, I know it's a bit rich to be proud of belonging to a nation that produced a pop group thirty years before I was born in an entirely different country, but one has to take ones pride where one can, doesn't one? And you see, these guys really were something special: Penny Lane, A Day in the Life, Something, The Long and Winding Road, Yesterday, Golden Slumbers, Here Comes the Sun etc etc, song after song, all beautiful, heart rending, funny, groovy, clever. Maybe not that different to The Messiah after all eh?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Whinging pom, or responsible mother?

One of the hardest things about being a parent is trying to work out when you're over reacting and when you're not.
For instance, when one's baby runs a 37.5° temperature, does that mean that they might have meningitis and should be rushed immediately to the hospital, or does it simply mean that they have a bit of a cold? When one's toddler swipes a toy off another child, does this mean that they are going to grow up to be a Facist, or does it mean that they need to learn to share? When one's teenager wants to spend his life in bed in a dark and stinky room, is this a sign of depression or a sign of normal teenagerdom?
Last week we had a huge heat wave, which came on the heels of a very dry winter. I didn't think too much about it when I dropped Lydia, my ten year old, off at school, but as I drove back home, I switched on the news, only to hear talk of fire crews standing by all over Queensland - where they weren't already battling bush fires. Now, Lydia's school is a small country school, surrounded by acres of gum trees and accessed by a narrow and winding road, several kilometres from the local fire station. I spent the day in an agony of indecision, watching the hot, dry winds sweep through the garden and realising that, in spite of previous witterings regarding my newly found Australianism, I was as pommish as they come. When I asked Aussie friends about it – even other Aussie mum's whom I consider as neurotic as I, they all seemed to think that I was over reacting wildly. “She'll be right,” seemed to be the common thought.
It brought back the days when we first arrived in Brisbane and would check under all the benches in the parks before trusting our English backsides to them. Nowadays, of course, we don't bother – I should imagine that most of our furniture outside harbours Red Back spiders, but I know now that we'd be pretty unlucky to get bitten by one. And though Brown snakes still give me the creeps, it's a long time since I've been bothered by snakes in the house – every so often we'll get a little whip snake inside, but they're quite easy to remove by throwing a towel over their heads and holding them firmly with fingers behind the jaws. They're beautiful creatures, actually, and very sweet when they curl their greeny pink tails around your arm.
Still, when I went to pick Lydia up from school, feeling a bit of a wuss, it was not particularly reassuring when she greeted me with the news that some of the other kids had been trying to light fires in the school grounds....

In other news, Lydia made her debut as puppeteer at my annual carol singing/puppet show party yesterday, after Rupert failed the audition. It turned out that Lydia, at ten, can play a more convincing Vampire Giant than her father can. But was Rupert embarrassed by this fact? Not a bit of it. In fact, I have never seen him so proud of his daughter as he was yesterday, when she pulled off her biggest I've-just-eaten-the-witch-burp, which brought the house down and was the highlightof the show.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Feet and other things...

I am coming to the definite conclusion that either the God of Feet doesn't like me travelling, or the God of Travel doesn't like my Feet. Or something.
Last time we flew to Europe, I came off Juliette's Rip Stick and twisted my foot really badly a couple of days beforehand, which meant that I was hobbling around like Long John Silver and had to wear Granny stockings on the plane to stop it blowing up (my foot, not the plane) – which didn't particularly work, as my foot was still the size of the Vatican City by the time we arrived in Madrid.
Then a few days ago, I woke up with a slight pain in the sole of my foot which has since developed into a painful swelling so that I can hardly walk. It wouldn't be so irritating if it wasn't for the fact that there is SOOOO much to do, SOOOO little time to do it and everything is now taking SOOOO much longer than it should. And if I can't walk before we fly, I will be extremely vexed, to say the least.
Friday evening I had my pupil's concert, so in between teaching Juliette and my Ladies choir and my pupils and making mince pies, I was hopping around on one foot, desperately trying to get my house into the sort of state which I like to pretend is the norm. I knew that within five minutes of the kids arriving, the house would be in a state of chaos, but I still put myself through the whole thing. Why? Am I really convincing anyone that I'm not a slob? I doubt it. At least the concert was lovely. Usually, putting on a concert guarantees a last minute frantic whirl of practise, but a lot of the kids are just too tired at the moment with the heat wave we've been having and all the usual end of term stuff, so there wasn't as much pre concert practise as I would have liked. Still, it was still delightful seeing them all get up and perform solo, introducing their pieces and giving a beautiful bow before and afterwards. They all displayed much more confidence and better performing skills than me, so I am pretty proud of them.
Today, dosed up with antibiotics as I am, I have my Ladies Choir carol singing party, for which I may be doing a puppet show. Every year I have a Christmas party and do a puppet show, but thought I'd forgo the latter this year, partly because I am too tired to get my act together and partly because I thought all the children were getting too old. However, there was a huge outcry, so somehow it seems that I have to come up with an idea in the next four hours. After a frantic couple of hours of cleaning, I am giving my foot a chance to de-swell, before getting the puppet theatre out of the garage and seeing if it still stands. Poor Rupert is going to be roped into performing, though he has never done it before, but hey, there's a first time for anything, isn't there? He doesn't know yet and is out at Lydia's ballet concert, so won't find out till just before the show. At least he won't have time to get worried about it. At the moment I'm thinking maybe Little Red Riding Hood with Jacob the Wolf and a cameo appearance from Edward the big hairy Giant...

