Family matters

Being friends with my lifelong chum Gina can sometimes feel like a sentence in a labour camp as May and I discover on a visit to Curl Curl on the northern shore.”Blimey you have to work hard before you get fed in Hotel Gina” says May, sweat dripping and loaded with shopping. Gina is cycling the repaired bike home it was our mission to collect. Described as a 20 minute stroll through a shady park, our trek through industrial melting concrete streets at a cracking pace covered nearly five miles. Now weighed down with almost severed hands carrying ten bags of enough food for lunch after a visit to Aldi, we decide to take the humanitarian option of catching a bus. When May is told of our plan to swim a mile from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach and back at 7.am the next morning she is broken, “what swim across an open sea through shark infested waters before breakfast?” she is aghast and spontaneously mutinies.

The next day me and Gina and Miki meet at the far end of Manly Beach in the early sun. Dozens of people of all ages gather. Everyone is laughing and smiling. Suddenly a voice shouts, “LET’S GO” and we all dive through warm waves to a green plateau of heaving swell and around a headland of rocks to follow a dazzling path through the sea to a distant shore. It’s a good job I forget my goggles the first time we swim the daily Bold and Beautiful so I don’t shiver my timbers seeing the giant sting rays and sharks lazily gliding underneath, even though there are tons of water between us. Their distant shapes swimming far, far below, going about their business and apparently uninterested in the tiny human fish on the surface. It is one of the best experiences of my life. The next time we are joined by Jess and Sammy. Our daughters have always expected to have the time of their life with us, and they do.

Earlier this year two of our four daughters in Australia were expecting three babies. And now two more baby girls arrive from England to add to the dynamic dynasty of our beloved shared families. Without thinking we grandparent to the rescue as the young parents take a much-needed break. Between feeding the parrots that arrive every morning and evening to covering the kids with suncream, it’s a full time job. Throwing the children in the sea cools them down. They need constant nourishment and nappy changes between naps.

As Gina serves rice crispies to three year old Mary Bess, I notice Billie Grace enjoying something crunchier from the floor and successfully hook a small cockroach out of her mouth. Billie’s first birthday isn’t till the 25 January, but she is already walking and covering ground as fast as a wallaby. She bounds out to the garden to scoop up some cockatoo poo for breakfast, which grandfather James swishes away in the nick of time with a handy hose pipe. She’s going to be great in ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Outta Here’ when she grows up. We are already a Big Brother houseful on the holiday of a lifetime.

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Our families are growing like wild bamboo over here, taking root and spreading freely  across the fertile terrain, covering and healing old wounds and filling empty wombs with new matriarchal lines. But more of this  when we away to the Blue Mountains next week.

 

 

imageNature abhors a vacuum and in the here and now the latest Australian babies Jazz and Sienna open their eyes to a New World in which their loving parents believe anything and everything is possible for their daughters to achieve. We’ll second that when its time to hand them over and open a chilled bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Here in surfers paradise, where people clearly and visibly value their children, playgrounds feature seesaws with a central surfboard to teach kids how to balance. There are crazy mirrors, walkie talkies, sculptures, art and games. Everyone is playing outside.

I harness Mary Bess into a flying machine to release her inner trapeze artist. As grandparents we have the patience of saints and wisdom of elders.

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Swimming back to Manly on the second Bold and Beautiful proves trickier as you have to get back through the breaking waves. But as each surging wave takes me closer, I realise I am travelling back to life again on waves of contractions. Through the breaking waters to gasp my first lungful of air. The last powerful wave knocks me over but as I somersault into a breach position feet first, just as I was born over sixty years ago in Sidmouth, they land on firm sand and I make it. Snatched from a death of cramps or eaten by a great white on the way to Shelly Beach. Or anyone having to say at a service of remembrance, “and as Mal’s ship disappears over the horizon and the friends and family seeing her off are overcome with sadness, a glad cheer from those waiting on the other side will be welcoming her ashore”.

In the meantime back on Manly Beach my time isn’t up yet and us grown-ups are learning to have fun all over again. With the strength of Hercules and the anticipation of Bacchus. Understanding that parenting is the most joyous life sentence of all.

