My quiet place

Everyone deserve a sanctuary, a quiet place where you don’t get mobile coverage, where you give yourself permission to do nothing. My place is a friend’s house in the Yarra Valley, an hour outside of Melbourne. She ensures that I always know that I’m welcome. Trees are large and overgrown. Pots are full of herbs and other fledgling plants.  The bed in the spare room is made up in linen I now recognise. I know which cupboards house the towels and which house the wine glasses. If I arrive home before they do, I receive a text telling me where to find the key.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary. A place where there’s nothing you ought to do. A place where you can do but you don’t have to do. I bring wine and cheese to this house though it’s not expected of me. I do it because I want to share these delicious things with my friends. And in this sanctuary, I’m at liberty to crack open the wine before they arrive home. It’s how we are with each other.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary. A place where alarms aren’t set. A place where the demands of the outside world are unable to penetrate. I can see the outside world from my place on the sun lounge under the large shade trees. I can see hills in the distance, vines clinging to their contours and beyond them more buildings and signs of civilisation. It can stay over there.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary.

Audioscape of a holiday

Gentle drone of the motor boat as it passes at the regulation 10 kph so as not to make any wake to disturb the jetties, dad with his arm in a sling his two kids possibly 4 and 6 years of age ‘fishing’.

‘Catch any fish?’ I call down for the top of the ramp. Rods taller than me, he reels in the line ‘have I got anything yet?’ He shouts to dad. ‘Not yet. Leave it in the water.’ Cap tilted back, his young eyes look up squinting and follows it as the hook hurls threw the air and lands with a small splash in the slowly moving river.

Two teenage girls slide by on stand-up paddle boards. Effortless, their arms guide the oars through the water. Large catamarans pull against their anchor chains, all facing into the wind or is it the current? Swirling Dream Catcher taller than the others, sits back nestled against goatless Goat island. White hulls, tinted windows, sailcloth packed away and covers tied tight, they’re sleeping, resting waiting. Mangrove trees edging the water, sand bars popping up in the middle of the river to negotiate.

Water ripples, silver lines glinting in all different directions, glare forcing me to squint.

‘Dad? Dad!’ Mum lays on the plastic sun lounger absorbed in her book. Kids throwing a ball to each other in the pool. Squeals of delight, laughter, splashes. The ball landing atop lush bushes just out of reach.

‘Don’t run’ shouts mum without looking up.

And this morning it’s been washed anew. Constant rain trickling down from the tree canopy above,

Only the dedicated fisher people out on the river today. Huddled under the calico tops, one dry spot between the river below and the rain surrounding them. Others have given and just accept that they’re going to get wet one way or another. A hot shower and a cuppa coffee will sort them out when they get home.

It’s not the rain itself that makes the noise but the objects it falls on. The tight large sunshades boy the pool, the edge of the glass table poking out from below the verandah, the aqua blue infinity pool reaching out over the river’s edge. Intermittent drops fall front the canopy above, filtered through the palm trees. The drain pipe to the right as it empties into the gutter.

Somewhere across the lawn a tv plays quietly as families go about their breakfast routines.

‘Addy, Addy, Addison. ‘

‘Come on let’s go. ‘

‘But it’s raining’

‘It’s not too bad. At least it’s not pouring.’

‘Slow down!’

A larger boat speeding in head-on, two white curls as it carves through the still river water. Around the green marker and it turns revealing itself as Coast Guard blue letters against yellow hull. It slows and pulls hard right or should that be starboard.

The two resident ducks fly in low to land on the pool, the only users of the pool this morning. Bobbing below and ruffling their feathers, they seem happy to frolic and they’re the quietest swimmers the pool has seen these last few days.

Tables and chairs being rearranged on the balcony below. Dragging across the tiles without understanding of the din it causes below.

The ferry steams along, its pre-recorded commentary playing to an empty vessel in contrast to the sunset trip last night with its crowded roof top.

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Light

 

That liminal moment when it is no longer night time but daytime.
The quiet outside pierced by bird sounds before the gentle hum of traffic builds.
When do I no longer try and get more sleep but roll over and cuddle the cat, stroking her fluffy tummy until she bites me?
This is a time that holds infinite promise of what might become of the day, any dream residue fades as I forcibly blink my eyes open.

