Getting to Know You, Australia

By Susan Roberts

It’s funny how, once the first few cogs click into place, the wheels begin to turn smoothly, in the way that you always knew they were meant to turn. I’m not a cyclist, but from what I understand, that moment when you switch into the correct gear is the moment your wheels find proper traction, and you move along a lot faster. Finally, my cogs have connected, my wheels have found their tracks and are turning smoothly, and my life is starting to gather pace.

At the end of next month it will be two years since I touched down in Australia to start living my new life here. After the frenzied packing and goodbyes of the preceding months, all was calm for a few weeks. I was relieved to no longer be the centre of my crazy world, but happy to be an orbiting moon on the outer periphery of an altogether different universe. I was content to let life happen around me as I slowly got my bearings and settled into an alternate existence.

As the bewilderment slowly eased off, this foreign life became more familiar to me, but there was always one thing missing. As much as I loved the idea of living a writer’s life, my funds weren’t going to support it forever. Despite being granted permission to work a year later, I was unable to get a job. An ordinary job, nothing special. Just something to enable me to earn my own living, and to move into a rented place of my own so that I could get back to the “normal” life that I knew and missed.

Who knew it could take so long to find something like that?

The humanitarian organisation I started volunteering for on my birthday last year proved to be a gift in itself. For the first time since getting here, I started to make new friends outside of the family circle. I experienced for the first time what it was like to be part of an Australian organisation; a work-force despite there being no salary to go with it. By the time we had our volunteers Christmas lunch, I knew that I was part of something that mattered, something special. I longed to work for them full-time, but if that couldn’t happen, it was a place I knew I would always enjoy spending my free time in.

I’ve been applying for some of the paid jobs within that organisation ever since, of course, and with increasing desperation as my own paltry funds dwindled away.

Suddenly, in the last month, several things have coincided and I am now working part-time at two jobs. I’m still not completely out of the woods financially, but doing these two jobs are the steadiest things I’ve been able to do in almost two years, and I intend to hang onto both of them for as long as possible. I’ll continue with the volunteer work too, because I love doing it.

The really great thing about no longer pounding the virtual pavements in search of a job, is that I now have more time to dream, to build my little castles in the air. My little, windswept, outback shacks of castles that are not very high in the air at all. My dreams have changed over the years, but suddenly I have new fodder to inspire them.

For example, the internet articles I write are all about places in Australia, and at least half of them are places that I might otherwise never have heard of. I do a lot of research – online, in books, and personally if I can get there. Learning about new places opens my eyes and inspires me even more.

I’m getting to know Australia at last, up close and personal. Two or three days a week I sell fruit, vegetables and meat to Australians. Two other days a week I help to sell clothing, books, furniture and bric-a-brac to other Australians, in aid of funds to help those less fortunate than the rest of us. I spend the remaining days of each week researching towns all over Australia to see what news I can find to interest Australians online. Some of these people have lived here all their lives, while others have only just arrived, like me, but we’re all part of the same country now. Just different cogs on the same set of wheels.

I can’t wait to see where these tracks lead me next…

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The Book Collector

By Jac Dowling

It’s been a busy and extremely interesting time at our Bhuki Cafe lately. Yours Truly woke at 2am on a Road to Damascus and had an epiphany – whatever that means in today’s argot. What happened was, I had a good idea (like Pooh), which was immediately taken to our core committee at our favourite coffee shop, and they liked it. Possibly the mountainous scones and coffee softened the moment, add homemade jam and butter and you’re away.

The Antiques Roadshow was a stalwart of the BBC for many years, still is probably. So I thought, why not have a Bhuki Booktiques Roadshow and invite Benadė, our Book Collector, for muffins, coffee, assessment and valuations? So we did, and it was a huge success, except that he didn’t get to eat his choc muffins and his coffee went cold, but never mind, we had some happy punters and sold lots of teas and munchies while people waited.52007

It was so successful that we’re repeating the exercise in July and, if there’s another inundation, it may well become a monthly happening. Benadé has a shop absolutely stacked and groaning with books, how he ever stocktakes will probably remain a mystery, but he loves books and is happy to see what members bring to The Bhuki, chats about the provenance, assesses and, if required, values. Fascinating except that we now have to put a time and number limit on who brings what because one dear soul arrived with a box full, and that took TIME – which was when the coffee cooled! So we thought max 2 books and ½ an hour because we only have the facility for 2.5 hours each Friday before it returns to the reference section. Having recently read The Shadow of the Wind, I’m even more fascinated by the concept and just so happy that books are once more coming back into fashion.

