Hairy House

Hairy House

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas!

Last week was the first anniversary of our leaving Australia; a very emotional time for us all!
I think the biggest emotion, however, is disbelief, surprise, call it what you will - not even sure if it is an emotion!! But come on, seriously, has it really been a whole year???
When I look back on the first couple of months, with us all huddled, freezing in our unfurnished house, the future an uncertain, wavering, grey haze, it all seems, however cliched this may sound, like a distant dream.
There were times that were not much fun, it has to be said, though right from the beginning there have been joys as well - watching winter melt into spring, seeing spring burst into summer, summer fire into autumn and then....well, we're still waiting for winter, I think. Choosing to live here, with no decent shops nearby, the kids having to rely on public transport which stops at 8pm, has been one of the best things we've done! (though Sam doesn't agree, unfortunately, but then he doesn't agree with anything ever anyway.)
A couple of weeks ago, the Adstock Singers, the village choir I formed back in the Spring, gave their first concert in a candlelit, medieval stone church, bedecked with twinkling lights, candles, holly and ivy. We sang a mix of songs, from Bob Chillcott to Mariah Carey, medieval canon, to Leonard Cohen, carols from Austria, Brazil and England (!)  and, though I say it myself, it was wonderful. The choir sang beautifully, the audience (almost capacity!) thoroughly enjoyed it, I discovered that conducting is definitely what I was made to do (because nobody in the audience notices when you get a fit of the giggles, whereas, if you're playing the violin or recorder, it's much harder to hide) and we all finished up with mince pies and mulled wine. To my astonishment, both my girls and the neighbours daughter, sing in the choir and really enjoy it, which makes it all the more special. Sam was out at a party and forgot all about the concert, but, hey ho.
The following weekend, we had the church carol service, for which the Adstock Singers also sang, and the church was full of children dressed up as donkeys, shepherds, angels, in a very Joyce Grenfell moment. Then on Tuesday, the choir went to sing at a care home in Buckingham, where we marched through the corridors singing to those too sick to come out of their rooms and we finished up the day with carols round the tree in the village hall, accompanied by brass band from the next village and then, of course, mulled wine at the pub. Just in case you haven't quite caught on yet, we are thoroughly enjoying being a part of vilage life.
Though we still miss our friends and relatives in Brisbane - and always will, the fish of sadness forever worrying at a part of our souls - it is fair to say that, at this point in life, we are settling pretty well and are busier than ever, though Rupert looks like Rudoph the red-nosed reindeer at the moment. There are all sorts of deep and thought provoking things I probably ought to be writing about right now, but I just really wanted to come on here and wish everybody a wonderful Christmas and say that I hope you all have a great time, despite all the worries of the world, and may you all get dogs in the new year, if you haven't already.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


A few weeks ago, I took Lydia into London for a pair of new Pointe shoes. After spending an hour in Freeds trying on fifty pairs of shoes (apparently she has the perfect feet for a dancer, which means that only about one pair in a thousand actually give her the support she needs....go figure...) I thought I would treat her to the wonderful sights of the Harrods Christmas department. This was a place that had lived on in my memories from childhood, as a wonderland of sparkling ingenuity and craftsmanship, a real old fashioned fantasyland of naievety and glitter, and I wanted to share this with my baby girl (who is now taller than me by an inch) whilst she still lets me call her my baby girl.
We sweated through the underground (me offending a large lady along the way, by offering her my seat, thinking she was pregnant) and eventually arrived, along with a cast of thousands, at Harrods. Battling our way through the doors, we navigated the bright, sterile interior, eventually found our way to an escalator which churned its way upwards through the mausoleum, and, after more baffled wandering and quite by chance, came upon the Christmas department.
We gazed around at the rows of shining baubles, the dancers and nutcrackers and robins, all dangling, as though from the gallows and staring back, with haunted eyes, at us, and at the white shelves, the bright lights, the colour coded rows of decorations. "Oh," we said. And then: "Well, let's try Libertys."
Libertys, for those who don't know it, is a department store in Soho - a huge, mock Elizabethan building of white and black carved timbers, bursting with the famous Liberty print fabrics, Liberty print stationary, Liberty print umbrellas and soft toys and chocolates and soaps and lavender bags.  I discovered it in my student days and remembered it as a place that was touched by Bohemia, a place that was a little bit different to Harvey Nicks, John Lewis etc. Oh well. 
Enter the Christmas department and what do you find? The same decorations that are sold in Harrods, the same decorations that are sold in Myers and David Jones in Brisbane, the same decorations we can get in our local (and, it has to be said, rather crappy) Tescos in Buckingham. All made, funnily enough, in China.
But of course it's not just on the subject of Christmas decorations that I came here to bore you with today. There's very little here that you can't get in Brisbane and vice versa, though sometimes - just rarely enough to make it catch me out and consequently get rather grumpy - the prices render them too exotic to buy. Sushi sheets, for instance, are a luxury item here, as is dessicated coconut, whereas bananas and marmite are cheaper! Unfortunately, Vegemite is easily and cheaply available.
Though things you wouldn't expect - like a trip to the cinema - are a different ball game here, though of course they show all the same films, written to the same formula. But, whereas we thought it was expensive to go to the cinema in Indooroopilly, the prices there are nothing to the prices here - if you have a family, a trip to the cinema is a Big Treat outing in England, though why, I don't know. When we took Juliette to see Mockingjay the other day, the only thing that seemed more swany was the fact that, along with the buckets of popcorn and sacks of chocolates, you can also buy a bottle of wine and take it with you into the cinema. "Well, this is a bit of alright," we thought - until we tried to open it and found that the bottle was plastic and the contents were sticky sugar syrup with added alcohol. Yes, I know I'm a snob.
Sometimes I yearn for the days when, on visiting another country, a trip to the local supermarket was a journey of discovery rather than a comparison of prices. And I wonder whether it is partly this homogenisation of the world, the feeling that you can get anything from anywhere in any Tescos (except Timtams - apparently you have to go to Sainsburys to get them) that makes it so hard for people to remember, or indeed, to believe in the horrors that are happening elsewhere. Here I am, writing on a lap top made in China, drinking coffee grown in Brazil (bought in Buckingham,) at a table made in Sweden (bought in Australia,) covered in a cloth made and printed in India (bought in Brisbane). I was going to write something deep and meaningful about how hard it is to equate such homogenisation in "stuff" with the disparity in human rights around the world, in our abilities to feed our families, or guarantee their safety and education, but I feel too depressed and ashamed to do so, so I won't. I will drink more coffee instead and go and teach the violin to lots of children who want to play the Harry Potter Theme Tune, inspte of the fact that they haven't learnt how to play d sharp yet.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Why we feel so bad for France. Or why I do, anyway.

