Hairy House

Hairy House

Thursday, 25 September 2014


So, a couple of days ago, they came and slapped a great big “SOLD” sign outside our house.
Now, this is the house that we designed ourselves – at least, we paid someone vast amounts of money to design it for us (“Just tell me what you want and I will make sure you get it – unless, of course, it doesn't fit with my vision of Modern Australia – noen of your Middle Eastern Archway rubbish, thank you.”)
Our children have grown up here, changing from sweet toddlers and a baby who spent many a happy hour digging in the back garden, playing endless soccer matches and going on numerous Bear Hunts, to inert creatures who appear to need to be plugged into some form of electronic equipment in order to survive. This house has seen so many parties – children's parties with musical races across the lawn, puppet shows, treasure hunts – Christmas parties with carols round the piano, more puppet shows – soirees with string quartets, oboe quartets, flute quartets, Mendelssohn to jazz to Bach to Celine Dion. We have had game nights which have lasted through the night, cocktail parties, film showings. I have got to know so many of my lovely students here, run my baby music classes, rehearsed for various concerts; we have had countless friends for tea, coffee, barbecues, swimming, curries, of course. This house has been home to four cats, eight chickens, a million guppies, a hundred guinea pigs and my Guinny Pig. We have spent many fruitful and unfruitful hours in the garden, hours painting mosaic tiles on the walls, (more hours cleaning toilets, floors walls, but I won't go into that)
And now, with a single, four letter word, it is all coming to an end.
But the really odd thing, is that, right now, I don't care and I don't know why. Is it just that I have done all my grieving? Am I in denial? Is the worst still to come? I think that it's mainly because there is still sooooo much to do that selling the house is just one thing to cross off the list.
I think I will go and crochet a hat now. I have made eleven so fa

Monday, 22 September 2014

Age, Robbie and Me.

One of the reasons I am finding this move back to the SUK to be fraught with emotion, is the fact that it has brought home to us how quickly life moves on.
Five minutes ago, Rupert and I had only been married for five years and were planning adventures in South America, working with Brazilian street kids. When I found out I was pregnant with our first child, we decided that Australia was probably a safer bet for raising young children – South America could wait for a bit.
Then came the fug of endless sleepless nights, of nappies and feeds and more pregnancies; then came rounds of soccer matches and ballet lessons and play dates and school runs. Next thing we know, we are contemplating returning to England when the kids have all finished school and realise that by that time, Rupert will be 47 and the older two will likely be thoroughly ensconced in Australian life – possibly with kids of their own! So we decided that we need to return to the SUK now, where we will doubtless replicate the endless rounds of soccer matches and ballet lessons and school runs, the “hanging out” dates but please God, no more sleepless nights, pregnancies and nappies.
South America is, I believe, still there, somewhere past the Atlantic, but when we will get to it, heaven knows, what with University fees looming...
Last night did not help to restore any feelings of youth. Last night, I attended my first ever Pop concert. I knew what to expect, of course. Pop concerts are where you go for heaving bodies, strobe lighting, Bad Language, drugs, drink and desperate police, aren't they?
Well, apparently not, not nowadays.
Apparently one drives to Pop concerts, nowadays, in one's shiny four wheel drive, with at least two kiddie's car seats in the back, before joining a decorous queue in the “beer” tent, to order one's Prosecco. When famous pop star appears on stage, he is dressed in tie and tails and goes on to tell stories of his children and his life as a dad and the cameras on either side of the stage, (presumably set up for the nearly-blind-now) focus rather too clearly on the crow's feet around his eyes and mouth. But one is enjoying the music, so one sits back, looks around at the assembled throng and realises that one is surrounded by old people. And then one realises that one is just as old as everybody else!
The one thing that made me feel as though I was at a real Pop concert last night, was the ridiculous volume of the music – though whether that was to instil excitement in the crowd, or whether it was to cater for the hard of hearing, I'm not sure.
Still, it was a good night, and, I might add, the second good night in a row for me, following our sort-of leaving party the night before, in which the consumption of much alcohol followed by much singing, though not much dancing (everybody has bad knees nowadays) had taken place. So there is life in the old bird yet! Now just have to see if I can keep my eyes open long enough to get through tonight's rehearsal...

Friday, 19 September 2014

A House! A House! Australia for a House!

