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Sapphires and poppies

8 May

There are many things we’ve got used to after two and a half years in Australia and one of those is the fact a six or seven-hour drive is no longer considered that long or even unusual. When planning a trip away over the long Easter weekend, we decided to venture south to an area we had not yet visited together: the Sapphire Coast. A mere six plus hours in the car, still in the same state and only broken up a few more times than usual to let a pregnant woman stretch her legs and back!

Stopover in Kiama

Stopover in Kiama

The drive was actually worth it for the scenery alone for once you have hit the Southern Highlands, you are accompanied by rolling green hills, dramatic, sweeping coastline, sun-dappled forests and picturesque dairy farm land.

Rolling hills of the South Coast

Rolling hills of the South Coast

 

After a few wrong turns bouncing along dirt tracks, which would end abruptly at a river or some dense woodland, we got back to the road with the Sat Nav insisting we should, “U-turn when possible” and had our first night with James’ step uncle and his wife, who have a property near Wyndham.

It was lovely to visit them, after last seeing them both nearly three years a go at a party, where, to be honest, I met so many of James’ extended family, that I still struggle to remember who is related to who! Their home is set in several acres of land, which we walked around the following morning. It was distinctly cooler being that little bit further south and it was the first time we had to sit round an open fire in the evening.

The house near Wyndham

The house near Wyndham

Grahame, Andy and James

Grahame, Andy and James

The following days we stayed in a B&B near Tathra and explored the beaches and countryside around the Sapphire coast. It really is a stunning area, more remote than the South Coast closer to Sydney, fringed by long stretches of beach or smaller, bays, bordered by bush and forest. The water, unsurprisingly was a clear sapphire blue and in the middle of the day it was still warm enough to take a dip.

Tathra Beach

Tathra Beach

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Forests along Sapphire Coast

Forests along Sapphire Coast

One of our favourite spots was Nelsons Beach, accessed by another dirt track with ocean one side and a beautiful lagoon on the other, which was perfect for swimming.

Nelsons Beach

Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

We treated ourselves to dinner at Mimosa Wines one night and seeing as we didn’t get to see it in daylight, stopped there again on the drive back up to Sydney. Artisan workshops, galleries and foodie joints seem to be springing up along the tourist drive, which winds along the coast and through national park.

Walks near Tathra

Walks near Tathra

Mimosa Wines

Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

It was definitely the breather we both needed and possibly our last chance for a long weekend away even before the baby comes along with James going away a few times before the due date.

It was a big holiday week in Australia that week, with Easter falling late in the year and coinciding with the same week of Anzac Day.

Anzac Day 2014

Anzac Day 2014

For the third year in a row, James got to march in an Anzac parade, this year in Sydney again, and a friend and I went to watch and support on what was a fairly wet and dreary start to the day. Luckily, by the time the rain really came down, James had finished his march and we were safely esconced in the officers’ pub of choice on Anzac Day, The Forbes.

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

James on parade

James on parade

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Remembering the fallen

Remembering the fallen

After a few drinks there, James was clearly up for some stick, as we headed to the bar where some of his Marine friends were meeting up but ‘Jack’ was welcomed in with just a few derogatory comments!

Comrades!

Comrades!

The Anzac parade is always a spectacle seeing the hundreds of men and women marching together in uniform. It is certainly a moment to feel proud of those who serve and an event that equally shows them, the gratitude and support from the public. Every year since living in Sydney I have been moved at how many people, young and old, turn out for the parade, even in miserable weather. Perhaps a glimmer of the Anzac spirit being demonstrated in honour of those who fell.

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Friends and family reunited

13 Jan

I found an old jumper at the back of the wardrobe a few weeks ago. I tried it on again; it felt a little odd at first, cold and misshapen, but after a while the fibres stretched and relaxed and it was comfortable and cosy again. Coming back to England felt a little bit the same.

It was always going to happen., it was just a matter of when and for how long. We were both curious as to how it would feel; would that walk along the river still seem familiar? Would stepping back into the house I grew up in still feel like home? It is amazing how much and yet, at the same time, how little  can change in just two years.

Babies have been born, dogs have been bought, walls have been knocked down, rooms have been redecorated, barns have been renovated, but the weather is still wet, the Underground still heaving and the conversations are still the same (apart from when now interrupted by an 18-month old.)

Despite our reservations about how hectic our trip would be, we had a proper break and thanks to so many friends and family who put us up, fed us and basically made the effort to come out on cold, wet and windy days to see us, we had a a fantastic time. It was the people we had come to see and they are what made the holiday, but we surprised ourselves at how much we enjoyed being back in England itself. There was something strangely comforting about a howling gale and lashing rain and there is nothing so good as coming in to a log fire or a glass of mulled wine, which just aren’t appropriate at Christmas in Sydney! In fact, if there is one thing England does well, it is a cosy Christmas.

Our trip took us from London down to the south west, back across to Chichester and Portsmouth, up to Stamford via St.Albans and Bedford, over to Staffordshire, into Wales, down to Bridgnorth en route to London, and ended up full circle, back in Somerset for the last few days.

Although we knew we had missed our friends and family and admittedly, a traditional English pub, we had also missed green, rolling hills; historic towns and churches; and yes, perhaps even the cold! We were lucky to visit some of the picture postcard, quaint English towns and villages, experience London in all its illuminated, Christmas glory and see nearly everyone we wanted to while they were off work and enjoying the holidays.

Sloane Square at Christmas

Sloane Square at Christmas

 

Eccleshall Church

Eccleshall Church

 

View from Bridgnorth

View from Bridgnorth

Stormy Lyme Regis

Stormy Lyme Regis

As we headed back to the airport for the final leg of our trip, we had to remind ourselves that we had come at a very special time, that the things that frustrated us two and a half years a go still existed and that ordinarily we would not be seeing ninety of our friends and family in three short weeks. Even the thought of heading back to summer did not appeal that day; we were leaving again and the only thing that made it a little easier to say goodbye was driving back in the grey, the Christmas lights extinguished, the trucks towing away the town Christmas trees and seeing the resigned faces of those returning to work for the first Monday back after New Year.