 

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Drifters

The hotter it gets the more you slow down. The more you slow down the less you do. The less you do the more you want to do. And as with anything you want to do, you start by putting yourself on the other side of The Decision to do it. You then have only two things to consider – how long will it take and how you will do it.  This works for everything from giving up smoking to getting married. I am reminded of how exhausting it is to put on your pants after a morning of chilled out summer holiday camping in just a nightie. Having made The Decision to get dressed but not rushed by a deadline, you manage to get one leg in, then have to stop for a rest before getting the other one in and the kettle on.

Today I am already on the other side of The Decision to throw my hot, sticky body into the sea, but it takes longer because I find myself drifting into Driftwood on the way. Driftwood is easily my favourite beachside  cafe bar and bistro on Frenchman’s Bay.

Like Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World Driftwood is a community of people, both regulars and passers-by, that gather each groundhog day to cross each other’s paths. I have somehow joined the Driftwood family of customers, staff and neighbours. My brethren Mario and Mr Greg call me over to join them. Mario likes his food cooked a certain way – his way – so he always goes behind the counter into the kitchen to cook it himself. Mr Greg’s knee has recovered enough to take his old mum on a cruise. He proudly shows me pictures of his bush garden complete with a brush turkey wandering among the flannel and drumstick flowers. I check his expression to see if he’s kidding but he’s not. That’s what they’re called. The friendly couple who live above have a huge black Labrador called Jet. He’s Andrew’s dog but Brendan is walking him today. Except that Brendan walks along in the sea up to his waist and Jet swims beside him as part of a weight loss plan. For Jet, not Brendan.

A minibus pulls up and the party from Windgap arrive in a bustling gust with their carers. They come every week for lunch. The staff push three tables together to accommodate about a dozen people. “Hello I’m Bud!” shouts a beaming face whose name last week was Alan, and Steve the week before that.

There is a certain amount of chaos as one of the party is busy behind the counter collecting cups to take home in his bag, “have you got any spoons?” he asks. The rather beautiful proprietor Piers smiles and tells May to give him some. I get the feeling everything will be returned at some point. A helpful person is pouring warm water over cake to mash it up for his friend. Another elderly lady, very obviously not one of the carers at this residential home,  chivvies everyone along, “now have you all got your receipts?” she smiles across at me, “they do like to be helpful” she explains “now come along, come along” and as they hold hands and help each other to cross the pavement to get on the bus, an over enthusiastic pusher tilts a man in shorts out of his wheelchair. All the Driftwood staff rush to help him up and I get out the tea tree oil for his poor grazed knees.

The carers at Windgap have given Driftwood a Christmas card. Inside it names all the staff and says ‘Thank you for all the good times this year. You all make us feel so welcome and we love coming to your cafe’.  It joins the dozens of others ‘to Piers and all the marvellous crew at Driftwood – thanks for all the laughs this year! Wishing you happy people a very merry Christmas’.

All kinds of people drift into Driftwood. I love seeing the variety of families of every race and culture and their similarities of proud parental love and need to nurture their children.  It’s such a great place to feed your kids as part of The Decision to spend a day relaxing on the beach.  Especially as Driftwood staff are always happy to lend a helping hand when hot, sandy children tumbleweed in.

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May soothes a customer’s child

But I’ve drifted  long enough. Time to get in the sea. The coolness is like oiled silk on my skin. Today there are lots of transparent jellyfish in the water but they aren’t big enough to sting, so I sweep these soft little haribos aside as I swim to the other side of the bay. No other people but a small boat ‘Fishful Thinking’ bobs by. In its wake quite a large fish arches out of a wave. I view it with the same mild interest at seeing a big carp jump out of Henleaze Lake at home. This is replaced by terror as I remember where I am and swim rapidly to shore. It’s the fastest I’ve moved all day.

Food glorious food

In the food section of East Gardens there are choices galore. ‘Eat Big’ as the review says but if you want to be healthy there are power juice options. Supercharging blends of fresh fruit, ginger, carrot, kale and spinach. Paleo dishes of raw foods to munch and crunch in line with the requirement to chew each mouthful 72 times. Retailers don’t mince their words here and point of sale materials are – well, to the point. Have a Frappy Day a sign reminds us. Shave Yourshelf a Fortune urges another, offering organic peelings shredded to death then phoenixed to life-shaped treats.

