Summer picnic

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We spread out our blanket in the shade on the grassy flat inside the ruins of the castle. All around us, birdsong. The paper-rustle of the breeze in the trees. The occasional, distant hum of a car bracing itself to climb the hill on the other side. And centuries. The sound of centuries. The vibrations of a thousand years, deeper than human hearing but as real as that bumble-bee we saw, drunk on pollen, staggering from borage to blackberry and back again. 

I take off my shoes and the grass is soft and warm beneath my toes. I want my body to touch the hum of the centuries, to see if they will touch me. 

"Are you grounding, Mummy?" asks Scout. That's my girl. The children kick off their shoes, too, and race about amid the wildflowers, shooting corks at each other from toy wooden crossbows. We pick flowers to press and, when the sun gets too hot, retreat into the shade for lunch. It is simple fare, but so, so good. Baguette from our favourite boulanger in town, soft cheese, pear and apple. And because I am still not entirely French, a thermos of hot tea. 

I stretch out on my stomach, kicking my bare feet in the air behind me, and read to the children aloud from Lunch Lady magazine. A story about the romance of caravanning in Australia. Scout says, "Let's stay here for the whole day," and I agree. Ralph discovers he can carry the corks for his crossbow inside the fat curls on his head. 

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There is a plaque set near one of the ruined towers of the castle, that tells a little of the history of this place. It is uncharacteristically poetic for a plaque, and so beautiful that I search the small-print for an attribution of some kind. I feel as though I'm reading Victor Hugo, or Walter Scott, rather than someone from the Bretagne Tourism Office, circa nineteen-eighty-something.

I'll share some of it with you. 

"For over a thousand years, the mighty castle walls dominated the banks of the river and echoed to the clash of iron and the cries of warriors. Now all is quiet on the deserted peak. Nothing is to be heard but the songs of the shepherds and the birds. The old feudal giant is nothing more than a meagre skeleton and each winter carries off a fragment. Only brambles and wild flowers inhabit the gaping ruins. Corn and apples ripen the orchard that once was a place of arms. Only the dew from heaven and the labourer's sweat now water this earth which warfare once drenched in blood and tears."

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Early morning with a teapot clock

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There is a ticking clock. I followed the sound of it this morning as I tip-toed barefoot into the kitchen in a dark that was almost complete, aside from the soft, orange glow of one streetlight in the leafy square down below, filtering through the window. Tick tock. I tilted my head to listen more closely, and groped about in the dark for the object that was ticking. Held up to the faint light of the window, it revealed itself to be small, ceramic clock shaped like a teapot, and it said 5:40am. Good enough for me. I put the ticking teapot down, flipped the real kettle on, and opened the window to let the cooler air in.

With my tea made, I sat down by that window and looked out over the square: there is an old church from which last night a choir of angels filled the air with song; a half-timbered medieval house across the way; and cobblestones around the silent square which, during the daylight hours, is bustling with people drinking and dining and laughing and smoking and talking: talk, talk, talking in snatches of French that I pick up here and there as they waft up to me in my third-floor eyrie, and it feels impossible that I am actually here. 

I think about this as I sip my tea. I want to take this opportunity, before the rest of the house is awake, to let the reality of this new life sink in.  

We have moved to France. Not forever, but for a fair bit longer than your average holiday. It is August right now, and we won't be home until New Year. We have an apartment in a village, and our goal while we are here is to simply and whole-heartedly immerse ourselves in life. We want to explore every inch of this village, on foot. We want to practise the language. We want to make friends. We want to eat the food and we want to learn to cook the food. 

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Our village is pretty. Almost impossibly pretty, like a storybook. I didn't know this when I chose it: I simply googled towns of a certain size in the area we wanted to visit, and shortlisted them according to amenities like nearby hospitals and train stations (the reality of travel with kids). I can't even begin to share the knots of anxiety I had been experiencing in the lead-up to this trip (and oh! the late nights finishing my deadlines!), and the journey here took two days and was genuinely gruelling. Nobody wants to see a four-year-old with bloodshot eyes from exhaustion, and still have to tell them "Sorry, Mummy can't carry you because of the suitcases."

But yesterday as Paris gave way to fields and forests as our train sped on and on through deepening wilderness, my heart began to lift. Our stop: the end of the line. We clambered off and dragged those heavy suitcases and heavy-lidded children over the rough cobblestones, up and down laneways and in and out of crooked little streets, until suddenly we rounded a corner and an antique carousel was just beginning to turn. A hill beneath it swept down over ancient rooftops peppered with terra cotta chimneys, behind a riot of summer blooms. Pedestrians had taken over the road, the one brave car that appeared every five minutes or so being forced to inch its way tentatively through swathes of people eating ice cream. 

Scout turned to me with eyes like dinner plates and said, "Our town is amazing!" and I let out a deep breath I hadn't even realised I was holding. 

