Here’s the thing about grief, it never stops being painful. Instead, we learn to build our lives around it, and before we know it we can go for days, weeks and months without the tears falling, and then out of nowhere, unbeknownst to us they reappear and stop us in our tracks; a memory, a song, a flickering thought. A couple of weeks ago I found myself really missing my mum, I miss her every day, but on the days I miss her most I’ve learnt as the years have passed by to allow myself the time to stop and think about her, to accept the ache in my heart and to let the tears flow. I wasn’t intending to write this next blog, with Christmas approaching I’m usually bereft with festive crafting and filling the calendar within an inch of our lives of days out to meet Santa and our loved ones, little time is left for writing. This year was always going to be different, Coronavirus has seen us in a second lockdown, after which the whole country has exited into tiers which all impact socially who we can and can’t see, and somehow I haven’t quite yet found my festive spirit to accomplish the usual traditions. What would mum do in this scenario I wondered, and before I know it, I’m half way through the travel journal below and knee deep in memories that are pulling me out of what’s felt like a tough couple of days, and it occurs to me, that grief if we allow it, can be bring a calmness and center our inner selves. When I think of mum, I’m comforted by the thought that she embraced so much while visiting us in Australia, with a willingness to make it the best three weeks engaging with everybody. Despite knowing when it was over that we weren’t travelling back with them, nor knowing when she’d see us in person again, my mum had a knack of ‘keeping her chin up,’ I assume to spare us seeing how she really thought, even at the airport she held herself together, and it was this thought that’s pulled me back to the surface. I know instantly what my mum would do; she’d crank up the Christmas tunes and get on with it. She’d remind me that with a little togetherness, despite the distance, we can make Christmas 2020 the best it can be. And so, the crafting, the baking, the decorating, the music, and the Christmas movies all begin, and with these the magic and Christmas spirit follows. As Santa would say in the movies; my Clausometer is back up to full speed.
Sydney, February 2007
Once we'd settled back into Sydney life, and I’ll try not to brag but the weather is good here, we did the usual and set out in search of jobs and accommodation. Both came really easy to us which made a change. Nathan managed to get work straight away with our Aussie pal Andrew working on office fit outs, the problem was it was only a week’s work and odd days here and there. He's now working with our Welsh friend Wyn's company doing exhibition setups. I knew all these people would come in handy one day with the connections they had. Me on the other hand, I rang a contact I met in Melbourne, and had work by the Monday morning on one of the busiest streets in Sydney, George Street. What am I selling? You guessed it, perfumes. I look back now and think how glad I was to have that few weeks work in Surfers Paradise all those months ago; I seem to have worked in every state since selling the stuff. Still its cash in hand again, and not so bad hours this time around so I will make do.
On the accommodation side of it, after viewing some very backpacker style apartments, (Melbourne comes back to haunt me again) we were running out of ideas as Sydney seems to have a lack of car parking spaces, but we finally met Holly and Nathan (we'll call him Nat so we don't get confused a little later) who were looking for flat mates to share in their Paddington flat; he’s a struggling university student and she’s a part time care worker. The flat looked pretty Ok, and right at the back of us was the SCG. Nathan loved the fact that when England won the cricket we could hear all the cheers from our bedroom window, it was like surround sound. This bliss didn't last though.
