Here I sit in the fading light. On the verandah at Augusta house.Looking out to trees and more trees and only the occasional sound of tyres as people return home at the end of the day. Even the birds are quieter . But I’m watching the growing wasp nest near my head. Those wasps had better enjoy their last night .
Time and more time. Here there are fewer things to be done , and it takes a while to create a new routine to the day , so late rising and sitting here with coffee and sitting some more. While Doug cuts up logs .
Then the short drive to the town and more coffee at the something or other Robin.
Today I had a swim at Flinders beach and it was surprisingly warm . The sun has been out all day and only now is the slight chill coming in , and time to light the wood fire.
So it’s been a day of coffee, swim, basking in the sun, walking, op shop ( good one here!) , hardware store to tighten the electric saw, food shopping, reading and writing. Because I have time, I cannot escape writing. Busy Augusta day.
So finally we have reached the end of Christmas/ New Year celebrations. Sitting in the shade under the playground at Geordie Bay, Rottnest ( no space on any of the chairs and tables as this small island is filled beyond capacity). It is definitely a time to take stock .
I wonder why we go on about making resolutions each new year. After all, many of us have not achieved the ones made 10 years ago. I admit that I have trotted out the same goals/ intentions/ resolutions each year for a very long time . Always recycled, sometimes discarded, often modified and occasionally partially achieved , initially anyway . But we know how hard it is to change habits so why do we keep making new resolutions . Hey , I’m sticking with the old ones, just chipping away .
I’m sticking with the old while recognising the hard facts that age and circumstance play a big role in achievement. I have always had a list of very specific actions related to broader themes. ( Yes I have in the past spent too much time on SMART goals and have fiddled around writing and re -writing lists within lists within lists…..). Dance has been on my list under FUN. I have named types of dance to try , where they are, how often sessions are held, cost . . But 10 years after that first sortie into change , or rather regaining my sense of being , I really struggle with moves in swing dance and flamenco , both of which I love .
That original spurt of attachment or insight remains . I am not altering my earlier enthusiasm for real dance to embrace “ over 55’s” exercises or ‘ chair yoga’ or whatever the current marketing pitch for the aging population . So I’m stubbornly keeping that resolution in my head and pondering , doing little bits . What I have to do is drop the bar : I am not going to be a wonderful flamenco dancer or do those smooth, fast and fun Swing moves. But I can do a modified , albeit fudged version , of the dances I like. I can just incorporate whatever bits of whatever dance style into my dance. !
I blame Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project ( Harper:2009 . Many revisions) for years of writing specific goals. Despite my somewhat dismissive tone, her book is worth reading. Just because of offering a structured yet flexible approach to adjusting some of the eternal niggles of family life. Her central premise “if my life is so wonderful , why am I not happier?” Is a useful jumping off point . . Only now do I recognise that happiness is not a constant; chasing happiness is like chasing rainbows, or shape shifting entities . The endpoint rarely meets the imagined. Nonetheless human beings are pursuers of happiness, with all its myriad of meanings , interpretations, contradictions and imperfections .
So my drive towards a happier, better life has always revolved around kindness ( good to have a core value thrown in ), having fun and being adventurous . Curiosity I believe is the basis for being and feeling alive . Pretty simple , and I don’t need to overanalyse and prescribe and measure . I’m happy now but may not feel happy just now or tomorrow. Unadulterated happiness is rare and wonderful . If it were a constant it would be another pretty ordinary part of life. So…
Just this instant I have bought a bright headband and a striped skirt at Rottnest’s Indianic clothes shop. Overpriced, but it’s the beginning of the 2023 me in action: Brightness and FUN. Adventure and kindness will follow.
I was Ok with 🎁 presents shopping , sort of list in hand. Until I entered Target.
Greeted by red versions of merry Christmas, lollies and rolls of Christmas paper, decorations , and reams of things to buy . Yes, and the requisite jingles to do my head in .
I’m bewildered. I’m looking for a Marvel? Lego set that doesn’t cost over $100 . My grandson needs at least a 15 yrs up set . First I have to find them in the collection of toys that takes half of the top floor, then I have to find the right one . In the meantime, on the way to the toys where there are other zombies wandering around squinting at shelves, I am distracted by the baby clothes. Neither of my grandchildren need clothes, but these little shirts and shorts are soooo cute.
I haven’t been inside here for ages . I must admit it’s quite refreshing to be looking around in a non op shop. It’s refreshing but also confusing and guilt making. Here am I attracted to goods I don’t need, while some people are scraping together coins for food ( or a smoke the cynical middle class , justifying me whispers )
I make it to the Lego holding just one thing : an electric jug for visiting family . A bright red cheap one that will work ; op shop ones sometimes do sometimes don’t. They are not red, and at current op shop prices not all that much cheaper ( see how I can rationalise )
After half an hour of wandering around squinting like everyone else, and there are more squinters now as it’s getting later, I leave minus the Lego . However I have $54 of coloring in books, crayola crayons, a hair band and a cute little matching shirt and shorts set;and the electric jug.
And back tomorrow ?I’ve done Target .Merry Christmas .
Maybe it’s because of Christmas approaching with all its joy , and tribulation ( a great word that) but memories are hitching a ride on the back of other-worldliness .
So I was out on the garden again fiddling with my suddenly huge fig 🌳. I’m surprised at how it has still managed to sprout new branches , despite vigorous pruning a few months ago. Moreover it has secretly been producing figs. Maybe it is hiding them from the cockies that eat them every year, but I only spied the nearly ripe ones when I reached under the canopy to remove weeds.
Today is Gaudete Sunday in the church calendar. The third Sunday in Advent . Rejoicing Sunday. Even for non believers it’s a lovely term, containing the joy in this lead up to a special birth. For once in the liturgy there are no threats or bribes or reminders of the horrors facing non believers.
Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult
let the wasteland rejoice and bloom
let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil
let it rejoice and sing for joy,
( Isiah 35 v 1,10)
There are lots of biblical quotes about fig trees putting out branches. I realised today that all the water and pea straw and care I have spasmodically lavished on this tree might be irrelevant .
The tree has its own mind and I can chop and water and care or not care, but it spreads where it will and grows fruit regardless .The figs I picked before the birds are not ripe.So they’re on the window sill to ripen , hopefully.
So I’ve missed the boat. It’s now the second day of the new year and I have carried around the ghosts of Christmases past in my head for over a week. Time to get them out.
I still drag out the manger every year , even though bits are gradually disappearing, The shepherds and kings have taken off , and Joseph’s head leans over at an angle as his head has been glued back on in a hurry. I love it because of its inadequacies , but mainly because in its chipped edges and basic premise of baby and parents v
There is a larger, shared Christmas tree in the hallway. However some of the old decorations I have held onto for years do not fit onto the tree.I left the manger underneath the hallway tree decorated by the four cousins, and put the remnants up on my own smaller version of a Christmas tree.
The manger was always the focus of my family Christmas growing up . It was made by a family friend and complete with the baby in his manger, the sheep, the wise men from the East and the shepherds . Plus a couple of angels keeping watch . Sadly only Mary and Joseph and the baby in the manger remain after 60 odd years, and the stable is falling apart. I have added to the onlookers with various farmyard animals from Target or Toy World as my own family grew , and various people and animals have been lost or broken .
The interest in the manger though has diminished over the years as children , then grandchildren , have got older and candy sticks and chocolate father Christmases have taken over .
The star on top of my tree is a replacement too . The old pop -stick one made by one of the children has fallen apart. But my fairy doll still hangs in , minus an arm. My mother is no longer here to dress her in a new outfit and fix her drooping wings.
She dates from my first Christmas so is antique I guess.
There are other memory triggering objects on my tree :The porcelain tree made by one of my daughters in primary school, the star signed Matilda ( my granddaughter, for her mother), Jimmy’s star in a basket, another porcelain star that looks like it was made in pre primary by one of my sons , and the dainty elf -like little man/ woman , from an old friend . S/he is the last of the four elves which once smiled at me from the tree.
All the other decorations – stars, angels, a small manger- have been picked up over the years from the Oxfam shop in Fremantle. Sadly missed .
As are the past, magic Christmases with midnight mass, coming back to see the large, REAL Christmas tree with REAL candles flickering and a piece of my mother’s Christmas cake waiting . Then to bed to dream of stockings at the end of our beds . As well as Father Christmas’s visit with our special presents .
The ‘man ‘ is a South Africanism. My English born father spoke his language impeccably as only a Shakespearean actor and Radio announcer ( English Service , RSA) can. He adopted this common SA expression during his time in that country. He used the expression over in SA , and here also. I think being dad he liked to feel he had adapted to his new culture, and then it became a habitual expression. The appendage “ man” usually tagged onto the end of sentences is commonly used to convey emotions from amazement to anger or puzzlement , depending on the inflection .
So he used it when slightly frustrated with my mother. She tripped often. All her life she was in a hurry and as she got older her dashes across roads wearing glasses that she maintained didn’t work resulted in many injuries . She just moved her head both ways quickly and scuttled across, believing that cars would stop . By the time she realised they couldn’t, she braked, lost her balance and fell.
In the beginning she was prey to minor scratches and bruises, until the day came when she was too scared to move , even with a Zimmer frame ( resisted for ages) or sulky daughter by her side. My father, despite his language , was always affectionate to her, even if exasperated at her stubbornness.
With the Zimmer frame she was still prone to accidents, ploughing into people’s ankles and banging into their tables as she headed for the door or the table. Inevitably, when she did sit , she parked the frame as a sort of block. No one could get up and move to the door or counter without asking the sweet old lady to shift it . Looking back she just didn’t have a sense of space and that combined with a blind faith in her invulnerability and the goodness of people lead to the knocks and hurts .
So why do I write of this now ? Because I reckon I’m prone to the same injuries. Maybe not for the same reasons and, at the moment, not the same injuries . But I don’t see the edges of objects . For example , I bang my already injured shoulder against a doorway;I catch my foot on the crossbar of my bike; I trip over those uneven Freo pavements , bloody council!
This afternoon I turned up at the Physio with a plaster stuck at the back of my leg . Late. So he wasn’t interested in my explanation .
I just happened to graze the leg on the pedal of my bike as I dragged it out the door down the steps . Bloody kids. If they didn’t leave stuff hanging around in the hallway and at the front door I wouldn’t have nicked myself
So I’ll lift my arse, slow up. Slow up . Lift your arse, woman . Sounds pretty rude with the ‘ woman ‘? But that’s another blog ,
So who is St Elias ? And what is/ was this ‘ Melkite Catholic Eparchy’ which has Divine Liturgies on Sundays in the Byzantine tradition ?
Just one of some curiosities seen a while ago in the Melbourne suburb with the beautiful name of Sunshine.
Amongst the greyness of the streets and buildings, the bits of paper and scrawled messages , another cold dull day , there are small jewels shimmering. Like brightly coloured cafes, signs, graffiti walls. Curiosities because they draw the eye when walking through these streets .
In fact one of the wonderful things about walking is that the unseen or overlooked becomes visible.There is time to look and take in .
Random photos as I wandered around with the pusher and Charlie asleep . We ended our stroll at the Salamati Cafe opposite the railway station. In a street full of a mix of Chinese, African and Vietnamese shops. Look what I found, beautiful curiosities on the walls.
Ending where I began really, asking questions such as Who has written this ? Belief systems ? The link between dance and how we live ? There doesn’t have to be an answer, though we want one .
Curiosities keep us engaged in life, and wondering .
So as I was walking along the creek beside Ballarat road on the way to a coffee all sorts of thoughts flashed through my sleepy head. About Sundays, beliefs, nuns and mothers. Specifically the sayings or truisms that were told when Sunday was such a special day a long long time ago in my youth:
Mum : ‘It’ll all come back to you, just you wait.’
The all encompasses exposing my then pudgy but quite shapely body in bathers, too short shorts, or tight skirts .
All equals being rude to my mother, refusal to clean my room or dress as she wants, bad table manners, answering back at school or at home .
