Packing for Africa – with a purpose

Tags

, , , , ,

Home

I’m about to embark on a trip of a lifetime. After dreaming of doing so just about my whole life, next week I’m off to Africa! South Africa and Zimbabwe to be precise. Weehah!

There will be wild animals, safari nights, a long rambling train trip in luxury, food and wine delights, unlimited photography and rollicking good company. There will also be golf, which for me is less exciting as I don’t play golf, but there are brilliant alternatives when that takes place.

I have the best of intentions of taking lots of notes and doing lots of posts to record this trip, so let’s see if I hold true to my word.

The trip will be one with some dichotomy, as travel often is. While we will indulge ourselves in fine places and fine food, we will also visit some incredibly poor places where life is a struggle. It’s a prevalent tension of travel. I must admit I’m a bit daunted by the thought of travelling in Zimbabwe, a nation with a violent and troubled history and sometimes present, and where unemployment and inflation are at staggering rates. There will be much to learn, and perhaps our tourist dollars will go towards encouraging a fledgling tourism industry and support their wildlife conservation efforts.

We’ll be visiting and staying at a couple of safari lodges in Zimbabwe where conservation and community development are at the heart of what they do. There are a number of lodges throughout Zimbabwe, and indeed other parts of Africa and the world, which are part of the ‘Pack for a Purpose’ project. It’s a great idea. If you’re staying at one of the involved lodges, you can look up what specific needs their school or community has and take along some items to donate, like stationery, books or school items. And you get to see where it actually goes.

If anyone is travelling overseas soon, you can take a look and see if your accommodation choice is involved in this project. Alternatively, you can use the information provided to inform future travel accommodation choices. There are places in dozens and dozens of countries.

Here’s the link: Pack for a Purpose

 

 

 

Advertisements

The gift of reading: presents for the newborn

Tags

, , , , , ,

We’re on our way to see the newest grandchild, just a few weeks old. As a gift to the little fella, we’ve been asked to choose our favourite book/s from our childhood. What a lovely idea!

The choice was very easy. Obvious, in fact, for both of us. And both were a series of books, read early in our lives and the ones we really remember as luring us forever into the magical world of reading.

My pick was C S Lewis’ Tales of Narnia, a fantasy world reached through the back of a wardrobe. I read the series when I was in Second Grade. In fact, I devoured them, so quickly was I drawn into the lives of the three children and their friends in Narnia. How vividly I imagined those stories. Still now 50 years later, I can see with absolute clarity the kind, grand face of Aslan the lion, and recall my distress when I read of his suffering and cried many real tears. I also still see in my mind snippets of shaved fur and rope and his large majestic paws. Confronting perhaps when you’re little, but amazing to be drawn so entirely into another realm.

Mr T chose the Lord of the Rings series, which he read at a similar age. I can’t speak for how he felt when he read those books, but he’s kept them and treasured them always and still watches the movies with relish when they come on television, which gives you an idea. He read those books out loud to our kids in their beds at night, the stories delivered over many months, maybe years.  How mesmerised they were. He didn’t actually finish the whole series with them, so he’ll have to make up for that with the grandkids. We just have to make our way deep into the ‘studio’ to find his copy of The Hobbit to make the set complete.

Despite my own affection for Narnia, I must say I could never pique the girls’ interest in it, try as I might. Instead they turned to the tales of Harry Potter and his world of wizardry as their definitive childhood books. They were at the perfect age for the Harry Potter phenomenon and aged in sync with Harry and his mates. That meant long lulls between books, waiting with huge anticipation until the next book was released, then line ups early at the bookstore to buy a copy hot off the press. Exciting times. The older one slept with a Harry Potter book on her bedside table for probably 15 years.

I’m hoping the books we’re gifting end up being more than just the books themselves, and perhaps turn into favourites. Let’s hope it helps to introduce Bubba to the world of reading and literature and he learns to love it for himself. It’s a pretty remarkable world, that book world, and is one that helps you on a path to other learning and understanding.

What was your favourite childhood book? Have you still got them?

Get your history fix: Canberra Heritage Festival

Tags

, , ,

Did you know there’s a Heritage Festival about to kick off in Canberra in a couple of weeks with over 200 separate events? 200! Sort of slips under the radar a bit, this festival.

