How to fit twelve months of socialising into three weeks

Monday: 12pm, lunch with grandparents, great aunt and cousin. 1.30 pm, outing with Grandma. Cherry cake in the French cafe. Order new glasses. 7pm, dinner out with Mum, Dad and brother.

Tuesday: 11am, make strawberry pancakes for brunch with Mum. 12pm, phone calls to friends. 1pm, walk in the park and coffee at the corner cafe with Mum. 3pm, meet with lovely writer and her husband. 6.30 pm, dinner with Mum and Dad. 8pm, phone calls with old friends. Invite them all over for Saturday. 9pm, bake two sponge rolls for Dad to take to work for a leaving do.

Wednesday: 11 am, meet old friend to look over poems. 1 pm, lunch with said friend. 3pm, coffee with lovely medievalist. 4pm, pick up new glasses. 4.30pm, coffee with another lovely academic. 6.30 pm, dinner with Mum and Dad. 7.30pm, phone calls to old friends. Invite the rest of them over for Saturday. 9pm, walk with Mum.

Thursday: 10 am, visit Nanna. 1 pm, lunch with Dad in beautiful seaside cafe. 6.30 pm, dinner with grandparents, parents, brother. 8pm, cakes and coffee with family and cousins.

And repeat.

Koalas and other friends

Not that koalas are particularly friendly, snoozing all the day on their gumtree perches, then growling and marauding all night. But they look pretty friendly. They make you smile. I went for a walk with some old friends yesterday and we saw four koalas, a kangaroo and an echidna.

It has been very wonderful seeing my old friends again. These are the friends I made in my late teens and early twenties, when we were discovering what the world was, for us, and who we were within it. We made big discoveries and serious mistakes; we saw each other several times a week and spoke on the phone late at night and loved each other intensely. We tried things out. We changed our minds. We went to the desert to count the stars and to the mountains to climb the grey rocks and taste the mist that wound between the trees. We walked on the beach in the rain. We carried each other. We disappointed each other. We changed. There was something intoxicating in our togetherness. It was not at all clear where we stopped and our friends began, where the boundaries of self lay. This was wonderful and dangerous. We could not keep it up.

When I left for England, nearly six years ago, I was leaving this.

Other times I have come back have felt somewhat strange. Part of me assumed that going to Europe was like entering a fairytale –  another world and another temporality – and that back home everything would remain exactly as I left it. This isn’t the case. People go on with their lives. They find partners and have babies and buy houses and write books. One of my dearest friends nearly died – he had a stroke and a brain tumor – and I wasn’t there.

This time has been different. We will never go back to the way it was ten years ago, and we don’t need to. But what remains of that time is a kind of effortless connection, an ease of being known, not just in the present moment but through time. Not that we need to plumb the depths and rehearse old memories, but the fact that they are there, beneath the surface, gives a different quality to the present.

I have little over a week to go. There are people I haven’t seen yet, whom I want to see. I need to ring them up and fill up the rest of my half-filled diary, eight more days. But I am hesitating. I suspect that if I curl up very small and very still, like the koala in the tree, time will stop moving, the days won’t disappear. But they always do.

Adelaide

I always find blogging more difficult from here. I guess it’s because many of the people who read the blog are just around the corner. But it’s been good. I’ve been hanging out with my grandparents, and my brother, and my old friends. And it’s good good good. There’s something about old friends which is just great. I also met my one year old second cousin who is cute.

Up until yesterday the days have been shiny and warm and bright. Yesterday it started to rain. After an initial grumpiness (yes I know Adelaide needs rain but not during my holiday) I let myself enjoy it. The white twisty trunk of the gum tree near my parents’ deck is now grey and slippery like wet silk. The air smells clean. The birds croak and chatter and fly about between the newly washed leaves. And the rain, when it comes, is sudden and fresh and noisy on the tin roof, and not like European rain at all.

Another funny thing happened last night. I was drinking a beer with my brother in the verander of a pub, and a very friendly lawyer kept popping out for a smoke. He chatted to my brother, and when he discovered that my brother is an artist, he gave him his card so he can invite him to his next exhibition. Then he asked me what I did, and when I said I had just finished a PhD in literature, he said his sister Kate is into literature too, she’s a poet. ‘Kate who?’ I asked, but I already knew. Kate Deller Evans and I had our first collections of poetry published together in New Poets Seven back in 2002. He said he was seeing her later, and he’d say hello. Living on the other side of the world, I have become unused to all this synchronicity!