All also means sitting on concrete steps with shorts and thin gear on or perching on anything that is not a chair.
Not too clear how or when it would come back to me . Suffice to say that my turn came around when I had children growing up . Perhaps the cold concrete bit is responsible for stiff limbs, and the African sun definitely a cause of horrible scaly skin .
If you sit like that you’ll end up with hunch back / frown like that and you’ll have a deep line between your eyes / scowl and … . All come true .
A stoop in shoulders
Left eye is smaller than right
But you know what, I’m still stubborn enough to say I don’t regret the sun, shorts, squinting, refusing to do as told . ( Even if I do secretly wish I had better skin)
The big one though, from mum and from the convent school I went to in my teens, is around belief . Briefly the Belief/ God/Love one was always a bit sus. I met those concepts with varying degrees of resistance, depending on what I needed at the time . I could easily dismiss the ‘God sees everything; your body is a Sacred temple; you’ll need him someday and he won’t be there; say your prayers at night so that angels is watch over you as you sleep ‘
Lots more but if you were brought up Catholic you’ll know them . I wasn’t even particularly worried about the maleness of God as I think I just thought the naming and the gender were an easy reference point. Adults just didn’t have the words and took an easy way out.
I just knew that the hellfire and damnation bit was theatre, that God who loved could not be so petty , Most of the threats and bribes I rejected .
However from my older perspective there is something precious amongst the words we were surrounded with . Hard to pin down . But it’s a belief in the value of life, and the priority of existence . Also it’s comforting to feel , however imperfectly and tentatively, that there is something beyond this visible life .A something that we cannot grasp , just know.
I like God ( for want of a better name) being around .And I like walking .
Walking along Kororoit Creek this morning I remember those statements , threats and persuasions quite fondly. They gave order to my life. Something to resist. As I get older it is harder to find that resistance.
And Sunday is a day like any other now that my mother is no longer here .When the kids were little we reluctantly went along to the Sunday roast after Church complaining about the routine. I was unwilling or unable to sustain that ritual. We gather now as a family in a scatty way, because Sunday is no longer a special day for all of us , and we have so many things to do. A transition from the Sunday Mass/ Sunday best/ scowling drive to Church followed by the lunch.
Behind me is a conversation in German, in front a group of young women conversing merrily in Spanish, hands moving and laughter.This bus is filled with a variety of languages, accents and looks: the girl in the beret sprinkled with chunky pearls, thick black plaits poking out from underneath, the man further down the aisle, tattooed and hooded, the very English older couple sitting opposite. All sorts of looks. Spanish/ Iranian //Chinese ? Australian ? It’s late afternoon so plenty of business suits and office wear as well .
Cosmopolitan, multicultural, call it what you will. A vibrant, young peopled city. At least in the areas we’ve been in these few days- Bondi, Paddington and, today, Manly. So, especially after a QE cruise it’s uplifting to be around younger people. Also to be able to just walk .
Bar and cafe staff are young and smiley, restaurants, hotel receptionists , shop people. Smiley.
Apart from youth and multiculturalism, I like the architecture. There is variety in style, different levels and shapes, colour and texture. Here in Bondi anyway the newer buildings are fronted by older ones, facing the sea with large windows and balconies. The streets are wide and the tall trees and green slopes create a surreal landscape.
Older buildings have been renovated or used as they are, especially to show art. And there is so much art here, accessible. All along the Bondi seafront are some of the Heads On photos. An international festival based in Sydney, there are more than 500 different photographers showing their work in outdoor exhibitions, major takeovers and large scale installations.
We went to see others in the Reservoir Paddington. There are thousands of photographic works from all over the world displayed in venues throughout Sydney. Themes of homelessness, refugees and war; also feminism, motherhood, culture and the environment.
So this morning we’re at Central train station about to depart from this bold, brash, clever city. On the way here early in the morning I did glimpse the other, not so bright, side of life here. A part of any city: people dressed in shabby black or worn work boots, women going home after a cleaning job, an old man plastic bag in hand carrying bottled water and his lunch,the humdrum movement of our days.
You might think as you read the earlier praise of Sydney paragraphs ‘ all very well for the wealthy and beautiful.’ ( I can hear you think that ) Maybe I am a romantic. Maybe.
But I don’t live here. Soon enough to be back in a different life.
Now, if I were a Helen Garner I would ask the guy over from me what happened? Then I would have a whole, interesting and insightful story. But as it stands, or writes, all I have is a few glimpses of the start, a climax and the cleaning up. Not really a denouement. Oh, I did make an ‘ aside’ comment as I walked to the bar to buy another happy hour wine : ‘ well that was dramatic’, to which the quite ordinary, rather stunned looking guy replied ’ Yes’ and looked stunned still.
From where I sat in this Bondi pub I watched a blonde, fit looking 40 ish man find his stool, lay out the cutlery carefully next to his red wine , and look around. I did think , well he’s waiting for someone. I was distracted then by the T V behind him showing bits about some woman convicted of some murder ( no sound). Next time I looked a woman in jeans and shirt , ordinary, nice looking, was alongside him and they were talking quietly. Distracted again – ploughing into my pizza- a very loud crash. I glanced up to see the woman locking eyes with the man for an instant, then turning slowly and striding out to the lift. Leaving a mess of broken glass, food and red wine on the floor.
He stood just looking at the mess. Hiatus. Bar staff rushed out and began sweeping and mopping. Like 2 staff, quite a mess.
Half an hour later and the quiet guy is sitting in front of his replaced ? meal and sipping his replaced ? wine. Looking thoughtful. .I really want to know what the altercation was about .
Why did she throw all their food and wine 🍷 onto the floor.It was all so silent before and after. Is she his partner ? Had he just met her ? What did he say? Or not say .
I’ll just have to conjecture. And you know what,?Whatever I come up with will be wrong. There’s always more to a story.
It’s 8.30 am and I’m pushing my grandson down South Terrace in Fremantle, just up from the station. Already I have passed 3 sleepers. Huddled in doorways, in alleys , emerging from the night sleep and blinking in the morning light, or blankets pulled over heads. Some have left their posse to start their day, leaving a bundle tied up on the ground in the shadows. Others are pushing a shopping trolley down the mall. Towards the toilets maybe, or to sit on the benches placed in straight lines under trees .
Small gatherings of people are in the square, coming out of the Civic Centre or simply meeting up and walking through arm in arm, chatting.
I think , what would happen if we just let those ‘ homeless’ to sleep in the corners of our street , with maybe blankets available,opening toilets early , maybe having a place where coffee is available ? Would we have more rough sleepers than we do now ?
Just as I was thinking , well there’s a general quite happy atmosphere around the square, people meeting and greeting, sitting quietly on benches or walking on, there was a loud yell from a guy striding across.Several very loud shouts and a lot of gesturing and swearing. It seemed his noise was not directed at anyone. It was just an angry cry against the universe,
I walked on with my grandson still asleep in his pusher. A few other people gathered around the angry one and the morning peace became just noise and a series of exchanges across the square .
I have just finished Alan Carter’s Heaven Sent, a novel which is set in Fremantle and revolves around homelessness and the problem of dealing with people fairly and responsibly.( Incidentally a good crime novel with his likeable main character, Detective Cato Kwong)
The book did make me think, yet again, about how I would live in the street, how I would survive. I also recognised that the street people contribute to Fremantle some of its character, it’s colour and difference. But. ….
Such a pity that homeless people can’t be just a version of myself , minus the money and possessions I have. Why can’t they be more like me. The yelling and swearing of that guy threw me.
Yes , it could , I concede. Homelessness could happen to me . But I have to say , because that’s what I think, the possibility is low.
The pervading narrative of homelessness is ‘ it can happen to anyone’, alongside the lumping of all street sleepers into the category of helplessness . Probably some people do belong there. But the other side of the coin is the resourcefulness, the strength of a community, the caring for each other.
I sound like I believe ‘ the poor are always with us’. Not so. I just believe that the it can happen to anyone/collective responsibility narrative is better than “ get them away from here”, but ….words make us feel better.
So it’s actually more difficult / stressful/ annoying getting stuff together for a 8 day cruise in local waters than it is to prepare for a 6 week walk, here or overseas.
For the latter the parameters are clear, it’s weight all the way as it’s going to be on your back . Walking trousers. A couple of t shirts, long sleeved shirt, slip ons to change into , undies, gortex jacket and thermal top plus all the paraphernalia of sun cream/ feet cream/ moisturisers . Hat. Maybe some vitamins and a small first aid pack and a book or tablet . Mobile phone.
For the cruise there’s the addition of makeup, more shoes, more undies, more clothes. Shoes to walk in, shoes to dance in, shoes to run in ( to counterbalance the food) , clothes for formal wear – dance evenings, dinner- proper active wear for the gym and strolling around deck looking cool, shorts that don’t show my bum or the fat on the top of my legs, it may be warm enough to wear them. Leggings for the cold, warm jacket for evenings , a warmer jacket for the very cold, tights to wear with skirt or dress, etc etc . Laptop. A couple of books.
In the end a high probability that half those dresses, shoes, skirts and tops will not be worn, I haven’t worn high heels for at least 2 years . I can’t remember when I last wore a dress . So right now I’m wondering :why ? Why am I travelling on a cruise ship and why am I taking all this gear ?
I’ll answer that tomorrow. Today I’m just boarding the QE2 and departing Fremantle for Sydney
The guys on this ferry just took this late passenger on board 2 minutes before the boat left, with no warnings about leaving it too late, not having a ticket , or getting a move on. Someone carried my bag and someone else wheeled my bike down the runway . I then bought my ticket as the boat left the quay.OK, not many others on board late Saturday afternoon, but every time I have got onto SeaLink there has been the same courteous and cheerful service.
As reading anything brings on nausea, blogging it is.
I am going over to join a friend for her birthday tomorrow. Coincidentally today is my father’s birthday;he would have been 97 today. A few days later is my aunt Pauline birthday . She died recently .Both have been important loves and supports in my life. So I guess it’s good to pause and wish them Happy Birthday too. Also to stop stressing on this late summery afternoon. I’m on the way to Rottnest for a Birthday.
Is it birthday weather for you, dear soul
Is it fine your way ?
C.Day Lewis( 1904-1972) Birthday Poem for Thomas Hardy
This morning really early. On my way for a swim at the beach . Weather sunny, 11 deg instead of 5 , so have to brave the elements and swim.
First as I was crossing after the cafe near the beach I was overtaken by two bikes. A little dog was firmly strapped into a baby doggy seat fixed onto the handlebars.First time I’ve seen a dog in a baby seat.
After my plunge into the still cold water I stood drying myself, balancing precariously on one leg to put shorts back on and checking the effect of the swim movement on my left shoulder ( a long story of injury). I noticed two old people walking towards the sea. I often this last year stare at people who look old, to work out how I might look as age progresses. I noticed them because they moved cautiously, their upper bodies curved in a smooth question mark. Their respective straw baskets, each draped over an arm, contained neatly folded towels and other unidentifiable clothing.
They made their way to the front, carefully placed baskets side by side and started off walking along the beach.
I finished staring at people and silently berating my injuries, past and future, and noticed the couple returning. They’re not swimming ? Surely not? They’re very old.
Yes .They are swimming. They pulled various garments over their heads, unstrapped sandals , folded clothes carefully and moved gingerly to the sea.
I wish I’d had my phone with me to capture that image of the two figures hand in hand wading into the deep. He seemed less sturdy than her and she held his hand as they navigated the uneven sea floor. However, once deep enough to swim he turned on his back and displayed a powerful back stroke, whilst she paddled a hesitant side stroke. He kept on turning to check she was above water.
10 minutes and out they came. Hand in hand . They dressed systematically and moved towards the boardwalk off the beach, hands still linked.