I’ve just been going through the program to see what’s on: there’s tours and talks, fashion markets, Indigenous events, concerts, dinners, cycling, and even a Jane Austen ball where you get to dress up in your 19th century finest, if in fact you have any of that finery in your wardrobe.

You can tour a late-Georgian residence in Crace (I didn’t even know we had one of those, to be honest), squeeze into a tiny old school house and imagine what it was like in days gone by, learn about star photography, or even take a ghost tour. I did one of those recently, and it was VERY interesting. So many strange stories.

Given this year is the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969, there’s a few moon-themes events included in the festival. Canberra actually had a pretty big role to play in the 1969 moon landing, as the satellite images of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon were actually received at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking station, a NASA Earth station, in Canberra. Those images, as well as audio of the infamous “one small step” words, were then transmitted to NASA in the US before they were sent relayed pretty much live to the rest of the world. There are three receivers (one in US, one in Australia and one in Spain) – as the earth rotates the different stations receives signals. When they landed on the moon, we were the ones best placed to receive the transmission.

This story of the Australian role in the transmission was made famous in Australia by the movie ‘The Dish’ although it used some licence in the story telling and set the movie in Parkes in Central NSW instead of the ACT. The actual satellite dish, now decommissioned, has since been moved from Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station (which closed in 1981) to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in nearby Tidbinbilla at the edge of the ACT for permanent display. The communication complex, opened in 1965, is part of the Deep Space Network of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed in Australia by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

So there you go – a bit of moon history many of us don’t know.

Back to the Heritage Festival, if you don’t live in Canberra and you like all things heritage, don’t panic as this festival is part of a broader Heritage Festival taking place across the country from 18 April to 19 May. The National Heritage Trust website has information about what other events are taking place in other states.

I’m a little bummed that I will be away for most of the Canberra events, but then again I have some pretty exciting travel plans coming up soon instead.

Who remembers what you were doing when Mr Armstrong took those first steps?

 

In praise of five fingers: an old school alternative to emojis

Tags

, ,

In this age of rampant emojis—pictorial characters used to communicate succinctly in a fast-paced world—have you ever considered that the five digits at the end of your hands have played similar roles to send messages since way back yonder? Sure, fingers don’t travel easily through cyberspace, but in real life, they’re really rather effective.

Different fingers bear responsibility for individual sentiments, and when banded together in various combinations and positions, they deliver a veritable smorgasbord of signals, signs and meanings. Entire languages, in fact.

Consider the possibilities of solo-finger communication:

  1. An erect thumb gives a clear affirmation—a simple yes, all good, good to go, good on you, perhaps good luck. Add a quick flick and it converts to ‘get out of here.’ Also useful for hitchhiking, requesting volume increases and signalling distress when scuba diving.
  2. Peter Pointer has a plethora of things to say. Firstly, it’s the ultimate direction giver. Tapped to a head it signifies crazy, placed against a nose in charades it says yes, twirled it hurries someone along, and when waggled it can berate. Slightly raised, it can also buy a house in an auction or call for the bill in a fancy restaurant. And when driving in the country, that finger when lifted ever so slightly from the steering wheel greets an oncoming driver in a laconic rural salute.
  3. The role of the index finger is more limited. Reversed and raised, it yells obscenities silently by giving others ‘the bird’, sometimes a most satisfying feeling. Limited, but useful.
  4. The ring finger seems reserved for ring-related activities. Wave that before a partner to remind them of the benefits of marriage, perhaps with Beyonce playing in the background.
  5. Ah, the pinkie—a glorious little digit that can be thrust up in disgust at some turkey (almost invariably male) roaring past in an outrageously loud or over-fast vehicle to indicate displeasure and draw comparison between said pinkie and the size of their, hmmm, anatomical sizing. Now even legitimised in Aussie television commercials.

Once those five fine fellows partner up with their mates, with a wrist and forearm tossed in, the communication options are endless. Clenched fists, victory signs, an A-OK or a Trekkie salute—so many possibilities.

Who needs emojis anyway?

 

On being a grandparent: the joys and the joys

When I was expecting my first grandchild, a colleague’s eyes opened wide.

‘You’ll love it. It’s the best thing,’ she enthused. ‘It’s better than having your own children.’

I thought she might have been exaggerating, but now four and a half years and four grandchildren later, I can confirm she was absolutely right. It is, indeed, the best.

