Very excited

This week, some old friends from Adelaide are visiting and we will take them up to the mountains. The same places we took the parents, but weeks have passed and seasons have shifted and it will be different.

Then I’m heading back to England, for two conferences. This in London, and this in Leeds. Here is my session. Very many wonderful people will be there. I can’t wait.

(To clarify: as I told my Mum on skype about the prospect of listening to a day’s worth of papers on Australian animals, M likened my enthusiasm to that of a child’s excitement about going to the zoo. Ahem.)

Then it’s straight back here for serious thesis writing, and unpacking of boxes which hopefully will have arrived by then.

Three people came for dinner last night. Between the five of us, we had strong connections to Norway, Germany, Australia, England, Poland, France, India and the USA. Fun. And we have been cycling, zooming past the lakes in the warm air. It is good to be here, good indeed.

A stitch in time

The lovely Nancy drifted over here a while ago and fell in love with my Henry. So much so, that she decided to have a go herself! She’s working a slightly different pattern, but it’s just as wonderful. Go and have a look! I promised to show her my progress, which isn’t a lot given the time that has passed, but it’s slow going and there are many other things which demand my attention. I remember so clearly starting Henry’s left sleeve (well, his right, our left) in our lounge room in York. This cross-stitch has accompanied me through many houses! I stitched some more last night, stitching myself into this new life, here.

(M, last night: ‘That’s a real labour of love. What do you think about when you’re stitching it, how nice I am?’
me: ‘I’m more concentrating on not making a mistake…’)

We got back to Norway on Tuesday. It is good to be here, though most of my stuff is still stuck in ‘uncontrollable customs delays’. Why oh why won’t Norway join the EU? There’s a sign at the airport: ‘Who needs the EU when you have Norwegian?’ (That’s the name of the airline). Hmmmm.

Well, I have a conference paper to finish and a thesis to contemplate. See you!

Packing

And posting things, and finding homes for random stuff, and giving away books (sniff), and gathering library books, and saying goodbye to people and places. And cleaning the house. And getting parking fines with my bicycle (what’s all that about?). Back soon…

Cities

Yeah, er, felt a bit flat on Friday. Better now. Had an awesome weekend with my parents, who have now sadly left. I feel refreshed. We took a car load of stuff to the tip, and three boxes of books to the second hand shop. The house is feeling emptier. Some friends came to claim my lovely bookcase, and I felt sad when it left. It was the ‘nice thing’ we bought to cheer us up when we moved to Leeds. And it did. It made this room more than perfect, and this room pretty good as well. It’s hardly irreplaceable, and in Halden, other bookcases await me.

When I wasn’t stressed to the point of tears last week, I had some wonderful conversations with quite a variety of people, and made some surprising connections. I’ve discovered that my research interests overlap with those of some other students I know, which is quite exciting. We’ll be able to help each other! And build new things! And although it feels slightly strange to be leaving when so many things are finally coming together, I know I’ll be able to carry these connections with me. They’re like seeds. I hope they grow. (These friendships can last! Today on the way to Manchester I met up with an old MA friend, who lives right next to those green green fields, and it was lovely.)

I went to York (sigh – best place on earth) with my parents on Saturday afternoon, and tonight we had dinner in Manchester (they’re flying out of Manchester early tomorrow). Manchester is a much nicer city than Leeds – it’s sturdy and expansive (Leeds is just confused). There’s a Manchester wheel now, and we soared high above the city.

They’re off to New York, now. I’ll miss them.

Visions

Sitting in this room, all my books in place, all my photocopied articles within arm’s reach, the printer nestled on the trestle beneath the desk, my thoughts clear, calm, interested, alive. Connections buzzing. The rest of my thesis slotting together like lego, like a fantastic castle.

Cycling past the long lake that flashes between the birch trees in the strong evening light. Cycling fast, feeling the smoothness of the road between my hands, the air in my throat.

Standing at the top of the fortress, at the top of the world.

Stretching out on the futon in the lounge, watching dvds on the projector screen. Not wanting to be anywhere else.

Hold onto these thoughts.