But this isn’t the end of my sightings today. Tonight I went to the Fremantle Art Gallery for the opening of Tania Ferrier’s ‘Popcorn’, an energetic exposition/ rebuttal/celebration of women’s strength and energy,
I cannot go into the complexities of Popcorn, visit and see for yourself. But the vibrant and bold images displayed somehow complement the slow, pale, image of the couple on the beach. And some of them, in their dismembered shape and absurdity, resemble pictorially the little dog sitting straight up, strapped in to his baby seat.
As I read them anyway. All three things somehow relate: life can be lived in a myriad ways. It’s the intention to be and to experience that’s the key.
Like Bunnings and Spotlight, Red Dot is a go to for all the things you want now you see them on a shelf. You just didn’t realise you wanted them. Of course, they are mostly cheap, Red Dot is much more economical than the other two. ‘Economical sounds better.
Red Dot is the place for containers of all sizes, large multi coloured storage boxes, and kitchen nick nacks.All the kitchen objects one improvises for years, then one sees the real, plastic, ugly thing. Cheap though.
I have been wrapping half eaten avocados in cling wrap, and recently in brown paper. Usually 2 days later I chuck out an expensive section of health giving fruit . Now I have an avocado storer. I felt excited as I put it into my bike pannier and rode home.
I have forgotten that last week in the clearing out exercise I got rid of: a plastic egg chopper, a dozen food containers with no lids, a hanging clothes rack, 4 plastic baskets, a toothbrush holder, a dozen plastic, pretty coloured hangers (lopsided or split), and a silver cake holder( covered in tin foil). All from Red Dot.
I’m still excited about the avocado storer though. Can’t wait to use it. It’s sitting on my cleared kitchen bench waiting for my next veggie shop. I’ve run out of avocados.
Two lots of gold in fact. A story to keep me on the hated treadmill. And gist for a blog. So 20 minutes on the treadmill and the material for this blog.
The inspiration though originates with Lily Brett, a witty, seemingly scatty,commentator who is about my age, relates many of my experiences but is a far far superior writer.
I have just finished reading her last book ,OldSeems to be Other People. The short pieces , snapshots around experiences of aging , relationships, and death, capture the humour and pathos of the integral parts of our lives, older or not. One vignette that particularly resonates follows a conversation Lily hears on one of her regular walks through New York streets, this time to East River. The question she overhears ‘Do you masturbate?’sparks an entertaining, sharp commentary on vaginas and sex, and the reluctance we have to discuss those topics ,
This isn’t about either or both. You can read the piece ‘A Conversation’ for yourself. This is about the conversation I heard at the gym. As an aside, I have resolved to bite another bullet and go for a hearing test because a lot of the time I only heard snatches of an intriguing conversation (up until now it’s been an advantage sometimes to be a bit deaf in my house ).
Well , the theme of the discussion alongside me seemed to be relationships. A generalisation, but in my experience relationships is the governing theme of most women talk. Rightly so, we are caring , loving people. The opening gambit was about the rules and behaviours governing their respective households, in which a daughter, the daughters partner and a baby reside. That is, each woman has two and a half extras in her home. I wasn’t very interested in this, just thinking , how unremarkable : come on , only a couple and one baby living in your house ! You must have lots of space left over.
This winging inevitably led to a monologue about their own marriage and in the case of the woman I could hear most, her first marriage and why she left him. Much more interesting .
I wasn’t even allowed out on my own until….
Looking back my parents had a point
I was taken by surprise . We’d met a few times ( this is the second partner she met, after her first marriage ended)
He just looked away from the emotional baggage
I remember deciding , by the time my daughter goes to kindy. . I didn’t want her coming home to. (…?)
Some women just stay there . (Why ?)
It was most frustrating hearing only segments . I wanted to know how woman A, on my left, was taken by surprise. And what was the child coming home to ?. Woman B , who didn’t get much of a word in, had a lot of emotional baggage . But what exactly ? Woman A did not ask her as she was launching into the account of her own feelings about women who stay in poor relationships and didn’t seem interested in the other’s baggage. I could hardly ask her myself ; already I had looked to my left a few times to hear better and I think they suspected.
After 20 minutes on the treadmill, at a snails pace as they were able to keep up this call and response conversation throughout, they moved off. I slowed my treadmill . I have learnt from bitter experience to dismount slowly. Once only I pressed stop when moving at a faster than crawling pace , caught my right foot in the edge of the tread and fell. Embarrassing as well as a twisted shoulder, again.
Anyway, by the time I tentatively put both feet on the ground and waited for the head spin that always follows, the women had left. Pretty short gym session, talkfest really .
However I do have a blog. Also I was able to focus on my weights for the next half hour AND feel superior : I am faster on the treadmill, I am fitter than those two, despite my age, I have only been married once, I have more family living in my house. Most importantly, I just don’t have any emotional baggage. I reckon I look better than those chattering women. No, no emotional baggage, not me.
Thank you Lily Brett for showing me that eavesdropping in the name of writing is OK . Also that becoming old is grist for the writer’s mill. I love the book cover portrait too.
Lily Brett. Old Seems to be Other People. Australia:Random House,2021.
Maybe it’s the effect of watching the Queen’s casket progress slowly from Balmoral to Edinborough and then the precise, slow, disciplined ritual at Windsor. Yes, I admit to watching bits of it, not teary, but admiring and wondering . Throughout the last few weeks, in the midst of discussions for and against the monarchy and about colonialism and privilege, is a consensus : life is short. A cliche. A life well lived most of us concede . Then we look at our own. Of course, as we’re still alive, we find it wanting .
I am guilty, if it’s guilt and not just being human, of wanting. Not thanking enough.
Much of the shorter commentary in the last few weeks has understandably been around the brevity of all our lives. We question the worth of goals, work, activities, relationships in the context of a little life. We scrutinise our own identity again and ask “Do I really want to ? Should I? How can I be kind? What am I bringing into this life? How will I be remembered?”. In fact that very last self centred question is one of the half dozen or so ‘magic’ questioning tools in counselling. One of the other equally ridiculous questions is around the epitaph one would like on one’s grave.
As we at home put together another clearing effort : op shop/ bin/ Resource Centre, and a trailer on which to pile the larger broken and discarded items, I actually look around outside . Grumpily carrying another discarded item to the trailer, I see the flowers in the garden.Plants are flowering despite my inattention just because summer 🌺 is on its way.
But I’m digressing. The questions and thoughts have a use, and the main point is that funerals and age combine to flag our own imminent death . We know this always but live like we are immortal. Because we need to be in our lives not working our way towards it’s end.
Witnessing such a grand , fully ritualised celebration of a life highlights all the things above. Also for those of us who are older and/ or have a connection with England,with where we were born and family, there are memories of our own parents and family who have died . Maybe the memories surface anyway.
I think especially of my dad and my uncle who both served . I could go further back to a great grandfather who was in the Irish Guards, but it’s not the army or war that Is the key, nor the long chain of military service and tradition. It’s the marking of the end of an era.
My father and his younger brother were much loved. They were special people. But their qualities of self discipline, caring dutifulness, and , most particularly, a reticence, are not as present in my era. My father would never have written a blog, and certainly he would not have written like this. He was an immensely private person, sometimes annoyingly so .
They both loved gardens . A slip there and I wrote lived gardens : But that’s the connection – thankfulness, gardens, the funeral and the end of an era. Keep an eye on colour and beauty that’s here. Stop accumulating dead stuff.
In watching the Queens funeral procession I remember Arthur and Bill and those like them.
It’s a bright nearly -summer morning . Today I don’t feel bright or summery. Feels like one of those days when one needs to go back to bed and get out again , the other side !
Warnings are slight , but unmistakable : I tripped over a leg rope in the corridor first thing returning from beach swim ( which WAS bright and near summery and a joy); I walked into a table; I nearly tripped on our steep stairs while rushing down unthinking and immediately stumbled over the cushion lying randomly on the floor. Really slight warnings . Díaz was woken from his short doze because I had to open the door to a workman, then I couldn’t find the car keys so he could move the car.
Outside to start on a walk with the now winging Díaz, I am expiring in a woolly sweater on a 20 degree day and no breeze . Forgotten sun cream for both of us and he’s going red already. And not nodding off because he’s too hot, so my coffee is not imminent.
After this catalogue of minor mishaps, we reach a small street on the way to the coffee shop. How can I continue in disgruntlement as we slowly make our way down this colourful street with its very individual streetscape .
Right on the corner is a long, striped, wooden bench tied to the back of a vehicle.The colours are like a golden-rainbow sun: medley of yellow, orange and faint darker lines etched into the wood. It is wood, but I can’t make out what kind.
This is just a beginning .Bright totem like structures stand in many front yards or on verges.
But this is not all. There are some quite odd objects alongside. Of course odd/ beautiful depends on your own aesthetic and I thought these art works odd and interesting, juxtaposed alongside spring flowers and budding trees .
How wonderful is this day. In the space of half an hour my spirits have lifted and Díaz has fallen asleep so am right for a quiet coffee. We have reached the end of the street . I peer into someone’s backyard through a wrought iron gate: a nearly magic garden. Díaz dreams on.
I’ve always loved the title GoneGirl , Gillian Flyn’s popular crime thriller of 2012. But this baby hasn’t gone in the same way, he hasn’t disappeared . Just gone home with his dad and his brother, I can get back into my baby gone life until next stay.
Right now off to have a coffee quietly and get my head into gear, away from babies and bottles and squishy food. Just look around at the evidence that
DÍAZ WAS HERE
Bits of food all over the kitchen . On the window the washed bottles which contained the expressed milk he grudgingly swallows, while biting the teat. Still at least there’s that.
His toys are still around . As well as the paraphernalia of babies. Like some daggy version of ancient stones they nevertheless cast a spell over this room, waiting to be held, played with, placed onto a baby body part or tossed into the bin ( yes, disposable nappies, I have just discovered so called “Eco-disposable Nappies”. So maybe red bin to green bin ? )
Aah, he’s gone. The cat can settle back into a chair comfortably, not being chased away from a baby or annoyed by strange sounds.
And I’d better go to the gym before I start clearing up. No more excuses. Baby is gone , and I sort of miss him.
PS This last image is to get your attention and a few “ likes” on my blog Sambasue21.Blog. I know my legs are bandy ,
I sound annoyed, but the annoyance is directed at myself. Despite my intellect, despite my awareness, I am hooked. How attractive still are the racks of clothes. How appealing is the neatly arranged, matching furniture that will just fit a corner in my house. It is still bouncy and unfaded ( unlike the furniture in our house with the cats and wear and tear of being shifted constantly or left out in the rain). Great colour. I have thankfully fallen out of love with trinkets, photo frames, beautiful old glasses. I am falling out of love with scarves and earrings, only because I think my mode of dress is changing as I age/ mature!
Today, despite my banning myself from these places, I found myself back in my favourite Op Shop. I guess that is some progress as I selected the place, rather than walking from one opportunity to the other in a street that is full of opportunity for me , and for many other OSAs ( it’s a new diagnosis on the DSM scale )
I have already written about the Op Shop phenomenon, when shops were reopened post Covid ( see In Praise of Opportunity Shops 17/5/20). However there is always more to write. I have noted the time wasting opportunities, economic and waste reduction benefits of Opportunity Shops. There is more to add two years on.Here is a bit of a winge from me.
Two years after that WA Covid peak, Op Shops are participants in the cost of living rise. Despite the fact that all is donated, prices have risen considerably. Alongside a cleaning up operation. This is rather similar to the addition on plates of burgers and chips of a carefully arranged leaf or two of lettuce with maybe a squeeze of a strange tasting, differently coloured mayonnaise. Worth 50c, but you pay double. As the “ retro”and “ high end” fashion sections grow, the racks and displays have become increasingly full of any clothing that vaguely fits those descriptors. Even Cotton On has joined the high end so that in some shops you pay more for the second hand item . I’m sorry, for the Pre- loved or ‘New’ fashion.
