Monthly Archives: August 2013

Perfect paddle boarding

Very often, the focus of my blog posts is some mishap or other: some series of events that only seem to happen to me, something I have done wrong, some mini disaster, a bit of stress of just one or several of those moments.

Last Saturday was not one of those. I actually had a perfect day. Should I even write about it? I am not sure if I have a misfortune to make you laugh…

I had purchased a voucher for a Stand Up Paddle boarding lesson, as it was on my Perth bucket list. I had seen people doing it on the Swan River and thought it looked like something I would like to do.
There were two other Au Pair friends also doing it, so I wasn’t going to be on my own. I also had a lift lined up from someone who lives in the same suburb as me, so didn’t have to do battle with Perth public transport ( if you read OFF UP THE COAST you’ll know my feelings on this).

It had been raining most of the week, but I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, with a clear mind (no booze the night before) and a healthy (ish) body – ready for action. My concern was that I read wetsuits were NOT provided, and as it IS winter, I didn’t fancy falling in. Then I must remind myself that this is Perth, not Melbourne, so it’s really not THAT cold. And yes, if you haven’t thought/said it already – I do indeed come from colder climes, so yes, I should be used to the cold weather/water etc. My other concern was my left knee: still bruised from my little ice skating escapade (read LIVE A LITTLE for that disaster) and comes with a certain amount of fear of hitting or even using it. I had read up on Paddle boarding, and the first thing you do is kneel and learn to get your balance – not something I can comfortably do – and can you believe this – because of this I was considering surrendering my voucher and not even going!

Luckily I gave myself a good talking to that morning and got up and on with it. Wished I had bought a pair on board shorts – who in Australia doesn’t own a pair of boardies? Me of course!
It turned out that our lesson was just the three of us – 3 Au Pairs on paddle boards with an mean age of 28 (this is indeed unusual in my line of work!) went out on the Swan with out instructor Cristina from Germany. The water wasn’t cold, just a little “eech ouch” getting in on account of all the tiny shells on the shore.
I was given the biggest board – probably on thanks to my usual look of uncertainty. After a brief “this is how you do it” We lugged them into the water and got on. It hurt to be on my knees – bloody ice skating – so once we got some speed (literally moving, not racing) we got to our feet.

The sun was warming my back, my board was steady and I was smiling because I was paddling! I managed to turn without falling off, I coped with a wave caused by a passing boat, and didn’t fall off when I looked round at the large splash to my right when H had fallen off her board trying to get a photo of M!

The only problem I had was a cramp in my right foot (It wouldn’t have been right for it to have been THAT perfect), which I later learned was perfectly normal, although incredibly uncomfortable, as the body tries to counterbalance what the board does. Once our level of comfort was ascertained, we paddled back to shore to get different boards. This time I had a shorter, lighter, therefore faster board, which was much more fun to work with. I actually ENJOYED this outing, and found myself asking fellow British nanny friend from Torquay if this was something people did at home. Yes, apparently it’s quite popular! Show’s what I know, as the first time I had seen it was 6 months ago here in Perth.

To congratulate ourselves on a morning of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise – I want to do more of this – we went to the Matilda Bay Tea Rooms. An Idyllic setting on the river, under the trees where the parrots sit and… poo on your slice of chocolate cake. No joke. But it wouldn’t have been MY blog post without a little bit of trouble…

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What does an Au Pair do?

My day officially starts at 7:30am when I leave my “house”, that is my granny flat in the garden, and I walk about 12 steps to the back door of the house.
On a good day I will have had time for a peaceful breakfast and might even be strolling over with a cup of tea in my hand. Yorkshire Tea, purchased recently, which makes my day start an awful lot better than Bushells.

Breakfast time consists of teamwork to get T & S dressed and fed, so T can get out of the door for school on time with Dad. It doesn’t always go smoothly – Fridays are particularly painful mornings. When the TV is switched off – my preference – the morning is a breeze. When it’s on, which it usually is – it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

After T goes to school, S and I can start our day. My morning tasks are getting S to have some breakfast, as it’s unlikely this was successful earlier, and a second attempt at dressing her. When she is pottering about with the dog, or today’s teddy, I unpack and repack the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and make a start on the laundry, make the beds and have a think about today’s plan.