I was always looking forward to being a grandma, but it still surprised me how good it is. All the benefits without the strain of being the actual parent. All the joy and cuddles and fun and ridiculous pride without the sleepless nights, the frenzy, the washing, the juggling of work and childcare, the witching hour before dinner (or is it after, or both?), the complete inability to take a pee in private, or even at all, and that constant, aching exhaustion …

Is it all starting to come back to you?

But now as a grandparent, I don’t have to suffer those horrors and instead get all the benefits of little bubbas without the downsides. Well, mostly without the downsides. How crazily special is that?

And now, just days ago, we have welcomed another little bubba into the fold: the fourth for us, the first for them, the one that launches them into a whole new world, that of being a parent, the one that melts their hearts and changes their lives indelibly forever.

And while Mum and Dad absorb the newness of parenthood and the wonder of that tiny  being, and count his fingers and his toes over and over and gaze for hours at his little face, so I contemplate the things I love most about being a grandmother.

It’s a gift

Being a grandparent is a bit like magic. Unconditional love is thrust upon you by adoring small people. There is little like the joy of a baby’s face erupting into a smile when they see you, or toddlers racing to give you a hug or tell you the latest tale.

It’s a privilege, and one that doesn’t happen to everyone, which makes it even more special. Not all want to become parents, and not all who want to become parents get to do so, and I’m cognisant of that. I am grateful to be blessed with two children of my own and now a growing tribe in the next generation I also call my own.

 

img_5737

Photo: Mel Hill Photography

Doing it over again

Being a grandparent allows you to do relive your favourite bits of parenthood. Do you remember the last time your child held your hand walking along the street? Somehow that stopped happening, without you even realising it had stopped. Now I get another chance to experience those special things one more time, and soak them in: a small warm hand gripping mine, a little body snuggling up on the couch for a cuddle, or a warm, jiggly leg wrapped over mine when someone sneaks into my bed on a sleepover.

“I like to be the big spoon,’ Miss 5 announces as she envelopes my thigh with her whole leg and snuggles in tighter.

Lending support

As grandparent, I get to be a support person. The challenges of raising babies is forever etched in my mind. Our first born seemed averse to sleep from the start and for years she slept little and sporadically, and even in the maternity hospital, the nurses passed her from one to another to cajole sleep. 30 years on and the sound of a crying baby still stresses me and thrusts me back to those long days and even longer nights, seeking snatches of sleep.

Now I witness that grown baby experiencing similar challenges herself. We share that common ground, and I know the value of sharing the stress and the value of an extra pair of hands, or ears, as well as the fun times.

Sometimes our role is to provide support, relief, applause or maybe a glass of wine, and we do that willingly. The parents do the hard yakka and we get to marvel at the job they’re doing and hold them up a bit when needed, even if that’s just hanging out together to make the day easier all round.

How difficult it must be for young parents without parental support, or even worse, to be a single parent. Hats off to those who manage a relentless job solo. And how difficult too when grandparents have to step in to replace the parents.

Good for them, good for us

We all benefit from this relationship. It’s well documented that spending time with grandkids is beneficial: it can energise you and keep you fitter, physically and mentally. Research also shows caring for grandchildren extends longevity. Those games of memory and draughts and chess will keep our brains active too, and all that lifting and chasing them is keeping us fit. I do rue the day, though, that I taught them to play ‘Red Rover’ (essentially a chasing game) as now I have created two river monsters who thrive on running across imaginary waterways and who never tire and who have no regard for the effects of heatwaves and unrelenting chants on grandparents.

Conversely, we teach them about the world in our own special way. I’m the puzzle queen and theatre-taker, while Grandude teaches them about gardening and spends long periods at building sites to watch diggers in action.

We each put joy in the others’ lives, and joy is good for the body and the soul.

 

The same sense of pride

Again, we get to burst with genetic pride. That powerful and perhaps irrational conditioning (fog?) that convinces you your kids are the cleverest, most spectacular, most advanced in all the land applies just as strongly with grandchildren. Remember that chest-crushing pride you felt watching them on stage in those truly dreadful performances, and the tears of pride that came with it? Well, it’s the same with the next generation. The thrill you get when they intentionally hit that dangling rattle for the first time or take a wobbly first step is every bit as intense. Somehow though, because they’re your children once removed, we feel we can be freer in our boasting of their outrageous talents and glorious looks.