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Three Down, just a few more to go...

It is at this time of the year that I veer between moments of oh-no-I-just-want-to-run-away-and-join-the-circus-or-something-more-peaceful-like-that and moments when I am very grateful to lead the life I do. Twenty-five years ago, I was convinced that I would not be happy unless I was playing with one of the world's great orchestras or chamber groups, but now I'm not sure that it would have been such a great thing after all.
Last week I had a gig playing for a 70th birthday party with my string quartet. When I was younger, it was very easy to be cynical about these gigs, but now I am older and, of course, infinitely wiser, it can be a joy to know that we are contributing to an occasion such as this. The birthday girl was blind and a lover of the Merry Widow so I had made a bit of an effort, in the knowledge, that, unlike most background gigs, there was a good chance that someone would actually be listening. I'd managed to source an arrangement of waltzes from the Merry Widow for the occasion, which we sight-read in the half dark, whilst desperately trying to hear each other over the chat, but it can't have been too bad, as we had people waltzing along with the music, or grabbing the microphone to join in with their own rendition of “Vilia.” That sort of thing definitely gives one a warm fuzzy feeling. And what better way to finish a gig then down the local fish and chip shop with a bottle of red?
Then on Saturday, I had a Christmas concert for the community orchestra for which I am concertmaster. The St Lucia Orchestra is a lovely orchestra with a huge variety of people - ex-professional musicians, students, teachers, lawyers, mothers, optometrists, doctors, scientists, even our own High Court judge! We tend to play lighter music - popular classics and film music, stuff like that. I had been hoping that Lydia, my ten year old, would grace us with her presence at the concert, but at the last moment, she decided to go to a soccer match with her older siblings and father.
"Are you sure, Lydia?" I asked in astonishment. "Remember that you hate soccer and the last time we went to watch the Roar, you spent the first half reading and the second half trying to get me to play I Spy when I was trying to watch?"
"I know Mummy, but I have decided that I need to expand my range of knowledge and experience," she replied. Okay then.
The occasion was a Christmas concert to raise funds for the church whose hall we use to rehearse in - a church which has no air con and proved to have no air at all, in fact - walking into it was like walking into a sauna. But in spite of the heat, the bass players and the flautists still wore furry Santa hats and our conductor wore full jacket and tie. It was one of those concerts where you have to employ the “snake” move - a sinuous movement required when one is asked by the conductor to stand for applause and one has to get to one's feet as gracefully as possible, whilst peeling one's skirt from one's sweat soaked legs as discreetly as one can. The audience sat on the hard wooden pews, gamely fanning themselves throughout, but they seemed to enjoy it, joining in with the carols with slow gusto. From my point of view, I was quite pleased as I realised, as I walked on stage, that I had forgotten my performance enhancing drugs – beta blockers - but I still managed to get through the Thais Meditation without falling in a heap, in spite of the fact that I had one of my pupils sitting right in front of me, making me even more nervous! Even better than that, I scored a bottle of pink champagne at the party afterwards, via the incomparable violist, Anna Jack.
The following evening was a concert playing for the Brisbane Concert Choir. The orchestra wasn't required for the first half, so we actually got to listen, which made a nice change, especially as it was Britten's Ceremony of Carols. Now, I realise that this is probably a hanging offense, if not a hanging, drawing and quartering offence, but I'm afraid I don't particularly get Britten's music on the whole. HOWEVER, the ceremony of carols is one of my all time favourite pieces of music and if you don't know it, than your life is but a pale shadow of what it could be. Unless you are Steve Kershaw.
I had never heard this piece sung by an adult choir with the addition of basses and tenors - it was originally written for a boys choir of trebles and altos - and though there were bits of it that didn't work brilliantly in this format, the choir still did a wonderful job and it was glorious to sit and listen for a change. As for the second half of the concert - the part where I was involved - well, I was leading the second violins for a change and it put me in mind of my all time favourite Facebook Meme - "I know, I will write a nice melody for the second violins," said no composer ever. The surreal highlight of the concert was the penultimate piece, Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. It was performed with much glee and joie de vivre with children doing the conga up and down the aisles of the church, the choir, their faces glistening with sweat, singing at full throttle: “Outside it's snowing and friends are's lovely weather, for a sleigh ride together...”
Next week, I have a performance with Beatlemania at the Concert Hall in the Southbank, with Queensland Pops Orchestra, (where we get to play all the original Beatles arrangements, woohoo!) and then the week after that, there will be a couple of performances of the Messiah at the Baptist Tabernacle, otherwise known as The Hottest Place on Earth. This brings an end to a year of performing with a huge variety of people, amongst others - The King's Singers, Michael Bolton, Burt Baccharach (of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head fame - I didn't even know he was still alive until we were booked to do the gig) and Troy Caser Daly ( HUGE country and Western star for ignorant non Aussies - and a very nice bloke with a weird taste in shirts).
And though I am currently feeling jealous of all my friends who teach at private schools and have therefore finished for the year, I am still enjoying my pupils who I will be teaching for another two weeks. Though it can get frustrating sometimes when kids come for lessons who are too tired and haven't practiced for heaven knows how long, nothing can beat moments like last week, when a little girl, who has been very unconfident to date, gave a twirl of excitement at having mastered Perpetual Motion and an eleven year old boy gave me my Christmas present two weeks early, just because he wanted to. I will miss them all over the holidays.
And of course I still get to take my kids to school and pick them up and even homeschool them if the occasion requires. So really, all in all, when I'm not having a nervous breakdown, I'm grateful for my profession.
I earn diddly squat, of course, but never mind...

