Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Monday - Bjork

The gig is at the Waterfront, a fairly new venue in Belfast. Inside it's like a giant white shell, with an empty space in the middle for the pit, and seating raked up on tiers. The way it's been designed means you're quite close to the stage from anywhere in the room, and the acoustics are amazing. After raiding the merch stand, we climb up to our seats in time to catch the support act, Leila Arab. At first it seems weird to have a DJ set as a support act, but then realistically, nobody is going to live up to Bjork, and actually Leila's music is quite complementary. Her set is sparse and strange, with a roar like planes taking off. She pulls sound up from the depths, causing havoc and delighting in the chaos. She doesn't acknowledge the audience at all, and doesn't seem to care whether anyone listens or not. As the last of her set crashes through the room, she puts on her jacket, picks up her purse and her can of Coke and wanders offstage, as though she'd just been passing by and thought she'd spin a few discs.

The crowd is an interesting mix - grey heads and young punks and all the funky people I had suspected were hiding somewhere in Belfast. They're like vampires, you just don't see them during the day. But here they are, the magenta ponytails, the afros, the piercings, the brightly coloured tights and fishnets, the dreadlocks.

And then suddenly the lights go out and the stage is lit in eerie UV light. A brass band marches in, dressed in multicoloured clown suits with little flags sticking up at the back, blaring noise. Then the joyous chaos of Earth Intruders whips up and out skips a little pixie with bare feet and a gold dress, a grin on her face, tossing her black hair. And then, that voice. That heart-stopping voice that is at once child and woman and animal and faerie. I hear myself scream in delight.

The crowd laps it up, of course, hanging on her every syllable, squealing with every move she makes. Something as simple as throwing silver streamers out to the crowd as she prowls along the edge of the stage during Hunter has everyone oohing in childlike wonder. She ends every song with a sweet "Sinq you!" and you can't help but laugh.

The way she blends live sounds with beats and loops is genius. She is the eye of the storm, while the sounds thrum and pound and ricochet through the room and our bodies. She hollers, her voice unbound and effortlessly powerful; she isn't at all overwhelmed by the insane noise being generated by her band, but is in charge of it, is bigger than it.

She sings a couple of songs surrounded by a semi-circle of brass, her touch feather-light and yet deeply rooted in the earth. She teases out the emotion of each song, pulls us along with her, has us tiptoeing and creeping around the stage with her. And then suddenly the world explodes as Army of Me crashes in with beats, red lights, lasers and strobes that threaten to pull us apart and her voice soaring over the top of it all.

The setlist is pulled from throughout her back catalogue, not just the most recent stuff, yet everything sounds new and fresh. The mood is gradually ratcheted up till it hits a peak with Pluto and Hyperballad. It's like the most incredible rave, with everyone jumping in unison and the sound just pumping. And this little golden girl flits around the stage in the middle of it all, punching the sound with her tiny fists and flailing her hair in the air.

The stage is cleared and the house descends back into the purple UV light. The crowd is going crazy, screaming and stomping and clapping, and eventually the brass band skips back on, Bjork in their midst. She sings the sweet Oceania as her first encore, and then launches into Declare Independence, which is becoming her signature closer. Glitter cannons explode over the audience, and she is swirling in the midst of a silver cloud, shouting "Raise your flag!" The audience shouts back "Higher! Higher!" and together we're all whipped up into the most incredible fist-pumping frenzy.

Then with another "Sinq you! We rilly injoyed bein here!" she is gone. The house lights come up. Everything seems ordinary and flat and lifeless. But her noise is still ringing in my ears.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Monday - Belfast

I slept late - it's a holiday, after all. Bek and John were working so I was on my own. I was going to go into town but the public transport in Belvoir Park (pronounced Beaver Park, would you believe) is unreliable at best and I didn't really feel like catching a cab. So I mucked around on my computer for a while, then went for a walk in the gorgeous Belvoir Park forest. After getting over my initial feelings of trepidation ('Woman, 32, last seen walking into forest') I quite enjoyed the quiet and solitude.