The gift of time

But for me, the best thing about being a grandparent is the gift of time. When we had our own kids, life was busier and more stressful. Actually, it was manic. Although we played and had fun, there’s some regret l I didn’t give them one more go on the carousel or couldn’t spend more time just sitting or reading to the kids or telling them a long story.

Now I have the space and time to take things slowly and gently breathe in the little moments. We can dedicate entire mornings to games or books if we want, or slow, leisurely walks looking for treasures, like feathers or pretty leaves, with which to make artworks. No pressure to finish up so we can race off to do something else. Of course, our own list of house jobs remains largely undone, but there’s always next week.

We’re especially fortunate that most of our grandchildren live nearby and we see an awful lot of them. Many times a week, (sometimes many times a day!), so our home is their second one. Miss 5 even says she wants to move in. (Perhaps not. The serenity when they leave is also something to be much appreciated.) Now the new addition in another state makes visitation more complex and so we will begin to wear a path up and down the long highway between us.

It’s not bad at all.

 

Eyes up: it’s the Canberra Balloon Spectacular – what you need to know

Tags

, , , ,

Balloons skimming water of Lake Burley Griffin during Canberra Balloon Spectacular

For nine days in March every year, Canberrans awake to the magic of a flotilla of hot air balloons drifting gently across the city skies. It’s something we’ve been witnessing for more than 30 years, but it’s a sight that never grows old.

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular, originally held in 1988 as a one-off, is now firmly embedded as part of the two week long Enlighten Festival, when the nation’s capital literally lights up in celebration of our birthday. That’s a solid party!

This year the festival takes place between 9-17 March. More than 30 giant balloons in all colours and shapes launch from the lawns of Old Parliament House, just as dawn breaks. The mornings are still and just-chilled, but there’s live music and hot breakfasts on the side.

To help you make the most of the festival, the biggest of its kind in Australia, here are a few tips.

Keep updated

Ballooning totally depends on the weather, and weather can be fickle, so daily launches aren’t guaranteed. To avoid disappointment (and complaining kids), check updates before you leave home. You can follow Enlighten on Facebook, visit its website, tune into local radio or call Canberra Connect—and possibly save yourself a wasted trip. Although, even if the balloons don’t fly, breakfast’s still on.

If you’re keen to catch a balloon sighting or two, go at the beginning of the festival. If flights are cancelled, you’ll have more opportunities during the rest of the week.

Get there early

The balloons start filling from 6.15am on the lawns of Old Parliament House, taking around 15 minutes to fill and lift. Most have floated off by around 7am. This is where the action starts and it’s a buzz  watching the balloons being fired up.

If you’re running late or just want to watch the balloons floating across the city, pick another location. The flight paths vary with the wind, but they often head north-westish across the city.

img_4185

Keep room for breakfast

Arriving early for take-off lets you get up close and personal and witness the balloons come to life. You’re part of the atmosphere, surrounded by the swoosh of the gas cylinders and the heat of the flames, the riders in the baskets, and hundreds of early risers.

It’s a bit of a party atmosphere with live music on the weekends and hot breakfasts available each day from the Belconnen Lions Club. You can grab pancakes, burritos and juice, and of course there’s always coffee.

Dress warmly

Even though March days in the capital are mainly beautiful, it is Canberra remember, and the mornings can be surprisingly chilly and the grass damp. Wear closed in shoes and bring a jacket.

Pick your vantage point

There’s a multitude of places to view the drifting kaleidoscope as the city wakes up. Try one of these, or perhaps all of them:

  • Commonwealth Bridge, where the balloons come towards you over the National Library
  • down by the lake opposite the National Museum, one of the first places the balloons reach and where they’re quite close
  • anywhere along the lake from the Carillon to Regatta Point provides a wide vista with our iconic buildings and Black Mountain Tower in the background
  • from Scrivener Dam or Black Mountain peninsular looking towards the city
  • from the heights of the arboretum as the sun rises.

Shoot like a pro

The Balloon Spectacular is a photographer’s true delight, as the hundreds of thousands of shots taken every year attest, but you don’t have to have the best gear to get a great shot.

