Thursday, 2 October 2014

The 'You Won't Remember This' Conversation


Having a child draws you into all sorts of new communities. Some days our little family: mum, dad and Rafa can be more than enough to handle; on other days gathering others around you is essential. Living on the other side of the world from the friends and family I gathered about me during the first thirty years of my life can make many things about being a parent challenging.

On maternity leave with a young baby, your days are often filled with miraculous moments shared between just mum and bub. Sometimes though it is that conversation with another adult, at the library or the playground which can make all the difference between feeling like a human being and feeling like a mummy machine (even if that mummy machine is a super yummy mummy machine).

Throughout the summer I unapologetically networked at the playground, determined to feather my nest with friends for the long cold winter ahead. These day of course it is not just through family, work, hobbies, antenatal classes, the playground and playgroup that you connect with the people who make up your world, there is also the internet. And you can talk to people online long after the baby has gone to bed and the playground is dark!

Getting to know the neighbors, Edinburgh, Summer - 2014

I love that Facebook lets me keep in touch with friends and family who are far and wide. Some lives feel remarkably parallel, and others are taking paths that lead them on other adventures. But Facebook only gives you fragments of peoples experiences, only tells part of the story, wets the appetite for more.

One of the motivations behind the 'You Won't Remember This – travel tales with babies' project that I wrote about in my July blog post is to take some of these fragments and conversations to another level. To go beyond the blury glance at a photo of a friend and her son on an elephant in Thailand, or the snippet of conversation at Buggy Bootcamp about an upcoming trip to Turkey and really be immersed in the experiences and reflections of other people who have a similar passion for travel and family.

I am very excited to start receiving stories that have been written for the project, and have had to sit on my hands not to blab to much about the contents before I have the whole collection together. The challenges to write have in themselves been forming part of the in depth conversations going on around the project. Not surprisingly mums and dads with very young children, bursting to tell their tales, find it impossible to prioritising deadlines over sick children and blown up hard-drives.

Rafa on the road at Lake Louise, Canada, March 2014

Thankfully as this is an entirely independent project deadlines can be re-visited. Yes I can hardly wait to share the stories I have received and bring more folks into the conversation about the delights and perils of traveling with babies, but I can wait.

And in the meantime the conversation continues. I have gone public and put a call for submissions up on Creative Scotland– It is very exciting to see my little idea up online... time will tell who I will get to strike up a conversation with next.
If it is you, please don't be shy about getting in touch. If you have a story to tell email youwontrememberthis@yahoo.com 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Cut-Outs

The Matisse exhibition in London has been tantalisingly near, yet far all summer. Yes it is only four and a half hours on the train from Edinburgh, yes I am on maternity leave and my time is my own. But somehow the no's have stacked up against it in my mind. After four and a bit months living out of suitcases home has become a very nice place to be, and the notion of navigating the London underground with a pram has weighed against the friends and artworks on offer down south. So it has been days in the park, day trips to the beach, play in our backyard with the neighbours and quiet nights in for me through this glorious Edinburgh summer. And there have been visitors to stay in with and occasionally visitors to babysit and let me out for a wander in our long twilights. 


Rover mum and Rafa at North Berwick, Scotland 2014

A couple of days ago however I realised that my days as a yummy mummy were quickly coming to an end. Rafa is nearly one and my return to work is immanent. So I took the rather radical decision to take a few days R and R for myself before we go into the next stage of life. I got the husbands blessing, booked some train tickets, arranged to stay with friends and headed off to London – by myself - with two nights and three baby free days up my sleeve!

I am in day two as I write and have to guiltily admit that I slept very well last night – with non of that middle of the night, wake up - check the baby is not tangled in the sheets, suffocating under a pillow paranoia, that sometimes happens when the baby is sleeping soundly in his cot. Nor was there the disturbance of being woken by a baby who has rolled onto his front, tried to crawl in his sleep and butted his head against the end of his cot. I am pleased to report that although the husband took a little while getting him to sleep Rafa slept though till 6.40am – which in our world is a win. I am even more pleased to report that I slept till 7.15am, and have had a dirty nappy free morning in Primrose Hill, and got to drink my coffee in my own time rather than sculling it when it was still scalding – or sculling it after it had gone cold as is sometimes the case at home.