But, of course, the main thing that Monday was for was seeing Bjork! Finally! I was trying not to be too excited about it because last time she cancelled and I was very disappointed. But as the time drew near, I couldn't help it. I got ready and Bek and John raced around after work to get ready and we shovelled down some Chinese food (which I promptly threw up, but you don't need to know about that...suffice it to say, there wasn't much point in getting ready early because I had to get changed again) and then we were off. Bek had to do John's hair in the car, and you can see that I might be a little excited:

I think Bjork needs a whole post to herself. Now all I have to do is work out how to write it.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Sunday - Belfast

Was sick today. Again, as in Oxford, the only completely sunny day and I slept through it. Jake went back to England in the afternoon. John, Bek and I ventured out to get dinner, and then Bek and I chilled out by watching some Dead Like Me while John hung out with his family. It had been quite a busy time while I was in Belfast and Bek and I hadn't really had much time to just be together and chat, so that was really good. Then some WoW. Then bed.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Totoro goes to Belfast

Saturday - Belfast

We were going to drive up the Antrim coast today, which would have been pleasant, but John wasn't feeling up to driving and I started feeling sicker and sicker. I ended up curled up on the couch for most of the day, with a brief foray into town. We were going to see a movie with Bek's friend T, but it was sold out, so we had coffee, then some chips, then a real Irish pub experience at Aunty Annie's (a venue I'd heard a lot about - it's the gang's favourite hang I think). We came back to the house so I could nap and they could drink cocktails and play Wii. I surfaced briefly to lose at bowling. Feeling very ordinary indeed...probably not much of a surprise given that I hadn't been 100% before coming on holidays, and I've been much more active than I normally am on any given day.

One thing we saw today that was interesting was when we went to pick T up. She lives in a normal looking street, and at the end of the street is a mural, featuring a pair of balaclava-ed men pointing machine guns at the viewer. It's both banal in its setting and horrifying in its content. T said that on the 12th of July, during the marches, there is usually a bonfire in her street, which is more annoying than anything because it ruins the asphalt and takes the council months to fix (a process that gets repeated every year). "One thing that's handy, though, is if you want to get rid of anything you just leave it out in the street and someone will chuck it on the bonfire." I commented it was the Irish version of a council cleanup, which she thought amusing.

But then, as mum said, while she's worrying about me wandering around in a city renowned for violence and unrest, some man gets murdered in a pub down the road from where we live and work in Sydney. Nowhere's safe, really. There's just an illusion of safety.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Belfast tulips

Just for a bit of upliftingness, here are the beautiful tulips that we saw at the Botanic Gardens glasshouse yesterday. Tulips make everything okay.

Friday - Belfast

I arrived last night and we were all quite exhausted, so after dinner and looking at my Flickr photos, we all went to bed. Bek and John live in South Belfast, and I'm staying up the road from them at John's mum's place. I can decipher John's accent pretty well, but his mum's accent is very thick; she also has a wicked sense of humour so she makes a lot of black jokes that I can't quite work out until my Babelfish kicks in*. But I'm just at Margaret's to sleep; we're generally hanging around at B & J's cool flat that has wireless everything, including a projector hooked up to a computer so you can watch movies on the 'big screen' (aka the wall).

Today we woke early and drove back to Belfast International to pick up Jake. Bek and John had to work today, so Jake and I were left to our own devices to wander around Belfast. Unfortunately it was drizzling all day, not raining enough to get really wet, and just blustery enough to blow umbrellas inside out. Neither of us knows anything about Belfast, we're basically here to hang out with Bek and John, so we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do. We walked into the centre of town and had a ride on the Belfast Wheel, which John tells me is the Belfast version of the London Eye but "nobody can be bothered to take it down and it probably costs too much to take down so they've just left it up."