Any sort of leaving is hard. The objects imprinted with use. The small fragments of kindness I can’t bear to let go of. Everything in chaos. My parents are leaving in a couple of days and I’ve been too stressed to even spend proper time with them this week. My Nanna unwell, and too far away. But… Lists. Lables. Strong tape. An itinerary including the last detail so I don’t even need to think any more.

And… Moments of grace. Phone conversations with my brother and my cousin. And yesterday, coffee with a girl I hardly knew but we suddenly realised our worlds touched. Unplanned, unforced connections. Quiet, and alive.

Hold onto these thoughts.

Exploding Brain

One month from now, Friday July 11, I will be sitting in Manchester airport, waiting to be called for boarding. All I will need to do is take one flight and two train rides to get home. It will be great.

My parents are here till Sunday. One lot of boxes went off yesterday, but I need to send another lot next week. This weekend, they’ll help me take some boxes of books to the second hand shop, and some stuff I don’t need to the tip. This is good. I’m not sure what to do with my desk and my office chair, don’t think they’ll fit in the car. The weekend after, with my housemate, I have to empty and clean this house completely as we are all moving out. M’s arriving on Saturday, and he’ll help me carry some stuff back to Norway on Tuesday. I then have one week in Halden. I’ll have to unpack everything. But I don’t suppose it will take all week. Then we are going back up north with some old friends of mine from Adelaide. I was so, so excited when I worked out I would be able to see them, but right now, it’s feeling like one thing too many. Five days later, on the way back, M will drop me off at the airport, and I fly back to London. I have a one day conference in London, and then a three day conference in Leeds. And then – bliss – an easy train ride to Manchester airport, and I’ll be on my way home.

And all this on top of the hectic month I’ve just had.

In between, I have to sort out five million other things: I need to review an article for a journal (why are they trusting me with this anyway?), find documentation to prove M and I lived together for two years before he moved to Norway, work out how to renew my Australian driver’s license, find accommodation for the London/Leeds trip I mentioned above, finish conference paper for said conferences (luckily I’m giving the same one at both), sort out funding and flights for another conference in September, work out what happened to my pay for teaching last semester, all that packing and cleaning, say goodbye to the lovely Leeds people… Oh, and what was the last thing? That’s right – THESIS. The one thing that’s causing all the little fuses in my brain to snap.

I guess the most important thing is to have a clear plan, and make sure I bring back to Halden with me everything I need. Do some thorough writing preparation, rather than writing as such. I miss the writing. I miss seeing progress. Can’t be helped. I have a whole clear day now, to begin to make a dent in this scary list. Lets go!

One month from now…

Bolton Abbey

Welcome to Bolton Abbey, one of the best places in the world. Every man and his dog were there on Sunday (hmmm, is that meant to be ‘were’ or ‘was’?). And wives, and children, and young adventurers.

Watching them cross the stepping-stones was hilarious.

I’ve crossed several times, in the good old days when there was a stone missing in the middle, which made everything a lot more interesting.

Once you surmount this obstacle, you can go for a stroll in the woods by the river. You can trudge through the Valley of Desolation, onwards and upwards until you hit the dales. And then, you might see this:

Or this:

(Don’t know this man, apart from that he helped us with directions on the way and was sitting in a cool spot.) Or this:

It’s one of the best walks in the book (round trip around nine miles), and we loved it, even if our bones ached afterwards. And even if, despite my joy at being the one in charge of the map for a change, I took us back the long way round…

More thoughts on 29

(And another gratuitous cake photo.)

I was going to write a long reflective post last night, but found I was completely exhausted, and went to sleep instead. So.

1. Birthday conversations.

M (on skype): happy birthday!
me: Thanks! My housemate made me a cake.
M: I made you a cake too.
me: oh did you? What kind is it?
M: um, it’s a very nice cake. A chocolate cake. Very light and delicate, filled with – er – cloud-cream. Yep, cloud-cream. And it’s transparent, too.

Grandma (on the phone): happy birthday!
me: thanks! and thanks for the present – I got it early. I haven’t spent any of the money yet, but I’ve eaten all the chocolates [completely amazing Swiss Glory truffles].
Grandma: oh, Granddad knew you would have eaten all the chocolates.

My brother (on email): happy birthday mel. i have to go to bed now. working at a book sale tomorrow. if only i had read as many books as you. love j.