Anyway this blog was supposed to be about going to Matisse – it's just that as so often right now most of my thoughts skew towards babyland (which is a land that I love to live in, but am having a wee break from right now). So yesterday after I got off the train in balmy London I headed towards the TATE Modern, stripping off my layers as I went.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs is a 14 room exhibition of works from late in the artists life. There is a great pathos as you watch footage of the artist; he is nearing his death, bursting with creativity, his output getting more and more youthful and exuberant as infirmity takes hold. The works ask you to look for the artists tool marks, discern his lingering hand in the scissor edges and the pin pricks that get lost in reproductions, but are easily visible in the originals. According to the blurbs on the TATE walls the artist himself was dissatisfied with the printed results of his Jazz series, preferring the lively sensitivity of the cut out originals. The printed book certainly has a much flatter feel than the cut-outs – but what a treat to have them side by side.

In the My Trash blog I wrote about my 14 year old self going to the 1995 Matisse exhibition at the NGV. The poster I toted around for years was from the Jazz series – and I quite likely saw these works at that time. But of course you never walk down the same road in the same way twice – the intervening years have changed my eye. I see hearts everywhere and get distracted from the works to look for an echoe of my old self amongst the youngsters milling about – but I did not find her. Instead, babyland as inescapable as ever, I follow the sound of a baby crying – not mine! And soon the baby quietens, fed by its mother in the middle of the Oceania room. Amidst the submarine world of Henri's Tahition lagoon– what will this one be drinking in today I wondered with its mothers milk – what a vibrant mind in the making.

Matisse, and his colours lure me around corners through the labyrinth of the exhibition. Chapels, bees, dancers - the experience is all bright, jagged hearts of Icarus, luminous fronds, repetitious curvaceous plant forms broken by surprises of geometry and close hot people, people, people all soaking up the works and jostling for viewing space.

The blue nudes slow me down at last. I love colour, but it is amid the simplicity of the single colour works that I am hydrated, calmed after the morning journey and months of rush and burble before that.  Here the female figure is allowed to be bold, larger than life; cut in lines that are both fluid and jagged. At first the blue nudes are seated and inward looking – folded in on themselves – this mass of stillness, this oneness spoke to me in my world of all encroaching busyness and babyness. I breathed and looked and imagined that the press of the crowd was receding.

Blue Nude II, H.Matisse (photo of the print I bought)

.
As I moved, almost reluctantly, on the blue nudes picked up the pace, they started dancing and chatting to each other. In a jovial return to the world of Matisse colour 'blue nude green stockings' greeted me - a happy dancing figure who burst upon me and reminded me I love the outside world with its play and passion, and that a bit of a bustle is just the price you pay for living. Matisse, with his busy scissors and his beautiful assistants certainly knew about the joy of living and creating - and the legacy of his passion, as seen on the walls of the TATE speak to us still of the luminosity of a life well lived.  

Blue Nude with Green Stockings, H. Matisse (photo from TATE Modern catalog)

Monday, 7 July 2014

The New Project

I am looking to collect up travel stories with a twist - travel with babies. Do you think you could be interested in contributing a story, poem, memoir, or travel tale? My concept is still sketchy, but I am ultimately looking to create a book of beautifully written and engaging stories from around the world.

I am provisionally entitling the project: You Won't Remember This – travel with babies

At the moment I am after expressions of interest, and perhaps a brief outline – if a story immediately springs to mind, email: youwontrememberthis@yahoo.com
Even if the idea of writing a story for print is intimidating – but you have a great tale to tell – do let me know, I am more than happy to do some work-shopping/editing with you.

 I am not sure what my story will be for the collection, but here is a Rafa travel one I have been writing...

                                                             A Big Deal

Rafa, in the queue you were your happy smiling self, but by the time we got on the bus something had taken hold. You told us about your unhappiness all the way along the winding farm road. Although we still remember the mutterings of the other passengers, at the time we were mostly concerned for you. What was this red faced distress? The tour guide spoke, but his voice was lost beneath yours: 'I'm not happy, I'm not happy, I'M NOT HAPPY!' On a packed and moving bus we quickly ran out of options for comforting you, and resorted to the old reliable – a mummy cuddle. It did not help.

Blessedly the bus ride was short, but your unhappiness continued in the open air. Your mummy hovered at the back of the group with you screaming in your harness. People with children murmured sympathetically; people without children congratulated themselves. The white muslin draped over your head to block out the March sun did nothing to muffle your distress.

All around us lay fields touched by the long New Zealand summer, but where we in a green bower. Quite likely the tour guide was explaining why, but we did not hear him. Bees may have buzzed happily in this innocent, happy land, but we did not hear them.

