4th and 5 th Sept Bunol

We set off for Cheste as early as possible knowing we had 24 kms and a hot day ahead. Leaving Valencia had us walking through some ugly industrial areas but eventually we hit the orange groves. The trees were laden with green oranges but the path was very exposed and soon we were all feeling the heat. At one stage as we negotiated an orange grove we were grateful for the heat because if it was wet as some of the reading had indicated, we would have been ankle deep in clay.

As time wore on the day got hotter Karen started to feel faint and we were all wet through with perspiration. At one stage the only shade was outside a pig farm. We all sank gratefully to the ground with the smell a small sacrifice for the respite. One of the workers came out with a barrow of pig parts-a bit gruesome. He was cheerful and told us he was a vet from Bulgaria who had been in Spain for 20 years. Bulgaria was too corrupt and Spain was better. We eventually rose to continue up the hill but it was apparent Karen was in a bad way and eventually we all decided she needed to get a lift. Where was Uber when you need it?! Anyway a very kind young man saw her and graciously took her into town. The rest of us powered on. Peter is raising money for his charity and feels compelled to walk all the way. We proceeded into the river bed and had to cross two fast but shallow fords. I got tangled in a spiky acacia called ‘wait awhile’ in Africa because it sticks into your clothes and skin. It had strong 3 inch long needles that poked my arm and leg and drew blood. Needless to say the bleeding stopped very quickly in the heat. The water looked so inviting and on the second crossing I nearly fell in. Thanks to all my Bailar dancing I was able to keep my footing and avoid the crash but I was almost disappointed.

On we trudged and it became harder and harder. Peter was getting slower and both Andy and I hotter. Those last two kms were a killer. After a long shower we decided an early dinner was in order. Little open for dinner because it is so early (6.30 pm) and the Spanish don’t eat till 9. We stumbled on a kebab place. The owner was not too impressed with us until Andy started to talk cricket. The owner was a fellow from Pakistan. We were happy to wait for food but needed drinks. We downed two litres of lemon Fanta and water very quickly and followed up with more. The food was generous in size and soon all I wanted was bed! We all slept like the dead.

Next morning was an even earlier start to try to beat the heat. A 16 km day so we hoped to get to Bunol by 12.00 pm at the latest. Breakfast was after 5 kms at Chives. It was pleasant walking through orange groves, vineyards, fields of pumpkin ( squash) olive trees. The roadside was abundant with wild grapes. They looked like blueberries but had quite a big seed. The cultivated grapes were much juicier and delicious. There were even fig trees that I raised for a ripe fig. Yum.

We saw the sun rise and eventually arrived in Bunol just as the temperature reached 30C and Karen started to fade again. We are staying at a lovely Inn- Posada Vente Pilar. We have discovered that we have missed the famous Tomato throwing festival! Damn! It would have been fun. Our inn is a traditional and friendly place. They offered a delicious three course lunch which was not so great for the vegetarians. We all had the Hervido (boiled vegetables) pretty bland but nourishing. I followed with stewed rabbit which was delicious and then the choice of dessert ( crème caramel or cheesecake) followed by coffee or tea. Karen ended up with tea and warm milk. The Spanish don’t always understand tea with milk!

After a shower, washing duties and attending to emails we set off to see the town. Bunol was on the frontier of the province of Valencia and Castlle so it has one of the last remaining castles. It has been built on the edge of a ravine and the old town is below. We were charmed by the quaint fountains that are still used. In one of the square there were photos of locals in traditional outfits from the festival. Having walked some of our Camino route today we took a very hilly shortcut back to the Posada. At least it will be down hill in the morning. Bunol is a place of rivers and waterfalls and great natural beauty. Hopefully we will walk through forests tomorrow. And get some shade!

3rd Sept Super Hot day 38 degrees celsius

Now we are four we decided to collect our credential ( pilgrim passport) which allows us to stay at the allbergues along the way and is our proof of walking the Camino Ruta de Lana.

Backwards and forwards we went from the old to the new cathedral until a sweet old Nun explained where we should go to get them. The Bishop’s Palace aka admin for the Cathedral. They had a sign INSIDE the building! Not very helpful but ultimately very pleasant once we found them. Then a trek to the post office to send back extra gear that in this heat I am not going to need. The postal service always seems so friendly in Spain. I had to use my translator app to clarify a few things.

Once more we set off, this time for lunch and drinks, the temperature rising steadily. No orange juice! There seems to be a shortage of oranges this year or they are all being juiced in the heat! We decided to walk through the Turia gardens for the shade and explore. A delightful range of trees from Boabs to an Umbre tree, Oaks and Jacarandas as well as Oleander bushes and others I didn’t know. Valencia is full of cyclists riding around in normal clothes at a leisurely pace. Such a contrast to the manic Melbournians in Lycra. We came across a construction that intrigued us until we realised it is Gulliver laid low by the Lilliputians. Eventually we arrived at the centre for Arts and Sciences. What a fantastic building. The surrounding pools of water were so inviting in the now extreme heat but the only things in the pools were marvellous bronze sculptures, though around the corner there were kids in rowboats and paddle boards. We rested and had icy poles. Karen was beginning to feel the effects of the heat. Despite this we pushed on towards the beach. Where we were greeted by pulsing music and a very glamorous restaurant/ poolside bar and lounging area.

