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Road trip – week three, and a bit of a shock.

January 15, 2016

Packing up the car (we can never travel light) until it groans, we begin the long trip to Albury, where our friends are letting us stay for one night while they are in Byron Bay, where we are meeting them later in the week. After a quick bit of shopping for food, we settle on the sofa for a night in front of the TV, outside it’s about 40 degrees and like stepping into a sauna, thank heavens for air con. After a few minutes I spot a story on Facebook, and can’t believe what I’m reading. David Bowie has died after an 18 month battle with cancer. We had listened to his new album on the journey, loved it, and were wondering what he would do next. Never expected this. It can’t be true, can it? The comments that follow are equally disbelieving, claiming that his page has been hacked and it’s some horrible cruel hoax. For the next few minutes we are glued to Twitter and the various ‘reliable’ news sources as the awful truth is revealed. He had kept it secret from everyone except close friends and family, it was true. One of my teenage idols had gone, claimed by this dreadful disease, he was human after all. Strange to feel so upset about someone I have never met, but I spent the next few hours reflecting on how his attitude, words and music had affected my life and that of so many others. Facebook and Twitter were filled with tributes, YouTube clips, interviews and reminisces from those closest to him in the business. It was some strange comfort that a lot of my friends felt the same as we exchanged memories and feelings. The outpouring of grief was surreal, much like that when Elvis, Diana and Jacko passed away – you only need mention one word and everyone knows who you are talking about, like it or not, they are icons of the modern world. It’s true what everyone says – his last album, Blackstar was his way of saying goodbye – just listen to the beautifully crafted lyrics, and see if they don’t touch your heart.


Mornington and old friends, week 2

January 15, 2016

So, after a hectic but fun filled week in Melbourne, we headed down south to the Mornington Peninsula, to spend time with two of our oldest friends, who emigrated to Australia way back in 1986. I can still remember waving goodbye to them as they stood on the doorstep of her parents’ house, wondering if we’d ever see them again, or indeed if we would manage to keep in touch. I certainly never imagined we’d ever be able to afford the fare to go and visit for a holiday. Yet here we are, on our sixth visit, as we saw wages rise and relative air fares lower since 2000 when we first saved hard for our first trip for the Sydney Olympics.
It seemed only a short drive to Mornington, a reminder of how close this beautiful coastal resort is to the enduring hectic craziness of Melbourne – time for a bit of R&R. Our accommodation was perfect – a former ‘granny flat’ attached to the owners home in a quiet street in Mornington, just a few minutes from the beach and the town. Our first night was spent with a supper of cooked prawns, brown bread and Aussie champagne, for a fraction of the price of a similar feast in England. We spent the week barbequing with our friends, spending every spare minute outside, going to local markets, exploring the far reaches of the peninsula – Sorrento, Portsea and Hastings – where the novelty of seeing local fisherman feeding scraps to the pelicans will never wear off.
One highlight was a trip of the ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff for lunch, a bar cruise, (pub crawl!) sampling wines, cider, beers and cocktails. Sadly we didn’t see any dolphins, unlike our previous trips – I think they are hiding somewhere or on holiday with the elusive kangaroos and koalas (many signs telling us say be careful they may be crossing the road). Of course, our week had to conclude with a drive to the local wineries – Yabby Lake is only ten minutes from Mornington, it looks quite scruffy from the outside, but step inside into a sophisticated cellar door and restaurant, with one of the most gorgeous red wines, a Syrah, that I have ever tasted. A beautiful meal followed (trout, then steak) with a few glasses of wine – a visit to another winery, then a good old Aussie brewery, which was pretty lively on a Sunday afternoon, with live music too. After saying goodbye to our friends (hopefully for only a year or so) we headed back to pack for week three and the long drive north to Byron Bay.

Australia diaries 28/12/15 – 4/1/16

January 4, 2016

After many months of planning and deliberating, we are finally back in our spiritual second home. When I say planning, I mean it in the loosest sense of the word, because we haven’t actually planned much apart from the first two weeks! Pete has retired so we have 8 glorious weeks in which to soak up the Aussie vibe and catch up with our dear friends who now live out here.

