Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Tasmania....

I am so pleased to be able to say that.....


Earlier this week I bought a second hand spinning wheel from an elderly lady who lives on the coastline. Before buying it, I went to take a look because it's a good 22 years since I spun any wool and I needed to make sure I'd be able to work it out. As I drove home from her place, I felt a wave of sadness washing over me. She'd told me she was selling off some stuff because she was moving to a unit, so I guessed she had probably been recently widowed, and I really sat with this on my journey home - how life ebbs and flows and changes constantly, and how the threads of others' lives continue through our own.

When I went to pick up the wheel a couple of days later, she told me that her husband had died several months ago and she could no longer manage the upkeep of her huge house on the hill or the 5 acres that unrolled around it. The sadness in her was tangible. She's a passionate gardener and clearly loved the laughter of the kookaburras in the trees that towered over her verandah, but she's off to a future that will fit her better now, and she is taking another smaller wheel with her, so she can teach her granddaughter to spin. And so the yarn continues to wind down through the generations of her family after all.

So now I have a spinning wheel. I always said I'd get one when we came to Tasmania. I need someone to show me how to use it, but I know I'm going to get right back into all that carding and dyeing and spinning and plying.... I loved it when I did it all those years ago in London. It was magical. I remember when I was about 18, during my last year in the Cotswolds, I met a guy whose mother dyed and spun the wool of her own sheep, and knitted it up into amazing jumpers, mainly for the Japanese market. She lived in this amazing old house called Postlip Hall, and she had a big studio full of wheels, yarns, colours, and textured garments spread out across the floor. They were mesmerising, real works of art. I spent a night there and for some reason I couldn't sleep, so at dawn I found an old wooden window seat and sat there, gazing out over the misty fields, at the sheep in the meadow. It was enchanting.

I may not have my own sheep (although we have friends with alpacas and Grandpa keeps sheep so I'll not be short of a fleece or two...) but now I do have my own meadow garden and the neighbouring farmer's paddock to gaze out at every day. With the mist rolling along the riverline, all the way down the valley, and the Hereford cows ambling in between the trees, it's a little bit like living in a Turner landscape. And I can't wait to get that wheel turning, that rhythm going and that yarn spinning through the new year.... I have a feeling it'll be a good one.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Home At Last

We moved into our Tasmanian house a week and a half ago. We cannot believe how beautiful everything is around here..... the Huon valley is quite possibly the loveliest place I have ever been to, and I've travelled quite a bit. I guess I didn't take it all in when I came to view the property back in June or July or whenever it was, but driving down here from the ferry was simply breathtaking, especially once we reached the southern side of Hobart.

Our house is gorgeous too - so big and spacious, and full of character as old weatherboards are. We are so happy with it. The children love to just run around it when they're not busy exploring the fairytale wildflower garden outside.

We still have a few boxes to unpack, and lots of business to attend to now we've moved interstate. Without curtains in the house yet, the children are reluctant to go to bed much before 9pm which means our evenings have been cut very short... and I am busy trying to knit a Christmas monkey, dinosaur and mermaid.... but we'll get there. It takes time to settle in after a big move and we have plenty of that.

After 25 years of city life, I am feeling set quite free in so many ways, and of course missing a few things too. There's nowhere nearby to go for a swim, and my precious Bikram's yoga is a good drive away in Hobart. But the pros are going to far outweigh the cons, especially once we deepen and extend our connections here. And every drive I take is a stunning one! I have adapted surprisingly easily to country roads, although I did get caught out on a steep, windy dirt track while exploring the other day!

I know we will have such a good time here, and it's the best possible place to raise children. Watching them frolic on the beach last week, my heart skipped a beat. They were so happy, so full of the sheer joy of being alive and free to roam. So hello Tasmania, we are very very happy to finally be here. Our move to Australia finally makes sense.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Impact of Blogging

We have two more nights left in the city..... I am so tired I am barely functioning. But last night I did have enough energy to order this beautiful intaglio print from the woman behind one of my favourite blogs, Prudence pouts, who makes gorgeous artworks and children's clothing for her Etsy shop. This is the second piece of art I've bought from her for our new house. I love its evocative quality, its fairytale air of mystery. It reminds me of all of my favourite childhood stories, and many of my favourite adult ones too - those ones set in big old houses with strange Fuschia from Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, or one of the twins from Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, which I've just finished reading.