For our friends and family who read this, thank you for your hospitality and for looking after us so well!

Friends Reunited

Grandad

Family walk

New Year friends

Father and son

Edmondsons_photo

Despite having established a new life in a new country with new jobs and friends, when coming back it really felt as if we had never been away and just like an old jumper, England was cosy, comfortable and it was really good to be reunited.

Mulled cider

LA LA land

12 Jan

“Do you carry guns in Australia?”

“No, do you carry one?”

“Nah, I leave that to everyone else, but it’s good to know they’re out there, to keep you safe, you know.”

We look at each other but seeing as this guy has us in the back of his car, taking us through rush hour downtown LA, we don’t want to aggravate him too much.

“Do you have many blacks in Australia? What about Muslims?”

We are tired, we have just got off a flight after two nights Vegas promoting a new business, following a 13 hour flight from Australia three days earlier and the exhaustion is kicking in. We don’t want to start debating gun laws and immigration with a Ukrainian taxi driver who appears to forget that he too, is actually an immigrant.

It seems America has swallowed him up, as it can, as it does.

He seems to know all there is to know, which amounts to very little and we are grateful when he finally drops us off at our accommodation in Los Feliz, which was an area of LA recommended to us as it is one area you can walk around and, importantly get a really decent coffee!

I guess there are certain things you have to do when you’re only in California a couple of days, one of them is not necessarily to to hire a Ford Mustang. There must be something quite exhilarating about driving a Mustang, engine giving that satisfying roar, pedal to the metal, Santa Monica palm trees slipping by the window. That is until you realise you’re stuck in the middle of the sprawling car park that is LA and a glamourous drive down Sunset Boulevard rarely gets above 30mph. We hadn’t intended to go for the Mustang but when the little compact was unavailable and the rental guy offered us the Mustang for just $10 extra, well, why not, and to be fair, it was quite fun, driving up into the hills and then down to Sorrento for a quick spin down the Pacific Highway.

Mustang Sally

Hollywood Hills

They call it La La land and that is perhaps because the city of dreams and promises leaves many with their head in the clouds, or just being pumped full of botox. There is an energy on the streets but a slumber in the traffic queues, a neatly polished facade to the Beverly Hills houses yet an air of despair in parts of run down Hollywood. The palm trees grow high, like everything else in LA, perhaps they just want to be seen above the crowds, but the glamour of Hollywood comes by looking down, at the names of the famous movie and music stars beneath your feet, a distraction from the tobacco stores and cheap lingerie shops lining the pavement.

Santa Monica sunset

Walk of Fame

We enjoyed walking around Santa Monica and we loved meeting up with my friend, and her boyfriend for dinner. She had been on a photo shoot that day and just signed to an agent. She is taking a course in music production and doing voice overs for a company in Sweden. It was refreshing when she told us she loves watching Monty Don!

And so it was, we left Los Angeles for London but this time we were heading to some very familiar sights and some very familiar faces and really, that was the main reason we wanted that flight out of LAX.

 

Vegas: The magic and the tragic

13 Dec

You know when you’ve walked into a Las Vegas casino because your nose begins to prickle and fills with the highly scented air pumping out of the ventilation ducts. Of course, if you are not first assaulted by the smell, you are by the sight of the rows upon rows of machines trying to seduce you with their constant winking lights and promises of lucrative jackpots.

The casinos are vast, cavernous halls of hundreds of slot machines, which lead you into more spaces of craps and black jack tables and all the while some catchy pop song is being piped around the building to keep you pumped up and a waitress with more flesh on show than a butcher’s shop is teetering around with a tray of ‘complimentary’ drinks and a glass stuffed full of notes.

For many, Vegas has the marmite factor. You love it or hate it. James fell very much into the latter category, whereas I, as with marmite, could take take it or leave it. I wasn’t repelled but I would not rush back. I appreciated the experience and it is one you won’t forget in a  hurry. It certainly leaves an impression, whether it be from the overwhelming size of some of the most opulent hotel lobbies imaginable to the memory of a solitary figure at the slot machine at 10am with a can of beer already opened and the glazed appearance of one overcome by the machine’s hypnotic lights and sounds.

The hotels are like miniature towns in themselves, servicing every need from food and drink to hair dressing, clothes shopping and of course; banking. You can never run out of money; if you allow yourself to succumb, you might never leave. If you do manage to escape the hotel clutches, a trip down the strip is certainly a feast for the eyes. One giant road flanked by numerous sky-scraping hotels of unfathomable proportions. The Vegas lights are a sight to behold.

Some of the most impressive in terms of sheer size include Aria, The Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and the one we called home for a couple of nights, The MGM Grand – all 30 floors of it with at least 500 rooms per floor. If you are not put off by the ‘tackiness’ of some of the faux scenery or replica facades, then you cannot help but be impressed by the attention to detail, the luxury, the ostentation.

At night, the Bellagio fountains are beautiful, the lights of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, magical, the New York New York skyline, remarkable and the showgirls in their feather headdresses, resplendent. By day, the glitz fades and you notice the street magician telling every passerby that his “amazing” show is about to start in thirty seconds, you see three tired and overweight Elvises giving a half-hearted “uh huh” to see if that can tempt you to give a tip and  a freezing Vegas showgirl stands like a half plucked chicken coaxing you to have a photo with her. You are accosted by ticket touts every few metres, offering “great discounts” on the latest name in lights and a bleached-blonde, walking down the street in tight jeans and cheap heels gets told, “you’re gonna make a lotta money in Vegas, baby.”

The Bellagio Fountain

The Bellagio Fountain

We went to Vegas and never once sat at a slot machine, although that was more to do with the fact we were there for a bitcoin conference. That, alone was an interesting experience and with the app now available in the app store, we were ready to promote it, show it off and meet some of the people we have been in touch with over the past few months.