The beach side cafes and bistros are packed in sizzling and soaring temperatures. We are machines fuelled by food I observe, as we sit next to a family armed with spoons tucking into a lead free pavlova mountain of meringue, fruit and cream. It’s lead free because there are no leaders – mum, dad and daughter take turns with equal appetites to scoop up spoonfuls like a perfectly measured filial gastrometronome before starting on their second dessert, a whole passion and dragon fruit cheesecake. The two girls next to them slake their thirsts in the blistering heat with Freakshakes.

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The fish and chip shops are even busier, people in swimwear rubbing their sandy feet on the hot concrete sidewalk as they queue for giant portions of barramundi and chips with lashings of garlic mayo and chilli sauce.

Some boys pass by loaded with takeaways to take back to their sweltering families on the sand. Past the family groups cooking massive amounts of food on the electric barbecues in the park, still wearing Santa hats and reindeer horns. Past the Munchies Afloat boat cruising along the bay, fish eyes alert to the summons of people standing up to their neck in water, mouths popped open for a snack. Past the large family having a huge cooked picnic  on the beach. The mum is serving home made chicken stew, rice and potatoes from a portable picnic oven resting on a tripod buried in the sand. It’s designed to keep food hot. Sweat drips down her face, the only part of her not covered in black robes. Her four young sons and husband sit plumply spare-tyred and cross-legged in swimming trunks in a circle waiting for food. It’s 37 degrees.

Ziggy and I have a choice of three short walks to the beach. “Top, bottom or middle?” he asks, “over, under or through?” I reply. Because we are both Pisces on our happy way to jump in the sea, our exchange becomes a seamless metaphor. “Would you prefer to take the top path floating over it all and not notice anything?” I say, “or swim along underneath in a lovely blur so you don’t see any bad things?” Ziggy shoulders the possibilities, “and if we walk straight through?” he considers. “Then we hold our heads up and see everything on both sides, no matter how hard or difficult or painful it might be to see more than one truth” I say. We both agree to take the middle path.

The beach is still packed as I make my way to the outside public shower. On the post there are two shower heads and a tap near the ground to wash sandy feet. After my turn I notice a hot family in need of a helping hand. The father is showering his small son. His little sister, no more than eighteen months old stands patiently by the tap. “Can you help her?” implores the mum of her husband, “she doesn’t know what to do” but the dad is busy dealing with the boy. Her hands are full carrying all the picnic bags and she is further hampered by her burka. I step forward, coax the little girl under the tap and scoop the rushing water over her body, but because she is tightly encased in thick, stretchy fabric from wrist to ankle, I can’t wash away all the gritty sand trapped in her arms and legs. Her plump little starfish hands and feet stretch helplessly under the tap and my hands pouring water, but there will be no relief for this child until she gets home. I don’t know how far they have to go. The mum thanks me with tired eyes in a beautiful face. This family, like so many here, lives in an outdoor culture where everyone picnics by the sea, but half of them will never be able to wash the sand out of their clothes on a hot beach because they are female.

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Today the Nippers are practicing life saving skills at Frenchman’s Bay. They are the youth section of the South Maroubra Life Guard and have spent all their lives in and around water. Even the youngest is fearless but with a healthy respect for big surf, rip tides and sharks. Like these young Nippers, Ziggy is peckish after a swim so we call into Driftwood for some brunch.

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They say there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free launch in the case of the lifeboats. But the signs that promise freebies often have price tags. A young girl’s T-shirt catches my eye, “Tell Me Another Lie” screams a sexualised Barbie doll sitting on Pinocchio’s face. I hastily shield Ziggy’s gaze to protect his innocence from such cartoon nonsense. ‘Frozen’ it isn’t, although I am immediately distracted by an organic orange and mango lolly, cased in creamy frozen fruit. My thoughts wander to the innocence of young children having no idea they are being fed animals tortured by factory farming and often inhumane slaughter. Should being religious and/or vegetarian be decisions made when you are old enough to make them? Or imposed as the right and only way of life to cut out the difficulty of considering the pros and cons?