I changed into my swimsuit and headed for the water! Divine and surprisingly large fish in small schools swimming around us. when we were feeling refreshed we returned via the bus. Getting tickets was a fraught process as we had intended to go by the metro but after struggling to buy tickets with our credit card we resorted to cash. Thus worked we thought but then when we tapped on Karen didn’t think it was registering so exasperated we went to the bus with a human in attendance! We used our translator app to explain our issues and so we took the bus but it seemed we had used three of the four tickets after all and had to buy more for the bus! The challenge of transport in other countries! It was now apparently 38.5 degrees. No wonder we were hot and bothered. A rest and then dinner at 8.30 at a classy vegetarian restaurant. Slept well.

2nd Sept Hot day’s walking

Yesterday I explored the old city and visited the Cathedral museum which is the repository for two major religions icon. The first was the Holy Grail, an alabaster cup reputed to be used by Christ at the last supper and a monstrance That is used at the feast of Corpus Christi. It is the largest in the world. I was glad I went early because when I left there was a queue! It was very interesting they also had a relic of the local Saint Vincent Martin which was his forearm and hand – quite well preserved. Mostly relics are just bones of some saint but this was pretty creepy with flesh.

The transept of the church was quite unique in shape and had alabaster windows. Another feature was the virgin in the chair. Pregnant women come to pray for a safe delivery by walking around the church 9 times.

After that I continued down the Plaza del Rei towards the post office to buy a box in which I will post my excess baggage! The street had lovely trees and fancy shops but one really caught my eye was A Lolly shop.

Named after my son Jonny?

It was very hot. I tooa stroll to the Turia gardens. This was the river but it has been diverted and the river bed made into playing fields and gardens. They are a delightful green space for the citizens of Valencia. Hot and weary I returned home to wait for my friends. As it happened they too suffered a delay departing and did not arrive until 9.30 pm. In the end we didn’t eat but went for a drink at a nearby restaurant bar. We just talked till midnight like the locals!

Looking across the Turia river gardens

31st August Valencia

After delays due to slow luggage loading in Melbourne (1 hour) we had to rush to make our connection in AbuDhabi. Through security again then a run to gate 45, about 30 gates away! We caught the last bus to the airplane only to wait almost an hour here too on the tarmac for luggage transfer. I was very relieved I hadn’t book a close connection from Madrid to Valencia because we didn’t get in till after 7 am and Madrid is such a huge airport it must be well over a kilometre’s walk to get to customs then the health check point. After that it was a train ride to the baggage collection!While efficient it took over two hours. So many people shuffling along. My backpack arrived intact and I immediately stripped off my winter fleece. It is deliciously hot.

How far to customs and baggage?

The flight was uneventful but the food was pretty average with mainly stodgy pasta or noodles so when I finally got to Madrid Chamartin train station I was craving fresh food and promptly ordered a salad with goats cheese and a beer! It is 9,00 am but feels like lunch time. The train from airport to here was only €3.10 and only a bit more into the heart of Madrid. A taxi is € 30. Brilliant service.

I had a long and tedious wait for my 3pm train. The seats were hard, there wasn’t a lot to do apart from read and stroll the shops but eventually our train with COMFY seats arrived. I was so tired that it wasn’t long before I fell asleep safe in the knowledge that when the train stopped I would be in Valencia!

The country side looks so parched and the crops had been harvested though there were lots of olive trees and several vineyards amongst the wheat. When i arrived it was so hot that the 15 min trek to the hotel resulted in me looking like a Valencia tomato. I showered and set off to explore. Everyone is just getting out and about now after siesta. The hostal Antigua Morellana is a small pensione style right in the heart of old Valencia. Surrounded by charming narrow streets and plenty of bars and restaurants as well as shops. By now I am fading fast. After a dinner of delicious squid a la planchs – ( plain) I crashed. Satisfied that I at least made the local 9.00 pm dinner time.

Another new year and still more CoVid but adventure is just around the corner. Hola Espagne!

I haven’t felt the urge to write because life has been quite routine for months. The year started with an air of optimism and I decided to go on a yoga retreat as something new. It was a great experience and very grounding and relaxing. Lots of nature, not too much talking and a lot of chanting. I have never been one for chanting but I finally saw the benefit. It is verbal meditation I suppose or prayer. The chanting did seem to lift our vibration and was very calming. Never knew what we were saying mind you but the sounds were good. While there we experienced a dramatic hail storm that was extremely loud and wet!

After that there was a wedding and then life resumed its usual pattern of child minding and social interactions. I had a significant birthday which I decided would be a Festival of Kath rather than a grand party. I had lots of lunches and dinners and quality time with family and friends.

I have completed a couple of virtual Caminos these last two years and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my original Camino Frances experience as well as completing the extension to Finisterre and Muxia and back to Santiago.

I have found walking virtual places very motivating and reminiscing over familiar experiences through the photographs was uplifting in these trying times. Camino for Good was my preferred virtual hike because it was founded to raise money to support owners of the Albergues who were struggling through CoVid. The app and website felt very like a real Camino.https://caminoforgood.com/

Anne, my friend from the Portuguese Camino, and I finally got organised to take our trip to Queensland. We both had an ambition to travel to the very tip of Cape York Peninsula and through central Queensland to visit dinosaur country and various gorges. What a great time we had. I didn’t track our trip on this blog because I didn’t know what to expect as we were in a camper trailer which was shared with my brother and my nephew. I did track it on a travel app Polarsteps. http://polarsteps I liked the way it mapped our travel but it didn’t lend itself so much to writing. You can find the trip under my full name Kathryn Leong.

