Hairy House

Hairy House

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

An Ode to Laundrettes

You think I joke, but I don't.
Since our washing machine is currently on the high seas at the moment we are having to use the local laundrette - and what a treat it is!
The last time I used a laundrette was when I was about six and I have always had fond, but vague memories of the experience, but assumed it was because of some random reason associated with chocolate or other forms of bribery.
However, the laundrette in Buckingham could almost be the same place as that 1970's temple of washing; one steps, from the biting cold, into the warm, well lit cosines of soap powder, the rhythmic swooshing of wet linen, the warm blasting of air from the tumble dryers.
A young mother, sorting out her basket of clothes - tiny socks and baby suits, all fluffy, sweet smelling and tumble warm. The two ladies who run the laundrette come over to help her:
"Oh look, he must have grown since I saw him, this suit would have swallowed him whole last month!"
The young mother pinks and smiles. "Oh yes, he's growing fast - putting on nearly a pound a week."
"Yes, I remember when my Jamie was that old...."
The light might be flickering from fluorescent bars overhead, the windows steaming and trickling onto the cracked linoleum floor, but we could easily be standing by the Ganges, beating our wet clothes against the rocks, squatting by the well in a dusty village, scrubbing our linen up and down a wash board in a steaming Dutch laundry. This is the timeless conversation of women throughout the world, throughout the ages, and there is something deeply comforting about it; something deeply comforting about the smoothing and folding of sheets, the satisfaction of piling a load of clean, sweet smelling laundry back into the bag, before setting out into the chill air again.
Even the man from Barbados: "Why on earth did you move back to England?" Pause for silent, heaving of laughter, where he is doubled up, slapping his legs, tears streaming down his face. "You must be regretting it now! Who would want to come back to this shit country? Hee, hee, hee, this country is going to the dogs!" Yes, even this, is a timeless, old-man-in-laundrette sort of conversation which finishes with us bidding each other a fond farewell when our washing is done, forever bonded over the sorting of our laundry.
In a few weeks our washing machine will be back, I will not have to venture out to Buckingham, every time we run out of clean knickers, but will be free to put on a load of washing whenever I feel like it. And by that time I will probably be all too happy to do so - but in the meantime, I am pondering what we miss when we have the convenience of our own machines in our own homes. Another part of our humanity withers in the face of progress.
Okay, that's probably a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean....

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

So, being positive aside, this whole moving thing can also be extremely frustrating. We were unable to open a bank account before we came, which meant that we were not able to get the telephone sorted before we came, which means we are without a landline or, horrors of horrors – the internet! And it is only when one is deprived of Mother Google, that one realises quite how often during the day, one needs her. Especially when one has just arrived in new country and needs to know EVERYTHING! It also means that all those lovely Christmas skype chats we were hoping to have with my cousin Meg and others, will not be happening – we can't even ring!
In order to get online, we have to go shopping and huddle over our devices in a cafe, and, even more frustrating is the fact that I can't go shopping without Rupert, or without asking him for money, as I have no access to bank account. I feel like a 1950's housewife, which is hardly surprising, since, the reason I cannot get a bank account is because British Gas, when confirming our new account with them, sent a lovely letter addressed to Mr and Mrs Rupert Bignall....and of course, as one would expect, one can only open a bank account with a gas bill....
Now, don't get me wrong, I am no more feminist than one would expect from a woman with five sisters and two daughters and an interest in social justice....but how DARE they assume that, because I am old fashioned enough to take Rupert's surname when I marry him, that I am also happy to take his first name!!!!!!! GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But, be that all as it may, last night was magical. We all got rugged up and sauntered down the road, to the village Christmas tree, which was surrounded by happy villagers singing carols to a brass band accompaniment. There was mulled wine, mince pies and I had the delicious opportunity to embarrass my children by singing Christmas carols at a Christmas carol event. Afterwards we all, yup, you've guessed it, waddled down to the pub for a drink. We got to meet some of our new neighbours, who seem very nice – some of them have leant us a whole living room suite to park our bums on till our own arrive!
So, Merry Christmas, one and all, hope anyone who may read this, has a WONDERFUL day, even if you're Kory and I'm not sure whether you celebrate Christmas or not!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Settling in?

The last post I wrote was a bit negative, methinks. However, I am trying to be as honest about this experience as possible, because, let's face it, what's the point otherwise? I do miss being warm, I miss the blue skies and even the storms of Brisbane, the bright flowers and sunlight and my friends. And my dog of course.
Feeling a bit more positive at the moment, though. We have moved into the house now and Tiger and Tamara have arrived so we are a complete, if depleted family, again. And though we have none of our stuff yet, we are making ourselves comfortable. The girls have covered their rooms with mementoes from - no I mustn't call it home, must I? - from Brisbane, photos and cards, pictures that their little cousins had drawn. Yesterday, I went and got what Rupert refers to as “room stinkies”, but which I prefer to call perfumed candles and Christmas pot pourri and we have just put the Christmas tree – a real one! - up in the living room, waiting for the kids to get up and decorate it, so we are beginning to feel Christmassy. I am hoping that some of the family will be around later and I am going to make mulled wine and mince pies.
Now, for some history!!!!
Our house is in Adstock, a tiny village in rural Buckinghamshire, complete with famous gastro-pub, The Old Thatched Inn, which is, truly, an Old Thatched Inn, est 1645. It is a village of narrow lanes which wind between higgeldy piggeldy cottages – white rendered cottages, with black beams and thatched roofs, red, herringbone brick cottages with thatched roofs or with roofs of slate and terracotta tiles, furred with moss. They are all surrounded by gardens which will be bursting with roses and hydrangea in the summer, still-bright-green-grass-even-now (my elder cousin, Ellen, once told me that in winter in England, the grass shrivels up and is blown way, but I think she was fibbing) and all have names like Wisteria Cottage, Lilac Cottage, Jasmine Cottage, Rose Cottage, The Priory. Our house is a red brick, 2-300 year old cottage, called, with an almost unbearable tweeness, Shamrock Cottage. Our research has taught us that a certain Robert Sharnbrook, was a notable villager for a number of years and I am hoping that Shamrock is a mutation of his name, rather than somebody's quasi-Irish offering to the Gods of schmaltz. We have three fireplaces, none of which we are allowed to use at the moment (thatched roofs are an insurance/nightmare, insurance company's dream come true, so it would seem) but which are all very pretty. When we have wi-fi, at the end of this month, I will even attempt to upload photos, but at the moment, we don't, so if I get to post this blog at all it will be a miracle.
Adstock itself, is one of many little villages off the main road to Buckingham, most of them just a gathering of little houses, the occasional pub, curry house, or butcher's, all set amongst patchwork fields - think soft greens, brown winter trees against a pale, grey-blue winter sky, ashy fields where the grass has shrivelled up and blown away for winter. The hedgerows are alive with a hopping and gentle twittering of bullfinches, thrushes, blackbirds, robins, the air clear and cold and full of the smell of wet mud and leaf rot and smoke from living room fires.
We are inordinately lucky to be living here and I know that.

