Island dreams

Sunday Blog 100 – 3rd September 2023

This was a postcard I sent to my mother in 1997, re-photographed by my own fair hands this holiday which accounts for how skew-iff the image is. I sent it to her when I had all but finished my first year of teaching English as a Foreign language in Greece. Counting the weeks down from September to Christmas, Christmas to Easter. Once Easter was finished, the weeks of penance left until the end of the school year could be counted on one hand.

“See?” I crowed to my mother on the back of the postcard. “Wasn’t all that hard work worth it, to get to visit Skopelos?”

Too bad that it was April and the sea water was still bone-achingly cold. Much too cold for swimming – and the rain fell harder and harder as the week progressed. The triumph of having survived and made a mediocre holiday stop was something to be wildly celebrated in 1997.

This time of my life – as I edge closer to sixty – feels like a contradiction of the saying “the almonds of life come to those who have no teeth.”

I can now come to Greece while the weather is still good, and without having to endure eight months of slogging it out in the classroom. And I can still manage all those stairs.

Time to shovel in a handful of almonds and chew them with gratitude and full awareness of how bloody lucky I am.

Holiday in Brussels?

Sunday Blog 99 – 27th August 2023

Several decades ago when I worked in London, a colleague shared a birthday with me, albeit she was a few years older. It was one of our many points of connection. She was a character in so many ways but her staunch dislike for committing to a relationship was interesting and refreshing to me as a thirty-something woman keen on starting a family with no Mr Right in sight.

“If you want to go to Paris, and he wants to go to Berlin for a holiday, then you have to compromise and go to Brussels. And who wants to do that?”

Whilst it was a little unkind to Brussels, I could see her point. But I was not hardline enough in maintaining singledom. A decade and a half later I got married, and the holiday conundrum is an ongoing first world challenge I have to negotiate.

Our first overseas holiday together was in Bali, a short three hour flight from Perth. I didn’t adequately plan ahead for the reality that while I can never get enough sitting around the pool reading and writing time, darling husband can do that for tops one morning.

And so, nek minit I found myself up in the air in a para glider, which while it was pleasant enough, did leave me wondering about the health and safety aspects of coming in to land. I had also undertaken a sweaty and exhausting riverside walk before ending up in a canoe. The photos show me smiling but really, I just wanted to be reading a book.

Cambodia was another holiday where largely I was in the clear because it was a dental tourism visit for him and he was mostly out of action. However, there was the tour of Angkor Wat. What I really wanted to do was pop down in a tuk-tuk at dawn and see the incredible temples in the dawn light. What we actually did was a bike tour of the Temple. Run by a well-meaning NGO, the tour started with a cycle around the drainage areas, a whizz through a village where some poor family had to put up with us milling around awkwardly and asking stupid questions. Then more cycling, and yet more cycling.

Generally, Cambodia is very hot. This day was no exception, and a migraine started to emerge every time I got back on the bike and peddled between stops. By the time we arrived at Angkor Wat itself, I was a broken woman. I limped around the temples as best I could. There would be several more hours and many more stops after this one. But Angkor Wat was a major tuk-tuk junction and I could act on the desperate escape plan I’d been hatching as I peddled along with my thumping head.

I chose freedom and the tuk-tuk ride of shame. The negotiations with the driver were swift and sure. There was room on the tuk-tuk for the bike and me and I left without a backward glance. He drove me back to the offices of the earnest NGO where I could return the detested bike and then walk the short distance back to our hotel.

I will never forget the exquisite relief of air conditioning, a shower and an enormous bed to loll about on. The headache immediately disappeared and I went back to reading my book, writing and generally enjoying myself.

As happens in Cambodia, a violent rain storm erupted and I spent at least two more happy hours alone, while darling husband was still at it, peddling in stifling, now very wet heat. When he finally returned he conceded that perhaps he was a little tired and wet but maintained stoutly that he’d enjoyed himself.

But I learned from Bali and Cambodia. I’ve hit on an almost perfect compromise which is not exactly Brussels. So here I am in Salzburg while darling husband is cycling through the villages and mountains of Austria to Lake Bled. I eluded all suggestions of getting an electric bike and joining him and his formidably fit siblings for this escapade. They are definitely not on e-bikes. One must feel every hill and incline!

I will be popping onto an air conditioned bus and will meet up with them all at the end of the grand cycling tour, in Ljubljana. We will then make our way to Greece by airplane and ferry where they can churn around the islands, swimming up to five kilometres per day while I do my yoga and waft around the hotel on my own, reading, writing and leisure-ing.

Closing out with a picture of me on the Sound of Music tour, which darling husband was particularly keen not to have to participate in.