However during the year my English friends invited me to join them on another walking adventure. We had planned to walk the Ruta de La Lana from Alicante to Burgos back in 2019 but when the world was overtaken by CoVid all travel was halted. We all went into hibernation. This year they visited Italy and decided that it would be fine to reinstate our plans and go to Spain. Ever one to say yes and think about the details later, I agreed. So here I am one week out from a hike through the Spanish countryside which is quite literally aflame. The world seems to have devolved into constant chaos but we are hopeful that as autumn arrives so too will milder weather and a cease to forest fires across Europe.

Ever the optimists and with Andy’s dogged planning skills we will make it happen. I am booked to fly on the 30 th August to Madrid and then train to Valencia. The others will arrive on the 1st September. A few days exploring Valencia and then we start walking. We are prepared to be flexible, in fact already we are finding alternatives on our route. This is not a well travelled road like the traditional Camions and consequently accommodation is a bit limited. Being a group of four has made it difficult to just wander into towns as we have done previously.

Anyway let the next adventure begin.

1st June Wimmera wandering

Could we have planned any better? My friends and I took off for a magical mystery tour around Western Victoria on the 17th May in a Maui Camper van. We returned on the 27th, the beginning of Melbourne’s fourth lockdown. Ugh!! What can you say? It is frustrating after Melbourne had been really coming out of hibernation and starting to blossom again, only to be cut off by an unexpected frost, lockdown 4. It made me think of the ice maiden days in France that I experienced in May 2018. We had been enjoying glorious warm spring days until we arrived in Le Puy, May 12 and it began to snow! My French friends told me they never plant anything until after the ice maiden days 11,12,13, May.

Anyway back to the trip. I had taken the risk of having my first vaccination on the Sunday before departure. I was sick of waiting for the local GP who was only getting 50 doses a week; so after Yum Cha in the city on the Sunday I rolled up to the Royal Exhibition Building mass vaccination centre and received my jab. No queues, smiling service and out in the minimum time. I figured if I felt sick I would just sit quietly in the van and take some Panadol. I did not anticipate a bad reaction and fortunately I was fine. Barely a tender arm.

First jab completed, yeah!

The next morning we collected the van and drove tentatively home to Kew to pack. Getting the hang of the longer wheel base was the first lesson, parking was the second. We had a daunting amount of stuff but it all fitted and we were on our way soon after. Our first destination was Lorne. We stopped at Torquay for lunch and managed to turn the front chairs around and set up the little table. It was tricky and the last time we ever bothered!

We immediately became part of the camper van crowd. Another van parked close by revealed a smaller weekend style of travel and the young couple with their dogs, were eager to share their experiences. Like us they were from Melbourne and just enjoying a break after last year’s lockdown. Finally arriving at Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park after hours, Bill backed the van into place while Irene and I guided him.

The van has a shower and toilet but we are all too nervous to use it and terrified of emptying the toilet cassette. We got set up so quickly that we were all very impressed- so much easier than the tents we normally use. Bill was delighted with the convenience of the rubbish bin at his elbow while he peeled vegetables. We quickly slipped into a little routine with each having a task but not underfoot.

Next stop Apollo Bay and lunch of Scallop Pie and Chai Latte, not in the van. Now it was my turn to drive. With trepidation I took the wheel but soon felt comfortable. It was easy to drive, just needed to remember the long wheel base when going round corners. I got a lot of practice as I drove through the Otways winding roads! Our destination was Port Fairy. I missed the turn-off to our selected Caravan Park and then found the only other access was a road under repair which was closed! We set off for another campsite but it was closed too. We were getting a bit desperate but I had seen a Big 4 as we came into town and though rather characterless, we were glad to stop there. I backed the van successfully into place. When we left this Caravan Park the manager gave us a bottle of wine! Friendly anyway.

The next day Irene and I finally broached the toilet cassette. After reading and re-reading the instructions, we managed to remove, empty and replace without incident. I think our greatest fear was being splashed of course. Task completed, we walked into town and had lunch ( Scallop pie again and a small Vanilla Slice) followed by a look around. That is, Irene and I browsed the shops while Bill connected with a former colleague with whom he had worked on the renovation of the local hospital. On this trip we did many diversions past country hospitals that Bill had worked on. ( He is a retired Architect). When Irene and I returned, Bill and Mick were still sharing coffees. Mick was able to fill us in on Port Fairy, the economy and its development. It was a most enjoyable day.

That evening there was a lot of laughter as I tried to dismantle the table for Bill and Irene’s bed. I just couldn’t dislodge the pole and then I was laughing so much I was completely useless. Bill came to the rescue and showed me how.

Next stop was Budji Bim Cultural Landscape, the only UNESCO World Heritage property listed for its Aboriginal cultural values. It features the earliest living example of aquaculture in the world, with a history of eel farming and agriculture, dating back over 6000 years. This was such an interesting place and we undertook a guided tour. It made me ashamed of how inadequate and biased our Australian history teaching has been.

