Here are a couple of drafts that never made it onto my blog, so I’ve put them together here…
Happy New Year everyone!
As I sit in bed on January 1st, looking at the glorious sunshine out of my bedroom window, it’s hard to imagine the torrential rain yesterday that caused rivers to swell, roads to becomes rivers and puddles to become ponds. Just driving out of my village was like driving upstream yesterday which is something I don’t remember ever having to do before…
It’s nice to have a moment to contemplate where you have been and what you have achieved over the past year, and to feel inspired about how you will continue this year.
* * *
I write this as I sit on the train making my way from Taunton to Bristol, where I will meet my sister-in-law who will have a late lunch with me, drive me to Reading, where I will take the Airbus to Heathrow and later on tonight, be on my merry way to Singapore for the next phase of my journey.
2012 was a wonderful year. I decided to Live Loving and Love Living and that I did.
It was a full calendar year in Australia where my friends became my family, my adventures became my stories and my challenges became my strengths.
I fell back in love with my career: teaching English thanks to the ever-changing 18 or so students who I spent 4 hours a day with. Apart from a few personality clashes in the classroom I honestly never felt like I was going to work. Getting up every morning and knowing I was going to spend time with a group of wonderful adults never felt like work at all. In turn for improving their English, they shared their cultures, their music, their dreams and their trust in me and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I experiences Colombia, Korea, Thailand, Japan, China and Brazil all from inside my windowless classroom in Melbourne.
I had a number of opportunities to see Victoria and more from behind the wheel, from hire cars, to mini buses to motor-homes. I have driven along the Great Ocean Road, through the Grampians, down to Lakes Entrance, over to Philip Island, raced into Adelaide, got lost in Canberra, traversed a steep mountain road and driven around Queensland chasing waterfalls.
I’ve also lived the city life, lived the bush life, Lived the country life. I have taught and been taught and learnt so many lifelong lessons as I have continued to Live Loving and Love Living throughout the year.
I had the opportunity to meet family I didn’t know I had, to reconnect with friends from the past simply have a few moments to just enjoy being.
This year, I have decided will be the year to Make it Happen. I no longer have any time for useless aspirations to lose a few pounds, get a bit fitter or eat less chocolate and feel that the one goal we should all strive to achieve is to be happy. That’s all it needs to ever be.
So this is the year to Make it Happen. I achieved so much my myself last year, that I shall continue to do so and to go for the things I want. So If I want to go and lie on a white sandy beach, I will make it happen. If I want to visit a far away friend – I will make it happen. If I want to learn something new, I will make it happen. I am starting to believe that the power we have to do what we want is just endless.
So… 2013 will be the year to continue to Live Loving and Love Living, as that proved to be one of the best years I’ve and also to be the year that I Make it Happen – whatever it is!
So, who’s in? What are you going to Make happen this year? And did you have a go at Living Loving so you could Love Living? I would love to hear feedback from my readers!
I am sitting in Flagstaff Gardens as I write this, or at least I was, writing it in my notebook. A real pen and paper: imagine that!
It’s supposed to be 32 C, but it’s cloudy and considerably cooler than it was 30 minutes ago, but that’s Melbourne in a nutshell. Away from the madness of Bourke Street, I sit on the grass in the square shaped gardens with Saturday traffic rumbling past on each side. I can hear the cars, but I am at peace. There are some Asian girls in front of me chatting in a tongue I cannot comprehend, a group of people my age to my left enjoying each other’s silence and in another patch of grass a group of men of varying nationalities kicking a ball around. One is wearing a Chelsea strip a few seasons old, with Frank Lampard on the back, and sandals on his feet.A interesting backdrop for my Saturday thoughts.
And I sit here, cross-legged, with two days left in Melbourne pondering over what I have done, wondering where I am going and reminiscing on where I have been. My blog by my standards is way overdue – is it possible that I have had so much to say, it’s become too much to write about? My family say I write posts that are far too long, so I resolved to write little and often, but that doesn’t seem to have happened at all.