If I haven’t already had a conversation about tonight’s dinner, it will be written down somewhere. Making dinner is an important and enjoyable task for me, so it needs to be factored into the day’s plan.
Very often S and I will pop to the local shop to top up on ingredients. She will go in the pushchair, and my bag will be loaded with snacks and supplies and off we go. Sometimes we pick something up and turn around and go back. Sometimes we have coffee together in the cafe. And less recently due to bad weather, we will come home via the park.

Most sunny days lunch is a picnic at the park. We sit on the picnic benches together making crow noises and discussing what dogs are doing. We lie on the grass and find shapes in the clouds, sing songs on the swings or we go on an adventure to the wooded area of the huge park we live near to “see what we can see”. This is a general term I use for any journey we embark upon, as it seems to give it some purpose.

After lunch S usually has another energy spurt, so whizzes around the back yard on her bike if we are at home, and I use the opportunity to lock the dog away and make dinner. Not locking the dog away, as I very quickly learnt but surprisingly often forget, very often results in something or everything being stolen by the pesky Labrador.
S often helps me make dinner: I give her a bowl and she does “mixing” which consists of her collecting all the peelings and leftovers in her bowl – we often season it, add water and “taste” it to see what she has created.

On these recent boring rainy days I have been doing a number of little baking activities – scones, or cupcakes perhaps, which we later eat at a teddy bears’ picnic in my granny flat, sometimes under the table if it’s raining really heavily! Getting a 3 year old interested in baking isn’t difficult. I measure things out, she pours them in: complimented all the time on her great pouring skills. We can’t wait until it’s in the oven, so we can both be naughty and lick the bowl.

After a few stories and cup of tea it’s time to locate shoes (never an easy task, as they never stay on for long) and a cardigan, a book or two, some snacks for the ride, water and anything else I can think of before we head to school to collect T. Very often I have to do “fast walking” because the previous tasks took longer than I wanted them to and we race to school, nattering all the way, looking for things to point out, so S doesn’t fall asleep.

T gets a high 5 if he’s eaten all his lunch. If he hasn’t, “nasty nanny” makes him eat his sandwich before he plays footy. We hang out at school for as long as the weather and the caretakers allow, or we head to a park and we kick and pass the ball or have running races before heading home. Apparently I am “awesome” at this. I have tried to teach him “English football” (I refuse to call it soccer) but I can’t get him to stop picking the ball up!

Dinner comes round pretty quick, as I’m doing a few last minute adjustments and bringing in the washing, it all happens at once. Countdown is on: tidy up music is playing on my computer, play area is tidied, hands are washed, table is set and bottoms are on seats for a 5pm sit down. The 3 of us sit together and enjoy our dinner with silly conversations and mostly good manners. Politeness and table manners are greatly rewarded and seeing empty plates and smiling faces makes me happier than I can express. Dinner done, everything is put away and we might just have time for a story before mum gets home. Or if she’s stuck in traffic we run the bath and they hop in. To pass the time we sing songs about frogs, or tell stories.

When mum gets home, we have a debrief and the children turn from calm collected creatures to manic little monsters on their second, third of fourth wind of energy, so I bid my farewell and head to my room.

I later meet with a fellow au pair and friend and we go for a good stomp and a vent… often all the way to the shopping centre for frozen yoghurt.

Doesn’t sound bad? No, very often it’s wonderful. I adore T and S and on GOOD days they are my two best friends…

Perhaps I need to write a post on the trials and tribulations of life as an Au pair…

Live a little…

So, the other day I bought a voucher to go Iceskating…

It occurred to me that I had become a bit “safe” recently and subsequently, quite boring, and yes, indeed bored.
I have a number of excuses for such a position. Is it because I now work as an Au Pair and I am quite literally drained of energy at the end of the day? And I have the unusual luxury of having my own digs, complete with tv and internet, so sometimes it’s just “easier” to not go out?
Is it because I have never got enough money? I don’t earn very much to say the least, and what I do earn, really doesn’t go very far in Perth. Then there is the fact that I don’t have my own car, so going anywhere involves a number of transport complications, so as previously mentioned, it’s just sometimes easier to stay at home.

