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.

Advertisements

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.

Mummy knows breast

It led to me coining the phrase “expressing like a bastard”, which is best delivered through gritted teeth while brandishing a dripping, overheated breast pump and a crying infant.

imageI keep reading posts advising soon-to-be or new Mums to largely ignore advice and go with their gut instinct. Ah, the irony.

While I agree that you will usually know what’s best for your baby, there are some occasions when you simply don’t have a clue. When BUB.1 was born he was a healthy seven pounds four ounces, but like all babies he lost a bit of that weight. And like some babies he didn’t put it all back on within the ten days or two weeks they hoped that he would.

Sitting in a circle of new Mums in Bondi, where I was living, I listened as my fabulous robust health visitor (“Big Jan”) asked each Mum how much their baby had gained that week. BUB.1’s gain, and I think it was his first gain, was meagre. She asked to see me afterwards.

Standing next to her after the group was another Mum whose baby had also failed to make the grade and we were given our no nonsense instructions. After every breastfeed we were to express milk and give that extra milk to the baby after the next feed. So we were to breastfeed the baby, then give the baby a bottle – or a cup initially to avoid nipple confusion –  of breast milk while also expressing another bottle. It takes a bit of juggling. Bra-snapping. Boob-heaving. Nipple-cracking. A lot of commitment, shall we say.

Over the next fortnight, I did this. It took up all of my time. Willy Wonka’s family were visiting from the UK, so day trips around Sydney saw me hunched over in the back of the car with my manual Avent breast pump. I expressed at the top of Centrepoint tower in Sydney. By night I sat up in bed crying with fatigue, breast pump in one hand, imaginary shotgun in the other.*

It was tough, but it worked. Slowly, over the course of about two weeks, BUB.1’s cheeks puffed out and he started to pile on the pounds. My boobs became gigantic, and I went on to breastfeed him for 19 months, during which time I got to experience all the joys of engorgement and mastitis. I just needed a kick start.

Looking back on photos, we can now see how thin he looked during those first few weeks. But the important thing is no one panicked, he was fine. We just needed to tweak things.

When BUB.2 came along, at a bouncing seven pounds ten ounces, the EXACT same thing happened. The midwife didn’t even have to say anything on my home visit when he wasn’t regaining his birth weight. I raised my hand to shush her, told her what had happened with BUB.1 and she said: “That seems to just be the way your babies are” and left me to it.

I invested in a Medela electric pump this time so I could keep my hands free to deal with BUB.1. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t exhausting, and left little time for anything  else, but it fixed the problem. He put on weight.

By the time a bumper seven pound 13 ounce BUB.3 arrived, I have to admit, my energy was floundering. She was an undiagnosed breech, and she had a tongue tie. So until she was 11 days old and underwent her little tongue snip, she was having some formula anyway. Even the kind ladies at the breastfeeding clinic said I needed to consider the whole family.

But, I went onto to express again and I managed to breastfeed, with formula top ups, until she was six months old. I meticulously noted down exactly how much formula and expressed breast milk she was having to ensure she got at least equal of both. I drove myself crazy with my little notepad.

A combination of having two other small children, a baby who seemed to be VERY content** with a combination of both formula and breast milk and an overwhelming feeling by 9pm each night that I’d rather put a wet finger in the plug socket than my breast pump yet again, meant that my supply dropped off much quicker than the first two times.

Despite her being my last baby, my fondness for breastfeeding, and the morphing of my breasts into two empty pitta breads, I refused to let sadness cloud me. I knew that I had given my all.

It must be wonderful to have an instant and abundant supply of milk for your baby but for many people, it takes a little bit of extra work to get things going. And even then, it doesn’t always work, or there are other factors such as family or commitments that mean you just don’t have it in you.

I think what I’m trying to say is that if you experience difficulty breastfeeding and the solution offered to you seems difficult, or hard work, it might be miserable but it will probably work quite quickly. If it doesn’t, there will be something else to try. I remember crying down the phone to a breastfeeding hotline handler, but soon enough that misery was resolved.***

As for the question of advice from seasoned Mums, it won’t always be about breastfeeding, because soon enough there will be something new to cry about. Welcome to motherhood.

* It led to me coining the phrase “expressing like a bastard”, which is best delivered through gritted teeth while brandishing a dripping, overheated breast pump and a crying infant.

 ** comatose

*** Since publishing this post I suddenly remembered that yes it worked, but it was a constant balancing act between expressing enough to get the supply going, but not too much that the boobs were empty sacks once the next feed was due ( roughly three minutes after the last one for a newborn) or so much that your boobs overproduced and you became engorged and at risk of getting mastitis, a horrible business involving cold cabbage leaves, red hot bosoms and a weird floaty feeling. Just thought I should mention that.