Thursday, 18 December 2014


After 27 hours no sleep, Aeroplane seat which was infested with fleas/other, so that I was bitten alive throughout flight, met at Heathrow by my sister Miriam and Rupert's sister, Andie. Was wonderful to see them and then, to our surprise, my parents, who I thought were in France, turned up, complete with Ukelele. 
"I'm sorry we're late darling," Mummy said. "We've just had a disaster - we filled the car up with petrol, and since it's a diesel, it's now sitting in a car park in Kings Langley."
Miriam's husband, Chris, had come to the rescue, thank heaven, and so we got to see his lovely smile as well. And we were back in the bosom of our family, ukeleles, disasters and all. Then it was off to High Wycombe to spend first night with Rupert's parents.
Yesterday, our first day back, Rupert's mother drove Rupert and me over to see our house. Much to my surprise, the children weren't interested in coming, which was good, as there wasn't room for all of them in the car, but I had thought that they would be eager to see their new home. However, the delights of a new episode of Pretty Little Liars, and the chance to use up Nancy and John's (Rupert's parents) internet quota, proved more interesting. (though in the end they did go for a walk, saw four robins and found holly with berries still on it.)
So, the house. Seeing it in the flesh was just as surreal as seeing it in pictures. I was hoping I would fall in love with it, but, being completely honest, I didn't, though I think this is just as much about the fact that I was hugely jet lagged, with blocked up ears and could hardly think straight, than anything else. I didn't dislike it either, just couldn't quite believe that this was our house, or feel any excitement about it. It was also VERY cold and teeny tiny. The whole house could easily fit into the bedroom of our house back in Pullenvale and as for the garden - I PROMISE I AM NOT EXAGGERATING - when I say that it is rather smaller than the patio of our old house. However, it is very sweet and the village is far prettier than I had imagined, "Main Street" - the street on which the house is built, being a tiny lane, lined by chocolate box houses, all thatched and beamed and surrounded by rose filled gardens. But what are we going to do with all our big Australian STUFF when it arrives and won't even begin to fit into the house? We are not even going to fit ourselves into it, let alone camp beds and sleeping bags, or anything else.....
But we must, the cats arrive today and must be taken to their new home, though it is totally bare and we have no phone or internet till 29th of December. First stop, camping shop!
At least Rupert has a bank account now, though I do not. Though we arrived at the bank yesterday, armed with passports, English and Australian driving licenses, the deeds to our house, our marriage certificate - everything form of ID we could possibly think of, in fact, - because we didn't have a gas bill with my initials on it, I can't get a bank account. Grrrr. This is the country where you can rock up to Sainsbury's  and buy anything from clothes, to baked beans, to any sort of alcohol, to your flu jab! Still, it will all come out in the wash, as they say.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Baggage Monster

So, we spent last night weighing, culling, weighing again, culling again. It brings back all those memories of our t many trips to England and Saudi and Africa, from my childhood, when we used to turn up at the airport wearing half our wardrobe, our pockets and the linings of our coats stuffed with books and tapes and toys, in an effort to keep our excess baggage down to a manageable weight.
We retired to bed at midnight last night, fairly confident that we had got things under control, but sometime during the night the baggage monster - a fearsome beast - crept into our house and gave birth to 396 assorted pencils pens, rulers and rubbers, three pairs of shoes, 25 bottles of shampoo, lense solutions and moisturiser (all of which are apparently indispensable.) We had to be out of our rental at 10, so had to throw everything into the car and beetle off with kids to various locations. The cats have gone, our cases are with JC we have done a vinnies drop and a school uniform shop and the car is still stuffed to the gills.
However, am having first coffee of the day, waiting for husband and then we are off to spend the rest of the day - our last day - in the glorious sunshine, sorting out what we can ditch.

Farewell to Australia for quite a while,
Farewell to my old pals as well,
Farewell to my one eyed old Guinness,
I'll miss you all more than you can tell,

Singing Toorali toorali additty,
Singing Toorali oorali eeeee,
Singing Toorali, oorali additty, 
For we're off for new adventures in ol'Blighty.

I've been to cities, that never shut down,
From New York, to Riyadh, to Old London town,
But no matter how far, or how wide I roam,
I'll still call Australia home (ish)

Good bye to clear blue skies, to the
birds and the strange lolloping creatures, goodbye to all my very good friends, who have made me feel humbled and grateful and blessed, these last few weeks.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Is this happening?

The last few weeks have been a frantic whirlwind of goodbye lunches and coffees and dinners, trying to see everybody. But its all so surreal! I try to say all the right things, but can't really believe that this is happening, that I won't be seeing all these lovely people next week.
Most of my pupils want to try and keep having lessons via skype, though I'm not sure how this will work, without being able to manhandle them. But at least it has meant that we don't have to say proper goodbyes.
Last day with my cousin yesterday and her husband and three kidlets. They have been a big part of our lives for most of the time we have been here and we were thrilled when they eventually decided to come and live in Brisbane four years ago. And now we're off. How did that happen?
Had my last gig last night - string trio - possibly last gig ever, as I have no idea how to set about finding work in England. As far as last gigs go, it was pretty good though.We could hear ourselves for a change and I discovered depths to Eine Kleine that I'd never discovered before, in spite of the fact that there was no viola part (possibly because there was no viola part....?).  We had people dancing, enthusing (words like "divine" being bandied about), but, best of all, we were fed superb curry afterwards, along with watermelon martinis  - and if you have never had a watermelon martini, then you NEED to. 
Off for breakfast today with one of our oldest friends in Brisbane, (good thing she doesn't read this, as I'm sure she would take exception to being described thus), then there's packing and cleaning and more packing to go before tomorrow.
Tomorrow we have to be out of the rental by 10am, though we will not be leaving for airport till 9pm. The kids all have fond ideas of disappearing with their friends all day, "Oh we'll be back an hour before we have to leave," "No, you will be back THREE hours before we leave."
If I have fingernails by the time I board that plane, it will be a miracle.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

