Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Neolithic Adventure

 As 2011 ends and we look ahead to the future, Betty has been busy exploring the distant past - having a bit of a neolithic adventure with Ann. 

On Friday we looked at the grey sky, shrugged, packed warm clothes and headed to Wiltshire, through the sorts of places that I always think of as the Real England: tumbledown ramshackle villages with narrow streets and thatched-roof cottages; hedgerows and woodlands where you expect to see Tom Bombadil or Bilbo Baggins, and rolling swathes of green fields full of standing stones and barrows.

First stop: Stonehenge. It was a wee bit chilly and there was a very light sprinkle of rather cold rain - but it couldn''t extinguish the excitement I felt at finally seeing Stonehenge in the flesh. Pity there were all those barrier ropes. And tourists. ;-)
Back in the car, we drove through increasingly crappy weather. Bruce the GPS refused to find our next destination, so I was given the task of navigating. I know some people will be laughing at that, but I'll have you know I can read a road map very well. We did not get lost. Not even once. The next stop was the West Kennet Long Barrow, a neolithic communal tomb, just a short walk through slippery mud next to the A4, and I got us there with no problems at all.

On the way we had a couple of brief photo stops. I had a bit of a Wind in the Willows moment when I spied these riverboats moored at Upavon (at least, I think that's where it was),

and when I saw (on my trusty road-map) that there was a village called Huish up ahead, we just had to do a little detour (Huish is my daughter-in-law's maiden name).

Eventually we got to where we wanted to go:

It's just on the other side of the A4 from Silbury Hill, which is another neolithic construction. In Wiltshire you fall over a henge or a barrow every five minutes!

After checking out the barrow we pressed on, in even worse weather, to Avebury, a little village that has sprouted in the very midst of a henge and a cluster of standing stones, and which is one of England's most important sites for modern pagans.

 We were very fortunate to have the company and expertise of Gordon, who is the Wiccan high priest of Avebury, explaining the stones to us. We were very unfortunate that the weather was so disgusting - that steady soaking rain that you think isn't too bad until you realise you're drenched - so we didn't get to walk around all the stones. We did, however, get to 'debrief' at the Red Lion afterwards!

The journey so far.

Picking up the thread from Abu Dhabi...

We are delayed by thick fog, and when we finally leave, it's through a surreal landscape of desert sand and white mist. I hope to get a better look at Abu Dhabi on the way back.

The second leg of the flight is an odd one. I can't sleep and can't watch telly (the in-flight entertainment system is dead). By the time I arrive at Heathrow I’ve done half a dozen cryptic crosswords, read 50 pages of When God was a Rabbit, and am well and truly ready to put my feet on solid ground, breathe some proper non-pressurised air and meet (dramatic music) The Family. I have no trouble recognising cousin Helen at the airport, and off we go to Epsom.

It’s been almost 30 years since I last saw Auntie Min, but the years have just melted away. My cousins – even the ones I’ve never met, like Helen – don’t feel like strangers, and it's lovely to reacquaint myself with those I’ve met already. We spend hours looking at old photos of ourselves (and taking some new ones).

 Alan & I  used to be best buddies when we were little, and got up to all sorts of mischief. It was Ally who taught me to play Knock Down Ginger (sssssh, don't tell Auntie Min!)
 Steve is my Epsom tour guide and shopping buddy. I have to run to keep up with him. He has an amazing memory for dates and events, and knows heaps about the history of the local area.
 Ah, my lovely Auntie Min. A wicked sense of humour and a heart the size of Phar Lap's!

These precious days of just being family run into one another. We’re not doing anything special, but every minute feels special. There’s no pressure. The daily rhythms and routines are soothing – and of course, once I’ve organised a SIM card and a dongle, life is complete!

Waitrose, Sainsburys, Poundland… call me weird, but I really like poking around supermarkets in foreign places. Leave me in the main shopping precinct, and while I won’t exactly shop till I drop, I’ll certainly browse for hours - it's all about getting a feel for local tastes and habits, I suppose, and exploring the similarities and differences between home and here.