Belfast is a hard place to gauge. It's hard to tell whether it feels grey because of the weather or because it's actually grey. Everything looks a bit worn out and faded. Bek said that she just plays the 'dumb Australian' card when she wanders into Irish political conversational areas. She says that although the Troubles are over and the whole place wants to move on, if you scratch the surface the attitudes are still there, especially amongst the working class. We drove past a hotel that John described as "the most bombed hotel in the world". There are bright yellow phone boxes that look like industrial containers, which we realised were probably built that way to be bomb-proof. But the city is just kind of shut down and grey.

There wasn't much to see, so we went back to the Botanic Gardens to wait for John to meet us for lunch. There were some stunning flowers in a glasshouse where we took shelter from the rain, but oddly enough there were no places to sit under cover (which is much the same as when Jen and I were walking in the rain to Oxford station there were absolutely no places to find shelter, no awnings or doorways or anything...the British just don't want people to stop and be dry anywhere).

We had a delicious Indian meal for lunch (best Indian I've eaten in ages) and then Jake and I came back to the house to blob out. We watched Kill Bill vol 1 & 2, then Bek and John came home and now we're having cocktails. It's so good to be with friends; the sadness of yesterday has dissolved somewhat, though the relentless greyness doesn't do much to lift the spirits. So tonight we're just going to chill out with our cocktails, make some pizzas and watch movies. It's just like old times, back in Sydney when we were all at uni.

* Irish accented words or phrases I like so far:
the beg whale = the big wheel
aisles and squorls = owls and squirrels
dander = to wander
clampet / plank = an idiot
boggan / piggan = disgusting

Friday, 25 April 2008

Thursday - Oxford to Belfast

I'm sitting in Heathrow, wishing, wishing, wishing. Amazing how just a few hours alone dealing with transport leaves me feeling bereft, sad, lonely. I guess it doesn't help that I'm not feeling well either; dislocated, a bit vague, queasy and overwarm. I know when I get to Belfast I'll be fine, but the transit is a killer.

It's funny, but England hasn't overly impressed me this time. I've enjoyed spending time with the Bs, and I've liked the things that I've seen, but I haven't enjoyed the people here. I'm tired and sad. The adrenalin of the earlier part of the holiday has worn off, the excitement of the new and luscious is gone, replaced by a melancholy compounded by the indifferent weather and the horrible food (not the food Jen cooked, which was great, but coming from France where pretty much anything you buy is going to be yummy, there wasn't much foodwise in England to commend it (which I know is no great surprise, but I don't remember it being this bad)).

I guess another factor is that I'm feeling so disconnected. Leaving Jen and JD at the station was sad. And even though I've got my laptop and have been talking to people every day, emailing every day, there is just something about seeing friends, touching them, hearing their voices, knowing they are just around the corner, that is just irreplaceable. The distance is just so great. Even if I ran now and got another ticket, even if I jumped on the first plane home, it would still be two days before I'd arrive, before I'd see anyone. And all I need to is to be patient, to wait for this next flight, to just be calm, and I'll be with lovely friends in Belfast and this feeling will disappear.

I don't mean this to sound like whingeing. I have not forgotten how blessed I am with friends and the funds to come over here and visit them. I've been longing to do this for months, years. I guess this is just the reality of travel when you have a depressive disposition; it's hard enough to feel content and happy when everything is level and familiar at home, and even more so when you're being shunted from bus to train to plane and just hoping you'll end up where you're meant to be. So far my attitude has been pretty relaxed; if I miss connections it's a hassle but it's not the end of the world. I think this is a good outlook to have. But still. People who travel first class and have staff to think of all this crap for them really have no idea how lucky they are.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Wednesday - Oxford colleging

The weather almost had us back indoors today, but by the time we got going the sun had struggled out from behind the clouds. Jen and I did some food shopping at the farmers' market, then met Mark. As an Oxford University student, Mark is allowed into all the colleges for free, whereas visitors normally have to pay a fee (between 2-5 pounds). So we used our handy Oxford University student privileges and wandered around some colleges.

First off we went to Trinity, which has some gorgeous grounds. There is a section with a rambly path and lots of beautiful spring flowers. After all the greyness of the last few days, it was refreshing to see the green and the red so vivid in the sunlight.