An Ode to Queenslander houses

One of the things I love about Brisbane is the contradictions of it all.
For the last fifteen years we have lived out of town in semi-rural-reclaimed-from-pineapple-farms-countryside. There is a plentitude of space and QUIET and animals and birds out there and I have loved it. However, we have now moved into town – just five minutes or so from the city centre, where we are entertained by sirens throughout the night, the impatient honking of horns, YOUNG PEOPLE having a GOOD TIME in the pub down the road - and yet in some ways it feels more countrified than our Pullenvale idyll.
We are in Toowong, possibly one of the older parts of Brisbane (?), in a Queenslander jungle. For those of you who don't know what a Queenslander is – it's traditionally a wooden house, generally built on stilts. These days a lot of Queenslanders are built in situ, but you can still buy them from um, Queenslander shops? Queenlander dealers? Queenslanders warehouses? Not sure what you call them, but there is a plot of land next to the Bruce Highway (the big freeway which runs betwixt Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, is called the Bruce Highway going North and the Sheila Highway travelling South) where you can go pick your own. Sometimes, if you are out very late at night, you might meet an oversize truck, trundling along with a Queenslander on its back, on the way to meet its owner.
Queenslanders have pitched, corrugated iron roofs, high ceilings, hard wood floors, verandahs which sometimes wrap round the entire house. They are often beautifully decorated with plaster rococo ceilings and iron gingerbread around the eaves and verandahs and are cool and spacious – even the small ones. The one we are staying in at the moment is quite typical, in that it has a partly built in underneath, where you can hang washing and go and be cool in the hot weather. There is a Poinciana tree, Another Tree of Indeterminate Sort and a mango tree.
Yesterday, the girls and I walked to the local park, in the cool of the afternoon. The sky overhead was black, lightening flashing across the sky and the grass was glowing thick emerald. All around the park the trees were dripping with hundreds and hundreds of bats, which gibbered and knickered at each other, stretching their wings and yawning, as the trees stirred in the wind. After the kids had determined that yes, I am still too much of a wuss to be flung from a swing at 30 feet, they got bored and so we walked home, the long way, thus getting lost, but it was a walk of real discovery.
Every house we passed seemed to be an old Queenslander, each one a different size, some standing high on stilts, some low to the ground, some on a plot which was flush with the road, some seated atop its own private hillock, some white, some a pale green, or pale blue or pink. Whereas, out in Pullenvale, the gardens are all manicured to within an inch of their lives, (except ours, of course) every bush or tree planted for effect, oceans of mulch spread everywhere, these gardens, so close to the city, were all overgrown, full of crumbing statues, huge old poinciana and jacaranda trees, bougainvillea bushes in pink and white and yellow and orange, frangipani trees starred all over with flowers rich in perfume, mango trees, aloes and masses of fat bromeliads tumbling over rock walls and down stone steps. For many of the houses, the paths to the front door were hidden beneath the grass, or low, overhanging passion fruit vines, making us wonder whether anyone actually lived there, and whether, if so, they ever ventured out. We passed one huge old poinciana tree in which a sulphur crested cockatoo, a magpie, two butcher birds, several rainbow lorikeets and some miner birds were deep in screeching debate, like an illustration from some sort of Children's Guide to Birds.
I would advise anyone coming to this city, to maybe skip the extortionate fees charged to be hoisted a couple of metres in the air by our version of the Millennium wheel and take a few hours to wander the back streets of the city instead. I am sure you will get a better view of Brisbane this way.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Don't Forget the Satsumas

One of the reasons that I decided to start writing this blog again, was because, when we had the moving quotes done, each company told us that there are scores of people returning to England at the moment – much more so than usual. (I'm sure Tony Abbott has nothing to do with it.)
So I thought it might be interesting for people who are considering the move to see how another family are finding it.
Thus far, I can give this advice.

  1. Do not harangue your children for putting the wrong things on the container which will be ocean bound for another few months (i.e. school books which are due back at Australian schools this week) when you yourself have packed your winter coat and shoes on said container and are due to arrive in England, in December, in thin cotton jumper and flip flops.
  2. Do not make an effort to visit all the places you have grown to love the best. Spending time walking the beaches of Stradbroke Island, watching the gallivanting of dolphins, sting rays and turtles in an azure ocean, is not the best way of convincing oneself that one is making the right decision to leave.
  3. Do not give up your last two weeks to spending time with the friends you have made. Coffee, cake, wine, LOTS of laughs and reminiscing and EVEN MORE tears are not the best way of convincing oneself that one is making the right decision to leave.
  4. Do not leave at a time when the rains have turned dry brown grass to an emerald green; when the poinciana trees are in full, glowing-orange bloom; when the mango trees are dripping with mangoes which will ripen after you have left; when the air is full of the smell of paw paws and jasmine and Christmas.
  5. Make sure you spend the last few weeks in a house whose windows you cannot open, with two incontinent cats and only one toilet, whose door doesn't close.
  6. Try and spend as much time as you can, watching Aussie television – especially the news and adverts.
  7. Chain your 15 year old to his mobile phone....
  8. Invest in a LOT of tissues.
  9. Do not spend time trawling the RSPCA adoption websites in your soon-to-be-local-area, if you want your marriage to remain harmonious. (or make an effort not to tell children about it, at any rate.)
  10. Try not to think about the fact that, after all the farewell dinners and lunches and coffees, you will arrive in England as circular as when you left it, several months pregnant.
  11. Whilst saying goodbye, try to think ahead - to very much loved family and friends and cosy thatched houses (where the heating, of course, works...) and pubs and satsumas. And breathe.

Monday, 1 December 2014


At the weekend we went to say goodbye to a place that has become very special to us - my favourite place in Australia - North Stradbroke Island. 
We have been there quite a few times and, barring the time, many years ago, when we had booked an expensive, but tiny apartment for three days and it rained and blew a gale so hard that we didn't dare set foot out of the front door with the children, lest one of them blew away - each visit has been idyllic. In general, we camp on Cylinder beach, but we didn't have time for that, so we got the foot ferry over and then caught a bus to Point Lookout.
From Point Lookout, you can take the North Gorge walk - a walkway built round the cliffs, where every step affords views so beautiful they hurt the eye. I try to keep as far away from the kids as I can, because, even now, I panic to see them anywhere near the edge. I am fine with heights myself, have no problem with standing on the edge of a cliff and looking down several hundred feet to the surf, exploding on knife edged rocks below etc etc, but I can't STAND seeing the kids anywhere near the edge. I walk round, gritting my teeth, clenching my fists, but at some point (or many points, possibly) I can't help it and start squawking at them to "Keep Away from the EDDDDDDGGGGGE!!!!!!!!!!!!" in the manner of a banshee - even if there are four yards between them and any drop. This time we were with Meg and her three kidlets - Holly, the youngest, being only four - but I managed to complete the walk without severing my vocal chords, so am quite proud of myself.
And apart from all that, it is a wonderful walk - we saw several pods of dolphins, a shoal of huge and unidentified fish, a group of three large manta rays, winging their way round the rocks, several turtles, a two metre shark - all these creatures in an azure blue-green, sapphire sea - I'm not going to even bother trying to describe it, but upload some pictures
After the walk, we went and stuffed ourselves with fish 'n' chips, revelling in the fact that Straddie is one of the few places in Queensland where they haven't chosen to enhance the natural beauty of the place by adding in rows of squat, orange and yellow painted concrete blocks with big plastic signage in primary colours. 
Then down to the beach, where we were reminded just how deceptive the Pacific Ocean can be. "Oh, how lovely and calm it is," I thought. Hmmm. Am beginning to think that my thoughts are not, in general, to be trusted.
Yes, the sea rolled and hummed, the surf not too high, the waves shloosing on the beach with all the tenderness of a mother singing to her baby. And then we got into the water.
"Swim between the flags," is the Australian  safety device, but this meant, of course, a constant effort to stop yourself being dragged down shore. Having been caught in a rip in Vanuatu earlier this year (rather spectacularly - about eight of us had to be rescued by boat)  - I can safely say that this current was almost riptide strength, so of course there was more squawking from me. Didn't help that I couldn't wear my glasses and, with my fuzzy eye sight, I nearly found myself hauling a middle aged lady out of the water, thinking it was one of the children. (Dark hair, dark swimsuit.) Luckily I noticed just in time....Still, the water was beautiful, clean and green and cool and salty and I am going to miss this soooo much.
Then there were rock pools and jelly fish, a walk up a huge sand dune to take in the views and make us feel virtuous, paddling in the mini lagoon, where the delightful children took turns throwing cane toad spawn at each other. 
And then, back on the ferry again, rushing across the darkening water in the last glow of the sunset. Looking out over the sea (Yes, after 15 years in Oz I still think of it as "the Sea"!) at dusk always makes me ache inside, the vast loneliness of it all - and the words of the songs that we used to sing in another part of the world, another ocean, always come back to me, "Hil ya ho boys, let her go boys, bring her head round, now all together," and "Speed Bonny Boat, like a bird on the Wing", thus bringing images of Africa, Scotland and Australia together into one potent mix.
We will miss you Straddie.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Going out with a Bang