I refuse to turn on a lamp or overhead bulb. What’s the point? Nature provides a more gentle approach if only I can swing my legs out of bed and stumble to open the heavy curtains. My organized sister bought herself a smart lamp that she controls via an app on her phone. Programmed to gradually increase the illumination to allow the body to wake gently, it does the reverse in the evening. A return to pre-electricity peasant days perhaps.

My mother will tell you that I’ve never been a morning person like she is. She likes to divide our family into morning and non-morning people. Her category is naturally superior. Morning people get more achieved, are better organized and nicer to be around apparently. I will argue that society is set up for morning people, whilst my B-section of society is actively discriminated against. How is possible that students and employees are expected to be useful contributors at the ungodly hour of 9am every day? There is no consideration for individual bio-rhythms.

My brain doesn’t kick in until after I’ve had breakfast at the decent hour of 10am, and that is only for errands and procedural activities. The creativity quadrant doesn’t switch on until afternoon at best. My eyes need these light-filled hours to soak in stimuli before it can process the information and regurgitate something useful. I call this time pre-thought. It’s a passive time of reading, watching, walking and not actively thinking. The morning is the time to do this. The particular quality of a.m. sunlight is vastly different to the afternoon. Time has a different scale. It is neither always quicker nor always slower. It ebbs and flows as it pleases.

Cats have the ideal approach to daylight. They seek out slim patches of sunlight and stretch out, recharging their batteries. Naturally solar-powered they expend this energy overnight as they chase each other around the house. I’m sure the grey one sits on my bed, staring at me in disbelief as to why I would want to waste the darkness sleeping.

On hungover mornings though, the sun has a new vicious character altogether. Day always comes too soon. It harsh, too-bright rays refused to be contained behind the drapes. My eyes pierced by the light as I fall out of bed, trip over the grumpy cat and search for the bathroom which seems to have somehow moved overnight. I don’t want to look in the mirror but I know I must confess my sins. Black rimmed panda eyes, mouth that feels like I’ve been licking a wild dog, hair that I don’t even recognize. I blame the artificial bathroom lights above the mirror. These globes are produced to offend surely. Nobody wants that much detail in a reflection.

As I get older, I’ve learnt how to avoid these type of mornings more. Two nurofen and a large glass of water before bed OR not drinking as much – who knew. The daylight is inevitable so I am the variable in this equation. I’m the one that can change and much to my mother’s surprise I have.

Somewhere along the line I became a morning person. Not my mum’s sort of morning person, radio on singing to oneself as eggs are cooking. I became my sort of morning person. I had moved out and was living by myself for the first time. No partner to consider, I could arrange furniture as I wished. And so I did. I faced the bed towards the window and left the curtains open. In the morning the chilled air stirred me before dawn and that’s when I discovered it – that liminal time between night darkness and day light.

Temporary Goddess

Twisting hips left to right, ducking beneath the improbably loaded baskets, we struggle to match pace through the dimly lit market stalls. Our guide turns around infrequently to keep an eye on her goddesses. Both translator and chief haggler, she knows which way to steer us in order to locate the best value products. Vibrant fabrics and clothing in one building, too-cheap tourist souvenirs in another, and between, at street level, lies more variety of fresh produce than I have seen in a long time. Piles of whole, freshly butchered chicken carcasses – feet and head included -piled high at one stall, trays of eggs of all sizes and varieties at the next. Baskets of fragrant tiny limes pass under my hands. Dark, pimply avocados larger than my fist sit alongside futuristic magenta dragon fruit, and deeper into the shadows I can smell the spice stalls with their enticing secrets.

The market visit primes my tastebuds and, thankfully, our lunch delights both the eye and the palate. Perched on wooden stools underneath a canopy of lush trees, we sit passive as the banquet is laid before us by a cadre of waiters. Platters laden with water spinach, peanuts and chilli sambal. Coconut, bean shoots and seaweed salad dressed with lime and lemongrass. Whole fish fried with tomatoes, shallots and chillies. Grilled chicken crucified on bamboo sticks then rubbed with traditional aromatic Balinese spices (turmeric and garlic was all I could determine). More fish, this time pounded and wrapped in banana leaves. And this is only day one.

On returning to the Goddess Yoga Retreat in Seminyak, I’m grateful for its hidden location at the end of an unmarked lane. Balinese traffic is not for the faint-hearted. Good-natured use of the car horn and frequent waving of the hand, drivers appear to negotiate road lanes as a fluid idea. One does not go for a leisurely drive to unwind. Guests come from around the world and for their own reasons. My presence here is thanks to the expired passport of a relative giving me the chance to indulge in new experiences. This afternoon I’ve signed up for a session with a traditional Balinese healer.