Ps And apparently Whittards is still up and running after all! I don't know who spread that evil rumour!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Dreaming of a White Christmas?

So, at the suggestion of a wonderful friend, I have decided to reinstate my blog. It also seemed like an opportune time, as we are shortly to embark on an adventure - returning to England after an absence of five years. That may not seem like such a long time, but our eldest, Sam, was only eight the last time we were there, still sweet, after a fashion, with a little boy's long skinny neck and big ears. He is now nearly fourteen, big and hairy and taller than his father. Juliette was a pretty little six year old who acted as bridesmaid at her aunt's wedding, ruining her beautiful silk dress in a slug throwing contest, at the reception afterward. She is now a tween who worships Bella Swan and whose jewelery choice for her birthday was a skull ring. Lydia was a four year old who looked like, and wanted to be, a fairy. She is now ten and wants to be a farmer/opera singer/ vet/ baker/actress depending on the day. As for Rupert and me, we are both wrinklier and more grey haired, but I won't go into that...
By all accounts, England will have changed as well. The England we are visiting sounds as though it is a quite different place than the one we last saw. The England we remember was an England before the financial crash – an England that had a Woolworths on every High street and, on the posher ones, a Whittards as well, where one might be able to buy Wedgewood china. But now all these things have gone – and I wonder what parents use to threaten their teenagers with, now that they can't threaten them with the prospect of ending up behind the counter at Woolworths?
I have to say that I have slightly mixed feelings about going to England for Christmas.
When I let myself think about it, I can't help but feel terribly excited. We have been making plans over facebook, my sisters and I, as to what we will do; who's going to cook the turkey and the salmon, the roast and creamed potatoes, the bread sauce and stuffing and mango salad (one of my sister's husbands, a Frenchman, has offered to provide snails, but I think Rupert and I are the only ones who are really keen) the puddings and the Yule log. We have plans to get together and make peppermint creams and marzipan fruit, just as we did when we were kids; to alienate all their neighbours with carol singing (actually, my sisters don't know about that plan yet - it was hatched with my niece when she came over in August). I know that the holiday will be wonderful - just seeing my parents, my sisters, Rupert's parents and sister - all the relatives and friends, will be lovely, let alone having the chance to do some sight seeing in London and visit some of our old haunts.
But I have so much to do in the meantime, that the thought of going frankly scares me - six concerts, my pupil's concert, kids choir concert, a Christmas party to organize, people to see before we go, packing and Christmas shopping. There are two more weeks to go of teaching - but only two weeks to accomplish the education of Juliette whom I am homeschooling at the moment and is in grade seven and off to High school next year. Then there is the school concert for Lydia, her ballet concert and extra rehearsals. Maybe it's a good thing that Sam is so anti social – all we have to worry about with him his is Futsal and Kung Fu and podiatry visits...
I am also concerned about leaving the animals - our three chickens, Madras, Tikka and Cinnamon, the three cats, one which is a manic depressive and has just been diagnosed with kidney failure and therefore needs even more special treatment than usual, and, last but not at all least, our fat old Labrador, Guinness. I know they will all be looked after well, but I also know that they will miss us and my Guilt knows no bounds.
Last trip to England with cousins.
And on a lesser, stranger note, this is the first year I have become officially Australian - I'm not talking about passports or unimportant things like that, as we got our citizenship a few years ago - I'm talking about the fact that this is the first time that I have sniffed jasmine blossom in the air, felt the sticky warmth of summer and thought: "Ooh, it's nearly Christmas!" After twelve years in Australia, this will be our first cold Christmas; our first Christmas in twelve years without mangoes, without a post-Christmas-dinner swim in the pool, without our own extravagantly colourful Christmas decorations. For my Aussie kids, this will be their first Christmas ever in England, their first real experience of COLD. Twelve years ago, I had to make a special effort to make our Christmas "Christmassy" in the heat. This year I am again going to have to make a special effort to make it seem Christmassy for children who have never had a cold Christmas. Still, I am sure that when surrounded by family and friends, hypothermia, satsumas, chilblains and real Cadbury's chocolate, we will hardly notice the difference.