If you want to increase your chances of nailing something really special, don’t fret—I’ve got you covered with tips for photographing Canberra’s balloon spectacular. Anyone can get amazing shots.

img_3407.jpg

Look out for the new entrants

The balloons come from all over the globe and each year brings a couple of new characters to the skies. In past years we’ve had an angry bird, Kerbie the frog, a Scottish bagpiper, Simba, Yoda and Vincent Van Gough. And who could forget the controversial Sky Whale, commissioned for Canberra’s anniversary with its rather distinct, umm, mammary glands? Who will it be this year? They’re not cheap those special balloons, costing around $200,000 to make one.

img_3420

Swing high, swing low

For a real treat, you can take to the skies yourself in one of the balloons. Both Balloons Aloft and Dawn Drifters offer paid balloon rides during the festival.

To get a really unique perspective, you could hit the lake waters instead on a guided kayak tour with Canberra Urban Adventures. The balloons often get very close to the water as the balloon operators like to show their talent by seeing if they skim along the top. This year will be your last chance on a kayak tour as sadly they won’t around much longer.

Set your alarm, Canberra, and don’t miss this spectacle. It’s totally worth getting out of bed for, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like rising before 8. Maybe leave your pooches at home though, as some get quite sketched out by those gas swooshes and looming shapes.

 

This article was first published in HerCanberra.

Mysterious Lake George: separating fact from folklore

Tags

, , , , ,

Lake George dried out as a grazing field

Lake George, splayed at the edge of the Federal Highway half an hour from Canberra, has long been the stuff of myth and legend. This eerie, atmospheric place that suddenly fills with water only to miraculously empty has spawned many tales—about bunyips, UFO sightings and ghostly apparitions—and sadly many deaths. And where the hell does all that water actually disappear to?

For decades I’ve witnessed this mercurial place transform from lapping lake to fields of green, seemingly overnight, and been fascinated by the stories that abound. So when local investigator, Tim the Yowie Man, was hosting an evening soiree at Lerida Estate winery to divulge some of the lake’s secrets, it seemed a no-brainer. I had to be there.

The mystery of the disappearing water

The history of the lake goes back millions of years, as the 250 metres of sediment and bedrock below attest, providing a boon for scientists. Originally the lake drained into the Yass River but seismic movement along a fault line caused a major lift in the land, cutting off inflow from river systems and forming what we know now as the Cullerin Block with the lake sitting at its base. That’s the big escarpment you drive along as you head to Sydney.

The term ‘lake’ seems a misnomer in this instance, given lakes usually contain water. Although now mostly seen as a large flat stretch of grazing land, in many periods including the 1980s and ’90s and even in 2016, water would lap at the edges of the highway before suddenly disappearing, as if by magic, sometimes retreating kilometres overnight.

These dramatic fluctuations have given rise to much conjecture, including theories that as the waters emptied out in Lake George they filled up somewhere else across the Tasman, or even in China, in some strange aquatic balancing act. Some proffered the idea of mysterious underground canals or tunnels, or possibly quicksand, to explain the disappearance act.

It’s perhaps somewhat disappointing to learn it’s not that complex and science has a simple explanation. The lake bed, stretching 25 by 10 kilometres, is large and very shallow and has no river inflows. This leads to a lot of quick evaporation. Simples! Basically more water goes up than comes down, not nearly so intriguing as the notion of secret channels and alternating lake levels in foreign lands.

And those sheep? They’re not as stupid as they look. They just move as the water levels change.

Capital, raceway or a place to swim?

Discovered by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1820, Lake George was named for the then King of England, but there is evidence Aboriginal people were in the region 60,000 years beforehand. The Indigenous people called the lake Weereewa, meaning place of bad waters or a place of conflict. Perhaps an ominous name.

The lake area was one proposed to be the site of the new capital of Australia, with the lake waters to feed nearby agricultural lands. Only trouble was when the official party turned up to review the site, there wasn’t much water to be seen, putting to bed the idea of transforming the area into ‘the Venice of Australia’. At one time consideration was also given to making the lake into a speedway. In retrospect, it was a fortuitous decision to look for alternative locations for both.

Gazing across the flat green fields of the ‘lake’ dotted with sheep, it’s hard to imagine this place once held more water than Lake Burley Griffin and was the scene for many a family day out. In the 1960s it hosted swimming and boating events and sailing boats dotted the water. Even the odd paddle steamer found its way there. People would travel from near and wide to frolic in the waters, travelling from Sydney by train for the day. The regattas, however, could be fraught as westerly winds could postpone events and lead to many boats capsizing and rescues.

There was a time too when recreational and even commercial fishing was rife, but it’s hard to keep fish alive when the water keeps disappearing.