Half hidden behind vines and bamboo, I open the French doors of the studio and part the cheesecloth curtains to the side. A short, solid man not much older than myself –though I’m really only guessing — greets me. Softly spoken, his English is much better than my Indonesian. Pak Bagus, or Papa Bagus as the retreat managers refer to him, is dressed simply in a once-white t-shirt and blue batik print shorts with the standard bare feet.

‘Why are you here?’ he asks simply. Choosing not to dwell on the more philosophical sides of the question, I briefly explain my recent diverticulitis. Basic words and some hand gesturing later he nods and directs me to lie down. I untie my sarong and lie face down on the massage table. He places his hands on my back at different intervals and blows gently upon my skin. Without any massage oil I am alternately poked and prodded, stroked and manipulated sometimes to the point of discomfort. I can’t decide whether he’s trying to work the bad stuff out or work the good stuff in.

Occasionally I draw in a quick breath when he works on a painful spot. ‘Big infection’ he repeats time and again. He closes his eyes and his lubed up hands explore, press and release sections of my abdomen. ‘You tell me if pain’ he says and I nod enthusiastically. As he holds firmly in certain spots, I feel sharp twinges on my lower left side. I tell him straight away. He nods but doesn’t really let up the pressure. Most likely as a distraction technique, he asks me about my family – children, husband and so on. He tells me about an Australian group he was dealing with the previous week and I interject with, ‘It’s my first time in Bali actually.’

‘Why?’ he exclaims.  I quickly apologise and explain that I was never interested in the beach and Bintang style of holiday and I didn’t understand what else this island had to offer. I make sure he understands that I recognise my folly. I wax lyrical about Ubud and its stunning natural beauty, the artisans we’ve met, the friendly generosity of the people we’ve encountered and the incredible food we’ve eaten. I hope I’ve convinced him that this will not be my last visit to this beautiful island.

Like a rotisserie chicken, I’m oiled and turned, seasoned with spices and turned again. Meanwhile he expounds on his unique skills set : ‘Astrology, astronomy, massage, healer, ceremony . . . ‘ He pauses for no doubt dramatic effect ’magic’. I leave this last one in the air.

When my time has elapsed, I slowly sit up and find my sarong. Straightening my dishevelled underwear, I listen to his last minute prescriptions. ‘Massage. You need massage in Melbourne. Who can do that?’ I reassure him that there are plenty of places I can get massages. He also does his best to explain that I need to work on my gut bacteria. I thank him, palms pressed firmly together in front of my chest fingers skyward as is the custom. I slink off back to my room before I have to encounter anyone.

The following morning after breakfast, I seclude myself away on a raised bale bengong or daydream gazebo and observe the morning’s goings-on from my corner.Housekeeping staff in cool white cotton pants and cyan blue batik print shirts are occupied with their cleaning routines. Two young men arrive to complete their grounds-keeping duties. Bundles of stiff reeds make short work of the fallen leaves and flowers. The neat lawns are once again spotless. Bamboo blinds are raised on the yoga room to allow fresh air in after the morning’s gentle Yin session.

Fans circling lazily overhead, three goddesses lounge on large soft white cushions, getting lost in the colouring in books. Some women are on a shopping crusade, seeking out a good/known version of coffee and hopefully returning with souvenirs. Later upon travel home, they will no doubt regale their loved ones with grand stories of their trek brandishing their trophies as proof of prowess. Others are already at work pampering their body with some of the selection of unlimited spa treatments.

A low flying helicopter overhead interrupts the gentle drip of the morning’s rain from onto my gazebo roof. So out of place a noise here, we all stop and look up to watch it pass. Operations Manager Joyce steps out of her office and talks briefly to one of the two young men. Gestures are made by both of them indicating mid-calf level but whether it’s about the length of their pants or some shoes, I cannot make out. Shoes are optional and now only the third day in, many goddesses are traipsing around happily barefoot. It’s a custom I’m easily converting to.

Joyce and the other facilitators gather around the table in preparation for lunch. No bell is rung or voices raised. Women just start to gather and take any available seat. Today’s lunch is Gado gado – a salad composed of bean shoots, tomato, green beans, tofu and hardboiled egg with a spicy peanut dressing. It is both cleansing and filling at once. Local tea with lemon is a refreshing accompaniment.