To this cynic it feels as if the good old honest Op Shops have joined the let’s call a rose by another name club. With vegan burgers, green everything, protein bars, healthy sweets, losing weight by some magic expensive formula that does not involve sweat or exercise, pretend meat, numerous vitamins .The list is endless
And here I am today in a new area, in an Op Shop I have not visited for a while. This one is different. Oh well.
Yes walking slowly with a pusher. Having had a cup of coffee, baby asleep and heading home . Maybe he wakes up , maybe he doesn’t . Either way you’ve got time to kill because there’s still 3 hours till his mum arrives, and you might as well enjoy the walk, the sun, and thoughts.
Ooh Coffee, on Stirling Highway, North Fremantle, is now my favourite coffee place . The reason for this is quite clear to pusher- pushing people: lots of space outside, quick service and several newspapers. Oh yes, and clientele I don’t know so they are either fully occupied in keeping pushers moving as they drink coffee while holding on to dogs, or carefully avoiding any interaction with a person clearly engrossed in a baby. For me the additional item is their vegan burgers, tasty chic peas and avocado in toasted bagel. Díaz will eat this ( one of the few food items he’ll eat as he prefers breast ) so, despite the chilli, I can finger feed him the less spicy pieces and eat myself. That’s if he’s awake and I can’t read the newspaper. He eats the newspaper.
This morning he is perfect , eating bits of burger between smiling at everyone. I am even able to check some of the West . Always a disappointing experience but a long term habit. I now only read free Wests, in cafes .
But Díaz is displaying low level annoyance: throwing his rattle to the floor, arching his back a little and making that growling sound.
So I replace him in the pusher, he smiles again and we start back home. We turn left towards the railway line and then into the end of Pearse Street which stretches alongside the railway to the Leighton station .
Such a pretty path I have walked down so many times . The prettiness is framed by the industrial presence; train line and various bits, graffiti,building work, wire fences and signs. Ahead is the entry to the station and the Leighton beach complex . Depending on the vantage point of your phone shot , interesting combinations of shape and colour.
And as I reach Leighton train station, he’s had enough of the pusher. So we hurry home. I’ve had my bit of thinking for now .
So let’s step out and greet those sunny days with a spring in our steps ( ha not a very good pun!). Well I’m getting up early again just as dawn breaks and heading to the beach. But after a plunge a few days ago, am not rushing into very very cold water.
However it’s a date tomorrow at 6.20 am. Me and the sea .
The garden, neglected for a while, is taking off. I have just managed to pull out some nasturtiums before they smother any plant not strong enough to resist their deceptively pretty flowering stems, gradually wrapping themselves around whatever they can reach.
I have been watching the olive tree for weeks and yesterday morning it seemed like the leaves have budded overnight. The morning sun was streaming through its still naked branches and pushing its way through the tree canopies in the front garden.The cactus leaning against a tree trunk has reached the lower branches.
This is not about organics or even the markets. I was too late for the organic and ended buying preservative free at the ordinary veggie stall.This is more a reflection on change.I have not been this way for years.
I am getting back into driving . So it seemed a good idea to combine a drive with a weekly veggie shop. I abandoned my routine of Fremantle Markets each Friday morning and plumbed for an organic shop .
I drive from North Freo, into Amherst Street and to the short, pretty Wood. I used to cycle that route to Beaconsfield Tafe which is long gone. There are so many new houses in what used to be mainly industry and empty blocks. Now there are some attractive new houses, and old ones cleaned up and lived in. There are new cafes and planted verges. Penny Lane is still on the corner though and the original community/ industry/business mix is attractive. manoeuvre the vehicle around the traffic calming of Wood Street and am happy nothing much has changed here: just licks of paint , a few extra verandahs in the front of the older smallish houses, and lots of greenery.
Turn left into South and right towards Lefroy . The Childcare Center my last child and then my grandchild attended, in front of South Fremantle High, has gone. In fact I hardly recognise this gleaming SFHS with its extensive grounds .
No more Tafe building. Just a board signalling its demolition. It’s strange but there is a vacuum here. I mean no specific memories , bad or good, spring to mind . Yet I spent a part of my working life here. I guess with the old bricks gone and the passage of time the stories have faded , or maybe they have diminished in importance in relation to the life that followed . All the ups and downs of a working life, the people,the scurrying about getting to class on time , filling in forms, teaching , laughing and winging, all the myriad actions of staff and students have merged into one continuous fairly ordinary stream of memories, blurry around the edges .
And where is the market that used to be just here with its ad hoc stalls ? There are cars parked where it used to be, and cars and more cars in each side street. So I drive to the oval in front of where Tafe used to be and manage to squeeze in .
I park the car and walk to the markets.
How cool , how trendy, how laid back . How unscruffy compared to my ilk 35 years ago . The clothes, the coffees , the organics, with exotic names. The plants tied with bows, the range of breads ( we made ours in tins and rising dough and the loaves all looked solid and often tasted solid too). Pretty women and some men wheeling pushers or carrying babies in slings, children walking alongside. So relaxed. Momentary cynicism gives way to a reminder NOT to be cynical or critical from a vantage point of age . Whatever, as is said, I’ll leave that one .
And I’m here too. I can hardly see, have to squint at this phone to get the letters. My eyes are filled with drops ready for the eye doctor. I’ve done the preliminary eye testing “ for the doctor” and a field test where you are instructed to keep one eye and then the other on the yellow light. Press the button each time there is a flashing light on the perimeter. It’s important not to look FOR the flashing light!! . After a while concentration goes and one sees flashing lights that are not there, or miss the flash. A solution is to press that button to randomly as the law of averages ensures partial success.
TV churning out ads and news on loop, line of reception desks with mock wood and a large in wall tropical fish thing behind . Gradually people are called to the front by the uniformed staff and they fall into another black chair outside the particular doctors door . And wait some more.
So here in a soulless room as most hospital rooms are :Beige shades , white , grey ,black chairs lined in even rows( not plastic as this is the private SJOG .) and we’re all , all old .
We sit passively masked like so many zombies . Arms folded on tummies holding bags or stick. Some in wheelchairs. Enterprising ones are stitching.One person is reading a book . A few are gazing sleepily at phones. Most though are looking blankly at the TV screen.
My glasses are foggy and I can’t find my cleaning cloth. The scratches on the surface of these expensive glasses are now winning, Can’t see anyway as the mask is obscuring my peripheral vision.
I feel old . Old, deaf, slow moving and poor sighted.
So a writer in search of a theme: and I have found two possibilities on this morning walk with grandson in buggy.After a writing drought the last few weeks,post Spanish walking .
I have forgotten the effect of small babies in pushers. In fact I have forgotten a lot about small babies. I do recall vividly though how their presence inhibits writing,or any activity requiring abstract thinking. I know what I’m saying will sound irrational, maybe crazy and probably harsh. But for me as a mother it seemed that as soon as I even put pen to paper ( long ago ) or opened anything other than a trashy novel, an angelic, sweetly sleeping or playing baby sprung into action needing to be held/fed/changed.I was left with bits of mangled, half chewed food, dirty nappies, small spoons and bowls containing revolting looking, smelly potions…. And an abandoned page, ideas gone. The baby closed it’s eyes and fell asleep again.
First stop for baby conversation in front of an old house in the street and chat with the new owner about his plans for making it habitable. It’s a house I have visited once upon a time.Those renters I shared wine and laughs with are long gone. I have sometimes glanced at the house as I walk past and pondered a different kind of life lived within those higgledy piggledy walls.
Second stop at a neighbours in the same street. She has lived there since 1955 and has several stories about her own home, and the one I have just passed. I store the idea of recording her stories ( I manage to put a cryptic sentence into my phone notes before Díaz starts squirming and I have to move on).
But more of that later. This would be a long term project , and certainly not compatible with baby walks.
The second idea comes to me. I can photograph and make brief notes as I push the buggy. Criteria for selection are first that the place or scene appeals to my aesthetic sense and curiosity and secondly that it has not been widely shown. I can Blog again. So here’s the first Díaz and Nan walking blog
We start to the left of the path along the edge of the football oval with the Swan River on my right. I have always liked the shape of this unused small building set on tarmac.The oval was also the training ground for the fire brigade and this building belongs to those days . There is still a well attended Country Fire Association display at Easter.
Now the Gilbert Fraser oval is used by the children from North Fremantle Primary over the road, numerous walkers with assorted dogs and of course it’s the home of the Magpies.
We continue our walk as Díaz has nodded off again. Through a gap in the hedge and we reach a spot favoured by locals for picnics, occasional weddings and performances. There is a house to die for , opening towards this green lawn which stretches to a sandy beach and a clear river . The small jetty is empty of people or dogs today. No ducks swimming around, so maybe the dogs have no reason to jump in .
No this isn’t the house , just the rondavel in the garden. Pretty.
We continue along the narrow broadwalk in the front of Pier 21. I recall the walk of forty odd years ago when the irate North Freo community walked along this way to keep a public footpath and preserve some river frontage. So now I can sit on the bench with my grandson and look at the beach at the end of the walkway, behind the water police( which we also protested about ).
Sitting still, Díaz wakes up and joins me on the bench. He likes bits of the vegan bagel I have brought along.
It’s time to head back home. Just the finale :Harvey Beach, home of generations of North Fremantle swimmers and those seeking coolness on our hot summer days. An after school swimming spot with first dives off this jetty ; an evening catch up spot for families as kids jump in, wrestle and often spot the pod of dolphins whose home this is too. The sun has gone behind cloud and the usual deep blues and sparkles are muted this late morning .
Is my writing self so insecure? Yes. Do the “ awesome” comments convince me that I’ve written a great blog? No. I may be an insecure writer, but I’m pretty sure, most times,of the quality of my work.
Sometimes I’m writing for the practice in blogging, to write fairly alright prose fast. Sometimes I’m relearning grammatical structures or punctuation . Often I’m checking and rechecking the punctuation. I also struggle with the relatively simple task of presenting via WordPress.
It’s gratifying to get likes, especially for blogs that have not gone onto Facebook. It’s more than gratifying, even thrilling , to have a comment on my site . A reminder: Sambasue21 @wordpress.com
My blog reflects the course of my life . Writing is the way I grapple with complexities, sadnesses, and celebrate the joys of living . Much of life seems ordinary, but the writer observes those passing moments and if they’re lucky they can find the extraordinary within the endless, often disconnected fragments. If they are lucky and skilled, they can gather the fragments to create a splendid piece. So when I inhabit my writer self, and have a bit of luck thrown in, I can “ get it” for myself and for others to experience.
Then I am sure of my writing . However I still love to know that a reader is enjoying the writing too. Writing, and the writer, needs an audience. If they didn’t they would continue with endless journaling ( and I have a stash of journal/ diary writing, years and years of recounts, wishes, lists of goals about how to be a better person,how to become a better writer, and endless descriptions of why I don’t make it and how to start again). I am mentioning this just to let you know that I write a lot. However, writing a lot doth not a writer make.
Having said that the journals and/ or diaries of Helen Garner, Elizabeth Jolley, Patrick White, Virginia Woolf, to name a few great writers, are of course wonderful.
To end : a request,If you do read my blogs on Sambasue21 and you like a piece,I’d love a word or two or three.Awesome.
This blog is about night time and the light that transforms commonalities. Night walks are a certain way of lifting spirits and being transported into a world of flickering beauty. Once again there are possibilities; dreams.
I started out from North Fremantle, my home suburb, as dusk descended. The sky was changing from a definite blue to pink and orange, altering harsh angles of industrial buildings and signs, blurring edges.
I walk past my favourite wine store with its fish mural and the crab above the door. On the other wall, next to Mojos music bar, is a larger wall painting of happy dogs on the beach. I can’t make out the bold swirled letters in the gap before the post office.
I cross over the intersection and pause on the corner to look back at the streetscape.
I have never noticed how the trees and the coloured sky frame the square red brick building alongside the post office. Probably I have not looked back this way before.
Its getting dark now, so I hurry along past the Swan Hotel and over the bridge towards the city, eyes down, picking up speed as I go.