2. The day.

My parents are here at the moment, and they completely spoiled me. We went to the David Hockney gallery in Salt Aire (something Dad has been dreaming of doing for years), and had dinner at Betty’s in Harrogate (brought back memories of last year, G&G!). I had rosti with smoked salmon, a glass of pimm’s, a glass of raspberry lemonade, rose-petal tea and a vanilla slice. And the icecream and chocolate sauce from Mum’s dessert. Yum yum yum yum yum. And then we went for a walk by the river in Knaresborough. Mum remembered taking me for evening walks in an English pram in Birmingham when I was a few weeks old.

My parents gave me aeroplane earings made by my cousin’s boyfriend and a green walking shirt. Because I got these early (a technique I recommend) they gave me more presents on the day – a veggie cookbook, socks that don’t match, and a green spoon with a hole in it. M’s giving me the best present ever – a new reserve parachute. Cool.

3. Thoughts.

Usually, on a birthday, I think back over the past year. But as 29 is so close to 30, in the way that, in marking undergraduate essays, a 69 is practically a 70, I’ve been thinking more about the decade. The past year has been a wonderful blur of travel, work and play. So, I suppose, has the last decade. Ten years is quite a long time. I’ve spent half of it in England. I’ve spent most of it at university. I’ve changed a lot. I have a feeling the next ten years might be very different. Bring it on!

Today, despite growing panic about my neglected thesis, I’m off to do one of my favourite walks with Mum and Dad. Then I’m going to get hold of some new scales (because my old ones broke and I need to weigh the boxes) and finish packing the boxes to send to Norway. And next week, I’m going to squeeze all the stuff I need to organize to the edges of the day, and I’m going to make some progress on this thesis.

Chapters, sunlight, flowers

As may be apparent, it’s been a bit hard to concentrate on my phd lately. I managed to read through the whole thing two weeks ago. Barring one chapter, it’s actually not all that bad. The Webb chapter still needs an illuminating spark, but I can almost touch it. The Murray chapter, which opens the thing, is packed with interesting ideas, and is definitely the right place to begin. The other writers I look at refuse to use medievalism to create an Australian identity in quite the way he does. My Randolph Stow chapter, which was such a joy to write, is still my favourite, but at 24,000 words it needs to lose 5000. It will do this quite happily, as the second half is a little drawn out. The dreaded Webb chapter is third in line. And Kevin Hart is a good way to finish, though – again – the last third of this chapter also needs some smoothing, straightening, redefining.

Overall, the experience of reading the thesis was like listening to an orchestra tuning up. All the instruments are crying out, and there is exciting potential, but they need to be brought together, tuned, made to sing. And then there will be music indeed.

I got back to Leeds on Tuesday, and exactly three weeks from then I will be moving to Norway. Yes I’ll be back two weeks later for the Medieval Congress, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the next two and a half weeks I have to empty my room and my house, post all the important things to Norway, and dispose or donate the rest of them. So. One box at a time. And next week I will think hard about my thesis and my introduction, and scour the library shelves for anything I’ve missed, and check my folders of resources for missing pages and mistakes. And all will be well.

In Halden right now everything is in bloom. Suddenly. In the week we were gone, pink and purple flowers swarmed the hill to the fortress. Now lupins crowd the roadsides like birthday candles. And what are they called – those round things that you blow on and the seeds float away – there are flocks of them glowing like moons, waving all their wishes in the evening light. My head is still full of mountains and green fjords and endless sun. Yes, all will be well.

Houses

For the past year or so, I’ve had recurring dreams of houses. They are houses I’m moving into in Leeds. They are perfect. I always have an improbably enormous bedroom. Or two rooms, linked together. But then my subconscious kicks into overdrive, adding extra rooms and features until the houses become weird: chandeliers, cobwebs, medieval chapels. The last house I dreamed of had a dark lounge room stuffed with bricabrac – ten foot medieval tapestries, and a near life-size statue of a knight on a horse. As the house grows, I get confused. Sometimes I am lost and I can’t find the house.

The last house I dreamed of had a garden and a lemon tree. It was shiny in the sun. I wanted it so badly.

Tagged!

Some facts about me! meme

Tagged by Elsewhere. So here we go:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player tags 5 people and posts their name, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

What was I doing 10 years ago?