Joyce kicks off the getting to know you session by telling us a bit about herself. Having moved from Sumatra 13 years earlier, she met the retreat’s founder, Chelsea, on the beach one day. Joyce speaks of Chelsea as being one of the most inspiring women she’s ever met. Perhaps she is part founder and part guru.

Theoretically, I know Bali has beaches because my mind’s singular image of a Bali holiday is bogan Aussies drinking Bintang on the beach. I will be perfectly content if I don’t step foot on a Bali beach. Beaches are best windswept, cool and empty of the clutter of other people. Walking slowly along the sand just at that edge where it’s not too wet and the waves get you or not too soft that it begins to feel like exercise, your reward being to just sit and watch the waves roll in ceaselessly. There’s nothing more simple and direct to convince me that I am just one small part of a large world that existed before me and is content to go on without me.

After lunch, I walk a dozen paces barefoot to the air-conditioned spa rooms upstairs above the yoga room. The gentle rain adds a soft soundtrack to our days and its presence almost demands we take things slowly and adjust to island time.

My spa treatment this afternoon is courtesy of Yeni. Her thin, supple fingers are surprisingly strong and she manipulates my limbs and muscles easily. My body is engaged and so my mind wanders. I wonder if her loved ones ever get to experience these magic fingers. She leans in close, whispering, ‘Excuse me, Miss.’ I roll over onto my back whilst she raises the thin, batik printed sarong of brilliant blues to preserve my modesty. She applies a rough scrub of crushed dried green tea leaves and local jungle bee honey, she lets this rest on my skin then slowly rubs it in and off with long firm strokes, making a grand mess all over the shiny, white tiled floor.

Invigorated, I am sent on my way with instructions to shower the remainder of the scrub off. Instinctively I go to smell my arm and it is sweet, almost fruity. I’ll skip the tasting bit. A quick shower off, into my still-wet bathers then into the pool I dive, two steps from our door so no sarong required.

○ ○ ○

The gin was only partly to blame really.  A litre of duty-free Gin, juicy fragrant limes, cold tonic water with generous amounts of ice and the smiling kitchen staff have mastered the art of a perfect gin and tonic – the ideal conversational lubricant.

After dinner the women slowly disappear one by one until I’m sitting here in the evening’s heat with an empty glass. My eye catches the light reflected in the pool. I realise that I’m still wearing my bathers underneath my loose top. Peeling it off over my head I drop it on the thick soft grass. I lower myself in quietly and begin my expert dolphin moves. Diving down to touch the rough pool floor then rising again, my head breaking gently through the surface.

I float on my back looking upwards gazing at the few visible stars, hearing only the rippling water. The knot where my bather top ties behind my neck is bulky and awkward as I try to arch my head backwards. So I untie it and also the clasps behind my back, flinging the wet top onto the rattan sun lounges. Diving below the surface once more the cool water swirls around me.  After a few laps around the pool, no one has appeared from the villas.

Climbing out, I go search for the light switches. Palm flat to the wall and quickly they are extinguished. Only the lights inside the pool remain on. The ability to turn these off eludes me. Caution is thrown quickly aside as I whip bather bottoms off and I dive back into the pool. So refreshing is the feeling of water on my skin.

○ ○ ○

Our Balinese cooking class scheduled for today is to be held at Hotel Tugu Bali in Canggu Beach. Sleepier than Seminyak, it draws less of the Aussie bogan and more of the surfer type though it is still a month off from the start of surfing season apparently.

 

Greeted on arrival by our chef de jour, a short woman introduces herself as Sri.Though later I discover she is only the assistant to Iboe Soelastri, the true cooking guru. This older woman of indeterminate age had mastered the subtle skill of wielding the cleaver through the meat with one hand whilst her second hand massages and rotates the meat and also overseeing our preparation so the pace of the dishes is on time and in order. The guru won’t allow Sri to finish a dish until the perfect taste profile has been reached. Following a recipe is all nice and well for us simple folk but being guided by over forty years of experience, our guru advises of more salt or sugar or lime to balance.