I turn around at the Moreton Bay fig tree, opposite Clancy’s Fish pub at the entry to Fremantle. No time to stop for a beer. The way back is unexpectedly bright as there is a full moon tonight:I move from Saint Patrick’s Basilica towards the old bridge. A glimpse of Cantonment Hill, a long look at the Navy Store with the octopus reaching its tentacles across the peeling paint. The backdrop of bright moon and swirling cloud creates a Tolkien -like space, mysterious and other worldly.
I reach the old traffic bridge and look over the rails into the water below. No one fishing tonight. Unusually, no cyclists or walkers either.
Then it’s back the way I have come.Moonlight all the way. This time it’s as if I’m in a fairyland: plants twist up multicoloured brick work, steel ladders and windows seem to slant towards the light to form dancing shadows. The trees stand firm, only their lighter branches and leaves stirring in the night breeze.
Finally I reach home. The fig tree against the wall is starting to throw out small shoots, maybe it thinks winter is over. Home to sleep, and dream.
I’m sitting with a wine at Varsity Freo , at 4.30 pm in the afternoon. Way before the time for drinking : 6pm or sunset whichever is first. At least that’s what I was brought up to believe by my parents, colonial time it’s called for those of us who were raised, well partly, in the far flung Colonies. We’re a diminishing group now of course; the sons and daughters of those bossy/caring/idealistic( whichever narrative you favour) mainly men, who left their established and, this is just an assumption, seemingly monotonous lives to seek adventure. But that’s another blog: my lovely dad and my mother adventuring from UK post W.W.2.with me and my little brother.
Here I am in a pub gradually filling up with couples and families, on a Friday late afternoon. I’m pondering my blogging, or lack of it. Since my return from Spain four weeks ago I have written exactly two blogs . Away I was writing every day. Here I feel I’m slowly being pulled into what I probably need to be pulled into, only not so deep.
I tossed an aside in my last blog about writers and saints being single or monastic. Well I don’t fit either category. I want to belong and I want to escape.I also need to write and writing is a solitary activity.(What a lot of me, me, me). So I go for a long walk, visit the library, go to the pub. This pub is just over the way from the library.
I read the Herald that is lying on a table outside. I can’t help myself. Then I look at my stars. I could help myself but won’t. I think “ that’s a good blog topic “
What colours do I need to show ? Stars say I have to factor in “ all that you could possibly associate with the symbol of Venus”
What do I associate with Venus? Beauty of course, enchantment, manipulation?, strong emotion , obsession?. I pause for reflection.
I read on to the warning “ the goddess of love is not going to be impressed if you don’t consider her fine sensibilities “
Then I laugh. At the warning and at the fine sensibilities. The gods and goddesses are deities reflecting our human frailties,our need to be loved and to belong.They also mirror our human desire for warm regard, and often for power in a number of different guises.The Roman goddess Venus embodies all the faces of love,but she was also heavily embroiled in feuds and wars. Unlike her softer Greek counterpart Aphrodite, Venus was a tough fighter with immense physical prowess.She was uniquely related to the ruling families of Rome. She may have had fine sensibilities but she was also intent on winning, and egotistical.
So to return to the beginning of this piece. Being loved and loving have a price. Life is about more than me. Maybe, just maybe, the juggling and pondering is part of the price. Ok , I’ve shown some of my true colours. Hi Venus , are you impressed ?
Ref “ Our fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars /But in ourselves that we are underlings” Julius Caesar Act 1 sc 3
So what next? My most recent Camino, walking in hot central Spain has ended. The five weeks and 400km of sometimes striding out joyfully, sometimes stumbling out half asleep in the dawn is transferring to photos and videos and the “ do you remember?” basket. As is the occasional shambling grumpily over harsh, flat and sparsely treed terrain, the blisters and sore hip. All these experiences have undergone a metamorphosis. The good and bad and the indifferent, the highs and lows and contradictions are enveloped in that one word response to enquiries: “ Great”.
I have written “ done and dusted”.
I wonder about the connotation with dust, there are many idioms to do with dust: shake the dust off one’s heels. Raise the dust. Bite the dust. Dust off. Make the dust fly. Throw the dust in one’s eyes. Dry as dust . Let the dust settle. Dust is always moving, usually extraneous or not pleasant, to be avoided, a delusion or a trouble.
Dust oneself off, and start again . I’m a bit dusty. Ha, that one rings true. A dusty brain after Covid.
But there’s also fairy dust of course. And dust particles in the air. There’s a special dust in Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials( 1995- 2000). The other side of waste and a dustiness that clouds one’s eyes or has to be brushed away are minuscule particles, scarcely seen by the naked eye, floating randomly in the atmosphere.
So the Camino has an ambiguous ending , at least for me. The Spanish walk is complete, yet it continues at home. Strangely the continuation is harder than that recent clear- cut walking every day in central Spain .
So much has been written about The Camino ( Frances) , caminos generally , and about” El Camino de la Vida”, the path of life. Some of this is , I think, just words , or like the dust thrown in eyes, deceptive . I hope I’m not adding more to a growing body of sentimentality. I’ve just remembered bulldust.An Australianism?
The turn -around -camino is a concept I came across when I reached the end of the Madrid Camino in Sahagun . The idea is to spend the time between the end and the return home contemplating and practicing the virtues or qualities / behaviours learned in the past weeks of walking day after day; contemplating the perennial questions of identity, becoming and change. The big one is how do I want to lead my life, or what there is left of it if you’re older. Each person will make their way home in their own way .
Now I’m home and finding it hard to adjust to my real life, in the place I have lived for the last forty years. I think this is a common claim by Camino people. For so long the main task each day is to get up and walk . There are no other people to worry about or to take care of, no food to prepare, no house to clean or dishes to wash. Not even clothes to select each morning, it’s whichever set of clothes that has been rinsed out in the sink the night before. Clean underwear and socks, of course (my mother taught me right, in case I was run over by a bus on the long cycle ride to school !). No makeup, just lots of sun cream and the good old standby moisturiser that doesn’t weigh much, Nivea!
Clothes hanging out to dry, overlooking Segovia roofs. My grey walking pants and Doug’s brown ones . Easy.
Now the jobs are lurking in each corner of this house: things to fix and buy and throw out . There are also bills to pay and work to be written . Food to buy and to be cooked.There are friends to contact and talk to.The cats await their biscuits each morning and the weeds loom green and long as it’s winter. Yes it’s winter and cold
What seemed clear cut in the turn-around is not as simple now. Cut out anxiety, be patient, don’t rush, keep your friends, be kind and loving . I reckon all those saints and writers advocating calm and acceptance of life’s happenings are single. They are single or living a monastic life.
“All shall be well and all shall be well . And all manner of thing shall be well “ wrote Julian of Norwich .
Does this help me now, back here in this life ? Those 15 Century words help a little,but the impact is lessening each day if I don’t hold onto them more tightly.So also is the memory of that striding out each day to the next place, the next discovery.A marvelling at the wonder of life.
I think it’s a matter of clutching at those metaphorical dust particles and watching them flicker and shine as they float around Its not all done and dusted yet, there are caminos to walk here. And there are other Spanish caminos too !
On my third day back from Spain, waiting for my daughter and grandchildren in the newly named Walyalup Koort), heart of Fremantle), I saw Fremantle with new eyes. Not exactly the excited or critical eyes of a tourist or a traveller, but certainly with fresh eyes. Eyes still familiarising themselves with clean, organised spaces,well dressed people and fast cars which don’t slow for pedestrians, even those who are just crossing with their children to the holiday activities in the square. I hear English all around and muted, streamed background music. However, most pressingly,what are these people doing in the middle of the day ? It’s siesta time, isn’t it?
I park my bike and probably for the first time, really look at the reinvented City Square. I read the plaques under the sculptures as I did in Spanish plazas. Why don’t I blog about my home town ?
First off is John Curtin . He looms over me as I turn away from my bike , shaking a rolled up paper.But he’s not angry. Maybe frustrated , disappointed. The plaque tells me he was a journalist in his early life, long before becoming Australian Prime Minister, and that he is the only West Australian PM to represent the WA electorate.
I see another photographer across from me and she’s pointing a proper camera at a beautiful girl dressed as a bride. I walk towards them and nosily enquire about weddings. The photographer explains that the girl is following an Asian custom of dressing up as a bride and having bridal photos taken for her friends . She is happy for me to take a photo for my blog . So here it is.
I walk across the Square past the face painting and the children rolling down the lawn and the Lego blocks half assembled .( Wheres the live music ? ) to the FOMO building and the sculpture of the 3 women, one of whom is holding a baby.
I realise that I don’t know enough of the history of this latest sculpture to write confidently, But I do know I like it. I also know that in a Square full of male heroes it is soothing and gratifying to see women and a child. I stand taking photos for a while, watching children line up to collect their Lego prizes, and lunch hour workers move down the corridor between the Varsity Bar open to the street and the new Civic Centre and Library. It’s a sunny winter day here in Freo and there’s some sitting around with lunches and cups of coffee .
On my other side is the new playground, next to the over 100 year old Moreton Bay Fig. I move around towards Hughie Edwards. His helmeted head is turned firmly upwards, towards the sky.
Next is my favourite : A sculpture by Greg James to Pietro Giacomo, the Italian artist who worked in Fremantle.The sculpture was funded by his friends and the Italian community.The late afternoon sun is behind the Moreton Bay fig and the surface of the work is glinting. It seems as if magic is brewing ; as in fact it is, this creation is fluid, with clear curved lines and features,moving underneath its creator’s hands as he smiles.
St John’s Church(1943), a glimpse of the Town Hall ( 1887) and the new Dept of Communities/ FOMO building( 2021/2022) combine to offer an interesting and colourful backdrop of the historical and the contemporary.The Fig tree grows solidly alongside.
I’m on my way back to my bike now, parked underneath JC and the refurbished Town Hall.The fountain to commemorate Tom Edwards, the Fremantle wharfie killed by a police baton in the 1919 strike, flows into the bird bath A reminder that Fremantle is still a Tom Edwards type of place.Modern has combined with the old to give Freo life,and it’s old heart is still beating .
If I need more reminders, catch a glimpse of the drinkers around the table next to the church . They’re diminished in number, but still there, still drinking.
They wave cheerfully as I get on my bike and cycle home.
See https:/en.m.Wikipedia.org for a fuller account of the Wharfie Strike in 1919, and the bravery of Tom Edwards
FOMO : Fremantle On My Own ( for non fremantle-ites)
We have been in Segovia for the last week , since Covid finally got us. I was going to say “stuck “ in Segovia,but that’s not entirely correct although some days it does feel like we’re in limbo. Like “ you can’t go over it , you can’t go under it…” we could go through it , and onward. However that requires energy and motivation, both in short supply in recovery mode.
But this blog is not about Covid or being unmotivated. It’s about rediscovering happiness.
Early on in my Covid story, before I started to feel really unwell I shut the door of our Airbnb and walked. It was a directionless walk with no map, no phone, no intention of seeing a particular building, landmark or gallery. After the first 10 minutes I felt free. Unhassled. I didn’t have to get anywhere at all and there was no one with me. I just had to move and look.
I’m attracted by a sign on the steps towards the aqueduct “Puerta de La Luna”. The gate of the moon. Steps lead through an archway to a garden alongside the old wall. In the distance are the mountains, soft and blue this sunny morning, and the few clouds above are mere wisps of cotton. I’ve walked here before, but this time I’m meandering and thinking. I’ve missed the corners and shadows before. There are tiny bits that maybe I can call regalos (gifts) : shapes and textures and colours, small scratched plaques that commemorate poets and statesmen, a sparkling fountain.
After a while I turn back up the steps to the Church of San Martin and on the wall, hidden in the shadows, is a plaque to those Segovia resistance fighters who died fighting the Franco Nationalists: 3,000 Segovian men (31 May to I June 1937). A lot of men .