It seems that Brisbane is pulling out the stops for us!
Driving home from dropping Lydia at choir yesterday, I noticed the clouds building up. "Oh good, looks like we might be getting some rain," I thought.
Hmm. According to the weather bureau, it was the worst storm in a decade. According to people I know who have grown up in Brisbane, it was the worst storm they have ever seen. Juliette and I were at home so we couldn't see much - most of the windows have bobbly glass and there is an enormous poinciana tree outside the other windows which block the view to anywhere else. It wasn't till the hail started bouncing off the back deck that we realised that this was no ordinary storm and then I was thrown into a quandary: our car that we need to sell in the next few days was sitting out in it all, but I wasn't sure I was game to drive it to the local car park. 
Miraculously, the car came away unscathed, Rupert was home ten minutes afterwards and we were able to pick Lydia up from choir and drop me off for a rehearsal in the city...but once on the roads, we were able to appreciate the full extent of the damage. Throughout Toowong and Bardon, the roads were strewn with branches and trees, step ladders, a roof. Windows smashed, cars dented, no power, of course in these areas. Driving out towards the Western suburbs, it seems that the damage was not as bad, but then Rupert had to drop me with some friends to drive back into the city for a rehearsal - which was interesting to say the least.
First rehearsal with choir and soloists, last rehearsal before concert on Saturday at St John's Cathedral. Programme to include Beethoven Mass, Magic Flute overture, Something Beautiful but Heart Rending, by Brahms, Something a bit Weird but Possibly Beautiful by Berlioz. The leader of the orchestra, the great Chen, had not been able to get in, due to lack of trains, we were down three first violins, a viola, first trumpet, oboes, Bass soloist, several choir members. There was a leak in the roof at the back of Cathedral and water poured down all evening, the sound echoing and magnifying off the stone walls, whilst an alarm sounded in F flat, double sharp diminished minor all throughout. It was hot, humid, there was glass all over the toilet floors where the windows had been Hailed, I had to lead the orchestra and had left my shoulder rest at home, so was not playing my best. (that's my excuse anyway). I take my hat off to Kevin Power, the conductor, who, instead of screaming and throwing a fit, managed to remain calm, if sweaty and slightly manic, throughout. Can't wait till Saturday!
Got home to find that we still have no power, and of course, no candles or torches as all that sort of stuff is on the plane to England. What would we do without iPods, eh? Though of course, they are now all run out of batteries, and we can't recharge, so guess where I'm headed now? We only have electric cooking facilities in our rental, so no coffee....but, thank God, gas powered water heating!! Incredibly grateful that our windows remained intact, unlike very many of my friends, some of whom have had every window in their house broken. Just wishing I hadn't bought a whole lot of fridgeable groceries, yesterday morning...
Oh Brisbane, will miss you so much!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Koalas and Kangaroos

For some bizarre reason, I had been under the impression that once we moved out of our house, we would have far more time...yes, well....
This week has flown past, we are now in another apartment – a lovely old Queenslander in Toowong – and we have the two remaining cats with us, so we are a complete family again. Every morning I cry when I get up and there is no Guinny to walk, but we will not think about that. We can almost see Rupert's office from here, as it's a two minute walk – but luckily, considering it's not one of the most attractive buildings in Brisbane – it is hidden by a beautiful, spreading Poinciana tree in bloom. Poinciana's are my favourite tree – even when not blooming – and they are one of the things I will miss most, with their bright, oval green leaves and fiery blooms.
One just slightly weird thing about this house, is the fact that there is an engraving on the wall of Aylesbury Vale – the very area to which we are moving!
So, in the last couple of weeks, I have played my last concert as concertmaster of Brisbane City Pops Orchestra and was given a three year National Trust Membership and managed not to burst into tears on stage. I have had my last gig with Brisbane String Quartet, playing for the first time at Victoria Golf Complex, (which turned out to be a case of music, bow and stands V gale force winds) against a stunning backdrop of the city at twilight. And I didn't cry much.
Over the weekend we visited Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for the last time. We first went to Lone Pine on our third day in Brisbane, with a one year old who threw a tantrum because I wouldn't let him eat the Kangaroo food or pooh. This time, the same child was more interested in discussing the pitfalls of communism, as we walked around the kangaroo enclosure in 35 degree heat, expecting intelligent discourse from me, when all I was really interested in was getting to the cold water.
Lone Pine was our home from home for many years. For the first eight years we were in Brisbane, we had family membership and I took one of the children there twice a week, on average, as it is right next to the Brisbane Montessori School where they all started their primary years. We have many wonderful memories of farting koalas, thieving bush turkeys, being chased by emus, having my expensive sunglasses pecked to death by lorikeets, children getting worms from eating said kangaroo pooh. It is a wonderful place, with its fat, wriggling platypus, the raucous cockatoos, the dinosaurial Cassowary loping around his enclosure, the kangaroos (not that different to the kangaroos I saw on my daily walk at home, but more exciting in an enclosure, of course...?) the rat-like Tasmanian devils with their Beatrix Potteronian cute factor, the weird and wonderful and beautiful snakes, doubtless plotting evil in their painted cells, the sheep shearing show (yes, and witnessing an audience of one hundred people of every shade and ethnicity, hypnotised into complete silence by the sight of a man shaving a half asleep sheep, makes you realise quite how Tony Abbott managed to be elected Prime Minister (well, not really, but perhaps makes it a teeeeeeeny bit easier to have an inkling of understanding)) the Bird of Prey Show, (where the presenter ends every sentence with a question mark, so you're not sure whether you're actually being informed by an animal expert, or taking part in some sort of weird quiz game ( as in, “this is our beautiful Fish Eagle, Iluka?” “The Barn Owl's primary food is mouse?”) ) the beautiful shaded walks and cool, turtle filled pools, the whistling shrikes and laughing kookaburras. It is hard to believe we will probably never visit again. Maybe one of the girls will come back one day and work there, talking in questions?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Goodbye to the House!