We wandered back through the town and bought some Cornish pasties for lunch, then sat down at the meadow behind Christ Church College to eat. You wouldn't know it from such a perfect pastoral-looking picture, but the main street of Oxford is just a few metres to the left. Apparently there are often cows grazing on the meadow too, but not today.

After lunch we went in to Christ Church College. If the pics look vaguely familiar, you may have seen some of these interiors in the Harry Potter movies. The architecture is something else, though; you just stare up at the vaulted ceilings in wonder. I asked Mark whether he was taken by the architecture, studying here and he said "Yes, it's aesthetically very inspiring."

The last stop was Magdalen College (there is argument over how to pronounce it - Magdalen or Maudlin? After reading this article, I'm no more enlightened). This is the college where people like Oscar Wilde studied, and CS Lewis taught (his rooms were in the building pictured below). It's a huge college and very, very pretty. It also has its own deer park, because that's an essential factor to getting a degree.

We were all pretty trashed by the time we finished walking around. I came back to the Remont and had a sleep, we had dinner and watched more DVDs and none of us could really hold a conversation of any sort. Having said that, though, it's been so wonderful to spend such a long, lovely, uninterrupted slab of time with my excellent friends. I have missed them so.

My holiday is 2/3 over; time slips by so quickly. And yet I'm tired and feel like it would be good to hit the pause button for a bit so I can just get myself back together. If only Australia wasn't so far away from all these places. Three weeks is such a short time to fit all this...stuff into. But I'm not complaining! I'm so grateful that I've had the chance to come over here. It has been a great tonic for the soul.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Tuesday - Oxford sleep-in

Nothing to report today. We were going to do stuff but realised we were all completely exhausted. I went back to bed for a nap and ended up sleeping all day; the Bs continued on with normal life, studying and shopping and looking after the bub. We reconvened for dinner and DVDs in the evening. Oh I also wrote a song. Holidays are good.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Monday - Oxford birthday

I turned 32! The day was heralded by a call on my mobile that woke me at 5am...I thought it might have been someone calling to wish me a happy birthday but it was the NRMA. Hmm. (update on the car: it's been written off, sadly, but it means we have enough money from the payout to pay the Bs for it, and we also have the use of my dad's car while he's living overseas so it all works out okay) Wide awake, I blogged my 32 year autobiography and chatted to G on instant messanger.

After breakfast, Jen, JD and I headed out. It was another rainy, grey Oxford day, but we didn't mind. Jen was very excited that I wanted to see the Martyr's Memorial, and she talked me through it as we looked at it. She knows her history, and I've never known anyone who has gotten so excited about sharing church history with others; she really makes it come alive. If you ever want to learn more about church history, she's the gal to talk to.

She took a photo of me beside the memorial, but I wasn't sure what kind of expression you're supposed to adopt when standing beside something commemorating the fact that three men were burned at the stake for their faith. It doesn't seem right to smile in a touristy way. I've settled for faintly ridiculous.

Around the corner, in Broad Street, is the spot where the men were actually burned. It's so strange, looking around Oxford, to think that anything like that could happen here. I understand that this part of Oxford was actually outside the city walls at the time, a rubbish tip. But even so, to think that it happened at all, here...that the monarchy ordered people to die for believing the same things I believe, and that they faced their deaths so's mind-boggling. And humbling.

The spot is marked by a cobbled cross in the street, and a stone plaque in a nearby wall. The thing that got me is that the day before I'd been wandering around here, and actually walked over this without even realising what it was. Somewhere like Oxford is so full of history that something as extraordinary as this is just there, on the street, to be walked over by tourists and ridden over by students on bicycles. I find it fascinating.

