Writer in Transit: Castlemaine

It’s been raining up here in Castlemaine. Full on flooding plains type of rain. First time I’ve been up this way when it wasn’t hot enough to crisp your eyelashes.  It seems to be raining quite a bit when I go travelling at the moment – I’m sure it’s not true that I bring rain wherever I go. It’s just a coincidence.

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I’m here for the Fryerstown Antiques Fair (22-24 Jan) located in a now muddy field surrounded by giant gums raising money for the Fryerstown historic hall. There’s often a fundraising angle to much of the things I’m doing. I’m in search of good 1930’s Australian pottery and whatever treasures I can find (I’ve developed a bit of a button fetish but let’s not go there yet).

If you’re wondering about the writer in transit tag it’s an idea I can up with when I was listening to someone on the ABC talk about their time as a writer in residence at the V&A in London.  I was feeling a bit green-eyed that they’d probably get unprecedented access to all the lovely things held there. I got to wondering what really was a Writer in Residence and thought perhaps I could be one and how you apply and so on.   It then occurred to me   (I was doing the washing up at the time and looking out the window admiring the rainbow lorikeets which just goes to prove that, seriously, women really can multi-task but that’s another post)  that one could just turn up at the V&A (or the NGV or Castlemaine) and start writing what occurred to you there as you passed through it without needing anyone’s permission.  So. possibly I would be a writer in transit?

As I transit, I am actually staying up here in a wonderful bed and breakfast ‘Clevedon Manor‘ which is on the main road in Castlemaine.  It’s a Victorian mansion filled with period- appropriate furniture, lots of horse pictures and a cuckoo clock.  They’ve given me a lovely room with a bay window overlooking the hedge-enclosed garden. The bedroom has a great big silver-grey coloured metal bed with crisp white cotton sheets facing the tiled fireplace over which a gilded mirror hangs. There is a massive 2 meter tall wardrobe with a full length oval mirror in the door. My very clean private bathroom is just down the hall.

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a wistful Vivien Leigh in silk bed- jacket drinking her tea

Last night as I sat up in bed reading, I felt it would be appropriate to be wearing a pink silk, feather-trimmed bed jacket with my matching slippers at the side of my bed on the small rug, having just been served warm tea in a china cup by my personal maid. Beautiful rooms have this kind of Vivien Leigh effect on me. It is so reassuring to visit a new place and feel, well, at home.  Just at the right moment, 1st Dibs released this collection of beautiful images of gorgeous bedrooms.  Lust on these as I continue my journey through the gold-mining towns around Castlemaine.

Blazing a Trail in a sorry, soggy mess

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Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s Endurance trapped in the ice. Photo: Frank Hurley

The English traveller has a well-earned reputation for complaining and we do so mostly in relation to the weather.  Of course it’s usually our own weather we’re complaining about – the weather in England is usually too cold, or wet, or cloudy, or drizzling, or … very occasionally, too hot!  So forgive me if I do a minor amount in my post today as the weather is a subject for everyone in Sydney at the moment. Every taxi driver has an opinion on when the rain will stop and the cricket will start again. The discount stores are doing a roaring trade in umbrellas. I’m in Sydney; the town of all night entertainment, harbour views,  yachts and sharp men in very good suits… which have alas all disappeared under a swirling and unrelenting grey cloud which is choosing to deposit torrential rain on the city of sunlight for hours and hours (and hours) on end.

We are trying to explain, rather than show to our damp overseas visitors just how gorgeous the harbour can look and how the opalescent tiles of the Opera House really do glow in the sunlight, we promise! It isn’t the same.

As the clouds descend dark and brooding, I feel empathy for those involved in the opening night of the Sydney festival with its normally dazzling Spiegeltents set out in a Hyde Park now awash with rain with much mud underfoot.

As one does on a wet day, we visited a museum:  the Australian Museum to see its Trailblazers exhibition which included a surprising number of women explorers and adventurers including Kay Cottee who was the first woman to sail solo and unassisted around the world – good work Australia Museum.