Up to now I haven't done much ranting here, but feeling frustrated with comments I have seen in social media and heard and hey, that's the privilige of having a blog isn't it? 
The latest horror stories from Paris and Beirut have left many of us with conflicted feelings.  There is, of course, the disgust and pity that any human feels at such horrendous, pointless violence directed at innocent people. But there is also the question of who really is to blame, and, something that worries many of us here in the UK - why has Paris eclipsed other atrocities like the ones in Beirut, Africa, Palestine? Many people are critical of those of us who have changed our profile pictures on facebook to the colours of the French flag (though I would like to point out that it was easy - whereas I couldn't work out how to change my picture to that of the Lebanese flag or any other) Anyone who knows me, knows that I am instinctively drawn to the underdog, (which is why I support the English team in rugby and soccer) but to be honest, this time, I can't help feeling that it would do us all good to lighten up and not beat ourselves and others up for feeling maybe a little more sympathy for the French than we should and this is why:

I for one, know what it's like to live through war. I know what it's like to lie under a table and listen to the whistling of the bombs as they hurtle downwards, not knowing if they will land on your own house or not. I know what it's like to feel the ground shake and heave and to be engulfed in relief that you are safe, this time, but also with the guilt of knowing that someone else is not. I know what it's like to listen to the media and have them belittle your situation; as in reports on the BBC "We have just seen a scud land in the ***** area of Riyadh....oh, no, apparently the scud was hit by a patriot missile whilst still in the air....oh no, apparently it was hit before it came anywhere near Riyadh...oh no, apparently there was no scud missile, this is just another night in the capital...." I know what it's like to watch armed soldiers walk the streets outside, jaws set, eyes glittering with madness. But let's face it, my war in the gulf only lasted ten days and I was only a child, not understanding what was going on in Liberia.
 I don't know what it's like to live a war like that, day in, day out for decades. I can't even begin to imagine what it must feel like to pack up my family and climb into a tiny, crowded boat and take to an unruly, unpredictable sea, not knowing what I will find on the other side, but knowing that anything must be better than the life I am living.
However, I can imagine what it is like to walk the streets of Paris. Though I haven't been to Paris itself, I have been to many other cities in France and Europe, my parents live in France and my parents-in-law spend a great deal of time there, one of my brothers-in-law is French. So I can imagine only too well, the people sitting in cafes, chatting, arguing, flirting, full of TGIF and wine and laughter. And that is why, in some ways, the bombing of Paris is more real to me. I rather suspect that to many in the Middle East, the bombing of Beirut is more real to them, than Paris. I doubt many people will read this and I am sure that many will be violently disagreeing with everything I'm saying, but I just wish that, with all the other things we have to be depressed about at the moment, criticism against those who have responded so strongly to the problems in Paris as opposed to other parts of the world, could be taken out of the equation. Whilst I think that, as humans, one of the most important things we can do is to try and imagine, to put ourselves in other people's shoes, to remember that, if it wasn't for the grace of luck, or chance, or fate, or God, or whatever you want to call it, any of us could be Jews, or Palestinians or Syrians or members of Isis etc, I think sometimes we need to remember that we are all human, after all.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


The last few weeks have been somewhat chaotic, due to computer failures, sewage failures and organisational failures – but hey, that's life, eh?

I did want to write something about Autumn, however, before it is blown away by the icy gusts of approaching Winter.
Continuing my thread of being surprised by the seasons, I have, yet again, been surprised by the English Autumn. Not that I didn't know it was coming, of course, but by the fact that a lot of my preconceived ideas of Autumn have proved not to be true. What I can't understand is that I DID live in England before, believe it or not – for nine whole years! Are the seasons in London really so different to those in Buckinghamshire? Or did I walk around blindfold when I was younger?
Of course, we have had all the mainstays of Autumn; stunning foliage, the trees lit by purple and orange and red light, pathways and roads strewn with shiny, fat conkers; hedges strung with blackberries, sloe berries, rosehips and hawthorn berries. The air is full of the smell of smoke and leaf rot, creosote and wet mud. But what I hadn't realised before was that this also seems to be a time for growth.
When the fields were reduced to scenes of devastation back in the summer, I had imagined that they would remain that way until Spring, so it has been a delight to see the furring of electric green grass and the sprouting of other crops appearing in the surrounding fields. I had also remembered flowers as being a strictly Spring and Summer event, but though it is now November, there are still many flowers to be seen, roses and primroses and what we used to call pansies-but-now-I-think-that's-not-politically-correct-or-something- even our water-lilies are blooming in the pond.
And I am sure that the days are getting shorter at a much faster rate than they lengthened, however much science might like to argue with me. By the time school finishes around three, the sky is already glooming.
When I take the dog for a walk in the morning, it is often pitch black. Luckily, there is a lane at the end of the village where we only get one car every twenty minutes, so in the mornings it is busy with people walking their dogs in the dark, dogs and people alike, stumbling along in the light of head-torches - though my Bonnie still wants me to throw balls for her and can run and catch them no problem. The lane leads up a hill to some farmhouses which look out over the fields and, at the moment, by the time I get up there, the sun is coming up and the air is turning rosy, rabbits fleeing, fluffy bottomed from the dog's snuffling noses. So far we have had only one frosty morning and though I HATE being cold, with every fibre of my being, even I couldn't help but be enchanted by the silvering grass in the dawn light, though I have decided that I need to find some shoes that don't leak if I am going to come out of this winter toes intact.

Today is the first anniversary of the day we left our house – the one we built (or at least, the one we paid someone else vast amounts of money to build for us) and lived in for ten years. I feel I should be writing about that, but to be honest I feel a bit sick at the thought, so I won't. But for anyone who might be reading this in Brisbane – miss you guys!!!!!!!!!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Why I have not been writing my blog lately...*

Well, partly, there has been this thing called LIFE.

I am now teaching violin again: in three schools and privately. I run a choir, have started morris dancing again, have just completed a major rewrite of one novel and started major rewrite of another. Am mother to three TEENAGERS, chauffeur to said teenagers, cook and cleaner for said teenagers, single mother (most of the time as Rupert seems to spend most of his working hours staying in hotels in Prague and Zurich at the moment) to said teenagers, sergeant major and counsellor to said teenagers. Added to that I have a very active dog who needs two hours walking a day and I have started on a personal mission to consume every last blackberry in Buckinghamshire. Oh, and there's the gym visits as well, to counteract the blackberries (and maybe the odd glass of red along the way).

But the other reason my blog writing has gone by the wayside is rather more complicated than that.

One of the reasons that I decided to start writing my blog again, in the middle of last year, was because I had heard that quite a few people were moving back to England from Australia. I thought that if there were other families out there considering the move, it might be interesting for them to read about how we were going about it.

I would write with complete honesty, I thought, chronicling our adventures, the ups and downs, the exciting parts, the boring parts, the parts where we made mistakes, where things didn't work quite as intended, the parts that went particularly well. Above all, I would recount it all with the utmost truth so that people would see what it was really LIKE.

And so I started to write, and almost immediately, I started to lie.

Because, of course, it's not that simple.

During those last few months in Australia, there were times when I looked ahead to moving to England and was filled with a wild excitement – but I knew that if I said anything like that, many of my Aussie friends who read my blog would be mortally offended. On the other hand, if I made too much of my real sadness about leaving Australia, my English friends and relatives started to email me and tell me not to come if I was dreading seeing them so much and besides, David Cameron was just as bad as Tony Abbott!

In those last few months there were things that happened in both my personal and professional life which made leaving the country at once more devastating and more of a relief. And I'm still not going to share them, partly because the same reasons stand as a year ago, partly because I just enjoy being mysterious....

And of course it wasn't JUST about me. The children had issues of their own which impacted the whole family and which, of course, I could not share either, but which made life rather more fraught than would have been nice.

Then we came to England and I felt even more conflicted. There were aspects of being in England that I loved – I fell in love with the countryside far more than I had ever expected, it was wonderful to be surrounded by family – even if they were all making plans to leave England asap (well, two of my sisters and Rupert's brother were, anyway). But I didn't want to write too joyfully about being away from Australia – and anyway I missed my friends there (still do!) desperately and still didn't want to offend anyone.

The whole process of packing up our lives and moving our family was physically exhausting – let alone emotionally. There were weeks when I cried so much I couldn't go out, or talk to anyone, weeks when I walked out into the countryside and felt my heart bursting with joy at the beauty around me.

At one point I made a deliberate attempt at being really honest – after it occurred to me that I was maybe painting a rather rosy picture of our experiences - I didn't want people to think that it was all going to be easy and then blame me if it wasn't! So I wrote a blog about the exasperations of dealing with uncommunicative councils and banks and school admissions etc, whilst living in a house we couldn't afford to heat and was promptly attacked on Facebook for being too self pitying.