So, the house that we built - at least, the house we paid someone else vast amount of money to build for us (he may even have been called Jack, I can't remember) which gave us a very small say in the design - is no longer ours. 
The house that hosted many parties - children's parties with puppet shows and games on the lawn, teenage parties with swimming and "movies", adult parties with music around the piano, is no longer ours. 
Someone else's plates and cutlery and cooking implements will now be gracing the kitchen cupboards, someone else's furniture will now be hiding the scratch marks on the floors. Their dog will be mooching around the garden, sniffing the grass, perhaps looking for that big black dog who owned the lawn for five years.
Will the new people fix the broken tiles outside or will they sincerely mean to, for the next ten years? Will they paint over the Moroccan tile stencils with which I adorned my pillars? Will they manage to get the fruit trees to fruit, will they enjoy our mango harvest?
The funny thing is, that it's the little things that get to me. When sweeping the cupboard under the stairs, for instance, I came across two broken Christmas tree ornaments and was flooded with nostalgia, for this really is the end of an era. We are saying good bye, not only to a house, but to a stage of life, when our children were sweet and full of joy and all ours. (And used to drive me nuts and kept me in a state of sleep deprived near hysteria all the time, yes, but we will gloss over that.) I choose to remember the times when they were big eyed with wonder at the sight of boiling black clouds streaming in from the mountains, the wind tearing at the trees as the storms arrived; or the times that they stood, holding their breath and watching the flock of deer in the garden, or the huge white cockatoos feeding at the bird table, the Rosellas chirruping in the grevillea; the times when they would spend hours digging in the mud, faces shining with concentration; the soccer matches with friends or Rupert or the boys next door, the badminton games when Guinny would try his best to join in, rendering further competition impossible; the Christmases when their faces would light up at the sight of the tree and their eyes would sparkle as they sat and listened to the pregnant air, boiling with the scent of jasmine and mangoes and pawpaws and magic.
We are on to new adventures now and life will be exciting in the new ways, but there are certain things that we will never replace. We will not have friends who have known them and cared about them, all their lives. Our family traditions - favourite restaurants, favourite camping spots, favourite parks, will all be changing.
By the time I had finished cleaning the house on Friday I couldn't have cared about any of those things, but I had to go back on Monday morning and made the mistake of wondering through the rooms one last time, going out into the animal-empty garden to admire, for the last time, the  hot pink flowers of the bougainvillea as it exploded into the air. And there was a deer, a spotted fawn, standing fifteen feet from me, staring.
So I said goodbye to it and left, drove to the estate agents and handed over the keys. Thanks for the memories - cue swooping strings and muted trumpets........

Thursday, 13 November 2014

21st Century materialism?

The vast (and I don't use the word lightly here!) majority of our belongings are now on a dockside waiting for a bunch of alpha males to stop strutting and preening around Brisbane, before taking to the high seas. Our house has been cleaned within an inch of its life – the “Juliette is a phooey bum bum bum” scrubbed off Lydia's wall, the remnants of thousands of blue-tack spots scrubbed off Juliette's wall (ghosts of Justin Beiber past).
We are now free to ponder the next stage in our big adventure – and sort through all the issues of winding up tax and business's etc (groan...) – and, as I sit on our mattress in my cousin's playroom and look at our mountain of cases in the corner, I feel a sense of wonder and disgust at myself.
I don't consider myself to be particularly materialistic. Maybe I need to rephrase that. I didn't consider myself to be particularly materialistic. I have few material possessions I really care about save for sentimental purposes. I am not one of those women who loves shopping – when I have to go shopping, my asparagus side comes out and I find myself running around as quickly as I can, grabbing what I need and getting-the-hell-out-of-there as soon as I can. Rupert is the same, though he does have a weird penchant for keeping stacks of receipts for items bought thirty years ago and thrown away twenty years ago; Sam is obsessed merely with his iPod and his weights, Juliette with her iPod and her guitar/ukelele, Lydia with her iPod and any reading materials she can lay her hands on, though, admittedly, she did insist on shipping about 1000 stuffed animals which do nothing but collect dust on her bedroom floor. We don't have a play station or an X box – are they the same thing? - or a wii or a TV.
Every school holiday, I sort through piles of “stuff” and we give bags of clothes away to Meg, bags and boxes of clothes and books to St Vinnies.
So why has our shipping container been filled with 196 boxes of “stuff”? Why have we spent the last few weeks taking more carloads of “stuff” to St Vinnies, the dump, other people's houses? Why are we still left with so much “stuff”?
For the remainder of our stay in Brisbane, and for the first two months or so in the SUK, we needed to keep a certain amount of "stuff" with us.  Lydia was the most complicated, as she needs uniforms for school, ballet and two choirs and a trip to Canberra. The rest of us just need clothes for summer and for arrival in the English winter. Beyond that, I packed some special Christmas decorations which mean a lot to the kids (told you I was sentimental!), Christmas music we can't do without, both sheetwise and on CD, string quartet music I need for a couple of gigs, some recorders, as we won't have a piano to begin with. And I have my violin of course.
And I am left wondering why on earth we need those 196 other boxes and what the hell we are going to do with them in a house that's half the size of the one here?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Oh the joys

Was determined to keep up blog, but life been so busy.
Scrub, hoover, pack, go do concert, more scrubbing, hoovering, packing, oh no, where's the broom, has it been packed already, or is it merely hiding? Bother, I thought the box of rusty tools on the floor was for the dump, so chucked in the ancient, cheap-to-begin-with toaster – complete with one hundred years worth of dead crumbs, but it's all been packed up to take to England....will we now be charged $3000 for steam cleaning it?
Kids, getting so much older in so many ways, but delighting in the echoes of an emptying house, it hurts how much I love them at times.
Also hurts how much I love my dog, who is now John's dog – a dog shaped hole in my heart to join the cat shaped hole from last week. I loved the chickens, but not quite in the same way, so they are more like pimple holes on my heart.
BUT........important news – I have discovered cure for alcoholism. Drink from picnic wine glasses! Had a daring three whole glasses last night, felt completely drunk, slept the sleep of the wino, woke up to find that only half a bottle gone – and half of that was drunk by Rupert!
Also, good news – we have exchanged contracts on the house in the UK – which means that the crazy optimistic dream we had, of selling our house here before we left and having a house that we could move into when we arrived, is actually going to come true!!!!! (hopefully!) Of course, I might hate it, but to be honest, I really don't care. As long as the roof doesn't leak, and I can find a way of making coffee inside it, that's all I care about right now and if the kids have their iPods, they will be likewise fine.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


This last week has not been the best. 
I don't believe in fate. I really don't. The thought that stars or other matter have the remotest interest in what happens in my life, just doesn't make much sense to me.
But there are times when it does seem as though the fates are trying to tell me something. 
As anyone reading this blog may have guessed, I am not totally au fait with the idea of leaving Australia. Yes, there are times when I imagine soft green grass, morris dancing, pubs that smell of old wood and stale beer and banks of flowers; times when I think of dappled forest glades flooded with bluebells, the fact that James Ehnes if far more likely to appear in London than Brisbane; ties when I imagine strolling down cobblestoned streets and gazing at buildings that have History and Character and Beauty; there are times when I think of all these things - of my family and friends back in the Uk - and my heart glows at the thought of being back there.
And then I remember traffic queues at Sainsbury's, slipping on cobblestoned streets in the pouring rain, David Cameron, freezing cold winters, cramped houses with no swimming pools (yes, what poverty!) and my heart sinks. I look at my fat back lab and want to howl. I look at my three children - the eldest who has suddenly developed a social life after 15 years, the middle one who has enough drama in her daily life to furnish a Wagner Opera, the youngest, who is - most of the time - my little ray of sunshine - and I think about what lies ahead of them - learning to cope with getting up in the dark most of the year, learning to cope with grey skies most of the year, having to learn a new school system, the fact that the people who have known them all their lives are now going to be literally a world away - and my heart quails.
I look around at our lovely house, the swimming pool, the mango tree which is covered in mangoes, all of which will ripen after we've gone, all our beautiful friends and I wonder why on earth we are doing this?
And then we have a day like last Sunday, when I woke up to find that the chickens, Gwendolen and Dopiaza, had been slaughtered overnight, in spite of the fact that they were locked in their coop and that my beloved cat - the cat I have nursed through an amputated leg, tick bites, magpie attack, renal failure and depression, the cat who slept with me every night - was dead by the side of the road, presumably hit by a car. 
And now the thought of leaving this house is no longer so dreadful. To be honest, if it didn't mean saying goodbye to Guinny, I would leave tomorrow. If I believed in fate, I might even think that he/she may have played a hand in this, but then that would mean that she/he is not, after all, a very nice person, certainly not an animal lover!
Onwards and upwards, so they say. New horizons beckon.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A little Spookiness for Halloween!

