Parents: be ware the child-free holiday

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I fear it’s not safe to visit too long with memories of my life before kids. Mainly, of course, because they bring such incredible joy and, um, yes, deep perspective on what’s important in life. But also because it’s just not helpful to let your mind wistfully wander to weekends spent waking up at one’s leisure and enjoying a peaceful cuppa in bed with the papers.

Truth be told, I’ve never done that, but my memories of those days clearly chronicle something like that happening.

It’s these very memories, fantasies and half-truths that inspired my husband and I to take a brief sojourn to the Blue Mountains recently without our ridiculously cute, funny, adorable and button-pushing toddler.

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The stunning view of the Blue Mountains from the Three Sisters lookout at Katoomba

Just to get some necessary fact to balance out what we were sure was inspired fiction, you see. It’s not like we bolted to the car, arms flailing in the air like lunatics escaping the asylum, locked the doors and rushed off, at speed, before our heaven-sent family members could change their minds. That most definitely did not happen.

And, so, it pains me to tell you that any dreams you have that take you tripping, nay, skipping (with daisies in your hair and soft, green grass beneath your feet), to a place where you can visit the WC on your own and leave your house on a whim, are true.

You can do everything at your pace – fast, slow or not at all. Naps are for adults, wherever and whenever you fancy. And, the papers can absolutely be read slowly with a cuppa in bed, or during a relaxed breakfast spent in companionable silence.

There is a small catch, though – the bone-jarring thud of reality that’s waiting to welcome you back into its clutches. The same reality that insists you check your bright eyes and holiday glow in at the door. The same reality that will make you realise those nostalgic glances at photos of your kids while you were away – usually accompanied with protestations of, “oh, I just miss them so much” – were a misuse of valuable time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a good’un; a kid that’s just so stinking cute I can’t stand it and who makes me smile more than I had in my entire life before she became part of it. But, boy did we pay the price for having a ‘time out’.

There was no over-excited, “Mummy!” as she ran into my arms. Quite the opposite, really – more blithe indifference than heartwarming Disney-esque reunion. Then there were the tantrums. Two within half an hour of our return, when I have it on good authority (from my sister-in-law) that she didn’t throw one the whole time we were away. Saving them as a special welcome home gift for us, obviously. See, thud!

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The famous Three Sisters rock formation at Katoomba

I blame the hotel. How dare they attend to our every need like that. How dare they lure us into a hypnotic state of restful naps by the pool. How dare they make it possible to enjoy a game of Monopoly without one of the hotels being shoved up a nose or in an ear.

How very dare they!

 

 

Keeping quiet

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Anyone who’s ever adopted another country as their home will hopefully agree that, once you’ve given your heart to another place, it remains forever adrift; locked in a bittersweet tug-of-war of loving where you are and longing to be somewhere else.

I feel that way about silence.

I love being in its company but can feel intimidated by its presence at the same time.

In truth, if you could ask silence how committed I’d been to our companionship over the years, I’m sure it’d say I’d been most inattentive. We don’t get together often, but when we do it’s usually a passing nod of acknowledgment – quick dip of the cap – and we’re off in different directions again.

Lately, though, my respect for silence has been reborn.

It’s called parenthood.

The squeals of delighted playfulness that fill your house and melt your heart are met, in equal measure, by ear-splitting clashing, banging and screaming. It’s a land where silence surrendered long ago.

I escaped our Land of Bellows briefly over New Years Eve, thanks to incredibly generous grandparents, aunties and uncles, desperate to unashamedly spoil the youngest member of our clan.

My first thought as the car drove off towards three blissful days of sleep-ins and relaxed breakfasts spent reading the paper?

It’s so quiet. Too quiet.

There was no dog whining in the boot, desperate for a pee, and our darling toddler wasn’t imploring, “more, more, more…” as soon as Taylor Swift’s Shake it off finished playing on the stereo.

Maybe I’m a bigger fan of the cacophony of life than I thought.

 

 

 

 

The artful conmen

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I love to marvel at nature with the best of them – a beautiful vista; majestic wildlife; weather that can switch between delicately pristine and beautifully violent in an instant. All breathtaking.

Sometimes, though, you just have to wonder if it’s having a laugh at your expense. I certainly thought that was the case on a lovely holiday to Tasmania’s much revered Cradle Mountain Lodge recently. My partner and I were enjoying an early morning cuppa (tea, that is) in our cabin, overlooking the sensational view of the bush outside our window. We could hear a creek making a run for freedom nearby and smell the delicious memory of our wood fire on the breeze.

It was so heavenly it was cliched. So, I guess we were lucky for the reality check that flew around the corner, after a quick visit to the cabin next door, and sat on our balcony. It was a jet black crow sporting a rather unfortunate injury. It seems he’d* lost a good chunk of his beak in what we could only assume was an unfortunate lock picking incident. Judgemental, I know, but he just seemed like that kind of bird.

