Archives for posts with tag: Traveling

I’ve fallen in love with Australia again. Like someone you don’t want to/can’t marry but can’t walk away from. Lucky me, I don’t have to.

So yesterday I headed further in, to the big empty west. From the train (perfect transport), I watched the rainy green fields round Bathurst give way to scrubbier bush under thin clouds until everything gave way to dirt and sky. Look:

At Ivanhoe and beyond we saw emus prancing prehistorically (refraining here from posting blobs in mid distance). Small bouncing animals turned out to be goats and there were unfamiliar roo breeds in all directions.

Then further into desert, until sunset over Menindee lake, full of water this year, after many dry.

Bliss.

(well not only bliss: no cabs at Broken Hill meant walking for 40 minutes uphill through strange dark streets till I found my allotted bed).

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It’s six months since I left Australia – though Australia hasn’t left me, and probably won’t. Haven’t written any entries since Dubai. Too shellshocked by hemispheric upheaval/new job/old house full of other people’s debris/living out of suitcases for two months then blocked in by boxes when everything arrived in Leeds. But it’s probably time to wrap up this blog. I wanted to share the experiences – good and bad – of relocating across the planet when not in first flush of youth.

The following are notes on returning to previous location but not previous life (The Shock of the Old?). Some are captured before Brexit vote, some after (e.g. What have I DONE???).

  • I’m driving up the M1 in my hired car and I can’t remember the speed limit.
  • Got lost twice today in Leeds visiting old friend – roads are familiar so I stay on them, but expected roundabouts fail to materialise.
  • After some years of ‘fancy a coffee/movie/meal today?’, it’s back to ‘ are you free in a fortnight’s time?’
  • Newscasters and reporters have aged – men more than women probably because they wear less make up.
  • Nicholas Parsons is STILL on radio 4  – but I can’t remember the schedule any more, so don’t know how to avoid him.
  • All the shops are part of chains & franchises – only independent retail seen today in Leeds far was the great Jumbo records, still going
  • But Huddersfield has cool indie coffee shops (#northernteahouse) and Sowerby Bridge has good food. I go for drives and am happy to eat alone – another legacy.

Everything looks strange – my anthropological eye is now cast homewards. This is exhausting so I spend  lot of time in my hotel room, asleep.

Then I move back into my old and much missed home, but it isn’t mine. Every cupboard is full of tenants toothbrushes, discarded duvets, old cutlery.There’s a gnome in the garden. I remember another life in that house, but it is a long time ago and I seem to be haunting it. Things improve when the stuff I shipped back arrives – nice pieces from the Blue Mountains – and I start fitting the Australian and Yorkshire parts of the jigsaw together.Six months on and there are still a lot of boxes to unpack, but no rush. Things also get better when friends come to stay and I recall that home consists of people not things.

The UK I have returned to is changed – 5 years of Coalition then Tory Government – creating a particularly cruel, vindictive use of benefits system to punish the poorest and most needy.  I don’t think Australians would allow this to happen (to non-Aboriginals anyway). They still have a public sector, and trade unions. UK has voted to leave Europe, having already sold its heritage to corporate speculators and hedge fund bankers. The place is full of toxic fantasies. Back to Blighted.

But I do like the bustle, the full trains, the coffee shops at every corner, the new M&S food hall at the bottom of my road. And I like the variety of human beings that surround me, in shops, trains and – a real contrast – work. So many non-white faces at last. It’s also brilliant that London is a train ride away, Spain a short haul flight. I can pop round for tea with my dad, find my place in the family again, while I slowly reconnect with old friends, whose lives have also changed in the past five years. There have been births, deaths, divorces, moves of all kinds. Lots of catching up to do.

The main thing, though, has been getting to grips with the new job. As usual when life feels chaotic, I turn to work as my anchor. Six months on, this has been a good call – my ideas and contribution are valued and I work with several talented senior women at Huddersfield Uni. There have been some teething problems with rooms and so on but I haven’t felt gender-conscious since I got back to UK. It’s a bigger relief than I expected. Seriously, Australia, you really need to make better use of your very fine females. Even the nice guys are in the way. I miss my lovely women friends, Bernadette, Jo-Anne, Michelle, Jane….

