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....