Books and places

I’ve just started reading Hilary Mantel’s Experiment in Love, and it’s making me nostalgic for England:

In summer, when I was a small girl, we would take a bus to the outskirts of town, and walk in the hills, rambling along the bridle paths in clear green air. We were above the line of the mill chimneys; like angels, we skimmed their frail tops (p. 11).

Of course, I was nostalgic for England even before I ever visited there (not counting being born there), having grown up with tales of the old country from my father and my Nanna. Now, however, the nostalgia is my own – for that wonderful first year in York which I had set aside for adventure, and the wonderful years after that, enjoying the town and the countryside with Michael. Ah, England in summer, with thick green grass, and little stone walls…

Incidentally I think I am developing a crush on Hilary Mantel (after loving Wolf Hall last year) and intend to read every one of her novels…

Last night I finished Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which impressed and intrigued me. Its communistic leanings are especially fascinating given the intense anti-communist, individualist sentiments here that I am only now beginning to get a feel for. I had no idea that if you earned more money here you don’t get into a higher tax bracket, for example. Back to the novel, however… I really enjoyed his descriptions of landscape and animals – especially the animals – and I liked his characters so much that when I got half way through I didn’t want to keep reading for fear of bad things happening to them. Towards the end, though, the characters seemed to become more symbolic, and you got the sense he was really laboring to make his point. (Almost like the didactic sections of War and Peace.) Still, I enjoyed it greatly and am keen to read East of Eden at some point. The last paragraph really took me by surprise – extreme breastfeeding, anyone?

In non-book related news, I am really enjoying life here at the moment. Felix’s night-time sleeping has deteriorated badly, so I’ve been quite tired, but am feeling much more zen about it just now. There is a really fantastic mother’s group which meets up several times a week in different places, and I’ve been enjoying getting to know a bunch of really interesting women and their children. If I want the car for the day I need to drop Michael at work in the morning, but he works only five minutes away from the downtown river walk, so my new routine is to drop him off and then park at the river for a walk before the day heats up too much. Felix naps, breastfeeds with a view of the waterfalls, and often has a roll around on his blanket on the grass afterwards. When we’re at home my main task at the moment is flipping him onto his back – he rolls onto his tummy, has a look around, gets stuck, then complains loudly. Repeat. Though today at the river he did manage to roll back the other way twice, with a bit of help from the slope of the ground.

Most excitingly, my parents are on their way over here and should arrive tomorrow night. I can’t wait!

Speaking of reading, here is Felix having a go at the Sunday paper, aged 20 weeks:

Yorkshire

We had a beautiful beautiful trip to York and Leeds last weekend. I saw many old friends. The places themselves are like old friends, and it was so refreshing to see them. It was lovely to see my old supervisors, although everyone in UK universities is extremely depressed and worried at the moment, because the government is cutting state support of universities by up to 75%, which will have a devastating impact… My supervisor reckons it will be the biggest change in the university system in the UK since the 1960s when they made many of the old polytechnics into universities. He guesses that now many of them will have to go back, or close down… Student fees are set to at least double. It’s also a pretty impossible situation for many of my friends who, like me, just finished PhDs, but now can’t find any casual teaching work (which you need to build your CV), because when people go on leave or retire at the moment they aren’t replaced – the remaining staff just have to work harder. Which in turn effects their own ability to research and publish, which will impact on their university’s standing and ranking, etc etc. ¬†Anyway, my supervisor reckons it’s a brilliant time to take time off and have a baby!

Depressing economic situation aside, it was lovely to be there. The towns and countryside of Northern England feel so much more settled, established and cultivated than Norway does. The houses are brick and stone, the fields have hedgerows, ancient abbeys crumble slowly next to the rivers. It feels loved and lived in.

I also did lots of shopping. I love maternity wear. Finally I can buy t-shirts and jumpers that are really long enough for me! We were lucky enough to get two days of brilliant sunshine, and on Sunday we took our old friend Vic to Bolton Abbey, and did the first section of one of our favourite hikes ever.

Not much more to say really, except that if you’re ever in the area, you really should go there. You can do a short walk of an hour or so along the river, or you can keep going on up through the ‘valley of desolation’, climbing up to arthur’s seat for the most incredible views of the North Yorkshire Moors. (Wasn’t up for that this time but have done it several times.)

When we got home the kittens had survived being fed by the neighbour for five days, and were very pleased to see us, curling up tightly on our laps and refusing to leave for hours.

Whales and worlds

Today the light was soft. Sunlight hazed through billowy clouds, gilding the edges of the harvested fields, getting caught in the golden trees that have already started losing their hair. English weather really. Most mornings, frost glitters on everything, and once the mist clears, the sky is blue as ice.

Quite a lot has happened in the past two weeks. I had my last day of my summer job of proofreading and newsletter writing. Finishing up was actually a bit sad. We made a seriously brilliant newsletter though.

I held a two week old baby. She was beautiful.

I got back from the UK yesterday, a five day trip that started with an essay exam in Leeds, continued through a packed two days of catching up with friends in Leeds and York, and culminated in a lovely weekend involving curry and beer in London with my brother and two cousins and their wives. Family is just the best.

