The Dukes of Berry – Kangaroo Valley to Jervis Bay

A sausage competition. A meat shop. Sun beating down on a beautiful landscape in the background. Two dudes in a Dukes of Hazzard car. Australia, right there in one picture.

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IMG_3425A sausage competition. A meat shop. Sun beating down on a beautiful landscape in the background. Two dudes in a Dukes of Hazzard car. Australia, right there in one picture.

This photo, taken in Berry in Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, pretty much sums up Australia for me. Whenever we drove from Sydney to Jervis Bay we’d take the Kangaroo Valley route and visit Berry, a beautiful nugget of NSW.

IMG_2920The valley is two hours from Sydney or Canberra, and is all rolling green pastures, glittering creeks, fascinating wildlife and little towns like Berry where you can stop for an ice cream.

IMG_35003We didn’t see many kangaroos.*

IMG_34943But like most places in Australia, kangaroos or no kangaroos, once you’re there you can be in no doubt where you are in the world. You’re a long, long way from most other places but at that moment there is nowhere else in the world you’d rather be.

IMG_34372Australia is full of drama. Just as one minute you can be paddling in the shallows and the next minute swept out to sea by a rip, you can also be happily driving along, sunglasses on, only to glance back to see this behind you.

P1030628And sometimes, if you’re very lucky, once you arrive at your destination, for us beautiful Jervis Bay, you might get treated to something like this.

WHALE_BREECH_2_LR*There is a kangaroo’s bum photobombing one of these photos if you look closely.

I didn’t know I almost drowned until I read this

As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.

P1020202One of the most important articles I have read as a parent was this one a few years ago and any article since that reinforces the point that drowning doesn’t look like drowning.  That drowning doesn’t wave its arms in the air, shouting. It sinks, silently.

Before I read the article, I didn’t know that I already knew this. I knew this because years ago I was rescued from a situation I didn’t even know I was in. Swimming in the shallow, calm, turquoise water at Boomerang Beach in New South Wales, one of my friends was suddenly paddling quickly towards me on his surfboard, scooping me up onto it and pulling me back to the sand.

He might have saved my life, but at no point did I think that’s what had happened. Until I read this article.

I had been aware that my feet were no longer making contact with sand and I could feel a sort of whirlpool beneath them out of which I couldn’t seem to tread. I was incredibly close to the shoreline, where my friends were standing with their surfboards, laughing. I tried repeatedly to step outside of the whirlpool and find solid ground, but it just wasn’t happening. I thought it was only a matter of time before I managed it. It wasn’t a strong current, I wasn’t far from the shore and I knew I was only inches from the bottom.

I was watching my friends, smiling at them, wishing I could swim a bit closer to join in the conversation, but no one seemed to notice. Except this one guy. He had noticed and although I never asked him specifically, I can only imagine that he had noticed that I was still. I wasn’t kicking or using my arms and I was silently staring at them. I must have been focused on just keeping my head above the water.

If he hadn’t grabbed his board and come to me, I don’t know how long it would have been until I could no longer do that.

At no point did I feel I could cry out. I just smiled and hoped they’d notice. I think it was more than me just being very British. “Oh please don’t bother yourselves, I appear to be stuck here and I can’t get out but really, I’ll be fine.” I now believe I couldn’t cry out because, as the article explains, my respiratory system was focusing on breathing.

But I didn’t feel that. I just felt a bit removed, a bit left out. I wanted to get back to them, but I couldn’t.

I used to wonder how children in swimming pools could just disappear to the bottom without their nearby parents hearing or seeing. It’s because it happens quickly, silently and without fuss. We must watch our children in the water at all times. * Even if they are playing quietly. Even if they are close, so close you could touch them.You need to watch because you probably won’t be able to hear it if it happens.

As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.

*To know exactly what to watch for, and to truly understand drowning, please read the superb article.

My Random Musings

Loneliness is not a long-distance runner

“Loneliness is not a broken heart. It’s a penguin in a tutu.” I don’t know why Shane Finn was in prison, but it doesn’t matter does it? I just loved what he wrote.

Mummy bloggers talk about lots of things, you name it, health, poo, fashion, life, snot, upheavals, relationships, toys, cars, school, politics, love. But prisons? Not so much, not the literal ones anyway. Which is a shame.

I’ve always been strangely drawn to prisons, or rather the idea of being locked in a cell. During adolescence I used to fantasise about living out my days in our downstairs loo. It had everything I needed (well, a loo), and I would add a little duvet, a hatch for receiving food, a video recorder (hopefully not Betamax) and a some bookshelves. What could be nicer? No parents to deal with, no exams to sit, no job to get, no boys to make you feel just awful and sad.