Early in the year my friend Lucy’s mum, Ann, came to Australia and we did a girly road trip to the chocolate factory and ghost house at Junee. At that time (and occasionally during our online Scrabble games as well) Ann had said to be sure to contact her when I come to the UK – so of course I make sure I do - besides, I am delivering Lucy's Christmas mail to her family!)

 Lunch at the pub in Worcester Park

Ann and I take Auntie Min to the pub for lunch on Thursday, and then Ann whisks me away to Wokingham. My head is in a whirl – I don’t know what’s where or what – things seem familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. I really do feel like a stranger in the land of my birth! The traffic is chaotic (‘this is nothing!’ says Ann) and fast, on such narrow streets. I can’t get used to darkness falling around 4pm. It feels like the middle of the night by about 6pm!

I'm waking between 3 and 4am most days, which is around the time I often wake at home, so I think I’m pretty much over my jetlag. I use the wee hours to get started on a new novel (and, today, to catch up on blogging!) I’m having a ball.

(Next: a Neolithic Adventure)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Waving from Abu Dhabi

Yoohoooo! Here I am in Abu Dhabi awaiting the leg leg of the trip. Boarding is in 20 mins, so this'll be quick.

Survived the flight! Survived the obnoxious twat in the seat in front of me, who had the =extra leg-room seat, but still needed to keep his seat reclined for the entire 14 hour flight. My little telly screen was almost up my nose, and in the squishiness of it all, my meals had to trace a tortuous path from the tray table to my mouth (sometimes via my clothes. This shirt is going to be a wonderful record of "what I ate on my trip".)

Sleeping pills are a wonderful thing. Half a Stilnox knocked me out for 4 hours - that's 3 hours and 20 minutes longer than I managed to sleep on the last long-haul flight I attempted, Stilnox notwithstanding - so I see it as a big improvement. I'm quite sure that I smell, but I suppose everybody else does too.

Lots of crying babies, lots of people coughing and sneezing (aaaaargh, GERMZZZZZ!) but overall a reasonable trip. Decent food, but a second glass of wine at dinner would've been nice!

Abu Dhabi is currently shrouded in fog - can't see a damned thing, so it's really hard to get a sense of the place. Maybe on the way back...

Nearly boarding time - gotta go - 10 hours in the air (maybe some more sleep if I can, or is that just downright greedy???) Bye all!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

In which Betty embarks upon a New Adventure

I haven’t seen my Auntie Min since 1982 – but I’ll see her tomorrow! I just have to get through the ordeal of flying to the other side of the world. I have my aisle seat booked and some sleeping pills in my bag. Wish me luck!

I’m not a fan of flying – it’s that closed-in, trapped feeling that triggers all sorts of anxiety nasties. To short-circuit  the possibility of a mid-air incident (wouldn't that be embarrassing?), I have a cryptic crossword book, a notebook, something to read and something to write with. I may grab a Womens Weekly for Auntie Min as well.

I’m currently at the airport in Sydney, hideously early. That was my stuff-up. I booked my bus ticket from Canberra months ago. I’d actually booked a 3pm bus, but for some reason I had it in my head that I was to depart at midday. Oops. The nice man from Murrays let me on the midday bus instead (thank you!) and now I’m wafting about the airport with a few hours to kill before check-in, and a few more hours till it’s time for Etihad Airlines to take me up, up and away!

In the meantime I'm blogging, people-watching, eavesdropping on a group of airport cops talking about bikies and complaining about being bored (overheard: "Some days you just do a lot of wandering aimlessly"); watching a group of Malaysian tourists admiring(?) the airport's Nativity display, and wondering what the heck to do next. A cryptic crossword, perhaps, or should I head to the bar for a glass of Christmas cheer? 

Oh yes, Christmas - Merry Christmas everybody! More when I get to the Other Side. Onwards and upwards - let the adventure begin!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

In which Betty seeks (and finds) Equilibrium

Marking and reporting hell seems to hit harder each semester. It lasted for half a term this time – that’s some serious hell-time, and I wasn't the only one who struggled. In combination with everything else going on around me I suppose it’s little wonder that I fell in a heap.