I have not had the opportunity to write about my fourth, yet by far the most fun trip to Sydney; my terrifying yet fabulously rewarding sea kayaking experience in Byron Bay; what it was like to return to a much hotter cattle station and all I realised I had learned about myself as I left again; the return to a city that has the familiarity and comfort of a place that I daren’t call home; the experiences I have had dressing in my suitcase finery and posing as a mystery shopper in Melbourne; eating all day and dancing all evening at a Latin festival; my impression and ideas about Melbourne and my thoughts on my nomadic life so far.
There really is so very much to write about and seemingly little time. I do not know where the last 3 weeks have gone. I do not know where the majority of my audience is based, nor fully understand their interests or what they/you want to read. I know one of my fans will tell me to write it all, write it all Grace!
Here is my train of thought for today, sitting in Flagstaff Gardens on Saturday 24th November…
I am thinking right now about the people I have met so far on my Australian Adventure and indeed on the literal and spiritual journey I have been taking to get to this very place today.
I feel that there are people who come into our lives for a purpose – yes, this is not a very profound statement to make, but there is more to it. There are the people who are in the background, setting the scene, playing the extras if you want a film analogy. They are the people in the park with me right now, the people that serve you coffee, sit next to you on the tram, the person who brushed past you in the street. The passers-by or passengers have, in my opinion, every importance to your day.For, without them, your day has no colour or sound.
Then there are those who are placed in your life because your purpose is to teach them something – they are the student. I don’t say this because my profession is teaching, but because they will learn something from you perhaps without either of you realising. Then, and perhaps it’s arguable that these are interchangeable, but there are the people who came into your life to teach you something. Again I refer not to the didactic role of a teacher, but more the passive role you play as you learn something, very often about yourself, through something this person does or how your relationship develops.
I also strongly believe that some of these people are planted in front of you to serve you a purpose and nothing else. They are passengers who get off at the next stop and need not stay on your train for any longer than necessary. You may never see them again, but you are pleased that they sat next to you for some time. Then there are the others who will continue the journey some distance with you, maybe until the very end because they have touched your soul in a way that the others didn’t. You therefore understand the importance of holding these people close either physically, or in your heart after geographical locations separate you.
As I sit here today, in my pensive mood, I am mentally flicking through the catalogue of amazing people who have coloured this journey and created endless lists of moments to laugh, cry and wonder about. I can clearly categorise the teachers, the students and the extras in my movie. I know who is going to continue on my journey: who I’ll hold onto dearly, and who I will smile at and say a fond farewell when I depart. I also remember those who have already passed through, those who have moved on and those who are coming with me, metaphorically. I remain optimistic about who is around the corner waiting to bump into me, or who will get on my train at the next stop. And I smile wholeheartedly from deep inside at the wonderful people who I’ll be certain to meet again soon or one day in the future.
It’s sad to say goodbye, better to say see you soon and oh so wonderful to say Hello again.
Having enjoyed my jaunt over to South Australia through the Grampians in a house on wheels I very much wanted to repeat the experience going in the opposite direction. Visa granted, I was heading back to the bush for a few weeks to fill the visa-shaped hole in my bank account and because I can: enjoy getting there!
The beauty of Australia for us foreigners is perhaps its size. The sheer vastness of it means you can drive for hours then look on the map and realise you have made no progress. The frustration of this, to me at least, adds to its awe. The European concept of distance and time couldn’t be more different to that of the Australians. London is a “long way” from my house in the UK. A three hour drive! I would never just jump in the car on a whim and go there, but out in the bush you travel that far just to get to a decent supermarket!
So this time, I decided to take a campervan from Melbourne and drive to Sydney, swinging through Canberra on the way, and dropping down to the coast of southern New South Wales. This was achieved… but only just: thanks to a number of hiccups that I am not responsible for.
We arrived at the campervan place in Footscray, Melbourne. A really charming part of the city. Not. Slightly out of breath from the copious amount of luggage needed and excited to start another adventure my heart dropped out of my chest and splashed into my stomach when the manager informed me that I had cancelled my reservation. It seems too long ago now to bother with the details of the what-fors and the whys, but rest assured it was NOT my fault. Several phone calls were made and my Firm-But-Fair-I-Deserve-What-I-Paid-For voice was employed to speak to several people, some more helpful than others to resolve the situation. One of the “excuses” I was presented with was that I had called to cancel my reservation due to marital problems and the cancellation of my trip! Don’t get me started on how I responded to that one!