 

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Mother and child

 

The easy path might not be easy or the hard path as hard however you like your eggs. Whether you are a hard boiled cynic or a sunny side up optimist, me and Ziggy take it one day at a time. Today we decide to walk through the middle of life’s temptations straight into the sea, then think about food afterwards.

Drinking the stars

We are flying up the Northern Pacific Highway in an air conditioned, kilometre gobbling hired car on our way to the Hunter Valley to get some wine. Me (64) May (28) Max (17) and Ziggy (15). May connects her phone to a portal to play everyone’s favourite songs.

The boundless rural landscape of blue haze eucalyptus crystallises ahead and blurs behind to a surreal clash of musical taste, as a teenage pensioner power struggle rocks our speed shuttle. Ziggy wants to listen to Frank Sinatra and May and I laugh and put on The Bloodhound Gang with a thunderclap of cultural difference.”Remember at Glastonbury Festival when Jared wrote on Mary’s arm ‘Jared 4 Mary’ in a heart?” we reminisce and sing, “you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel”. The boys are shocked.

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A mob of kangaroos in a roadside copse of gum all rear up on their hind legs to watch us go by. “Get out on the highway” we screech along to Born to be Wild, “looking for adventure” but a sign reminds us to Stop, Revive, Survive, so we pull over. Opening the doors we are blasted by hairdryers loaded with the scent of summer vineyards.

imageA lone cow sensibly cools her udders before feeding her calf, reminding me of the few drops on the wrist test we did to bottle feed our babies. Breast is best of course, but then there was no risk of milk curdling in  the heat of an English summer, even in 1976.

imageLight years later we stop to get Pickled and Pitted and I buy the most beautiful thunder egg I have ever seen. Guarded by shopkeeper Shelby’s dog Magnus, it was the last of an interstellar batch.

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May and the boys graze on olives, bread and tapenade. I explain to Shelby about how a hug should last seven seconds to raise mental and physical well being according to neuroscientists, who can now measure brain response to tactile and thought process stimuli.  Apparently, the brain’s electrical and chemical spiral pathways are activated and race towards our reward centres to release the box of swallows we call endorphins. Shelby wraps her arms around me. Her dreadlocks rustle and rest on my neck. She smells of woody essential oils and planetary journeys, “I don’t want to let go” she exclaims in surprise.

But we must away up Monkey Creek over the Riverflats to land at Starline Alpacas in a far distant galaxy and stay with the hundred gentle, woolly creatures who live there. When we’ve unpacked, we’ll visit a vineyard and buy some wine.

The Benedictine monk Dom Perignon first discovered champagne in the 17th century and is said to have cried out in equal surprise, “COME QUICKLY I AM DRINKING THE STARS!”. Tonight I shall be gazing up in awe at Orion’s Belt and remembering the perfection of random connections with a glass of something in my hand.

It’s a Hobo’s Christmas…

My youngest son Guy is a musician. His new Christmas single is in support of homeless charities. For all those who care enough to give their support, please have a look and share the following link and read the press release about “Hobo’s Christmas”. 

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/16/hey-you-dont-buy-that-christmas-single-buy-this-or-why-not-buy-em-all/

“Guy is one of the most versatile musicians I’ve met, with a natural talent for putting real feeling and soul into whichever musical genre he’s working in with great conviction and spirit.”

Jim Barr (Get the Blessing & Portishead).

There are many reasons for becoming homeless and being a ‘hobo’ is one of them. A hobo is an itinerant, often impoverished, worker on the move. Other people are homeless through losing their jobs and many more through all kinds of circumstances they don’t choose…. escaping domestic violence, mental health issues, ex-servicemen, drug and alcohol problems. This Christmas, more people than ever before have nowhere to live and no alternative but to sleep rough on our city streets.

Releasing this song is Bristol-based Guy Calhoun’s hope that people will care enough to want to listen to and download his new single, Hobo’s Christmas”. Based on the true story of two friends with very different lives, the message is one of hope and support when one of them falls on hard times.

