Recently I turned my life on its head and left the comfort zone of home town, family and friends in Wellington (NZ), to start a new chapter in Western Australia. As I adjust to my new surroundings, I find myself thinking in the shape of stories and letters home. Feel free to take a seat and read on..

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hidden Treasure in My Back Yard

At first glance, my back yard is a dry and untamed wilderness..

Come to think of it, at the second 
and third glance it is too..

Let me show you some of its hidden treasures..

No-one planted these, they just grew.  And as far as I know they did 
it all on about a teaspoon of water

I tried picking some but they didn't like it inside.
So I go to them.

Are you my mother?

These were virtually invisible, hiding under a mass of leaves 
(and, by the way, delicious!)

Regular lookout spot for watching the world go by..

And keeping a sharp eye on the competition

Noisy neighbours prone to public displays of affection

Big, fat figs..

And big, fat fig eaters
(Look closer at the tree in the background)

Always somewhere to be when you're a skink

These open in the evening, flower gloriously overnight,
 and are gone again by mid-morning

Yet another triumph of nature thriving on a drop of rain and a lot of optimism

You've already met Godfrey

and my favourite treasure of all:

Talking engineer wearing provocative conversation starter
(thanks Cushla for the pinny proclaiming the pavlova as New Zealand's great dessert)

early January 2011:

“What is worth doing, and what is worth having?   It is worth doing nothing and having a rest”  
Michael Leunig
Happy New Year!  
I have started this with a quote from cartoonist Michael Leunig as it sums up rather neatly how life is for me for the time being..  I am doing nothing and having a rest.  I’m getting pretty good at it too which is a relief, as for the first few weeks after my arrival I found it very hard to relax.  I suppose letting go of almost all of one’s worldly possessions and saying goodbye to family and friends for the long term is right up there in the major-life-stress category, but the momentum and busyness of the preparations and farewells is in itself a distraction from the enormity of what one is setting out to do.  Luckily for me the talking engineer has been brilliant and has caught me before I venture too far down any tempting little black holes.  Mind you, it is his fault I’m here in the first place...
Life in Hobbiton continues.  At some point before Christmas we decided that for whatever reason the house hunting wasn’t working and so we would simply stay put for the time being.  There is nothing inherently wrong with where we are, apart from it’s too small, too hot, and too full of uninvited wildlife, but otherwise it’s fine.  We invested in a portable air conditioning unit and a couple of bug bombs, and agreed we’d stay until it was time to go.  Which isn’t yet.  There will come a point where we both go “that’s enough”, but I know we will miss this funny little place when that time comes.  

I can’t help but be aware of life moment by moment here..  Step outside to the dry and untamed wilderness that is our back yard and life slaps you in the face.  There’s an area the size of a tennis court groaning with sunflowers that nobody planted.  A fig tree laden with the biggest figs I have ever seen hosts a regular tea party of rainbow lorikeets who love to squabble over the same fig.  

The neighbour’s vine has crept over the wall and is fattening up a couple of plump bunches of grapes for us.  One evening, four strange and wonderful enormous white flowers unfurled, flowered triumphantly overnight, and by mid-morning the next day were simply another happy memory.  As I write, skinks skitter up and down the walls outside, ants march endlessly, the local cat population is taking a break from the morning’s hunting and snoozing in the shady corners, and the GIGANTIC cockroaches are hiding wherever they hide until it’s time to haunt the shower and play cat and mouse with me again!  All this before I even step outside the property..
Go for a walk, and drift away on the heady scent of frangipani which are all in full bloom right now.  If there’s moisture in the air the scent of eucalyptus is almost overpowering.  Everywhere I turn there are olive trees heaving with fruit, mulberry trees dripping with berries, sunflowers to beat the band, cape gooseberries, lemons, grapes, passion fruit, figs, flowers, and birds, birds, and more birds.  