At 4:45pm, 7 hours after arriving, when we eventually let the handbrake off and steered out of the car park into the rush hour traffic in the 6-Berth Mercedes Sprinter, we were ridiculously happy, yet considerably weary and about at least 500km off target.
I drove until the articulated lorries overtaking me at 110kmph pissed me off more than I could muster and we started to search for a truck stop for night one. Nowhere near where we wanted to be, we pulled off the road in search of a campsite we could not find and settled for a side road just off the highway. There’s a first time for everything, and this was the first time I had “camped” on the side of a highway.
An early start the next morning to head to Canberra. Lucky I asked the nice lady in the petrol station for directions and good idea to get a second opinion in a café, and also to buy a road map. This was a sans technology route, since lack of campsite the night before had meant no electricity to charge all electrical devises we had between us. Fine by me: I grew up reading maps and asking directions and learnt to drive reading signposts.
Canberra’s arrival was much later than hoped, but then Australia is MUCH larger than most of us realise. With a shortage of time we screeched into the tourist information and told the smiling man we were just passing and probably had 30 mins to have a quick look around. The look on his face was priceless. He was visibly pained that someone would spend such little time in the capital of Australia and I felt obliged to give him a run-down of why we our schedule was so off kilter. We whizzed up to Parliament House, parked the van, ran around taking silly photos and then spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get OUT of Canberra. (They clearly don’t want you to insult them by spending such little time there, so make it impossible to get off that darn roundabout). I embarrassed myself painfully at the petrol station, twice, which I blamed on my “marital problems” – running joke of the trip.
At 8:30pm… only 4.5 hours after leaving Canberra (!) we arrived at a campsite, whose destination was changed at least 4 times en route. Our descent on the Robertson pass into Kiama was coupled with the smell of brakes as I manoeuvred our HUGE automatic, rather unhappy van down its very steep hairpin bends, complete with traffic backed up behind me.
Kiama looked pleasant enough, but exhausted and a bit pissed off, we pulled into our quite-expensive-but-we-no-longer-care campsite and raced over the barbecue area to crack open the box wine and cook a semi decent meal. Easts Beach was beautiful in the morning. The hour or so we had on the beach was well worth it before hitting the highway to Sydney.
We swooped into Wollongong, struggled to find a parking spot, but my newly developed “white-van driving” skills would make my father proud as we edged into a space. Just enough time to jump out, for a picture and some sand between the toes before again hitting Highway 1 north-bound. A few more cars with surfboards strapped on the top this time passing us, we were in full holiday mode.
Sydney greeted us with not too much traffic and a not too difficult to find drop off point with much more time to spare than my last delivery. We rolled out of the van into the Sydney heat to begin the next leg of the journey…
So much to say!
I am back in the bush. The temperature is at least 10 degree higher, there are more puppies, an abundance of frogs and most certainly plenty of snakes waiting to say hello. Other than that, it feels like I never left, yet I did so much in my short time away I didn’t even get a chance to write about it.
I arrived in Melbourne over a month ago and experienced perhaps we could say “reverse culture shock”? I stood outside Southern Cross station waiting for a friend gazing up at the buildings instead of trees, stepping out of the way of people rather than cattle and feeling a chilly breeze on the back of my neck in the place of the sun’s gentle caress. I had no idea if I would return to the bush, let Melbourne be my home again, head off to new destinations or even board a plane home. The answer to that predicament came after two weeks of visa and medical stress caused by appointments, misguided information, unhelpful people, useless websites, being too honest, forgetting important things, making inappropriate jokes with foreign doctors and a number of other matters that left me rather depleted and a lot more skint! All to stay in Australia for another year! Well thanks to whatever forces were on my side, I am set to stay here for another year to fill this blog with more stories, adventures and thoughts from Down Under.
Watch this space readers!