After almost 2 weeks of doctor-ordered rest I had to go back to school – and what a shaky old time I had of it. Exams had to be marked, there was an Everest of paperwork to do, and the end-of-year activities were full-on. It was ugly, and I drifted through the days like a ghost, mostly, trying to keep my head down. One big panic attack, bucketloads of misery and (a bright spot!) a very successful Morris Dancing workshop, run by ME (yes you read that right) later, I’m pleased to report that I limped – ok, crawled – to the finish line, horribly battered and bruised, but still breathing.

In amongst all of that there was a lovely visit from Dad & Diana, who came over from Christchurch for Boomerang Boy’s wedding; the wedding itself and the purchase of Chez Betty in Mallacoota; the relocation of much of my furniture to the aforementioned Chez Betty and the acquisition of a new housemate in Canberra.
 Mr & Mrs Boomerang Boy - beaut day, beaut location, sterling weather, stellar company!

 The Groom, with Mummy & Grandies (Mummy is the one in green)

Two new housemates, actually.

My daughter Kate (the Tetris Queen) and her evil sidekick Aldwyn Grandkitty have taken up residence with me – a mutually beneficial arrangement that should save us both some money. Aldwyn has made the place his own, and entertains us by climbing doors and curtains. As a cat lady who has been without cats for several months now, I am amused by this, in the same way that grandparents are amused by the antics of children when they no longer have to raise them. The Tetris Queen is finding the challenge of fitting her stuff into my house, um, challenging. Surrounded by boxes, we bumble along one day at a time and drink a lot of cider. It’s nice.

I’ve spent the last 2 days in Mallacoota doing a lot of nothing. Very Good Medicine. My modest little house is just about set up for holidaymakers, and I’ve spent plenty of time enjoying the outlook from the back yard (and the front yard, which is lovely) and the antics of the wildlife. I’ve been feeling the school-induced stress just evaporating, the way it always does in this magical place – ah, Equilibrium, there you are!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


There probably isn’t much in this world that’s more embarrassing than sitting in a classroom full of teenagers and being utterly unable to stop tears from pouring down your face. Except perhaps doing it twice.

What triggered it? Who knows? Sleeplessness, exhaustion and relentless overwork, more than likely. Whatever the cause, the descent into marking and reporting hell put me over the edge this semester. My brain, over-tired, decided that if I wasn’t going to give it a break, it was going to take a break of its own.

When I couldn’t stop crying, my head of faculty sent me home via the doctor. The doctor put me off work.
I didn’t cook a single meal for myself. I rarely ate. I slept a bit. I babbled inanely on Facebook, just to have some communication with the outside world, to prove to myself that I was still compos mentis (because everybody knows how much brainpower Facebook demands, right?)

I decluttered the house, but couldn’t declutter my mind.

I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think straight. I still had to get my reports written. It took me about four days to churn out some embarrassingly bad reports (wonder if I can get four days of sick leave restored? Hmmm, probably not. And unfortunately I now have no sick leave left.)

I’ve been back at school for 5 days now and I’ve cried almost every day. I feel like a ghost, drifting through the days and trying to hold it together. Some days I manage better than others, but I have to show up for work every day for the next 3 weeks; have to supervise and mark exams, proofread reports, go to meetings; have to listen to the very public digs of a bullying boss. What the hell am I doing to myself? A job is not supposed to reduce a person to this, to strip a person of their sense of self worth and turn them into a gibbering and inadequate wreck. I’m better than this.

An hour ago I marked my last essay for the year. Can I have my brain back now, please?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fully Sic - gone, just like that.

A friend posted this pic on Facebook. I'm not sure where it came from, but I'm hoping it's in the public domain.

I can’t stop crying. A couple of hours ago it was announced that Marco Simoncelli – he of the crazy hair and the wild, give-it-everything-you’ve-got riding style, had ‘succumbed to his injuries’ after a dreadful, dreadful crash at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. The image of his helmet bouncing across the track will stay with me for a long, long time.