All profits from sales are to be donated to charities helping the homeless.

“It can happen to any of us” says Guy “and when you can’t work because you are ill you suddenly have fewer choices; your priority is how to survive”. For those who have seen Ken Loach’s award-winning film “I, Daniel Blake” the difficulties of how to navigate the welfare system via food banks reveals how close to losing your home we all are. And for some people you may lose your life as well.

The homeless friend in “”Hobo’s Christmas” died on the streets when he was only twenty-five years old. Another young homeless man froze to death on the streets of Birmingham in the UK this month.

Guy says that the enormity of rising homelessness is a shame and a scandal to us all but that, as an individual, “you can’t do everything but you can do something”.

This is his offering. Please spare a few minutes to listen to the song, watch the accompanying video and share with your friends and colleagues.

Hobo’s Christmas” was officially released as a digital download by Digitdoc Records on the 12th December 2016. For more information, promo requests or to set up an interview, please contact Mark Hoddinott at Digitdoc Records, email address: music@digitdocrecords.com.

Great jingle balls of fire

Everywhere is ablaze with Christmas decorations in glorious sunshine all around Circular Quay by the Opera House. People love the seasonal dazzle and glitter of summer and are marrying like rabbits under Sydney Harbour Bridge with their champagne buffets, limousines and luxury yacht receptions.

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But we are on other business today, marching with thousands of others for International Human Rights Day. Like uninvited guests, we join the weddings and mingle with the glitterati but for some reason aren’t asked to pose for photos.

We go Christmas shopping at Reverse Garbage, get a tree at a Christmas Tree farm (where Nigel gets a touch of heatstroke being a merry lumberjack) and recycle a few decorations.

It’s definitely hotting up for Christmas, but things are getting a bit Adams Family around here. Nigel is looking at old photos of dead Victorian children and listening to Chas and Dave. Cousin Caz has disappeared upstairs with a box of rubber gloves. Lynda is watering a dead plant in a sudden deluge of warm rain and May is making a batch of her delicious Muffcakes (cooking pancakes with dollops of muffin cake mix in case you are wondering). They rise to a softly mounded Venusian sponge, served warm with maple syrup and are declared a great success at Driftwood. The boys are off to a shoe shop in East Gardens called Athlete’s Foot.

I decide to go for a walk in the warm rain and get close to nature. Picking heavy blooms and extraordinary foliage from hedges and trees in summer in Sydney is not like gathering lilacs in the springtime, as the song goes. I arrive back with armfuls of exotic flowers to arrange in vases all over the house. Suddenly the family assume orange, then red alert positions. I am reminded of when a rabbit called Andrew escaped from his hutch at Bristol Dogs and Cats Home. All the animal handlers instantly formed a well-rehearsed military model of rescue and recovery in the open yard. The back line defended the kennels; the frontline crouched with gentle, extended arms and the middle line covered all gaps.

A strange faecal smell starts to emanate from one of the flowers and pervade the kitchen. Suddenly a giant green spider with long legs and a golden body crawls out from a huge, trumpety bloom. It is followed by others of the insect world. My trimming scissors are snatched from my hand to become a weapon of defence. “ArrrereeeargggghheeekieekiEEEEK” screams May. The boys leap to her rescue. Ruby the cat looks on with interest in case a lizard emerges too. I won’t allow murder, even if the wildlife is poisonous, so it has to be caught and released outside.

After the drama, I resume my Christmas floral activity and at last understand why Morticia snipped off the flower heads before arranging the stalks in a vase.

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With the least dangerous and smelliest of my arrangements complete, May and I decide to go and watch the Whitesand Weddings on the beach with a cold beer at sunset.

In the evening it feels alright to be warm indoors with Christmas decorations because at home we’d have the heating on. But on the beach in the setting sun, seeing the splashing families wearing Santa hats in the sea and little naked children with their buckets and spades getting all excited about Father Christmas coming and singing Jingle Bells is just plain WEIRD!