Half way through my second year at university (BA majoring in English). Moving house. Getting a bad dose of the flu. Making friends. Writing poetry. Stressing. Reading the bible a lot. About to turn 19, about which I have no memory whatsoever.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world:

1. Freia milk chocolate.

2. Freia easter eggs (they come with a spoon, you eat the top off and they’re filled with yummy white stuff).

3. Freia dark chocolate with roasted sesame seeds (a new obsession).

4. Cherry ripes.

5. Fruchocs.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world (erm, all of the above, when I can get my hands on them. But now for some non-chocolate alternatives…):

6. kneip brod with brown cheese

7. cashew nuts

8. raspberries

9. brownies (ok, i was trying to be non-chocolate, really I was…)

10. waffles

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:

1. Buy houses in my favourite places. But I’m not sure more than one place would really work. I’d have to decide…

2. Travel the world with a camera, a notebook and a paraglider. Maybe we can also hire some little people to carry the paragliders up the mountains.

3. Let Michael buy lots of gadgets (and he can come along, too).

4. Help nice people out with their mortgages (yeah a little house obsessed right now).

5. Pretty much exactly what I’m doing at the moment, I think. That’s how I ended up here in the first place. I thought: if I could do anything in the world, if there were no restrictions, what would I do?

Five jobs that I have had:

1. Homecare worker (shower/dressing/toilet assistant, hair dryer, cook, house cleaner, spider catcher, clothes-washer, wheel-chair pusher, gardener, untrained hydro-therapist, masseuse, driver, shopper, film-watcher, motivator, listener, companion).

2. Pear picker.

3. Tutor for undergraduate English students.

4. Person who puts forms in alphabetical order and sorts through and discards obsolete scholarship applications.

5. Standing in a train station waving a poster for five hours, giving directions to confused medievalists.

Three of my habits:

1. Drinking tea.

2. Biting fingernails.

3. Forgetting things.

Five places I have lived:

1. York

2. Leeds

3. Halden

4. Mt Gambier

5. Adelaide (Hawthorndene, Belair, Torrens Park, Kensington Gardens)

Five people I want to get to know better: (A nice way of saying TAG!)

Troppo, but she doesn’t have a blog. Sigh.

Liz, but she doesn’t have a blog either (hint hint).

The Baker and the Curry Maker (yeah I know you’re a food blog, but this is half about food, right?)

Doctor S (Not sure if these memes are really your style, but you never know…)

Librarian Idol (a meme is as good a way as any to delurk I suppose)

Galaxy

Thirdcat (yeah I know that’s seven not five but the first two don’t count unless they really decide to do something about it!)

The Great Parent Adventure

We all look happy, right? I must admit, I was slightly apprehensive about spending a week with all four parents in the Norwegian mountains, especially as my parents don’t speak a word of German, and M’s parents don’t speak more than two or three phrases of English. And then there’s the different backgrounds, the different ways of doing things, the stress involved in spending time in such close quarters with family you only see once or twice a year. (With my parents it’s usually only once a year, but this year it’s twice.) But when one family lives in Australia, one in Germany, and we live in Norway/England – how else can you do it? Anyway, it turned out great. As Moni put it: ‘wir haben uns gut unterhalten’. Which means they understood each other. And they liked each other. And it was fun.

We saw some amazing fjords, and passed through Jotunheimen, the home of the giants. And there were reindeer, with their babies, grazing on one of the mountain passes. They are funny things, with their blunt faces and shaggy coats.

We passed glaciers, and plateaus of snow, and speckled mountains, and great lakes melting in jagged slabs. Rainbows bloomed in waterfalls, and orchards perched on the slopes of fjords. We weren’t quite north enough for the midnight sun, but even here it didn’t get dark – the sky was pale at midnight, and the sun surged through the curtains at three a.m., blazing all day on the snow and the rock and the green.

More photos here. It was amazing how quickly the landscape changed – in some places dry, others lush, others icy. Sometimes the mountains were spiky cathedrals, and other times they were rounded like whales. Bright streams gurgled through the valleys. The air was clear and the colours were pure, and it all felt so old, even as it flushed with spring. Yep. We like it here. And it’s fun to share it.