Hairy House

Hairy House

Thursday, 29 January 2015

My New Job!! Ish

A rather too long a time ago, I studied organ at the Royal College of Music. That sounds possibly more glamorous than it was – it was my second study instrument, along with baroque violin. After graduating, I played for a couple of weddings, but have not played since. The trouble with the organ, is it's not the sort of instrument you can stick in a back pocket – and it makes the gripes of commuting double bass players sound pretty thin. Rupert wasn't that interested in having an organ built into our house back in Brisbane – he thought it was enough to have the concert grand. (yes, I know, some people, eh?)
However, on arrival in Adstock, I a-spyed a notice in the local rag, asking for musicians to play for the church and, as they said they were DESPERATE, I put my hand up and now I am organist at St Cecilia's church! It is only once a month, but even so....

What this means, is that, when I feel brave enough, I get to rug up, tuck my hymn book under my arm and walk through the village, past crooked houses with moss-tiled roofs, past The Old Thatched Inn, the Old School House and up to the church, which sits, surrounded by a green blanketed grave yard, spined all over with crooked tombstones. This morning, the cold had come back with a vengeance, but the sun was sparkling from a clear sky, the birds twittering, the grave stones shining a gold in the morning light. Crunching over the gravel path, I felt just like Elizabeth Bennet and entering the church, is tantamount to walking into a slice of history. Like a miniature Cathedral, the floor is tiled with cracked, paving stone, worn by centuries of feet, the windows stream coloured light from the painted glass. The air is redolent with the fragrance of old wood, old stone, of centuries of flower arrangements and prayer and there are tiny bats hibernating in the curtains.

This is a place that was built in the 15th century - one of the bells dates to 1440. Now, just pause and think about that for a bit. 1440. This was the time of Henry the 6th – the Wars of the Roses – a time when Henry the eighth and his bloody reign were not even a twinkle in the eye of England. 

And this is where I get to sit and play the organ, which only has one manual, a high, slidey seat ( so that whenever I try to play the pedals, I do a banana impression), not a vast array of stops, but why would you need more? I tried to play through the list of hymns that the vicar had given me – the favourite hymns of the congregation and was reminded of the real beauty of this old church music – music written to uplift the soul, to bring comfort, written so that you don't have to be a great singer to join in. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the fifth one my toes and fingers were hurting so much from the cold that I had to stop and go huddling home to the almost warmth.

I am no longer a believer, but I can't help feeling that it would be a great pity if no one was – because, what would happen to these old places? How long would it be before this church was gutted and divided up into apartments, or razed to the ground altogether? I wonder how many people realise how lucky they are to have places like this in their midst – places where you can just wander in, to admire the stone work, or the windows, or the embroidered cushions? Somewhere you can just sit and drink in the peace, pray, or think deep thoughts – or, in my case, let one's mind wander to who knows where...

And back to our little sideways house!
And if there are any engineers out there looking for a good cause – I am sure that anyone who designs an organ with heated keys and pedals will win the undying love of organists all the world round.

Monday, 26 January 2015


So, it seems that I upset people with my last post and I am sorry.
As a wannabe writer, I spend a lot of time being told that you SHOW DON'T TELL!!!!!!!
And I had hoped, that with my descriptions of beautiful sunrises, stories of Saxon coin burials, all the excitement of my new job – which, by the way, is going to be a VERY damp squib, when I eventually reveal all! - and my saying how inordinately lucky we are to live here, I was doing quite a good job of SHOWING that I was generally very happy with our decision to move to this area.
However, it appears that, instead, I was giving an impression of deep and abiding misery and hatred for England. So I guess I need to TELL a lot more. I LOVE BUCKINGHAMSHIRE! I LOVE THIS AREA. I don't like the cold and the black ice, BUT I REALISE THAT I COULD BE STARVING IN A GARRET.