We flew with Qatar Airways – a new one to us, but they won airline of the year 2015, well deserved I think. The only problems were, as usual, other passengers! From the fidgety kids behind us on the first leg, inconsiderate reclining of chairs, and the wheeziest smokers cough I’ve ever heard on the second leg – I almost handed him my ventolin at one point. Arriving at night was a good plan, meaning we were tired enough to sleep at our hotel almost straight away (who can sleep on planes anyway?) Pete stayed up to watch Spurs v Watford (we won 2-1) after a bit of banter with the Gooner taxi driver on the drive from the airport (what luck, eh?), our body clocks allowed us to sleep until about 8.30am. Apparently the best cure for jet lag is to get outside and soak up the vitamin D, so that’s exactly what we did. A short stroll from the hotel is the hive of activity that is Federation Square. Nestled between the Ian Potter centre and Flinders street station, among the trams and thousands of people is a square full of cafe’s, restaurants and bars, and a huge outdoor entertainment area with big screen. Our favourite place for a magnificent Aussie breakfast is Time Out. For about $50AUD two people can feast on a breakfast combination of their choice, with coffee and smoothies. No need to eat again until dinnertime! From there we strolled (really strolled as it was about 27 degrees) to the MCG to watch day 4 of the test, Australia v. West Indies. Sit where you like on days like this, it was a pretty poor attendance of around 7000, so easy to bask in the sun until toasted, then retreat to the shade until you feel cool again.

Day 2 was my day – which meant shopping! There is no greater place to shop in the whole of Australia in my opinion. Not sure Pete would agree though. Myers department store is home to thousands of pairs of shoes – it was a bit like being a rabbit in the headlights! Still, bargains were bagged, coffee was supped, and we found a great microbrewery pub on the way back to hotel called The Crafty Squire. Beers and food reward for the workout that was shopping in the city.

Day 3 was New Year’s Eve, and our friends joined us from Albury. It was the hottest day, around 39 degrees, which showed no signs of abating by the time we arrived at the World Bar & Restaurant, our venue for the evening. I had to leave about 9.30pm, the heat was just too much. A shame, as it was a great place, loads of food, drink, and a brilliant salsa band and DJ. The fireworks at midnight were pretty special, I had a great view from my hotel room – by this time I had cooled down and had stopped feeling like my core was going to explode!

Day 4 – New Year’s day – another breakfast at Time Out, then a river trip to Williamstown – it seemed like the rest of Melbourne had the same idea…

Day 5 – Up early and onto the 96 tram to South Melbourne market to meet Pete’s cousin,his wife and their 2 year old for breakfast. The market is everything a market should be – the freshest and finest fruit, veg, fish, pastries, bread,  – the sights and smells are pretty wonderful – artisans and sellers of everything you could want reside here. We succumbed to a couple of French pastries which we ate later on a park bench in St Kilda. It was lovely to meet Henry, their lively two year old – the last time we met up was when Kathryn was 6 months pregnant with him! Since we were on the 96 tram route, it seemed churlish not to continue to the end of the line, St Kilda beach. A hot and breezy day, so we headed for a lovely bar on the next to the beach for a beer and  glass of fizz, to watch the world go by. Also on the 96 route is The Pumphouse – the pub opposite where we used to stay in Melbourne. So here we stopped for lunch, and for old times’ sake, before heading back to freshen up for the evenings entertainment – The Big Bash T20 game at the MCG. Longy & Holly – a couple we have met through Twitter and a mutual love of Spurs, are members – so got us signed into the members area, and it was pretty impressive too. They have it all worked out to make it a pleasant experience – no alcohol can be taken to the seats, so all drinking has to be done at the bar – the result is very little drunkenness at an event that is aimed at families and youngsters. Tonight was the only time I have felt cold, the wind really whips up in the bowl  shape of a modern stadium.  The home team Melbourne Stars beat  Melbourne Renegades – Kevin Pieterson (All Stars) & Chris Gayle (Renegades) were disappointingly average – the star of the game was England’s Luke Wright for the Stars, who scored over 100 runs, a rare event in a T20 competition. We rounded off the night with a late supper at another Fed square favourite – Chocolate Bhudda – dumplings and some Tempura prawns, and a cold glass of Sav Blanc, before saying goodbye to Longy & Holly.