Actually, the Prudence pouts blog was instrumental in my decision to move to Tasmania. I stumbled across it by accident, while looking for a Waldorf doll pattern. The author, a mixed media artist, makes and sells exquisite dolls (I will buy one one day...) but more importantly, for me at the time I discovered her, lives in rural Montana with her hubby and four children. The pictures on her blog crystallised something for me during my time of deep wondering about where to place roots for my family. They were such beautiful wild images of kids and nature, camping holidays, wooden cabins, riverside picnics, sticky cream cakes, gardens blooming with vibrant colour, and a chord was struck in my heart. This was it. The life I wanted for my family. I'd always known it in a way. After all this is why we left England, where country living wasn't an option for us at the time, mainly due to its prohibitive costs and also because so much in England is centralised in London.

Melbourne was fun for a while, but in terms of city life, London is a hard act to follow. I quickly realised that had I wanted to remain in a city, London would have had to have been it. But of course none of us wanted city life anymore. Having said that, all cities are notoriously hard to leave. They suck you in with a myriad of temptations, and while London has the most, Melbourne has many. So for a while we half-heartedly toyed with the idea of mortgaging ourselves to Northcote or Brunswick. But once I discovered Prudence and saw those images of what I knew I'd always wanted for my own children, my mind was made up. We'd stop being one of those couples who endlessly prevaricated over making the sea/tree change while slowly being drawn into the urban networks around us of school and work, and we'd find that big old weatherboard between the beach and the forest, and we'd give our children fresh air and plenty of nature to feast on. And we have, and now we're off. And when we get there I can gaze at this intriguing, slightly unsettling girl with her unruly hair and her challenging expression and I can think of Prudence and the part she has played in our move. Blogging..... it's certainly had an impact on me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thank you Nikki Gemmell....

I've just finished reading Nikki Gemmell's gloriously moving book, Why You Are Australian: A Letter to my Children. It holds particular resonance for me as I too am an expat mum, caught between two worlds, wondering which is best for my beloved three children.

Nikki is an Aussie, who, after 12 years in England, decides to follow her heart back home to her land of light and sun, where she spends three delicious summer months watching her kids unfurl and flourish in the heat and the great outdoors. She paints a fond, yet bleak picture of the London she has left behind, confessing that it has never held her heart in the way her homeland has always done.

I am the opposite. My heart is in England, despite its grey skies, its overburdened, diminishing countryside, and its emotional insularity. I miss the rich historical heritage, the incredible variety of culture, the intellectual climate and elegance and eccentricity of the people. My homesickness crashes over me at times, disorientating me and hurling me off balance. Yet, I am not convinced England would offer my children a better life, certainly not while they're young. And Nikki's book, written directly from the pure, deep love of a mother, has given me a fresh perspective on this land, and the potential it holds for my family. She has renewed my focus, refreshed my gaze, reminded me why I left the relentless concrete, the nerve-shattering violence and the sheer, unsustainable expense of London for this wide open country where nature abounds and where big weatherboard houses with generous gardens are more than affordable, if you know where to look. Where I don't feel threatened in parks, streets, or my own home. Where the cost of a decent living doesn't cripple me. And where wild places expand out across the horizon.

So today I am feeling inspired all over again about my life in Australia. And it's on a grander scale than the inspiration that's been rippling up with our imminent move to Tasmania. This is an ambitious inspiration, a big, bold, wide inspiration that is feeding on everything from Arnhem Land to Sydney to Nikki's beloved Lake McQuarrie and beyond.