However, though I DO consider myself lucky, in every way, I CAN'T pretend that there aren't moments when I feel very homesick. I lived in Australia for almost twice as long as I have ever lived in any one place. I had a lot of friends there - most I will never see again. I had pupils I taught every week – some I saw for several hours a week and had done for many years – and I will probably never see most of them ever again. I had a dog who was my almost constant companion, who I had nursed through many illnesses and loved very much and I have had to leave him. While I am very glad to be close to my family and friends –half of them are b*******g off to live in other countries in the next couple of months. And, in the interest of other people who may be considering the move, I felt it important to be honest about my feelings.

I am sure that when we have beds to sleep on and pianos and cleaning equipment, I will be ready to forget my friends and life in Australia, but please forgive me if I am selfish enough to feel down about it sometimes now and to admit to it. I promise never to mention it again. I promise I will be a positive shining bubble of light forever more.

Whinings of Lucy the Bard

So, I don't like to whinge (actually, that's not true, I love to whinge, but realise that nobody wants to read a blog that is nothing but whining) but, in the interests of being honest, I am going to indulge.
People keep asking how we are settling in and the truth of the matter is that, we aren't settling in and can't really settle for a while. In some ways it is as though we are still on holiday – rather more wine being bought, still in the “hey, we have to buy pork pies and English chocolate!” - phase, but to be honest, this is getting a little wearisome. Because we don't have the time or the cashflow to do the other things one would do on holiday – sight see, eat at nice places etc.
The older two are at school, but we still have Lydia at home. The local school – the one Juliette is attending – is a specialist sports college and considering Lydia is the least sporty person in the world, we thought she ought to have the chance to try for one of the two grammar schools. BUT. Apparently, to coincide with our arrival in England, the grammar schools have decided to change the way that they run the testing, which means that neither the county council, who are supposed to run the tests, or the schools, who the county council think are supposed to run the tests, have a clue what's happening and at this rate it looks like she may be at home till Easter. Which means that I can't even begin to look for work, be it packing shelves in Sainsbury's, teaching, or cleaning toilets, since we don't know where my chauffeuring skills will be required – Buckingham, Winslow or Aylesbury (five minute drive, ten minute drive, or 25 minute drive, in other words!)
Meanwhile, Rupert is still working for the Brisbane office and hasn't had time to apply for a job here, which means that we don't know whether he will be disappearing to London for 24 hours a day, or whether he will be able to get something local and a bit more family oriented. What's more significant, is the fact that he thinks we shouldn't get a dog until he knows whether we can pay the vets bills.....
And of course we still haven't got any stuff and am seriously missing it all now – especially the ironing board, the mop and the hoover! At some point in every day, somebody says, “I'm just going to play the piano – oh, it's on the the ship.” Though we have been VERY lucky as have an array of blow up beds and mattresses supplied by sisters and sofa and chairs provided by neighbours, it will be nice to have our own stuff – to have shelves and cupboards so that we don't have to have piles of papers lying around on the floor everywhere.
Had a melt down a few days ago as it really hit that this is it. We are here now and won't be going home. It's not Australia I miss, I have to say – not yet. But I do miss my friends, I miss being warm, I miss knowing what it's like to be able to walk around without feeling like the michelin man. Doesn't help that it's Australia day weekend, I suspect. Knowing that most of my friends are sitting round the barbie eating bugs and steak, the annual ride-one lawnmower races pootling around the streets.
In celebration, we took the kids to the cinema last night – thought they should learn some local history by seeing The Imitation Game as Bletchley Park is just round the corner from here. Well, that was a good idea. Felt much cheerier after seeing that....
Okay, that's enough. I do have a job, after all. The fact that it will only be once a month for a while, is not paid, is neither here nor there, as it is still a bizarre, dream job. More about that in a few days....

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Back to Real Life....