What we are finding is that we are taking our time to get going in the mornings, so our idea of arriving early at our destination has not eventuated. Plus it is a bit too cold to sit out and have our nibbles and drinks after 4.30 pm. The van is more comfortable. We are also beginning to realise we might have underestimated our distances and time to complete our journey. There is so much to see and we aren’t stopping at every curiosity as we might, if we had unlimited time. We stopped nonetheless to see the Crags as recommended by Mick. We were heading to Dunkeld for lunch the next day at the Royal Mail. It is so lovely being out in the country, feeling free and secure in our little mobile home. It is so very convenient and easy. We are getting in the habit of being tidy, everything in its place and everything close at hand. We often book ahead while travelling but mostly there are plenty of spots to camp.

The Crags

Dunkeld however was full when we arrived. Consternation! Where to stay? Just as we were driving out the manager rushed out to stop us. There had been a last minute cancellation. How fortunate, because this camp ground was a total delight. There were bath mats in the showers!! Flowers and toiletries and a hairdryer in the facilities made us feel like friends. The other aspects, camp kitchen and bbq’s were all excellent and charming. The manager told us they had been so busy that they were desperate for a break. Victorian’s had been making the most of their freedom and the Royal Mail was doing a roaring trade. Once again Irene and I browsed some delightful shops. I bought a lovely possum/merino poncho that looked so elegant. Not in the budget, but too enticing to resist and I justify the purchase by the fact that I am helping the economy!

Our next stop was Halls Gap in the Grampians. We had intended to do a hike but in the end we decided to explore the local wineries instead! We have hiked in the Grampians before so this was a new aspect not previously explored. Halls Gap was full of people because there was the Gap run on Sunday. It was freezing overnight but delightfully sunny during the day.

We were surprised that there was no cooked rotisserie chicken to be had in Halls Gap. It seems such a basic take away food ( for us city slickers anyway) which would be so saleable to the huge camping population of Halls Gap. (At least three camping grounds.) A business opportunity for some enterprising person surely. But not our concern because we were departing for our true destination, the Art Silo trail and the Little Desert-The Wimmera-Mallee country.

Our first stop was Murtoa for the ‘Stick Shed’. Is it an Australian thing to name such an imposing building with an underwhelming name? I was quite frankly in awe of this former grain store. The ‘sticks’ were unmilled mountain ash from East Gippsland. The building was constructed in 1941 to store the glut of grain caused by the collapse of markets during WW2.https://www.thestickshed.com.au/

The inside is so impressive and evoked a sense of grandeur I have experienced in some Cathedrals. Whether it was the rough supports or the flexible purlines that tighten to support the building when it is windy, or just the sheer size (270metres long x 60 metres wide and about 19 metres high at the ridge) the building seems to have a soul. I could imagine a concert in there, though acoustics are probably terrible.

From here we visited Rapunyip, then Sheep Hills before heading west to Geroke, Karniva and Dimboola for the night. Dimboola has always had a sort of exotic attraction for me. There was a play and a film set in Dimboola but also its name personified life deep in the Wimmera. I don’t know what I expected but it did not disappoint. I was surprised that there was a Wimmera River, which flows through Dimboola. It was blessed with lots of bird life as a result and a rustic charm. Sydney Nolan was stationed here during the Second World War as guard to rations for the Army and painted in the front office of the store.

Dimboola has a grand hotel which was being renovated and an old National Bank now converted to The Imaginarium, an eclectic gift shop. We found everyone to be wonderfully friendly and welcoming. The little Desert was another mystery to me and we enjoyed a nature walk through a small part of it before stopping at the pink lake, Lake Lochiel. The Caravan Park Manager had showed us photos of the lake looking fluorescent pink last year. He smiled ruefully as he told us, ‘No one got to see it because of CoVid!’ Since restrictions have lifted though the town has been doing well. At this Caravan Park we had an ensuite!

Our next silo was at Brim, then Rosebery, Patchewollock, Lascelles and finally Sea Lake.

Seeing all these amazing painted Silos and the stories about their making was so very interesting and inspiring. They tell the stories of the people of the Wimmera-Mallee and the artists. We wondered if their was any preservation process for the art or will they eventually fade or be worn away by the elements. Bill suggested perhaps they got a coat of Teflon! Another surprise was the other salt lake, Lake Tyrell, just out of Sealake. The reflections here were impressive despite the bitter cold and grey sky. I thought it would be worth returning in summer to see the sunrise or set and to use the Sky Lounge. The sky lounge were seats for observing the stars at night and had illustrations of the constellations seen by and used by the local indigenous people for understanding the seasons etc.

We opted to stay at Green Lake out of town because the Sealake Caravan Park looked too bleak. Green Lake is a freshwater lake filled by rainwater but surrounded by trees and sandy shores and delightful. That is, until we collected the branch of a tree with the airconditioner on the roof of the van! It was just a crack but that is what you have an excess for in the insurance. Still it dampened our spirits somewhat as we were just two nights from returning the van unscathed.

Our last day saw us visit Nullawil Silo, the MaryQuant exhibition in Bendigo-a stressful but successful parking exercise for me and the van- overnight at Heathcote and home to Melbourne and the beginning of lockdown! What a wonderful trip. We had so much fun together. I finally saw the western part of Victoria and learned how to manage a mobile home. Parking issues aside it was a real impetus to plan a trip around Australia next year. I will do a towing course first though!

One of my favourites. The dog is superb with its wet nose.