So, Rupert arrived home at 2am yesterday morning, laden with photos of the house that we are buying – that we should own, in sh'allah, by the end of November.
From the photos, it seems that it is almost everything I ever dreamed of in a house – at least, it is if I'm pretending to be a reasonable human being. If I was honest, I would admit to wanting acres of rolling parkland, the sort of house which would demand a butler or two and a team of servants. But I'm not, so I won't. This house is about a quarter of the size of our present house, with a garden a tenth of the size, but it has crooked staircases, perculiarly shaped rooms, cupboards in odd places, and hair. Ever since I was a little girl I've dreamed of having a house with hair.
And though the garden is so small, it is on the edge of a tiny village, within easy walking distance of woods and fields – the best pub in the vicinity is a minute away. It is on a good bus route to all the schools we have lined up and within easyish commuting distance to all the right places. Yes, I am getting excited at last!! Apparently it is very much Tory stomping ground, but I am sure that we can change that.... In fact, I am beginning to think that our presence is very much needed back in the old still-united-kingdom. Having spent a lot of time looking at pictures of house interiors on the net recently, we have noticed a disturbing trend; it seems that a lot of people need to have reminders as to what to do in certain rooms. For instance, many rooms have big letters on the wall “EAT” in the dining rooms, “BATHE,” in the bathrooms, “COOK” in the kitchens, “SLEEP” in the bedrooms. I'm sure people didn't need such instruction when we last lived in the UK 15 years ago – what can I say - our country needs us.
But of course the excitement was bittersweet. At the end of every term for the last few years, I force my pupils to play to each other and then we have a mini-party. Last night was my last pupil's concert.
Though sometimes I wish I didn't have to teach and could devote all my time to my kids/writing/playing - though sometimes my pupils drive me up the wall, I can also say that I am VERY lucky, as I love them all, and their parents, with a passion. I have been teaching many of them for several years now and have seen them grow from stumbling beginners to little people with real music under their fingers. I love chatting to them, listening to their wonderfully imaginative excuses for not having practised, LOVE those moments when I see the spark light and flourish and shine. It breaks my heart to pass them on to other people, to know that I will not be watching over their development any more. It was a good thing I was so tired yesterday – having not had any sleep the night before, due to arrival of husband, I could hardly keep my eyes open and was swaying on my feet – otherwise I would have blubbered all over them, but as it was it took all my concentration to remain standing. I just hope that when they're all famous musicians they remember me and give me free tickets to their concerts!!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Time for a Melt Down

I am beginning to discover that buying a house by remote control is not the least stressful option. After a week of four hours a night sleep and a weekend spent driving children all over Queensland, I found myself at the end of my tether yesterday and was more interested in running away to Peru, sans kids, than in trying to choose our new home via internet.
My sister, Miriam, has been absolutely wonderful, taking photos and video of the houses that she has been to see with Rupert and sending them for me to look at. But of course, even with today's amazing technology, you don't really get the full picture. Sometimes you get more - leading to conversations with one's husband like this, at 7:30 yesterday morning, teenagers champing at the bit beside you, wanting lifts down to the school bus.
“We have to make a decision within the next 24 hours.”
“Well, this new one you've suddenly decided is our dream house - it looks like it's on a very busy street.”
“Oh no, there's hardly any traffic.”
“But the photos make it look like Car City.”
“Oh no, there would only have been three cars there.”
“I counted twelve just in one picture – parked along both sides of the street and on the pavement.”
“Oh. I didn't notice any.”
“And what's the commute like for Sam?”
“Oh it's only five miles to the nearest bus stop for school. He can bike that easily.”
“What's the road like?”
“The road?”
“Yes, the road that he will be biking in the dark at 4pm on a winter's day.” Visions of my Australian son, negotiating winding English roads in the icy winter evenings....
“Oh, I expect it will be fine.”
Convincing much? The trouble is that I haven't had a chance to talk to anyone about all this and don't know if I'm being perfectly reasonable, or whether I'm just too tired and emotional and, sitting looking out at the bright sunshine, the parrots chirruping in the trees, my darling and soon to be ex dog at my feet, I am making mountains out of molehills.
The day didn't get much better. I had someone come to give me a moving quote a couple of hours later – which meant a panic stricken cleaning of the house first, since he had to go into every room, of course and look in all the cupboards. But I did it and I was managing quite well until he asked whether we would be taking the dog kennel with us....
But the poor man was very sweet and understanding. “Let it go, let it go, don't hold it back any more,” he said. Or words to that effect. Then he went on: “Don't worry, you'll adjust soon. The kids will adjust. You don't have high school kids, do you?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do – they're all high school age.”
“Oh, I see, because they're the ones who typically commit suicide after a big move like this. You wouldn't believe the suicide rate.” As he talked I could see the haunted look in his eye – an expression I recognise from my own experience, the “I-can't-believe-I-am-saying-this-but-I-can't-seem-to-stop” look.
Then came teaching, followed by the usual round of driving kids to ballet and shopping and back home because I had forgotten my purse and then out again to soccer and then back to ballet and home and then out to pick up errant son and argue with errant son re what he was prepared to eat, versus what I had prepared for him to eat.
Then, leaving the kids to fend for themselves, out to rehearsal. Back at 10:30, exhausted, to find kids in bed, but food and plates scattered all over the kitchen bench, the table, sink piled high, dishwasher full, chickens waiting to be put to bed, cats who hadn't been fed, husband wanting to skype again on dodgy connection.
Stormed up to bed at midnight, feeling very sorry for myself and wondering what price I could get for the kids if I sold them on ebay and found a tray of chocolate cupcakes on the bed. “Thank you for everything Mum.”
Might keep them for a while yet.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Proms!!!!!