Malevolent bed clothes

Sunday Blog 98 – Sunday 20th August 2023 (It’s still Sunday in Frankfurt!)

He was trying very hard to be diplomatic, in the face-to-face interview he was conducting with me for my final recruitment process to become a shelf stacker at Woolies. This was in 2022, when I was still trying to get the right balance between earning enough money and retaining enough time to write. It was just after I had finished some consultant work which then took up all my writing bandwidth. Which defeated the purpose of me quitting the day job to finish the damn book. Shelf stacking seemed the ideal solution.

I had sailed through the earlier recruitment stages but at the interview he gently pointed out that perhaps my CV didn’t reflect a very – ahem – physically active job history. Being a non-profit health leader has its challenges and requirements, but physical strength is not one of them. Wisely he told me to sleep on the decision. Overnight the scales fell from my eyes. I rang him to decline. On reflection, shelf-stacking wasn’t quite the answer to my conundrum of having enough regular income without ending up working too hard to actually get the writing done.

Yes, my work experience has not usually put me at physical risk. Over my career, Work Health and Safety presentations were often a slightly painful and embarrassing effort from the presenter to think about likely hazards at work – a paper cut perhaps or a stapler accident. Not that I am trying to make light of the topic. There can be very unsafe workplaces from a mental health perspective.

I guess I am thinking more about the very risky work some people undertake where a lapse of judgement can have catastrophic consequences. I have never worked in one of these.

In fact, I am always inclined to ease whenever I can. So this week, I returned to bed after making a morning cup of tea, feeling very grateful and excited that I could snuggle in to do some editing. Only my ring finger somehow became caught up in my bedclothes, twisting the knuckle in a way it wasn’t supposed to. Darling husband had already left to go cycling but returned for something just at the point where I was still groaning in pain and thinking I might vomit just a little. He couldn’t quite fathom how such a sedentary position could cause any harm. Darned malevolent bedclothes.

The finger began to swell (and bruise ever so slightly) over the next few days. To the point I thought I would have to google the detergent and fishing line method of removing a wedding ring from swollen fingers.

But the gentle emergency receded without further incident. But I have been warned. Bedclothes can be dangerous!

Creativity tobogganing

Sunday Blog 97 – Sunday 13th August 2023

Forgive me because I can’t easily lay my hand on the link – but etched onto my memory is Liz Gilbert’s description of the creative process. Imagine being up the top of a steep incline, a cardboard box or a toboggan your only tool. Creativity is egging you on. “Do you want to slide down? Do you?”

You do. And down you go. Whistling at a reckless speed, always moments from wipeout. Just at the end of the steep incline you hit a bump, become airborne and crash land with no actual injuries, but shaking from head to foot.

“Wasn’t that FUN?” Creativity asks. “Do you want to do it again?”

Creativity takes you on a journey where they PROMISE it will be interesting and fun. Creativity however offers no promises of how it will all end up. Will you end up bleeding or with spinal injuries? Maybe. Maybe not. But won’t it be FUN?

After eight years, endless false starts and an Emerging Writers Program opportunity I have finished the damn book. But, I have had my first rejection from a publisher. I am rising from the snow, shaking from head to foot. Will I head up to the top of the slope again?

You bet.

Plus, how I loved this quote from Flaubert I read this week.

Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeoisie, so that you may be violent and original in your work.


Creativity never promises certainty. Just variety, challenge and something new.

I’m in.

Not the day, not the hour

Sunday Blog 96 – 6th August 2023

I began the week with two cousins born in the same year, same month as me, and ended it with one.

On Wednesday I was looking after my mother as per usual and heard the phone ring. As she always has it on speakerphone, I usually get to hear most of what’s going on. She was in another room altogether, but even from such a distance as that, I knew it was bad. Real bad.

It is not for me to post more details about another’s life, another’s death. But there are still all the feels to wade through, the memories that leap out at you. The nagging twinge of guilt that although she was my age, she and I weren’t buddies like I was, am with her younger sister. That we didn’t see each other except for big family occasions.

Grief for me often feels selfish, and a sudden death of someone almost exactly my age reminds me – again – that life is precious. That experiences need to be sought and savoured and leaned into.

A walk around the lake. An intimate acoustic concert to feel all the feels. Candlelight yoga. A full moon visit to the local labyrinth. Talks with family. Watching Barbie and her existential crisis with darling husband and a rum and raisin chocolate bomb.

For Clare. Vale.

What are you going to make that mean?

Sunday Blog 95 – 30th July 2023

This Saturday I took time out to sit with my 2023 Vision Board I created in January with my Yoga teacher and a group of women. She had promised us a mid-year catch up to reflect on our year so far. Saturday was the day of reckoning.