The green of Hobbiton, New Zealand, 2014

Slowly, slowly you quietened, moving from slow grizzles to restlessness and finally a hiccupy sleep. Luckily this was in the days when you were not so big your mummy couldn't carry you, and so up hill and down dale we went at last, exploring Hobbiton.

On our way to Lake Taupo for the weekend I happened to spy that Hobbiton was only a small detour. The most expensive single touristy thing either of us had ever done – and it started with the you screaming the place down.

Movie buffs, book geeks, yes and yes we were; obsessive know it all's who constantly need to prove their extensive knowledge of Elvish, Entish, lost kings, and Orcs – we left that for others in the group. I read and imagined Tolkein as a young woman in Australia, but now I live in the land of its authorship, and am getting to know the landscapes in which the author imagined his world into being. In New Zealand we stepped into Peter Jackson's imaginings of The Shire and spent a happy afternoon wandering about with a quiet bub, peering at Hobbit holes, listening, at last, to the guides stories, and having a quiet ale at the Green Dragon. 

Sleepy Rafa and Rover mum outside a Hobbit hole.

And the reason for this distress, we discovered later that day – your first tooth, peaking out of some angry gums. A big deal indeed. Rightly causing you to be upset. But Rafa, this tooth, and those that follow are the doorway to new worlds – chewing and biting new tasty foods.
We look forward to sharing so many new things with you. Tasty lunches, second breakfasts and stories of brave young Hobbits. 

That troublesome tooth on a better day

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Domestic Bliss


If you ever find yourself getting tiered of that daily grind of chores – washing the dishes, taking out the trash, doing the laundry, cooking meals ect. I have a great cure.

Just pack up your entire house, put most things into storage and put the things you cannot live without into suitcases. Fly around the world, stopping off to see friends, family and magnificent locations. Be sure to include a three week road trip in America – staying in motels with microwaves and kettles next to the toilet, on the outskirts of medium sized American towns. 

Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco, March 2014



Out the back in Winston, Oregon, March 2014

Highway 101, Oregon, March 2014


Then go home – except if you are like us you wont have a home to speak of. You will need to
spend a week or so flat hunting. This seems to involve a lot of time online, and a lot of time climbing stairs to look at flats that are in need of renovation, or are not available for a month, or have kitchens the size of toilet cubicles. Check out other neighborhoods, daydream about the life you might live on the other side of town, then revisit where you used to live and get reminded why you chose to live there in the first place.

If you are lucky enough to find something suitable, in your neighbourhood, in your budget and with a backyard make sure you bribe the real estate guy or girl immediately. Otherwise your likely to call up about it the next morning to find that it is 'under offer' – from someone with cash in their pockets, and then you have to start the whole process all over again. Being ignored by real estate agents gets tiered very quickly. 

Home Sweet Home, Edinburgh, April 2014


When you do get keys to a beautiful, unfurnished flat your worldly possessions are likely still to be in storage. You daydream about what your home will feel like when you don't have to sit on the floor.
Unpack your suitcases, get loaned a saucepan or two and cook a meal for yourself for the first time in months. Wash that stinking mound of laundry and fill your sink with hot soapy water with which to wash your two mugs, two plates and two disposable forks.

And you will understand the term domestic bliss. I promise.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

49 Beds

Since leaving Edinburgh in November 2013 to begin our round-the-world honeymoon we have slept in 49 beds* and visited seven different countries: England, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada.

Along the way we have caught up with friends and family around the world

We have also...
Driven on the left and right sides of the road.
Grown two teeth (Rafa)
Learned to love swimming and the beach (Rafa)
Rover family, California, March 2014
Failed to learn to surf (Jon and Sandy)
Had a bath in an esky (Rafa)
Visited some Hobbit holes
Hobbiton, Middle Earth (New Zealand) March 2014
Got married (again) and blessed our darling Raphael at the seaside
The Conran Wedding, and Celebrant, the lovely Bobbi. Australia, December 2013

Gained two new suitcases and a menagerie of stuffed toys, much to the delight of airport staff and fellow travelers around the world.

We have eaten Vietnamese noodle soup, frogs legs, kangaroo, my mums lasagne, freshly 'caught' mussels, tacos, sushi, fish and chips – obviously, possibly the finest desert of my life (an Italian lemon thing in California – Amazing) biscuits and gravy, bbq pork (we ordered nachos – but the pork was great so we did not send it back), prawns on the barbie, my family's Christmas dinner (thanks Jeffrey), bbq salmon, our second wedding feast, two lovely wedding present dinners out, a bbq at Wilsons Prom, Chicken Parma's, microwaved dinners and more motel breakfasts than we care to remember.