I swore to myself that I wouldn't do any writing until we had moved out of this house, as I can't afford to get obsessive about anything at the moment. However, I've been sick this week, so on Wednesday I was very evil and took time out to attend to my withdrawal symptoms and write a story for Lydia, so here goes.

All Hallows

It was the sort of night that usually had people huddling indoors in front of the fire. A blustery ice-wind had shredded the clouds so that only pale entrails of moonlight filtered down to the dark streets and leaves rattled along the pavements like skeleton's feet.
But tonight wasn't just any night – it was a night for excitement, for celebration, orange lights twinkling from the branches of trees, silk cobwebs floating across gateways and, from up and down the street came giggles, shrieks, a moaning and a groaning, the running of feet.
A group of children came down the pathway from number eight, black polyester cloaks streaming out behind them, pointed hats askew, bouncing with excitement, comparing their bags of goodies. Pete knew each of them by name, he had watched them so often before.
Jim, the redhead from the next street; quiet, shy, played the trombone and sang in a choir.
Raj – the handsome one of the group, the one the girls all liked, with his shiny black slicked hair and jaunty shoulders, loping legs.
Then there was Kiera, who he had seen crying in her bedroom too many times to count, while her parents fought downstairs. But she was alright now, safe behind her shiny armour of make-up and too-high-heels and wide bright smile. The others didn't know about her parent's fights. He knew secret things about them all.
Mandy, Ed's younger sister. Ed was too old for trick or treating now, in spite of the fact that he had been a babe in arms when Pete was a teenager.
Then there was quiet Jane, the book one – the one who came out of her house with her nose buried in a book every morning, walked to the bus stop reading, stood and waited for the bus without looking up. How many times had he wanted to pat her on the shoulder - “Look, I know this village is pretty quiet, but you do get reckless drivers sometimes you know. It's not as safe as it looks, you should watch out.”
And lastly, Gary, Jane's younger brother, dressed as a gangster, because he was always desperate to be the tough guy.
He licked his lips, swallowed. It had taken him a long time to pluck up the courage for this, years of loneliness - but surely they would see him - tonight of all nights? This was his night, after all. He ran a hand through his hair, stepped forward. “Hi.”
None of them looked up. He swallowed again, clenching his fists. If only they would just look up, surely they would see him? “Hi.” He said it so loudly this time it was almost a shout and this time they did hear – they all paused, looked round. And yes, they had seen him as well, they were all looking at him and he saw the expressions race across their faces in quick succession - surprise, disgust, fear - admiration.
“Yeah?” Gary said. Loud, like the Lad he wished he was.
“Hi. I'm Pete.”
“Yeah? So?”
Jane was frowning at Gary, waggling her eyebrows at him to be nice. Pete swallowed again, flexed his tight fingers. “I just wondered if I could come round with you?”
There was an exchange of glances, shrugging. “Why not?” Mandy said at last and he felt the relief surge through him as big as a tidal wave and his face broke out into a big beam. “Thanks.”
She smiled, but he saw that she turned and raised an eyebrow at Keira, who shrugged back. Oh well, so they thought he was weird - he didn't care. Not really. Not much, anyway. They had said yes, that was all that mattered. He could join them - be one of them - for the night.
They were moving off again, the boys too impatient - “No, not number 14, they're always stingy. Gave me an apple once.'” - and he followed along, tagging behind.
“Number 16 is a good one to stop at!” And then they were run-walking and he could feel the energy and excitement emanating from their bodies like warmth and he found himself smiling and trotting along beside Jane. Mandy was a little to one side and behind, Keira walking with her. He had been absorbed into their group as easily as that.
“I'm Jane,” Jane said and he nodded. “Yes. I know.”
She frowned, looking at him sideways, under her eyelashes. “Cool costume,” she said and he opened his mouth to speak but remembered in time not to tell her. They were moving up the path to number 16 and the door flew open and there was Mr Evans giving a booming, fake scream: “Ahh! What a frightening group of people! Linda! The zombies have arrived! We're under attack!” And Gary and Raj groaned and even Mandy said: “Oh F*** off, how old do you think we are?” under her breath. But they all reached out and dipped their hands into the bowl of Mars Bars that he was holding out. Mr Evans looked round at the group and his eyes rested on Pete and he held out the bowl to him just as though he were a normal kid. “Hi, not sure I recognise you under all that paint. Who are you?” he said.
“Right, Pete.” Mr Evans frowned for a moment but then shook the thought away and grinned. “Well, have some chocolate Pete. Great look you've got there.”
And then they were off again in a rush, off to the house next door, and then the next one and the next one and they walked close together in the cold night, jostling each other, giggling, pushing and shoving. Drunk with sugar, Keira tripped and fell sideways, landing heavily against Pete, her warm arm and shoulder hard against his own and he felt a smile heat his stomach.
“Hey, I've got loads of liquorice and I can't stand the stuff! Anyone want mine?”
“Swap you for some sour worms?”
“What about these mint things? They taste like cardboard and stick your teeth together.”
“Hey Pete, don't you want yours?”
He shook his head. “Not really. You can have them if you like.”
“What's the point of trick or treating if you don't eat sweets?”
He shrugged. “Well, it's just for fun, isn't it?”
Jane stared at him and then smiled. “Yes, of course it is.”
Her eyes, behind the thick black vampire eye-liner were warm and he grinned back at her. The wind had died down and the clouds had parted to show the moon, full and round and yellow as a pumpkin and his heart sang. The years of waiting for this moment didn't matter any more. Even the fact that he would have to wait again, for another year, didn't matter, right now. It was his night tonight.