Obviously,  the idea is now abhorrent (apart from those days when I want to lock myself in a cupboard), and yet when I visited Fremantle Prison near Perth in Australia in 2010, I felt a warm fuzzy glow. I can’t explain it, I can’t understand it, but I was drawn to the place. We were traveling with an eight month old BUB.1 at the time so didn’t think it wise to actually to take a tour of the cells (oh how I wished we could) but after a visit to the gift shop I was aglow. So aglow, in fact, I returned to the shop and bought a book,  a compendium of “creative works from Fremantle prison” entitled Prose and Cons.

On flicking through this narrow volume my eyes had randomly snatched the opening line of a poem entitled State of the Heart:

Loneliness is not

a long-distance runner

it’s a cooling breeze

on a hot day in summer

it’s not knowing your place

when watching a plane crash

swan diving with beautiful grace

loneliness is not a broken heart

it’s a penguin in a tutu

everyday state of the art

The reason this took my breath away was because as a teenager, as well as fantasising about living in the privy, I also started to have recurring dreams about plane crashes. More specifically I would witness a plane crashing in the distance, as I stood helpless and solitary in the distance. I had that dream for years. And here I was, in Fremantle on the west coast of Australia, twenty five years later, reading Shane Finn’s poem about that very same feeling.

I don’t know why Shane Finn was in prison, but it doesn’t matter does it? I just loved what he wrote.

State of the Heart

“Loneliness is not a broken heart. It’s a penguin in a tutu.” I don’t know why Shane Finn was in prison, but it doesn’t matter does it? I just loved what he wrote.

Mummy bloggers talk about lots of things, you name it, health, poo, fashion, life, snot, upheavals, relationships, toys, cars, school, politics, love. But prisons? Not so much, not the literal ones anyway. Which is a shame.

I’ve always been strangely drawn to prisons, or rather the idea of being locked in a cell. During adolescence I used to fantasise about living out my days in our downstairs loo. It had everything I needed (well, a loo), and I would add a little duvet, a hatch for receiving food, a video recorder (hopefully not Betamax) and a some bookshelves. What could be nicer? No parents to deal with, no exams to sit, no job to get, no boys to make you feel just awful and sad.

Obviously,  the idea is now abhorrent (apart from those days when I want to lock myself in a cupboard), and yet when I visited Fremantle Prison near Perth in Australia in 2010, I felt a warm fuzzy glow. I can’t explain it, I can’t understand it, but I was drawn to the place. We were traveling with an eight month old BUB.1 at the time so didn’t think it wise to actually to take a tour of the cells (oh how I wished we could) but after a visit to the gift shop I was aglow. So aglow, in fact, I returned to the shop and bought a book,  a compendium of “creative works from Fremantle prison” entitled Prose and Cons.

On flicking through this narrow volume my eyes had randomly snatched the opening line of a poem entitled State of the Heart:

Loneliness is not

a long-distance runner

it’s a cooling breeze

on a hot day in summer

it’s not knowing your place

when watching a plane crash

swan diving with beautiful grace

loneliness is not a broken heart

it’s a penguin in a tutu

everyday state of the art

The reason this took my breath away was because as a teenager, as well as fantasising about living in the privy, I also started to have recurring dreams about plane crashes. More specifically I would witness a plane crashing in the distance, as I stood helpless and solitary in the distance. I had that dream for years. And here I was, in Fremantle on the west coast of Australia, twenty five years later, reading Shane Finn’s poem about that very same feeling.

I don’t know why Shane Finn was in prison, but it doesn’t matter does it? I just loved what he wrote.

Peace in Perth

Traveling south of Perth for a week with a then eight month old BUB.1 epitomised what is good and bad about traveling with babies.

We got to see some beautiful sights, but not for long. We very often saw the sights alone as the other one waited in the car with the sleeping baby. We dashed a mad relay to drink in some of the most stunning sights on the planet. For just an instant.

As well as visiting some of Willy Wonka’s family in Perth itself, we managed to cram in Fremantle:

Cottesloe:

Yallingup:

Margaret River:

Pemberton (where Willy Wonka climbed the Gloucester Tree):

Rottnest Island:

William Bay national park:

and onto Denmark and Albany.  If you don’t know Australia well, this is a tiny slice but it’s vast.

But once in a while we pulled up to somewhere like this beach in the Walpole Inlet, where we parked the car right by the water while BUB.1 snoozed in the back. There was no one else there and we could take in what was the most still, calm, beautiful place I have ever been. Together. Alone.