As soon as he confirmed the room had occupants, with a scan of his beady little eye, he got to work. He went from sitting on our balcony railing to the back of a chair right by the window in the blink of an eye. Then he began transmitting what was clearly an urgent message by morse code. The telegraph key of choice? His tapping his beak on our window pane, of course.

“Please help me,” we believe he said. “It’s my beak, you see. It makes it so hard to capture my own food,” he continued.

“Won’t you help me? How about a biscuit from the tea and coffee station, or even a Mars Bar from the mini bar? I know you’ve got some in there.”

What he probably didn’t know is that there are polite requests all over our room not to feed the wildlife. Their little sob story was going nowhere with us. Realising this, our beak-less friend called in reinforcements. They came in the shape of another feathered friend. He’d obviously been waiting just out of sight on our neighbour’s balcony, ready to leap into action if the first act didn’t wow the critics.

He quickly took his place on the balcony and sprung into action, warbling a tune to complement the tap, tap, tapping of his friend.

These jokers had their scam locked down. They’d clearly done the hard work to not only identify their USP – unique sympathy point – but also refine it. Together they made quite a symphony and their beady little eyes made for quite a foreboding accompaniment.

After a couple more minutes of tapping, warbling and eyeballing we’d obviously reached the final act. They both gave us one more threatening stare before silently declaring to one another;

“Stuff this, man, they’re not going to give up the goods. Let’s look somewhere else.”

*David Attenborough I am not. The little fella’s gender is assumed.

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Hound-ward bound

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I’ve stumbled on a parallel universe. A place where you tend to know people only by the name of their companion and a trip to the supermarket involves shopping for an array of toys and treats promising loyalty and obedience.

The best friend a family could have

The best friend a family could have

It’s the world of dog ownership and it’s a bit like Hotel California; once you cross the threshold you’ll almost certainly never leave.

I remember the moment we knew we’d bought our one-way ticket perfectly. It was our newly adopted friend’s first day out of the clink; the RSPCA’s pet shelter. We were walking down a grassy knoll in Sydney’s Centennial Park, leaving footprints in the dew because we’d been up since daybreak tending to the little fella’s every need. Not that he’d noticed, I might add.

Ahead of us was a crowd of people and pooches all looking like they belonged. The people came well prepared in their Hunter wellington boots, leaving me silently cursing my already damp Converse for revealing me to be the novice I so clearly was. The hounds strutted around like it was their own backyard, casually sniffing bottoms and chasing balls with gusto. Or, in our little man’s case, total indifference.

We walked tentatively around the edge of the park, conscious there was nothing keeping our pooch from scarpering if we got too cocky and let him off the lead. That is, he was yet to realise we were his meal ticket, and there was certainly none of that loyalty and obedience we’d tried to buy at Petbarn. So, to be on the safe side, we kept him on the lead and spent the morning feeling quietly chuffed with ourselves as we got into the swing of exchanging pleasantries with the other dog owners we passed on our jolly stroll around the park.

It’s possibly the best way to start a Saturday morning I can think of.

** Note – it’s been a few months since I first started writing this post. I’m pleased to report that our little friend has settled in perfectly and delights us every day with his shenanigans. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers at the RSPCA who held onto him for seven months, just so we could find him.

The festival and the mighty town of Dungog

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God, it’s exciting descending on a town you’ve never been to before full of pre-festival jitters. It’s been so long since my last one, I’d forgotten what it’s like; walking up to the gates surrounded by people in lots of weird and wacky get-up, all itching to let the fun begin.

There was something just a little different about this musical spectacular, though. We were in Dungog for Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road festival and it just so happened to coincide with an absolute scorcher of a day. Not a cloud in the sky, nor a drop of moisture in the earth and a balmy 38 degrees celsius all around.

Instead of walking into an arena full of bearded hipsters jostling for poll position in front of the stage they were all huddled quietly under trees. It was all very unexpected and very odd.

A sort of mollified silence had descended on the festival as people battled it out for what little shade there was. In a flash I was taken back to my days growing up on the farm, when I’d drive past a dusty paddock on a stinking hot day and see a cotton wool ball of sheep gathered under a eucalyptus.

Then, slowly, as the sun became less ferocious, the festival spirit started to wake from its slumber. The chatter became louder, the dancing more spirited and then, at the end of the day, this happened…

Mumford & Sons, going OFF!

Mother Nature and her quirky blessings

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Mother Nature gets a bad wrap, I think. We’re all so quick to use her name in vain when things get a little wild, but I reckon there’s a reason for the crazy stuff she does sometimes.

Yesterday, I think I may have discovered some of the method in her madness.

After what seems like weeks of wall to wall sunshine and warmth, a day of murky, damp weather finally descended on Sydney. The migration of beach-goers who’d crept out of hibernation a little early to make their summer nest in the sands of Bondi quickly fled back to their hiding places.

It was heaven. The beach was blissfully deserted.

Seeing my chance, I took advantage of the abandoned pavements and enjoyed a jog along Bondi’s coastal walk, free from dodging enraptured tourists stopping abruptly to take photos.