Our first dish is to be a minced spiced beef parcel wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. Banana leaves are ubiquitous here. Folded and made into boxes to hold offerings of flowers and incense, lining the steamer basket and placed underneath dishes for presentation, they literally do grow on trees. In the segregated boxes next to our chopping boards lay a rainbow of ingredients. Sri shows us to how to rub the long red mild chillies between our hands back and forth. This loosens the seeds so when you slice it open they fall out easily. Lemongrass will get the root ends bashed firmly with the handle of the knife to break up the fibres. Some of the bulbs get peeled and some don’t and I can’t see a pattern but I duly do as I’m instructed. Large shards of coconut are grilled over the open flame, slightly catching alight adding a lovely charred edge.

Under the low roof of our open air kitchen, the intense heat and humidity is taking a toll on us. The sweat doesn’t take long to drip down my back between my shoulder blades and run down my thighs. My linen skirt and loose top cling to my now damp skin. I’m thankful when they produce refrigerated wet towels to cool ourselves with, reminding myself that one of retreat co-ordinators referred to this season as winter this morning as she wrapped a scarf around her neck.

We grind our spice pastes on a lava stone mortar and pestle unlike anything I’d ever seen. About the size of a dinner plate, it is mostly flat with small pits. The technique involves a rocking back and forth of the pestle and long dragging strokes. The chillies and shallots release their juices to help bind the pastes. Some pastes are fried off in coconut oil, others boiled in water to achieve a more mellow flavour.  Between taking photos and chopping chillies, I absent-mindedly wipe the sweat off my upper lip with my hand and soon feel the familiar burn. Next time, I’ll use the edge of my cheesecloth apron.

Nasi goreng fried rice, and snake bean and toasted coconut salad are then served in the cool dark hotel restaurant. Before we are delivered back, I can’t resist a stroll down to their private beach for a stickybeak. I know I said that I’d be content not to step one foot on the beach this trip and technically that is still valid. Under the oppressive sun I stand on the manicured lawn and look out towards the grey sand and gently breaking water. I decide that nothing is to be gained walking another 200m to feel sand under my toes. Turning away, I’m more than happy to leave the skin cancer seekers to their own devices. Food packed up and driver summoned I’m very happy to be ferried in air conditioned comfort back to the retreat where the quiet and mostly empty grounds are now a familiar sight.

On our final morning, the goddesses assemble in a circle on cotton bolsters in the yoga shala ready for our group meditation. Loose light clothing and the obligatory mosquito repellent to scent my ankles and neck and I’m ready to send love and good vibes to my compadres. Laura, our yoga goddess, looks calm and relaxed in her stretch leggings and loose singlet. Pale blonde hair pulled back off her face, she is the epitome of a yoga teacher. Tall and slim her lithe limbs appear so at home in poses that confuse and elude me though she continues to encourage us “no matter what body turned up for you on the mat this morning.” This morning to finish off our week’s retreat, we have an OM circle. This mantra chanting is supposed to provide vibrational healing both mentally and emotionally.

Each will experience the circle differently; no expectations and no pre-conceptions.Focussing on my breath and centring my mind, I get better at the whole omming thing as the chant progresses. When I’m tapped gently on the knee, it’s my turn in the centre. I feel the cool hard floorboards beneath me. Across my skin I sense the breeze from the fan or as I like to think of it the breath of the divine Goddess blowing her healing energy into my abdomen, supporting the work of Papa Bagus. There’s no pain in my intestinal region only a strong awareness of this area.

As the circle comes to a close, we all stretch our limbs then wander over to our breakfast table. The infectious grin that is plastered across Laura’s face even during complicated yoga poses and her cool relaxed demeanour in the high humidity betray no concerns. Over breakfast, I ask Laura more about her move from Australia. Doubts were raised continuously by others in her life and she hop-scotched between home and Bali six times before she managed to shut out those other voices and relocate with true intention.

Sitting here at the table, I think about how I’m going to miss having a selection of tasty healthy foods prepared freshly for me at each meal. Platters of brightly coloured tropical fruits are offered up each morning for our viewing and consuming pleasure. Dragonfruit of such a strong shade of fuchsia with tiny black seeds that it looks like a child coloured it in. Snake fruit with scaly brown skin and an off white fibrous perfumed flesh. Mango is less creamy and sweet than I’m used and slightly astringent. Papaya perfectly ripe and not the least bit funky. Mangosteen is a delight once you cut through the thick skin and reveal its sweet white flesh. There are also the tastiest eggs poached or scrambled as you like, seedy brown bread and juices in new combinations each day.