Serendipity

The funniest thing happened today. After lunch with my Grandparents and my Mum and my two aunts and my cousin and my cousin’s cousin I wandered not very far down the street to Mostly Books. As it’s around the corner from my Grandma’s house, which is pretty much the hub of Adelaide life so far as my extended family are concerned, I’ve been going to this bookshop all my life. (There’s a sign on the wall of my Grandma’s kitchen that says: ‘There’s no place like home. Except Grandma’s.’ Which pretty much sums it up. ) The bookshop used to be in the lower level of the shopping centre, and had a side room just for children’s literature. It was next to a toyshop and opposite a bike shop. There was a fibreglass whale outside that as kids we adored clambering over. It’s funny how clearly I remember it all – looking at the books and then going next door to buy a bouncy ball or marbles or a ring of sparkly plastic. Since then the shopping centre has burned down and been rebuilt on a grand scale and is almost unrecognisable. The bookshop’s upstairs now, as is the whale, which looks much smaller and scrappier than I remember. Anyway…

I browsed around and picked up a copy of The Lamplighter by D. M. Cornish, and Undine and Breathe by Penni Russon. They didn’t have thirdcat’s book. I’ll order it next time I’m in. As I went to pay, the shop attendant asked ‘excuse me, do you write a blog called Northern Lights?’

Turns out she came across it by googling Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline, and has been reading since then! I must have blushed bright red, and held up the queue of customers behind me long enough to discover that she did her undergraduate degree at Adelaide University, like me, and wrote her honours thesis on David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life (one of my favourite books in the world) and Ovid’s poetry, which is a marvellous idea for a thesis if there ever was one. So, Rachel, if you’re reading this, hello!

I also spluttered something about how Penni writes a blog too…

So that was pretty funny and made my day. It also made me wonder how many other people are reading this but never comment. So if you are reading this, you are officially invited to say hello!

And I thought – how strange, how my blog interweaves with my past and present homes and lives. How, in that one encounter, so many threads came together! I wouldn’t even have been looking for Penni’s books if I hadn’t discovered her blog. There is a blog connection with D. M. Cornish too. He is a friend of a friend of mine, and after I left a comment on his blog, he looked at some of my photos and asked if he could use one of them as inspiration for a scene in one of his books!

A couple of days ago, this blog was two years old. Over that time, I’ve reconnected with old friends, and made many new ones. People I have never met, but whom I cannot describe any other way than as friends. Some have asked to read bits of my writing, and Clare Souter even sent me a beautiful painting. So. Here’s to blogs and the internet. Social and creative spaces which are not removed from reality, but refract and transform it.

Larger than life

I’m loving the internet right now. I’m in Singapore airport, exploiting the free wireless. After twelve hours on a plane, preceded by two days of dazed wandering around London, preceded by seven hours on a plane, it’s quite remarkable to be so connected. In the past couple of hours, I’ve had an email conversation with Michael, a facebook chat with my uncle, a skype chat with Mum, as well as exchanging facebook comments with cousins and long lost friends, watching the live status updates of my Leeds friends, discovering friendly comments on my last blog post, and reacquainting myself with the blogs of my blogfriends. So I find myself surprisingly connected to all my worlds, whilst – relatively speaking – in the middle of nowhere! Everyone even seems to be awake…

I have been delaying writing about America because I don’t know how to squeeze it all down to a blog post! But I will use this hour before I need to head over to my gate, and see how far we get.

We started off in San Diego, where you can stand on the jetty and photograph the surfers. Just a little north of the city is a brilliant coastal paragliding spot, Torrey Pines. We didn’t have our gliders with us this time, but watched a couple of people making the most of less than perfect conditions.

San Diego was brilliant. We’ll be back.

Then we drove inland, to the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful and strange and overwhelming. It’s exhausting being close to something that you can’t fit into your senses.

I loved the colours. The way the rocks rainbow out beneath you.

But by the end of the afternoon, it was definitely too much to take in. I sat on a stone wall while M wandered round the corner to take more photos. I stifled the irrational fear that he was about to slip and tumble down it. I’m not usually scared of heights. But this was something else. I thought of the David Hockney painting. I watched the tourists from every corner of the globe. Nothing could dent its immensity.

To be continued… (Many many more larger than life encounters to be disclosed…)

New header

Couldn’t have the poor frozen ducks any more. I wonder if the harbour is thawed yet. I got back from the states yesterday morning, stayed with my cousin in London last night, and am off to Australia tonight. America was awesome. I’ll tell you about it soon…