So I would sit down at the computer, shivering in clothes made for an Australian winter, with tears running down my face because it was months since I'd had a proper coffee and chat with any friends and write a blog about the beauties of hawthorn blossom instead.

Of course, in the light of the refugee problems in Europe I can see that I do sound disgustingly, horrifically self pitying. We are incredibly lucky to be in a position where we can choose to live in another country just because we wanted to be closer to our family and think it is better for our children's prospects. (And doesn't include Tony Abbott, of course.) Incredibly lucky to step onto a plane and fly over and that's that.

However, knowing that you are lucky doesn't make you miss friends and dogs any the less, I'm afraid - and I'm not sure that it should, but that's maybe for another blog post altogether...

But what I have discovered is that writing, in a public forum, about your life is one way of becoming severely conflicted. Or at least, that's how it has been for me. I would read my own words about hawthorn blossom and wonder if that's how I really felt? It didn't help that I already felt as thought I didn't know who I was any more. Rupert still had his work, the kids had their schools, albeit different ones to what they were used to. But I didn't have any of my pupils, my string quartet, my orchestras, my friends. I couldn't try to get work for a while, because I felt my energies were needed at home. And I wasn't sure if I wanted to play the violin again, wasn't sure that I would get any work even if I wanted to.

I got to the point when I was afraid that I no longer knew how much my blog was reflecting my personality and how much my personality was reflecting my blog.....

….and now it is up to you to work out how honest this post is and how much of it is just me wanting to be mysterious again....

*assuming you have noticed - or care

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Sand, Sea....and Rain

“Look, the sun's shining, let's go to the beach.”
“But there are thick black clouds, they're coming this way – it's pouring with rain!”
“Well it's cleared now, let's go to the beach while the sun's out....oh, it's raining again.”
“Look, there's some clear blue sky, let's go to the beach.”
“But it's just about to pour!”
“Oh sod it, let's just go to the beach!”
So we did, driving to Newgale, ten minutes away, through a landscape of undulating GREENESS. Pembrokeshire is not the Wales of jagged mountains, deep valleys and male voice choirs that some of us might identify with. It is a gentler scene, of wide GREEN pastures, speckled with black and white and red cows and the odd square farmhouse, threaded with roads so narrow that, in the unlikely event of meeting another car, one might have to reverse two miles, before being able to pass it. On either side of the roads, are high banks, feathery with ferns and the odd foxglove, or wild geranium, hedges grumbling along the top so that, for the most part, you can't see where you are going and it is a surprise to come out at the top of a cliff and see the great expanse of the sea in front of you, the road winding down to a long brown-gold beach.
We parked, picked our way over the broad band of painful pebbles to the sand and did the normal Bignall thing of walking for ages along the sand, laden with bags (crisps, apples, water, towel for dog, ball for dog, more balls for dog) for no apparent reason until we felt that we had arrived at “our spot”. Put down the bags and it poured with rain.
“Come on, let's go.”
"But we've only just got here!"
"Yes, but it's raining!"
"The rain's just stopping!” 
"But just look at those clouds heading this way!"
"There's a tiny bit of blue sky following on...."
"With more black sky behind it...."
"Oh sod, it let's just stay!"
Lydia was the only one brave enough to bring swimmers and she headed off into the sea while Sam mooched off to sit and brood on the rocks and the rest of us tried to distract Bonnie from stealing other dogs ball's. (as in tennis and football, before anyone gets too smart)
The sun even came out enough so that were able to strip down to thermals and jumpers and I pondered again on the fact that the weather must be the only thing that saves this corner of the world. Here in the last week of August, there was only a scattering of people and dogs, brave surfers, children in wetsuits, on this long stretch of beach. And yet, the sand was sandy, the view of the surrounding cliffs stunning, the water itself no colder than the Pacific ocean in Queensland's mid-winter.
When Lydia was satisfied that she had paid enough homage to the Gods of Pneumonia and Hypothermia, we left the beach to walk along the cliff tops. The footpath wound amongst the purple spread of heather, spotted every so often with gold wildflowers, with glimpses of GREEN fields beyond, shining brilliant in the beams of sunshine that poured from gaps in the lowering black clouds overhead. On our right was the vast sheet of creased, tinfoil sea, washed with silver and gold and black, and below us, jagged rocks plunged into foaming white spray. The air was full of the smell of heather and wet earth and salt and I was just thinking how incredibly lucky we were to be here at this time, witness to this beauty, when a certain sixteen year old, who shall remain nameless, turned to me, hunched into his raincoat, frowning against the wind and said: “Now you've got to admit that this is horrible, haven't you?”
As the mysterious “they” say, I guess you can't please everyone all the time.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Wales, Wales, Wales!

And so we continue in our exploration of this country of ours that I hardly know.
At the weekend, we drove the four and a half hours (according to google maps, six hours in real time, including wee and lunch breaks) to stay in Rupert's parents house in Wales. Waking up at home on the Saturday - to the first day of glorious sunshine we'd had in weeks, we began to have our doubts. We have actually been to the house in Wales before - September 1999, when for the entire week, waterfalls of rain were thrown from the sky by a vengeful god, turning the house grey, damp and cold, the country lanes to muddy quagmires so that it was impossible to take our seven month, teething baby anywhere. We were stuck in the house for seven days, Sam screaming the whole time, Rupert and I taking it in turns to sleep whenever we could. So when we woke up to see that our first hollyhock was flowering, the sky overhead a deep blue, it was with some trepidation that we loaded the car and set off.
The first half of the journey was idyllic, driving along winding, sun dappled lanes through golden Cotswold villages, full of roses and hollyhocks, village greens glowing emerald in the afternoon light. (Yes, it took us all morning to drag the kids out of bed and into the car. "Where's my deodorant?" "who's stolen my phone charger?" "Are you sure we won't be able to fit five big suitcases and a dog into the back of a Prius?" "Should I bring my bathers?")  To give them their due, the kids have now got to the age where they can play on iPods and sing and even talk to each other in the car without it turning into bloodshed and mayhem, so Rupert and I were able to talk and exclaim at the beautiful countryside we were passing through, like normal people.
Until we hit the Severn Bridge. The moment we passed onto the bridge the clouds rolled over and as soon as we hit Wales on the other side the rain started to pour down in solid sheets.
It has rained on and off ever since, showers and drizzle and pouring, thunderous rain, but, in between there have been wonderful moments of sunshine.
Of course the weather is probably what has saved this corner of Wales. People talk so much about the overcrowding of Britain, how the beaches here are nothing but people and pebbles. But Fishguard, one of the closest towns, turns out to be a disgustingly pretty little town, with a harbour lined with jaunty  houses painted in fresh pinks and blues and yellows, window boxes bursting with flowers, and all clustered along the foot of rearing green hills. We went when the tide was out and the boats were all aground, a forest of slanting masts and green-haired hulls, the seagulls circling overhead. The air was fresh and biting, full of the scent of salt and seaweed and freezing, freezing, cold, but there were still children playing in the water  - albeit clothed in wet suits. (though apparently there was a girl in a bikini as well, thank you Lydia.)
The next day we went to the Cathedral and Bishop's palace in St David's - a famous tourist attraction at the height of the tourist season and yes, there were a fair amount of people, but we had no trouble finding parking. Nor did we have to queue to get into the Palace itself and, but for the odd couple or family, we almost had the place to ourselves - and such is the sense of peace in this place, I think there could have been a crowd of hundreds and it wouldn't have made a difference. The ruins of the palace, grey-purple stone walls rising out of thick green turf, of Great Halls, of churches and chapels, dungeons and wine cellars, were serene and filled with an ancient calm. The palace dates from the 6th century, when it started life as a monastery, was ransacked innumerable times by the Normans and, of course, the reformation, the destruction of the Catholic church etc. But, though it has seen its fair share of bloody deaths, the gore of battle violence and spewing hatred, one can now escape, for a moment, all thoughts of 21st century religious intolerance, whilst walking its paths on a sunny summer's day.
I was going to write much more, but Lydia is reading over my shoulder and correcting my grammar, which I find REALLY irritating, and I have dinner to cook. So will sign off now, and hopefully get to talk heather and beaches tomorrow. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Three Seasons.

