Monday, October 13, 2014

At arms length

This time last year I arrived back in the UK with two bewildered children and one bleary eyed husband. It wasn’t a difficult journey, just an incredibly long one.

The plane landed and my heart swelled. Home! Rain battered the tiny windows, the sky hung grey and overcast. It looked cold. It was perfect.

My children were not so enamoured with the British weather. After getting caught in the rain they wept, shivering and confused in the hotel lobby. It was bedtime and morning all at once and they didn’t know if they were coming or going.

Later we sat around my sister’s table and ate roast lamb. My girls helped their cousins to empty their entire toy box over the floor and I helped my sister to empty an entire bottle of wine.

It is a perfect memory: the dark winter evening behind the condensation on the windows, the snug warmth of the central heating, the cooking smells and incessant chatter.

There is a little piece of my heart that will be perpetually homesick. I have learnt to hold it away from me – at arms length. I get on with living my life in Australia and try not to think about it too much - it is my way of coping.

But sometimes, when it the rain pours down, I hold my homesick heart and go there.

This time last year I was in England. And today I couldn’t be further away.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Craps, Caps & Chocolat… Holidays En France

My husband and I really enjoyed watching My France With Manu, the part cooking, part travel documentary that finished last night. It was a feast for the eyes, stunning scenery and sensational food. But for me there was an added bonus... all the memories of childhood holidays in France...

I grew up in the south east of England… (shhhsh Essex) home to rolling green fields and ancient hedgerows, quaint little pubs, winding country lanes and er… the Lakeside shopping centre. I suppose it would be fair to say we enjoyed a typical middle class lifestyle; two cars, Chinese take-aways and an annual family holiday… abroad.

Due to its convenient location, just a hop skip and jump across the English Channel, we often visited France. We would drive to Dover, board a ferry for a short (albeit choppy) crossing to Calais and then merrily drive on to our destination. If we were holidaying in the North we would plod on until we got there, but if we ventured further South we would break the journey staying the night in various hotels along the way.

I wasn’t terribly keen on the ‘road trip’ element of the holiday. I suffered dreadful travel sickness and despite trialling a variety of antidotes, invariably ended up vomiting into a polythene bag. Such happy times.

When I started learning French at school my parents encouraged me to speak up and practice, I would stumble over the words embarrassed and self conscious, probably getting it all wrong, but having a go anyway. I don’t remember much French at all now. Just the really important stuff like…

“J’ai voudrais un glace au chocolat*’’…


“Ou est le plage**?”

I have so many memories of our holidays in France… we ate chocolate crêpes in Arles at the very same Café Van Gough captured forever under a starry, starry night. We strolled along the promenade in Niece. We climbed to the top of the Eiffel tower (we didn’t really, we got the lift… have you seen the Eiffel tower?). We traveled down the Seine passed Notre Dame and took a tour of Monet’s house.

Cafe Terrace at Night
Of all our holidays in France the trip that stands out most was the week that we spent at La Petite Maison Blanche. By then my parents had divorced and my mum had re-married, so this was one of the little holidays my sister and I had with our dad.

It wasn’t the best holiday and it certainly wasn’t the worst… nothing remarkable happened and it rained… every… single…day. But we were together. Just hanging out. Enjoying a glass of wine (my father very much embracing the philosophy... when in Rome… (or in this case… ‘when in France’) and playing endless games of gin rummy.

We visited a town called Ginggump… just because it had an amusing name… Ginggump? No? Just me then… I insisted that I needed a traditional fisherman’s cap and spent the rest of the holiday wearing it with the sort of pride that should probably be reserved for Chanel. I fell face first into a sand dune (much to the amusement of my younger sister) and we even had snails for dinner. Ok, Dad had snails for dinner… I had a cheese omelette…and it was delicious!

Nice Cap, Cath!
Now that I live in Australia trips to Europe with my little family will be slightly harder to arrange. But I know that one day my daughters will tread those same steps, stumble over the pronunciation of ‘crêpes’ (hint. It’s not ‘craps’), enjoy French food and have a très jolly time indeed. Although, if I’m totally honest, I could do without the Fisherman’s hat next time round.

* I would like a chocolate ice cream
** Where is the beach?

This post first appeared at Where's my glow? 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Minding your 'shoulds'

There are few tasks I dread more than popping into the supermarket with my children in tow. When possible I avoid it altogether, opting to shop on-line or leaving it till the weekend when my husband and I can divide the domestic chores and child wrangling between us. But sometimes a quick trip to the store is unavoidable. 

So yesterday when we ran out of milk and bread and toilet paper, I had no choice but to psych myself up and head to the shops. I briefed my children on the way:

“I’d like you to be really good helpers!”