Tragedy on the lake

Sadly, the area has also been the site of many deaths, both on the lake and on the once treacherous stretch of undivided highway flanking it. When the lake is dry, it seems totally implausible this site could be the site of drowning deaths. Even impossible. But this part of the many strange lake stories is unfortunately true.

The lake’s shallow depths and calm appearance belie its dangers, and when full, the lake is prone to strong gusty winds which can change suddenly and whip up the icy waters into a frenzy. More than a dozen people have lost their lives through drowning or hyperthermia since 1949. Five of those occurred in one incident in 1956, when five cadets from the Royal Military College Duntroon drowned when their small boat capsized in the suddenly rough waters. It was days and in some cases months before their bodies were found when the water levels dropped. A few years later, a family day out on the lake turned to tragedy and a family from Queanbeyan drowned with only one person surviving, the priest who was with them, to tell the harrowing tale.

For art’s sake

Nowadays the waters are largely missing in action and it’s more common to spot an artwork than a sailing boat. Given the many moods and ever-changing landscapes of Lake George, and despite its sometimes dark history, it’s not surprising the lake has inspired a range of artistic endeavours. The site of the sporadic month-long Weereewa Festival started in 1999, the lake has drawn artists and musicians and many a dancer to float and frolic across its surface. A number of artworks was temporarily installed on the lake bed during one festival, and if you’re looking in the right place, you might stumble across a sunken house, one installation that stayed on.

Other art pieces have appeared over the years including a striking herd of zebras out on the plains. Popular as they were, unfortunately the two Canberra creators didn’t seek permission from the land lessee so the striped family was duly removed. Happily the zebras reappeared later that year at Floriade, with Baby George zebra in tow. Guess where he was conceived?

But wait, there’s more

But what of those reported UFO sightings, including a double sighting by a mother and daughter, and the phantom hitch hiker, a young girl, who seeks a ride on the highway? Is she the small girl who drowned on the lake decades ago? And what were those strange lights on the horizon and why did hundreds of fish suddenly die overnight? And when was the lake ‘monster’ last spotted?

If you’re keen to hear more, you can join Tim the Yowie Man on one of his regularly run events, or track down the thoroughly comprehensive Magnificent Lake George: The Biography— by recently-deceased Canberra local Graeme Barrow, which provides a detailed and fascinating history.

Tim the Yowie Man at Lerida Estate

There was much to learn while sipping on lovely local wines, but even on an drizzly evening that coincided with a full moon and the summer solstice, there were no ghostly beings to be found lurking around the lake.

Perhaps I may have to go a little further south around Collector to find a ghost and meet some of their reported ‘locals’. That might have to be my next port of call.

 

A shortened version of this article first appeared on HerCanberra. See if you spot the differences.

Two’s company, but sometimes one’s even better: thriving by myself

I have a little confession. I’ve been happily married, even deliriously happily married, for more than 30 years. (That’s not the secret.) But as my dearest and I spend more and more time together during the days and evenings in our (reasonably recent) retirements, I’m finding I’m needing a little space. In fact, I’ve discovered that having some time just for me is allowing me to thrive.

Not that I don’t love spending time with him and doing things together (he’s rather good company), but in order to really discover myself as an individual, especially now as a non-working person, I’m really relishing a bit of time and space just for me. To think, to explore, to try new things—whatever I’d like—all my myself.

So, it is with the utmost of love and respect that I want to say to my most beloved:

I love you dearly, but occasionally, please just leave me alone!

Sometimes you hear women complain their husbands are golfers and that they spent inordinate amounts of time on the golf course. Not me! I encourage it. Because when he’s on the course, that’s my special time, when he’s out for four or five hours at a stretch and I’m completely left to my own devices to do whatever I want—write, read, ‘waste’ as much time as I want on the computer. Whatever I want with no one to come and ask what I’m doing. Not that I’m doing anything sneaky or untoward. It’s just I don’t want to be bothered.

And those days when he’s booked in to golf and I’m planning to do all the things, and then it rains and he stays home instead! Ugh! My special time disappears.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m married to perhaps the most wonderful man on earth, and I love spending time with him. But as I’m getting older, I’m really valuing some ‘me’ time more and more, when I’m not beholden to anyone else and I can do things that bring me pleasure, even if others can’t understand why. Like, blogging!