My ‘media’ head returned and I was not shy in grabbing a potential interview or making a connection. We learned a lot, made a lot of valuable contacts, put business cards in a few of the right hands and were delighted at the response our app received from those who downloaded it or got to see it in action.

Talking to Bobby Lee, BTC China

Talking to Bobby Lee, BTC China

We shall see what the next month or so brings with regards BitScan but there is potentially exciting news on the horizon with some partnerships and affiliations.

We left Vegas in the dark with the city’s lights looking quite beautiful as we looked down from several thousand feet. It is a magical place but if you look closely, you also see what they hide when all the gloss and sparkle fade away.

(Pictures to follow when we have more reliable wifi!)

 

Muse in Melbourne

9 Dec

The first time I saw Muse live they had just released their third studio album and were playing an intimate venue in Nagoya, Japan. I was front row standing just beneath the stage and could have reached out to touch the feet of Christopher Wolstenholme on bass.  Lighting was moody and there were a few projections on to the back of the stage. It was quite raw and quite brilliant. What a difference nearly ten years makes. Sat near the back of the 15,000 capacity Rod Lavner Arena in Melbourne, we watched the band members emerge on to stage under a pyramid of HD screens, lasers and smoke jets. Fifteen million albums, a Mercury Prize, Brit Awards, a Grammy, several NME awards and numerous Q awards, including “Best Act in the World Today” last year, the band have retained their slightly melancholic but stirring sound and are just as brilliant and importantly, just as humble. Themes from their albums have ranged from the usual relationship angst to, more recently, political outrage, greed and the economy.

They talked little and played their music, for that is what people had paid to hear. It was an energetic performance of many of their hits from The 2nd Law as well as a few favourites from past albums such as Plug In Baby.

This was a birthday present to both of us from both of us and it was worth the extra dollars we ended up having to fork out for a flight to Melbourne when we realised we still hadn’t booked less than a week until the concert. (A clear sign of the amount of work and planning we have had to fit in recently.)

Birds of Tokyo were supporting and were a brilliant warm up act and complemented the progressive, and at times, aggressive, sound that Muse produce. Despite being rock musicians, there are classical undertones to many of their numbers and Matthew Bellamy’s voice can be at once powerful and haunting.

Muse in Melbourne

Muse in Melbourne

Muse: Unsustainable Tour

Muse: Unsustainable Tour

We left on a high. It was a fantastic way to end our working week in Australia and begin the holiday that takes us on our own world tour.

Melbourne's Laneways

Melbourne’s Laneways

 

T minus 10 days

6 Dec

At the risk of sounding like my mother, where has the time gone? It seems hardly any time ago that we were talking about coming to the UK for Christmas “next year” and now it is ten days until we actually land back in the Mother country! It will have been almost two and a half years since we have seen some of our friends and family so we are, undeniably excited. However, ten days before we arrive means only three short days before we actually fly and that means a sudden panic about what I need to pack, buy, sort, post and finish before we head off.

With our birthdays both happening this past week, a huge amount to do for the new business, especially prior to leaving, and trying to arrange seeing people before Christmas and buying Christmas presents in time, the past few weeks have been hectic and at times, stressful.

With so much else going on, we kept our birthdays simple and organised a picnic with just a few friends on the beach last weekend. It was a lovely day and probably the first time we have purposefully gone to the beach for the day this Spring/Summer, as well as hung out with some of our friends for a while. Having Shan’s baby there kept everyone entertained as well!

Birthday picnic

Birthday picnic

Picnic in the park

Picnic in the park

James and Ash

James and Ash

On the days themselves, we went out to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner for my birthday, followed by ice cream at our favourite gelateria (both have coincidentally just opened up shop a short walk from us near Bondi – dangerous for the wallet and the hips!)

On James’ birthday I surprised him with some cake at the beach after work but these days it’s about as exciting as it gets!

The really exciting news is that Apple have approved the app and as soon as we give the green light, it will be available for sale in the App store… I have yet to break open the bubbles because the website and back-end functionality all needs to be smooth and fully operational before we do this and there are a few adjustments that need making. To add to the drama, a few weeks a go we learnt about the Inside Bitcoin Conference, taking place in Las Vegas and decided the timing was perfect to coincide with the app being in the store and for us to start promoting. So, we are now heading to Vegas for a few days before returning to LA and jetting off to London as originally planned.

Work aside, and it has been busy for both of us, it had almost escaped our attention that it is in fact nearly Christmas. It struck me as I walked into the Westfield mall the other week and heard ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ cheerily jingle out against the other sound of the slip-slap of flip flops walking along the ground. The wreaths, however beautiful, jarr against the stark white, sunlit walls as does the juxtaposition of the Polar Bear, pointing his way toward Santa’s grotto, while all around his frosty podium the shop windows display summery brights and neon prints. I never thought I would say we are looking forward to the cold and dark but at this time of year, it just seems right!

Having said that, once night falls and the lights come on, Sydney still puts on  a good effort and we went to see the Martin Place Christmas tree in all its glory when we met up with a couple of friends for a drink last week – as you can tell from the picture, the tree was perhaps not that interesting!

 

Martin Place Christmas Tree

Martin Place Christmas Tree

The traditional arcades, such as The Strand arcade also look lovely at Christmas and if it wasn’t for the 27-degree sunshine, you might almost believe there was a quaint English town outside.
Strand Arcade

Strand Arcade

 

As I mentioned, we have been trying to fit in seeing people before we fly off, and so last weekend we drove up to see James’ dad’s cousin out in Windsor. Ibby moved a year a go and has done a huge amount of work to the house and garden, which, looks out across the flood plains of the Hawkesbury River. We also managed to catch up with her daughter, Liona who popped in for tea as well. We were particularly impressed by Ibby’s sunflowers!