‘A book should serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us’

Kafka.

typeremingtong-graphicsfairy002Anyway, we have our very excellent free local newspaper The Village News firmly supporting our literary efforts, two book pages once a month, a Bhuki piece and lots of great art, wine and restaurant coverage. They keep away from the grizzlies that occupy all our papers daily, and publish a very special fortnightly paper . After all, Hermanus is becoming a serious arts centre and we’re proud of our small town’s achievements.

On a different, but still book note, I was presented with a 1986 large, and I mean large, Wind in the Willows in which each page is most beautifully illustrated. It will go to a loving home at Christmas, in the meantime I shall continue to feast on what it has to offer. And may you feast on whatever takes your fancy until next month. I didn’t mention the limited edition history of the Rhodesian army – bound in elephant hide and gold metallic borders, slip case et al. The elephant, the owner was quick to explain, died of natural causes and was not hunted or poached!

Merchandising Matters by a Marketing Refugee

By Penny M

(layouts for the naïve)

I have come to the conclusion that Merchandising is the unsung hero of retail marketing. clothingNot only does it require creative flare, but intuitive thinking. Behind every tidy, well signposted display lies the logic of customer flow, seasonal grace and the innate ability to get inside a shopper’s head.

The other day, I met someone for a coffee in the restaurant on the top floor of a local department store.  As per usual, I had to ‘spend a penny’.  Intent on my purpose, I hurtled through the baby and children’s wear departments, but on my way back I slowed to browse through the cute array of spring range clothing for tots, some with jaw-dropping prices. Visions of my grandchildren appeared in various outfits and I was momentarily mesmerized.

I resumed my seat at the restaurant like a long distance refugee – the relief was palpable – I hadn’t purchased a thing.  When my companion decided to visit the toilets on our way out, I accepted an advertised invitation and made a bee-line for a sale-priced sofa to wait.  It was strategically placed on the edge of exorbitance.  I took the time to ponder the wonderful ingenuity of merchandising.  Of course, where else would you put the cutest department than on the beat from the restaurant to the restroom, a necessity for mothers and grandparents?  The comfy couch with panoramic views and an invitation to try it out was just another clever ploy to sell tots clothes to NanniPen.  There were no men screeching brakes here.

The menswear section was just inside the doors on the ground floor, another good plant.  I have a vague recollection that perfume and jewellery were close by.  In my opinion, ground floors are for quick buys.

Unlike women, men generally don’t shop around.  They aren’t likely to be found wandering on the second floor looking for a pullover or a tie.  Neither would they go too far for a gift for a friend, wife or girlfriend, though most would like to think they’d gone to ‘hell and back’.  One look at busy browsers is enough to drive the dashing outside and online.  I guess you could say that most men shop with purpose and it’s a rare woman who returns home with only what was on the list.

The toy, furniture and lingerie departments are all on the top floor – need I say more?

I have started my birthday list ahead of September which seems to be our family’s favourite birth month.  I suspect there will be some parcels winging their way to Australia in somebody else’s suitcase by then.  I can still outrun advertising, but when it comes to my precious grandchildren, merchandising matters.

Penny Mitchell – Communications that Matter – matternatter.com

 

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

By Sue Trollip

I ‘read’ this via audio book and kept wishing I had a pen & paper to jot down the lovely morels of wisdom.

Easily my favourite quote from Big Magic:

“Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”

In this book Gilbert deals with fear, the muse, creativity and ideas, amongst other topics.

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”

Gilbert has this theory about how ideas come to us and wait. If we don’t run with them, they float away and land on someone else.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”

She considers ideas to be their own entities. They don’t belong to us no matter how we try to cling to them. Once an idea has gone, it’s gone. But, she advises, be patient, because another one will be along shortly.

Be polite to your ideas, she advises. It would be awful if word got out amongst the ideas that you were a grumpy diva author.

She also addresses fear:

“perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat,”

Or (another favourite),

“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL.”

In true Gilbert fashion the book has anecdotes, insights and many wise words. It’s on my list to read again in about six months. By then the good things I remembered in round one will have had time to simmer and I’ll be ready for the ones I missed whilst dodging snowballs and articulated vehicles on the I80.

Unrequited Love – Years Later

By Susan Roberts

Do you ever think back to the lost loves of childhood? I do. I still remember the boys I fantasised about while still in primary school. There was one in particular whom I’ve never forgotten.

He was a boy I saw at the ice rink, and he was a wonderful skater. He was a few years older than me, and I thought he was just gorgeous. I must have been 10 or 11 when the ice rink opened and ran for a few brief years in our town. I used to save my pocket money for tickets to go skating. I also saved for my first (and only) pair of figure skates. My sister and I attended Saturday morning skating lessons given by a past UK Olympic champion, and we stayed for the public skating sessions afterwards. That’s where I first saw him.