As easy as ABC

Seven random encounters led me to a conversation one sunny afternoon on a roof terrace in West Hampstead about online dating and to now, to eating Tunnock’s Caramels with this man and our three children.

10710521_10152742605050428_5704813566250237029_nWe call Tunnock’s Caramel wafer biscuits “A’s favourites” in our house. “A” signifies my first boyfriend’s name. He introduced me to Tunnock’s and I happened to mention it the first time we had them.

When we laugh about A’s favourites and BUB.1 asks Daddy “Does A still like Mummy, Daddy?” I wish I could explain the path that led to me to Daddy and BUB.1 being here.

It’s not a pretty or an extraordinary story. It’s everybody’s story.

I got a job after university, met a boy (B), broke up with A, lover of Tunnock’s, met a new friend (C), broke up with B, and moved to London. My third flat in London was a random flat share, via a London property paper called Loot, with a girl born the day after me (D). On our first night out in London together to celebrate our birthdays we bumped into an Australian boy (E) in a queue for a comedy club and he became my boyfriend. After a couple of years, and to cut a very long story short, C and E both ended up being in Sydney, and I went too, to meet them.

To cut another long story short both C and E ended up being less than reliable and after a while I ended up down there on my own. But another random flat share (via whatever the Sydney equivalent of Loot  was at the time) with a girl (F) ended up in a fabulous friendship and a fabulous time. Meanwhile D had a friend arriving in Sydney who I ended up meeting up with, I had an absolute BALL, got heartbroken, got lonely and came home.

F and her boyfriend (G) were in London too by then and I lived close by.  One day G mentioned online dating one and how if he was single he’d give it a go. I gave it a go and met Willy Wonka (Him!).

A + B + C + D + E + F + G = H.

From A to G were all random, easily missed meetings. I wouldn’t have gone to Australia if it wasn’t for that first job, that random London flat share or that place in a queue at the comedy club, so I wouldn’t have met F and I might never have had the conversation I had with G (who incidentally met F in a club one night and didn’t see each other again for months, then bumped into each other randomly at the same club, which they’d both only been to those two times).

I always thought I’d meet “the one” in a chance lightning strike moment of sheer certainty. And online dating doesn’t offer that. But his email popped into my inbox a day after I thought I’d cancelled my subscription and a few days later we met in a pub for a drink.

It was fortuitous that I clicked the wrong button and didn’t actually cancel my online dating subscription the day before he contacted me. If I had, his email wouldn’t have arrived.

Seven random encounters led me to a conversation one sunny afternoon on a roof terrace in West Hampstead about online dating and to now, to eating Tunnock’s Caramels with this man and our three children.

So when people say “You don’t meet people in clubs and pubs” or “It’s best to get together with one of your friend’s friends” they’re wrong. You meet people in life. And everyone you meet brings you something.

That all said, I would still have been eating Tunnock’s Caramels, with or without him, with happy memories. And for that I thank A.

Pillow talk

As I heard Graham Norton say the other day, wedding vows always sound a bit too much like ‘pillow talk” for comfort. But like him, I wouldn’t ever say no to a knees up with lots of wine, so never say never.

P1010987When BUB.1 was three months old, Willy Wonka took us to the Blue Mountains in Sydney and, after a perfect day of changing nappies on benches in bushland, a spa massage and a long soak in a jacuzzi with our baby, he proposed.

As the sun set over the Blue Mountains, he put on a special mix of songs he had chosen for me and when Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of Somewhere over the Rainbow started he went down on one knee with a beautiful diamond ring and asked me to marry him.P1010951

He couldn’t have done it more perfectly. And as far as I’m concerned it was enough. I’ve never been one for weddings and have never envisaged myself having a big wedding. It’s lovely for some, but I just couldn’t ever see myself in that role.

We’ve now been engaged for almost five years and since then we’ve moved back from Australia to the UK, moved house twice, and had two more babies. There’s barely been time to cut our toenails, let alone organise a shindig. So we haven’t. Every six months we spend an hour or so talking about it, what we might do, and the conversation ends with us promising to fire off some emails when we get a mo.

And then life goes on.

But perhaps a bi-annual affirmation that you still want to be together, even if it is in your pyjamas, is just as romantic as a public declaration? Maybe even where this sort of talk belongs.

As I heard Graham Norton say the other day, wedding vows always sound a bit too much like ‘pillow talk” for comfort. But like him, I wouldn’t ever say no to a knees up with lots of wine, so never say never.

 

 

A mouse cannot live on Shiraz alone

The closest I have come to outright Bridget Jonesness was during my two minor pest infestations. We’ve all had snails living beneath our bed. Haven’t we?

BridgetLike a lot of women, I’ve always felt an affinity with Bridget Jones, but the closest I have come to outright Bridget Jonesness was during my two minor pest infestations.