We went to the Covered Markets and bought some berries for my birthday cake. Then we tried to go and have a pub meal at the White Horse Inn, but were turned away before we even got in the door. JD's pram isn't the biggest pram in the world, but it's kind of unwieldy and most places just don't seem equipped for mothers with babies. Aisles and doorways are very narrow, and people don't seem to be able to cope that well with babies in public generally. We ended up having lunch at a cafe called The Buttery, which had fairly indifferent food, but I was quite startled by the attitudes of the other patrons. We were openly stared at by most of the people in the room, especially when it came to JD's feeding time. It was as though they had never seen a baby before. It's not like he was crying or being difficult or anything; he is a very, very quiet baby. But I noticed one guy staring at Jen and when I turned to look at him, his girlfriend stared at me. And the thing is, in Australia if you met someone's stare they'd either look away or say something to you. In England, they just stare back at you. So we ignored them.

JD wasn't fazed by it at all.

After lunch we went to Blackwell's bookshop, Oxford's biggest bookshop and an institution in its own right. It looks like it's just a little shopfront, but it has three storeys up, and a massive basement "of over 10,000 square feet housing 160,000 volumes on over three miles of shelving. The room is under Trinity College and was opened in 1966. It gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest display of books for sale in one room anywhere in the world." (source) It's pretty impressive. And they have a great cafe, that actually has room to park a pram. And when I sat with JD in some comfy chairs and felt an old woman's eyes on me, I was expecting some stern lecture, but she just smiled and said "What a placid, lovely baby!" So definitely our kind of place, for sure.

After coffee we walked back down to the area I'd been wandering around the day before, to look inside the Bodleian. In the foreground of the photo below is one of the many massive carved heads ranged around the outside of the Sheldonian. This is the theatre where all the Oxford students go to matriculate, and is right beside the Bodleian, which you can see in the background. I love how all these magnificent buildings are just all lumped in together in a relatively small space. Doors open as you walk past colleges and you get a glimpse of green quadrangles and spring flowers; it's like there are worlds within worlds here, just waiting to be explored if you can find the way in.

As a visitor you can't go into the Bodleian itself, but you can wander around the courtyards and gasp at the gorgeousness of the architecture.

We went into a small exhibition on John Milton, called Citizen Milton, which was quite interesting. I didn't know much about him, but was taken by his passion and how he struggled against the monarchy, censorship and the oppression of his time -
Advocate of freedom of the press, transparency in government, public debate, education for liberty, the right to divorce, the disestablishment of the church and the abolition of monarchy, Milton espoused positions radical even by today's standards. The cornerstone of Milton's concept of liberty was the virtuous citizen, an individual endowed with reason to make choices and to act freely in the world. . . This exhibition gives an account of this remarkable writer, with especial focus on Milton's concept of citizenship and the ways that later artists grappled with the complex legacy of his powerful words.
It was only a very small exhibition, but had lots of interesting source documents, including 'pirated' versions of Milton's banned works that had painstakingly been copied out by hand, even Percy Bysshe Shelley's notebook with his notes on Milton (he had terrible penmanship).

After this we wandered down to Magdalen Bridge and watched some people punting despite the dreary weather. The English have this strange stoicism when it comes to the weather - "it's spring, I don't care if it's six degrees outside, it's spring and we are going to conduct ourselves accordingly." (This is especially apparent in the shops; even though it's cold enough to still warrant scarves and gloves outside, you cannot buy a long sleeved top in any of the shops. It's all frilly light cotton blouses and spaghetti strapped dresses...delusional.) So a few people were punting, though most of the boats were unused.
I then went to Neal's Yard and had a wonderful, wonderful birthday massage. I left feeling light as air.

The Bs had organised Chinese takeaway for dinner, and Jen's marvellous chocolate and berry cake. We kind of failed at taking a good birthday pic, but this kind of sums up how we are when we're together:

Totoro explored the bookcases but came to disaster when he encountered Barth and Brunner.
We were all greatly revived by Jen's marvellous cake, though.

We had a pleasant evening, though after dinner I rapidly went downhill, especially given I'd been awake since 5am. Massages can have a downside too, releasing all the nastiness in your muscles and leaving you with a dreadful headache. So we played a little WoW, I drank a lot of water and then I slipped away to bed.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The longest short autobiography in the world

32 years ago, I arrived. It’s true to say the world has not been the same since.

31 years ago, I lived in my little world in a little house in a humble suburb with my young parents. It was the seventies; my dad’s hair was long, my mum’s hair was short.