Day 6  – a long lie in, and meeting two of our oldest friends, Chrissie & Steve for lunch at Cookie, a fantastic  Asian restaurant hidden away on the first floor somewhere along Bourke Street. Amazing soft pork dumpling, and  a snapper stir fry with pad thai noodles , with just enough heat to make a girl glow! Washed down with some local cider (7% at lunchtime? Marvellous!) After which we managed a bar crawl, for cocktails at Madame Brussels (a rooftop bar) then down one of the laneways to the Gin Palace for a drink before saying our goodbyes. Melbourne is full of secret hideaways, bars and restaurants  some of which are not obvious to the passer by – but ask a local and you’ll find the best the city has to offer.

It’s starts with a tingle…

May 24, 2015

…says Graham Swift, as he tries to explain his process of writing, having returned to the genre of the short story after an absence of many years. This was how he started his writing career, as a teller of short stories, and at that time he never imagined becoming a novelist. Nine novels later and he’s published a collection of 25 stories called England and other stories His belief is that the function of fiction is ‘to reveal the invisible world, the unspoken, I try to tell a story that wouldn’t otherwise be told’ he said, he is drawn to those inarticulate characters as ‘most of life is inarticulate.’ He then read ‘Saving Grace’ from the collection, a simple but cautionary tale of love, race and morality.

Marketing your book isn’t easy

October 28, 2014

Marketing your book isn't easy.

Well, here I am again

July 21, 2014

I was trawling through my ‘favourites’ on my laptop this morning, and came across my much neglected blog. Much has happened since my last posting. A lot of it is personal and involves complex family stuff, so inappropriate to write about here. But food for thought, and for writing. As families unravel due to bereavement and other such tragedies, it makes you examine who you are and why you do what you do. It also makes you question how other people live their lives as they do, and speaking as an outsider looking in, who are we to have the authority to judge or criticise? That said, having to try to pick up the pieces is enormously stressful – we have spent our lives being in control, and losing that control is quite scary.

The culmination of my years of study with the Open University has left me a little lost. Since 2000 I have gained certificates, diplomas, a BA and an MA, made many good friends and had fantastic experiences. But now I’ve had my last graduation ceremony, written my last assignment, spoken to my tutor for the last time – I am bereft. I have no desire or space in my brain to go for a PhD – or the funds come to that. So, where to go from here? The desire to write is a powerful one. Too much of it is spent writing on social media and connecting with people, although this does fill the gap left by my 32 years of working with large groups of people, many of whom are now very good friends.

So, having plucked up the courage to send one of my short stories to a few friends, and had some lovely and encouraging feedback, I am now sitting down to write it into a novel. The working title is ‘The Mistake’ – it is based on where I live, and is the imagined story of one of the former patients of a mental asylum, how she rebuilds her life only for it to fall apart when she least expects it. Secrets, mental illness, family breakdown – all jolly stuff! But essentially it is about two strong women who have made mistakes in their lives, and how the fallout from this affects them and their families. Mental illness is still sadly a taboo subject, and requires much careful research, I only hope I can do it justice.

Long time no see…

January 29, 2014

I was shocked and rather cross with myself when I revisted my blog this morning. It’s been 8 months since I posted anything. Terrible! At the time of the last posting I was stricken with food poisoning at the Hay Festival, something that lasted for about 3 weeks, losing 11 pounds in weight as a result. I spent a few months recovering, before my love for food resulted in regaining the lost pounds, much to my despair. Having got behind with my English Masters dissertation, the remainder of the year was spent juggling that and the care for my mum, which is a whole new world of jargon and red tape. I could rant about that for hours but won’t bore you with it here.

The dissertation, entitled ‘D.H Lawrence, the Censors and the Publishers: The publication of Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover was submitted early in January, and now it seems I have my life back. So, therein lies the question; ‘What is next?’

I’ve taken over as editor of our local parish newsletter. I’ve joined a choir, started knitting again, and baking (you should taste my chocolate flapjacks and chocolate banana bread). I’m still trying to get our local book club to actually talk about books a bit more (at the moment it’s very much a red wine and local gossip club!) and plan to start a book review blog. Yes I know there are loads, but this one will be an aide memoire more than anything, as I have a terrible habit of buying books twice…

So, it’s semi-retirement with a purpose. I have a short story that I wrote whilst doing the creative writing module of my BA, which is crying out for development into something more. My ebook Love Your Back may finally be published, but I need a more creative outlet. I recently had a session of Reiki, and was told to work with words and colour, and explore this in order to improve my general health. Spooky, huh?