The 10ft sunflower

The 10ft sunflower

Liona, Ibby and James

Liona, Ibby and James

 

I expect this will be the last post before we land arrive in England and this has been a bit of a rushed summary of everything that has happened over the past month. One thing I should mention, as you have probably noticed, James is sporting a little more facial hair than normal, which was his ‘Movember’ effort, seeing as they can’t have moustaches in the Navy. He reckons he is keeping it. I gave him a really nice shaving set for his birthday…

 

Raro Time

6 Sep

From the moment we stepped off the plane, the Cook Islands welcomed us. It was the sound of the man in the straw hat and tropical shirt (who we now know is called Jake) strumming away on his guitar with island tunes while we waited in the tiny arrivals area for our bags to appear on the one luggage carousel. It was the sign saying ‘Welcome Louise & James’ when we headed to the desk for our transfer and it was our driver, Gna, offering us a glass of champagne in the back of the car before taking us to our accommodation. We had arrived in Rarotonga and from now on, everything was going to happen in ‘Raro time.’

The brief introduction to Rarotonga as we sat in the taxi, watching the dark shapes of palm trees and low-rise buildings slide past (the speed limit is a maximum 50kph on the whole island), informed us that tourists make up a higher percentage of the population than locals, the entire island is only 35km around and one of the best places to watch sunset is at the end of the runway.

It was 1.30 am and the owners at our accommodation had long gone home but Gna walked in, found the keys and showed us to our villa. Anywhere else, it might have seemed odd, but this was Rarotonga, a tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific, as far from anywhere as you can pretty much get and right then, Sydney, the city, work and daily routine felt very very far away.

Just before heading to bed, with the sound of the waves enticingly close, we had to walk down to the beach and less than twenty metres from our front door, we were on the sand and looking out over the lagoon, which surrounds the island. It was dark of course but feeling the sand between our toes and hearing nothing but water lapping the shore and a sweet, balmy breeze, we were on holiday.

Mii greeted us on our first morning and offered to take us to the supermarket to stock up on a few provisions. We weren’t planning on doing much self-catering, but a few bits for breakfast and lunch were all we needed. In the daylight, we saw our first glimpse of the inland lushness of the island; mountains reared up in the centre, covered in a vivid green carpet and all along the roadside were lawns, palm trees and bright flowers punctuating the dense foliage.

On the other side of the road, white sand sloped down to the lagoon, crystal clear and bright turquoise. I might be describing your typical tropical island paradise, but then, that is exactly where we were.

Rarotonga from the lagoon

Rarotonga from the lagoon

Rarotonga - main road

Rarotonga – main road

Titikaveka Beach

Titikaveka Beach

We hopped out of Mii’s car. The windows were left down, the doors left unlocked and every other person waved, smiled and hugged Mii as we walked in.

This is the kind of island, unsurprisingly, where everyone knows everyone. It is the kind if island where “going up town” refers to heading to the one settlement with more than two roads, on the north side. It is the kind of island where there are only two buses: clockwise and anti-clockwise and where, if you are waiting for a bus to take you home from ‘town’ at night and the police drive by, they tell you to “hop in” and give you a ride back to your villa.

Our villa was one of just ten, all facing the water, set back a few metres from one of the best beaches on the island for snorkeling and swimming. With a coral reef, protecting the island, there was plenty of coral to snorkel around and tropical fish occasionally jumping up near where we were lying on the beach. We did a lot of that. Lying. Lying and reading, lying and sunbathing, lying and sleeping and maybe occasionally rolling over, you know, if we were getting too much sun on one side… I think we occasionally mumbled something to each other but basically, the holiday, which was booked as a much needed rest and recharge, was just that.

Lazy days

There were several restaurants within walking distance and a few, which we went to by bus. Most were small, on the beach, serving Polynesian food, which is essentially a lot of fish, rice and typical sides like papaya salad. The American influence was still apparent: key lime pie and New York cheesecake were a common feature on the dessert menu!

Beach bar

Beach bar

The resort, where we stayed hosted a couple of communal events each week, to get guests mingling and talking. The first of these was a morning tea by the pool, with hokey pokey muffins (honeycomb for the Brits.) We got chatting to another young, American couple, who were honeymooning on the island, and a few of the other guests, mainly Kiwis. The second event, fell on our last night: the Petanque Championship. The stress was on ‘fun’ not ‘competition’ but if you’re going to stick a ball in James’ hand and mention the word ‘Championship’ to either of us, we aren’t going to take it lying down (perhaps we’d had too much of that during the rest of the holiday.)

Competitive spirits aroused, the other guests were not going to get their sedate game of petanque whether they wanted it or not. We won. Of course. Petanque champions of the week. We could leave, satisfied.

Petanque Champions

Petanque Champions

Our final meal that night was as local as you could get. The American couple had befriended a woman, who lived across the road and who had offered to cook them dinner. They invited us to join them and that evening, Mama Nicky came to their villa with dishes of home-cooked food: fish in coconut cream, chicken curry, raw fish in lime juice and a home-baked banana bread. It was delicious and a good way to say goodbye to the island.

Mama Nicky and crew

Mama Nicky and crew

We never got to see a sunset from the end of the runway, but we’re sure, the ones we did see, were not too bad.

Sunset from Titikaveka

Sunset from Titikaveka

 

Bloodsuckers

30 May

Autumn is here. The leaves are changing and we have to wear a coat in the evenings (inside.) Yes, the time has come when it is colder inside than out. Most days I try to head to the library to work where I can still feel my fingers and in the evenings, come 5pm, the lights and heating are on. Despite the chill, the days have for the most part been sunny and you can’t complain when it still reaches 22 degrees.

To make the most of this, we met up with some friends of ours for a picnic last Sunday in the Royal National Park. They are a brilliant family with four children so life is never dull. There’s the artistic one; the bookish one; the quieter, balletic, forgetful one; and the cute, cooking-mad one and combined, all a lot of fun, extremely polite and sometimes a bit mad! That’s before you get to the parents.