30 years ago, there was another. The bane of my existence, the apple of my eye. A symbiote, a stranger, a partner in crime, a brother, a friend. Someone to run from, someone to look after. Someone I was bigger than. Someone new I was bound to.

29 years ago, I dislocated his arm by trying to help him to fly. He has never let me forget it.

28 years ago, I was in pre school with Miss Yee who I thought was amazing because of her long, long black hair and her beautiful Chinese face. I remember a creepy Santa Claus visited us at Christmastime and we all got to pull a present out of the sack. I got a blue and white plastic tea set; I remember being not especially impressed.

27 years ago, I started at Mascot Public School. I don’t remember much about it except for the Book Parade when I wore pink velvet knickerbockers. They were very special.

26 years ago, I decided that since our house was across the road from my school, it would be logical for me to walk home on my own. I neglected to tell my mother this. She wasn’t that happy when she went to pick me up and I wasn’t there, but it made perfect sense to me.

25 years ago, we forged a new life in a new place. We moved to Papua New Guinea and a tropical climate and curfews and states of emergency and buai on the pavements and unseen danger around every corner and Pidgin English.

24 years ago, I wrote stories. I won a short story competition and didn’t even know I was in it. I am an accidental writer, mainly because it’s so ingrained in me I don’t even notice it.

23 years ago, I stood up to a bully.

22 years ago, we went to Disneyland and England and then we moved to Singapore.

21 years ago, I was happy in my red and white pinstriped school uniform, with my gang of rag-tag friends from all over the world and a crazy teacher who taught me about Monty Python, the joy of Fridays and never to use the word ‘nice’ if I wanted to be a decent writer. That was also the year I heard something at church that made my soul dance. I don’t remember the specifics, but I knew I had to make a choice. I chose Jesus and was baptised at the International Baptist Church by Pastor Ray.

20 years ago, we moved back to Sydney and I started high school. Again. I was the new girl, again. I stood in a corner at recess, biting back rancid tears of fear and loneliness, wondering if I would ever fit in, anywhere.

19 years ago, I still had penpals and a best friend in Singapore and we loved a certain boy band and our obsession knew no bounds. Our letters were full of fantasies and imaginings and the secret language of teenage girls. If, at the time, you had told me 19 years later I would be mildly embarrassed about this, I would have shot daggers at you with my eyes and told you flatly that it was impossible. My love was timeless. Sadly, the band was not.

18 years ago I had two best friends, both boys. We had a band and we played jazz standards and Billy Joel and songs from the Blues Brothers and we made lots of noise and silly movies. One of these boys became my first boyfriend. I can’t remember how; it probably began with a kiss, or hand-holding, or shy shufflings. We were inseparable, we were hilarious. Everything was fun and funny. His mother thought we were more devious than we really were, thought I was some kind of Lolita. I didn’t even know what a Lolita was.

17 years ago, I realised it wouldn’t last. We stayed friends, but it was never the same.

16 years ago, I wanted to be cooler than I was. I was still learning that coolness is intangible and worthless. I spent a lot of time at Kings Cross and Elizabeth Bay, discovered Rickie Lee Jones, and ate cherries while my stoned friends danced in the park.

15 years ago, I finished high school. I got into a relationship with a man twice my age, a jazz guitarist who should have known better but didn’t. I thought I was grown up, but I wasn’t.

14 years ago, I was in love with jazz. I played Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock and Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and I went along to my boyfriend’s gigs and sat in the darkness lapping it up. I still thought I was grown up, and that I was accepted by all his thirtysomething friends, but now that I am their age I think their kind expressions must have been ones of bemusement.

13 years ago, my parents split up. I was unsurprised. I think that was also the year that the unimaginable happened, though as with those sorts of traumas, I don’t tend to remember times and dates. Looking back, it’s probably no surprise either. I wasn’t really in the mode of protecting myself from the world and its evils, I was just trying to obliterate and was in the danger of being obliterated myself.