But then families are weird I guess. Some more than others. A few Christmases ago I saw a Santa Claus automaton in a festive shop window. He was supposed to be jiggling the presents in his sack, but unfortunately the sack had dropped to the floor to reveal Santa’s red-gauntletted hand firmly grasping what appeared to be something else. Pedestrians turned their heads away and walked on as Santa rummaged rhythmically in and out of his suit (in exactly the right area) holding a large sausage-shaped gift wrapped in wrinkled brown paper. The only family to stop, stare and roar with laughter were mine.

Bathing

Early this morning May and I swim at Frenchman’s Bay before she has to go to work. There is a warm westerly wind and bobbing waves. With the air temperature in the 30s and the water in the 20s, it’s a heavenly cooling experience. This is the elderly ladies-who-no-longer-care-what-they-look-like-in-swimsuits and their grandlets time. Building sand castles and playing in the waves before breakfast. May has long abandoned me and I am almost done; cozzie discarded after standing under the shower on the beach and a discreet-under-towel-change to flimsy frock.

I have been swimming and floating for an hour so it must be time for coffee. Walking the few yards to Driftwood, I am unaware that my summer frock is completely transparent. I’m not wearing underwear.

May and Piers (her boss) stare over the counter in disbelief, “Mum” wails May, “do you realise…” Malibu and Roshi and Saad and Ahmed and Minnie and Bruna and Matt and Megan all smile and look away. Yes, there are a lot of staff – it’s a busy place.

Standing at the counter with my back to the dazzling light pouring into the veranda of Driftwood’s open seated area, overlooking the bay where whales and dolphins play, I stand naked, but not before my maker. Before my daughter and her boss. Piers’s smile widens in his twinkly good-looking face, “do you want coffee Mal?” I follow their gaze and suddenly realise that every detail of nipple, white bottom and pubic hair are revealed. “I’m not complaining!” Piers adds as he realises I realise. He later observes to May, “they’re still quite perky aren’t they?” before leaving work early to go to a Stone Roses gig. “No thanks” I reply as I hastily grab my towel and damply wrap it round myself over the offending garment, “I’d better go home and get dressed!”

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I return decent again and a crowd of youngsters arrive. The athletic young men hurl themselves in the sea and start playing volley ball on each other’s shoulders. The young women are wearing the brightest and skimpiest of bikinis over their curvaceous figures. I ask  what’s the occasion and a bronzed Adonis tells me that school is breaking up for the summer hols and today is Beach Picnic Day. I can’t believe they are still at school. What year are you? I ask a group of Amazonian girls, all nearly or over six feet tall. Year 9 is the answer. All these youngsters are 14 years old.

So to anyone fooled by the ridiculous ‘age recognition software’ used by the Murdoch press to suggest that Syrian youngsters recently welcomed to the UK looked much older than they were, you obviously haven’t seen Australian high school children!

The girls arrive from Manly. Babies Jazz and Sienna and mums Jessica and Miki. We go down to Driftwood for lunch, change Jazz into her nappy swimmers and wetsuit and fling ourselves into a now calm sea. The wind has dropped and the temperature soars.

The heat has driven people away – mad dogs and Englishmen – and the beach is almost empty, except for a couple going into the water. He has a bare chest, his wife is in full black robes. She must have been driven mad in her sun absorbent hijab; enough to wade in to cool down. The heavy black cloth, traditionally associated with modesty and simplicity, quickly  becomes water-logged. I think about how much I love swimming with no clothes on. About how our skin, the largest organ, is the most perfect, waterproof covering of all. About why women cover their bodies and who controls what they wear.

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Then I remember this morning’s nakedness and realise I am now so old I have progressed from not-caring-what-I-look-like-in-my-swimsuit to not caring about being seen without one. Either in or out of the water. Or through my dress.

Artlands

The penny dropped the last time I flew out of Australia in daylight. Then more falling coins flying into Faro in Portugal in the setting sun. The complex patterns of landscape are reflected in the oldest art forms of every country, created by artists who could never have seen a view from a plane. The circular mapping of Aboriginal art. The salt marsh weaving of the tiles in the old houses of the Algarve. The perfect maths of endless visual patterns, like that of velocity, power and distance in mechanical engineering. On the way over this time, we flew over Afghanistan in daylight to the delight of the stewards. The extraordinary sight of scaly backs and contours of ancient dinosaurs emerging from an ice age met our astonished gaze. They were immense mountains powdered with snow, crawling like giant lizards through our optic translators.