But is that what I came to Australia to do? To sit in my room, watching Foxtel and feeling pleased I have got through the day? Worrying about where my cents will go, so desperately trying to save them instead of enjoying them?
I know that when I get back to the UK my dollars will mean nothing, the sun won’t shine very often and I won’t have the opportunities that living in a (pretty cool) city in a (bloody awesome) place like this has to offer.

They say that you should do something that scares you every day. That’s not always possible and I am not as brave as I used to be, so I will aim for once a week! I also have only 5 weeks left in Perth, and only 8 weeks left in Australia, so now is the time more than ever to MAKE EVERYTHING COUNT! Who knows when I will be back?

Iceskating. Yes it scares me. The last time I went was about 10 years ago. I fell over, but it was ok. The time before that was about 3 years previously and I fell badly, landing on my knee, really hurting it, and vowed never ever to go again. Since then I have feared hurting myself so much that I never thought I would go again. Frightened I would fall and hurt my back, I forgot about the prospect of landing on my knee again. Which was worse?

Anyway, I enlisted the company of a fellow Au Pair and friend on my fear-combating adventure. Bought the tickets and made the plans. I refused to let anxiety hinder my enjoyment, but on entering the building I was looking for any excuse turn on my heel (whilst still on dry land – can’t turn on ice!) and make a quick exit. There was nowhere safe to leave my bag: leave it in the car. The skates were too big: Smaller ones would be uncomfortable. The skates hurt: get over it. It’s cold: get over it. I don’t like the music: get over it. Out of excuses. Skates on.
We waddled our way towards the ice – how do you walk without looking like a penguin??
I gingerly stepped onto the ice, gripping the barrier for dear life. At this point I start laughing hysterically (anyone familiar with this?) as I was actually bricking it. I can’t move!! I had no idea what to do, I froze, pardon the pun! Other skaters whizzed past me, carved the ice, skated backwards. No one was falling over. This was not the place for Grace to get over her fear!

Slowly I started to move my feet – making my way along the edge, and whilst laughing and screaming simultaneously whenever someone passed me, I found myself sort of skating. My partner in crime was finding my expression (sticking tongue out in concentration interspersed with screeches of fear or hysterical laughter) hilarious herself and had to stop a number of times from laughing too hard. I don’t know how many laps I did before I started to realise I was actually skating and dare I say, enjoying it a little bit. I still flailed my arms, and windmilled my way around and went straight into the barrier to stop. I still screamed every time someone whipped past me, and watched people fall over to asses how badly they were hurt and to figure out how they got up again.

I started to get the hang of it, and was smiling, grinning, skating, yelling out “I am skating, no one will believe me! I can do it!!” I don’t have words to describe how it felt to actually do it, after all these years. I even had a little fall and got back up again, but I was fine!

It has to end somewhere though doesn’t it? Usually when someone wants to take a picture. Often when you fall and really hurt yourself and the wind is taken out of your sails, not to mention your chest and your pride, not to mention your body is bruised.

“You skate ahead, do another lap, and I will get a photo of you”. Off I went, picking up speed: the idea of a camera capturing my moment spurring me on. Then something went wrong, I did something wrong and I went down. I went down hard. Right on my Left knee (same one as before) and hard on my left boob and hand, as I tried to cushion my fall. I flipped myself over immediately, scared someone was going to slice me in half, but the pain in my knee made me want to vomit and the pain in my chest from being winded actually scared me. I can’t tell you how I got to my feet, but I made it just as someone was offering me a hand, I managed to dodge oncoming traffic and slide contraflow to the exit and get off, barely able to move my legs. I sat, tears smudging my mascara, as my leg shuddered with shock, and my left breast felt like someone had kicked me repeatedly. I wanted everyone to disappear so I could have a good cry. The pain eventually subsided, but my enthusiasm was gone. Skating was finished for me. The fear was back and I was terrified and bruised. I did, however, get back on the ice and I did another lap, just so that I could end it well, and not have my memory being face down.

I saw so many people fall and get back up again, who looked fine. I was fine too – nothing but my smile was broken, but it was time to go home.
On the way home, we stopped for frozen yoghurt – my new obsession and I got a bag of ice for my knee, which I sat with all evening, fearing the prospect of an unusable knee.