“Hey, Jane, do you remember Pete?”
A worm of memory stirred in the back of her brain and she frowned, but the worm flopped back to sleep again. Gary was pale as he sat down in the seat opposite her and beer slopped out of his glass as he placed it on the mat.
“No, sorry, I don't. Who's Pete? You okay Gaz? What's this all about?”
“Pete. The boy at Halloween.” He was breathing heavily and cracking his knuckles, running his fingers through his hair.
Halloween. Pete. The worm was wriggling now and the memories started to flood back – with an odd sense of guilt. Pete... Oh yes!
He had shown up one Halloween and asked if he could join their gang, but there had been something odd about him – nobody knew who he was and he had not eaten any of his sweets and... and the sense of loneliness had been so strong, it was as though it came off him in waves. At the end of the evening, he had drifted off to wherever he lived and they had hardly thought about him until the following year, when he turned up again – dressed in the same costume – a ragged T shirt and jeans with blood all down his face and arms.
Then the next year, he'd been waiting at the gate again when Raj came to pick her up to take her to the school Halloween Ball. Same costume again. He'd beamed at her, his whole face lighting up with excitement.
“Oh,” she'd said. “It's you. I'm afraid we're not going trick or treating this year.”
She hadn't expected the look of devastation that flooded his face and it had made her feel slightly sick, but Raj had laughed.
“We're getting a bit old for all that crap,” he'd said. “Aren't you?” And then he'd laughed again. “No, I guess not. You're still a kid, aren't you? What happened? Not taken your growth hormones?”
That had been the end of her and Raj. She hated it when he talked to other people like that, but by the time they had finished yelling at each other and he had stormed off, Pete had gone and she hadn't seen him again. Hadn't thought about him again, till now.
Now she looked across the pub table at her brother, who was cracking his knuckles and staring into his beer. There was a thin film of sweat over his skin, in spite of the cold. He had sounded really upset on the phone earlier – so upset that she'd jumped into the car and raced over to the pub to meet him as quickly as she could. Much quicker than she should have done, as it had turned out. “I remember now. What about him Gary?”
He wouldn't meet her eye for a moment, drank half way down his beer glass, but then he looked up. “Went round to Mum and Dad's earlier this evening to drop something off and there was a whole lot of kids out trick or treating.”
“Yes?” She pulled her coat tighter around her. It was cold tonight. Colder than it should be, surely?
“Well I saw this boy and – look, I know you won't believe me, but I could have sworn it was the same boy – Pete - only he still only looked about thirteen.”
“Do you remember how he always dressed the same – like he'd been in some awful accident, or something?”
Jane nodded. “Mmm.”
“You don't believe me, do you? I mean, I know it must have been someone else, but he looked exactly the same. He had that same – that same weird dent on his head as though it had been stove in -”
Jane shook her head. “Don't,” she said. She closed her eyes and the squealing of brakes came back to her, a crunching bang, then agonising pain in her side, quickly gone as it had come followed by cold, beckoning darkness. No. Not tonight. Not yet. She snapped her eyes open again, drawing herself back to the crowded room, the people chatting, calling out to each other, the sticky scent of warm beer, of woodsmoke and damp cloth; the sharp thud of pool balls, a singer, whining in the background about lost love.
Gary was sighing and rubbing a hand over his eyes. “I guess I must be going crazy, but you know, he looked at me and said hi and – well, he seemed to know me. I- I'm sure it was Pete, you know. The same boy, who used to come round with us.”
Jane nodded, a certainty creeping up on her that she knew she could do nothing about.
“You think I'm crazy?”
She shook her head, reached across the table and squeezed his hand. So warm compared to hers. She would miss him. “No, I don't think you're crazy. After all it's All Hallows, isn't it?”
“Well, it's the Night of the Dead. The night the dead can walk abroad. It's our night.”

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Grand Plans?

A few weeks ago, I had a Grand Plan and asked the kids to make a list of all the things they wanted to do/places they wanted to visit, before we left Brisbane. I was determined that we would not spend the remainder of our time here running around like headless chickens and being totally stressed.
So yesterday we made a trip to Underwater World at Mooloolaba for the last time. This meant that Saturday was spent in a screaming rush, trying to do all the things we wouldn't have time to do on Sunday, but we managed most of them. Sort of. Ish.
“We'll leave at 8am,” Rupert said and I gave him an irritatingly patronising smile but did not say anything.
We made it into the car by 9:30, by which time most of us were not talking to each other, but thank heaven for iPods and books. Got to Mooloolaba at 11ish, found a park by 11:30, arrived at the doors of the aquarium to be met by bright eyed teenager with camera: “Just stand here and I'll take your photo as a souvenir of your trip.” Looked back at family – at the jutting of jaws, the wild hair, the arms folded over chests. “Um, no thank you,” I replied. “I'm really not sure I want a reminder of how we look this morning.”
By lunchtime we had all calmed down, united by our mutual fascination of sea life, seal and otter cuteness overload and hunger, so we repaired to our favourite restaurant – actually it's not our favourite restaurant, we just like our traditions and we have been going to the Hog's Breath on our trips to Mooloolaba since Juliette was 2 days old and I had to sit on a pile of towels because the benches were too hard for me...
Then repaired to the beach, though it was freezing cold with a biting wind. The girls and Rupert braved the water for ten minutes and Sam and I sat and talked about his plans for world domination before we returned to car, to sit in traffic for three hours to get home.
Okay, we had a lovely day – really we did. The aquarium was fascinating as ever, filling us with the requisite wonder and awe at the beauty and variety of nature. The beach was stunning – miles of white sand, rolling waves bedecked with bright windsurf sails like butterfly wings, sandy children running around in the fresh air with kites and balls, being children in a way that you only tend to see at the beach. There was even a good ten minutes in the car on the way back when the kids weren't all fighting and we sang a couple of songs together. (A few more minutes of gritting teeth whilst Lydia regaled us with “Let it Go,” the world's worst fart song, but we won't mention that, because, of all of us, she is the least grumpy.)
But sometimes I wonder whether my Grand Plan is worth it. I am already wishing that we could give up everything in favour of concentrating on LEAVING. There are so many little itty bitty things to do – arrangements to make re purchase of new house and sale of old house, arrangements to be made for the hand over of String quartet and pupils; packing, cleaning - and of course life doesn't stop just because we are leaving. There is still housework to be done, shopping, pupils to be taught, animals to feed and water and walk; there are still ballet concerts and school concerts and choir concerts, school awards evenings, ballet classes and choir classes and school! Juliette's school trip to Emu Gully, Lydia's school trip to Canberra, I seem to have rehearsals or gigs or concerts most nights or weekends and the kids are wound up so tight that there are frequent explosions – though how much of this is due to normal teenage hormones and how much to the fact that we are taking them away from their home, friends and most of their animals, it is hard to tell. Rupert can't go to sleep at night without doing the Times crossword till 1am, whereas I, of course, am calm and placid as usual, only bursting into tears several day at the first bars of a song on the radio or the odd hysterical outburst from said teenagers.
But it will ALL be worth it in the end. Won't it?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Garage Sale - Bignall Style

This was the plan:

Get the children to organise big garage sale, appealing to their mercenary instincts in the hopes that they would overcome any sadness at the thought of having to give away well loved but no longer needed items which will not fit into a house a quarter of the size of our present abode. Crowds of people would come thronging to our gate, all throwing money at us.

This is how said plan actually eventuated.

I spent a couple of weeks frantically sorting through various cupboards and shelves, making piles of stuff for the family to trip over, throughout the house, with NO HELP from kids. Kids were much too busy reading, having dramas, playing computer games, doing the odd tiny bit of homework. Day before garage sale, we have ballet, I have wedding in Manly, barbecue with friends in evening, but two children actually start to pull their weight and by some monumental effort we manage to get garage almost clean and most of our household moved into it, plus three batches of fudge cooked.
Morning of garage sale, wake at 4am (“People will be turning up from 6am, you must be prepared!”) and then at 4:05 am, and then at 4:10 am, etc, till eventually drag my carcass out of bed at 5:30, shower and go downstairs to finish sorting goods, pricing them.
7:30 am, the valiant and wonderful Leslie turns up with a bag of croissants, has to push her way through the hordes, i.e. Guinny, the cats, chickens and us.
8:30 am Layla turns up. Things are really hotting up now. We have a customer!!We all hang around in the garage, drinking tea, catching up on gossip, Layla (bless her heart) buys some camping gear and assorted sundries.
9:30 am. Is that another customer? No, it is Ash and Warwick and little baby James, come for a cuppa and moral support.
9:45 another car door slams, the excitement builds... and here's Beth, come to see how a garage sale works....
More tea and coffee, croissants all round, we have now moved to the sitting room where we indulge in baby gazing, reminiscing, looking at photos of the house. I receive some text messages from Kory and Julia, bidding on items remotely.
10:45, John, Leslie's husband arrives.
11:00 Sam's friend Tom arrives with little brother and mum Katrina, more tea and we all sit in the sitting room and play word games.
Everybody departs at 12ish and my cousin Meg, plus kids, arrives, followed by Helen, with son Jack, and the afternoon is spent in the pool, the kids trying to drown each other etc etc. adults getting soaked in the process. End of Garage Sale.
Well, we didn't make enough money to pay for that violin case and our garage is still stuffed to the gills! But we covered the fudge expenses, (I think!) And, more importantly, we had a lovely Sunday hanging out with beautiful friends. Thanks to them all xxxx