Now I realise that this makes me sound particularly cretinous, but the changing of the seasons, here in England, so far, have been a complete revelation to me.

Of course, that doesn't mean to say that I don't miss the Brisbane spring with its glorious jacaranda and poinciana blossom, the warm evenings filled with the scent of jasmine. And one of my favourite things in the world was sitting out in our sun room, watching the summer storms rolling, in all their black, thunderous, roiling violence, up the hill. But there weren't quite the stark differences in old Brisvegas - maybe not in Ealing and Uxbridge, my previous homes in England either – as there are here.

When we arrived in December, the fields were crusty and brown, the hedges grey and dry, the leafless branches of the trees like cracks against the eggshell sky. Walking in Ashridge forest we kicked our way through drifts of crunching brown leaves, or sank into soggy wet paths of freezing water. It was hard to imagine that the earth was still alive, that it could blossom and thrive again, through the deadness of winter.
But so it did – first with a peppermint flush over the fields and then, quite suddenly, the sides of all the roads were alight with drifts of daffodils and snowdrops, tulips, brilliant bursts of sunshine celandines. The hedgerows frothed with pink and white hawthorn blossom, foamed with lacy cow-parsley and of course the air was full of the sound of mewling lambs, lowing cows calling to their offspring, birds a twittering.
Then came the early summer, a fountaining of thick green leaves and thicker green grass and the roses – all the houses in the village dripping with white, pale pink, hot pink, coral pink, scarlet, crimson, purple blooms. Briar roses took the place of hawthorn blossom in the hedges, blowsy pink and white flowers, tiny blackberry blossoms starring the leaves beside them. Ashridge Forest exploded with a lushness of leaves and brilliant green grass, triffid foxgloves marching across every glade. The wheat in the fields grew two feet over night and turned from green to gold.
Now the roses in the village are thinning, the briar roses have gone, but in their place are fat red rose hips and the hedges gleam with blackberries, wild apples are swelling amongst the leaves.
I had a week off walking my poor little girl, who has just been spayed (Bonnie/Snoop, not Juliette or Lydia, don't worry) and I took her into the fields for the first time today. But it was something of a shock to climb over the stile and into the wheat fields to find a wasteland of scorched earth, scattered over with straw and sprinkled with sea gulls, the hawks circling above. But there was a beauty in the turned earth as well, even under the grey sky, an Armageddon bleakness.

Though I dread the return of cold days, I am already looking forward to Autumn, to see the leaves turn once more. And, courtesy of the Tax Office, we may be able to have a fire this year!!!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Six months?

So, it is now over six months since we left Australia and I was going to pontificate about our journey of discovery, how we were all adjusting to living without vegemite and Timtams etc (yes, I know you can get vegemite here, but why would you, eh? And rumours of Sainsbury's selling Timtams have yet to be proven) but I'm afraid I just can't be bothered.
Suffice to say that, though it has not, by any means, been all Pork Pies and Cider with Rosie, Brisbane itself often seems like a distant memory, though we still miss our friends and my pupils, more than I can say. And the Sitar. And the Ceylon Inn. And the Scheherazade. Not that you can't get a good curry here, of course, but emigrating has been an expensive business, plus I have not yet started work, so luxuries like takeaways are also a distant memory.
But who needs takeaways when living in this part of Buckinghamshire, eh? The longer I live here, the more I realise how true it is that, in England, man can live on bread, (or lentils in our case!) alone, IF one lives in the country. If we lived just twenty minutes away in certain parts of Milton Keynes, or back in Uxbridge or Ealing, where we used to live, we would NEED the takeaways and the cinema trips and the new clothes, especially in the crappy weather we have had up till now. But when it rains here, it doesn't seem to matter so much. The paint might be falling off the walls in the damp, but when there are fields and woods and rutted country lanes brimming with roses and honeysuckle to walk through, who cares?
I have had a friend staying for the last two weeks and we have explored the area even further, going for walks in Ashridge Forest – a magical landscape of green shadows and sun-mottled paths, winding 'neath the whispering trees; where herds of deer lift their heads to watch you (or run out in front of your car as the case may be) and the air is alive with the twittering of tiny birds and purple foxgloves give haven to the wiggling bottoms of bees. The air is full of the smell of green things and leaf mould and sunlight, and as you walk, your ears can't help but catch the echo of pounding hooves and jingling harness, or, from the corner of your eye, you may glimpse a silk skirt or the feathery tips of a quiver, disappearing around the spreading torso of an ancient oak.
Yesterday we took Bonnie/Snoop/Miley Cyrus for a walk through the gardens at Stowe. I had not been before, though they are a ten minute drive from our house, but I will be going there again as much as I can, I can tell you. Stowe is a massive, ridiculously ostentatious old house-now-school with 250 acres of grounds. We had intended to see the house as well as the gardens, but got so sidetracked by a tiny portion of the grounds that we never got that far. I won't bore on with details of the history, as Bill Bryson does it much better in At Home, but the gardens are a sheer delight of old follies – Greek temples set amongst cedar trees, ruined Roman bridges spanning lilied lakes, the towers and archways of crumbling Gothic churches rising atop the brow of a hill. One minute you are walking through a field of sheep and then you find yourself on the shores of a lake, communing with the swans; you walk further, into a manicured garden of irises and roses, and then suddenly you are walking down a path lit by wild orchids and clover. And with membership of National Trust, which I was given when I left Brisbane, this is all free – I think the gardens are free anyway, not sure. What price takeaways for all that eh? I could go on, but I have washing to hang, bathrooms to clean, floors to scrub, before an evening of gossip and Mendelssohn piano trios with more visitors from Brisvegas....

Friday, 29 May 2015

Escape from the Madding Cows

"I think I'm a real country girl," I announced in what turned out to be a moment of much irony. We were driving home from Aylesbury after a couple of tortuous hours in the bank. Aylesbury must once have been a beautiful town, but now there is something grey and sordid about it, not helped by the half term plethora of fat food tents that have sprung up about the market square  - selling sweets by the yard - and by sat nav deciding to take me through the worst of the roundabout tangles which are meant to make life easier but don't. Coming out of the city, driving up and into the fields, all green wheat and brilliant yellow rapeseed, laced at the edges with frothing cow parsley, we all breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes, I'm definitely a country girl at heart," I said.
On arrival at home, were met by dog who had not had her midday walk and wanted to make sure we realised this. So, it was straight out into the fields for a certain country girl.
The only trouble is, that this certain country girl obviously does not know as much about country life as she would like to think.
One of the rather more wonderful things about England, is the fact that there are public footpaths everywhere, right through farmer's fields, so you can walk for miles without having to worry about trespassing on other people's property. The fact that the fields have cows in them doesn't matter does it?
Especially not when said cows are hundreds of yards of buttercupped grass away, eh?
But when the cows look up from their grazing, evil intent in their eyes, even this country girl begins to feel anxious. "But they're only cows," she thinks, though she does call her dog and put her back on the lead. It is a mere forty yards to the next field, might as well keep going till we get there, never mind that the cows, still a couple of hundred yards away, are now walking in the same direction, huffing and blowing. Hmm, okay, maybe time to cut the walk short. 
So she turns and walks in the opposite direction. And so do the cows. She speeds up - and so do the cows, though they are now coming towards her. Note, here, that she is wearing a skirt - usually she wears jeans for her walks, but this time, couldn't be bothered to change so is in skirt and sexy brown trainers which should only be worn by divers according to her sister. Cows are now mooing and trampling towards her, dumpy fat animals turned into monsters of agility and speed. Dog has ears back and is curling around her legs in fear. She starts to run - and so do the cows, though much faster than she, over the tussocky grass. Can she make it back to her stile, back to the safety of the lane? The cows are cutting her off, the dog whimpering with fear, she is hoping that nobody can see, because she would rather die, here in this field, then have a video of her being chased by cows up on YouTube. She can feel their breath now, they are on her heels, they are coming faster and faster, their heavy, flinty hooves pounding the earth, stretching their necks out mooing and shouting, twenty or so cows - she is not going to make it to the stile, she is going to be lucky to get to the fence at all - it is getting closer and closer, but so are the cows, ten yards, eight yards, five, three two - and she is over the fence into a bed of nettles six feet high, dragging dog in after her!
Five minutes of fighting with brambles and nettles, cows screaming at her form the other side of fence, she and dog are back on the path, shaking but alive. 
When she mentions it to neighbour, wondering whether she should have just stood her ground or whether she was a complete coward to go for the nettle option, she is told that a woman in the village was trampled by same cows just a couple of years ago, ending up in hospital with broken ribs and arms, lucky to escape with her life. 
So it seems that this country girl still has a lot to learn about the country.
And she is going to have steak for dinner at the weekend.