14 th May, Life rebounding with CoVid suppressed

I feel like it has been months since I wrote this blog. My life seems to have moved into overdrive with so much activity and planning going on. I have lost the knack after a year of CoVid quiet or more honestly perhaps, I have lost the taste for being over committed. Finally I may have conquered my FOMO habit. It has only taken me most of my life!

I have always felt that my ability to do a lot of activities was a testament to my ability to be flexible and spontaneous and achieve goals; to say yes to any invitation unless it was really impossible to attend or achieve, made me a good manager and made me feel like I was living life to the fullest. I would rearrange or time shift so I could do whatever was on offer. I was addicted to the adrenaline when I was young but then it became a habit and eventually created stress that was not exciting but draining.

This month I have been going out to plays and shows, galleries and parties. There have been birthdays to celebrate, as well as family get togethers. School holiday activities with Ziggy, winter bowls has started, as well as taking Ziggy to soccer training, life drawing, and general life matters to maintain. Life seems to have eaten this month in a whirl of pleasure and planning. I started to feel like I was losing control at home. The apartment was low priority. Paper piling on the desk. My steady study of French and Spanish went out the window. I barely had time to read for book club. I was watching more TV so sitting up later. I had appointments with doctors and financial planners. I started a new exercise program. I got tired! Very tired. I began to prioritise and start saying NO or not today. I chose to not rush. I drew up a weekly schedule! Is it working? Well I have managed to clean the house, work through the piles of paper ( I am a dreadful collector of information!), disposed of a few more clothes from the wardrobe, a tent and potentially a few bolts of fabric that have been clogging up the bedroom. I have continued to prioritise my time for less stress and more down time. Will it last? It is a work in progress. Life activities fluctuate and I will continue to roll with the ups and downs but also practice saying NO or Not Today.

My son and daughter in law are in the market for a house. Their priorities have changed too and so I have spent some time rearranging my finances to release some money to help them. It was something I wanted to do but was a bit scared about. I didn’t want to leave myself too short to live my life or end up a burden in a few years. Helping them now when they need it was better than leaving them something when I die. That might be useful if I drop off my perch tomorrow, but not so much if I live into my 90s! It is times like this that I desperately miss my husband. Having someone you love and trust with whom you can discuss and clarify issues is so special and plain helpful! The sole responsibility weighs heavy sometimes.

It seems so much harder for young ones to get into the market. When we were young we had a little bit of help with purchasing land from my husband’s father but in general our generation didn’t receive much financial assistance if any, from our parents. We mostly started small and worked up to the home we finally wanted. In those days though salaries were better in relation to housing costs, jobs were full time and plentiful and our expectations were different. We were all mad on DYI even when we were ignorant! Life was a lot simpler. Anyway their first attempt at auction was a great learning experience. The chosen property went for $300,000 over reserve! The market is hot and they were naive but have learned quickly and have recalibrated expectations. Hopefully they will get someplace by the end of the year.

A few friends and family have had some health crises this month. An unexpected heart operation, a visit to the hospital for blood clots after surgery, a mystery bite that caused a friend to be hospitalised, have all caused concern and prompted me to be a bit less cavalier about a chest spasm I experienced while minding Ziggy. I had an ECG and all is working well and my overall health is excellent which is reassuring. I had not expected otherwise but as we get older ( like used cars) things start to wear out! The cardiologist expressed the used car analogy. He said if I was a used car I would get a good rating from an RACV assessment as a solid purchase! Brmm brmm!

The winter bowls pennant competition has commenced and I had hoped to have had some coaching but the coach has broken his leg and I was more preoccupied with my family issues. The first couple of games were pretty ordinary. Our team lost and I was disappointed with my game. Last week started in the same vein. The team from Albert Park were wanting a fast game and when I found my team mate had the same colour bowls, I rushed to change mine and continued to feel rushed. I felt like giving up and having a good cry! When the game finished we were told we still had pairs to play. My team mate Christine and I groaned. Out we went after a brief break. We had a competitive game finally and we came from two down to win by three points! We were ecstatic. That was worth a bottle of champagne!

I have started taking Ziggy to Soccer training on Wednesdays at Kensington. I leave at 2.45pm to collect him from school and then we zoom home to change refuel and head off to training. I don’t get home till after 7.00 pm. It is a fun time and my own understanding of soccer skills is improving. They have good coaches and the kids are keen. I get to know the parents so it really is enjoyable even though it is jolly cold! There are no toilets, so one day when it was very cold I had to go to the local swimming pool to use their facilities. It was so warm inside I wished Ziggy was doing swimming training!

I have started at a new gym. I had continued to support my old gym through CoVid on Zoom and then their shift to a new place in Camberwell out of loyalty, but I was continually battling with a tight thigh and hip. Everything was different. It didn’t seem to be working for me anymore. The circuit training had always been so personal and effective but I finally decided that continuing the same routines was not helping and it was time to change. I decided to try the new super gym down the road. It was close and had lots of classes, as well as the circuit and weight training and cycling. I was really interested in trying Yoga again and Pilates to stretch and gain flexibility. I have tried reformer Pilates, Barre Pilates, Yin Yoga( bliss), Hot Yoga( Vinyasa), Body Balance (yoga, tai chi, Pilates) and loved them all, but gosh they have stretched me literally and figuratively. Another reason why I am tired! I haven’t had time to do the usual weights, and cardio stuff yet. I looked at the fancy machines and felt horrified. The work outs on machines seemed so anonymous, everything I abhorred. However all the teachers have been so friendly and excellent and some of my classes have been very small and personal. I have spruiked the place to a few dog walking people and other gym friends so now there is a nice group of friends going there. It has meant I have received a great deal! Same cost as I used to pay and the stretching has meant no more sore thigh either! It was time for a change but when you have a relationship that change is harder to make.