This was written some time ago…
“Do you have any plans for Sunday?” I was asked last week. Plans?? Hmmm… well, I have to do some laundry, sweep my room, maybe catch up on some sleep, but those can all wait. “Nope” I said with a grin. “I thought we might take you for a ride then”. This was MUSIC to my ears! I had been anxiously hoping, that on my final weekend here in the bush I would do what I have hoping I would do all this time!
Ever since my very unexciting ride back o
I was instructed to come to the house at 8am (on a Sunday!) and wear jeans, long sleeves and plenty of sunscreen. After a not so good sleep, and a chilly early start I skipped over to the house in my most convenient horse riding attire. Thank goodness my jeans are stretch!
After making lunch (should I blog about my cooking too?) which was a pumpkin and carrot frittata and gathering up yesterday’s baking marathon: a fruit and muesli slice, raisin brownies, apricot and orange muffins and double chocolate chunk cookies: I was put into a pair of boot and fitted for a hat. (Not a riding hat, like us Europeans are used to, but a cowboy hat!)
At about 9 am E, K and I got into the Ute and drove off the other yards to collect some saddles, whilst D and C went off to round up the horses. My first shock, perhaps, was that the horses had to be found, and then saddled. I could barely lift the heavy thing out of the Ute (not a good station hand am I?) About 8 horses galloped into the yard: All excited, all frisky, all not looking very calm.
So Oaky was saddled and bridled up and I walked him around a little bit before trying to find a place to climb up so I could get on. Apparently he has an odd body shape, so his saddle rolls a bit as you try to get on. Poor D seemed a little bit unsure of whether to put his hand on my arse to shove me onto the horse, so I had to climb onto a water trough and transfer myself to the horse.
We set off, the children in front, and myself and K at the rear, making sure to keep out father and son horses a safe distance apart as they don’t share much love between them. I needn’t have worried about Oaky’s friskiness, as he was in their words “too old, lazy and unfit” to give me any bother. He was In fact a very gently horse, who when kicked slipped into a reluctant, but smooth trot, which my audience were impressed with. My last official riding lessons were about 20 years, but I still remembered my “rise and trot”, “heels down” and how to gather the reins. Those puzzled me at first, as I had never used an open rein and of course held those all wrong.
Once back in the saddle, the memories I have of always wanting to have my own horse as a child came flooding back, and the enjoyment I have always felt when sitting on one surrounded me as we walked through the paddock under the crisp blue spring sky. We stopped once we found a tree that provided shade and good stump (for me to climb back on the horse) for morning smoko. We ate our fruit, fed E’s horse the cores and the children shared stories of funny horsey happenings in the bush. On we went through the trees for some time until we reached Tiger’s Hole. A damn/creek in a picturesque spot: perfect for our bush picnic.
My saddle bag had a quart pot in it, which we filled with water, and put in the fire the children made for Quart pot tea. Having cleared the ground of ants and sat cross legged in the dirt eating our lunch, whilst the children did running jumps into the creek: I realised I had (had to) let go of a lot of my hang ups which had manifested in adult years. Sitting on the ground where I can SEE ants is one, eating without washing my hands is another, trusting a horse I don’t know, wearing someone else’s shoes, peeing in the bush… all of which might not seem much, but I hadn’t realised how much they had made me restricted.
Before heading back, we mounted the horses (with the help of another water trough) and Oaky and I had a photo shoot, as well as a few little trots for the camera. Everyone wanted me to experience Oaky’s “beautiful” canter, and game though I was after my initial hesitation, it was short lived due to my stirrups being just a tad too long to feel comfortable.
On the ride home, the sun was blazing and all of us here breaking a sweat. I found it hard to imagine mustering all day in much sharper heat, for much longer and at a much more demanding pace than Oaky’s totally chilled out gait. We trotted quite a bit on the way home, and once or twice, sniffing the air of the home stretch, Oaky broke into an unexpected canter, which I wish I could have enjoyed, but my reservations about stirrup lengths and inexperience made me pull him up sharp and we continued at a healthier, slower pace.
Arriving home, I felt an overwhelming sense of pleasure in finally experience something that these bush people clearly love. The conditions were perfect, nothing went wrong, and apart from having to walk around in a John Wayne stance for two days, it was an invigoratingly positive experience.