There’s very little that’s subtle about the birdlife here - it’s loud, raucous, colourful, and good fun.  The usual suspects spring to mind - the jaunty Crow with its death-throes-of-a-strangled-cat gurgle; the gate-hinges-need-oiling full volume creak of the Rainbow Lorikeet; the ‘looks-like-a-dove-aspiring-to-be-a-magpie’ Magpie Lark who is, in fact, neither magpie nor lark but doesn’t care, and will talk to anyone about anything; the self-conscious tittering of the Corellas; and, of course, the infectious chuckling of the Kookaburras.  In contrast, one of my favourites is the Willie Wagtail who flies in the face of the others’ uncouth displays and, like New Zealand’s fantails, flits about in a quietly friendly, enquiring way.  Willie Wagtail’s tail flick is more graceful and swooping than his New Zealand cousin’s and just as endearing.  I’ve become the proud owner of the Field Guide to  the Birds of Australia - no hope for me now, it seems I’m a bird watcher.  Who would have thought?  
I think since I’ve been here we have had two actual days of rain, and a couple of times where it started to rain but must have forgotten what it was doing and sort of fizzled out again and all this unstoppable life just carries on anyway. Amazing.  

Before Christmas, we went Christmas shopping - the version I like where everything we bought was for us.  Socks, underpants, a stick blender, picnic table & chairs, and a barbecue later, we had it covered.  Oh yes, and a portable air conditioning unit because it gets quite hot here.  
Christmas Day dawned clear, sunny and hot, with the overnight low of 22 degrees hitting around the same time as we woke.  Taking the usual precautions of adequate footwear, sunscreen, hats, water, letting the authorities know our route etc..  we set off for a walk before the temperatures reached the stupefying stage.  Then a skype-ing session before hunkering down with the air con. on and the door & windows shut to keep out the worst of the 40 degree heat of the day.  I had done a comprehensive shop with a view to having a traditional Aussie “throw some prawns on the barbie” Christmas feast.  Whatever.  In the end the heat got the better of us, and Christmas Dinner was hummus on a Ryvita and a mini Magnum - and that was too much food!  However, I’m happy to report that the prawns with Asian pesto on Boxing Day were everything I had hoped for and more.  
Richard’s job is going well, he goes “to site” every second week which involves very long hours and he usually gets home pretty shattered, but is having some excellent boy-type adventures too.  The weeks he is working in the city, we get up early and go for a walk together while it’s still cool enough.  After work he picks me up and we go and throw ourselves into the sea - bliss!  

From the department of slightly too much information:
  • Today I ate mangoes naked.
  • There are two types of bra wearers.  Those who can put their arms through the holes and do them up at the back, and those who do the hooks up at the front and then twist it around and put their arms through.  It’s not genetic, and you’re one or the other.  After nearly 36 years of being a do-up-at-the-front-and-then-twist, I am learning to be a back hooker (so to speak). You can’t be a front and twister in this heat without breaking stitches.
  • The other day the talking engineer went to get the ladder so he could hang a curtain above the door.  At 35 degrees plus, the ladder came out of the shed very, very hot.  Ouch, he said, I can’t stand on this, I need jandals on.  Half way up the ladder, it became apparent that he should have had clothes on too...
New Year’s resolutions:
Haven’t exactly made specific ones.  I am percolating on a very confronting question that comes from Spencer Johnson’s book “ Who Moved My Cheese?”:  
“What would you be doing if you weren’t afraid?”
I’ll get back to you on that..

Monday, February 14, 2011

25 Nov 2010: Some things I've learnt so far..

Walking:  learn to pant with your mouth shut - then you only have to deal with the flies that go up your nose (carry at least 3 tissues for this)
Heat:  embrace the sweating as a cleansing process - expect to feel very cleansed
Richard can call millipedes Shongololos, and tell me they’re are a good omen: I won’t like them climbing the shower walls any better.

Good cockroach

Cockroaches:  the only good 
cockroach is a dead cockroach.

Having to go outside to the toilet at 2.00am: means you get to see shooting stars

Coffee:  there’s no such thing as a trim flat white here (although I am hoping to become one myself some day).  If you want a low fat coffee order a "skeeny" flat white - you’ll get a latte in a mug but near enough’s good enough..