A local lunch in Saigon, Vietnam, November 2013

The baby has tried to eat pizza crusts, watermelon rind, banana, avocado, stewed apples, rockmelon, strawberries out of his nanna's garden, mushy peas (London), sweet potato, potato chips, sand, his dad's crocs, beer coasters and most recently rice pudding.

As he has traveled our son has grown into a charming, friendly smiley lad, who loves eating (shoes), swimming, sand, wind and walks.

In answer to the oft asked question, 'What is it like traveling with a baby?' I have to say we have loved it. Rafa is great company. With him we slow down. Instead of trying to do everything we do one or two great things and take time out during the day to do nothing - and in doing nothing we learn about the waitresses grandson (born on the same day as Rafa), we picnic and smell the sulfur in Rota Rua, sit in the park and look at the Golden Gate Bridge and take in the new bit of the world we are visiting. The correct way to travel no?

Rover family about to depart Heathrow, November 2013

Round-the-world Rafa back in London, April 2014


*This number may be inaccurate as it is based on a rough count during a jet lagged game of count the beds played by my husband and I.


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Appointment Necessary


There are moments in life when you should just follow your gut instinct- when a decisive –
rather than an expedient or polite reaction to a situation can make all the difference. Don't walk through that darkened park, don't give that guy at speed dating your phone number, don't buy the lipstick the salesgirl just 'LOVES '...

I had one of those on my birthday. After a lovely relaxed morning at the beach with my family, my husband and the baby and I drove over to a nearby town pondering what to do with our afternoon. I remembered something I had done in my pre-baby life, a relaxing, pampering type of something that seemed perfect for a birthday girl. I would get a haircut!

Rover and her mum at the beach

The first hairdressers we saw was closed so we wandered on – knowing that the spur of the moment appointment may not be forthcoming. When I spied the second hairdressers I was perhaps a little too quick to be pleased about the 'No Appointments Necessary' sign in the window.
The moment I should have followed my gut was not on entering, but a little later. I was already in the gown and sitting in the chair. I undid the braid my hair had been in for three days – and saw that it was a good hair day for me – a good hair day being that my hair was not in one giant clump at the back of my head but hanging in limp clotted mess around my shoulders.

The moment I should have left was when I asked her if she could wash my hair before she cut it and she told me - as I sat in front of the hair washing sink – NO they did not do hair washing. If I had stood up at that point and said thanks but no thanks I could have had a shot at my relaxed afternoon of pampering. But no, instead I got a brusque lady wrenching a comb through my poor sorry hair and lecturing me on the terrible state I had gotten it into. 

I am a new mum; there are probably many things I could do better in my life – but spending time on personal grooming is low on the list of priorities just now. Which it is why an impromptu afternoon at the hair dressers is a treat. It is not just a new hair do that makes you feel like a new woman, it is the 20 mins or so guilt free reading of glossy magazines on the sofa waiting for the hairdresser, falling asleep while you are having your hair washed for you – 'a head massage? Yes please', the buzz of the salon around you, the cup of tea the apprentice makes for you and the styling that you could never possibly do for yourself. 

Rather than leaving feeling like a relaxed yummy mummy with a birthday bounce in her step and a beautiful, tangle free hairdo I left with damp, stringy hair that was slightly shorter than it had been when I went in and a sour look on my face that my husband could see from a block away.

a swim at Mallacoota

Instead of correctly and regularly conditioning my hair this summer I have been swimming, swimming, swimming. As a family we swim in the creek at my mums every afternoon. We have been to every beach in Gippsland that we can and quite a few rivers too. Rafa loves it, and smiling back at my beautiful son while he experiences the wonder that is 'swimming' is irreplaceable.

Family swim at Betka Beach, Mallacoota

I haven't added bad hair to my list of things to feel guilty about – the list is long enough already -
and includes:
going to the toilet when the baby wants to play/ be fed/ have a cuddle
trying to eat the baby wants to play/ be fed/ have a cuddle
trying to sleep when the baby wants to play/ be fed/ have a cuddle

But I have crossed that particular hairdresser off my list of places to return to.


Rafa and Rover mum swim in the Boggy Creek - Nowa Nowa
Rafa and his dad swim in the Boggy Creek - Nowa Nowa


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Rafa and Dargo dog

One night Rafa and his mum and dad were on their way to visit Nanna Helen in Nowa Nowa. They drove for a long time and nothing exciting happened. 