I was told this an uncountable number of times in my first two delicate weeks here and it puzzled me each time as I never thought I was being particularly weak!
However, life in the bush IS tough, it IS harsh and it’s not for the fainthearted.
I have never considered myself to be a girly girl: although I do like to paint my nails occasionally, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty. I also enjoy wearing a pretty dress and heels occasionally, but I am just as happy in jeans and trainers.
The family obviously consider to me to be more delicate than daring and simply because I wasn’t brought up in the bush, I have the disadvantage of being much more sensitive and affected by the ways of life out here.
My second day here was a good introduction to what was to come, when the cut up carcass of the cow we have been eating for the last three months was dragged through the kitchen, leaving a trail of blood and hung in the cold room for several days before it was butchered.
When C put an axe through his foot and didn’t go to hospital because “it’ll be alright”, I was shocked. When K’s horse tripped, threw her and rolled over her, she didn’t go to hospital for scans or x-ray, cos “she’ll be alright”.
When the puppies were born to a work dog and fathered by the randy Labrador, I was told we’d be lucky if any survived. The previous three litters didn’t have a very high survival rate, thanks to bush harshness. In this litter, one of them escaped watchful eyes, and was savaged by its father at 6 weeks old. The puppies had a deadline too, and i did my best to help rehome them, having been told that their fate would be sealed with a pair of pliers if they couldn’t find homes to go to.
Their mother, apparently a useless dog, was “dealt” with once the puppies were weaned. Thank goodness it was done whilst I wasn’t on the property. The Cats here have a pretty harsh life too, and I have learnt that no animals get buried if they don’t make it.
The work dogs have a very short life: It’s rare that they reach retirement. If they don’t get killed by something, they are done away with once they no longer serve their purpose. If they hurt themselves they either have to get on with it, or they are shot. There are two right now running around with open wounds. When I asked if there was anything that could be done (thinking that despite the idea of touching it making me heave, perhaps I could sneakily give them some care), of course I was told that could lick it so they’re fine.
Then there are us humans, who are not allowed to feel pain or emotion sometimes. Only the other day I was eating lunch when a particularly strong onion in my potato salad made my eyes water and my nose run, when I remarked upon it at the table, simply because I was surprised, I was told to “suck it up” and “move on”. Thanks
And that’s not to mention the other dangers here like spiders and snakes that could kill you. Or dingos that can rip young cows to pieces. Naturally I was worried about all of the above and asking the relevant questions regarding my safety. Some of the responses I got were that dingos can’t pick locks (goodness, there I was thinking they were the local locksmiths) and that I was obsessed with snakes! Well, I said in my head, Obsessed no: well-read, concerned, aware: yes!
Every time we go for a drive I pray we don’t see a Dingo or a wild pig, as I know there is a loaded rifle in the Ute, and every time I go for a walk I desperately hope I won’t see a snake.
And if I dare to mention something that hurts or upsets me I know that I will be told to Toughen Up, which on them the irony is lost when I think about just how silent I have been …
Something strange happened today…
Maybe it was because I outed myself as a jogger, maybe it was because I have been doing to for nearly two weeks, maybe it was because I knew all of you had read this, maybe it was because I had casually measured my waist…
but I jogged today, I jogged hard. I could even say I ran!
It was just me and K today. NO dogs, no children and a nice cool breeze pushing us along.
Today it didn’t hurt as much as it did before. I even picked up speed. My feet left the ground, not shuffling, but jogging. We jogged until we got to a tree that was far enough away to feel a good jog, then walked for a bit, then jogged to the next tree or powerline. Ok, these are STILL short spurts, but we are doing it. I am doing it! I am joggin for my biscuits in the bush. I am going a little further each day and it’s not as horrific as I thought it would be.
Jogging for biscuits
Before I came out to the bush the vision I had of myself was riding horses regularly, spending plenty of time outdoors, eating prime cuts of meat and fabulous home cooking and just watching my muscles build and the weight fall off.