I like to be by myself when I’m on my computer, in my little cyber world, and don’t even like someone else at the desk next to me. I know I shared offices for decades, but now I don’t like sharing that much. Concentration levels are so much higher when I’m by myself. Or maybe I’m just becoming old and curmudgeonly.

Mr T and I have been together since we were teenagers, and while we share a myriad of similar interests, we also enjoy our separate interests. As I said, he golfs, I play tennis. He likes James Bond movies, I like tragic dramas. He cooks, I eat. Most of our holidays are together, but we also do our own trips. He goes on wine trips with the boys, I go to Thailand with the girls for massages and cocktails. I’m even having a couple of weeks in Zimbabwe soon without him. He will of course worry the whole time that I’m in peril or lost (to be honest, I have no sense or direction so the latter is highly likely, and given that’s it’s Zimbabwe, in fact, the former may also be a possibility), but I’m going to give it a go anyway.

We are a fabulous partnership, as our many couples, but we’re also two individuals so I’m delighted we are able to pursue different interests and have different friendships and don’t always have to be tied to the hip, even as we spend more and more time together. It’s good for both of us. I’m not an introvert—I thrive on the company of others, especially my family —but this little place I’m discovering now that’s just for me—I have to say, it’s an absolute blast.

What about you? Do love spending some time by yourself?

10 ways to express your love this Valentine’s Day, without the spending

img_4473

There’s a lot of hype about Valentine’s Day, and a bit of pressure to fork out a lot of dollars for your special one. Some buy into it (literally) while others condemn Valentine’s Day for its crass commercialism and refuse any notions of bunches of overpriced red roses and not-so-cute teddies.

It can be an expensive affair if you let it, but if you’re on a budget there’s a whole world of opportunity to celebrate the day with the special one in your life, without breaking the bank.

Here are a few ideas for starters.

1. Write a note and leave it on the pillow, with a chocolate. Make it a heart-shaped one if you must.

2. Hide some secret notes around the house, in a pocket, in a text, on a steamed up mirror.

3. Go nuts (still on the note idea). Write a heap of them, each one noting something you like about your partner or some of your favourite memories and put them in a jar. If you’re a planner, you can add to this during the year every time your partner does something great or thoughtful. Too late for this year though!

4. Take a walk together – along a beach, through a forest, up a mountain heading for a view. Turn off your phones!

img_0474.jpg

5. Make some heart-shaped biscuits.

6. Watch a sunset together. Sigh.

img_4407

7. Pick some flowers from your garden, or someone’s else’s if you have to. Add some greenery to fill it out.

img_3027

8.Make a special dinner. Bring out the good glasses and crockery. Hell, you could even use napkins, and I mean the fabric ones. Pop a bottle of bubbles to make it really special.

9. Watch a romantic comedy together curled up on the sofa.

10. Set some mood lighting. Light candles all over your house and turn the lights down low, or sprinkle some fairy lights around your bedroom to set the scene.

 

 

img_1440

If you don’t have a partner, use the day as an excuse to shower your friends and other loved ones with smiles and kindness. Maybe have a singles girls night out instead and celebrate your friendship. Send a message to say how much they mean to you. There is always someone to love.

And it you do have a partners, don’t forget those who don’t have a partner or have recently lost one. They deserve little notes and flowers as well.

What do you to celebrate the day? Ignore it or make a fuss?

The travels of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks: brought to life at the National Library of Australia

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Illuminated globe depicting the travels of Captain James Cook from the Cook and the Pacific exhibition at the National Library of Australia

The names Captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks spark instant recognition in Australia for the roles they played in the history of European-settled Australia and in various other parts of the world. Captain Cook, in particular, has become an almost mythical historic character, often being incorrectly attributed as the first one to discover Australia. While his navigational and scientific achievements were very significant, we are now paying a little more attention to the people and the places he and his fellow travellers encountered on their voyages, and the impact they had. The current exhibition at the National Library of Australia, Cook and the Pacific, gives us a detailed history of the trips and invites us to consider them from a number of perspectives.

The Cook and the Pacific exhibition covers the three major Pacific voyages of James Cook, exploring the regions and the voyages through the eyes of the British travellers and the First Nations peoples they met along the way. It covers travel to Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, the east coast of Australia, and surprisingly, even Siberia and Antarctica.