I mentioned that he was a really good skater. In fact, he was well on his way to becoming a junior champion, along with several other serious young skaters. Tall, good-looking – he had the ability to make skating look easy, which it definitely wasn’t when I tried to do it.

He never noticed the pathetic creature that was me, the girl who could barely let go of the safety rail without falling over. He was too busy perfecting his moves in the centre, where he and other local champs practised their competition work. One afternoon I skated after school and saw him in his school uniform, so I knew which school he went to, but I still didn’t know his name.

The ice rink proprietors put on a variety concert, using the cream of the local skating talent. Our family went to see it, and – there he was, doing a solo piece. He really was extremely good. I still have the programme, and I’ve never forgotten his name since I first read it that night.

While I might be ready to spill my own secrets, others might not, so to protect the identity of innocents involved, for now I’ll refer to him as Beloved Crush.

Living in a fairly small town, it was easy to look up surnames in the local phone book and find someone’s address. There were only two addresses of people with the Crush surname: one on my side of town, and one far away on the other side. But which one was his?

One Saturday afternoon after skating, my mother commented that she’d seen one of our local doctors (who also happened to be called Dr Crush) in the car park outside the ice rink, obviously waiting for his offspring.

My mother didn’t know about my passion for Beloved, so it was an innocent remark about one parent commiserating with another on the wasted life spent waiting for their offspring outside of schools, dance classes, cricket matches and – in this case – ice rinks.

I could hardly wait to get home and kidnap the phone directory. Oh, wonder of wonders – Dr Crush lived a few streets away, higher up the hill. I hugged my secret to myself with schoolgirl glee. I knew where Beloved lived at last! Now to put the second part of my plan into action…

If my parents thought it odd, they never said anything when suddenly, in addition to the new-found keenness for skating, I developed a habit of taking my somewhat bemused spaniel, Honey, for walks almost every day.

Back in those pre-television days, the evenings were long and filled with family activities. We often took both dogs for a short walk, but my walks with Honey became daily afternoon excursions. At the time, I liked to imagine that my parents thought I was becoming a responsible pet-owner, but I’m sure they sniggered quietly to themselves as they heard the leash rattle and the gate click closed. They must have known there was an ulterior motive.

Honey quickly became the fittest dog in town, because Dr Crush’s house was further than I had thought it would be, and up quite a steep hill. Also, Honey and I were chased several times by bigger dogs in the area, and we both learned to run fast. But it was all worth it. Honey was fit and enjoyed his daily adrenaline-fuelled run. Over the weeks we found alternate routes with fewer dogs, but of course the destination was always the same.

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Beloved Crush’s house was a big one, on a corner with a waist-high hedge that was easy to see over. I walked my pooch nonchalantly past, sometimes pretending complete indifference, but always hoping to see Beloved in the garden or drive. With visions of romance bubbling in my head (even then, a future romance novelist), I fantasised about chance meetings on the pavement, or being invited inside because it was a hot day and I might look pale and thirsty, and as a doctor’s son, Beloved might be concerned for the welfare of the diligent dog-owner whom he surely recognised from the ice rink. Perhaps he had a dog as well, and we might find our common ground there, if not at the ice rink.

I gazed upwards at the windows, wondering which room was his, hoping to see a glance, a glimpse to nourish my dreams on the long walk back down the hill.

But it was never to be. Weeks turned into months and I never got any closer to Beloved – either at the rink or when passing his house. I never saw him in the garden or with his dog. I knew it was the right house, of course, because I’d seen the doctor’s car in the driveway. Back in those days, any car owned by a doctor had a small cross on the number plate – like the Red Cross symbol – in case they had to park somewhere illegal in an emergency.

The ice rink was my idea of heaven, but unfortunately there was a pattern in my town. Almost every new activity that started up lasted only a season or two before local apathy set in, took over and the activity closed, soon to be replaced by some other new activity. And so it was with the ice rink. It closed and life moved on.

A year later I entered high school. A few years after that Beloved must have finished at his high school, but I never saw or heard anything about him, ever again.

Many years later, I had a chance conversation with a girl I knew from high school. She had been a more serious skater than me, and she knew him. After all those years, I finally found someone who knew Beloved Crush.

I threw something into the conversation about our family having vaguely known his father, Doctor Crush, because we had lived nearby.

She laughed. “Oh no, this boy wasn’t related to the doctor’s family.”

“But he had the same name,” I said.

She shrugged. “Common enough name, but he certainly wasn’t that doctor’s son.”