Then I see the sign”Espana Oculta”(Hidden Spain).I go into into an amazing exhibition of photos taken over 10 years from 1973, by Cristina Garcia Rodero. I was in Spain thirty years ago, in Seville working in a bar in the last few years of Franco. I was young and ignorant: now I can see some of the fervour, the intensity which I felt then but couldn’t explain. An intensity of emotion in the cities where I was mostly: emotions clamped tightly under the women’s black mantillas, hiding within the ugly dark,shapeless clothes of widows and threatening to break out from beneath the skirts of carefully covered up young girls. The men strode around jauntily with their “guapa ”(attractive, but given an edge that implies sexy, or similar ) and other words that I didn’t understand tossed into the air at random women.
Cristina’s photos of that time tell of poverty and humour, of anger and religious intensity, and of cruelty. Many of the photos are of the Semana Santa rituals in the villages especially of Northern Spain.There are penitents on bloody knees in the mud or on hard stones, bare feet bleeding, old women standing stoney faced as they look towards the image of Jesus on his cross, villagers in processions klu-klux clan-like walking with the stark landscape in the background, carrying the Madonna or the crucified Christ. And these statues are heavy.
There are also photos filled with humour, families eating and drinking together, children playing, young girls dressed for first communion.
My mind goes back to the beginning of the Madrid Camino, a long 4 weeks away now, back in Fontiveros. We joined a celebration , a launch of a book of poems by Sanchez-Teran. The poet wrote on my copy : “Stay within the borders”. This suddenly makes sense.
His poems are about homelessness, poverty and war Corri (run) says the title, as if evil has no borders. We run but the borders shift, even as we run.
But there are no borders to interior thought. Some things are are always present, even within the chaos of our lives, within those borders. Perhaps especially within the borders: family, friendship, home, love. Also passages named Puerta de la Luna .
Ref;Gonzalo Sanchez-Teran Y Corri si el Mal Tuviera Lindes(2022)
Last night was our last night in Segovia . Today we head to Madrid and the plane home. Last night was also the Finale of the music festival that has been on all the week. We have a prime spot for music : adjacent to the main stages off the Plaza Mayor . We are also directly above Bar Rubi
Last night the music started at 12.30 pm and went until 4am, loud music interspersed with fireworks and random drumming. Because we had to be up and packed early we moved mattresses to part of the apartmento which was least loud. Hence we spent most of the night squeezed onto the kitchen floor.
This morning we get up somewhat warily, but we’re up. We replace the furniture we moved last night, clean up snd check for the last time. We place the keys carefully on the table, click the door behind us and walk down the stairs to the main door.
Locked . We thump and yell, But no one is up this hour of the morning (in Spain, 10am.) Besides the door is locked from the outside, presumably by the man who delivers the bread to the bar underneath our apartment. I can see the loaves of bread with direction Bar Rubi in the corner.
Finally we remember we have Marianne’s phone number, the woman who let us in. We phone. No answer. We phone again, and again, repeatedly. Silence. We compose a Spanish text:
“ Estamos encerrados. Las llaves son dentro del apartmento”.
She phones back and I explain. “Madre!”she exclaims and there follows a mass of instructions and messages. Soon someone will come and let us out . We wait. It’s dark in the corridor and I’m feeling like I can’t breathe, how long more? She said as soon as she can and“ esperar”, to wait . We wait.
The lock turns from outside and we’re out. Marianne. A series of hugs and Gracias and lo sientos and we’re off across the Plaza Mayor to, hopefully, make our bus connection to the train.
Lesson learnt, always check the Puerta Principal door before locking keys inside your accomodation. Las llaves (the keys) have ways of testing you.
We’re here in Segovia and just moved into an Airbnb above the bar I’m sitting in right now. I’m drinking a hierbas, a light yellow liquor, telling myself it’s good for diminishing the remaining symptoms of Covid, and for adding to my Spanish learning. The bar is filling up gradually. It’s still early in Spain; 10pm is the beginning of the night. Even Sunday night.The people standing beside me at the bar are not young. At home they’d be in bed by now, especially on a Sunday night.
So what am I learning, or rather what am I having to remember from the learnings on the Camino just finished. Only a week ago , before Covid struck.
Obviously patience. Surprisingly, patience with myself first of all. I want to rush ahead, experiencing this borrowed life before it all fades or changes. Before I’m back in my real life and the this life loses its vividness, is diminished as it becomes another travel tale accompanied by a swag of photos. The Covid has just acted as a “stop” sign; stop and take in the scenes for longer, wait, rest, relish the slowness. So I’ll have another Hierbas ( only half though, it’s 70 % alcohol)
The father in Elizabeth Jolley’s My Fathers Moon (1989) insists that his daughter take in the “splendid view.” This is what I’m still trying to do, to take in that view. It is the long look, the abstracted, metaphorical sweep of what’s ahead. Like this morning when I saw the view from the surrounds of Segovia’s Alcazar in its clear light. The view was a Namatjira painting ,with unencumbered sky and the trees just sticking up above the line of the hills.
Patience also means another sort of seeing: to absorb the immediate. To stop and really see, not just glance. Listen, note, take in the gestures, the voices, the colours. Hey, that’s why I’m in this bar with Hierbas. Spanish voices float over me. There are instructions, explanations, descriptions, too early in the night for arguments. There’s a lot of “ claro”,”valle” and nods and hand movements. As usual, the men talk more but then there are more men here in the bar.
Patience also means dropping my expectations and accepting differences. I’m doing well with taking in the music performances on the Plaza Mayor here that have happened each night we have been in Segovia. Music lasts until 6am. In addition the bar underneath our hostal finally called it a day at 8am, and people spilled out underneath our window as we grabbed a few hours early morning sleep. But I have to acknowledge a degree of relief that Sunday night, right now, this bar below our present place is closing at 11 pm.
There’s patience too with my partner and fellow traveller. He doesn’t feel well enough to frequent bars or needs to rest when I feel like walking on, or drinking on. That’s up to him, and patience means doing what I want to do and leaving him to do what he needs to do, without resentment. We are not inextricably bound together at all times. I remember all the things he does that I don’t do, like finding the way, looking out for both of us. I acknowledge that and am thankful, while I go ahead and drink Hierbas in this bar, listen and write.
“ All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich, Showings
(Anchoress,and mystic Middle Ages)
I have been trying to practice this philosophy for the last 5 days since ending our Camino Madrid. The “turn -around camino”started from Sahagun and has brought us to Leon and then to Segovia. By train. Now we both have Covid. My cousin in UK, where we were to have flown yesterday, has Covid. My aunt whom I really want to see, has Covid. Even if we recover in the next few days, there is no way we can turn up to possibly infect others.
So here we are in Segovia. Recovering, we hope. Plans have changed. We’ve managed to cancel some internal journeys in UK, (a lesson in booking ahead), and paid to change our flight back to Australia earlier.
Now we are taking each day as it comes and accomodate changes with equanimity. We are enjoying the bits when we have energy and retreating for siestas when we are hot or tired. We are monitoring temperatures and other symptoms, grateful we’re not in a small village with no facilities or staggering through the heat on the Camino Madrid. We are supporting the pharmaceutical industry in Spain with medication and vitamins. And ear plugs .
Morning, 7.30 in Natura Hostal room. Faint boom boom sounds from bar below our room now have a melancholy air, echoing in an emptying bar. Voices on the street: negotiations, farewells, checking for transport, smokes,and a few final swallows from beers held lightly in hand. Ocasional yells but mostly now there’s a low hum of leisurely activity. This is just the beginning of another day.
8am and the music is turned off. More people spill out from under, there is a chorus of voices and quiet again.
I take out my earplugs and settle back into a relaxed doze for an hour or so. All is silent now. It’s an opportunity to get some sleep. Early morning and siesta time, late afternoon, are the best times for uninterrupted sleep.
Last night the bars were teeming with people of all ages as we walked back from the concert way past midnight. People spilled out onto the streets wine or beers in hand, chatting amiably and loudly. In the plaza young families arrived with babies in pushers and younger children, sometimes accompanied by grandparents. The night was just starting at 11.30 pm.
As expected the bar under our room was full and voices rose all night in a background to our breathing in and out, or coughing now with the Covid. The earplugs kept on falling out.
It’s music week in Segovia and every day there has been a series of different bands classical, jazz, brass bands and rock n’roll. Each afternoon large bands set up on the two stages in Plaza Mayor alongside and opposite the cathedral. To me this is symbolic of the Spain I have been coming back to for a long time. Catholic Church is just there, still woven into this culture with its feast days and fiestas, and music is here. Music is to the forefront, religion provides a reason. In the mix is a sort of faith.
However it’s not the bar noise at night, or the coughing and other Covid symptoms which are the main “causas”we are having to take on board. It’s the lesson in the unpredictability of life .
Only 5 days ago we had a clear outline in our heads : Leon to Segovia. To Madrid and flight to UK. The flight was 2 days ago.
In fact now decisions are made, flexible plans, there is a lessening of tension. I have let go of the picture of 3 weeks ahead. Now it’s one day at a time: while we have symptoms we’ll stay put. If we’re ok we’ll train to Madrid to get an earlier return flight. In the meantime I’m enjoying sitting in the sun watching the world go by. It’s a long day here in Segovia,and a short night .
Well, since Villeguillo on the Camino Madrid when I joined the water spraying and coloured powder celebration of St Anthony’s feast day, I have felt a bit let down. Not for myself but for the saint. I have often prayed to him when I can’t find something, fairly often. He always delivers.
I have just read about why he is the Patron Saint of lost things. The story goes that he lost his missal and prayed for its return. Someone found it quite a while later and brought it to him. I’ve been thinking: is that all? Just a lost missal returned ?
Then I lost my toothbrush . Only a toothbrush but I have held onto it for nearly 4 weeks on this Camino. A red toothbrush which I place carefully next to me at night and pack in the top of my pack each morning, after cleaning my teeth of course. Then one night as I was checking everything was in the correct order on the chair beside my bed, I couldn’t see it. I had anxiety dreams all night. Dreams of falling into deep water, running but not moving,not being able to find a child.
I admit, I prayed to St Anthony.And behold the toothbrush reappeared, just as I was about to leave in the morning .
I relaxed. I could start on my way with my red toothbrush safely in my pack.
No longer am I questioning the importance of St Anthony’s missal in the scheme of things . The worth of an object is irrelevant. The depth of feeling attached to it is what counts. St Anthony loved and needed his missal. I need my toothbrush and am attached to it.
St Anthony understands attachment ( actually he is also patron saint of the poor and protector of children). So I’ll go on praying to him when I lose things, however insignificant that loss might seem. It’s the significance to me that counts.
Can I go on back to dreaming, please. It’s 5am and pitch black inside this room. If I squint into the dark I can make out vague shapes moving around. Padding feet to the bathroom outside the main door, a silhouetted figure reaching an arm through a top or pulling up pants, perched on the edge of a bed stuffing a sleeping bag into its sack. Phone lights flash and there is a low hum of activity. I have to get up .
I start the morning ritual. Loo, and then I splash water onto my face. I hurry back to my shadowy bed, trying not to stub my toe on the uneven floor, and wrestle with my sleeping bag. Into it’s sack it goes and now I’m ready to pack my few belongings into the backpack.
I do this slowly and thoughtfully, placing each item in a set sequence: sleeping bag, light shoes, stuff bag with spare set of clothes. Face cream, sun cream, other essentials such as toothpaste go into the top flap, water bottle into side flap and phone, notebook into other side. I remove my passport from where it has been, at the bottom of my pack, and stick it down the side so that it is easily accessible but safely hidden. Finally I pull on the peregrino wear that I have hung on the bed rail the night before, grab my boots and out I go into the communal area and into the light .
There other peregrinos are having a bit of bread or a Magdalena and conversation runs in a few different languages. There is always at least one person asleep, the lights in the dorm are still off. So that means creeping around if you need to go back inside the room.
Then it’s swallowing an instant coffee (this in Spain, but no coffee bars open till later), a Magdalena or something equally non nutritious, fasten boots, grab sticks and get into pack and out the door. It’s still dark.