Irene, Bill and I have been planning a road trip around western Victoria in a campervan. We are excited and I feel it will be a good rest. I love to be travelling and freewheeling without too much booked so you have flexibility. We have discovered however that much is booked up ( post CoVid escapees,) and so we have recalibrated our trip from north west commencing to south west, so we can join a tour at Budj Bim National park to see the UNESCO world heritage listed historic eel farming by Indigenous Australians. We are then heading to the Little Desert, the Grampians and the Silo Trail. I am so happy to be travelling again. The weather has moved from glorious Autumn to chilly winter. It will be cold while we trip around. I am taking my warmest sleeping bag!

Today at the dog park one of the young women said she hadn’t slept well. When we enquired whether it was work or personal she revealed that she had an ethical issue at work and her eyes welled up with tears. She is in research and had counselled a student not to include as a contributor someone who had not actually participated in the preparation of the paper. Her boss had another agenda and chastised her but she explained her reasoning and felt there was an ethical issue. We supported her point of view and believed she was correct. She had been brave to stand her ground at work but had started to doubt herself. She is a young woman amongst older workers. They should be defending the integrity of the research. When we walked home together we discussed some strategies to support her arguments that might smooth the issue positively for everyone. When I left her at her gate she asked if I could hug her. I felt privileged to be asked. It was good to have all the different ages at the park contribute their perspectives in accord with her take on the integrity of the matter and I felt glad to be able to support her confidence in herself. The dog owners are as varied as the dogs, but a rich source of good sense and support. It is an enjoyable time in my day-despite Alf’s constant barking if the big dogs get really boisterous! Women supporting women, dogs full of mischief and energy. A great way to start the day.

A brief lull in the morning runs! Right to left, Lexie, Carlo, Moby and Mac at the back.

Hopefully I can post some pictures of our trip next week.

4 th April Easter Weekend

So it is Easter and chocolate abounds, time on the couch is making me round! Crummy poetry not a patch on Paul Kelly whose show I had the pleasure of attending on Monday a week ago. What an interesting man. He talked perhaps more than I expected rather than performed poetry or sang, but I still found him inspiring. I came away with a new perspective on poetry and a desire to read more. It was a fun evening sitting in the forecourt of the Malthouse theatre ( very glad of my warm coat!) with Jane D and some strangers with whom we chatted amiably. Poor Wendy had bought the tickets but due to work pressures could not attend and so we were the lucky recipients of her tickets.

Prior to this event I had a delightful couple of days catching up with my friend Pam at her Strathbogie Farm. She and her husband had bought this property about 10 years ago and slowly planted trees and gardens, built sheds while they lived in a caravan when they visited. Eventually they built a simple but welcoming homestead style home and acquired two alpacas. Despite a mix up in dates we eventually got away together and spent the two days walking and talking nonstop. We had not seen each other for more than two years! There was a lot to cover. She has acquired a new groodle puppy Scout, who I adored and the whole thing was just wonderful. I so miss the quiet of the bush, though really it isn’t quiet because there are so many birds and sounds of nature like swishing tree branches, bleating sheep and wind through the grass. They are such calming sounds and in tune with your body. While Pam took the Scout for a walk I found a huge granite boulder in the sun and just sat watching the butterflies and soaking up the sun in a peaceful meditation.

I admire Pam and her husband Brian having the courage to create a new life in the country. They haven’t fully shifted there yet but will when Brian retires in two years. They will flip their lives to live mainly in Strathbogie and have a small place in Melbourne for visiting friends and family. They are younger than me and share this dream of a tree change. They are realistic about farming and its difficulties and they will not have to make a living from the farm. It is a lifestyle choice for retirement. I see a lot of work ahead but also a sense of achievement for them both and continuous learning which challenges and rewards.

One of the things about retirement is finding a meaningful purpose to your life. Sometimes just pleasing yourself can seem selfish and even pointless. Most of us have responsibilities with grandchildren or volunteering or a desire to learn new skills which give purpose to our lives. Otherwise you can feel you are just filling in time waiting for the end. ( I was quite surprised when an older friend in her mid 70s made this remark about a crowd of people at a concert!) Finding the joy in living is so important in our later life and challenges which are meaningful, like a tree change,certainly offer that opportunity.

I certainly had a lot of fun with Scout and I was intrigued by the Alpacas and thoroughly enjoyed feeding them and allowing them to sniff me from head to foot. When Pam returned from taking Scout for her walk, even though she was leashed and nowhere near the Alpacas, the older alpaca made this strange scary call through her nose as warning. They are great watch animals! Pam and Brian keep them separate from the sheep agisted in the paddocks because they round the sheep up in a protective circle all the time! They also have very clean toilet habits and only defecate in a couple of spots in the paddock which makes collecting their manure for compost very efficient!

I took this video for my Swiss French friend to hear the sound of the Australian countryside. I forgot about the munching of the Alpacas!