I miss the sounds ALL the time – the kookaburra dawn chorus, possums on the roof, the magpie arpeggios. I notice every gum tree (one, rather forlorn, at the back of my Leeds house and a beauty in Spain). I corner Antipodean friends and colleagues at conferences, parties, anywhere, to talk about the place. No-one here knows or cares that much. One person sneered that Australia didn’t even have a decent mountain range; I pointed out that it was so old a land mass, they had been eroded.

But then I didn’t know how old the land was until I got there and it told me. You feel it all the time, this ancient presence, just waiting, sometimes welcoming, sometimes shrugging us off. You can feel your feet sinking in – if you want to.  I have left but not forgotten. Australia introduced me to geological time.

Now Europe looks so young, with all its pointy bits still sharp and edgy. All the workable land is worked and has been for thousands of years, unlike the vast emptiness of Australia. Took a visiting prof with a farming background over the Yorkshire moors and he could see how many farms there were occupying space that would have been one maybe two stations back home. The land here tells of lords and peasants, strip farming, inheritance law and people striving to feed themselves over millennia. It’s just a different story.

I guess that’s my conclusion – everything is altered by the experience of living in Australia. What was familiar is no longer, but then its new strangeness has a new wonder. At first I wasn’t sure about going back, it’s not something I do much. Now I can see I haven’t gone back, but forward.

 

Started this two weeks ago, feels inadequate already, as deeper feelings about leaving Oz surface, but, for the record (and with more pix to come) …….

 

Sitting in Dubai airport cum space station, digesting the fact that, after four and half years, I no longer live in Australia. Fewer than five years, but this time has had such an impact. Will take me more time, more words to understand how much it has changed me, but here’s a first stab at what I will miss, in no particular order

Coffee – flat white here is quite different from its pale, late imitations. On a trip to New Zealand recently, I learned that NZ is home of the FW – or so they claim. The cafe at Sydney airport where I would gasp for real coffee after 30 hours of airline chemicals….  Luckily, I plan to spend time in Spain whose café con leche rules supreme.

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Sydney festivals – I didn’t make Mardi Gras, but went to Sydney Vivid several times – the best illuminated buiildings I’ve ever seen. The exuberance and playfulness seemed to sum up something very Sydney-ish. Loved the Writers Festival too, great setting on the harbour, interesting speakers, large literary crowds. Talking of harbour faves – Grilled


Barra and chips sitting looking out  at the sun setting across the Harbour. Watching La Traviata performed on a pontoon on the Harbour, with fireworks and flying foxes accompanying the arias in the dusk

 

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Australian journalism – the ABC broadcasts current affairs, investigations, media analysis and Any Questions discussion panel across prime time Monday nights. Puts BBC shoving journalism out of the way in favour of Come dancing or whatever to shame. SBS broadcasts a range of shows to engage and reflect the range of cultures in contemporary Australia – reminds me a little of early channel 4. Both channels are largely in public ownership.

Public ownership – as are the trains (about a fiver for 200 kms from regional NSW to Sydney); utilities (not all), roads, and much more. This leads to a mix of low costs and irritating obstacles (imposisble to access outside working hours). Trade unions still determine conditions for most workers. Pensions funds are obligatory and employers make substantial contributions (17% in my own experience!!)

Language – finally realised that Australians speak Tabloidese – fitting as Murdoch’s birthplace. – love the Rego/servo/arvo/doco compressions. Also everyday use of more arcane language, so that rort is a common verb for scam or fraud, as in ‘pollies rorting expenses’.

Now the big ones: living quite differently in and on the land, and making friends far from home.

I want to write something substantial about how the Australian land has changed me, so will not say much here, except that the wildness of this continent generates an inner freedom to which I have responded deeply. Two years in the Blue Mountains have given me audio memories of the Kookaburra dawn chorus. Night skies that reach down to the rooftops in regional cities. The unfamiliar language of trees, not symmetrical, not shapely, the magnificent scruffy gum trees that scent the world. The light, shooting everything in HD, each leaf visible across distances.

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People

Nothing is impossible but it seems unlikely I will work again with such a creative bunch of colleagues – the location of my discipline (public or organisational communication) in a creative rather than business school meant I shared corridors with performers, writers and directors. People interested in bodies as well as brains, like the lovely Dan Aubin,  handstanding past my office door, an image that sums up SCCI at its best (pic to follow).