For that moment, everything else disappeared. The chaos, the schedules, the responsibility, the rushing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling with babies or children isn’t worth it.

What would life be without these moments, however brief they may be?

SAHM. WTF?

With their litany of engorged bosoms, sexless rows and vomit-splattered shoulders, I envisaged it would be like root canal and a career in mining combined. But worse. But oddly, it isn’t.

IMG_7563.jpg

“I admire you being a stay at home mum” a friend said, the other day. I looked behind me. Oh, me? It never, ever occurred to me until that day that that’s what I am. It wasn’t really a choice. It just happened. It’s the strangest thing, but for someone who always wanted a good job, to travel, to never, ever be tied down to 2.4 children in the suburbs, I am a stay at home mum at the moment (in a city not the suburbs but that might all change).

When I got pregnant with BUB.1 I was working as a editor on a magazine. Willy Wonka and I were already set to travel to Australia for 18 months, a place I had lived for the best part of my early thirties.  I had, through hard work,  secured myself Australian residency during that time and another year there would see me entitled to apply for citizenship, an opportunity I knew I had to take.

So on our first date I told Willy Wonka of my plans and a year later we were pregnant and booking tickets. I left my job when I was three months pregnant and flew when I was four. As a result, I never had maternity pay or a boss ringing me to ask when I was coming back.

When BUB.1 was 12 month old, as planned we moved back to the UK to be close to our families, and within a month I was pregnant with BUB.2  so there was never an opportunity to even think about returning to full time work. I wonder what I would have decided if there was?

I am fortunate that we have made choices which mean although it’s a squeeze each month, we manage. I know that for a lot of people it isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. I feel very fortunate that I have been allowed to wallow in motherhood full time until now, however challenging it can be (said through gritted teeth with spaghetti dangling from my hair).

I’m not alone either. The mums in my ante natal group in Australia were all professional women,  but none were prepared for how happy that first year made them. One of the mums at BUB.1’s preschool worked in the theatre and says she spent years justifying not going back to a very anti social job. People would ask her what made her give up such an artistic career for full time motherhood, some of her ex colleagues cautiously asking if perhaps her husband prefers her not to work.

WHAT?

Can’t we just enjoy being mums for a while without being made to feel like there’s a problem?

At the time of starting this blog, my youngest is sixteen months old and at the moment he is used to me and needs me. But we are evolving. He is currently being settled into a childminder for a six-hour stint once a week, during which time I hope to continue with some freelance writing.

If you’d have told me I’d be a stay at home mum ten years ago I would have rolled my eyes at you. But I didn’t know that a) you don’t stay at home, you go out, or you go mad and b) the mum bit is SO much fun.

My admiration goes to those mums who work and deal with everything early motherhood entails. But then again, when I hear of friends enjoying lunch in a quiet restaurant or reading the newspaper on the train, I admit I want to gouge my eyeballs out with a toddler-sized fork.

Dawn of the Red

We woke up as usual and world had turned orange. Like someone had planted a bomb inside a gigantic packet of Cheesy Wotsits.

There was a story in the news this week about a photographer who accidentally snapped a sunrise marriage proposal at Bondi Beach.

It reminded me of a photograph Willy Wonka took one extraordinary morning in September 2009, six weeks after BUB.1 was born, at that very same spot.

We woke up as usual, opened the blinds and..woah. The world had turned orange. I don’t mean slightly orange (as if that was normal), I mean tangerine orange. Everything was bathed in an intense, misty orange glow. Like someone had planted a bomb inside a gigantic packet of Cheesy Wotsits.

Turning on the TV we found out that there had been a dust storm that had whipped up lots of red dust further inland in NSW and carried it out to Sydney. The morning sun was casting a martian red glow across the entire city.

Willy Wonka immediately ventured outside to photograph down at the beach while I stayed safely inside, fearful of what the dust might do to BUB.1’s lungs.

Lots of the amazing photographs taken that day by people made it to international news sites and I really wish I could have breathed some of the toxic air myself. The view from our apartment in North Bondi was breathtaking.

My favourite photo taken by Willy Wonka is this one, where he accidentally captured two people on the edge of the cliff. Little martian creatures, stuck to the side of the rocks.

It was one of those mornings when the world shifts on its axis a little. A day when you realise that life can really surprise you. A day when you just can’t shake a feeling of trepidation, excitement and awe. A day you relive in your mind from time to time, to remind yourself that you’re here.

The best kind of day.