When I returned to Melbourne I was quickly into the swing of city life again with a bowls semi-final. The club’s level in the ‘ bowls league’ was depending on our scores. I felt pretty nervous about the whole thing initially. I arrived at the wrong club in Elsternwick at first but had been warned about this possibility so quickly realised and relocated to the correct club. The Elsternwick Club. This was the most serious competition I had attended so far. There was even a check of the bowls labels! It was a tense game and we had supporters cheering when we rolled well. A completely new experience for me. The Elsternwick team were very accomplished players so eventually they got the better of us but it was a battle every end. They were great to compete against and really friendly. In the end the competition between clubs was a draw and we had to go back out and play until there was a clear winner. It was decided on two points! That was the end of our season and I realised how much I have come to enjoy the game and the new people I was meeting. There is a break before the winter pennant comp. begins so I have some time to really focus on improving my consistency.

The grand Elsternwick Club

I decided to get a few friends to go to the Comedy Festival. I have started to go every year to a few gigs, increasing more every year as I get to know the comedians and also try new people. It is so much fun and I get to visit different quirky places in Melbourne that I have never been to before. It is usually very cheap too compared to mainstream theatre so you can go to several without spending a fortune. I have become a little ruthless about group planning now. I send out the suggestion and whoever responds within 48 hours is in and I book. It has meant a mix of companions which is also good. I have learned that if you wait for everyone you end up missing out!

Our first show was ‘ A bookish comedy’, which was held at the Storyville just off Lonsdale street. It was a hoot of a night and the comedians really appreciated our responsiveness! A compliment came from one young comedian who said it was the grey heads in the crowd who actually got the joke! Some of the comedy focused on books that had been read, so Jane, Janine and I from a book club where very vocal. We had a ball and finished the night with noodles in the QV quadrangle.

I have another four shows to attend yet so I am really looking forward to them and feel that I am contributing to helping Melbourne and it’s artists get back to the vibrant city it was before CoVid hit. The next is Aarti Vincent at the Club Voltaire in North Melbourne. Another place to which I have never been. It is an adventure finding these places in your home town!

The Storyville bar with its Alice in Wonderland down the hole theme.

So with Easter being fairly quiet, as in no trips or hikes, I have been to the movies with my Art buddy Anna to see the Courier. A very good movie set in the 60s about the missile standoff in Cuba. It was very suspenseful. I booked Yum Cha for Sunday with my sons and Ziggy, who was full of excitement about his Easter egg bounty and being caught by Clare in the wee hours of Sunday trying to see the Easter Bunny! The timing wasn’t quite convenient for Clare and Marlo to join us which was disappointing, but with the end of daylight saving they were conscious of not disturbing Marlo’s sleep patterns too much. Jonathan had good news he has got the Design/Production job he applied for and starts on Tuesday after Easter. A great weight has been lifted.

Nick was disappointed to learn the radio therapy had had no effect on his AVM and so he will have monitoring. He is remaining positive and has decided to live life to the fullest and focus on continuing to collaborate with his new art friend to produce some interesting work. I was disturbed because it is a time-bomb in his head but I don’t want to add to his stress by expressing my anxieties. At this stage we can’t do anything else but keep living to the best of our ability until a treatment is found.

Every day is a bonus. Look at Carla Zampatti, she woke up to a normal day, went to the Opera and happened to fall hard coming out. The next thing she was in hospital never regaining consciousness and died a week later. Life is unpredictable so we need to treasure what is here and now and not waste energy on worrying about the future or bemoaning the past.

16th March I am woman, hear me roar.

Yesterday’s was the Women’s March4Justice held in every capital city and many provincial cities and towns around Australia. Here in Melbourne it was held in the Treasury Gardens and was attended by about 10,000 people, predominantly women, but also men. They came in black with face masks and represented all ages from young to old. It was inspiring to see the number but also damning that we are still fighting for equality and respect. The Prime minister Scott Morrison declined to address the Canberra crowd but stated in parliament, “ this is a triumph of democracy when we see these things take place. Not far from here, such marches, even now are being met with bullets, but not here in this country.” (The Age, ‘Morrison pushed to act as ‘winds of change howl’,’15th March, p4.)

What a patronising statement. I hope his wife Jenny gave him an earful but I have my doubts. This man hears nothing and he is the father of daughters. Shame on him. The violence against women continues unabated and the language around this implies that women are to blame. The report Respect@Work by the Human Rights Commission was damning about Australia’s record on sexual harassment in the workplace. Once a world leader in the field we are now way behind. This report has sat gathering dust for 12 months without any response from the government. https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/respectwork-sexual-harassment-national-inquiry-report-2020 The prime minister wonders what the fuss is about! One of the best comments I heard all week was an English female MP who suggested men have a curfew! The discussion is always about women protecting themselves but not ever about men behaving better! Enough is enough was the message on many placards and women and their allies will no longer go quietly. At the rally Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem ‘I am woman, hear me roar ‘ was invoked and the crowd roared. Now we want to keep that momentum moving with action and real change. Watch out ScoMo, women vote!

Afterwards along with Janine and her sister Mardi, and a passionate Irish woman named Carolyn who we met at the rally, we debriefed over coffee. It was invigorating having the discussions and trying to figure out how we can make an impact too. I at least have had discussions with everyone I have come across since. This is everyone’s issue.

Before all this exploded life was full of LIFE again. Post lockdown and no community transmission of CoVid has liberated us to enjoy some of the culture for which Melbourne is famous. I went to the Triennial at the NGV with my friend Irene. We saw some amazing and thought provoking art. It inspired me to get painting again and also to make a few more visits to the gallery to see some of the classical art. Many of the triennial pieces were juxtaposed with classic art or had superimposed video works for modern interpretations. These contrasts invoked a deeper curiosity about some of the work.