I also squeezed in an exhibition on T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber in the British Library (did you know, there was only ever one Faber but they thought that two Fabers sounded more distinguished). Seeing type-written letters between Eliot and Pound and Stephen Spender and a whole host of other poets was just cool.

And on Tuesday morning I went to the Turner Prize exhibition with my brother. Probably not quite worth the eight quid but fascinating all the same. My favourite was a partial whale skeleton that you could only view through slits in the wall so that you were taken aback by shocking details and strange angles. It was called ‘Leviathan Edge’. The artist had also reproduced Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculptures in coal dust. My brother preferred a different installation involving an atomized aeroplane scattered on the floor like a desert landscape, and wall sculptures made of a mix of plastic and powdered brain. Actually both installations seemed to be about trapped flight, and movement, and time…

Speaking of flight, that’s what Michael’s been doing – brushing the sunset with his wings. He’s in the States for a conference (and other things), but I couldn’t join this time because of commitments.

I got home last night to a fat package covered in stamps with whales on them. It was a copy of the brand new Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature, which my Grandma very very kindly posted to me. Another world, more than a thousand pages long. I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

I’m happy to be back – happy to be at the kindergarten, and to have two days a week free now for writing. Let’s see where it takes me.

Of Love and Faraway Places

I’ve been back exactly a week and I’m still catching up on posts from when I was in England. There’s something I want to write about the medieval congress too, but that will have to wait till the weekend. Because nearly three weeks ago, before my graduation and before the congress, my cousin got married.

Richard moved from Adelaide to London shortly after I moved from Adelaide to the UK, six years ago. I started a Masters in York, he started a job in a bank (which he has since ditched to work at Google). It’s been so nice, all that time, to have a familiar face in London, not to mention a spare futon on which to crash when necessary. We’ve been friends a very long time. He’s about three years older than me, and I remember insisting on sending him an invitation to my birthday party when I was very small. ‘Mum, how do you spell Richard?’ ‘Just how it sounds, dear.’ ‘W-I-T-C-H-E-A-R-D’. Unfortunately my spelling has not improved greatly since then.

When I lived in York, first at the University Hall of Residence and then with Michael, he used to come up and visit us. Once, we made a snowman outside of Durham cathedral. Actually, he was the first member of my family to meet Michael (who’s German). ‘I like him a lot’, I confessed over a cup of tea and a scone in the York railway museum. ‘I can tell’, he said. ‘You can’t stop smiling.’ And last year Richard met the girl of his dreams, who happens to be from Russia, and now he’s married her. I think it’s brilliant. And I’m not the only one.

The wedding was great. Relaxed and heart-felt. Lots of family came across from Australia, making it a big reunion – my cousins and aunts and uncles from Adelaide, and my Dad’s cousins from Lancashire. Just in case you’re curious, here we all are when we were considerably smaller.

The priest who married them is also a journalist, and he mentioned my cousin and his bride in an article he wrote the following week:

I married a lovely young couple on Saturday. They very much represented our globalised parish today: the groom was of Australian extraction, working for Google; his bride was Russian. It’s optimistic these days for a priest to expect to marry couples in their “local” church, whatever that can mean. But it was a joyous occasion and a privilege to dispatch them on their journey of matrimony.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this ‘globalized parish’, this globalized world that we live in. The webs of love stretched across it, pulled taut. London is a long way from Adelaide, or Moscow for that matter. As Norway is from Germany or Australia. Richard visited Australia with his fiance in April, but they were engaged before his family had met her. Michael and I had been together a year (and living together for more than half that time) before my Mum met him. (This was a bit of a challenge for her, of which I was blissfully oblivious.)

The problem with these new loves is that they take us – or keep us – very far from home. And to get everyone we love in the same place is difficult, if not impossible – though at this wedding we gave it a pretty good shot! Here’s Richard with his sister, who’s still in Adelaide (and also a very close, very old friend of mine), and his brother, who’s soon to move to Perth with his wife and small daughter. They adore each other.

And here’s me and my brother, of whom I’ve sadly not seen a great deal for several years, but it’s been just brilliant to spend more time with him recently.

But family, it seems, is stretchable, flexible, adaptable. You can’t stop love springing up in unexpected places, and why would you want to? Who knows where it will take you.

Oh noes!

I was going to write a blog post tonight, really I was. But it is late and I am tired and we have to get up early tomorrow to drive to the airport. Off to London, for my cousin’s wedding, then up to Leeds for the IMC and then my graduation! Much excitement and I can’t wait to catch up with my brother and my cousins in London…

It’s been a very busy few weeks since I posted. I have a summer job at M’s research institute, coming up with a newsletter prototype and coming to grips with InDesign. It’s brilliant. I’ve also been applying for academic jobs in the UK, interviewing people and writing an ethnography assignment, sussing out academic contacts in Norway and intending very muchly not to leave my conference paper to the last minute again. Oops. I’ve also been offered a part time job in a kindergarten and I’ve been dithering and dithering. It was really hot for two weeks – lots of cycling and swimming in the evenings. This week the rain has almost been a relief. Very much looking forward to the UK. And hoping to do some conference-papering on the plane tomorrow…