It’s a fabulous exhibition, and with borrowings from 20 museums and libraries in Australia and across the world, and having consulted all the communities involved in the exhibits, it was three years in the planning. It includes maps and manuscripts, rare books, paintings and beautiful artworks, and some contemporary takes on the voyages. Highlights include a replica of the HM Bark Endeavour, the pahao (dagger) of swordfish reputed to be the one which killed Cook in 1779, a recovered canon from the Endeavour and some of the original plant specimens the ship carried, and a Chief Mourner’s Costume from the Society Islands from the 1700s.

One of the things that struck me most (apart from what a harsh existence it must have been on board and how rubbish I would have been as a navigator), was the variety and complexity of the relationships formed with the First Peoples the travellers met along the way. This ranged from being friendly, as seen through trading and sharing knowledge, to extremely friendly, as in relations with females, to being completely violent and warring, resulting in many deaths, including that of Cook himself in Hawaii. It must be said that at the time he was trying to capture and take hostage of the local king so it’s hardly surprising the locals were upset.

One of the stars of the exhibition is the original hand-written Cook journal of the Endeavour, side by side with an edited version in another’s handwriting which is usually housed in England. It’s believed this is the first time the two journals have been together since the 1770s. James Cook had no say in how journal was edited before publishing, so it would be interesting to compare the differences.

img_4511

The exhibition also contains artwork by the renowed Tupaia, a native Arioi from Raiatea in the Society Islands, who was Cook’s constant guide and translator on his first voyage and who could navigate the oceans and islands without the use of navigational equipment, with the ability to map 130 islands from memory. How interesting how much knowledge they shared.

It’s really a remarkable collection, and if you can possibly get there before it closes on 10 February, you should. Get your skates on. And – bonus – they’re both free!

And while you’re there …

Beauty, Rich and Rare

Slide from the Beauty Rich and Rare exhibition at the National Library of Australia

The Cook and the Pacific exhibition coincides with a spectacular audio-visual display at the National Library: Beauty, Rich and Rare. (Does that make you want to sing along?). The immersive display, splayed over five large screens, tells the story of early navigation in the 1700s and the witnessing of the Transit of Venus, an astronomical event which occurs once every 243 years, and explores the spectacular and surprising flora and fauna that greeted Europeans when they landed on Australian shores, samples of which they took back to England.

As David Attenborough said of this voyage of exploration, ‘No journey has brought back such treasures.’

There are over 1 million species in Australia, most of them unique to our island continent, so imagine how amazed they must have been when they stepped ashore and saw it for themselves.

The show, which plays at various times during the day, allows you to step into the shoes of Joseph Banks, the ship’s naturalist and botanist (after whom we named our unique Banksia plant species) and those of his team of scientists and illustrators as they documented the thrilling plant and animal species that greeted them.

The huge number of plant specimens (over 30,000) collected by Banks were studied and drawn by botanical artist Sydney Parkinson, the first artist to set foot on Australian soil. He made 674 detailed drawings of the specimens with detailed notes about their colours, as well as 269 water colour illustrations. Poor old Parkinson didn’t survive the trip home, succumbing to dysentery  after they left Batavia, but when they returned to London, Banks employed five artists to create watercolours of all Parkinson’s drawers and 18 engravers to create 743 line engravings, insisting that every line of the sketches be included. Bank’s famed Florilegium wouldn’t have been possible without those drawings.

img_4513

img_4505

 

Back to Captain Cook, and an interesting fact

img_2653

Good old Captain Cook has been in the news a bit lately in Australia, given the Prime Minister recently announced a replica Endeavour will re-enact Cook’s circumnavigation of Australia in the 18th century – at great cost. Never mind that he didn’t actually do that – that honour actually belongs to Matthew Flinders. Of course, Twitter had a field day with Scott Morrison’s error-filled tweet with many suggesting his learn his history himself, and hey presto – there’s an instant #WhatCookDid hashtag happening with tweets about what Cook actually did. Some may or may not be quite true.

Here’s a sample.

img_4657

img_4660

Sometimes I love Twitter.

As an aside, did you know that Captain Cook wasn’t actually a captain? I didn’t learn that at the exhibition but it did spark a following revealing conversation. At the time of ‘captaining’ the Endeavour, his official ranking was Lieutenant and it wasn’t until he returned to England that he was promoted to the rank above Captain. So officially, he was never Captain Cook! All these years we’ve been calling him the wrong name.