Our caretaker met us at the door with smiles and keys and a cornucopia of French bread, eggs, milk and fruit that I had asked her to buy for us. (Ralph bit into an apple and then it was his turn for those bloodshot eyes to turn into dinner plates: "It's a PEACH!" he announced, with the joy that can only be had by a fruit-loving boy who only two days ago was in winter, and proceeded to eat two at the same time, one in each hand). 

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It will take some adjusting. At the moment, we still feel like tourists. The children, with Euros from friends burning holes in their pockets, bought woven bracelets and rings and money boxes and keyrings from market vendors in the streets, and there was no way I was getting them to bed without ice cream first, and a wander through the old streets and through the castle walls.

In two weeks, though, most of the tourists will go home, and we will start to learn what life in the village is like when it is just a village. 

The dawn is starting to lift now, and the first of the birds are singing. A friendly cat just launched itself onto the windowsill and frightened the living daylights out of me. When my heart palpitations subsided I said "Bonjour," and it purred a greeting, before slinking off on whatever mission it had originally had in mind. 

The clock tower bell is tolling (very considerate: it didn't toll throughout the night, or maybe the bell-ringer just needed a sleep-in today). A few introductory higher notes and then a heavier, centuries old message: dong, dong, dong... seven times. And now I hear seagulls, drowning out the sound of the ticking teapot. Seven o'clock. Time to get the kids up. 

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All the sunrises and all the sunsets in all the world


For the longest time, it felt as though I was alone in a post-apocalyptic world… all empty streets and orange-tinted street-lights and not. one. sound (not even crickets)… as I watched the moon turn slowly pink and Mars shone fiercely bright as only the god of war could do. 

Watching the blood moon eclipse unfold through the lens of my camera, the tall conifer trees at the back of the council building across the road gave the impression that we were somewhere rural, in the south of France maybe, rather than where I actually was which was a bus stop in an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia. This impression was helped by the fact that no matter how hard I tried, there was so little light in the sky aside from Mars, which dominated everything, that every picture I took came out blurry, a little like a Van Gogh landscape with all those conifer trees. 

I shivered, adjusted the rug I’d draped around my shoulders for warmth, and moved the camera tripod a little to the right to position the moon between the trees again. 

Blood red. It sounds ominous, but it was the most beautiful sight. The cold moon washed red by all the sunrises and all the sunsets in all the world, happening at that exact moment. My moon, and yours. I stood there no longer alone, thinking about all those sunrises and sunsets and YOU in them, waking to coffee or driving home from work or sipping wine by the beach or making the beds or walking the dog or heading out with friends… all those things you were doing at sunrise or sunset in Auckland or Amsterdam, and everywhere in between. 

Not alone. “Can you see it yet?” a woman in a white dressing-gown and ugg boots raced across the road, face sky-ward, while a man followed after her, calling out. A child and a grown-up, also in dressing-gowns, hurried up the street I was on, pointing to the sky. A car came around the corner and the driver saw us, pulled over, turned off the headlights, and got out to watch. 

We all stood in companionable silence for a minute or two, and then the sunrise-sunset-moon slipped behind the conifers, and everyone drifted away, back to their warm homes. Somewhere, a magpie started to sing. I took a last sip of my thermos tea, packed up the camera tripod, and turned for my own home, too. Alone in the brightening sky now, fierce as ever, I’m pretty sure Mars shook his fist at me. 


A walk in the forest


A walk in the forest is what I'm longing for right now. Somewhere with a gloom that is friendly, like a hug from nature. With fallen leaves and old sticks and bark and soil underfoot, and a green canopy overhead where daylight filters, dappled and maculate, soft as rain. 

Deep, deep down below, the trees will be talking. Sharing secrets, nutrients, nurture. 

I will explore paths long-untrodden, peer into corners and around ancient trees, search for friends from the pages of old stories, and make up new stories in my mind. 


Pop-up in Melbourne: free twilight cinema by the bay



Listen up Melbourne friends, there is a pop-up open-air cinema in town for February, and it is FREE. Head down to Docklands on a Friday night this month (every Friday EXCEPT this Friday) to watch some classic 80s movies from the comfort of your own picnic rug.

Have you been to Docklands recently? We wandered down to catch a movie last Friday, and prior to that I had been to Docklands exactly NEVER. It's like a completely different Melbourne down there! Reflections, reflections: all glittering high-rise and glimmering water and shining lights. And so quiet! And so clean!

The park for our movie was fully booked, but there was still loads of space, and we found a parking spot right away. Let me just tell you, you wouldn't get that where I live in the Inner North.