There will be no limitless spa treatments at my disposal, no strong fingers tracing the muscles of my back.  My white cotton sheets won’t be changed each day with the corner turned down and a small affirmation card on my pillow. The lyrical sounds of the housekeeping staff talking to each in Balinese will no longer be a soundtrack to my afternoons lazing on the couches in the lounge. Good thing I’m looking forward to going home.

 

Sunday mornings

The sweet, earthy smell of my father’s car in the morning. It wasn’t until he quit smoking that I realised it was stale cigarette smoke that I had associated with his car. It’s light tan, leather seats squeaking as I fidgeted and moved around. From this distance, the morning light was golden, diffused as it shone through the tall gum trees lining our quiet, middle suburban court.

On Sunday mornings, his only day not working, I would join him in the car and we would drive to the milk bar to buy fresh bread rolls, light and fluffy, the Sunday paper and a 20 cent bag of mixed lollies for my siblings and me. I would lean up against his rough, hairy leg as I gazed up longingly at the glass counter, above my eye-line. Boxes of chocolate bars, bulging white paper bags of mixed lollies stacked high and beyond the shop-keeper cigarettes, batteries, cleaning products and other assorted dry goods.

Years later my brother ran a milk bar in its dying phase. Apparently, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Another ill-conceived get rich quick scheme. Late afternoon light filtering through the dusty, dirty windows and onto the sparsely stocked shelves. I wonder if my own two daughters look at this scene with any degree of awe.

Sometimes, we got to stop for petrol and I relished the task of filling out the figures in his log book. While he was filling up the tank with petrol, my small body would climb over the front bench seat and open the glove box. Pushing past the dusty box of tissues, I extricated the small red notebook , un-looped the elastic band which kept the stub of a pencil in place and waited for his announcement.

Chug chug. I watched the small balls spin wildly in the rush of red transparent fuel as it flowed out of the pump, through the hose and disappeared somewhere behind the smooth worn seats where my siblings usually sat. I smelled the petrol fumes that wafted in as dad cracked open the driver’s door. “65 litres. 76 cents per litre. 37,769 kms” With great care, I used my best writing filling in the columns, closed the book and returned it to the glove box.

Jill and I

A couple of drinks with friends. We’ve all done that. Some nights, I have more than a couple of drinks and still walk down ill-lit streets by myself. Mostly, I have a pre-set arrangement with my best friend to check in on the way home but then there are always the impromptu nights.

Saturday September 22 2012, Jill Meaghar was out having drinks with friends in Melbourne’s inner north. From one bar to another, her colleagues from the ABC enjoyed convivial times with alcohol. I do this. I’m still here. At 1.30am, she left the group to walk a short distance home to her husband waiting for her in the bed they shared. It was probably a cool Spring night and she would be looking forward to leaning against his warm sleepy body. She never made it there.

She spoke with her brother on the phone on the way home. I pretend to talk with people on the phone to deflect unwanted male attention or exude a false sense of security. She lived close to the bars and it wasn’t worth getting a taxi home. The spendthrift in me understands this. All she had to do was walk down a well-illuminated Sydney Road, turn the corner into a now ill-named Hope Street and make her way home. Adrian Bayley wouldn’t let her. Adrian Bayley had other plans.

At 29 years old, I like to think of Irish born Jill as a strong, intelligent, feminist woman in the early stages of a promising career in Melbourne radio. Her disappearance was widely reported and for a small time women of Melbourne were hopeful she would be found shaken but alive. Social Media campaigns circulated, well over 12 million Twitter references to #helpusfindJillMeaghar. Ten years older than her, newly single and eagerly dating, I walk along less illuminated roads after more than a couple of drinks and I am still here to tweet about it.

I put myself willingly, and unwillingly, into vulnerable situations and have not met an Adrian Bayley. Maybe I have met an Adrian Bayley with circumstances or his own internal situation thwarting any malicious actions. What separates the men I date and Adrian Bayley and how can I tell the two types apart? Is there a checklist I can download or an app that will sift potential suitors for me? Should I just give up now meeting people? Is online dating really any riskier than meeting someone in a bar?