 

Belated pix from mid-term break to Bali. IMG_0268

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Bali was bustlier than I’d imagined, but I came to like that liveliness – streets packed with scooters, slow traffic jams, taxis that hail you with horn beeps, whether you want one or not. Then cut away from the main drag and it all stops…..

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Spent a lovely day exploring temples, rain forests and the interior, including a taste of the famous poo coffee. WP_20150825_14_04_25_ProWP_20150825_13_55_18_Pro (3)IMG_0282WP_20150825_14_59_37_Pro

– caught dawn at one coast and sunset at another.IMG_0288IMG_0315

A day on Jamie’s boat, an 1879 Dutch sailing barge, with dad, Kate, Jamie’s partner, Cathy, and dogs Spanner and Frankie.imageimageimageimageimage

Walking through Mayfair on a warm afternoon. I was here in 68. image

matisse at Tate Modern imageimage

Lunch with Leah.  imageimage

The drivers seat on the DLR.imageimage

Flynn’s parkour palace down at old East India docks, a part of London that feels like Brazil, but has a tiny pocket of community on Trinity Buoy Wharf.  imageimageimageimage

I moved out of London in 1993, first on an experimental basis, to do an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, then permanently, a year later,  to take up a position at the university of Central Lancashire. So I’ve been a visitor to my home town for the past 21 years. But until moving to Australia in 2011, such visits to family and friend were pretty regular, only a few hours drive or train journey.

Now it’s an annual event and I’m finding that place has usurped chronology in my personal story-telling. Having been struck by the Indigenous emphasis on land not time as the main unifying narrative, a recent trip to London has illustrated how this works for me.  Every bus journey takes me through a jumble of pasts: that supermarket was the swimming pool where I learned to swim; I kissed a boy there, broke my heart here; saw Hendrix there; got drunk, got sober, worked, organised, lived, here, there, then.

None of my memories of Australia are more than two and half years old; London is scored through four decades.

Watching cop shows on the ABC here, I know from the colour of the house bricks exactly where the body is buried; can still tell north from south London accents (and loved it when the recorded announcement at Waterloo, in contrast to the usual posh advice to mind the gap, told us the next platform was dahn the escalators). This knowledge carries a poignancy, as it’s quite redundant in a new country. Who cares?

Then, walking through Regent’s Park with a friend one summer evening last week, describing the loss of this personal history, she laughed and said ‘how liberating’ and I realised she was right. I see people living in mausoleums to their own histories, defined by what they’ve been, not what they are. (And I am not immune to this – with 5 boxes of memorabilia in transit as I write.) I need to go home at least once a year to be with people who know me in the way only family and ancient friends can know you (my father recalled a childhood scene at the (long gone) Primrose Hill swings where my oppressed little sister surrendered her place to me& waited her turn –  only to be grandly informed  that ‘we don’t do turns any more’ ).

But it’s rather marvellous to come back to somewhere that tastes of the future.

 

Just back from a week walking in Tasmania with a camera full of stories. Will try and unpack something each day.

Starting with Hobart airport – smallest I’ve landed in for some time (smaller than Granada, Spain, for example) – one baggage claim track, no buses to town, you’re kind of on your own here. A Yorkshire approach – if you don’t know your way round, what you doing here? Intrepid adventurer that I am, I made it to the city (!), which was closed – but then it was Sunday.  The centre (called CBD in Australian towns, for central business development, I think) reminded me of Preston, with its Poundstretcher-type shops and criminal concrete office blocks plonked into  old shop fronts and connected by standard issue malls. At least Preston had the excuse of being bombed. (Wait, it does get better…)

Horrid Hobart office blocks in beautiful settingHobart harbour, old and newLovely old office block

Yet the setting is absolutely lovely; Mount Wellington behind, deep harbour ahead, fringed with nineteenth century pubs and, the first building in every settlement, the customs house. Spent a great couple of hours in the Tasmanian Museum, which has the ramp from early settlement, around 1810, revealed in its forecourt, like Roman ruins. One of the oldest buildings in town, it contains both its own history and, on the top floor, that of the people the British displaced. Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples were completely wiped out as I understand it (from guides who refer to various explorers “encountering trouble” ) though their scattered descendants are now trying to reconstruct what was 40,000 years of continuous culture until a couple of hundred years ago. More on this later.

Tasmanian museum