It’s fair to say I had started the day in a less-than yogic state, trying in vain to log onto an online writing group I clearly hadn’t visited for way too long. Around and around in a loop I went. Re-setting my password. Trying it but it still telling me the password was wrong. Typing in the email and password over and over again. Batting away my phone’s kind offer to plaster my address details over the username and password in an AI fail at being helpful. As I was home alone, a few shrieks of frustration rendered the air as I got ready for my yoga class.

Yoga worked its magic but I could feel the frustrated toddler ready to re-emerge at the slightest provocation. It was a build up for sure. Last weekend I discovered a screw wedged deep into a tyre, so I have my spare tyre on the car and a never-ending flashing light on my dashboard. Then in a synchronicity of bastardry, a headlight bulb has gone on my car and you have to deconstruct the entire vehicle to slip in a new light bulb, so that task is still undone. Another flashing light on the dashboard for that.

Perhaps my dashboard impersonating a Christmas display to alert me to the lack of balance this week – aka no time for writing. Also, things going wrong with the car throw a spanner into my financial works so my business account balance was looking very anaemic while my dashboard was far too colourful with all the warning lights.

I brought all my petty frustrations into the Vision Board reflection session in the afternoon and had a soft space to land, as well as a chance to be challenged on where I didn’t feel I had reached my vision.

Being a freelancer, as I am now, finances ebb and flow. That is completely normal. Especially when car snafus are thrown into the mix. When lamenting about the anaemic bank balance, my Yoga teacher asked me, “What are you going to make that mean?”

Naturally I am going to make that mean that I am a hopeless freelancer, lazy, unfocused, yada yada yada. Her powerful question interrupted this for me. In the space created by the interruption I could accept the ebbs and flows of freelancer income and avoid falling into the troughs of despair that often seem to assail me.

We closed the Vision Board Review session with a beautiful walk in nature as the sun was waning. So many beautiful sounds and sights soothed me, and some of the nature pics made it into the image for this post, spelled out into 2023. Time to rejoin the fray, the ebbs and flows and hold steady in my sense of self.

Privacy or Secrecy?

Sunday Blog 94 – 23rd July 2023

This week I had the chance to give a talk about privacy from a consumer perspective, specifically about our state’s Privacy and Responsible Sharing Information Project and the forthcoming legislation. This legislation is yet to be revealed, much to my chagrin. I had a fantasy that drafting this important legislation would be more of a consultative process with the West Australian community (ha ha ha ha! No wonder they call me Pollyanna…)

Privacy is a dry topic, I know, and I attempted to spice it up by trying to argue that privacy is not the absolute, only thing that citizens care about. We care about openness too, and honesty. Heaven forbid, we might sometimes think that governments citing “privacy concerns” are just covering their own butts.

Case in point. I debriefed the episode of Australian Story where Corey White, author of the wonderfully titled (and written) memoir The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory went on Australian Story. He and his sister used a national television program to further unpack their experiences in Australia’s out of home care system. Queensland’s Child Protection Department had this to say the next day after the episode aired:

The Act prevents us from discussing individual cases…

But Corey and his sister had swapped out their privacy to attempt to create change. What I would have loved to have seen was something like this; “Our whole team watched the Australian Story and spent time reflecting on what has changed, and what is the same since Corey’s childhood. We thank Corey and his sister for their bravery in telling their stories. We heard them. We have re-committed to implementing Recommendations from previous Inquiries and to advocate to Treasury to provide the funds we need to keep children safe.”

I know. I was really riffing.

For people who are desperate to access a service, or to create positive change to help make meaning out of the suffering they have endured, privacy may not be the most important thing.

I also reinforced the radical notion that data about us, should be owned by us everyday citizens. Not government agencies playing God as Data Custodians, arguing the toss about who has the most power while data that is not shared or linked (especially health data) can mean actual lost lives.

And our data should not, heaven help us, be owned outright by companies. We know that data is the new oil, and how it is extracted, refined, repackaged and on-sold is where the money and power is at. The biggest companies in the world now are trading data, our data.

We also take part in the playacting of accepting privacy policies that are thousands of unread words long every day. That is the cost we pay in order to be able to access an app, a service. Our only other choice is to say no and be barred.

So yes, privacy is complex and important. Companies in particular need to be collecting less data about us and destroying that data once it has done its job. Letting us know when they have sold our data on (aren’t we are all familiar with that rash of dodgy texts received a day or two after clicking “accept” on privacy terms on some website somewhere?)