Jill was happily married (if there is such a thing and now we will never know anyway) so she wasn’t putting herself out there as I am. Jill was just walking down the street, keeping to herself. Maybe she spoke to Adrian Bayley. Maybe Adrian Bayley was following her and that’s why she called her brother as someone to speak with to avoid interacting with Adrian Bayley. Maybe she had to talk to Bayley. Maybe he wouldn’t allow her not to. Maybe she played nice to avoid escalating the situation. I’ve played nice to avoid scaling an interaction. I’ve smiled and nodded and said, “A-ha. Okay. “ meanwhile stepping to the side and trying to hold my line.

Women, adult women, have learned to play nice to avoid situations. I don’t want to play nice but I want to survive.

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MY FAVOURITE PODCASTS

MY FAVOURITE PODCASTS

Naturally what I want to listen to depends on the mood I’m in and how much time I have.

Short and sweet
I don’t always have an hour to get deep into a subject so these short 20-25 minutes episodes are an ideal ‘lighter meal option’.

Reply All
These guys help us older folks decipher the internet and its quirks
The Sporkful
‘It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters’ I whole-heartedly approve of Dan
Pashman’s attitude to food and food culture.

A bit more serious but good for showing me how little I know about the wider world

On The Media
I came to this show during one of my Summer school intensive subjects and realized how little I knew about some things. I’d given up on news some years ago and stayed away for good reason but this has lured me back in a method I’ve figured out I quite like. I can walk, ride or drive and still participate in the world. This probably sums up the over-arching reason I am attracted to podcasts

Radio Lab
As above only with a more science bent.

99% Invisible
Seriously this guy has the most ‘take me to bed and just talk to me’ voice. And I love their motto – “Always read the plaque”

When I want a laugh and learn something at the same time

Answer Me This
Okay, these guys can have annoying voices to some people I’ve discovered. Just not to me. I like that they’re British as opposed to the American accents I often hear on podcasts.

The Guilty Feminist
Funny, insightful and illuminating. It makes me take a second look at many things in my life – all in all that is not a bad thing.
The Allusionist
Love her voice and her obvious fondness for the English language in equal measures.
And where it all began for me

Being Honest With My Ex
I like these guys. Yeah Peter can be annoying at times but his brutal honesty is actually refreshing and SJ’s raw exposure of herself can draw tears (mostly her’s). I like their concept (self-evident in the title really) as well as the execution.
There are so many platforms to get your podcasts. The hyper-links here lead to their websites. On my phone, I’ve got the app Podbean which has always serviced me well.
I am in the process of setting up my own podcast. This year will hopefully see greater leaps and bounds on the front for me. The Middle Third check out its early steps at the link. Please message me or leave feedback. I’d really appreciate it.
I’m starting on the whole iTunes thing now that I’ve stepped into the dark side – Apple products. New programs to learn, new equipment required to be purchased no doubt.

Onwards and upwards people!

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Kate

Steaming milk, pouring shots, the hiss as the teapot fills. Thwack! Coffee grounds tumble from the head and into the rubbish. Dockets start to pile up as she attempts to keep up with the incoming orders.

“Coffee up. Table 12”
She pushes the tray to the front off the stainless steel bench and spills the flat white onto the saucer. Her hand reaches out and grabs the tray clamping it to the spot as she attempts to redeem the cup and saucer.

“Ok, now”
She says to her runner releasing the caffeine to be delivered to the waiting , impatient crowds. Rocking back on her heels she tries to take a large deep breath, to gather her thoughts and get back into the zone. This particular Sunday is no busier than another so why can’t she ride the wave. Why does she feel like she is trying to swim against the current?

Slugging down a large cold water, her chest tightens and she tries to breathe her way back to normal. Those small slips of printed paper start to overlap as they feed out of the printer. She can’t see beyond them and through the window into the world. She knows there’s an olive tree that needs pruning right outside the cafe window but it isn’t there for her this afternoon.

“Kate! Are you okay?”
Her boss shouts at her from the register in between customers.
Turning towards the voice, she takes a moment to focus and take in her surroundings. The coffee head slips from her hand, clanging as it hits the concrete floor, freshly ground coffee splattering across her shoes. She slumps against the milk fridge behind her, her hands steadying her body.

She can’t speak. Words are too much effort just now though she manages to shake her head. No, she’s not alright. Kate is not alright. Kate needs all of her strength right now to remember to breathe and stand at the same time. Multi-tasking is not her agenda right now.