I feel as if I’ve lost a friend, even though I’ve never met him. Marco, aka Hair Bear, Fully Sic, Super Sic and probably a host of other names, was a regular visitor to my lounge room throughout the motoGP season, via the magic of television. Last weekend my friend Tali was his grid girl at Phillip Island. I felt a vicarious connection with him because of that. Tali’s feeling pretty gutted right now – as are all my motorcycling friends - as am I.

We all know that motorcycling is dangerous, but we love it anyway. And even knowing how dangerous it is, we are still shattered – and, I think, kind of surprised - when we lose someone. Especially someone like Marco, who was one of the young gods of motorcycling. When they are on the track, they seem protected somehow. High speed 'offs' that would kill lesser mortals seem to have little effect on them. These young blokes achieve the impossible, race after race. They crash at horrendous speeds. They slide, they get up and more often than not, they walk away.

But not today.

Marco Simoncelli, you crazy charismatic gutsy young man - you will be fondly remembered by more people than you could imagine, and you will be sadly missed.

My heartfelt thoughts go out to Marco’s family – and to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who were drawn into this awful, awful accident of Fate through no fault of their own, and who will be burdened with the memory of it forever. Hugs all round.

If you haven't yet, but would like to leave a condolence message, or read the tributes of other fans, here's a link (thanks Andrew).

Friday, 7 October 2011

Spring - and a young bird's thoughts turn to love.

Pretty in pink - the inlet just before sunrise
 Seems to me I have to revise my statements about birds every day that I am here. Yesterday I said something about birds of a feather sticking together – lorikeet with lorikeet, rosella with rosella and so on. Well… I’ve just watched what I can only assume is a very confused brush wattlebird courting a kookaburra! This is the same kookaburra, I believe, that has been hanging around the flat for the past week. The one who took the sausage. 

So - I'm making a big assumption here, given how wrong the birds keep proving me, but it appears this curmudgeonly kookaburra is a girl bird, and she's been receiving lots of attention from a randy brush wattlebird
This morning the magpies tried to exact revenge for Wednesday’s indignity, and the kookaburra flew away momentarily. When it returned, it sat on the feeder box and fixed me with a beady stare – I was sitting inside the flat at the time – and then flew into the window with a clunk that sent it plopping to the ground. It picked itself up and laughed a self-deprecating kookaburra laugh (“Aw crap, can’t believe I just did that, heh heh”) before hopping back into the tree.

And that’s when the wattlebird started doing its courting dance, fanning its tail feathers, prancing and bowing and bobbing its head, and trying to move itself into a position to, er, consummate the relationship. Imagine a Jack Russell terrier trying to lurve a Labrador, or Charlie Chaplin and Xena, Warrior Princess – that’s what it was like. When the kookaburra spurned his advances and flew away, he followed close behind, trying to mount her during flight (positively scandalous!) The pair of them have been back to my tree since then and repeated the performance, so I know it wasn’t a one off. Is this inter-species lurve commonplace in the bird world, I wonder?

A more conventional couple yesterday – a pair of rainbow lorikeets – had me blushing while I was outside feeding the king parrot. Kingy & I have become good mates now – he cosied up to me as he nibbled sunflower seeds from my hand, and the rainbow lorikeets, not game to get close enough to steal the seeds, decided to bonk each other instead, right in front of me. I felt I should avert my eyes, but it was all over in about 5 seconds anyway. Ain’t spring grand?

I put the SOLD sign there myself!
 While the birds have been courting and bonking, I’ve been sorting out my entry into capitalist pigdom, and can make the following report: so far, so good! My modest 2 bedroom cottage with massive shed and lovely gardens, overlooking farmland and bushland, now sports a SOLD sign out the front - I helped put it there myself yesterday. As it’s an investment property, I can’t actually 'live the dream' in it for 12 months, so I’ll be looking to rent it to holidaymakers over the next year. Set well back from the road 3kms out of Mallacoota, it’ll be a quiet place to stay, even at peak times of the year, and with heaps of parking space, Mr Fisherman will even have room to park the boat. I’m in the process of getting a managing agent to take care of that side of things for me. Settlement is on 9 December, so I’m going to have to work fast to get it set up to receive guests over Christmas. What an adventure!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Birds, the Birds!