Ps. One of my delightful sisters, on hearing of my miraculous escape: "Well, I'm gld you're alive - though it would have been a very funny way to die!"

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Penny Shorts

In the last few weeks, I have been too busy to write much in the way of blog posts as I have been obsessively writing my latest Best Seller, in the optimistic conviction that I will get some paid work soon and then not have so much time to write. When I say the meantime I am thoroughly enjoying spending most of my time writing and walking the dog.The fields are full of buttercups now and we keep finding more and more beautiful spots to go walking.
So plan to write some interesting stuff soon, but just wanted to say that here is a site that people might want to check out, with various short stories on it:

It costs 50p per story, and the author gets 50% of the profits, so I'm hoping that if 5 people buy my story, I'll make one pound seventy-five! Enough to keep Juliette in salad leaves for a couple of days! But I also think it is a great idea, so do pop along and check it out if you are at all interested in that sort of thing.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015


So, we have just had our first British general election in fifteen odd years. And what fun it was...
But it was interesting to compare it to the Australian elections. 
For one thing, one topic of debate here in England was whether one should actually vote or not, which is, of course, something you don't have to think about in Australia, as voting is compulsory. Personally, I think compulsory voting is a great idea, in theory, because it should make people spend at least half a second thinking about who to vote for. However, in practise, I'm not sure it makes a difference - since Tony Abbott got in last time, I can only assume that a great deal of people didn't think about it at all.
The actual act of voting is much less stressful in England. I waltzed down to my village hall, dog in tow, to find it empty except for a couple of men - one of whom cuddled Bonnie/Snoop/haven't-decided-on-a-name-yet - and the other who gave me my voting cards and explained how to write a cross in a box. (thank heaven for gentlemen, eh, don't know where I'd have been without him) I had two sheets of paper on which I could put a total of three crosses and that was it. There was none of the fighting our way to the hall through a crowd of people with placards, all trying to shove leaflets at us or sell us cup cakes. There was no giant sheet of paper with 300 parties to be crossed off in relevant order. 
However, I was just slightly cheesed off (to put it mildly) to find that we have chosen to live in the constituency over which the Speaker of the House presides. For some bizarre reason it is "tradition" - whatever that means - that none of the other major parties stand against him, which meant that there was no Labour or Liberal Democrat candidate. Or Conservative, come to that. I am sure that if there had been, the results of the whole election would have been wildly different. So our choice was down to The Speaker himself, the United Kingdom Ignorant Pig party, or Green. No prizes for guessing who I voted for.
Most fascinating to me, is the astonishing arrogance that both the British and the Australians have in common. I am not talking about rich Tory leaders here, who have no idea, or interest, in what it is like for the rest of us who have to rely on government schools and hospitals - though I could. I am not talking about a Prime Minister who thinks that an income of $185,000 a year is "not particularly high" for Sydney families - though I could. 
I am talking about the fact that so many Australians, apparently, are convinced that Julia Gillard was personally responsible for the global financial crisis, whilst, funnily enough, the British would like to claim that it was the fault of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The rest of the world had nothing to do with it, or so it seems.
I'm not going to write any more about the election, suffice to say that for the first twenty-four hours, I was so angry I was spitting chips, but now I just feel deeply, deeply sad. 
Thank the Universe for Bluebell woods, eh?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Dog Walking Joys

So, the building blocks of our life - just to be cliched - are fitting together nicely, right now - and the latest, of course, has been the introduction of Snoop/Bonnie/Can't-Think-of-a-Name-Yet, a six year old black lab collie cross. We were given her by a family whose daughter is allergic to her and she has slipped into our family life as if she has always been here. And now to a lecture on why everybody should have a dog. I blogged about this before a few years ago, but hey ho, I'm going to do it again.
From our little cottage, we can step straight out into the country and go for long walks through the fields but in the three and a half months that we had been here, prior to getting Snoop/Bonnie/etc we'd taken the opportunity about five or six times. There always seemed to be more important things to do - cleaning, writing, shopping, emailing, practise, God forbid. But when you have a dog, you don't have the option. Since Bonnie/Snoop/etc came into my life, I have been walking her 2-3 times a day, rambling through meadows starred with bright yellow celandine and dandelion and daisies, walking through fields of glowing rape, down country lanes mottled with tree shadows and fringed with cow parsley. In the mornings - in spite of the fact that it is late April, there is still frost on the ground at 6 am, each blade of grass, each leaf, outlined with sparkling crystals of ice. Some mornings it is misty as well, the sheep and cows no more than lowing bundles as we pass, hawthorn blossom emerging, dewey from the mist, pink and white clusters of perfect flowers, whilst all around us the hedges are alive with twitterings and wings.
Having a dog is like having a little child again - everything must be investigated, the world is new and fresh and a wonder every day. Bonnie/Snoop/etc has not learned to be bored with life - as a teenager can be -  and every part of her body, from her twitching nose, to her wiggling bottom and wagging fringed tail, delights in the joys of Spring. She feeds my fragile and battered ego with frantic tail wagging every time we meet after an enforced absence (a trip to the loo, for instance) and lies sleeping by my feet as I write.
I am awaiting clearance to be allowed to teach  (DBS check - equivalent of an Australian Blue Card) and then I will not have so much time to walk and write, but for now I am loving it, though my over-active guilt gland kicks in big time, every time I think how lucky I am compared to so many others. I could go on, but I won't. I will just wallow in smugness this little while longer.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Not Working for the Oxford Tourist Board, Honest Guv...