Yes, I may well decide to head home one day, and do what Nikki did. I can absolutely see us renting a cottage in Dorset and seeing how we all fit into the disappearing English idyll. That heart-pull Nikki describes so poignantly is one I need to negotiate in my own time. But as someone reminded me recently (thank you Josephine...) you find reflections of yourself wherever you go.

My children's heritage is English, American and Australian, they are children of the world, and one day they will find their own way in it. But for now their foundation is in my hands, and if I can give them a free and protected space while they are small that foundation will be strong. Hopefully, home is where children flourish, and for now, from what I can see every day, beneath this bright light and these strong stars, for my children, that is here, in Australia. Thank you Nikki Gemmell, for offering me such a fresh look.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The constitution of cool

I keep meeting Melburnians who regard Tasmania as a cultural desert. "It's not cool there" said the woman at Fitzroy's Lost and Found market, as I handed her the cash for my new vintage phones this afternoon. "It's full of inbreds down there," said my periodontist, last time she dug around my teeth. "They're all mad...", while her receptionist added, in a scrambled attempt to dilute her colleague's comment, "It's very beautiful there, but no doubt you'll be back here soon for your fix of the mainland."

Will I? I wondered. Because when it comes down to it, apart from the live arts, what will I really miss? Shops? Yes, but frankly I'm a little sick of the constant consumer option. Cafes? Well, there are gorgeous cafes all over Hobart... and there's one at the Antarctic Division which I can't wait to visit. Anything else? Er, no, not really. I actually don't get to see the live arts at all either thanks to my hectic schedule of motherhood and my tentative forays back into the world of work (although I did see the amazing Bangarra 20 year celebration yesterday...) But in Tasmania I'll be thoroughly entertained by the natural arts - the forests, the beaches, the huge, unspoilt national state parks. I can't imagine I'll be pining for the busy streets of Melbourne. Especially while the Victorian summer sun scorches away any semblance of comfort or sanity...

I've been thinking about this scapegoating of Tasmania, because from what I've experienced of the island state it's far more cool, just as cultured, and far less conservative than Melbourne. Here, even the so-called alternative culture is vaguely homogenised, and any cool has a very self conscious edge to it. In Tasmania, people seem to simply get on with being themselves which reminds me of England - a place where individuals have plenty of room to become fully fledged eccentrics if they so choose. Don't get me wrong, I think there's a lot of creativity blooming away all over Victoria's state capital, but like a lot of American cities there's a sense of conformity here which is very hard to resist or escape altogether. Maybe it's my British perspective, but that's really how I see it.

So far, most Tasmanians I've met are artists or musicians or both. There are people down there from all over Australia and Europe who've moved across the country or the world in search of nature and adventure. And they're not all retired, despite the other common misconception that everyone down there's drawing on their pension.

I guess lots of nations have their scapegoats. God knows Ireland copped it from England for years until Dublin and Dingle became too cool to cackle over. These days it's full of hip young eco-minded types looking to leave the grind. Which is exactly how I see Tasmania. As far as I'm concerned the apple isle's persistently negative reputation is unfair and outmoded, and from what I can tell, we're heading for a beautiful slice of the world, complete with artisan culture and festivals galore. If that's uncool then turn up the heat!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Here we go again.... packing up all our worldly goods and entrusting them to some blokes with a truck. Actually last time we did this, the blokes were my husband and one of our closest Melbourne friends, and we just made a hop, skip and a jump from one inner northern suburb to the next. But this move to Tasmania involves ships and containers, just like our move to Australia from London back in November 2006. We had no furniture worth keeping back in those days so we only brought our bed with us, and some favourite chairs, but we did bring our hefty library which caused the packers to openly curse us. This time of course we have two more children, and a whole house worth of goods - oriental antiques, baskets of toys, and yes, a few more books.