12 years ago, my mother’s best friend and fiance died. The world is a smaller place without him. Every January when the nights are hot and the Australian Open blares from the television, I remember those times sitting in the hospice. I remember holding hands and the sunkenness of his face and the sad relief when he was finally free of his body.

11 years ago, I celebrated my 21st birthday with a masquerade ball in the Chinese Gardens. It was a magical night. I was worrying about who to invite and who not to invite and when I look at the photos now, I don’t even know half the people who were there anymore. But I wore an amazing dress and sat in the dark on a stone bridge while friends sang ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ in four-part harmony.

10 years ago, I finished my Bachelor of Arts with honours in Theatre and English. I had written and directed a play that was very well received; I loved theatre and was going to work in theatre forever, start my own company, do something amazing, though that star seemed to blaze brightly and burn out quickly. That year I moved out of home, although home by that stage had just become an idea. Each member of my family was living somewhere different. I was living in a studio flat in Glebe, overlooking the city. My boyfriend, an actor, came to stay one night and never really went home. That’s how we ended up living together. We cooked together, had sleepy Sunday breakfasts in the sun, listened to crazy music and learned lines together.

9 years ago, that relationship imploded and I lay on the bathroom floor in tears and distress, unable to work out what to do, where to go, who I was or why this had happened to me. I had wandered a long way away from God. That was the year he pulled me back in. It was like healing, like learning to walk again, like bones knitting. I was broken, shattered, wrecked beyond repair, and he put me back together; the same person, but better. Whole. That was also the year my grandfather died, my Papa, who had always been. I moved back in with my mother.

8 years ago, according to some, I “still had no music taste”. This is a disputed ‘fact’. I love music so much that sometimes I just don’t discriminate and quite like the fact that I enjoy so many different things. I think it’s called eclectic taste.

7 years ago, my mother and I went to Europe together. I discovered the joy of exploring England and the thrills of Italy. She smoothed over the bad memories of her past travels by seeing it all afresh with me. I wandered through Venice alone, and imagined great things.

6 years ago, I started working for AFES, in what felt like a proper, grown-up job. I continued to grow as a Christian, but felt the growing pains keenly.

5 years ago, I started sewing a quilt with Danielle that took me five years to finish. I exulted in the friendship of women who encouraged me in my faith.

4 years ago, I graduated with my MA in creative writing and half a book in my hands. I moved out again, to live on my own in Kensington.

3 years ago, I couldn’t write anymore. What had once been like breathing to me was now difficult and laboured. I got involved with someone who seemed right but was very wrong for me. As my life seemed to fall apart again, I wondered why I had such terrible taste in men and why I found it so hard to disconnect from them.

2 years ago, I started seeing a counsellor and taking anti-depressants. I realised that through the fog and the fug, God was still holding on to me, and that was very reassuring indeed.

1 year ago, I was very sick. It was then discovered my gall bladder was very diseased and I was rushed into hospital to have it removed. Mum also had a total knee replacement. It was a year of hospitals. I was heartbroken when my best friends moved to the other side of the world, and then almost surprised to discover new kindred spirits. I started to write again. I started to sing again. I started to laugh again.

32 years ago, I arrived. It’s true to say the world has not been the same since.

Sunday - Oxford

Today we went to church at St Ebbe's. It was a great service, with full-voiced singing and a good sermon. I didn't realise, but Phillip Percival from Emu Music works at St Ebbe's as music director, so the music was good quality, especially the song they did during communion by Stuart Townend which had glorious harmonies and was very moving. It was nice to have communion again too, haven't done that for ages as they only seem to do it once in a while at Wild St.

Here is JD dancing on the baptismal font:
I held him for the whole service and he was so good. Jen said that apparently the English get extremely upset if a child makes even the slightest noise during the service and suggest very pointedly that you might like to take the child out. This is so different from in Sydney, where the kids pretty much just run around all the time and nobody says anything. I think a happy medium would be good! But JD was so quiet, just lay there smiling at me, drank a bottle of milk and went to sleep. I'm told he's on his best 'guest' behaviour.