Last week, we went to Oxford - The City of Dreaming Spires - for the first time. Sam was doing some work experience at the research labs there, where my sister works, so rather than do a four hour round trip every day, we decided to take the girls for a day out – and so very glad we did.
We had heard rumours that there is a certain, perhaps rather second rate, university there, which apparently has been running for almost as long as that great centre of learning - Cambridge. (Just in case you were wondering, Rupert and my father are both Cambridge men, and no, of course there is no competition between the Universities at all! Especially not around Boat Race time!)
Turns out the the rumours are true. One is not encouraged to park in Oxford itself, unless one wants to pay lots of money for the privilege, so we parked outside and got a bus in from the outskirts. It was a double decker, so we had a beautiful view and were able to watch the city transform from a snarl of roadworks and grumpy, morning traffic, hooting its way past Subways and Sainsbury's and charity shops, to the tranquillity of ancient city streets and parks, lined with such buildings as:
Balliol College, which dates back to 1263 and educated some of my favourite authors – Graham Greene, Nevil Shute, Hillaire Belloc – as well as some other great names – Richard Dawkins, Peter Snow etc
Then there is Brasenose College – William Golding and Michael Palin (though, interestingly enough, the latter does not appear on their list of “famous alumni”)
And: Oriel College, Trinity College, Jesus College, Blackfriars, Nuffield College, Wycliffe Hall – yes, even the names are redolent with history and mystery, calling to mind the shuffling feet of cowled monks, Knights in tarnished and bloody armour, rich Merchants and Noblemen in kid shoes, trailing cloaks encrusted with pearls and gold embroidery, young scholars in top hats, getting up to High Jinks, climbing over walls or up the guttering to their rooms in the middle of the night.
Each college seems to have its own style, Regency, Medieval, Baroque, Georgian, Modern but what I loved most about the buildings was the ornamentation – you see a pattern of heraldic shields, carved from stone, lining the walls, but then, looking closer, you see that some are held by men – each with a different face. Were these old professors? Old students? Old sponsors of the colleges? Some are so worn and crumbling the features are hard to discern, whereas, on some, the features are so clearly defined you feel you would recognise the person if you met them on the street. On one of the colleges, there are a series of large heads sculpted in Grecian style – Gods and nymphs and then, an undeniably African face. Who was this person, who, in a time, when black people were few and far between and not necessarily well respected in England, was important enough to have their face carved onto a college wall?
Walk down a tiny side street and you could easily miss the fawns, curled 'neath a door frame, pointy beards and hoofs, devilish faces screwed up in mischief – and then you remember that of course, this was where Cs. Lewis lived and taught. Were these what inspired Mr Tumnus? Of course you can probably find all the answers to these questions if you paid for a guided tour, but for one thing, we are on a very strict “food and heating” only budget at the moment and, for another, it was lovely just to wander – down winding alleyways between high stone walls, leading to more spires, past gated gardens and graveyards, past blue plaques to show which famous scientists and writers had lived behind these walls.
And then there is the Pitt Rivers museum – which one reaches by walking through the Natural History museum – a wonder in itself but am running out of time. The Pitt Rivers is basically a great basement, into which all the Victorian explorers emptied their trunks, so that there are cases of instruments from the Andes, Africa, China and India; wooden masks from Somalia, feathered headdresses from Papua New Guinea, furred boots and embroidered coats from Greenland; papyrus rolls from Egypt, canoes from the Amazon, skins from Native American tribes. If it hadn't been for the fact that Rupert had a bad back, Lydia and I were sick and Juliette was exhausted, we could have spent the whole day in there – and hopefully will, one day.
Oxford, it turns out, in spite of not being a patch on Cambridge, of course, is a beautiful city and we saw it in all its Spring Splendour, pink and white apple and hawthorn blossom tumbling over ancient stone walls, clumps of golden daffodils littering the parks, gardens bursting with hyacinth and tulips, the ghost flames of the magnolias, all against a clear blue sky. We ended the day, by walking through the park by Corpus Christi College, past Christ Church Meadow – a huge flood plain of tussocky grass by the River Thames, where geese and swans glide, where lovers lie and children fight and squeal. (At least in the Easter holidays.)
Can't wait to go back, but there is so much more to see as well...

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


Yesterday was the most perfect Spring day – warm(ish) sunshine, clear skies, no wind – and so we, along with the rest of England, decided to check out Salcey Forest, near Milton Keynes. Fortunately, Sam and Rupert were having a loud argument in the car, so rather than follow the clear but boring (and obviously too quiet) directions of the sat nav, we ended up taking the scenic route which was unbelievably scenic. So scenic, in fact, that we couldn't help wondering whether this area of Buckinghamshire has been taken over by some hobbit-loving film crew and turned into some sort of “Olde Englishe Rustic Idyll.” Village after village of old stone houses, thatched or tiled with higgeldy-piggeldy, mossy tiles, stone-walled gardens bright with the nodding heads of daffodils and be-jewelled with primroses, crumbling bridges arching over chattering brooks, crooked pubs – The White Hart, The Swan, The Kings Head (yes, without an apostrophe, all ye grammar nerds.) The fields are all full of new-born lambs, long eared and gangly legs, their mothers standing over them, glaring at anyone who comes too close.
On arrival at Salcey Forest, our hearts sank rather, as the car-park was full and the grass verges (“Please Do NOT Park on the Grass Verges”) were lined with cars. But having come all this way, we were not to be deterred, so we parked on the grass verge and joined the chattering throng; big dogs, small dogs, dogs leashed and dogs unleashed, children of every shape and size and Disney costume, swerving around on their bikes, or whining and mud-covered, adults young and old, chavs and wellingtoned booted “Country People” - all come to enjoy the wilderness on this beautiful Spring day.
And within minutes, we had found ourselves on a lonely forest path, the only people in sight, the only sound the twittering and calling of a myriad birds, the suck of our boots in the mud, the crunching of twigs and rustling leaves. The air was full of the sharp green smell of fresh growth, the still-bare trees just beginning to bud and unfold tiny sprays of young leaves. How can one walk in a forest in England and not wonder if there is some truth to stories of fairies?
Well, quite easily as it turns out, but one can certainly see how such stories came about. The forest floor, carpeted in thick green moss and sprinkled with pale yellow primroses, beams of sunshine which filter through the branches, turning leaf litter to gold and deepening the shadows to mystery. There is nothing of the brutal, grab-you-in-the-guts beauty of the Australian Bush here – here there is a delicate beauty that makes your eyes sparkle and your imagination turn to the fluttering of wings and magic.
Next week, Rupert starts work in London and the children go back to school for the summer term. There is the possibility of a dog, work for me, a whole new phase of life starting all over again. I am apprehensive, but glad that we are finally able to get to the point where we can feel like we live here. Long may the glorious spring continue!

Thursday, 26 March 2015


So, I don't really feel in a very bloggish mood this week - blobby, maybe, as I have put on at least five stone since coming to this country, due to an excess of pork pies and English chocolate (not to mention the odd glass of wine). But I was clearing out my short story file the other day and came across this piece of Flash Fiction which I don't have a use for, so thought I'd post it here instead. Enjoy!

Last of the Summer....Wine

Mrs Hargreaves had been saving this bottle for several years now. They'd given it to her when she retired – twenty years as headmistress of the village school. There'd been tears and flowers, speeches with phrases like “pillar of the community” and “most respected member of our school” - and this beautiful French wine. She had been saving it up for a special occasion ever since and though this wasn't exactly what you'd call a special occasion, tonight was definitely the night to open it. There might not be another chance.
She took it out to the patio, under the trellis, along with a selection of good French cheeses and biscuits, fat purple olives swimming in garlic oil, some grapes and blueberries, a ribbon of salmon. A last supper.
It was a beautiful evening, warm, but full of fresh, earthy scents. The roses had just come into bloom, fountaining in pink profusion over the top of the trellis, their perfume mingling with that of the lyme trees. The grass needed cutting, but it was so soft and green she hadn't had the heart to tackle it yet – and now she never would, she supposed. From next door came the sound of children playing cricket in the garden, their voices young and shrill, not unlike the twittering of the birds.Children's voices had been a big part of her life, these last thirty odd years. But she didn't think she'd be hearing many in the future. Not where she was heading.
In a way it was a relief. Keeping a secret was a bit like walking around with a thorn in one's foot - one of those fat, curving, thorns that surrounded the roses. There had been times when she thought it had disappeared, dissolved somehow, in her flesh, but apparently it had been festering all this time, poisoning her bloodstream so that this afternoon, when she had least expected it, it had come bursting out of her.
Billy Dixon had come over to help her prune the hawthorn in the front garden. Well, that's what he said, but actually, Billy just wanted willing ears into which to pour his constant stream of chatter. Mrs Hargreaves liked Billy, she liked his scruffy red hair and his smattering of freckles and his blue eyes that wanted to know everything about the world and she liked listening to his stories.
He'd been telling her about his little sister, Maisie, and the fact that she'd broken a porcelain bowl and then hidden the pieces in the garden, rather than own up to it. And then without warning, she found herself telling him about her Secret, spilling it out just like that, all over the garden hedge.
So now she was waiting. It would only be a matter of time before they came and took her away.