I learn a lot about birds every time I visit Mallacoota. My first silly misconception, long ago, was that, parrots being parrots, they’d all get on. Not so. They’re like people. They stick with their own kind. The rainbow lorikeets hang with the other rainbow lorikeets. The crimson rosellas stick with other crimson rosellas. Same with the king parrots. They’re like colour gangs. Mallacoota is a sort of feathered West Side Story. A bird eat bird world. A jungle.

I formed the opinion early on that the gorgeous rainbow lorikeets are the thugs of the parrot world. They bully each other and every other bird that tries to share the feeder box, parrot or not. They even chase other rainbow lorikeets out of the feeder box, like naughty kids who refuse to share the sandpit. Remember the Tweety cartoon where Tweety gets hold of the Jekyll and Hyde potion? Rainbow lorikeets remind me of the Hyde-Tweety. They drop their heads, raise their shoulders and hunch themselves up like monster birds, then hop threateningly at one another, peering down their hooky little beaks. It seems to work. I might try it on my Year 10s, next time they misbehave.

King parrots, on the other hand, are gentle giants. (late observation: I learned, 5 minutes ago, that the gang mentality is alive and well in this species too - they're shy when they're all alone, but surround them with a few friends, and bang, they can bully with the best of them! Bugger - now I need to edit what I said yesterday.) Stunningly beautiful and very good natured, they’re quite shy on their own, and don’t stand a chance against the when outnumbered by lorikeets. This lovely boy is quite tame. 

When he gets over his initial fear, he will sit on your head or your arm, and take food from your hand. Curiosity gets the better of the rainbow lorikeets then, who see a potential source of food in your hand, and want a piece of the action. They sneak or flutter closer, not quite brave enough to hop on the hand, bobbing their heads to get a better look at whatever the king parrot is eating, and trying to calculate how they can get some too.

Cor, wotcha got there mate? Can I have some?
No, bugger off!
Feeder box rules don’t apply here. Here on The Hand, the lone king parrot will fight back.

 So yesterday, with all this attention from my little feathered friends, I felt quite popular. While I was hangin’ with ma homies – feeding the king parrot and fending off the lorikeets - my sausage-eating magpies spied me, and decided it must be sausage-time. They’re in the habit of peering through the window to find me. They even jump up and down at the back door, beaks clacking and sometimes warbling to demand food! 

Madam Magpie: Oi! That parrot's not eating my sausages, is it?
 Madam, suspecting human treachery, and fearful for her sausages, was clearly disgruntled, and actually swooped me when I had my back turned! Beastly, feathered ingrate! Her wing slapped me on the back of the head and the ‘clack’ of her beak on my ear gave me quite a jolt. 

That’s the thing with birds – one minute it’s all sunflower seeds and sausages, 
and the next, it’s a Hitchcock movie!

The magpies don’t have it all their own way though. Earlier in the day, Madam Magpie was industriously thrashing a piece of sausage on the ground, when a brown and cream bomb hurtled out of the blue at her, bowling her clean over and nicking the sausage. A kookaburra. It took up a seat on the seedbox and cackled a bit – and made threatening noises at Madam when she approached to remonstrate. I had no idea that birds could ‘growl’ - I told you I learn a lot about birds here!

The Kookaburra - not as cuddly as you'd think! And a bit of a curmudgeon to boot!
Kookaburras may look like lovely cuddly plush toys, but that long snappy beak, with the little hook on the end, is pretty lethal.  To appease my growling kookaburra friend,  I offered him some sausage of his own, and he accepted!  I was grateful he didn’t snap a hole in my hand (the kookaburra method is to divebomb and grab, which often snaps its prey's back or neck, if it happens to be a hapless lizard or snake) – but this bloke's aim was true, and he left not a mark on me as he swooped the sausage and headed off for a safe perch on which to enjoy it. Phew.

So – that was my eventful day. Oh, and I bought a house.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Dance of the Lyrebird

The lyrebirds of Karbeethong are a lovely bunch. This morning I came across a youngster strutting his stuff in the undergrowth. I'm pretty sure he was a youngster because his tail feathers weren't very big. I shot a video of him on my mobile phone, but the quality was too abysmal to upload here.