The papery bark patterns of Scribbly Gum are caused by a beetle. The glittery scribble rock formations here at La Perouse are just as mysterious.

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Flatfish in the river

I remember when I was about three studiously turning the pages of a book before I learnt how to read. Seeing the hieroglyphics of shape and pattern but not struggling to understand them. I had complete confidence that all would be revealed when I grew up. I now realise there are many patterns I will never be able to read.

But there are other ways to translate a visual language, not based on a linear aural one. The jigsaw of placement and context. In the linguistics of sign language this is called facetting.

Because all we see is linked to everything we have seen, recognisable images form in the palette of the mind.

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Young elephant

Faces, friends, animals, flowers.

With the loss of central vision and Charles Bonnet syndrome, surreal fragments of peripheral vision put two and two together and make five. Common perceptual hallucinations include fields of snakes and dwarves in national costume. Are they real? The brain is convinced enough to believe it. Lynda and I wander round the rocks and discover shell treasure.

Shell be coming round the headland when she comes. Shell giraffe.

In the New South Wales Museum of Art Nigel and I walk through galleries of splendour and wonder.

Inspired we come home to finish painting the dining room chairs. Ziggy is going through a blue phase.

Blackfellas and white elephants

Down at Malabar Rock Pool a bunch of kids arrive with aquatic toys and a couple of token adults. From toddlers up to young teenagers, they leap into the ‘cold’ water shouting with delight.  All are Aboriginal with startlingly beautiful mixed heritage features, from corkscrew golden curls to the brightest of green eyes set in dark skin.

Olivia Newton John  “he showed up splashing around” suddenly sings in my head at the sheer joy of the scene. At last week’s garage sale I meet Auntie Barb, an Aboriginal Elder and well respected community voice in this area who is widely consulted and undertakes ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremonies. “Buy it” she says when I try on an extraordinary shimmering dress that makes me look like a jellyfish. I recognise her wisdom at once and buy it for a dollar.

I am very proud to say that my sister-in-law Lynda is Aboriginal. She has the hybrid strength of family from London and unbreakable bonds with the ancient lands of her people. I was moved to hear about a powerful Welcome to Country ceremony she attended in Queensland as part of an Aboriginal Women’s Leadership Programme. Four generations of women came forward to present and talk about their ‘totem’, the representation of either your skin group or the place where you were born or raised. The smallest was a butterfly.

The totem for La Perouse is a whale and Lynda’s totem for where she was raised in Cambelltown is a lyrebird. Like most indigenous peoples, Aboriginal families are traced back and followed through the matriarchal line from mother to daughter. Lynda donated Ann-Marie Webb’s original ‘Women Protectors of the Land’ to the Aboriginal Family Support Service in 2012.

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Women Protectors of the Land

Fifty two years after Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay, Lynda’s great-great-great-great grandfather  George Green arrived in Sydney on a convict ship from England after a perilous four month journey in 1882. He was 12 years old and had been put in the care of his aunt and uncle to start a new life here.

Sixty five years after Cook first made contact with the Muru-ora-dial people who had lived there for thousands of years, Mahroot, the only surviving male Aborigine in the area was recorded as saying “well mista… all blackfella gone! All this my country, plenty blackfella then, only me left now”. Smallpox was one of the causes of the decimation of Australia’s first race.

After a seven year apprenticeship, George grew up to be a successful boatbuilder who bought land on the northern shores which became Greenwich, after his birthplace on the River Thames in London. Three of the five roads George named after his sons are still there – George Street, Richard Street and Robert Street.

Mary, the second of George’s eleven children was Lynda’s great-great-great grandmother. Her daughter Lilla was Lynda’s great-great grandmother. Then SHOCK HORROR Lilla married an aboriginal man called Alfred and their daughter Betsy was born in 1913. She was Lynda’s grandmother. Betsy’s daughter is Beverly, who is Lynda’s mum. Lynda’s grandmother on her father’s side also had an Aboriginal parent.