The price of fish:  Oh. My. God.  Take out a mortgage or develop a taste for sardines and feel good about the omegas..
Get used to carrying cash again: many places here are cash only or have a $10.00 minimum eftpos policy

Godfrey - uninvited guest

Don't take rustling in the grass for granted: it may well not be a cat and when it bursts through the door it will be harder to get rid of than a cat!!

25 Nov 2010: first big letter home

It’s 4 weeks today since I arrived and so little has happened I hardly know where to begin..    I jest not; after the last few months before I left Wellington this feels like living in slow motion.
The first few days were spent getting to know Richard again - he is looking really good having shed some weight, and is fitter from lots of walking..   so good to to be back together after 4 long months apart.
This is in the "big" house!
It was great to have a few days to go out exploring and for Richard to show me around so by the time he went back to work I had a good idea of where I was. His job is based in Perth but we are living in a little place in Fremantle and will probably continue to base ourselves in this area for the time being.
The landlord, Dave, left for Vietnam the night I arrived and kindly let us use his house while he was away.  So my first two weeks were spent in a small and very quirky cottage where most of the doorways are tall enough and wide enough for people from another era, the kitchen isn’t really anywhere near the stove which is in the next room along with the fridge, and the floor in the bedroom is on such a slope that I literally had to hook my foot over the mattress to try to keep on my side of the bed..  

Upstairs in "Hobbiton"
This was all good preparation for when Dave came home and we moved back into "Hobbiton" - the little sleep-out-type-cottagey thing Richard has been living in for the past few months at the back of Dave’s house.  It’s basically like living in an old motel unit with a sleeping platform above the living/kitchen area.   

Once you get out of bed in the morning, it’s best not to go upstairs again for the rest of the day unless you really have to - this eliminates extra opportunities for banging your head on the beams which are several inches lower than my shoulder.  I can stand up between the beams as long as my head is completely bent over...   whatever, it’s built for people way shorter than us.

There is no bathroom - just an outside shower and the proverbial brick “out” house so nocturnal visits require a torch and jandals.  It’s a huge section, very overgrown and with several big trees including a large sycamore outside the front door which provides nice shade on the hot days. 

I am supposed to be finding us somewhere to live which isn’t happening very fast but we’ve needed a bit of time to have a look around and gather information, and in the end I know perfectly well that when we’re ready we’ll find something that makes us both go “yep, this is the one” and we’ll get on with it.
Warren the van rabbit adjusts to
life navigating from a car window
Weekends we hop into Richard’s comfy, air-conditioned company car and go for “little” drives here and there.  So far have been eastwards to York, Northam and Toodyay, and last weekend south to Busselton - a 470km round trip which in this country is a very short drive..
Am coping reasonably well with the higher temperatures here although last week was a challenge - 4 days in a row over 35deg - Friday 39 - but this is not a heat wave as you have to have 5 days in a row for an official heat wave..  I became a shopping centre refugee on Friday which could explain why I now have a cold, having spent the day taking shelter in air conditioned shops..
Life here for me for currently revolves around getting up really early and seeing R off to work - lots of fresh fruit & bircher muesli - and then trying to get things done before it gets too hot.  “Getting things done”  mostly consists of tidying up the little shoe box we inhabit and then playing on this new fangled iMac we bought a week or so ago.  Our old Mac was so old this is like learning to use a computer all over again - fantastic and bloody frustrating in equal measure.  Am also spending time laboriously re-writing my entire contacts list as I had a bit of a disaster with the teeny tiny memory stick I used to put the contents of our old Mac onto before I left NZ..  enough said about that.
Then, having had breakfast so early I have a second breakfast/brunch type snack (well, we are living in Hobbiton!)  Depending on the weather (i.e hot, very hot or stupidly hot) I will don my walking shoes and march into town.  Yesterday I walked down to the hairdresser I had decided to audition to make an appointment.  She took me on the spot, and two hours and a comprehensive scalping later, she appears to have the job..  now all I need to do is lose 3 stone and my head will match my body again..
So, the great news is I am now fully independent in the communications department again with fully functioning computer, access to internet, and even skype-ing now.  

More soon..