The moon is up though and shining down the street towards the start of your camino this morning.
I may not hear the Mermaid singing, but I have heard the cuckoo many mornings this week as I have walked the Camino Madrid. The last week has been a mishmash of pine forests, flat, sandy paths, some hard bitumen underfoot, and a few joyful fiestas. Most memorably I have seen incredibly beautiful buildings and works of art in small unassuming villages. Also for short snapshot times, I have sat in small bars along the way drinking vinos, eating and talking in Spanish as much as I can. We have shared information about families, politics, council inadequacies, and Futbol (my nieto Noah, has been very useful here!). I have been privileged to share a little of others’ lives and culture.
Sometimes though it’s been just plain hard slog, often confusing. I have wondered :Why am I walking this Camino?
The partial answer is that I have heard things I cannot hear at home. There is just me, my partner and space. Because of the simplicity of the walking there is just us and the landscape, and a little bit of magic.
As we approach the end of the walk ,two nights from Sahagun, there are more people along the way. I am losing some of that magic.
Here in this Albergue at the moment there are eight of us: different nationalities and ages, a variety of reasons for being here.There is an incessant discussion of the next distance to cover, the food, whether the next albergue will be open. I am not used to the talk.
So the challenge is to hold on to that early morning bird call, to see the poppies in the dry grass. Perhaps the hardest learning is the practice of being open to other people, not to begrudge them their talking or concerns and anxieties. The challenge now is to hold onto both magic and the reality of everyday life which is beginning to reassert itself.
I am walking in a wind turbine forest today. Tall, silent, looming presences stand sentinel along the meseta for the best part of 5 km. In the dark predawn landscape the white turbines assume a shimmering beauty as the sun rises behind them. It seems that they reach up forever into the sky, rather like a space version of Jack’s beanstalk.
We all know what happened to Jack when he reached the top of that beanstalk. But for me this morning there is no fear of giants,nor any wish to find the gold purse .
I am simply walking and and taking in the magnitude of this man created forest. A mass of silvery white shapes topped with the still blades stretches as far as the eye can see .
I’m content to be here below, walking in the cool morning and looking skywards at another fairy tale morning.
Today we walked Camino Madrid from Cigunuela to Castromonte(24km). The last 10 km was in seering heat, rising in waves from the hard sand underfoot. We started before the sun rose and the first two hours were magical even in this meseta of central Spain. The horizon stretched endlessly ahead and the straight road was just a narrow white strip in the shadowy moonscape. Tall bales of hay appeared at intervals creating Stonehenge -like shapes. On either side of the road there was a mix of poppies, thistles, coloured weeds. Corn crops were interspersed with newly planted alfalfa and red earth just hoed or lying fallow,
As we came towards Wamba the terrain changed. Suddenly we were climbing up cliffs into an old limestone village named after a Visigoth King Wamba in 672.
Nothing was open yet, so we walked through the sleeping village. I had a quick look at the limestone church dating from 928:Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, unusual and historically interesting .
It was a quick look as we were so intent on reaching our destination before the heat set in.
It began to feel as if we were trying to win a race as our stride quickened and the sun rose higher. Next stop was in the bar of a town set high up on a rocky cliff , with the beautiful name Penaflor de Hornija. Time for a welcome coffee and coke.
The next 10km were hard with the sun now firmly in control and the temperature rising, We plodded on. I focussed on the flowers on either side of the path and slowed my breathing.
I felt hotter as each km slowly passed, and tireder. Parts of my body took a turn tormenting : first the hip, then a blistered toe, then my knee, then an ankle. I watched the side of the road for colour and movement , to distract myself from the discomfort. It was then I saw my blue butterfly.
It was moving softly amongst the cornflowers.Do blue butterflies exist?Can butterflies assume the colour of plants they settle on? Was the butterfly an illusion?It doesn’t matter because that blue butterfly kept me walking until Castromonte.
Well as proper peregrinos we should be walking every single day, each etapa( stage). In June in central Spain on this Camino Madrid this means slogging along for 20/24 km each day. Slogging along paths that are “ preciosa” in early summer but are now straight, sandy, treeless ways. The landscape, which seems to stretch on forever, is brown corn or grass with the occasional red poppy and groups of upright yellow plants.
So getting a bus or train for part of the longer stages, when we can, is always an option, not an easy option though. We work like our two cats at home: one is good at spying the mouse and the other good at catching. So Doug checks timetables and explores route strategies, working out if the transport is regional or local and if there is a bus or train option.
Then we find our way to the station or where the transport goes from. I locate the window or machine to buy our tickets, pronouncing the name of our intended destination correctly, and reach the Parada. It’s important here not to become too confident. Watch the queue. If no others are gathering then maybe it’s the wrong one. Always be ready to move to another spot or to get onto a bus which can suddenly arrive. Transport in Spain in our experience is always on time and stops and leaves quite fast. So you could be left on the train if you don’t get off fast enough, or see the train start off as you grab your sticks and bag.
If all goes well you get on the bus. However once again, caution. Just this morning on our way to Cigunuela we were jerked out of a dreamy state by the bus driver, we’d arrived at our destination. We’d settled ourselves for a longer ride and forgotten to be observant.
In UK it’s showers that turn on in strange ways, or don’t turn on. Or you’re not allowed to use the shower because there’s no hot water. In Spain the showers are fine. It’s keys. At least when on a Camino, for this peregrina, making a way, it’s keys.
First its finding the person who holds the keys in the small village. We are usually hot and tired and just ready to fall into a bed of any kind. The “donde es las llaves?” question is at the tip of my tongue by now. But the heat, the anxiety and the expectations mean that it is a while before I understand and the other person understands what we need. I think I am speaking understandable Spanish, they often do not understand at first.
Often the place where the person who has the keys lives or works is closed for the afternoon. Then it’s locating the place where the keys belong, following directions to the albergue, usually up a hill we have just walked down. Once we find the place we insert the key into a lock and jiggle it until the door opens.
However, just tonight in a small town Colmenar, 40 km out of Madrid, the key issue hit us again. We found the accomodation with not too much trouble thanks to google maps. We settled into our room, received our 3 keys.
After a shower and a rest we went out and locked it as instructed with key no 1, through the self locking entrance to the second floor (key no 2 to get in again) down the stairs to the final door with key no 3. Learning from past mishaps I remained inside while Doug tried the key in the lock. Nothing. Again. Nothing. He tried repeatedly until a man who lives on the second floor came along, inserted his key, jiggled it around, and the door opened . We tried But still we could not get it right.
We phoned the owner. Her message said she was not answering till later as at a celebration. So Doug stayed inside while I went out to search for food and drink. After a series of messages back and forth on WhatsAp in Spanish, she arrived, gave us a lesson on key jiggling which we still could not manage. Finally she told us to press 2A bell when we wanted to come in and the door would open. By now we had been key studying for at least three hours on and off. This is Colmenar.
I later went to Mass at the Gothic Church on the hill. I held my breath as the priest went to open the tabernacle (where the host for communion is kept locked away) but he unlocked it on the second go.
Keys are a constant negotiation but I am getting better at finding and using them and less panicky. Posting stuff from a too heavy back pack is another matter. It’s also fraught with unforeseen problems.
Despite walking several caminos we always have too much which involves a trip to the post office to post surplus weight to a relative in the UK.
So the trip to the post office, the correo, throws up unexpected complications. We find the correo easily, take a number and wait. Just behind us were of different sized boxes so we fit 3. 8 kilos of stuff into the middle sized one, and stand in the queue. The Senora at the desk waves her arms and I realised that we had done something incorrectly. The lady next in line said we had used the wrong box and needed the external posting box. The Senora gets another box and we took everything out of the first box and placed it in the second.
That was just the beginning. Since Brexit UK post now requires customs forms and there were questions about contents and values. plus the hardest thing of all: the post code which initially I had wrong, and later the Senora read wrongly. The Lincoln address and the postcode elicited a lot of questions. An hour later we were finished. Hopefully the parcel arrives at its destination
However the Senora was polite and helpful at all times. So I get to “the other things”. The people are the wonderful things about Spain and walking. Thank you Senora Correo. Also the Senora in the Farmacia in Penabla, a small town two nights before Salamanca. She explained where the Camino exited the town and called the bar to ask the owner to open up for us that night (there was no shop there or other source of food). She listened patiently to find some remedies for my feet and an ankle strap.
In Fontiveros we were invited to join a poetry launch, tour of the historical city and invited to lunch (See Sambasue21.Blog at http://www.wordpress.com). In the next village one of the men who was a part of the celebration joined us outside the bar and talked to us about his family, Spain, political events. I recognise how hard it was to grasp our inadequate Spanish, and to converse with us. Also the bar man at the Bolero bar in Salamanca, who listened to us waffle on, and shared his love of music with us, taught me how to pronounce some words with the rolling of the lips. Finally thanks to the young guy at Salamanca station who told us we can get the Dorado (gold )card and spent time organising refunds and issuing the card. Gracias all of you.
I cannot recognise many of the markers on this road I walked with my daughter 4 years ago. We got off the train at Colmenar and after enquiring in very bad Spanish “Donde es ?” the flèchas or arrows that direct along the path, we walked up a very steep hill and somehow reached the right place. The first flecha was on the wall next to the church of the Annunciation. My memory of that cold, unsettled morning is of a smaller church and the plaza full of workmen digging. We clicked sticks and off we went on our mother/daughter adventure.
It was icy cold along rocky treeless plain, that’s my memory of it. We sheltered behind rocks whenever we could from the wind which whipped around our head. Our faces were too frozen to move our lips and talk. Every now and then soggy cold bits of water fell on us, enough to run off the surface of jackets and into the tops of our muddy boots.
Today it’s very hot. We started at 9am, too late really, but even and hour into the walk I feel the sun coming off the gravelly path and hitting my face. The road stretches on relentlessly and I watch my feet over the rocks and gullies. I also watch for bikes. It is Sunday and people are off on their mountain bikes for the day to the next place Manzanares el Real. Bikes come hurtling zigzagging across rocks and dirt and I have to move out of the way on this narrow path. I recognise the rock behind behind which we sheltered from the wind four years ago, and we laughed against the cold wind as we spied the flecha on the rock. We were on the right path. Today after that recognition, most of the way was unfamiliar.
How could I have forgotten the markers on the path? Maybe I was so intent on watching where I put my feet and contending with the cold. Or perhaps the path has been re routed. Or maybe memory plays tricks. Perhaps I am attempting to rediscover or reinvent an atmosphere or mood which cannot be recreated: the exhilaration of a start of an adventure and a hope.
Today I am conscious of the sun bearing down and regret my missed coffee. We rushed out of Colmenar, it is Sunday so coffee shops not open that early. The path varies between stoney and flat and stones and uphill. Even 3 weeks ago the countryside would have been pretty. Today the lavender and yellow bushes have passed their best. Maybe I have too because after 10km of walking, and getting out of the way of cyclists as they hurtle past, I long for coffee or coke Xero , and shade.
A rest under a tree and we eat the chocolate wafer brought from Colmenar, water, some stale bread. Off again. A few bits that lighten the walk: the trees against the mountains as we approach Manzanares el Real ( village of real apples!), a single white cloud in a gimlet blue sky. Then it’s a wind downhill beside the lake and a walk into the Centre. First bar, here we are. Coke Zero and beer and all’s nearly right with the world.
This camino has been a time of reflection, as most walks are, but it has been a special walk as we have been following the steps, and the thoughts of an exceptional woman and her life. We ended this first part of our camino today in Alba de Tormes, where St Teresa ended her life in one of the convents she founded.
In the midst of the glaring religiosity, the paintings of saints in various poses of humility, suffering, (transverberacion) there is a strong sense of the woman. From the books she wrote, the convents she founded, the papal bull of her canonisation, the memories of her male confessors, her spirit shines through. I could look at the huge urn and the reconstruction of the room where she died, complete with the folded arms veiled eyes image, and see a remarkable woman who kept faith with friends and her God, and forged ahead with her convictions.