The biggest thing that strikes me about my journal entry from New Zealand below is how I fail to mention at Punakoiki and Paparoa National Park about the words the bar man said to us, that we have lived by ever since. If I remember it right, we were sat discussing our options for the last of our travel plans, where we should venture when back in Australia, and feeling torn over how best to spend the last of our budget; blow it on the sights listed in our Lonely Planet guide, or save it until next time because we’d need money to restart when we arrive back in the UK. ‘Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.’ These words, this phrase, it’s now our family motto. At the time they were said to us we could never have known how much they’d be a constant reminder in our future decision making. The words aren’t about always choosing extravagance, they are about knowing that whatever we decide, to keep going, because mistakes happen but the script is ours to be lived and rewritten however we choose. When my mum died I remember thinking about all the things she hadn’t been able to witness, life felt cruel, and if I’m honest I spent the rest of my twenties saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity and adventure that came my way, I wasn’t prepared to be anything other than carefree. Along comes my thirties and not one, but two beautiful children and life had to slow down. My focus has shifted, and over the last 8 years I have been reminded everyday how life’s simplest of pleasures can be seen through the eyes of my children, something I know my mum did regularly through mine and my sisters – for this I am forever grateful. As I think over our time in New Zealand I knew then that our experiences were so wholesome because of the time and support my family gave us. Auntie Pat is due to turn 70 this year; she was incredibly brave to travel to New Zealand as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ and remains an inspiration to me. Despite the years in between seeing each other, of only really knowing each other through the stories mum would tell me, her openness and warmth is something I admire, an open door policy for adventure when the opportunities arise, her willingness to ensure Nathan and I made the most of our time exploring whilst ensuring we made the connections with my cousins, this is invaluable. We chose to blow the remaining of our budget on the last adventures in Australia and arrived back in the UK with £40 in our bank accounts. Our next chapter began living back with parents, our friends Andy and Kelly ‘gave’ us a car and bought us our first ‘big’ food shop, and within a couple of weeks we were both working; this generosity got us back on our feet and was the first time we openly used the words; ‘life isn’t a dress rehearsal.’
I’ve just seen the breaking news on the BBC that soap drama Eastenders is to stop filming amidst the Coronavirus Global Pandemic that I’m currently sat typing in. Actually, as per usual I began this blog post four weeks ago and all soap dramas have now ceased filming, the UK alike many other countries is in ‘lockdown’ with schools, businesses and parks closed, travel restricted and outdoor activities limited to essential exercise and shopping. Even four weeks ago the announcement about the first long standing soap drama becoming newsworthy made sense, we are all being asked to social distance ourselves and actors are no different, we are all human, we all have a responsibilities to our families and for those around us – but it did get me thinking about how much time I’d have on my hands if I didn’t watch soap operas? Reading below its pretty clear in my writing how many years I’ve actually enjoyed watching the soaps – I made a point of visiting the beach where Home and Away is set in Australia and referenced my disappointment at not spotting any such soap celebrity. From as early as I can remember my mum also watched the soaps – and while my sister has no interest, I can understand the escapism that watching the soaps allows us to have, it is my time to sit down after a busy day and watch something that doesn’t require a set level of concentration. I don’t watch them thinking its reality, thankfully my short Media Studies Access Course at Norton College allowed me the opportunity to research the popularity of soaps and reality TV (not comparatively) and understand this without a shadow of a doubt, but it is a condensed version of everyday, and often works on some hard hitting subjects that emote and relate in a way film doesn’t. I no longer watch Home and Away, my age bracket has moved me to later soap time slots, but this being said when it comes to taking holidays, or the kids needing me at that set time I don’t feel the need to watch it on catch-up TV, that’s the beauty of soap operas – you soon pick up where it was left off. All around us things have been postponed and cancelled, there isn’t anyone that Coronavirus isn’t affecting in some way – but for me I’m going to choose to take it as an opportunity to use this unprecedented time to see how it works when we try things out of everyday routine, and hope that by the end of it – like TV soap operas, we’ll all pick up the pieces where we left off, only perhaps we’ll have learnt new skills and new ways of interacting with each other for the better.
My blog below began with a Joe Bennett book title – A land of Two Halves, I still have this book along with many other brilliant travel books since. I sometimes wonder if I’m alone in reading, the world is full of options on purchasing amazing TV and film packages that I wonder when anyone finds the time to read, I often carry a book in my bag in the hopes that my day may come with a coffee break and time to read a few pages (it rarely does), and then I spot others; on the tram, on the bus, in coffee shops, and online asking for new book recommendations so I know others, they do exist, and that gives me hope that I’ll keep coming across opportunities to read about the places I’ve been and those I want to visit from the viewpoints of others who may one day write about these in a novel I’m reading.