This was a big day because I returned to the city the same night to attend a real live performance at the Melbourne Theatre Company of the play Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes. It was a #me to theme. Very topical and very well presented.

I had responded to the advertising and bought a ticket very early but I didn’t quite register the month of the show. When I arrived on a Tuesday in February I was surprised to see the theatre closed. On examining my ticket I realised I was a month too early. The advantage of going alone was nobody got to see my red face! I just turned around and went home. It had been my first train ride for awhile too! Sometimes I am just too enthusiastic.

The lifting of restrictions also meant we could take our planned trip to Dinner Plain in the high country. I had booked a lodge for five friends and myself so we could do some bushwalking. We were all so excited to be getting out of the city into some bush. I am very fond of Dinner Plain which is a small mountain village outside the National park and near Mt Hotham. The homes are somewhat controlled in their design so they blend into the environment. It is pretty quiet but the hotel has a couple of spas out the back in the open which we used after our walks. It was so indulgent but worth the relaxing effects on our rusty walking legs. We had planned three dinners in and one out at the hotel to celebrate Bill’s imminent birthday. Everyone cooked delicious meals with a rather strong emphasis on pulses. Consequently some of our walks became very fast jaunts between trees! It was totally delightful to be in such fresh air and the quiet was also soothing. The weather was sunny but the breezes were very cool and on one of the walks my hands were white with cold until I walked for a good half hour. I hadn’t taken a warm enough jacket for maintaining body heat while lunching. The grass on some of the paths was over my head or in my mouth. We were conscious of being alert for snakes because one of the workers at the village had remarked that there had been more snakes around this year. Perhaps another response to fewer humans in the environment during CoVid! I was glad of my gaters after I heard that.

On our return bowls got busy and I played in a few comps culminating in a tournament. This is when bowlers from everywhere play random teams at our club for prize money. It was a fun but tiring day. We started well but as the day wore on and the competition got stronger we could only claim the satisfaction of providing enough competition to stymie a complete walkover. I am competitive while playing and realise I need to practice more to improve. Still we met some delightful people and had a fun day despite the persistent rain.

Katrina ( my team mate) playing against the women champs and the guys from Chadstone who were very eager and serious about the prize money.

Lastly we have had some family catch ups and I have been going across town to watch Ziggy play soccer. A week flies past before you know it.

Little Marlo is now 5 months old. Nick is having tests to see how he has recovered from the Arteriovenous Malformation treatment, Jonathan and Clare are looking at houses to buy. We are starting to plan a walk in Western Australia and hope we can do it. Easter and school holidays are approaching. My garden is flourishing after my battle with caterpillars last year and I am bursting with delight over my perpetual spinach. Small things are still appreciated but now we have to engage with the big issues again. It is a struggle sometimes but change requires steady persistence. We have to keep trying.

18 th February Free again

I was quite devastated by the sudden lockdown we had last week and felt quite disoriented. I was surprised by how emotional I felt about it. We had planned a family lunch on the Saturday which of course had to be postponed. Ziggy couldn’t stay over and my trip to Dinner Plain with friends was potentially off. I felt so sad and sorry for the restaurants and shops who had been planning Valentine day and Chinese New Year celebrations.

Such a sudden shut down seemed so much harder. I felt confident that the outbreak would be controlled but … doubt was also there. Finally some serious talk of quarantine facilities being constructed like Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, and like all states had in the distant past. Considering it is twelve months since this pandemic started, it seems a no brainer that this would have been a good solution to securing quarantine ages ago. The review into the first massive failure of hotel quarantine highlighted staff movements being an issue, along with staff training yet we still see breaches, albeit quickly contained. Quarantining people in a big city seems totally illogical. Too much movement too many people too many opportunities for escape. I know we are continually learning but being nimble is not good enough when we come to a halt every time there is a breech. It succeeded this time but at what cost to the economy?

We had begun to feel pretty normal again but it is a reminder that lucky as we are, the virus is still lurking around. I can see it now, a quarantine complex built and opened just as the pandemic passes! That seems to be government’s usual way of responding to emergencies. Complacency will undermine all our hard won freedoms. Such quarantine camps could be used to bring back overseas students sooner and when the pandemic is passed they could operate as specialised induction camps to Australia or training camps for groups. They don’t have to be white elephants until the next pandemic.

During the lockdown I went on a TV binge and finally finished the series Spiral and started Bridgeton. I had that empty feeling you get when you finish a good book or great series. It has become such a part of your life that you need to adjust to its absence. I also reconfirmed my belief that sitting up till all hours watching TV is not great for your mental health. I just got tired and unsettled. I couldn’t focus on anything. I didn’t even read because I kept falling asleep!

I was still doing the gym and walking the dog but I felt weird. I have reverted to my old habits of early gym, dog walking, breakfast, French practice and then reading or going to the studio to paint. I have to remind myself sometimes that just being alive takes time. Washing cleaning, cooking, going to the physio or the blood bank, planning holidays, catching up with friends. Life is busy and full and being engaged with interests and other people IS life.

So we end this week with our plans intact. Family lunch, Ziggy staying over, packing for Dinner Plain and hiking in the mountains. All is well with the world again.