Packing with three children at large is no easy feat. Endless monitoring of toilet-training twin toddlers together with ongoing requests for juice, icy poles and diluted milk to cool them down in this, frankly, unacceptable heat have to be honoured but that does mean endless interruptions and constant concerns along the lines of 'where did I leave those scissors/that tape cutter/the roll of bubblewrap'. Which is why we started early. I think I've got past the point of feeling utterly overwhelmed and am now at the stage of - well, we'll get there. We have to. The truck is booked, the ferry is booked, the new tenants for our current rental are booked. My only real concern now (apart from hoping I got all of my daughter's poo out of the sandpit) is that the bathroom tiles for the new house are shipped down from Sydney in time for the builders to instal the luxurious new volcanic limestone, claw foot bath prior to our arrival..... After three years of water restrictions I, ever the Brit, am truly gasping for a good, long soak.....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The city has felt like a furnace today - 34 degrees and we're all burning up, irritable and desperate for a cool change. This is the first year my children have complained about the heat, which makes me even more glad to be escaping into the comparatively civilised climate of Tasmania where it's been 19 degrees today. God, how English am I! So many people here love the heat - and I simply cannot understand it! My very dear fellow expat phoned me to find out how we were coping and I said we were stripping off, eating ice and rolling around in the empty cast iron bath. At least my twins are taking the opportunity to step up their toilet training.

This evening a lovely breeze blew through and dinner was eaten on the porch. Thirsts quenched with gallons of juice and icy poles in the freezer for tomorrow's onslaught....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day Trip to Daylesford

With just five weeks to go before we head across the Bass Strait, I was determined to have a family day out to Daylesford, a beautiful little town just over an hour's drive away from Melbourne. If I'm honest, my main reason for going was to visit The Lark (see my blog list) so we made a beeline for this exquisite little emporium after I'd foraged through the Sunday market for some lovely old dessert bowls and some Willow tins. We were given such a warm welcome in the shop, and everyone left with gorgeous gifts - a real treat for the three smalls. And for me. I have never before been given a goodie bag on my way out of a shop, but today I was handed a lovely assortment of an angel, notebook, Betsey Clarke coaster, cowboy book nameplate, and an I Love Daylesford badge. A shame we didn't get to meet Allison, but a big thank you nevertheless to The Lark for a delicious shopping experience - we shall miss you in Tasmania!

Needless to say, I have been fired up with inspiration by a visit to the shop, which specialises in handcrafted, nostalgic gifts and beautiful children's toys. I bought the new edition of ecofashion mag Peppermint, and felt especially motivated by a long feature on contemporary craft, and the whole craft blog community. It's fantastic to get connected this way, and so cool to hear about what other people are creating.

We finished up our trip with a play down by the lake. The wind was icy so we chased the sun, and had a game of Pooh Sticks, before snacking on bananas, racing around a very large tree, and then heading back to the smoke. The drive home was whiled away with Peppermint, the new issue of Dumbo Feather, and a bar of Green and Black's.

So, back to a quick-fix pasta dinner and a late, late night, but everyone was very pleased with their new brightly coloured, melamine tumblers, and the lovely Royal Winton china. The boys have taken their Czech Republic vehicles to bed, and little miss has her new basket on her bedside table..... sweet dreams monkey-angels....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things I Will and Things I Won't Miss About the City

Things I Will Miss
1. My friends
2. Ceres market
3. International airports
4. Trips out to Blackwood, the Garden of St Erth and Daylesford
5. Gorman
6. Northcote High Street
7. Brunswick & Gertrude Streets
8. Zedi hair
9. Montsalvat
10. Corner cafes on residential streets like my mate Patrick's Foxy Brown in Westgarth (pictured above right in all its warm, glowing orange retro glory - mostly organic too), and A Minor Place in Brunswick

Things I Won't Miss
1. Heavy traffic
2. Not being able to park outside my house (with my twins and their big brother still all under five this is not fun)
3. Belligerent and dangerous drivers
4. The car theft that blights our street
5. Relentlessly straight roads
6. Rush hour (nothing by London standards but in Tasmania it truly does not exist)
7. The viral sprawl of the suburbs
8. Thousands upon thousands of very badly dressed people
9. The trend towards 'European style' living ie. in a shoebox with no garden
10. Being surrounded by other peoples backyards and houses