“We've got to do something about Billy,” Angie said, as she stood at the window, frowning out into the garden, where her children were throwing themselves around on the trampoline.
Her husband came and stood beside her. “Why? What's he been up to now?”
“It's his story telling, it's getting out of control. Sometimes I think he can't tell the difference between fact and fiction any more. There's a name for it – it's some sort of syndrome.”
Ben shrugged. “He's just a kid. What stories has he been telling this time?”
Angie sighed and gave a rueful smile. “Well, you won't believe this, but he actually told me earlier that when Mrs Hargreaves was a young woman, she murdered her husband, chopped him into little pieces and ate him in an Irish stew.”
Ben gave a shout of laughter. “Good one, Billy! Mrs Hargreaves of all people! At least it shows he's got imagination.” He put his arm around his wife and gave her a squeeze. “I wouldn't worry about it Angie. It's not like anybody would take any notice.You should tell her some day, she'd probably think it was a great laugh!”

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Plea for Nervous Drivers

I haven't dared mention this before, as I am trying to be positive, but I am going to have to say it now: Probably the thing that has made the transition to England most stressful, is the driving. I HATE driving. There are three particular reasons for this:

1. I am a natural wuss.

2. A couple of years ago, I was driving four little girls along a winding road, with sheer drops on both sides, most of the way, when the car had a hissy fit and went out of control, proceeding to throw itself all over the road as if possessed by the devil before ploughing hard into an earth bank. We were about twenty feet away from a bridge over a river and if it hadn't been for an unseasonable amount of rain just prior, the earth bank would not have been as forgiving as it was.

3. Last year, I had a head on collision with a woman driving a massive four wheel drive, who turned out of a side road without considering that someone might be driving along the main road and it might be worth looking first. Two weeks after my car was returned from being repaired, a young man drove into the back of it, because he hadn't thought to look either. Neither incident helped to make my internal "other-drivers-on-the-road-want-to-be-safe-too" monologue, at all convincing.

Now add to that, the fact that I am now driving on roads that are a quarter the size of the ones I am used to, in conditions I've never driven in i.e. unlit country roads, ahhhh!!!!!, snow, frost, suicidal rabbits. Our car here is half the size of the car I drove in Brisbane, but it feels as big as a tank. Plus, I think the fact that I have lost all confidence in myself as a human being, makes me even more nervous as a driver. 

 But I am learning:

1. It is not much fun to drive around the blind corner of a narrow country lane and have your brakes go on strike because they don't like snow - just as another car approaches.

2.The squelch of a rabbit under your tyres is one of the most horrible feelings in the world. 

3. It is not the done thing to slow down when approaching a roundabout, but rather to drive right over, relying on emergency braking and swerving, to avoid hitting other vehicles.

Now, I don't put myself on the road to annoy other drivers. I put myself on the road because I have to. Every day when I get back from driving Juliette ten minutes to school, my legs are shaking so much I can hardly walk. After driving to Hemel Hempstead and back, my shoulders and neck are painful to the touch because of the tension of gripping the wheel so tightly. Whenever I drive, my heart is pounding, my hands are sweating, my legs shaking. This is not a choice, but a reality.
 So this is my plea: if the driver in front of you is driving 59 in a 60 limit, please don't feel the need to beep at them and drive an inch away from their bumper. You don't know why they are nervous and it is worth your while to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they are more likely to slam their foot on the brake if intimidated. If the driver in front of you wishes to give way to oncoming traffic at a roundabout, please be patient. They might be a driver from another country who doesn't yet know the road rules. Again, beeping at them, giving them the finger, or driving up their backsides, is likely to result in them slamming on their brakes, or simply stopping the car and screaming.

Post Script. Though still nervous, I am infinitely more confident then when I first came here, so there is hope on the roads, ladies and gentlemen!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Handbag Contents and Liberia....

A couple of years ago, I wrote a fascinating blog post about the contents of my handbag. Don't worry, this isn't quite the same rant as last time, re civil liberties, chocolate wrappers and tampax.
This is about something I have been carrying around in my handbag for the last week as I wonder what to do with it – a copper circle, bent and green with age, something which would have fitted around the ankle of someone with very thin bones,or  possibly around their wrist.
It is something that was given to me very many years ago, in Liberia, and it has been languishing in a cupboard in my parent's house in Hemel Hempstead ever since.
When we lived in Liberia, my sisters and I used to walk, nearly every day, to Russwurm Island - The Island, as we called it - to swim. We walked past the Kru village, past the Grebo village, hurried past the Fanti village, where the women, with their long frilled dresses, their faces ridged with patterned scars, watched us with stony eyes, calling their children away if they came too close. Then, past the Masonic Temple, with its huge globe on the top, and its evil concrete breath, past the creamy walls of the Tubman villa, with its riot of tumbling pink bougainvillea and its stories of ritual murder and cannibalism; onwards through the warm, most air with its perfume of flowers and smoke and fish, past more crumbling villas, surrounded by gardens exploding with mango and paw-paw and Frangipani trees, past the screaming abuse of the chimpanzee, chained to its wall and its desperate grief; past the house of the Baptist missionary and our Filipino friends, the Africas. And then, finally, past the Lighthouse standing sentinel on the edge of the red-earth cliff and down the hill to the causeway and over to The Island. Here there was a sheltered, sandy beach and a myriad rock pools, encrusted with brown-spotted-blue cowries, like duck eggs, star fish, sea urchins, octopus, gazing at the sky with wistful eyes.
The owner of the motel on The Island – the Sea View – was Mrs Grey, a large woman with a queen-like bearing and, appropriately enough, a fuzz of grey hair around her head. I always got the impression that she disapproved of us – or of me, at any rate, but one day she gave us each one of these bent copper rings. Apparently, when she first came to The Island, the rock pools around it were full of such things – slave bangles, copper rings that the American slaves sawed off their limbs when they finally arrived in Liberia – the Land of the Free.
So I now have one of these bangles, in my handbag. I wanted to bring it home to our new house, because it was mine, it was given to me, and it represents a link to a country which has a very strong hold on my heart.
But what do I do with it now? Do I display it on the mantelpiece, next to the carved heads from our honeymoon in The Gambia and the procession of camels from Riyadh? Do I put it on the window sill, hang it on the wall? This piece of twisted metal which once marked a human being out as the the property of another? Or do I keep it in my handbag with the dead receipts and empty chocolate wrappers? How on earth do you deal with something like this?
Maybe I should write a blog post about it.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Getting There....