“..Kate, KATE!”
The voice is out the with all the other sounds in the cafe, the low levels ambient music of some nameless Ministry of Sound cd, young families enjoying their babycinos, and her boss now one step in front of her saying something at her. Saying her name at her. It takes a few moments but she’s pretty sure it’s her name that’s being said.

Two arms reach out and lift her upright, pulling her, guiding her behind the display fridge and out through the kitchen into the storage area. Kate is directed to sit. She can feel the rigid plastic grid of an upside down milk crate through the seat of her jeans.

“Oh great, it will be filthy”
She somehow manages to think between the clouds of pain that have filled her brain.

The pain is like dozens of large hollow needles being pushed into her chest all at once. Grabbing her hands between her breasts doesn’t help but she can’t think of what else to do. The kitchen hand has been stationed to keep an eye on her and his nasal teenage voice keeps saying “Breathe” as he sneaks in a durry on this impromptu break.

“Fuck off. You breathe” she thinks but can’t find the voice to say.
What seems like an hour later the restaurant manager walks into the alley with an annoyed tone says, “So what’s up with you?”
Kate doesn’t answer but looks up towards him. Her grimaced face says it all.

He only gets a puff or two out of his cigarette before he throws it to the ground twisting it underneath his shiny leather shoe to extinguish.

“Someone call an ambulance”

I speak Food. What language are you speaking?

 

If you’ve ever read  The Languages of Love book, or done one of those flippant Facebook quizzes, you’ve probably heard of the concept that we fall into particular camps regarding how we express our love for another – romantic or otherwise. Inconveniently, we also use this filter to perceive the actions of others as loving or not. If you’re curious, feel free to do an online search for the relevant terms and discover if you do perceive the actions of others as loving, and I will use the term nurturing as well. The fun bit is seeing if you and your partner, if you have one, view things the same way. I’m betting you don’t.

One of the main ways I demonstrate my love towards someone is to cook for them. Food is and has always been a big part of my life so this isn’t exactly surprising. I recall being sixteen and cooking a dish which at the time was not only a favourite of mine but also I considered being fairly cutting edge. Please bear in mind it was the 1980’s.

There was this guy I was trying to impress and hopefully get further along the baseball diamond scenario with (first base, second base – you with me?).  I even had two versions of this winner dish. The classic version was pan fried chicken breast fillet with a bacon and avocado cream sauce. I know, told you it would be classic. My alternative version was pasta with a chicken, bacon, avocado and cream sauce. Even now as I type these words, I cringe at the thought of dry stringy chicken meat (which I’m sure it was with the fear of food poisoning looming over my head), hard cooked nubs of bacon and under-ripe soapy tasting avocado in a too sweet creamy bath.

I can’t remember his name only that my parents had gone away to their beach house for the weekend and the coast was clear. I can picture a pimply face, short dark hair and him leaning against the kitchen bench whilst I tried to win him over with my kitchen confidence. The wine was Mateus rose – that classic semi-sweet from Portugal. I won’t reveal how well my efforts were received as my mum might read this.

A really beautiful part of the school that my children attended was the rosters that were set up when the class had a new mother. Healthy meals were provided that would nourish the family of the new baby. It was a Steiner school that my children attended so many dietary variations such as vegetarian, allium/dairy/gluten-free and so on had to be respected.

Only a few years ago, one gentleman I had started dating was quite strict on only consuming free range meats and had been lamenting the dearth of smallgoods that fit with his self-imposed parameters. My local organic store stocked a wide selection so I gathered salamis, sliced cured products and sausages into a bouquet complete with tissue paper wrapping. Again, decorum will prevent me from delving into precisely how grateful he was but I’m sure you can figure it out.

What I’m saying is nourishing people with food is one significant way that I show how I care. Of course, I do like compliments and affirmations of I love you but if I cook for you, it’s because I love you. The next bit is figuring out how other people are saying it to me.

 

 

podcasting – I don’t do this sort of thing

This is the only thing I’ve ever performed in public. I decided to record this as my first test for the podcast I wish to work on.

I’m trying to get over sounding like a twelve year old.
I’d love your constructive feedback whether the piece was to your liking or not.
Be gentle on me though please.
Yes, I need to get to know the software better, find some music (yes, I’m addressing my musical friends out there.) Some episodes will be pieces of short fiction, other personal essays and hopefully some relaxed conversations/ interviews.
I shall reiterate – it’s the first of many steps

check it out here –  my first podcast