Royal National Park

We set out on a walk, not sure exactly where we were going but following a track along a river, which was all very pleasant. When the track petered out we stood, looking for options other than doubling back and realised it either meant going for a swim or heading up. Onwards and upwards won the vote so we scrambled up the bank until we came across a flat section, which could vaguely resemble a track.

Uphill scramble

The overgrown ferns, brambles and tree branches, which slapped us in the face every few minutes did not deter us. Neither did the sludge, which squelched underfoot. We were dressed sensibly enough; long trousers, walking boots or sturdy trainers and light tops. Then came Rob, bringing up the rear in shorts, T-shirt and laceless deck shoes. It’s all very well embracing the ‘She’ll be right, mate‘ Australian spirit until I peered at his leg, at the speck of mud, which as I looked, seemed not to be a speck of mud at all but something a little more bulbous, more muscular, oh and… expanding.

“Is that a leech?”

He looked and we all looked and yes, it was definitely a leech and with some difficulty he managed to yank this thing off his leg and that’s when we all looked down and the realisation dawned and a wave of disgusted noises rippled through us. I saw the leech on my trousers, which despite having no blood, had well and truly latched on to my leg and took James and a stick to eventually get it off. My boots had several of them clinging on, which luckily were easier to remove. We each spent a few minutes batting away these blood-sucking parasites with sticks, with fingers, scratching, scraping, pulling, rolling them up and flicking them away. Then Rob, with blood coursing down his shin, took his shoe off and that’s when even he turned a little green at the sight of the feeding frenzy taking place between his toes.

Two of the children had run off so it was mum who dashed off to go and inspect their shoes and socks, while James then got down on his knees and yes, started pulling leeches from our friend’s feet. I expect it is a scene that will remain forever imprinted on my mind. Luckily, despite a couple of sore patches and some fairly bloodied toes, there was no harm done.

Post-leech picninc

We ambled back towards the main path and the river and out of the wet, leech-friendly gloop, and made our way back to a flat, dry area, bordering the water for our picninc. By the time the bread, cheese, dips and biscuits were brought out, we were all laughing about it. James and Rob sank a beer each and no more was said of their intimate foot incident. Australian bushwalking great fun — just remember your boots.

Australia Day, the Australian Way

28 Jan

We love camping, seriously, we do. It’s just that since moving to Australia (you know the home to some of the most deadly creatures in the world) I’ve been some what reticent about pitching a tent in the middle of a field and sleeping with only a layer of canvas between me and said creatures.

However, when a group of friends invited us on a camping trip to North New South Wales for the Australia Day weekend, we couldn’t refuse. The long weekend spent by the beach, hanging out with surfers, some SUP-ing, barbecues in the open air, beers in the esky and Triple J’s Hottest 100 on the radio – there couldn’t be anything more Australian than that.

So it was that on the Friday afternoon with a surfboard and SUP board on the roof, tents, eskies and food in the boot and bodies and beach towels in the car, we set off more than five hours north to Point Plomer near Crescent Head on NSW’s North Coast. There was some rain forecast but plenty of sunshine as well so we weren’t too worried. After all there’s something quite comforting about listening to rain on canvas while tucked up in your sleeping bag.

The journey up was fairly uneventful apart from driving along the dirt road to the campsite, seeing the range on your fuel tank plummet to 50km (should have filled up in that petrol station an hour back) and then arriving in the dark and trying to pitch a tent you’ve never put up before. We got it up and all was well.

The campsite was pretty basic; a field by the beach at the end of a dirt road, cold showers, and no drinking water. We woke up to grey skies and rain. James lost his sense of humour slightly and all I had gained was more than a dozen mosquito bites during the night. The surfers in the group went out to catch their first waves of the morning while we unpacked and went to find petrol.

However by late morning the sun was shining, it was hot, we were in a campsite right next to the beach, had spent a good time swimming and messing about in the surf and the rest of the group arrived. Three of us decided to head to a different beach for a swim and although it was too choppy for James to get much use of the SUP board, it was really nice to have escaped Sydney for a weekend and have a change of scene with good friends and meeting new ones.

To cap the day off perfectly, we all headed to the point in the early evening to watch the surfers, have a few drinks and then back to camp to cook sausages and dahl, listen to the final top ten on Triple J and hang out around the camp fire. The surfers compared notes and jellyfish stings and on reflection it had been a very apt way of spending Australia Day: where else do you have to avoid jellyfish in the ocean, spiders in the shower block, mosquitoes in the evening and be ‘dingo aware’ at all times? Yes it was idyllic: great company, good food, great location and a wonderful end to Australia Day.

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Then the rain came.

It is worth noting that ex-tropical cyclone Oswald has been wreaking havoc up in Queensland and is heading south as I write. It seems we suffered some of the effects last night as at around 1.30am we were rudely awakened by the thundering of raindrops (although they sounded more like pellets) battering our tent. (Perhaps less ‘comforting’ and more menacing would be appropriate by now.) Wind gusts caused the walls to sway and lean dangerously in over our now wide-awake bodies. Eventually there was nothing for it. By 2am torch lights could be seen dotted around the campsite. We put on waterproofs and headed outside to attach more guy ropes and hammer in the pegs, which had started to uproot. Through the howling wind and lashing rain, we could hear other campers doing the same and we saw our friends who were all out, making sure everyone was okay. One couple decided to give up and sleep in the car but after spending half an hour pushing all my force against a pole to keep the tent from collapsing from the wind, we settled back to our tent and tried to get some more sleep. It did not come. James soon nodded off. (It must have been that familiar sensation of being in a storm at sea…) I lay waiting for my view of the sky to become clearer as our shelter was unmercilessly ripped from the ground and spent the next half hour watching the swaying tent and listening to what sounded like a firing squad against the fly sheet.