Last night I was driving Lydia home from ballet when one of the Proms concerts started to air on the radio.
“Oh Lydia, it's the proms!” I said. “Maybe, when we move to England, you'll be able to go to the proms!”
“What's the proms?” She asked so I told her all about it – about that summer's afternoon when we were on holiday in England, many, many years ago and our father announced: “right, everybody, shoes on, go to the toilet and into the car!”
“Why? Where are we going?”
“We're going to a concert.”
“In London.”
So we raced into London, miraculously without breaking down, found parking – even more miraculously and probably highly illegally – in Hyde Park and ran to the Albert Hall. But by the time we panted to a stop outside the megalithic stone hall, we were too late.
“There's no more tickets for the arena!” The stewards were shouting.
“Never mind, we'll go in the gallery,” Daddy said and so my first ever Proms concert was sitting on the marble floor of the gallery that runs round the inside of the hall, gazing down, with my myopic eyes, at the fuzzy heads on the stage far far below, the music wafting upwards, a split second behind the bowing and twinkling of fingers. I can't remember what the music was, but I was hooked.
From then on I was a regular at the Proms, sometimes alone, sometimes with my sisters, sometimes with friends we dragged along. We would take the first train to London in the morning, Victoria line from Euston, Piccadilly line from Green Park, run through the tunnel at South Kensington Tube station and up the Brompton road and along Prince Consort, to the steps of the Albert hall – wherein was the queue for the Arena. We would sign our names on the list and then queue all day – though we were allowed off for short periods, to get lunch etc. I would take my violin and busk, either in Kensington Gardens or the the Tube station, always earning back the money I paid for my train ticket and proms ticket and food, plus extra if I was lucky.
And, for the price of two pounds I stood at the feet of Joshua Bell, Midori, Anne Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Dong Su Kang, Alfred Brendel, the best orchestras from around the world.
I told all this to Lydia. I told her about the life long friends we made in the queue; how we would sit and chat in the sun on the steps and play cards and cats cradle, how we would bring instruments and play chamber music; how, one year, we practised for and performed an operetta under the feet of Little Albert on the Last Night of the Proms; how we slept out in sleeping bags on the pavement for a couple of nights to guarantee our places for the Berlin Philharmonic and the Last Night. I told her about the excitement of the doors opening, going inside, buying our tickets and racing, hearts pounding, through the dusty bowels of the Albert Hall, to the arena to bag a decent place on the rail in front of the stage. I told her about the games of Ping pong we in the arena had with the promenaders in the Gallery: “Anyone for a game of tennis?”
And she said: “Gosh, how boring.”

Monday, 8 September 2014

Rupert has left me....

He's coming back in eleven days though, hopefully – he's just gone to England to buy a house, as one does. We're hoping that he will find the perfect house, put in an offer and then, over the course of the next couple of months, we can settle remotely so that when we arrive in England at the end of this year/beginning of next, we will have a house to move into. There's nothing wrong with setting one's sights high, is there?
Hopefully, he will at least be able to find a nearly decent house and start negotiations. At the moment we are living in limbo. We don't really know where in England we will be living, except that we need to be within commuting distance of London and the Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School, which is where we're hoping that Sam will go. But until we have found a house, we will not be able to apply for schooling for the girls (not being in the sixth form, it's more complicated for them), we don't know whether we'll be able to take the piano (it's a full size concert grand), or the sofas (the only ones in Australia that we found comfortable) or whether we need to sell half our stuff. Until we have found a house, it will be very difficult to look forward.
But it's all a bit stressful. For one thing, we're not very good at being separated and this is the second time this year – bring on Moon River. For another, though I mostly trust him, this is hopefully the house we will live in for quite a while – the thought of moving again within the next 100 years, is not particularly appealing. And considering I will probably spend more time at home then he will – at least for a year or so - he'd better find one that I like!
Then there's the fact that the last time Rupert was in England – for a whole two weeks – he spent the entire period saying how much he hated it and how he couldn't wait to get back “home” to Australia. Now, just in case you haven't realised yet, it's been mostly him driving this whole decision to move back to the UK – he is the one who is desperate to go and is “convinced” that it is the right thing to do. So, since we've virtually signed the house away to someone else, made arrangements for my darling dog to go to a new home and are in the process of organising the removals people, am somewhat hoping that the lenses don't suddenly drop from his rosy tinted spectacles and he doesn't come rushing home determined to stay away from England forever.
More than all that, however, is the fact that this step is making the whole moving thing frighteningly real.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Musical Memories