Anyway - I did a couple of voice recordings (again. on my phone - aren't telephones amazing things these days?) and identified a heap of different bird calls (all produced by the lyrebird) - a kookaburra, a currawong or magpie, a golden whistler, a south-eastern whipbird, a satin bowerbird, and several other calls I couldn't identify. The clearly identifiable lyrebird sound, though, is the sound that's reminiscent of a camera shutter - a sort of metallic chyoo chyoo chyoo followed by a squawky chirrup. Upon the squawk, the bird does a funny sort of sideways hop, and bobs the 'lyre' shape of his tail feathers forward over his back and head. I wish my video had worked out! The little fellow let me watch him for about 10 minutes, and then my knees gave out, ha ha, and I had to move. Startled, the bird skedaddled.

I'm not sure yet how to upload sound files so you can hear the variety of his calls, and the genius of his mimcry. Watch this space.

Lyrebird-chasing is one of my fav pursuits whenever I come to Mallacoota - that, and feeding the dozens of birds that come to the door of my flat. I have a new magpie who must have young to feed, as she keeps coming back for more, and leaving with a beakful of food, presumably for the babies. She was so eager to see me this afternoon that she came running, and I thought she was going to come inside!

Of my latest pursuit - house-hunting - on this perfect Mallacoota day of blue sky, bluer water, sparkling views and balmy weather - I can't give you any updates - but I have been back for a second look at a house I rather like. Stay tuned!

Monday, 3 October 2011

A New Mallacoota Adventure

White-out in Mallacoota - the inlet has disappeared into the rain!
To everyone who was wondering whether I was dead or alive - I'm alive, although another killer term has taken its toll. I couldn't even contemplate blogging last term (and I'm sure everyone's sick of my moaning anyway!) So - the term is O-V-E-R. I'm older, crankier, more stressed... The wrinkles are deepening with every new parent-teacher night and every after-school meeting - but it's holiday time now and I've brought my battle-fatigue (and my Year 12 references) to beautiful Mallacoota to destress - and to embark on what might be a massively Huge adventure with a capital HUGE!
New aftermarket screen
 This was Piglet’s first ride to Mallacoota, and we came via Bombala and Cann River, dodging echidnas and foxes on the road. It was cold and wet, but Piglet was a real trouper. I loaded him up with a couple of Andy Strapz AA bags that Pisshead Pete let me borrow. They didn't hold as much as I'd hoped, so I had to leave some stuff behind (note to self: buy an Andy Strapz A Bag.)

The aftermarket screen I fitted has made a world of difference - no buffeting! - although I found my shoulders and thighs sore by the time I got here. I really need to build up some ride-fitness. Well, fitness of any sort, really - I did my walk into town, wandered around some of the residential areas having a stickybeak, and back to Adobe yesterday. My first proper walk since my accident in March, and 12kms may have been a little excessive - pelvis and knees were fine, but Oh My Aching Feet! They just wanted to drop off and limp away, except they didn't have the energy...

At the moment, outside the flat, there’s total white-out. The lake has disappeared into the rain. It’s been like that, on and off, since Saturday, so I haven't been bushwalking or bird-watching. I have, however, been looking at other things. Houses.

I’ve been coming here once or twice a year for the last five years now. Every time I arrive it takes my breath away, and every time I leave it breaks my heart. So this time I’m on a mission - I'm looking for a house to buy.

Yep, ol’ Betty’s looking for a sea-change, or a tree-change (you can have both in Mallacoota) – and you know what? I’m really kind of scared! Scared of the mega financial commitment; scared of change; scared of leaping into what could be an abyss. I’m a single woman of 52 with a mortgage, a motorcycle and a job that’s killing me. I want Something Else, and that something is, I think, here in Mallacoota – a daggy little fishing town that has barely changed in 40 years, teeming with birdlife and wildlife, with stunning beach and inlet views, fertile, grow-anything soil, and  not a traffic light for about 70kms. (No McDonalds, no movies, no shopping malls… wow).  I’m a little nervous about the whole thing. 

But I’m going to do it. What’s the worst that can happen?