I did manage some sleep but as soon as the sun rose we were up and packing away. It was obvious the rain was not going to ease and so with little more than six hours’ sleep between us we somehow managed to get the tent down in the torrential rain and pack up the car. For not the first time, I was glad of having the 4×4 and a couple of friends in their car decided to drive behind us in case they got stuck on the mud track heading out.

Six and a half hours later we arrived back in Sydney, fairly exhausted and not looking forward to the job of emptying the car of everything damp and dirty. I have to say I have never looked forward to my bed so much and despite a very ‘Australian’ Australia Day, the Australian weather systems were one thing I could probably have done without. Still, it was certainly an experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry and we still love camping, seriously we do.

The rough with the smooth

9 Jan

James’ dad and step mum arrived safely just after Christmas and spent their first week with us in Sydney before we all headed off to the South Coast. We had a day in Jervis Bay before we went our separate ways: David and Lindy staying in the area for a little longer, exploring the south of NSW and visiting family near the border and us back up to Sydney (via Kiama because we decided we quite liked it and have added it to our list of potential ‘future home’ destinations.)

Luckily D & L  have escaped any problems from the bush fires, still burning in that region and we have been in almost daily contact to make sure all is well as we track where the fires are still threatening homes and townships.

Now we have had a fantastic time showing D & L around ‘our Sydney’: taking trips to beaches, ferry rides around the harbour, hosting a New Year’s party, walking through the Botanical Gardens, cliff walks from Bondi and brunch at Bill Granger’s. We even had a quick visit to the tyre repair centre (seems to be a common theme when we have parents come to visit) and a very exciting trip to ‘Supa Centa’ to buy a new piece of furniture (I expect this was their highlight ;-)) Well, they did want to experience ‘our Sydney’!

I could blog about all of that but to be honest, you’ve heard it before and I’ve blogged about it before so I thought I’d talk about an experience we had after arriving in the very picturesque and quaint town of Berry, en route to Jervis Bay. We decided to stop there overnight and take a leisurely and scenic route along the coast to get there.

It was a wonderful drive and then we arrived at The Berry Hotel.

I suppose the fact that five bedrooms shared one shower validated the claim we were in an ‘old’ building and certainly the flaking paintwork and holes in the walls gave the old (not dilapidated) building some authenticity. We were taken to our bedrooms via the external fire escape. This was nothing if not a little quirky so I went with it. On being shown our room, I was able to relive school trip and brownie camp days of choosing which bunk to sleep in. Perhaps they were after a dormitory-style ambience? I suppose the several beds gave us options and if we had an argument in the night, there were two bunk beds as well as the double to choose from.

We left our room (this time via the more boring but conventional route – the internal stairwell) to go and have dinner in the restaurant. As we sat in the large dining area we were blasted with a fine mist, which we discovered was actually the air conditioning. A few minutes (and feeling a little damper and stickier later) we decided to move to a smaller, more enclosed, but empty, dining room. The waitress took our order and the door was closed behind us – at least it was private dining then. The food was its redeeming feature and they were certainly large portions. Two pork chops meant an entire pig on your plate and if you ordered the salmon you were very special as you were served ten minutes before everyone else.

It was a warm night and I had noticed we had no fan in our bedroom, although David and Lindy did so I went to ask one of the staff if they had one we could use. Apparently not. There were no more ‘in the entire hotel’ apparently but I was assured it would cool down in a few hours. I suppose that’s fine if you didn’t want to fall asleep before 3am. I thought a cooling shower would help and the shower room was right next to our bedroom, which was handy, although I say shower room as there was no bath and er, no toilet. Yes, the toilet was along the veranda and down the next corridor and also shared with five other bedrooms. Luckily we didn’t drink too much that evening then due to the small trek if you needed to go in the night.

I settled to sleep and was soon dreaming sweetly: I was bathed in a fine, watery film and momentarily thought I was back in the dining room. I woke up – ah no, that would be a fine film of sweat then from the still, hot air and lack of fan. It would actually be quite nice to be back in that dining room now, lightly misted with cooling water…

At least in the morning there was the prospect of a refreshing shower and yes, it was a great shower, if you were under 5 foot tall and once you worked out the cold tap meant hot in this hotel and vice versa. At least there were no bugs around, not alive at least. The dead cockroach in the corner was a nice touch to show pests did not fare well in this place. I’m not sure any of the guest would either if they stayed much longer than we did but you have to have these experinces I suppose. Makes you appreciate the good ones 🙂

The harsher side to a beautiful land

7 Jan

When a place you’ve visited is featured on the news – and the news is not good – it just feels a little bit closer and a little bit more relevant. Suddenly you’ve seen the school they’re talking about, you’ve walked down the street now in devastation and had a drink in the coffee shop now standing amid the rubble. This is true for us now, just two weeks after visiting the beautiful island of Tasmania, the state is now being ravaged by bushfires and some are still burning out of control.

The truly devastating effects and indiscriminate nature of nature are clearly in evidence when you look at the images of the once picturesque coastal village of Dunalley, now smouldering in the ashes, gutted by the flames.

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The Mercury

Dunalley Fire Aerial (The Australian)

Access to the Tasman Peninsula has been closed off for days when it was just days ago that James and I drove down that way in the camper car to visit Port Arthur. Now people are being evacuated by boat off the peninsula to Hobart.

I have only experienced a similar reaction to a news story when I saw the scenes in Thailand of the Boxing Day tsunami, a year to the day after I was sat on that same beach in Phuket. Yesterday we watched and were just thankful, not only for the timing of our holiday, but that so far, everyone has been accounted for and no lives have been lost in the Tasmanian fires. It was one of the few times we have been compelled to call the number on the screen and visit the website to donate money to the rescue and salvage operation. When you enjoyed a place so much and had a fantastic time because of its scenery and its people, you want to do what you can to protect that scenery and help those people.