So, we now have all our children at school! 
After an extremely exhaustive process of hassling the council, hassling the schools in the area, we were eventually given a test date for Lydia and consequently a place at the same school as Sam. The school is 25 minutes drive away and an hours bus journey, but the only school closer to us - the one Juliette attends - is a sports specialist school and anybody who knows Lydia, knows that this would not have been exactly ideal. To put it mildly.
The difference in my child in the last few days makes me want to weep with joy. She has gone from a morose child, shuttered away in her room, skyping her friends in Brisbane and busy sewing a tapestry entitled "Australia" to a child who skips around the house, singing and chattering. We will not dwell on the hissy fit that occurred this morning because she still doesn't have her proper PE kit, but it still required to do PE at school...
Meanwhile, Rupert is frantically job hunting - so that from 6 am to around midnight every day he is either working for the Brisbane office, or talking to agents, preparing for interviews, etc. He is very happy that there is so much more choice here than there was in OZ - our initial and possibly primary factor in moving back here - whilst I sometimes wish there was only one job he could possibly go for and he could get some decent sleep for a change!
I am rather stuck in that I have to be around to pick children up all afternoon - they come home at different times every day, all in dribs and drabs and never in a bundle, of course. Though L and Sam take a bus, I still have to pick L up from the next village every day, in order to avoid her having to cross a busy and major road. This and the fact that we have strange conditions on our house insurance, means that I can't teach after school - a sort of blessing in disguise as it means that I can spend time with my own children instead! However, desperately need a job, so am hounding all the schools in the area, whilst violin gathers dust on the piano and I wonder if I will every play it again in earnest...
None of this job hunting is helped by the fact that both the phone and the internet are playing up at the moment, so cannot be relied on in any way.
One day we will look back on this time, count the white hairs and laugh, but at least, with three kids at school now, we are finally getting there.
And in other news, the starling who has been breaking my heart by sitting on his perch singing away, seemingly to no one for the last couple of months, has found a very pretty little bride and they are busy building a nest just outside out kitchen window.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Fire of Flamenco

Less than a week after going to see Cats, Lydia and I were off to Sadler's Wells on Saturday – a belated birthday present for Lydia and I, of course, was forced to accompany her, poor me. 'Tis a terrible life I lead.
The Nacional Ballet de Espana. Sadler's Wells. London.
True to form, we were running late, so, instead of taking time to see a bit of London, we had to rush straight to the theatre from Euston station – made it with ten minutes to spare, nine minutes and thirty-three seconds of which was spent queuing for the toilets, of course. When they eventually build a theatre, somewhere in the world, which has enough toilets for women, the world will be a much calmer, less stressful place, though I suspect that this will not happen in my lifetime.
Anyway, Sadler's Wells. I don't think I'd ever been there before, in spite of the fact that it has been a life-long dream, ever since I was three and determined to be the next Margot Fonteyn. I was expecting the usual flourish of stony cherubs and flowers, the occasional gilt edged mirror, perhaps, but, after walking from Angel Tube station, past the temples to palm oil and Murdoch newspapers that seem to line the streets, we turned the corner and were hit in the eye by a jutting of red plastic signage and grey steps. This then, was the Great Sadler's Wells.
However, a theatre is a theatre, so, as we waited in line for our lavatorial experience, the excitement crept into our blood. Not only was this theatre, but it was London theatre – a world where men still wear dark suits with white scarves around their necks, where old ladies with heavy make-up, glittering with diamonds and pearls, stand tall and dignified, next to boys and girls in clothes that you thought had died out with Christopher Robin; where languages of every hue and colour bubble around you; where it is okay to wear either jeans, or an evening gown to a matinee, but always lots of perfume, if you please.
And then we were into the theatre proper, sitting in the red velvetine flip up seats, just four rows away from the vast, rippling crimson curtains, the light was dimming and the music began; the mysterious thrum of a guitar, the chukka-chukka of drums and the yattering of castanets, the howl of the singer.
But. Yes, you knew there was a but coming up, didn't you. And I know I am a grumpy old sod. But – as with Cats, before, as with many, many stage shows I have seen – in spite of the fact that the theatre is not the biggest I have ever seen and was PRESUMABLY built to be acoustically sound, the music was amplified to a point where – in spite of our being so close to the stage, in spite of being able to SEE the musicians, our ears were assaulted from vast speakers at the sides of the stage. The musicians may as well have been miming to a sound track – maybe they were? -as there was no way you could hear anything coming from under their fingers. I just don't understand why there is this need for such amplification, but maybe that is just my old soddishness.
And luckily, the dancing made up for it. The first half was flamenco – albeit choreographed and mostly danced in chorus. Lydia had never seen flamenco before, but was enthralled. The two little girls sitting in front of us were shocked into giggles by the unearthly wailing of the male singer – the sound of pure Moorish beauty – but even they were quietened by the thunderous heels and ferocity of the dancing. If you are ever on the lookout for a body guard, I'd recommend a flamenco dancer – nobody would want to mess with one of these guys, male or female. The second half was ballet/flamenco, with some profound story telling involving chaste priests and women throwing themselves at them, a bull fighter falling in love with a very female looking bull and all sorts of things which probably went over our un-profound heads, but was appreciated nonetheless. The costumes were stunning, drawing one into a world of fire and light, darkness and shadows, riotuous colour. It was quite a shock to emerge onto the streets of a wintry London with nary an orange tree in sight. 
In my next life I am going to be a flamenco dancer. In this life, I am going to a Zumba class today.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

London Theatre-going!!

Music! Dancing! Leg warmers and cat suits!
Yes, we went to see the apparently immortal Cats, at the London Palladium yesterday, courtesy of the in-laws.
And what a strange, lovely, dreadful, incredible show it was too!
We were all so tired we could hardly keep our eyes open, after a big weekend of sixteenth birthdays and illness, but we dragged ourselves through the Arctic winds and all the way into London – my favourite city in the world – and into the red carpeted and faded splendour of the Palladium. And it was worth nearly every minute – even the awful parts.
The dancing and singing, was, of course, superb. And after a lifetime spent dissing Andrew Lloyd Webber, I have a new-found respect for him after having been subjected to the music from Wicked, Lion King and, of course, the world's favourite fart song, Let it Go. He might take his best ideas from other people, but he sure can write a good tune – one that is memorable, easy to sing and doesn't necessarily require one to whine. And if you think that Beethoven was the master of stringing out a coda, then just have a listen to old ALW.
However. I have never been to Cats, though have played the music from it numerous times – usually in lush orchestral arrangements. So it was quite a shock – and not necessarily a pleasant one! - to hear it in all it's original 1980's twangy synthesiser colour. In fact, I was (stupidly perhaps!) surprised as to quite how dated the whole thing was, with the big hair and make-up and, as pre-noted – the Jane Fonda leg warmers. They have beefed up one of the cats into being a New York street dancer – with beautiful British diction of course – and Juliette particularly enjoyed that, which was a relief after the digging me in ribs every time old Deuteronomy sang flat. Not that my children are at all judgmental,you understand. They have also beefed up the amplification, which was a pity as it meant that you could hardly hear the singers when the band was playing forte, so you had no idea why they were all singing about Umbilical cats, or dancing around with cereal packets on their feet or pink wings on their backs. But that didn't really seem to matter, as it was mainly about the spectacle of the thing.
After the show, we exited, with a mass of people all heading for Oxford Circus station, then on to Marylebone, all amongst crowds of chattering theatre goers, all perfume and spangles, faces alight, clutching programmes from various concerts and shows throughout London. And all this on a Monday night in February.
Oh, the intoxication of it all! You trundle up an escalator, past the posters for Wicked, War Horse, Carmina Burana - the ballet - The 39 Steps – now, along with just about every book ever written, a major singing and dancing triumph, (Just waiting for Wolf Hall, The Musical, starring Robbie Williams as Cromwell) Billy Elliott, The Lion King etc etc and your brain fizzes and jumps with the excitement of it all. This is London! It is all here for the taking! We could go to see anything!
And then you realise that no, that only applies to Millionaires. London is the city of beautiful people, the rich and talented, the famous and historical, the infamous and the mystical.
And you go home to your little village and get up four hours later to drive your children to school, everybody grumpy and tired and grey, in the golden light of dawn. Hey ho, the wind and the rain. Or something like that.