The holiday is over.
Sam has been at school for two weeks now, but since he takes the bus down to Aylesbury, it hasn't made much difference, to be honest. Yes, I know I should be saying how much I miss him, but the difference between Sam at school and Sam hiding out in his bedroom is pretty negligible. However, Juliette has started school this week – at the local school in Buckingham, (a sports specialist college – how perfect is that?) and so Real Life has now interrupted the idyll.
This is how my mornings go.
Wake up in the dark, against every instinct telling me that this is hibernation time, haul self out of bed, straight into Ugg boots and blanket dressing gown, but it's still freezing cold as heating has only just switched on. Eat, dress, everybody too numbed with cold to communicate properly. Glance at Facebook and decide to de-friend all Brisbane friends as they are all complaining about being Hot and Having to Lie in the Pool with Iced Drinks or spend the Day at the Cinema.
Go outside into minus 4 degrees, to attack windscreen with ice scraper. By the time windscreen is clear, hands are so cold that they hurt, in spite of gloves. Steering wheel at minus10 degrees, but, owing to neighbour's warnings of black ice on road, do not have confidence to drive without gloves. Daughter, looking edible in new English School girl's uniform, (infinitely better than Brisbane sailor suit for three year olds version that they make teenage girls wear) but also much too cold, because, at age fourteen, still needs to be told to put on gloves, coat, “I-didn't-realise-it-was-going-to-be-this-cold!”
Think of this time last January, when one was swimming in one's own pool, looking up between strokes, at the bright, clear blue sky, the fountaining pink bougainvillea, nostrils sucking in the scent of ripening mangoes, and the passion fruit from the vine growing round the pool fence, listening to the squabbling of Cockatoos and lorikeets in the lemon tree.*
Grit my teeth – I have to, in order to stop them shattering each other as they chatter - reverse out of driveway, down narrow lane, betwixt thatched cottages powdered with icing sugar like something out of Hansel and Gretel, then out onto the main road...
And the sun is coming up, a glowing, coppery ball, firing the fields and hedges with pink and gold light, a landscape that has been powdered with crisp ice. Leafless branches of trees like cracks on an old painting against the pale blue sky, where clouds are swirled like a dancer's wake. And I think: “hmm, maybe it's not all bad, then.”
View from back window - doesn't even begin to show what it really looks like, but in order to do so, would have to go outside and am not prepared to do that - even for you!

*Actually, this time last January, one was lying on couch shivering with fever after contracting dysentery in Vanuatu. But one won't dwell on that.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

History Lesson

So, I am now going to tell you about the area that we live in.
Our village, Adstock, is surrounded by fields and hedgerows – typical English countryside. Scrubby green grass, dotted with sheep, cows, a herd of bulls which are scared of Juliette, some Roman mounds, which are, well, grassy mounds, and are apparently Roman.
Our nearest town is Buckingham, which dates back to A Very Long Time Ago. Though there are a few modern buildings, for the main part, the town is made up of narrow, cobbled streets, which wind betwixt golden stone 18th century buildings – amongst them a turreted County Gaol – Victorian and Georgian buildings and medieval terraces. A great golden swan – the emblem of Buckingham - presides over the town from the top of A Building, its neck arched, wings raised in warning.
This is fairytale England, probably rather Tory England - an England where grim, grey stained terraces and pound shops are another world away. My mother was appalled and shocked to hear that there is not a Marks and Spencer's, though I rather like the fact that the town isn't just a repeat performance of the same old chains. There is a Subway, but apart from that, there are no fast food outlets, but rather a lot of tea/ice cream shops, where you can get delicious pasties and dreadful coffee. There is a music shop, LOTS of charity shops, three pubs and two restaurants, one called Prego and the other called Prezzo, just across the road from each other.
Amongst many other things in its long life, it seems that Buckingham once had a mint, and just a couple of weeks ago, in a satellite village, Gawcott, (incidentally just 4.7 miles from our house!) the locals surprised themselves by digging up one of the biggest hoards of Saxon coins ever found in Great Britain. Many of the coins looked as though they had never been in circulation – bringing to mind visions of terrified Saxons, under a wild grey sky, hauling their new-minted coins to safety. Clawing sod and mud from the earth with their bare hands in the driving rain: “Come on Ethelred, put your back into it, the Vikings are coming!”
“I'm digging my fastest, Ethelwren - if we don't get them buried deep enough, the dogs will find them sure enough.”
“And while you dig yourself to countries as yet undiscovered on the other side of the globe, the Red Haired devils draw closer to our homes, with nothing but rape and pillage on their minds – think of our wives, Etheltracy and Ethelsharon! Get on with it!”
Tipping the barrels of coins into the ground, hessian shirts soaked through with mud and water, beards bedraggled, faces red and sweaty, eyes shining with panic. They trample down the earth over the barrels, replace the sod. “Come, Ethelwren, we must away, back to our families....” But as the men turn towards Buckingham, they see the smoke, rising above the buildings, the orange sparking flames, hear the hoarse cries of battle, the screaming and wailing and the clunk and clash of swords....
I was going to tell you about Milton Keynes as well – and about my new job, but that might have to wait for another time....