Government agencies need to use the data they are custodians of to follow the trail and work out what services and programs are working. We the people need to be part of the ongoing digital revolution, able to participate meaningfully in discussions about what data is collected, how algorithms are put together, how they are assessed as effective over time.

Or as this interesting Washington Post article says:

We the users want transparency, so we can understand how technology is shaping our lives — and correct course when it goes off the rails.

I have joined the revolution by reading The Digital Mindset. I think I can boast a wobbly fluency in the key concepts and feel more empowered now – it’s definitely worth a read.

We need to be part of the conversation of what data is collected – “what is counted ends up counting” as the book tells us. As a patient advocate I know how essential it is for us to be at the table ensuring that the data patients and carers think is important is also counted, not just what the surgeon thinks is important.

Viva la digital revolution.

Friendships through the decades

Sunday Blog 93 – 16th July 2023

To quote myself, (because frankly, no-one else is)

Sometimes I think that all the wisdom of life is contained in E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End, which tackles money, death, friendship and class (among other things).

Sunday Blog 37, 22 May 2022

What I loved about the way friendship was tackled in Howards End was the friendship between Margaret Schlegel and Mrs Willcox is central to the plot-more central than the romantic relationship.

We under-rate friendships in our society, in my humble opinion. Romantic relationships are top of the tree, and family relationships are also prioritised. But friendships can be every bit as important and even painful as any other type of relationship. They are also so wonderfully light and free because they are relationships of choice rather than obligation.

Lately I have been so lucky to re-connect with friends I made as a teenager. Friends I made when I looked like this:

And in a few short years like this:

There is such pleasure in re-connecting with someone who remembers you from your formative years. And as my formative years are several decades ago, there are rich, iterative conversations zigging and zagging across time to fill in the details.

Forgotten photos are returned to you, and conversations and opinions re-hashed which must surely have been uttered by another human being. Have I changed that much?

Yes, to finish with Joan Didion’s wise quote “I’ve lost touch with several people I used to be.”

Hurrah to friendships that can knit together our different selves across time.

Is it finished?

Sunday Blog 92 – 9th July 2023

I would hate to estimate when it was that I bumped into a woman I did coaching training with – let’s say for argument’s sake it was more than three years ago. She knew I had started a novel in about 2015 which was about the time we started studying together. So in 2019 she asked me “Is it finished?”

It was a perfectly sensible question to ask me. But it was not. “It” was the novella, Not His Story that I have dragged through at least three online courses, a retreat in Delphi, Greece, through the mill of a couple of mentors, both of whom pronounced it unpublishable. It ballooned to more than 100,000 words, shrank to 25,000. It even spent a brief stint in the bin. It was rescued from said bin two years ago when I applied for the Western Australian Emerging Writers Program. When I was successful in that application, I had the “oh shit!” moment of realising that it meant I would have to actually finish the damn book.

And with the framework that the Emerging Writers Program provided, I did finish the damn book. Workshops and a group all suffering together, and a mentor who set me on my wobbly legs and encouraged me to the finish line.

But only to manuscript stage, where now it can experience a whole new set of rejections but this time with publishers. If I am very lucky, it may be accepted for publication. And acceptance will mean yet more work to ensure it meets the publishers expectations while staying true to my vision of the book.

I do understand what Liz Gilbert talks about with the shit sandwich of writing. It’s not for everyone, and talent alone will never get you there. So much work is required.

But I do believe this particular shit sandwich is for me.

And now, off to celebrate this milestone of finishing the damn book!


Sunday Blog 91 – 2nd July 2023

I’m up to the stage of submitting my novella manuscript to publishers (yay and eek all at once). I have been working on it for about eight years, so it’s quite the gear shift. I’m keeping myself connected to my writing practice by writing shorter pieces, looking for places to submit for publication or to enter competitions.

A writing prompt this weekend has got me thinking about housework, and servants. What a strange, co-dependant relationship it was, between servant and mistress. I fell down quite a few research rabbit holes trying to find out more about servants in England before and after the First World War. Far too many rabbit holes for the shortness of the piece I was trying to write.

It was interesting to reflect that as the world was modernising, some households were changing, becoming more bohemian. But not quite bohemian enough to do the dusting. So still, they kept servants.

One of the drivers of the (ahem) rare lively discussions between darling husband and I was my desire for a housecleaner. Back in the day when I was working more than full-time. It was classist he intimated, and of course there was the cost. We compromised by him doing all the housework in return for being taken out to dinner fortnightly. It was win, win, win for me, but what with the menopausal gap year and quitting my job, that arrangement has come to an end. I’m back on the end of the mop.

On the whole, I’m glad. But… writing retreat last weekend, mopping the next. It’s hard not to long for more grand times in writing cabins!