Catastrophic fire warnings are now in place across parts of New South Wales as well, especially along the South Coast, where once again, James and I were just two days ago. When the ‘fire risk’ markers obliterate the map of your area you know it’s not a sensational news story and with temperatures in this part of the country set to soar to dizzying heights tomorrow, we are being told we face the biggest fire danger in the state’s history. Temperatures in Sydney are predicted to rise into the 40s and whereas we may be fortunate to escape to the sea breezes and a dip in the ocean, it’s all too easy to forget some will not be so lucky. With family travelling down the South Coast as we speak, we know people have their bags packed and ready to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

It’s one of the harsher and sadder realities of living in such a hot climate and if anything makes you have a little more respect for nature, the pictures on our news channels at the moment will do just that.

A devil of a time

24 Dec

We weren’t quite ‘driving home for Christmas’ but we were flying –  back from Hobart after a week’s trip to Tasmania. With only half a million people populating this entire island state, we expected it to be a fairly quiet, laid-back place but were not expecting it to be quite so empty. Picture England several decades a go and you have a rough idea of what Tasmania is like.

Our travels from Hobart, up the east coast and back down through Launceston took us through some stunning rolling countryside, beautiful white sand coastlines and picturesque old villages. They say Tasmania is as close to England in Australia as you can get. The scenery was certainly reminiscent of areas of rural England and Scotland, the old English-style villages with their Georgian architecture were also reminders of the ‘motherland’ and yes – even the weather, with one day of rain and a couple of overcast mornings, bore some resemblance to the UK!

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We had hired a campervan for the trip, well camper-car would be a more accurate description, but it had everything we needed, including a fold down sofa-bed in the back, a compact ‘kitchen’ in the boot and the Huntsman spider (perhaps not so necessary and certainly more scary on the first morning.) Fortunately we got to spend our final two nights in Hobart in the relative luxury of a friend’s house because five nights is probably the most you could do on that bed without really testing the relationship…

The iconic Wineglass Bay was our first stop after arriving and the hike up the hillside was worth it for the incredible views.

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We headed north up to the Bay of Fires and at the risk of repeating myself, there were more gorgeous beaches. Then it was on through Bridport and Georgetown, via the Bay of Fires winery for a quick tasting and ending in Launceston.

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We loved Launceston with its Victorian buildings and the old industries, which are still operating along the river such as the James Boags brewery.

The following day our journey took us straight down south via several very quaint villages including Oatlands with its fully working windmill and Ross with its village green, stone cottages and tree lined streets. The things you notice when you’ve left, which epitomise England, are the gardens and hedgerows – and in Tasmania, we saw plenty; proper hedges and even the odd dry stone wall (built by the convicts of course.)

On the subject of convicts, which form a substantial part of Tasmania’s heritage, we drove all the way down to Port Arthur, south of Hobart, a former penal colony where the hardened criminals and reoffenders were sent after being shipped to Australia. Home to some of the ‘most haunted’ buildings in Australia, James and I had to brave the night time ghost tour round the site; standing in the shadows of ruined churches, by the fire place in the lounge of the old parsonage and wandering around the old solitary confinement prison, lit only by lanterns. We saw no ghosts, felt no presences and even had a bit of a laugh at the barely-out-of-school guide who sadly lacked the gravitas you might expect when recounting ghost stories. We may not have had a salty old bearded raconteur but it was definitely atmospheric and quite good fun. We went and saw Port Arthur in the daylight the next morning with the old prison, the Commandant’s house and a boat trip around the bay, passing Isle of the Dead. It was certainly an interesting and worthwhile stopover.

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From a convict settlement and sleeping in campsites, we headed back to Hobart to meet Hugh, a sprightly septuagenarian who met James when he was last in Hobart for a run ashore with a ship. He invited us to stay with him and his wife, Gail, for our final days in Hobart and made us feel very welcome in his home, situated right on the beach at Sandy Bay. He is one of those men who knows everyone and made his fortune in the antiques trade and in various businesses he dabbled in around Australia. He’s a lifelong member of any club you care to name in Tasmania and his runaround is a 1954 Bentley. He has raced in the Sydney – Hobart yacht race more than a dozen times and now he is approaching eighty, he says he is too old to keep up the sailing so has got his pilot’s licence instead.

Gail was a very kind and elegant lady, who apologised in advance but she hadn’t realised we were ‘so young.’ Had she known, she said she would not have invited her recently widowed friend and fellow seventy-year old friends for dinner with us that evening. Still, the ‘oldies’ always have a few stories to tell to be honest, they can probably put away a fair few more than either of us can so it made for quite an entertaining evening.

Salamanca markets are held every Saturday and are a major tourist attraction in Tasmania, being Australia’s biggest outdoor market. When we got down, it was buzzing with two long rows of stalls, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to clothes, pottery and toys. We walked the length of the stalls, picked up some rocky road and a milk jug (!) and headed to the waterfront for fish and chips. That evening, we met up with a few friends who happened to be in Hobart at the same time. In fact in total there were about eight of us who had decided to head to Tasmania just before Christmas and six of us all went out for a few drinks and a meal on our last night. It was a brilliant evening and for us a bit like a pre-Christmas Eve as it is just the two of us for Christmas this year.

On that note, the tree is now up, the house has a few decorations, the mince pies have been made and the presents are wrapped.

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Merry Christmas!

(More Tasmania photos will be posted at a later date!)

Friends Reunited

15 Oct

A week a go we had just got back from spending five wonderful days down in Jervis Bay and ten fantastic days with great friends. I have only just got round to writing about it but after days spent writing letters, synopses, CV tweaking and internet research, I had to step away from the computer!

We have been to Jervis Bay a couple of times before (and James even more due to work) but you can never fail to be impressed by the beauty of the place, however many times you visit. The whitest sand, the clearest, turquoise water and abundant wildlife make it a true paradise less than three hour’s drive south of Sydney.