And this is an interesting link if you want to look at it.

Monday, 12 January 2015


If we had moved to Africa or Asia or somewhere in Europe, even, I would have expected the food to be very different here, but moving to England, which is, after all, the country which gave its feeding traditions to Australia, one expects it all to be more similar. And it all looks quite similar - though buy it, take it home and cook it, and one finds that, of course, it's not.
Take fruit and vegetables for instance; in this day and age of travel, bananas from Australia still hit the shelves of Tesco's as miniature green versions of their cousins in Brisbane. “Ripe and Ready” avocados are the size, shape and texture of walnuts, rhubarb is pink and delicate and sweet, nothing like the brash purple cudgels that jut from the earth in Oz. I'm not complaining – after all, it seems as though we can still get Vegemite (eurghhhhh – but my children love it), we can get pork pies and decent bacon here and what is a Tim Tam, if it's not a Penguin?* But I do feel as though I am having to learn to cook all over again.
Very interesting is the way that Food Poetry** has moved on in this country – though I don't think that Australia is that far behind. Take the simple Crisp (or Chips, to Aussies). In My Day, When I Was Young, Back in My Youth, etc etc, one was happy with a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. Then along came Mr Kettle Chip and suddenly crisps had to be cooked in Kettles in order to be served in a nice, cut glass bowl to guests one wanted to impress. For a while that was okay, but then Salt and Vinegar was no longer good enough. Only Salt and Cider Vinegar is now deemed acceptable, or Salt and Balsamic vinegar. But if one wants to REALLY impress, one can go a step further – to Mongolian Salt and Somerset Cider Vinegar, for instance, or even, Mongolian Salt and Neopolitan Balsamic Vinegar Hand Cooked, kettle chips. I don't think it will be long before one has to buy a separate pamphlet with the crisps, just to accommodate the description on the packet.
And what is it with Salted Caramel? I like salted caramel as much as the next person, but it seems that we are in danger of being overrun with the stuff. I kid you not – was browsing the shelves of Waitrose the other day and came across a packet of Salted Caramel Green Tea.
Have not yet come across a packet of Salted Caramel, Caspian Salt and Tibetan Malt Whiskey Vinegar, Finger Brittled Kettle Chips, but sure the day will come. And what I would like to know is this: are they really going to be better tasting than the old Salt 'n' Vinegar?

*And if you don't understand the reference, that's fine. I like being mysterious.