In 2006 with four weeks till Christmas we had so much to look forward to; we were enjoying time with Lisa getting to know her family and friends in the Blue Mountains, the impending arrival of our best friends Andy and Kelly, a five week adventure in New Zealand in the New Year, and the thought of it being just three months until my mum, dad and sister would be arriving. When I began writing it was 2019 and with just three weeks till Christmas Day I was feeling like life is very different and wondering how I should feel about this? I’ve always thought since mum died that this was the moment I can pinpoint as when I started living everyday with no preconceptions that it would always be full of excitement, but that it would be the best I could make it; this isn’t true. I’ve always tried to live life to the full from as early as I remember gaining independence, that point in time when you don’t need a teachers permission to go to the toilet – I crave adventure, the joy that comes from seeing something for the first time, uncontrollable smiles and laughter that starts from the pit of the belly. Of course it isn’t always possible every day, sometimes life gets tricky, but when this happens I find that those closest to me step in with simple gestures; flowers in the post, surprise visits, and phone calls that spur me on until I find the energy to pick up where I left off. Often friends feel like family, and with each year that has passed since 2006 the O’Briens, and as they are now known the Strahan’s, have been a constant in our lives via mail, the internet or in person when our flights have led us to each other. Andy and Kelly, now jointly the Starkies, travelled half way around the world to spend Christmas in Australia with us, and today as a parent I now think of my own children who may one day do this to be with their friends. The thought of not sharing a Christmas with them feels bizarre, but writing this makes me all the more thankful for the reminder of this time that the Starkies chose to spend with us. When the day comes, and it will, that my children decide not spend the festive period with us, I will think of the joy they will be bringing to others and the excitement that will be building for that set of friends as the day nears just like it had for us. When I think ahead to that future moment I know hand on heart that I will be able to pick up the phone to the Starkies to shed that tear which I have no doubts will equally lead to planning our next adventure because we will know our children have become adults in their own right, because the new chapter has begun for us having nurtured them to this point, and because our friendship is made of the strong stuff that can withstand life’s difficulties. I can’t say we have 5 weeks in New Zealand to look forward to as 2020 approaches, it is something we talk of, we do however have adventures planned, and this in itself keeps me grounded and focused. In three months’ time I’ll be awaiting the newly named WhatsApp group for myself and my sister with photos from my Dad’s latest destination believed to be Texas. These photos are often questionable, blurred and random, but none the less I love that we get to be a part of Dads travels and keep in contact along the way. So in answer to my earlier question; is life really that different? Not at all, these wonderful friendships and family remain a constant, we encourage each other to travel, to see the best in each other and offer support when it is most needed. The only thing that is different is that my Mum isn’t here to be a part of this physically, yet emotionally she remains forever in my heart and the heart of others which brings me the greatest comfort knowing a piece of her is carried wherever we go, because in life deep down that’s all she wished for; to be surrounded by family and friendship.
When we think of Australia often the first things that come to mind are the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, this is what drives most people to visit Sydney, and rightly so, they are iconic. Having arrived in 2006 into Sydney and knowing that we were about to spend New Year’s Eve among the thousands celebrating amidst these structures I ponder if this was the reason why we ruled out exploring more than just the below mentioned bars, eateries and sporting events when living in Melbourne? Having spent just 10 days exploring Melbourne in February 2019 it’s fair to say I have fallen in love with this vibrant City; its parks and river cruises, museums and galleries, the street art in it’s in many lane-ways, the penguins at St Kilda and arguably the world’s best coffee are all amazing reasons to visit, and while it may not house the iconic structures of Sydney it has instead a friendliness that welcomes tourists and instantly makes you feel at home which is humbling in a world that often can feel full of negativity with widespread scaremongering and gossip reported daily in the news. We can argue that age is just a number, and for many reasons it is; age doesn’t stop us falling in love and age doesn’t define when or where we should travel to, but with age, in my opinion, and this differs from each individual comes the maturity to see things differently. I was in my twenties in 2006 and genuinely have zero regrets
Current Day – November 6th 2019, thirteen years later.