I really enjoyed seeing again some of the photographs by Frank Hurley of Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s expedition – what an amazing life this wonderful photographer and explorer had!  If you don’t know the story of Shackleton’s heroic expedition to the South pole and how his ship Endurance, named in honour of the the Shackleton family motto, I thoroughly recommend it. Hurley was the expedition’s photographer.  It is for the most part Hurley’s images that have meant we remember so well the amazing story of the South pole expedition. It’s an adventure story full of gallantry, bravery, true leadership and mad ambition that beats all. Hurley’s image of the doomed ship wrapped in an icy embrace (above) which inevitably crushes it to matchsticks leaving the men to make their way home across a frozen wilderness in unbelievably harsh conditions led by ‘The Boss’, Shackleton, is a wonderful representation of the challenges the expedition party faced.

So I can safely say that in the spirit of doing something new and different each day I did that in Sydney if a little unwillingly. We tramped around the city streets attempting cheerfulness as our rain wear proved to be shower proof but not flood proof!  We found some excellent restaurants and introduced our French guests to the joys of Yum Cha, Vietnamese rice noodle Pho (pronounced fur) soup and a steak at the local pub.  We refused to queue to get into Jamie Oliver’s Pitt Street Italian joint as it was just to mad to stand in pouring rain for an hour for pasta. We also refused to queue for 3 hours to get into the Aquarium (how ironic!) which overflowed with soggy visitors mostly with prams, sharing umbrellas and trying to look happy that they were experiencing this rare occasion of Sydney summer weather behaving more like that of London in July while they were on holiday!

After reading about Shackleton, Hurley and Cottee’s enormous efforts, I am reminded I should not revert to my English stereotype of moaning about the weather and should relish every soggy moment and be glad that I can return to my stylish hotel room and not have to battle ‘liquid himalayas’ as one wag described the seas on one of their solo sea voyages. I will rejoice in the rain now as, when I return to my Melbourne garden, I’ll be delighting in every drop that falls. I admit that I do spend rather too much time expectantly analysing cloud formations and carefully checking the rain-dar as it seems never to rain quite enough in Melbourne (although any Sydney-sider will confidently misinform you that it never stops raining in Melbourne!) So I’m doing my best to remember this under the deluge. It is but a minor inconvenience.

In the meantime, I’m getting through plenty of reading, plotting which new craft I’ll learn at craftsy.com, studying for my MBA and making great headway into those other English favourites: a pot of tea and a box of Milk Tray. There’s really nothing like a rainy day in Sydney to help you get your priorities sorted out.

 

New Year Resolves…Good New Things

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Sacred Kingfisher

It’s another January 1 and the New Year sits before us.. untouched waiting for us to decide what to do with it.

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Cheeky Currawong

A Good Thing

You can choose to make no resolutions about the NY. Many do (or is that don’t).  While I understand it feels like a waste of time if you don’t follow through, at least you had a goal to aim for.  Is it better to have no goals at all and take what comes?

So this year my resolution is specifically vague.  I’ve resolved to do something new (and positive) every day. That is, something I’ve never done before.  So that’s specific. And the vagueness is that I’m not going to plan what that ‘new good thing‘ is. I’m just making a commitment to do something new every day.  It doesn’t have to be incredibly dangerous, exciting or mind-bending, it just needs to be new.

So. January 1.  I kayaked down the Goulburn River to birdwatch and enjoy the gorgeous scenery.  Well not all of the GR but a nice, friendly non-rapid bit with my husband and a friend who showed us the way, let us use his kayaks and drove us back and forth! That is friendship, I’m sure.  In return, I pointed out the birds I recognised… a few Darters, lots of Little Corellas, 2 wonderful, delighting Kingfishers, lots of ducks, a Currawong singing in the trees, lots of noisy Cockatoos.

As we were visiting friends in a beautiful part of the Victorian farming region, perhaps it was easier to find something to do that I’d never done before. The more difficult thing will be to discover something different just as part of my normal everyday routine when I’m at home with the cat and wondering why I can’t watch foxtel for another hour.  Let’s see.