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Rat on Top of the Cupcake

Last weekend saw my last performance with the Queensland Pops Orchestra.
Though the last year has seen many changes, I have to say that, for the previous seven years or so, playing with Pops was one of the highlights of my musical life. And while the music that Pops plays is not, perhaps, the most challenging, mentally or physically, or the most musically fulfilling, it is usually a great deal of fun!
Over the last seven years, we have worked with some truly wonderful musicians – The King's Singers and Burt Bacharach were particularly lovely to work with from a musical point of view. And then there were others who I would put in the “interesting” category, like Michael Bolton – until you have sat on stage whilst he attempted to sing opera, reading phonetic French from the Autocue, while 5000 salivating Gold Coast matrons screamed and threw their knickers at him – you haven't LIVED. (Actually, I'm exaggerating about the knicker throwing - at $1000 a Gucci gusset, I don't think those Gold Coast ladies would risk throwing their knickers at anyone - but you could see they wanted to..)
Some of my favourite memories are of the Brisbane seasons of Australian Opera's My Fair Lady and The Pirates of Penzance; building Pit Camaraderie and flu germs; ogling Richard E Grant and Anthony Warlow/aka Johnny Depp/aka Captain Jack Sparrow, sharing books and many jokes.
Then there were all the Lord Mayor's Christmas carol concerts at the City Botanic Gardens – playing amidst thunderstorms and heat waves, trying to protect one's violin from the elements, whilst tigers and Guy Sebastian danced behind us; trying desperately to keep from giggling, with television cameras zooming in on one's face (The Lord – creator of the Universe, the stars and the planets, atoms and bacteria, creator of oceans and volcanoes, of forests and rivers, disease and war, love and death – looked down and saw that his people had decided to honour him by dressing up as giant velour Clown Fish and galumphing round the stage, “Thank you Jesus!”)
With the Pops orchestra I have played with many well-known singers I had never heard of before – Glenn Frey (The Eagles, I think?), Troy Cassar-Daley, Katie Miller-Heidke, Sarah Blasko – and enjoyed most of their music. Or some of it at any rate. Possibly. If you see what I mean.
And then there have been some I had definitely heard of before – Tim Minchin, Eric Idle – it is not generally known that we here in Brisbane gave the World Premiere of Not the Messiah - and jolly good it was too!!
The list of memories goes on: Cirque de la Symphonie - trying to play Wagner with young, virile, tighted men dangling over our heads, playing for Tony Abbot and Campbell Newman ...yes, well, the money was good....
The annual concert series, The Best of Britishes, the Celts concerts, with the wonderful Irish and Scottish dancing, the Country music concerts – they have all been great fun.
But one of the things that has made all these concerts so special, of course, has been the people, the wonderful friends I have made along the way. The dinners between shows, the curries and Hot Chocolates and lots of wine. It wasn't until I started playing for Pops and found that musicians in Australia are as mad and quixotic, as beautiful and fragile and friendly as they are the world over, that I began to feel at home here in Brisbane. The last year, as I said, has been a difficult one, but I will miss my pops family, Katie, Donna, Chris, Anna, Geraldine, Jenny, Jenny V, Celine, Inga, Paula,Ken and Tam, Natasha, Jane, even Kylie who I only met during the last concert. Hope you all have a wonderful time with the New Pops, and, drink a glass of red wine, occasionally, for me! (yes, I realise I'm asking a lot, but just think of it as a sacrifice to old friends.)

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A Series of Lasts

We have now got to the point where our life has become a Series of Last Things. 
I've had my last pupil's concert, probably had my last soiree. The kids have had their last school holiday and this weekend we had our last Aussie camping trip with my cousin Meg, her husband Chris and their three kidlets.
I am ashamed to say, that after nearly fifteen years here, we have not managed to master the true Aussie art of camping; I don't think we're really cut out for it. For instance, I have heard that other people play a car game: "I went on holiday and I packed my .....". You probably know it - the idea is that you go round the circle and each person adds something to the list and has to remember what has come before. In our family, we play a game called "I went on holiday and I forgot to pack the .....etc etc." 
This holiday was the same as usual. We had to stop en route to buy groceries and the torches we had forgotten to pack, stop again to buy the groceries we forgot to buy. We arrived at the camping site, admirably prepared, or so I thought, with the tent, some food (mostly crisps, cereal and fruit) in a cool box, plates, cutlery and cups, a pan and a frying pan, a table and a camping stove. After all, what more could you possibly need? But Meg and Chris, though they have been in Australia for less time, seem to have adapted better; they had the whole big gazebo strung with lights, the dining-room-table-living-room-suite-and-coffee-table thing going on, though that was nothing compared to most of the tents around us, which looked like soup kitchens for the elite. I always thought that the whole idea of camping was to "get away from it all," but apparently, no, the idea is to "take it all away with you."
Still, in every other way it was the typical and rather wonderful Aussie camping experience. King parrots fighting in the trees as we set up the tents, kookaburras waking us at dawn with their hysterical cackling, having to barricade the food away from the possums, (feeding them chilli sauce seemed to keep them away for one night - inadvertently, I hasten to add) ticks galore, getting bitten by green ants, nearly dying of hypothermia at night, though getting overheated and sweaty during the day. In other words, we had a wonderful time. The kids played endless games of cluedo, we adults drank rather a lot of wine, we feasted on barbecued steak and sausages, bacon and eggs. We sat around the camp fire and played games, sang songs, told stories, read a little, slept a little – a very little – swam in the creek, went walking in the Bush (though I was wearing flip flops, so whilst everyone else charged ahead, I had to do a sort of mincing, crab type walk al the way up Mount Barney and down again, which has left me almost unable to walk.) 
The were only two things that marred the experience. One was that the Big Hairy One was not with us, due to the fact that he was in Mexico at the time, so it didn't feel quite right, in spite of the fact that I knew that if he had been there he would have spent the whole time crouched smelling in his tent, complaining and grunting. 
The other thing was just the simple fact that I felt so sad that we wouldn't be doing this again, and not with Meg and Chris and their children who are so close to ours, though so much younger. How we will do without them all I just don't know.
It wasn't, thankfully, until we left the camp that I read the sheet of RULES we'd been given, which included “ABSOLUTELY NO noise after 9pm,” (whoops), “No unaccompanied children below the age of 15 allowed in the toilet block, (double whoops), no Bad Language, no Spitting, etc etc. For those non Aussies who might possibly be reading this, I would have to say that, in my experience, this is NOT what I would call a typical Aussie camping experience. More like a Nazi camp. Still, we had a lovely time and it is very strange to think that the next time we unpack our tent, we will likely be in the New Forest or Dorset – or by the side of the road, if our house sale doesn't go through.