They giggled and agreed, although given their previous attempts to “help” I didn’t hold my breath.

But once inside the supermarket they happily held on to the trolley and helped find the three items on our list. For once, my little darlings were behaving like model children. I felt a mixture of suspicious unease and motherly pride.

Somewhere in the store a child was screaming. Heads turned, pensioners exchanged glances, pursing lips and shaking heads.  The screaming got louder. A harassed looking mother rounded the corner, her angry toddler, still screaming, in hot pursuit.

As the mother of two highly energetic and extremely mischievous daughters I recognised the scene immediately. I smiled at the mother, hoping to convey my understanding, offering her some support amidst the chaos.

One of the pensioners tutted, before barking,  “You should control your child!” at the fraught looking mother.

Ah. Should. I hear that word a lot. I think that it might be the most unhelpful word in parenting. I have heard many unsolicited ‘shoulds’ since becoming a mother.

“Your daughter should be walking!”

“Your daughter should be in a stroller!”

“You should discipline your children!”

Should, should, should. It’s a word that packs a punch. It carries the weight of authority and can plunge even the most confident parent into a sea of self-doubt.

Over the years I have learnt to fake a smile, to nod and walk away. I’m sure that on the whole they are well meaning ‘shoulds’, but they’re often delivered with such a large serving of judgement that they leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Back at the supermarket I smiled at the harassed looking mother, who was still wrestling with the wriggly toddler. I wanted to say something that would ease the tantrum-induced stress, something that would actually help.

“We’ve all been there,” I said, and as if by magic my two “little helpers” started wrestling over a rouge box of Weetabix, perfectly underlining my point.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I am supporting the #nomakeupselfie campaign for cancer awareness

I’ll admit that when I first heard about the #nomakeupselfie trend I was more than a little sceptical. I rolled my eyes. ‘Here we go again’ I thought.

I made a lot of assumptions about the campaign. I questioned how posting a photo of ones self sans make could possibly raise awareness of breast cancer. I dismissed it as a silly trend for people that wanted to feel good about themselves by doing something to beat cancer.

Having made these assumptions I was surprised when my friends started taking part. Not “silly teenagers”, but intelligent women whom I respected. I took a step back, I asked questions and I became engaged with the campaign.

My friends were quick to show me, look at this article, look at this link – two million pounds raised in a few short days. That’s an impressive sum.

My UK friends continued posting their photos with a message ‘text BEAT to 70099 to donate 3 pounds’. They nominated each other.

On social media people scoffed that the photos were narcissistic, posed in soft light or flattering angles. But that’s not what I saw. I saw faces I haven’t seen make up free since primary school. I saw vulnerably. I saw risk. I started to realise that for some women, going make up free was actually quite a big deal.

It didn’t take long for the #nomakeupselfie trend to travel the globe and within a day my Australian friends were posting their selfies and nominating their friends. And this is where it started to get more complicated.

The ‘text BEAT to 70099’ doesn’t work in Australia, and while some people found a link to the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and posted that instead others simply posted the photo, missing the point and raising a fresh wave of cynicism.

It is a shame that the Australian cancer charities don’t have a ‘text to donate’ option, but despite this the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) have reported an “overwhelming number of donations” made though their website.

But while people remain cynical, I support the campaign. Notwithstanding the staggering funds it has raised, it has got people acting – in the last week I’ve seen people sharing information on how to do a breast exam, I’ve seen men galvanised to start their own campaigns and even those who are talking about cancer because of this “pointless” campaign are talking about cancer. And that’s good enough for me.

The importance of ‘seasonal’ friends

Like many ladies of her generation, my nana could strike up lively conversation with a stranger anywhere, anytime. It was a knack I found fascinating. Whether we were heading into town on a bus, waiting for our order in the fish and chip shop or popping out for a stroll, my nana would find someone to chat to.

It recently occurred to me that I have developed the same knack; I’ve been striking up conversations with people wherever I go. More than that, these little interactions are starting to play an important part in my life.

Maybe it is because I spend large chunks of the week alone. I work from home, and other than the odd telephone interview with an expert or case study I sit in silence. So on my non-work days I find myself having as many adult conversations as possible to make up for it.

The best interactions are the ones that happen every week; the ones that start with the briefest of pleasantries and develop into friendships.

I think of them as ‘seasonal’ friends.  We probably wont be friends for life, but in the weeks or months that our paths continue to cross they make life a little sweeter.

The mothers I sit poolside with as our children take part in their swimming lessons, the lady in the café who knows my name and my order, even the grumpy old man we see in the lift – they have all become people I look forward to seeing.

Maybe they think “oh no! not her again!” when they see me heading their way. But I hope that my seasonal friends feel the same way about me.

Do you have any seasonal friends?