Lynda, like all her family’s generation of cousins and siblings is fair skinned.

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Lynda

As a child the ‘secret’ of her Aboriginal heritage was kept hidden. Her memories as a young child include her elder sister coming to school because the ‘welfare’ were coming to visit. She would grab Lynda and her brothers to run and hide up the creek in an old car yard. This was to escape the humiliating ‘inspections’ of Aboriginal children of poorer families. Clothes, hair, teeth, shoes. The last Aboriginal child was taken from home in 1974 by the Aboriginal Protection Board under the White Australia Policy. Fairer skinned children were favoured for assimilation . The story of the Stolen Generation is still only one lifetime away for my brother and his family.

Lynda was still in her thirties when she met Nigel so there could have been another child. How sad am I not to meet that little girl who was never born with her dark skin and bright green eyes. Splashing around in Malabar Rock Pool.

But today her beautiful blonde brother Ziggy brings home his Aboriginal history and heritage homework from school. The healing has begun.

Size matters

“Jeez how d’you get that big?” I’m looking at a 6’6″ broad as tall young brickhouse with satin brown muscles. His girlfriend smiles, but is slightly puzzled as so many young men out here are built the same, “it’s just that, speaking as a mother of sons,  we don’t grow them like that at home” I explain. We talk about the good food over here; giant avocados and exotic fruits, fresh locally sourced ingredients, no hunger, less poverty, less crime.

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Overwhelmed by salad

I notice that Labour ministers, including Jeremy Corbyn, call by with donations to contribute to a ‘pop-up’ food bank outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday. They are ignored by the Tories. Corbyn says that hunger and the return to the UK of Victorian diseases, such as rickets, associated with malnutrition, are a national disgrace.

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Everything seems larger than life here and the colours are brighter. Maybe it’s the purity of thought; the clarity of mind. Or the clean earth, wind and fire and lack of pollution.

But litter is a problem. Every day I pick up fag ends, plastic bottles, cartons and even dirty nappies inexplicably dropped by the plentiful bins and waste sacks. “HEY YOU’RE A TOSSER – FINES APPLY” flashes a highway sign to warn all the idiots who hurl stuff out of car windows. When you swear at the virtual assistant on your smart device SIRI, the response is more measured, “that’s not nice – ooh now I’m blushing” simpers an electronic voice. If you get more personal and insulting, “I don’t really like these arbitrary characters” and then pathetically, “I’m doing my best shall I search the WEB for you?” YOU’RE A TOSSER we shout back at Nigel’s phone.

Today is Max’s 17th birthday and May has made him a Banoffee birthday cake the size of a sombrero with two foot long bananas.

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This morning we went to Marrickville, one of the older western working class suburbs. Reminiscent of spaghetti western locations, every balconied street has a corner shop where moustachioed Greek and Massadonian men lounge on iron-wrought railings entwined with bougainvillea chewing their cheroots. In the mid 20th century Marrickville was the centre for Sydney’s Greek community.  Now the Vietnamese are the most prominent immigrant population in this part of town, although they may be overtaken in numbers by Polynesian people as the largest ethnic group at the current rate of settlement. Islanders eat a very healthy diet and it shows.

Today in the blazing December sun, front gardens and palm trees are adorned with Christmas decorations, sledges and reindeer. Father Christmases in their thick red woolly suits are climbing up plane trees to upper balconies carrying heavy sacks. You have to take a bottle of water wherever you go at this time of year as everyone quickly and damply dehydrates in the heat. I  imagine under-Santa-suit conditions. At the Addison Road Community Centre there is a free barbecue for all – I say I don’t eat meat and am offered a Moroccan or chick pea burger with onions instead.

Later we swim at Malabar and not far below me in the clear water I see a large  blue groper fish weaving through the weed on the tidal rock pool floor. They grow to 1.2 meters but this boy is no longer than elbow to hand.

Back at home I measure 35 cm of stick insect on the fence and calculate it will take approximately six months to reach my bedroom window. “Jeez how d’you keep that figure with all this delicious food around?” I ask with less hope of an answer than from SIRI. I wonder what size I am and think I might have grown a bit, but sadly not upwards.

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