Then all of a sudden, when they were half way between Stratford and Bairnsdale there on the road ahead of them they saw an animal. Dad slowed down the car. 

'Is it a wallaby?' Asked mummy Sandy.
'Is it a koala? Asked daddy Jon.
'Is it a bandicoot? Asked baby Rafa. 

They soon saw that it was non of these things. It wasn't a wombat or an echidna or a rabbit or a fox either.
It was somebody who did not live in the Australian bush at all.
It was a little lost dog.

Dad stopped the car. They all agreed that a lost dog could not stay on the road. But how should they catch it?.
'We need a torch.' said mummy.
'We need a lasso.' said baby Rafa.

But they needn't have worried. As soon as daddy opened the car door the lost dog wagged it's tail and hopped into the car.
'Can I hold it daddy? Please!!' Begged baby Rafa.
Daddy thought the lost dog looked like a very nice dog, but he did not think baby Rafa was quite big enough to hold onto a lost dog just yet. He gave the lost dog to mummy Sandy.

The lost dog turned around in her lap three times, sniffed and then settled down in her lap for a sleep.
Mummy looked out the window, and because they were going past the Dargo turn off she decided that the lost dog would be called Dargo dog.
'Dargo dog. Dargo dog, Dargo dog,' sang baby Rafa.
'Go to sleep baby Rafa,' said mummy and daddy together.
Soon baby Rafa and Dargo dog were fast asleep. 

Mummy and daddy were wide awake. They wondered where Dargo could have come from. She was not a puppy, she was quite clean, and liked people. There were no farm houses that they could see, so they decided Dargo dog had better go with them.

When they arrived at Nanna Helens it was very late and very dark, but she had left the light on for them. Mummy carried Dargo dog and daddy carried baby Rafa.
Nanna Helen got a big surprise when she saw that mummy Sandy was not carrying Baby Rafa.
'We found a dog!' she announced.
Nanna Helen rubbed her eyes with surprise, when she had her eyes open properly she agreed that Dargo was a very nice dog.
'Dargo dog. Dargo dog, Dargo dog,' sang baby Rafa.
'Go to sleep baby Rafa,' said mummy and daddy together.

That night Dargo dog slept in the dog pen at the side of the house. She had a bowl of food, a bowl of water and a nice warm dog house. It smelt a bit funny, but it was much nicer than the scary road with all those loud cars and headlights. But she missed her home.

Before they went to bed that night mummy and daddy wondered what to do with Dargo dog. Could they keep her? Did they know anyone else who would take her and love her? What if she had a family who were missing her?
'Dargo dog. Dargo dog, Dargo dog,' sang baby Rafa.
'Go to sleep baby Rafa,' said mummy and daddy together.

In the morning Dargo dog was very happy to see them. Daddy and baby Rafa took Dargo for a walk along the river and they were all very happy.
But they knew they needed to try to find out if Dargo dog had another family.
Mummy and nanna Helen took Dargo dog to the vet in Orbost. Daddy and Rafa stayed home and played, but they both wondered what was happening with Dargo dog. 

Baby Rafa learns about Australian animals


At long last the phone rang. It was mummy, ringing to say that Dargo dog did not have an identity chip, and no one had reported her missing.
Mummy I could look after Dargo dog,' said baby Rafa. 
'No.' Mummy said sounding sad, the vet had taken Dargo dog away to the Pound.

'I told the vet that we could look after her,' said mummy, 'but she said it was the rules.'

When mummy got home she and daddy and baby Rafa had a big hug. They remembered how special their family was already – but they were sad not to have Dargo dog anymore.

That night they imagined Dargo dog in a cold kennel, with lots of other noisy dogs around and no one who knew what a special dog she was. Even though the nice lady vet had promised to try to find Dargo's family daddy said he would use the internet to help Dargo as well. 

'Dargo dog. Dargo dog, Dargo dog,' said baby Rafa sadly.
'Go to sleep baby Rafa,' said mummy and daddy together.

In the morning daddy put a photo of Dargo dog and a description up on the East Gippsland Lost Dogs Facebook page.

Dargo dog

Twenty minuets later he came running in to where nanna Helen, mummy Sandy and baby Rafa were playing.
'Guess what,' he said, 'Dargo dog is called Biscuit!'
'Biscuit?' said baby Rafa. 'How do you know?'
'Because I got a reply to my Facebook message.'

They all sat together to call Dargo dogs owners. None of them could quite think of her as Biscuit, but they were very pleased that she had a home to go to after all.