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Contemplating Beekeeping

I woke up at 3.30am this morning, thanks to a revving car engine outside my bedroom window - something we won't suffer from when we have a 50 metre long driveway flanked by fruit trees and lawn. Because I was hoping to get up at 5.15am and hotfoot it to my ridiculously early Bikram's yoga class in Fitzroy, I couldn't get back to sleep..... always a toss-up between the incredible energy afforded by a class and a couple more hours in bed. But I know what makes me feel better, so off I went. Afterwards I had to go to straight to the periodontist (poor, poor old teeth, but at least they look after them in Australia - in England they just whip 'em out!) so called home to check on the tinies only to discover they were munching on handmade cheese, homemade bread and a huge goose egg all posted from their Grandpa in Tasmania.... Posting an egg is something that possibly only my father-in-law would attempt. It was enormous - that's it pictured sitting up proudly in one of our egg-spring-cups. I am amazed it arrived intact.

While waiting for the dentist I picked up a copy of Country Style magazine, drawn by a cover line about the renovation of an old coach house in Hobart, only to discover it's the new home of a couple of printmakers I met last time we were in Tassie. As if I needed more inspiration! It was so reassuring to feel we might eventually belong to such a rich, artistic community, and also re-ignited my intentions to embark on a printmaking course when we get there. I also would love to buy one of their pieces. They are Nick and Madeleine Goodwolf, and their work is represented by Handmark Gallery in Salamanca. Handmark also represent Mandy Renard whose work I already own. Such beautiful images of women and nature. Take a look at my links to see their inspirational work.

Finally, all of this rich mix of nature and art and the good good good life made me contemplate the possibility of beekeeping. Me and my hubby have pondered over this, and I am thinking my children's breakfast would have been just perfect with a dollop of home made honey.....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Our New House

Here's a view of our new house , waiting for us in the back of beyond.... Snuggled in between mountains, tucked into a valley above a river and nestled on an acre of country garden wrapped around by a paddock, it's an old 1910 weatherboard beauty, full of stories and character. I've only seen it once, when I flew out alone to make a decision on behalf of the family about whether or not to buy. Right now the builders are in there, plumbing in the claw foot bath, painting the kitchen deep red and chocolate brown, and bashing down a wall to let the light into the main living room. Still holed up in our city home (another lovely old weatherboard), I am increasingly impatient to install myself and my family, with all our treasures, beneath the clouds and the blue skies, among the flowers and the fruit trees. I am already imagining a life without traffic, beachcombing on the way home from kindergarten, and sitting on the porch with an accordion....

So, six weeks to go before we up city sticks and leave the urban sprawl of Melbourne for this back of beyond - the Huon Valley in Tasmania. Three years since we left London to bring up our children on this side of the world. And it's been a strange time in many ways. I love the breathtaking beauty of this land, the safe and sound atmosphere and the relaxed Australian friendliness of the people, but I totally underestimated the culture shock. I still haven't got used to the prevalence of tracksuits on the streets, the hoons wobbling all over the roads, and the baffling popularity of New Age spirituality. I've lost count of how many times I've asked myself - what on earth am I doing here? But now we are finally escaping the city life we never really came here for in the first place, I am beginning to remember. Melbourne has been a great starting point and we've made some lovely friends who I will miss. I'll also miss the gorgeous inner-city pockets of Northcote, Fitzroy and Carlton, with their tiny tethered park blocks, their beautiful parlour corner cafes, their quaint little cottages and converted milk bars, and the thriving music, arts and crafts scene. But these small precincts of cultural cool are too heavily eclipsed by the ever-expanding rest of the city - the endless, homogenous suburbs, the sleepy uniformity of thousands of long straight roads and infinitely bland high streets and shopping centres which just go on forever in a sea of concrete and fast food outlets. Let me out! I am counting down the days......