I am SO pleased I did it, I now know I can do it, and I had a go, and even enjoyed it.
I told my younger brother tonight what i had done, and he said… “So, maybe are ready to have another go at skiing then…” Some of you know my skiing story from the Pyrenees about 7 years ago – an experience I do not wish to repeat!

Cervantes to Perth

One of the wonderful things about not planning things is the adventure you can have with unexpected new friends.

I was sharing a room in Kalbarri with a girl from Belgium, and having mentioned that I hadn’t planned my trip back to Perth, she suggested I join her, driving back as she was going back the same time. Perfect.

Myself, the Belgium girl and another guy from the hostel, loaded into her little hire car on Friday morning. Me with a sore head from a spontaneous drinking game the night before and also with a heavy heart – not quite ready to return to Perth and say goodbye to the residents of Kalbarri Backpackers.

We ambled our way down the highway towards Perth, stopping in various places of interest along the way, to maximise the opportunity of having the freedom of a car.

The first stop was Cervantes. A town with a Spanish name, and Spanish named streets. There is not much going on in Cervantes to be honest and for that reason we had the hostel to ourselves, bar the two resident cleaners from Taiwan. The hostel was spotless with plenty of homely touches – books, magazines, herbs and spices, toilettries.
http://cervanteslodge.com.au/pinnacles-cervantes-lodging-backpackers-hotels-rooms-rental-bed-breakfast-overnight-stays/

What Cervantes is known for is its proximity to the Pinnacles Desert. This is an eerie place, which we visited at sunset, and if I were a more talented photographer, perhaps I could have captured better its science fiction-like atmosphere. Strange stones rise out of the desert making you feel as if you have walked onto a Star Wars set and you should be carrying a light saber!

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Driving through yet another national park as we made our way down the coast, we stopped at Hangover Bay – wonderfully named place with a beautiful beach. I would LOVE to cure a hangover there!

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Next stop was Lancelin – because my big brother told me to go there, so we dropped in for a photo op and a toilet stop.

random sand dune

on the road

Lancelin

Lancelin

Nearer to Perth, and the departure of our other passenger was Yanchep National Park – where koalas were sitting in trees, wallabies were nibbling the grass and Kookaburras were singing up above.

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things to do in Kalbarri

I arrived in Kalbarri without my usual precision planning – aiming to just see what was going on, enjoy the sunshine and some time away from Perth.

The only hostel in town was run by a very friendly couple – Joe, originally from the UK, and his Australia wife Carol. http://www.kalbarribackpackers.com

On checking in, I asked out of concern, if they had any idea what the weather was likely to do, and what ways I might enjoy my time in Kalbarri. The response regarding the weather was not what I wanted to hear – that it had been lovely last week, beautiful today, but was set to change tomorrow. Being from a country of bad weather, I try not to let a bad forecast put me off, but as it was a much needed and looked forward to holiday, I found myself feeling I’d got a bad deal.

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Kalbarri National Park is where most visitors go: for walks, amazing views and of course their iconic photograph sitting in Nature’s Window. What a lovely idea – how can I get there? Well, as is my luck, the park was closed to the public due to the re-laying of the road. The only way to enjoy it during the week was to go on a tour. How convenient. So, I paid for 2 tours – one to go kayaking in the gorge and one to see the sights.

Tour one was fabulous. I was picked up in a very old, large 4 wheel drive bus, and driven out to the park. Due to the roadworks, we were escorted through the park, and then drove off road down a private track, where we then scrambled down into the gorge, walked along the river bed to the boats. I got paired up with a Singaporean guy, who behind me in the boat chatted to me about life in Singapore, living in Perth as a student, food, cooking and travelling in Asia. As soon as we got into our boat, it started to rain, of course, but once it cleared up: the sunshine, the tranquility and nature’s great landscape was awe inspiring. After about an hour’s paddling, we arrived on the shore for homemade cake and then climbed back out of the gorge, stopping to admire breathtaking views as the sun graced kissed the cliff tops.