That is not the case of course. My day involves walking the 12 or so steps from my bedroom door to the classroom and then an additional 12 steps to the house, and I never walk back out of there without having eaten something.
Then there is the food: the volumes of it, which I readily accepted so not to be impolite on first arrival. The Smoko (cakes/biscuits/pikelets/tea/coffee etc) at 10am, and then again at 4pm, (more of the same) and dinner is a mountain of food very often followed by a dessert. Lunch is starchy and meaty unless I make it myself.
So to summarise: I have grown. I am not the svelte shape I hoped I would be, but a larger, much less fitter version of the one I was aiming for.
In my first two weeks I was in the kitchen readily baking for eager mouths, loving the novelty of having people to bake for, but I soon started to notice an ugly pattern. The two bushies decided to get me jogging one day, which was absolute hell. I pounded along a dirt track, one behind me hitting my bottom and the other in front encouraging me on like an old cow going in for milking.
We coined the term “jogging for biscuits” which became my incentive and much fun for them as they turned my plodding efforts into biscuit rewards!
Now, some weeks on, having had many many relapses, I am now going for a stiff walk, and breaking occasionally into a jog or a shuffle, as we call it, every day! Since almost two weeks ago, I have not missed a day despite the pain and undesirable state it leaves me in.
We agreed that at 5pm every day we will go for a walk. We put on trainers (yes I have been lent a pair!), enlist a few Labradors, I don my leggings (because if I feel sporty, that’s half the task done!) and off we go into the late afternoon sun. Sometimes it’s just me and the bushies, sometimes me and their mum, sometimes me and my new pig-hunting-dog friend, but it’s always me!
We walk/jog/shuffle up the hill, down the track, around the paddock: It doesn’t matter where. I know if I break a sweat (not hard!) and get my breath going (equally easy) I have earned at least half a biscuit. Sometimes I can manage a whole 100 metres of jogging, which those of you who know I can barely run for a bus will understand is no mean feat!
One day I even walked the LONG way to the mailbox and back, which was over 10km. Some days I have longer energy spurts, some days a pain appears from nowhere and makes me wince, but every day (since two weeks ago!) I go.
I jog for biscuits in the late afternoon sun of the Australian Outback.
Dear Old Tiger
Tiger is not a tiger, despite her name. She is a cow. A milker, to use a local term. That means that we don’t eat her: she makes babies and milk and if she doesn’t have her own calf to feed, she’ll feed whatever poddy needs feeding. New word for Grace and maybe some of you: Poddy – An orphan calf.
This old dear usually has those two words in front of her name, as she is a longstanding member of the crew here. She’s about 9 years old, which is fairly old for a cow, and looks all skin and bones but I am assured she is very healthy indeed.
She has been hanging around the paddock closest to the house recently, because loved as she is, she gets fed Udder Buster to help her produce good quality milk for her offspring. Apparently she can produce bucket loads of the stuff, which is supposed to be my job to milk her for the family, but I am not akin to just walk up to a cow and start pulling on her udders unless someone shows me how to do it. And her udders, despite being fed Udder Buster (is anyone else finding that funny?) are in a pretty bad state after a little trip she took the other day.
I had gone for a walk with the girls, and Tiger who was in the house yard saw us walk over the cattle grid, and started to follow. I got anxious, wondering what we would do if she got herself stuck in it. She thought better of it though and moved away from it, along the fence. The barbed wire fence. A determined old dear found a slightly weak link and pushed her way through it. I stared aghast wondering how the cow was going to get through, but a trained pro, she stepped her way through the two levels of barbed wire, udders and all! I was alarmed, but as always E wasn’t, so we carried on. I wondered where old Tiger was off to, as she determinedly walked off down the track.
3 quad bikes went out later (this was before we lost one) to try and find her, and she had walked all the way to the other yards, several kilometres away to get back to her calf that had been weened off her that day.
Dear old thing was brought back up here, with cuts on all her teets after her treacherous journey. She mooed and moaned for days to come, despite being patted and fed on a daily basis. This saddened me, as many things do about harsh cattle station life, but I was told she has made many many trips like this before, and would walk the 26km breadth of the property to get back to any of the calves she has fed and mothered.