We’re coming up to the half way point of our year out backpacking our way around Australia in 2006, and as I think ahead to what follows in 2007 and all the years after this I wonder if I would do anything differently knowing what I know now. We all wonder this occasionally don’t we? The simple answer is nothing. Sure I’ve said and done things along the way that with knowledge and experience I’d perhaps do differently now, but isn’t that the point of life, we can think about these periods in time as mistakes or regrets, or we can think of these moments as being life lessons that we have learned from and keep moving forward, the key being to not look back because we’re not going that way. If you’ve been following my journey so far you’ll know that I usually start with the next installment of my unedited journal from our backpacking days in 2006, but this time I thought I’d try with my thoughts first, and how by writing this blog I have noticed connections and likenesses to my mum who died in 2008 that has shaped me into parts of the person I am today. Last month would have been my mum's 64th birthday, that’s eleven birthdays not forgotten but instead remembered not in person but with a scone in honour of her love of the ‘Cream Tea.’ Everyday there are reminders of my mum, be it the philosophical red robin that lands at our feet or the unmistakable laugh that Isabel projects as her feet are being tickled, the same laugh as my mum's, all of which allow the flash of a memory to resurface in current time, to pause it, and for that half a second to warm my heart knowing she is always with us in her own way.
When I think of my mum I’m reminded of how differently she viewed herself compared to the person I saw her as. Growing up my Mum would share her life stories, the things she did and ambitions she had that were relevant to where we were at that period of time. My mum loved animals and her dream job would have been (or at least that’s how I remember it) working with them. My mum was very open about not enjoying school. She was bullied for coming from a low income family, but not just bullied by other children, also from her teachers too who saw a weakness in her learning and exploited this making her school life something she’d come to regard as a means to an end, and as soon as she could she left school to find work. Growing up both of my parents fought hard for me and my sister to have a good education, to have experiences outside of school that assisted our learning and constantly checked in that we were happy in our school environments. I always loved school, while I wasn’t always in the top set, neither was I bottom, learning didn’t come easily to me, but I persevered and willingly gave my all. I had a good set of friends and I joined in with extra-curricular activities, especially if it involved drama. My mum constantly told me I could be anything I wanted to be, so for a long time I dreamed of life as an actress, or singing on a Cruise ship while I sailed around the world. When I saw a job come up as an assistant at Jerry Greens (our local dog rescue center) I rushed home to tell my mum to apply for it. What came next was the biggest surprise in my teenage years; stood in front of me was my mum telling me that she couldn’t apply because didn’t feel confident enough;
September 2nd to 25th 2006 – From the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast
Now then, let’s get you all up to date. For the record this is the second time I have written this, I spent 3 hours in an internet café a couple of days ago, finished other than to start spell checking and accidentally pressed a wrong key losing everything so this is going to be a shorter version because to be frank I don’t have another spare 3 hours, well short for me anyway.
To start off with huge apologies to you Cheyne; I know what it’s like when people spell my name wrong so rest assured I won’t do it again.
OK so next morning leaving Mackay 2nd September, 5am and we have never been so bright eyed and bushy tailed, we're on the road again. Thinking its best to give Stanley a bit of a test run, not run him ragged or anything we altered our route a little to stay close to the coast line, heading in the direction of Rockhampton. By 8am we'd arrived, seen all we needed (a lot of these places look the same) so decided seen as Stanley has behaved so well we might as well push on. We headed inland over Mount Morgan stopping only once to take in the view for miles, have a generous well needed wee stop and stop the camp table squeak that was annoying the hell out of Nathan. Just after 2pm we arrived at the small town of Rolleston, the kind of town with a general store, servo and pub, just as we like them and had a bite to eat. You tend to find in these small towns that the main lunch deals are fish and chips or fish and chips, so fish and chips it was and mighty fine they were, of course followed by a couple of schooners helped.
With an hour and half to our final destination we pushed on, soon arriving at Carnarvan Gorge National Park. The difference from being in towns like Mackay to beautiful places like this really hits you hard; nature suffocates you and is an unbelievably nice contrast. As we drove down the unsealed road we passed wallabies happily taking in the last of the day’s rays, and had our first encounter with rather large emus, heading straight towards the car at full speed. I've never wound the car window up so fast!!!
‘Lindsay, get the shotgun!’
Hello again, now we did say on our home page we'd take you through the highs and lows, it appears we’ve hit a low.