Jen and I liked this pic - thought it looked like he was plotting world domination:
I left the Bs after church to have a little wander around Oxford. It was a very grey day today, but nice just leisurely strolling around, looking in shops and up at all the beautiful buildings jostling for space in small laneways and long, elegant streets.

I most loved Radcliffe Square, between the University Church and the Bodleian Library. I'm especially impressed by the huge, round building that is Radcliffe Camera. It was built to house a library devoted to the sciences, and is now a reading room for the Bodleian.

The Bridge of Sighs was also cool, built to look like the bridge in Venice and linking the two halves of Hertford College over New College Lane.

I looked in a few shops, and stumbled across Neal's Yard Remedies. I love their stuff, beautiful scents and everything in apothecary's blue glass bottles. They also offer massages and things, so I booked myself in for one tomorrow (a birthday massage, hooray!). The girl who served me kept looking at me peculiarly, as though she couldn't quite work out why I was in the shop. I almost wondered whether I had made some unknown faux pas, but Mark later assured me that it was just the English way. Customer service is apparently a foreign concept to most shop staff; Mark thinks it has something to do with the class system and people not wanting to appear to serve other people. Or something.

Then I went back to my room for a quick nap and ended up sleeping half the afternoon! But hey, it's a holiday...

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Saturday - Oxford - day off

Okay so I know I'm on holidays and the notion of having a day off on your holidays might seem odd. But after all the walking in Paris and the arduous travel components, it was so good today to just go to the Bs' place and hang out.

I'm staying at The Remont, which has 25 rooms so it's more like a small hotel and isn't as lovely and personal as La Villa; in fact the staff seem a little odd. My room is fine, though my one gripe is that it has a very narrow single bed, which I think is quite stingy really. After the wonderfully huge bed in Paris I have to keep remembering not to roll over or I'll fall out. But the room is comfortable and warm, the bathroom clean and light, and the breakfast plentiful and hot. And even better, the Bs' place is literally across the road - I walk out of my driveway, cross a small street and walk into their apartment block. So it's perfect, really.

I think I've already made a firm friend in Jonathan (also known as JD), their 4-month old son. He is very placid and interested in the world, and makes some very funny noises. Jen described his incredible eyelashes when he was born, and I've been asked to report on them. Well, the reports are true, and it's not just a mother's adoration - the eyelashes are long and delightful. When I commented on them, Mark rolled his eyes and sighed. "He's just a baby," he insisted. Jen and I just continued to coo and make bird noises.

JD also seemed to like the little ugg boots mum sent over.

Here he is meeting Totoro, and also with the carrot I sent him when he was born:
I particularly love this photo, cos it looks like he's been caught in the act. "Carrot? What carrot?"
Aside from going between my place and theirs, we didn't go outside at all today. It was rainy and a cool 6 degrees, so it's not like we were missing anything! The best part was, we got to catch up on one of our favourite pastimes - playing WoW together. It's very hard to explain to people who aren't gamers, and even then sometimes they don't get the whole WoW thing. But for us it's a way of chilling out, spending time together, laughing heaps and just enjoying one another. Totoro got in on it too.

Emma T caught me online this afternoon and messaged me incredulously, "How is it that you are online?", chastised me for carrying my laptop overseas, and then chastised me again for not having made my move in our latest Scramble game on Facebook. So I duly complied. It's very good to be able to stay in touch with people (and play Scramble), and not to have to trek to an internet cafe to do it.

We had a yummy lunch and dinner. The absolute best bit was the berries - again with the berries. This time, however, not only were the berries absolutely perfect, sweet and delicious, but they had a big dollop of clotted cream on top. To say I enjoyed it is a total understatement, as you can see here:

The Bs introduced me to two series they knew I'd like, Dead Like Me and Last Exile. Both very cool shows, though I was a little out of it by the time we watched Last Exile. Again, as with G and K, it is so wonderful having friends who know just what you'll like.

Such as clotted cream. Mmm. And Jen's making me a chocolate birthday cake with berries for Monday! Bring it on!