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The tour I did later, was met with rain. Lots of it. Not having even a jacket, let alone a rain coat made it a very uncomfortable afternoon indeed, but was assured that I was having a very unique experience as nobody gets to see Nature’s Window in the rain! The Z bend was also on our itinerary, and despite feeling very cold, I was very happy to experience the national park in unusual conditions…

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here comes the rain!

Nature's Window

Nature's Window

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Other things I did, as I often do, was long walks. One was along the cliffs to Nature’s bridge with my hostel roommate, in the hope of seeing migrating whales, but none wanted to show themselves.

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I also took a very long walk along the beach, without intending to – sometimes I just start walking, and like Forrest Gump: I forget to stop! So I ended up walking about 5 kms out of town to Red Bluff, stopping to paddle, stopping to think, stopping to pick up seashells, stopping to photograph huge crabs and stopping to breathe and absorb the wonderful Indian Ocean views.

Blue Wave rocks

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Giant crab!

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Red Bluff

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4 days in Kalbarri was enough to clear my mind, refresh my photographs, restore my faith in hostels ( thanks to an awesome bunch of people staying there) and as if I needed to – remind me of what a wonderful land Australia is.

Off up the coast

I had a week off during the school holidays back in July and a little bit of birthday money to play with so I went on a little adventure for some sunshine, soul searching and to do what I came to Australia to do: Live loving and love living. In other words – live in the moment and smile.

My destination was Kalbarri – a small township on the coast about 7.5 hours north of Perth.

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Having searched fruitlessly for a cheap way up the coast: looking for ride-shares and even couchsurfing options, I went back to what I know best – long distance buses and youth hostels.
Throwing some caution to the wind I booked a one-way bus trip from Perth to Kalbarri and one night in the only hostel there hoping the rest would fall into place, which – as is nearly always the case – it did.

But there is no such trip that Grace can make without a bit of sweat and stress (read up on my Slovakia stories for more of this) and a little bit of sweat and stress was what I had the morning of my departure.There have been a number of times when my last minute nature is entirely responsible for any mishaps I may have had, but having learnt from that I find that sometimes in my world – things are simply just not simple!

Getting from where I live in Carine (a northern suburb of Perth) to the bus station in East Perth would normally have been a fairly easy transition of a bus from my house to the train station, a train to the city, a train to East Perth and then a short walk to the bus station.

However, the good people of Transperth wish to improve their frankly-not-very-convenient public transport system and chose to do this by shutting the central stations and disrupting normal service during the school holidays.

Leaving my house at 06:40am for an 08:30am bus should have been ample time and would generously have allowed time for breakfast and coffee at the station cafe before my 8 hour bus trip. Not for me. Of course.
My weekend bag and handbag pissed me off on the lengthy transits I had to do on three occasions. The length of the footbridge overpass at Leederville, platform at McIver station and overpass at East Perth were far too long for heavy bags.
I was quietly impressed with how well organised and smoothly the transition to replacement transport went at Leederville, as well as surprised by the number of staff they apparently needed to orchestrate it all. These staff members would have been much more useful on the next leg of my journey as the location of the free transit bus had changed and information of its whereabouts or timetable were non-existent.
About 50 of us grunted and squeezed into it as it arrived after 20 minutes (not 8 as promised) and trundled 600 metres to the next train station – much to the bewilderment of many of the passengers who dismounted. Since everyone seemed to be going to or coming to McIver station, the 1.5m path of its entrance became almost impassable with the surge of commuters. Trains were then waiting at platforms they weren’t normally on and I burst onto the train moments before its door beeped shut – with looks of sympathy from my carriage mates. “This is bloody ridiculous!” I panted to which the “friendly” commuters either nodded or busied themselves looking at what was in their hands or on the wall of the train. I am pretty sure in the UK this is the rare occasion when people DO converse and unite on the opportunity to have a good old moan.
On arriving at East Perth my shoulders ached once I saw the length of the passenger bridge and I almost walked in the wrong direction once of it by mistaking a coach for the not-very-obvious coach station.
On arrival, although desperate for a coffee, as it was 08:17 I immediately checked in and then ran to the cafe only to realise I couldn’t get anything for less than $10 paying by card, nor could I withdraw cash without forfeiting the $2 charge. And when every cent of your trip counts – coffee has to wait.