Happy New Year. And may many unexpected, happy, healthy and magical experiences come to you whether you resolved it that way or not!  PS Thanks BirdLife for the photos … I was too busy trying to stay in the Kayak to take photos! 🙂

It’s a new year…

It’s happened. 2010 is upon us. Last year was so full of strange global and local events that it is hard to believe it is all now in the past. What will come next?

We celebrated our NYE in Williamstown, Victoria in the upstairs room of a waterfront restaurant The Nelson Restaurant that we booked into at the last, fortuitous minute. It turned out to be a great spot with a fantastic view of the Melbourne city skyline and as it turned out, the best thunderstorm we’ve had in a long time.

My family were on the other side of the city and so it was a little bit sad that we couldn’t all be together. We’d had Christmas Day together so that made up for it.

Dinner was slow but not painfully so and we weren’t in any hurry as we were all there til at least midnight. The food was excellent and wine flowed.

As we settled into our entree of oysters and bruschetta we saw a lovely sight… the full moon rising over the city buildings… glowing amber and gold as it peaked through the pale clouds.  A full moon (and a lunar eclipse due as well) on New Years eve… it augured well as a strong start to the new year.

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Rising Storm

The building housing the restaurant had a balcony overlooking the street and the city and a few of us went out side to see the moon rise. As we did we looked up to see an enormous black cloud bearing down on the city and we watched as it engulfed the slowly rising moon.  As it settled over the city, the rain and lightening started…it was better than the forthcoming fireworks! We watched, glad we were inside! – as people scurried out of the rain and the traffic started to snarl up in front of the restaurant. No accidents thankfully but rain always somehow causes a lot of chaos. Perhaps because it literally seemed to be arrive out of a clear blue sky with the temperature over 36 degrees until 30 minutes before!

The night was engulfed in rain, thunder, lightening and the noise of people enjoying the spectacle while trying to get out of the way of the storm as it circled and rumbled around us.

Inside the restaurant, everyone was getting to know each other as we crowded on to the balcony and ‘ooh’ed’ and ‘ahh’ed’ at the weather and questioned whether the fireworks would be washed out. We all felt sorry for the kids who were staked out on the grass to watch the 9.15 fireworks show until the weather had turned foul.  But just after 9.15 in what was almost the height of the storm, the fireworks started in the city, amongst the lightening, driving rain, raging wind and thunder! What a NYE!

The storm continued throughout the night, with each of us spending time out on the balcony watching the changing weather. The horizontal forked lightening was the biggest attraction. And the wonderful, fabulous rain that we all enjoyed so much because it had been missing for so long.  After 2 days of blistering heat of over 30 degrees and a hot northerly wind, we were all so glad to stand in the cooler air – as much as 10 degrees cooler – and feel the rain on our faces while the thunder crashed around us!

Coming from England where many summers were completly washed out by nothing but rain, it is hard to believe I could ever miss it but i really, really do.  In Melbourne these downpours are happening less and less it seems. No-one ever complains about the rain in Melbourne any more!(I’ve heard through the grapevine that there is a prophecy that 2010 will be Melbourne’s wettest year!)

As it came closer to midnight, the rain continued outside. Again we wondered if the 12 o clock fireworks would go ahead but bang on 12, the city erupted in an explosion of coloured stars even as the rain continued to pour.  We all shouted and screamed in good NYE style and kissed the nearest man (happily, my husband was beside me!) We hugged and wished each other HAPPY NEW YEAR! I dont remember anyone singing Auld Lang sine.  As we watched the fireworks the storm seemed to increase in intensity and as the rain was starting to sting a bit harder on our faces, the wind changed direction and everyone on the balcony was now getting a bit too wet, just then, a bolt of lightening shot down between the Melbourne office towers and cracked to earth just as the fireworks came near to their close.  Sydney might have better fireworks (some say!) but nothing could have matched the fabulous display put on by nature over Melbourne this 31st December 2009.

Happy New Year to you wherever you are.