“Where did he live?” I asked.

“I can’t remember. Somewhere on the other side of town. Far away.”

All those anguished childhood dreams I had nursed, all the walks I dragged my poor dog on, all of them melted away and vanished forever, to later become nothing more than the subject for this blog-post about unrequited love.

Such are the dreams of youth. Wonderful in fantasy and memory, but in reality so far off the mark. I wonder where he is now…

Unbearable Lightness

By Jac Dowling

Funny how things just happen. Here’s me wondering what on earth I should write about this month – follow up on the river saga, hack on about He Who Must Fall? Then, voila, something totally different pops up. In the form of Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano cencerto and Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being‘. What have they in common? Nothing much as far as I know, except for the deep romance evoked by both music and plot. And what have I to do with either for goodness’ sake? More with Kundera than Rachmaninov as it turns out.

In 1960 something, five of us headed off to Swedish Lapland in a camper van for a chilly and extremely interesting voyage of discovery. The trip up the Arctic Highway, literally from London to the Russian border at Kirkenes was spectacular; fjords, icy glaciers, chugging ferries to cross the wide waters, and reindeer grazing in the snow around the van at night. We found a set of moulted antlers which we attached to the roof rack, with flag attached and felt well and truly Tundra’d.

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The trip back down through flat Finland was peaceful, tranquil, no alarums or excursions; just vast lakes, birch and conifer forests and a feeling of well-being. We never really knew when to go to sleep because of the midnight sun and 24hr daylight, and the mozzies were colossal and really stung, even through track suits and thick socks. And so to Denmark, heading for the last few laps down through Germany, taking in Bayreuth (outside of opera house only!) and leaving out divided Berlin. I was in charge of map reading and managed, in my post Finland torpor, to land us up on a ferry which turned out to be heading for East Germany. Mistake. Big one.

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We, the only passengers, disembarked and were immediately herded into a pen between two booms, by soldiers in full army dudes. They weren’t even amused by our be-flagged antlers. Took away our passports and left us sitting for two hours, in the van, while they made numerous phone calls, keeping an eye on us all the while. Funny it was not. Eventually we were released with a transit visa which didn’t allow stopping or shopping or talking to the locals. Since we’d run out of food it was even less funny but we put foot and headed off along the quickest route to Berlin. For two nights we slept behind large hay stacks, eating borrowed apples from nearby orchards. The countryside was interesting, communal farms, no traffic other than rust buckets and horse-drawn carts; the towns bleak and dreary.

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And then, out of the blue came the tanks. Hundreds of them, some with young soldiers sitting on top, others rattling along belching out foul diesel smoke. There were trucks of soldiers, some on foot as well, all going in the same direction – Prague. From our safety net in haystack we watched for a couple of hours until they were well out of sight and went hell for leather to Berlin where we learned of the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia. It was definitely not funny!

What has this to do with Kundera and The Unbearable Lightness of Being? When you read it all will be revealed. Better still, watch the old movie, it tells it all as it was.

Living Clock Controversy

by Penny M

clock smiling face animated clipart

So what time is bedtime?

I love my sleep, especially when it sinks into that deep rest where dreams happen and active participation requires no effort.

I’ve found in my travels that my system has its own clock which ticks at mealtimes, ablution times etcetera.  That’s why there is more to switching time zones than a bit of jet lag.

I’m having supper when my family in Australia is having breakfast, so lunch for me there is a skippable meal until mid-afternoon and supper is an uncomfortably early breakfast.

Some people stay on their work clock even when they’ve retired.  That would be perfect if I was a morning person.  Days are so much longer when you are up before the sun; I would get up if I had to and make use of those extra hours, but I don’t.

Actually, when it comes to somebody else’s time values, life can be tricky.  I pretty much push the boundaries on this one.  You can go to bed at the same time, but do you have to go to sleep?  If you don’t shut those lids until two hours later because, let’s face it, there are distractions, rising with a foreigner’s alarm pushes the old ticker into overdrive.  Lids defy eyeballs, especially if wine was the drink of choice with dinner the previous evening.

Did I miss out on my beauty sleep?  Well, if the standard requirement is eight hours*, the answer to that is no (by the time I have got my eyes in focus).  However, retinal streaming is interrupted prematurely leaving me with stories chasing endings and issues without solutions.  Breakfast could wait for a couple of hour glasses if we had them.

I know what you’re thinking – if I went to bed earlier more often, my system might adapt to birdsong and a morning cuppa. girl stretching in bed wakeup in the morningBut hey, who can retire this early for so long?  I may as well enjoy it until the rat race shakes me into the real world.