From this Convento Anunciacion we walked through this pretty town with it’s Mudejar architecture and winding streets to the top of the town and the Tower of the Duke of Alba. St Teresa was a close friend of his wife and he was her patron, donating money to found some of her convents.
So what am I taking away from this walk, besides my admiration for this saint and a better grasp of the times in which she lived?
Silence. As we were walking on these very solitary paths the only sound was often the rustle of the long grass on either side. In the early mornings as we started off full of energy the sound of bird call and insects chirping blended with the rhythm of our footsteps. In such a silence there is peace and the space to contemplate.
A realisation that the life I have is right here in front of me, not in some other place : A lot of my life has been about searching but some of what I want is right in front of my nose. I have family to love and who love me and a home.
I no longer need to feel that I am opting out by not training hard for triathlons, running hard, flinging myself into dance. making friends and being fun. I can do or be who i want to be, I’m ok warts and all.
I accept who I am, while striving for the things I want to achieve. However there is a realisation that I can work with what I’ve got.
The recognition once more that endurance is the key to living life to its fullest. As I placed one foot in front of the other, or flinched as my hips just didn’t stretch as they used to, I did think about St Teresa and others who have walked this path so long ago in much harsher conditions.
In the villages we have passed through there are so many testimonials to people who have lived , worked , created . Especially in Alba de Tormes , looking at the pieces of lives from 500 years ago : the home,the churches, the history of the people, I was reminded of the nature of life .
.It’s a bit of a cliche “the camino throws up things that you need to look at or get through”. This camino more than any before has thrown up thoughts of aging, mortality, life direction, regrets. So along with the aches and pains I am learning to be accepting. Hard one that.
St Teresa prayed to bear witness to joy (of God), to advance “el camino de la vida interior’. If you take away the literal connotation of God, being joyful, grateful for this life and being alive is what I am taking away from this Camino Teresiano.
“I am running behind in my blog writing .This account is of Day2 of walking the Camino Teresiano 24 km. Looking back we were silly to walk a so far,so late in the day ,and carrying too much .But ,as they say ,the Camino throws up lessons.During the second half of that walk maybe St Teresa was with me in the silence ,and in the slogging on, one foot in front of the other, I thought of those who suffer so much more and have no place to go at the end of day and are alone.My pain was so little.My life is so wonderful .”
I should have known : my day started off poorly as I hunted for my notebook for half an hour, delaying our start on what turned out to be a very hot day and flat treeless terrain.
The first couple of hours were happy and easy . We passed through a couple of pretty villages,along a Roman road and through farmland with wheat swaying in the breeze,sound of bird call and even the cuckoo, some poppies and blue cornflowers along the paths . Gradually it got hotter and our packs got heavier. The road became flatter and stretched mirage – like toward a moving horizon. Our last stop was in Narros de Salduena at the Plaza where we refilled our bottles from a fountain and lay on the ground with legs up on a bench.A pretty ,silent plaza ,but who cares ? Just focussing on the heat and sore hips . And still 12km to go .
Well we made it to Fontiveros and flopped onto the grass in front of what appeared to be a Sports Center.I phoned the woman who runs the Casa Rural and she arrived immediately and lead us over the road to the Casa Rural la Fonte.
Bliss . Cool rooms, bedroom and bathroom attached, kitchen and patio. All for 20 E each . We’re staying 2 nights ! We are here in Fontiveros
So our first day in Avila we wended our way through cobbled streets and pretty plazas, past so old Cathedrals, Churches, colourful buildings interspersed with “se vende” signs and crumbled walls to the Convento de Santa Teresa solidly standing at the top of rise and overlooking a landscape stretching out beyond the city walls.
The Church is splendid inside and houses the room where the saint was born, a glittering small chapel dedicated to her, and alongside the church a room full of books she wrote, about her, depictions of all the convents she founded and some interesting relics and objects she used : her walking stick in later life, heavy rosary beads, her ring finger preserved.
Then we took off for another walk around the walls and towards the start of the Camino. The sun came out and people walking, children playing a version of “first to the peg” at the bottom of the hill.
The path starts at the bottom of the hill, on the other side of the river, and then we walked back up. It was a steep climb, but made worthwhile as an old man sitting outside his home in the fading sunlight regaled us with stories of festivals, a garden, and a film made years ago in Avila starring Sophia Loren and Carey Grant.
The next morning , walking around the top of the town ,we stumbled across the Camino waymarkers: the shell on a wall and the yellow arrow at my feet
Do the two go together? Well, for me maybe .When I’m running ,I create scenarios, chew over past mishaps, see the grains of sand, the leaves overhead and underfoot ,the interplay of light and shadow. I take in what Elizabeth Jolley calls the splendid view.This view is more than I see directly in front of me.There is a breadth and depth of sight ;a farsighted perception,a vision of a path ahead and faint memories of what has already been. A vista stretches ahead ,reachable if I keep my eyes poised towards that distance; niggles and hassles and full-blown fears are powerless to pull me down .
The flowing movement of painless running and even,rhythmic breathing restores a belief in possibilities .The resurrection of certainty confirms that life is actually ok ,more than just ok .Its great ,and writing is again a possibility.
It has been hard to regain a trust in life after that let down of body ,a reminder of mortality.But ….then ,having recovered ,there’s wondering about direction: time is limited.
I have been thinking about the title “Starting again ,or New life “and there are a few questions about that very notion .There is no such ambiguity about babies At the moment of birth a baby just IS.It is only later that he or she may be endowed with the doubts and worries,expectations and beliefs of our own existence
I saw you this morning on the screen
Right arm flailing about your head
Tadpole body wriggling in space
I couldn’t see your face
Baby -Hello .
Yet the force of your existence casts a skein over my life
Is already changing my direction
Already changing my perception
Altering my reality
Forcing me to question.
You’re coming into all our lives
But let’s not make you the arbitrator of meaning
Lets celebrate your existence
Not hang our lives on it and wear you down
With the weight of our longings.
I love you.
I’ll beat a drum for you
I’ll weave a dance for you
Sing a song for you
Until you sing your own.
I picked it up yesterday:the flowered teapot,part of a set of blue cornflower cups and saucers and cooking ware and plates .Once a full set ,brought out on special days like birthdays and feast days and of course Christmas .The tea set has suffered the most from breakages and there is only the teapot and one cup and saucer surviving.
How old ? Must be at least 75 by my calculations -given to my mother I suppose as part of her trousseau when she married.The set ( a full quota of plates and a few serving dishes still remain) has journeyed between Tanzania,England and South Africa and finally came to rest in South Fremantle.
The tea has stained the inside rim of the pot ,and all around the top .Inside its hard to remove the tannin .How many pots of tea have been made in how many dining rooms and kitchens ? I remember mum’s formula:”warm the pot ,put in 3 spoons tea, and one for the pot ,pour in the boiling water,leave for 2 minutes before pouring.”So many times she corrected me when I made a cuppa ,or pulled a face as she sipped a cup I made incorrectly.
I think of my mother as I make this pot of tea .All the good things now -the tea parties and sandwiches and cakes ,the well made cups of tea ,not slopped together like mine .The enjoyment of having people around drinking the tea and talking ,the insistence of tables laid correctly on the starched and ironed white tablecloth.Side plates and cake forks ,and the teacups beside in their matching saucers.Small jug of milk and the sugar bowl. Carefully cut sandwiches arranged tidily on pretty glass platters and small, delicate iced cakes ,perfectly risen, resting there enticingly. Guests seated .The piece de resistance, the teapot ,brought to the table and my mother pours.
A beautiful teapot ,pretty and soft, shaped for an easy hold and created to withstand all the moves and rough handling.A survivor .Perhaps a bit of a picture of a life aspired to ,a life of genteelness and politeness ,but also of being hospitable and kind to others.I’ve brought that teapot out from storage.
This teapot is also a song to a life of holding ones own,holding together no matter what.Regardless of changing circumstances. This,asserts my mother, is my life :A rounded white teapot with tiny blue cornflowers .Vale Mum
A real peregrino doesn’t crack a smile
When you talk of vino tintos and cafe con leche
Drinking in scattered bars along the way
A real peregrino is never muy frio
He knows being cold is part of his journey.
Flip flops slopping down albergue corridors
He walks to mass and comida and off to bed.
In the cold dawn light he sits straight up
Feet into boots,beanie on head
Rattles his plastic bags into his pack
Grabs his sticks and clops down the corridors
To the icy outside to face another long day .
No slacking for him
No sitting over coffee and yarns
He’s a man on a mission.
A real peregrino recognises
Those who are not real peregrinos
Those who have come along for the ride
He knows God is not on their side.
Those cheery ones who may be touristicos
Spoiling the Way,
Who do not pray.
Only thoughts of God are in his head,and avoiding hell
A real peregrino doesn’t feel the chill of the monks cell.
I wonder if God knows
Who is real and who is not
Does he care?
“Buen camino”prays the priest
“Ve con Dio “he murmurs
To all of us standing heads bowed
May God be with your steps along the way.
The pre Christmas season is bringing up lots of memories for me, as I guess happens with a lot of people. Maybe it’s the 3 straight nights minus even the 2 or 2 wines , but words are just queuing up in my head . So cousins in UK, brother in Washington DC , cousin here in Freo, what do you think about gathering some of the songs we sung during our family get togethers? Particularly around the dining table. Very early on I think there was a piano : but uncle Michael , the remaining sibling – he would remember,
Remember . I know some of the songs are are published but not all together, and I suspect that many of those songs we sang as children and younger adults were embellished or re -drafted to suit. Sometimes there were short performances and skits. The Death of Nelson for example, my own fathers favourite when he had had a good few beers – the one where we all waited for mum to say “ ….shh Really . No , NO … “ And my father paused to incorporate her intervention into the performance . Then lying on the ground with one hand on his eye he gasped “ “Kiss me Hardy “
He quickly hoisted himself up again and uttered the final insalubrious line. Despite my mother.
The other favourite was Three Old Ladies Locked in The Lavatory( Sorry Aunty Flora and Aunt ? Long dead then , but the butt of my grandfathers annoyance) We laughed 50 years ago . Others were about babies disappearing down the plug hole. I said they were not socially acceptable , not now anyway . Then there were a few Salvation Army ones ( words changed to incorporate family members, or enemies) , and the rousing Rule Britannia* , commencing “Sons of the Sea, bumping up and down like this “. By this time adults were at risk of missing the chair as they leapt up and plonked down again. I just remembered too some of the songs came from Great Uncle Reg , a Boy Scout Leader and veteran of the First World War. He worked as a diplomat in WW2 , a lot of the time in Paris . Hence the innocent songs of that era , with the belief system of duty and responsibility , dibbing and dobbing.
Common camping,scout and some army songs were sung with enthusiasm and varying degrees of seriousness : well known Pack up your Troubles, It’s a Long Long Way
Look they were not all rude, my mothers term . There were a lot of old war songs like Blue Cliffs of Dover and the more rumbustious Siegfried Line * , suitably modified. Other war songs quite racist, sexist, anarchistic , whatever . Understandable if you’d fought in the war or if you’d lived through one and it’s aftermath .
My mother loved the lyrical songs and her party piece was Green Grow the Rushes Oh with movements.We all joined in , tripping over each other as we vied for attention .
There were many more and I have forgotten them . As my last uncle is over 90 it’d be good to get a few of the more obscure songs and acts together. Uncle M has written a lot on the family history and I’m sure he will remember some . How about it , all of us cousins and brother?
*Songs of the Sea (1897) is a British WE1 Naval song . The parody ‘bobbing up and down like this ‘became popular at Boy Scout Camps , and has been adapted to football songs . Uncle Michael , served in Navy , would know more about the adaptation .
*were going to hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line “ ( 1939) Written by Jimmy Kennedy while he was Captain in early stages of W W 2 . BUT am sure the words were different ! My mother intervened a lot here.