** AKA utter bollocks.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


If you live in Australia – even if you have spent long chunks of time in the UK – even if you are, in fact, English – you have no idea what COLD really means.
Since we have been back here, the weather has been very variable, though there has been a common theme running through it all – yes, you guessed it, it's been COLD. Though people keep saying how mild it is for the time of year, I think they're just enjoying being smug to/at us poor thin blooded Aussies – or is it thick blooded? Can never remember which way round it is.
Anyway, each day seems to be different. Some days we wake up and the frost is so thick it looks like snow; each cobweb, each blade of grass, each leaf, furred with ice, the roofs of the houses covered in a thick white blanket, the windows of the car painted with icy leaves and mountains by Jack Frost himself. Sometimes, the very air is thick and white, so that the frost crackled hedges along the sides of the road merge into the thin milkiness around them. Sometimes it's raining, constant wet dripping all along the eaves, dribbling down window panes and you just want to shout at the clouds: “For heaven's sake, just get on with it and do it properly and then ******* off again!” (Not that I, personally, would ever dream of using such language.)
Some days the sun is shining and the sky is almost blue and you are tempted into thinking that it would be such a good idea to go for a walk. So you add another three layers to the thirty three you are already wearing, step outside and immediately realise why you should have trusted your better instincts and stayed inside with a hot cup of tea and hibernated. Not that it's that much warmer inside – in spite of the fact that we have three fireplaces, we cannot light a single fire until we have spent a couple of million pounds on the chimneys – in other words, not for a year or so at least. So you sit inside with your Ugg boots and tights on and your toes are still screaming with the need to wriggle off your feet and run away to the Bahamas. Or Australia, as the case may be.
I'm really not sure how anybody gets anything done in this country. I find it hard to manoeuvre round the house in all my layers, let alone do anything useful – even going to the toilet, if I am going to be crude, which I am – is a feat of great engineering. My violin has been out of its case precisely once and after five minutes of playing I couldn't feel the strings any more.
Still, it makes a change. Or so someone said, at some point, I believe.
And it's very beautiful. Bought n old fashioned ordnance survey map yesterday, so now just waiting for my wellies to arrive from Brisbane and we'll be off, into the muddy fields to play with the cows.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Cast Adrift

So this is the situation.
We are now living close to our families – so close that we were able to have a wonderful New Year's Eve party at one of my sister's houses with four of my sisters, their husbands and children and dogs and my parents – first time I have ever seen my parents dance together!
We have a lovely house full of character, in lovely, not-real part of England.
Rupert starts back at work on Monday, (from home, logging into the Australian office), and Sam starts school on Tuesday (after very traumatic shopping trip yesterday to equip him with clothes smart enough for English sixth form.)
As for the girls: we posted off their applications to schools in the area on Monday, along with copies of our passports, a letter from our solicitor to say that we were residing in our house, copies of our plane tickets, copy of utilities bills, blood samples, hair samples, their right shoe sizes and my parent's marriage certificate, names of all pets past and present and our favourite recipe for humous. (The first four are true.) * And now we sit and wait for goodness knows how long, before we find out what schools they will be able to go to – whether they will be able to go to the local schools, or whether we will have to drive them hours in the opposite direction every day. This was a process we were unable to start until we were actually resident in this house, for those of you thinking we should have got our act together sooner. Though we could start signing them up for dance/football, etc, there doesn't seem much point until we know their school timetables, so they are basically “hanging”, till further notice.
As for me: I still have no bank account, due to various fumblings and public holidays, which means that I still have to ask Rupert for cash whenever needed, though this is not as big a problem as it sounds, as I can't go to the local shops or the laundrette without him as I am not insured to drive our car, anyway. (And no, I am not going to sit and wait for hours for bus in frost and wind and rain. I would rather complain about not having wheels of my own.)
I have given up my Australian Business number and name, I have no pupils, no work and there is no point in me trying to look for anything until we know where kids are at school and I know what my chauffeuring schedule is like. I am a non entity in every way, which is sort of liberating, but also quite scary - to look ahead at a completely blank calendar. Doesn't help that I now have massive head cold, because of course, we have been living in Pudding Island* for three weeks.
Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

*Whenever I whinge to English people about this surely rather unnecessary amount of red tape, I am told very earnestly that it is important because of the amount of people who buy houses just so that they can get their children into a certain school. To which I think, really???? Am I really to believe that half the houses in Adstock belong to absentee landlords who want to be able to send their kids to the local school, but, even though they have bought house in right area, they will remain living somewhere else, and make their child commute for hours every day? Okay, there might be one or two of these crazy people, but enough to warrant all the extra time and trouble for every school application?

**See Birds, Beasts and Relatives