Will, Is and their children made the trip from Melbourne to Sydney and stayed with us for a few days before we all drove down to Jervis Bay. This meant the days before their arrival saw me baking blueberry muffins and scouring the supermarket aisles for tube yogurts, children’s cereal and child-friendly bread and sandwich fillings. It is a funny thing when, with visions of scowling faces, bluntly stating “I don’t like this,” you start dreading the harsh critique of a meal by a four and six year-old. Archie and Bella were great and luckily it was not my cake, which got the hilarious six-year old’s verdict: ‘This is so toxic I had to spit it out.” I also learned a lot can be solved with pasta and cheese.

The weather gods were kind and the ten days with them were, for the most part, dry, warm and sunny. James introduced Will and Is to Stand Up Paddle (SUP) on the harbour at Rose Bay and then we were all having a go down on the beaches at Jervis Bay.

Even I got up and did some long paddles, although I have not quite got to the standard of racing and sharp turns, nor, for that matter, of going out much deeper than standing depth!

Having a couple of children to entertain was a great excuse to keep the ‘bigger boys’ amused with sandcastle building, although I’m not sure who actually had more fun, when all I could hear were military-style commands being handed out about where the defences were to be best placed.

After the children were in bed, the adults had their fun, usually by way of competitive games of scrabble and contract whist (yes, we were that rock n roll) but all washed down with Is’ mojitos.

All in all it was a very relaxing week of sun, sand, walks around the bays, runs on the beach, good food, copious amounts of wine (did I mention W&I brought the contents of a winery with them) and the best company. Having children meant it was a holiday with a bit of  difference for James and I. James did not get quite as much reading done as he would have liked but secretly loved having to watch Kung-Fu Panda and I got to read about the exploits of a road-safety conscious dog.

Got to love bedtime stories.

The Alternative Workout

11 Sep

Mention yoga to anyone and images of poised women in serene positions, eyes closed, breathing peacefully, may come to mind, or likewise, someone contorting their body into a position no one ever thought realistically possible. What probably does not spring to mind is a darkened room of mood lighting, a DJ at one end and a group of brightly-coloured-lycra-clad people dancing around like lunatics waving glow sticks in the air – however, this is what The Future Sound of Yoga is all about. Yoga to music and not just calm, tranquil soothing sounds but a gradually increasing beat until high-tempo techno dance tunes are blaring out of the speakers.

This is what Shan, Sophie, Nicky and I decided to do with our Friday night and despite a few reservations about what the freestyle dance section of the class might involve, we went along and went with the flow – quite literally. The class started out quite as you would expect a yoga class to start; everyone on mats, breathing exercises and then a few sun salutations and downward dogs later, the mats were pushed aside, the upbeat tunes kicked in and the rave began. Twenty minutes later, a much hotter, sweatier but invigorated group of people returned to the mats and the tempo was brought back down with some more relaxing music. Certainly not the most conformative style of yoga we’ve ever tried but probably the most fun – it beat any night out in a club where instead of dodging drunk people on the dance floor, we were encouraged to meet and greet are yogi comrades while jumping about and trying not to be too self-conscious. The latter took a bit of time and a shot of something strong might have gone down quite well beforehand but the dimmed lights certainly helped and soon there were no inhibitions; everyone looked as mad as the next person.

While I recovered on the Saturday morning, James took himself down to the bay to take part in a Stand Up Paddle race: 2.5 km stood on the board, paddling against the wind round a set course. It was the first time he had entered a race, although he said it was more a group of people paddling with a goal, rather than an ultra-competitive paddles at dawn type affair. Having said that, he was pretty pleased to zip past a few of the other competitors and not to fall in either (the water temperature is still a little of the cold side!)

On Sunday we decided to check out the Royal National Park, south of Sydney – absolutely beautiful. We took a walking trail along the coast, which meandered over the cliffs and back along the beach – the perfect way to walk off the long, boozy, birthday lunch we’d had the day before with a group of friends but also to enjoy the amazing weather at the moment.

So while we can all sweat it out in a gym and pound the pavements on a run, we’ve tried a few alternatives and been preserving our knees this weekend – and for James, its still all about his knees!

Full Circle

29 Aug

It was only a few weeks a go that we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary but today marks another milestone for it was a year a go that we landed in Australia and woke up to that glorious day, walking through Sydney, roaming through the Botanical Gardens and catching (for me) the first ever glimpse of that most iconic of scenes: the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Now they are two landmarks, which we see on a weekly, if not daily basis but they are never the less impressive for it.

Our year in Australia has to be one of the most memorable ever, having seen so much, travelled to many new places, made some great friends and of course, there have been the inevitable bumps along the way: those moments when you miss friends and family in the UK so much, when things haven’t gone quite so well and you wonder if you made the right decision. It has been a year of frustrations, sadness and scary moments but more importantly one of adventures, excitement, new discoveries and lots of laughs; the good times have certainly outweighed the bad and we have got through it together.

The time has gone so quickly as we remember so vividly that first day in our ‘new home’ but then looking back to that day in the airport, saying our farewells to family, it really feels as if a lifetime of things have changed and happened.

James has started his new job, encountered the expected obstacles and frustrations of transitioning to a new way of doing things but has also achieved a huge amount and been given opportunities, which will stand him in good stead for the future. We have moved into our new home, started up from scratch and (finally) we unpacked all those dozens of boxes and found a home for all those military books! We have been to five of the Australian states together, camped around New Zealand and also enjoyed hosting our own visitors. We made a fantastic group of new friends, who have also been a big support during moments of homesickness and also there to celebrate the birthdays, successes and difficult decisions. I started doing something I always thought would be a pipe dream and have now written over 70,000 words of a novel and we have got through the biggest test: the months of James being deployed and the weeks of him being away at sea.

On the day we arrived, it was 22 degrees and the end of Winter, today, the sun is shining and the high is 24 degrees. Spring has definitely sprung in the last few days and we find ourselves ready to start our second year here and begin the cycle again – not from a hotel room, living out of a suitcase, but from the comfort of our home, feeling quite settled but still wondering what this next year may bring.

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