On the way home I hit a wall of wind. Not a gentle breeze that lets you imagine you’re in one of Beyonce’s music videos by gently tussling your hair, but a proper gale.

Usually I’d retreat to shelter as fast as my ASICS trainers and dodgy knees would carry me, but, for some unexplained reason, it was just so damn pleasant standing on the headland surrounded by grey skies, churning ocean swells and drizzling rain.

For a few glorious minutes, I stood facing the ocean quietly revelling in the sweeping gusts of wind that snatched all my cares and worries out to sea with it. Then, as if in reward for venturing out to appreciate one of her dodgier masterpieces, Mother Nature offered up an amazing sight – a pod of whales stupidly close to shore started fooling around and breaching all over the place.

It. Was. Awesome.

When Mother Nature turns on the sunshine we’re all quick to get out amongst it. But I think it’s when she’s having a bad day and just needs to get some things off her chest that she has some of her best moments.

The beach and its disciples

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I’m only relatively new to the area, but already I can see Bondi’s humourous side. It’s like it’s issued a moratorium on looking down your nose at all the wild and wacky stuff going on, and everyone happily abides by it.

Whatever it is that makes it so persuasive at enticing people to shrug off their inhibitions as they venture to the shoreline for their daily communion, I like it.

This morning on the beach there was one particular lady whose bashfulness was obviously snuggled up at home in bed. Not her, though. She was standing on the southern end of the beach, with her toes dipping into the moist sand as the surf waltzed gently – forward and back, forward and back – onto the shore.

At first I thought she was indulging in her morning “practice” (yoga, don’t you know) as she drank in the glow of another bright and gorgeous sunrise, but then her arms started flailing around in a move I’ve not seen from even the most skilled of zen masters. Shortly afterwards her legs followed suit.

If she’d been in the water pulling these moves, people would’ve been diving in after her with the Baywatch theme song ringing loudly in their ears.

I was so stunned and perplexed by her energetic genuflecting that I was momentarily bought to a standstill myself in an effort to understand exactly what kind of worship she was partaking in.

It wasn’t long before it all became clear, thanks to a couple of passers-by who’d obviously seen it all before, “clearly not a professional dancer, though, is she.”

Not content to keep her smooth moves on the dance floor, this sparkling little lady was busting them out all over Bondi’s sandy beach for all the world to see. I don’t care who you are, that’s the kind of view that brings a smile to everyone’s face.

 

The sunshine and its blue ribbon moments

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There’s a fail safe topic everyone seems to rely on to help out a conversation during slightly awkward reunions with old friends. The weather.

Since it’s been a while between yarns, I thought the weather would be a perfect place to start. Especially as Sydney has welcomed spring in the most spectacular style.

For at least a week now, Mother Nature has been helping friends across Sydney reunite with a simple statement:

How good is this weather!

For those of you not lucky enough to be basking in the glorious glow of pre-summer sunshine, here’s a sneak peek:

The beach bums and their bright smiles

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If you live in Sydney there’s really no acceptable excuse to stop you getting out and enjoying the glorious views on offer from almost every vantage point.

That said, I do believe it’s possible to take it a little too far sometimes, and recently I’ve stumbled upon a group of nutters doing exactly that.

While the rest of us plod reluctantly along the pavement in the pre-dawn light, with creases from our bed linen still fresh on our faces,  they congregate by the ocean in hot pink swimming caps and bright smiles.

Lately, even the sun’s been reluctant to get out of bed when this crowd of Speedo-wearing enthusiasts are gathering at the water’s edge, stomping the sand in a pointless attempt to keep out the cold.

Before you know it, they charge en masse into the surf and disappear around the point with varying degrees of speed and grace at their disposal.

I’ve studied this ritual quite a lot recently, as my dear friend and I curse the cold on-shore breeze each morning in our quest to get fit again, and I’ve realised something quite remarkable.

No matter how early or cold it is and no matter what the weather, these brave souls are out there embracing the day and all it has to offer. You just have to look at their faces as they wade out of the ocean a short time later to see it shining bright in their eyes.

They might be crazy, but they’re good crazy.

The church bell and its midnight serenade

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One of the absolute pleasures of living in the country is the silence. Mainly because it’s just so easy to find. Particularly in the evening and even more so in the dead of night.

In the city it plays a much tougher game of hide and seek. There’s always someone or something determined to disturb the peace; sirens squeeling, revellers rejoicing, someone using the bathroom in the apartment above yours.

The beauty of silence is that it’s content to let the really unique sounds be heard. The ones that need only a second to make a warm smile shine within.

Last night I heard just that, a magical sound.

It was well past midnight and I’d become obsessed with finishing the Jodi Picoult novel I’d found abandoned on a bookshelf at my parents’ house. There was a frost sneaking through the window and barely a whisper to be heard outside besides the occasional curt bark from a curious dog.

Then, it happened. Somewhere in the distance a quiet wind nudged a church bell into breaking its silence. It tolled only once, but that’s all it needed to say. The sound carried quietly across the dark night and the thousands of people sleeping peacefully amongst it.

It was a short moment, but it was bliss.

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