Anyway if you want to catch an old movie at the twilight cinema this month, go here to reserve your space. I think they're playing The Dish, and Back to the Future next. We watched The Wedding Singer, which was even funnier than any past times I'd seen it, mainly because my friend Tonia roared with laughter the whole way through, usually about five seconds before the actual funny bit was due to happen.

Pack a picnic if you think you'll be feeling peckish, but I recommend picking up a box of salumi and formaggio and a coffee granita to wash it down from the super-friendly folks at Saluministi, the Italian street-food spot next door. I will dream about that coffee granita.








Top tips for enjoying the pop-up twilight cinema:

* Bring a picnic rug and some cushions or bean-bags to lean on * There's a lovely, gentle breeze coming off the water, but that can make it a bit chilly. Bring some warm clothes or better still a rug to snuggle down * This is a family-friendly event so you can bring the kids (there's even a playground for the little ones) * There's no alcohol in the park, but there are plenty of bars along the wharf so you can go for a beverage before or after the movie (or both) * And speaking of alcoholic beverages, the park is on the 48 and 11 tram lines, so you can leave the car at home

Full disclosure: this isn't a sponsored post and all opinions are (obviously) my own, but I was invited by the kind people at Victoria Harbour to come along to this movie, and they generously supplied our picnic rug, bean-bags, and the delicious Saluministi fare. We are super grateful, it was all fantastic. Thank you!

Into the woods







Little Scout was nervous at first, stepping gingerly through the underbrush on the way to the trees, holding tightly to my hand, and Ralph's. "I am afraid of the sticks," she said, "afraid that they might hurt me." Once inside the pine-forest, she kept calling Ralph back. "Stay close little man! You might get lost!" Every step further into the forest added another layer of fear. She was positive we would all get lost. That there were monsters. Badgers (thank you, Peter Rabbit). A gruffalo.

And then Ralph found the first pine-cone. It was all broken and rotting on the under-side, so we threw it back, but it was enough. They raced around the clearing where we stood, Scout no longer afraid, leaping over the once-deadly sticks to find the best and most beautiful pine-cones. Ralph lead us further into the forest. "I am the exhibition leader!" he announced proudly. He meant expedition leader. "Ralph is a very good brother," Scout said, and I agreed. "Lead on, Ralph," I said, following him dutifully.

Above our heads and outside of the forest, a great wind was roaring. We saw it in the swaying canopy above us, heard it in the creaks and moans of the trees around us, and had felt it, before we stepped inside the trees, in the slap of dust and hair stinging our cheeks. But in here, everything felt calm. It was our own woody, pine-scented bubble.

We drank tea from enamel mugs, watched a kangaroo hop lazily past us and disappear over a hill. We raced one another in and out of rows of pine-trees, followed winding paths, scrambled up and down and over mossy logs and (unintentionally) through muddy puddles, and altogether had a wonderful time.

Even the mosquitoes that showed up for our picnic lunch couldn't dampen our mood. "It's a mozzie hunt!" the children shouted, slapping themselves wildly, and mostly ineffectually.

Then, "Time to find more pine-cones," declared the expedition leader, but what he was really saying was, "Let the wild rumpus start!" So we packed up our picnic things and scrambled through the forest once more.















Road + dawn





We left the keys to our motel room in a box outside the locked reception, and drove out into the dark. The kind of dark that holds its breath before the dawn. Cold air outside frosted the car windows and the children drew on the melting glass, painting the dark road, as it flashed past, with eerie swirls and scribbles.

In between dense pockets of fog, our headlights flashed over warning signs. CAUTION: SNOW AND BLACK ICE ON ROAD. Subconsciously we both leaned forward in our seats, squinting uselessly into the spotlit dark for unseen hazards as we hurtled forwards at 100 kilometres an hour.

By the time the sky began to brighten, ever so lightly, we were desperate for coffee, but there was nary a town in sight. The car rushed on through the mist. "We are driving inside clouds!" the children shouted for joy.

And then all at once, as if some unseen celestial homeowner had flipped a switch, the sun came up, and the day was glorious. Clouds floated skywards, and winter sun filtered through and over us like gold-dust. If angels had suddenly started singing opera out of sunbursts, it could not have been more magnificent a morning, and none of us would have been surprised.

Still we sped forward, now telling each other intermittently, "WHAT a morning!" and "What a beautiful dawn!"

We finally found coffee and Vegemite-on-toast about half an hour later, but all four of us were already caffeinated by the day.


img_2372-1 We have been on a little road trip, through icy mountain roads and windy city streets and sparkling harbour shores.

Hugs, the kind you share with dearly loved friends and family who you haven't seen in a long, long time.

Making crumpets with vegemite and setting off the fire alarm. Every morning.

Long walks to nowhere and anywhere.

Reading the latest issue of Lunch Lady during the children's nap times (taking note of the homemade butter recipe, now that I've discovered a homemade bread recipe that works).

By night, writing letters and drawing mail-art.