Leaving Airlie Beach and heading in the direction of Mackay, all fully loaded and excited, we managed to get an hour and a half down the road, close to Mount Ossa, when Stanley decided to have a hissy fit and came to standstill. In true Pommie style my phone had no credit and Nathan's had no signal (bizarre seen as mine had and we are on the same network) it left us with no choice; Nathan had to walk to the nearest town and phone the RACQ to come and rescue us. The first time Nathan set off it only took 15 minutes before he arrived back safe and sound with the number for the RACQ. Now here comes the problem with living in Australia, getting a mobile signal can be quite difficult, and after 20 minutes of standing in various positions we gave in and off Nathan went again. This is where I admit again how I’ve watched too many horror movies, Nathan had been gone for at least half an hour longer this time, I was hot, stuck in the middle of what seemed like nowhere and thinking the worst as lots of rather large trucks hollered past. Needless to say when a car pulled up innocently checking I had water I’m afraid I was a little standoffish and waved him on rather quickly when in actual fact the water would have been a nice refreshment seen as ours wasn't in the slightest cold. Another 45 minutes later, and not soon enough, Nathan finally arrived back in a rescue truck and soon after we are being towed to the garage in the middle of nowhere for a long awaited verdict.
You know you are raising strong and independent children when at 6 years of age they ask questions that you can only hope you answer in a way that will be memorable enough to stay with them until they are free to fly the nest to find the answers by themselves; ‘Mum, what’s the difference between a holiday and travelling?’ And so I answered honestly, taking Isabel back to a recent experience only five days earlier and knowing ahead of us was a further 6 hours in the campervan to Sydney. A holiday to me is stress-free and relaxing, travelling is a challenge. To get to Fraser Island, (a world heritage listed Island) it took us an internal flight from Melbourne, where we’d spent the previous 10 days exploring to Brisbane, only to arrive and discover that our only checked baggage was momentarily lost in transit. It then took us three hours to collect a campervan which mostly consisting of sitting around in 38 degree heat with nothing more than a vending machine for supplies, and after which we drove in the campervan back to the airport to collect our delayed baggage. We then drove what we’d planned in as a three hour drive to our evening destination; Rainbow Beach in Queensland. However, when you factor in that we needed two food stops and a bonus wee stop, that we had been on the go since 7am that morning and now were all feeling extremely tired and fed up, the drive itself became just over five hours, two of those in darkness with nothing but cats eyes in the road and the glare of oncoming road trains to guide us. That night, having finally found our campsite after some confusion over the exact campsite name, we discovered sleeping in the campervan was diabolical.
Well with just a few days before we hit the open road again we thought we'd keep you updated on what’s going on here in Far North Queensland. Since our last entry we've had a few more trips that we thought you may be interested in;
Tony decided to take us off-road in his 4 by 4 Musso up in the Black Mountain at the edge of the Tablelands on the Rex Range. One of the main things we noticed while following the track was how quickly the scenery changed from rainforest to bush mainly due to the amount of light that could seep through and how open the land was. We drove for around 45 minutes over rugged paths arriving at a small creek running through the middle. You know me, we stopped as I just had to have a paddle; it was freezing. I was tempted to reenact the scene from Dirty Dancing where Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze are dancing along a log. I was all for it until I noticed Kerry (Kerry and Dave were a couple working at the resort, they only lasted only a week) had already tried something similar and lost her thong, (Aussie word for flip flop not knickers!) her fella Dave had to wade in to his waist to retrieve it. Something was telling me Nathan would not be doing this so I was to best steer clear of the log.
Part of the track crossed over what is known as the 'Ghost Road.' A billionaire known as George Quaid built this road that believe us is as long as the stretch from Doncaster services to Brigg on the M180 as a way through for people buying property near a lake he had also built. The only thing was he'd told the government he was only building a track, so when they discovered this road now fully equipped with slow pass by lanes they were less than impressed and denied access. It is still closed down to this day and is not shown on any map anywhere!
From here we continued through rugged sections and it was here that I struggled to catch my breath for a few minutes. Nathan and Dave spotted a rather large snake of around 2 meters long baking in the heat of the sun in the middle of the road, reversing to get a better look it was determined that from the quick glance Tony got it was most probably called an Eastern Brown; one of Aussies top 10 poisonous snakes. Needless to say I was on snake alert especially as Tony was reversing yet again as he had spotted another snake on the road, and leaning out he grabbed it,
I am a 'wannabe' Nomad who currently lives in Sheffield with my husband and two children. I genuinely love exploring new places but finding time to fit this in is tricky so more often than not I'm found in the closest independent coffee shop because nothing cheers me up better than a decent coffee.