I have heard that of all the senses, it is smell that is mostly linked to memory, but I sometimes wonder whether it is actually your hearing? Or my hearing, that is....At any rate, sometimes I only have to hear the first chord of a piece and I am transported through time and space - generally to a time and place that has nothing whatsoever to do with the music.

For instance, take Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March. Though I have played this a zillion times, with many different orchestras, though I have sung it as it is surely meant to be sung – as one of the crowd in the Arena at the Royal Albert Hall at the Last Night of the Proms, I can't actually remember all those times. Whenever I hear it, I am instantly in Saudi Arabia again, smelling dusty air conditioning, in a huge room full of drunken, homesick ex-patriots, singing their hearts out, accompanied by a concert band of doubtful tunefulness, performing our own Last Night. And with those images, comes the emotion, the pride I feet in standing on the stage, one of the performers, the anticipation of morris dancing in the interval, the niggle of excitement because HE is in the audience, the niggle of worry that maybe HE won't notice me, won't see me sing, won't see me dance, won't actually care that I exist! (Yes, this is a memory that date back to my teens!)

Then there are three hymns – The Lord's my Shepherd, Oh Hear oh Lord, the Sound of my Prayer and another-one-I-can't-remember-the-name-of-right-now, but which take me straight back to a hot, steamy Cathedral in Liberia. It is lit by candles, blowing and guttering in the wind, whilst rain pours down outside, turning the earth the colour of blood in an emerald world and I am here, safe with my family from the flash and tumult of the thunderstorm.

Elgar again: Where Coral Lies, a song about the English sea, takes me to a world of bright blue skies and palm trees, the singing of Mullahs, calling people to prayer, a blare and bugle of car horns, Friday mornings in Riyadh, with trips to the British Council Library and a tape of Elgar in the car player.

Star Light, Star Bright is a well known verse, but put to music by my sister, Mary-Anne. I sing it often - whenever I am outside to see the first twinkling of twilight, in fact. But whenever I sing it, I am really back in a boat on Lake Shepherd, in Harper, watching the sun sink into the Atlantic Sea, ears full of the rushing of water from the engine, the whispering of the breeze, nostrils full of the scent of salt and fresh caught barracuda and petrol and water-weed and I hear us all, my sisters, Mummy, Daddy and me, singing it, over and over again.

Moon River is one of my favourites. I listen to it on Youtube whenever I'm feeling really sentimental, but though it may be played by an orchestra or string quartet, I am really hearing the sweet, full tones of my mother's harmonica. But sometimes, I hear it as she played it on the boat, chugging our way back over Lake Shepherd, sometimes I hear it as she played it, sitting beside a bright, golden orange camp fire, where the emptiness of the desert, beyond the light, hovered at the elbows, making your heart fill and break and fill again.

The other day I burst into tears when I heard the first few notes of The Lass of Bon Accord on the radio. I then had to try and explain to the dumbfounded Juliette, how it represented the days of my lost youth, (yes, I know, bring on Moon River!) dancing at ceilidhs on the British Aerospace compound or at events at the British Embassy.

Haydn's Imperial Nelson Mass, one of my favourite pieces, is the American Embassy in Riyadh, Bach's Magnificat belongs to the old British Embassy. Terpsichore is Ruth and Erasmus's house, soft orange lighting and sticky, custardy, danish pastries.

I could go on but, luckily for you, I won't....but I do wonder what pieces of music will remind me of Australia?

Will it be music I have played with The Queensland Pops Orchestra, the Sinfonia of St Andrews, the BCPO? Or any of the chamber music I have played with the lovely John, or my Wine and Olives piano trio? Will it be any of the songs I have taught to my Ladies Choir, or my pupils, or any of the wonderful music we have had here at our house for the many soirees we have hosted? 
Hmm, maybe. But thanks to Juliette and her incessant iPod playing, I rather think it is most likely to be Ellie Goulding, or Christina Perri's Thousand Years. 
We shall see.