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.