The second incident was in a studio flat in Sydney, so riddled with cockroaches that when I opened the door to enter, the walls seemed to move, a bit like in an Indiana Jones film. Things stepped up a gear when mice started running across my feet while I was preparing my infamous singleton one-pot-mush dinner. Pest control told me an unsealed pipe connected my flat to the restaurant kitchen below. But why would any sane mouse leave the kitchen of, I have to say, quite a lovely restaurant to seek food in the wasteland that was my kitchen? A mouse cannot live on Shiraz alone, I reasoned.  And indeed, one poor mouse did appear to try and fail, his body found shriveled under my sink.

The first incident, a couple of years before, was more unusual. Renting a room from a good friend in London, I was awoken each night by a low, soft scraping sound. This went on for a while. Then I started to notice silvery trails around my bedroom, up over cupboards, down chair legs, across the carpet. Lifting my bed one day, I discovered a family of snails peering back at me. The scraping had clearly been the top of their shells on the base of my bed. The carpet beneath the bed was a criss cross of intricate silver lines.

Piecing it together, a recent snail infestation and extermination in the garden had obviously gone awry and I must have inadvertently brought some snails into the house, on a bin bag, my shoes, or something. Most strange was that I also discovered, living behind my wardrobe,  a family of slugs. But they at least were very quiet. No trouble at all, in fact they could have stayed there forever.

The reason this has all come to mind is that my copy of Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy arrived today. And for the last few nights something has been troubling me. When I lie my head on the pillow, and if, and if it’s a BIG if, I don’t fall asleep within two seconds, I hear a very faint, low tapping sound from within. When I lift my head again, I can’t hear it.

I don’t know if it’s in the bed, in the floorboards or in my head. But I’m not sure I can curl up with Bridget tonight not knowing if I am completely alone.

40 is the new 30

The next six years brought me to now, the eve of my 40th birthday. Spent not in a curry house, but in my parents’ back garden, watching my two-year-old lay a gigantic man-size turd on Grandad’s lawn. I laughed a lot on my 30th birthday. I laughed a lot today.

IMG_1971When I turned 30, I didn’t feel a thing. I’m not being smug, I just didn’t.

I was very fortunate to be at a place in my life that felt right, exciting and new. I’d been in Australia for almost a year, I had a new boyfriend, a new four-year working visa and a lovely group of friends. We went out for a curry and drinks on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, Sydney. I didn’t want to be anywhere else and had no doubt I was exactly where I should be. I didn’t know then that ahead of me lay almost more fun than I could bear, heartbreak, hilarity and a host of brilliant people I am so glad I met. Shit, that was smug. Even I can see it now.

A broken foot, a broken heart and a broken credit rating meant that by the time I hit my 34th birthday I was back in the UK, looking for something…else. The next six years brought me to now, the eve of my 40th birthday.  Spent not in a curry house or a city bar, but in my parents’ back garden, watching my two-year-old lay a gigantic man-size turd on Grandad’s lawn. I laughed a lot on my 30th birthday. I laughed a lot today.

I am in the right place and feel very fortunate to be so. BUB.1 starts school in September, while BUB.2 starts pre-school. Best of all, BUB.3 is expecting to make an appearance in January. We’ve got a new (old) house to resurrect. I am excited for the coming years and feel on the brink of something, rather than at the close of something.

I feel almost exactly the same as I did ten years ago. Only much more sober, without a waist to speak of and slightly stiffer around the joints.

Where's the party?

An ex-colleague and treasured old friend remarked today how wistful she was for the old days of PR Christmas parties. I too have been missing the dizzy glare of ultra violet lights in fabulous venues, the endless round of mini canapes and the champagne burps at work the next day.

1275098_10153719816440428_6604403983703452516_o-2An ex-colleague and treasured old friend remarked today how wistful she was for the old days of PR Christmas parties. I too have been missing the dizzy glare of ultra violet lights in fabulous venues, the endless round of mini canapes and the champagne burps at work the next day.

Every time I walk past clothes shops at the moment I am blinded by sequins, and even though I wasn’t really a sequins girl, I long to wear some now. The rush to buy the Christmas party dress, the hangovers, the laughter and the surprises, I miss it all.

My fondest memory is of being swept out of work by one of the big technology companies and ferried with my fellow journalists to a mystery location in Sydney. Bundled out of a bus, through a series of doors, no one quite knew where we were being taken until we stepped out onto the beautifully lit stage of the State Theatre where our party was to be held. Seats dimmed, spotlights on, champagne fizzing.

There were some wonderful times.

But no one in my life right then believed in Father Christmas. So I’m writing a letter to him now, asking him for all the things the BUBs would like to shoot down their chimney this year. It’s their turn for the spotlight right now.

That said, if anyone, ANYONE at all, wants to invite me to a party, then Father Christmas can babysit.