Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: Coburg

Cuts, colours and the magic of Christmas

Some say the bloom of the Jacaranda tree heralds the beginning of Christmas, or cherries in the shops (this is Australia I’m talking about), or children lighting candles. In a less innocent world, we speak of Black Friday, online shopping, and Santa’s Sled wending its way from China. For me, there is another, magical Advent marker.

Namely, the Christmas cut and colour.

What? You didn’t know of this was a phenomena! You clearly haven’t worked in the public library service. We are a female dominated industry and some many of us are no longer young. One by one, from around mid December, my colleagues and I, take turns to flex off work early. Only to return, the following morning, a brighter, crisper version of ourselves.

I’m not working at a single library branch anymore. So this year, the ritual has been less apparent. But it is happening, as surely as the sun rises in the east, I know it is happening and, as I’m going to a work party tomorrow, the need to get my act together has been looming.

My husband says I should abandon the pretence, go grey naturally (aka, keep him company). But here’s the thing. Sometimes, when I tell people I’m a Mam-gu, they say:

‘Oh, no, surely not! You’re way too young.’

Which I kind of like. It makes up for the fact that people keep asking me if I’m pregnant (gotta take the good with the bad). When people stop making these comments, I will surrender my youthful image. Until then, I’m a slave to the Christmas cut and colour.

I have a great hairdresser in Coburg. My first haircut after moving north, my son said:

‘Wow! You look like you haven’t been going to the same suburban hairdresser for twenty years.’

Having my hair cut in Coburg, is an altogether different experience to the chatty, know-everything-about-you event in the leafy suburbs. My hairdresser is from the middle-east. Her salon is filled with family and friends. She talks on her mobile phone, while cutting my hair, switching back and forth between languages. I’m no one. Just a fly on the wall. But I keep going back. Even when the salon had its windows shot in by the underworld, I kept my appointment. A good haircut is worth the risk. It is also expensive (far more expensive than its same-for-twenty-years equivalent). Which is why I now do the colouring myself.

I started dyeing my own hair while in Wales. My friend, Veronica, and I, decided, we’d cut the cost, by sharing the packet of hair dye. Veronica’s sister had been a hairdresser. So she had a little bowl and brush. It was my idea to turn a plastic glove inside out so we had a right hand one each (still pretty proud of that thought). Halving the cost seemed like a good idea at the time. Next day we both noticed the cover was, well, let’s say a little…patchy.

A month later, I lashed out, bought an entire packet and did the dyeing without help. But I didn’t have a little bowl and brush and I was in a rush so I could scuttle back to my room before the other Maelor residents caught me (gotta keep up the pretence). Trouble is, I didn’t have a good mirror in my room. So I didn’t notice the dye all over my left cheek. The end result, a dark-haired woman who looked like she’d been beaten about the face with a rolling pin.

With this colourful (pun intended) history you’d think I’d be begging the hairdresser to do my Christmas cut and colour. But, no, I learned to use a drill in Wales, unblock toilets, catch bats, paint walls, frame artwork, pack sculptures, take down exhibitions, eat chips with cheese, and do second-to-none hill starts. I owed it to myself not to back down. I applied the dye, without mishap, wiped my face, the bathroom sink, the floor, and, oh, yes, maybe also the shower screen. I sat, with the arms of my glasses wrapped in cling-wrap, while reading Dyddiau Olaf Owain Glyndwr (that’s gotta be a first for the author).

Now, it’s done. My youthful facade is fully restored. The nativity scene is set up in the living room, Jacaranda’s are blooming, the cherries are in the shops. Tomorrow, I will turn up at work, a brighter, crisper version of myself and no one will mention the cut and colour, or the wisps of grey I’ve somehow missed, because we have a ritual to maintain, part of the time-honoured Christmas magic. So let the festivities begin!

Nadolig Llawen pawb a blwyddyn newydd da i chi i gyd!

Border protection: in which the family pooch takes on the local authorities

In case you didn’t realise, Liz has recently spent seven months in Wales. And in case you didn’t also realise, I was for a time effectively homeless. After all my faithful years of service, after dog sitting four growing children, not to mention the parade of exchange students. My plight was reduced to an ad on Facebook. 

Fortunately, Jo, responded, and I must say she treated me in the manner in which a family Pooch should be treated. I slept on her bed every night, had cuddles with Ella, and went to play with Midge during the day. It was doggy heaven. 

But now Liz is back and I have to put up with with Andrew again.

It may surprise you to know Andrew’s dislike of me is mutual. He took my baby safety gates down while Liz was away and refused to put them up again. Not in the shed. Or down the side of the house. Liz wasn’t too impressed. But Andrew was determined. They’d work together from now on, he said, make sure I didn’t get out. 

Yippee! I thought, escape is imminent.

So far, my efforts to break free have been fruitless. Not one escape, not one, tense, ‘look what you’ve done now!’ exchange. It seems seven months apart may have diffused the ‘it’s me or the dog bomb.’ Meanwhile, I get left home with Andrew while Liz is out speaking Welsh in Melbourne’s pubs. 


Until I remembered under the house strategy.

Liz doesn’t like me crawling under the house. Especially when she has just paid Aussie Pooch to hydro bath me. But I can’t think of a better way to get rid of that horrible clean dog feeling. I roll in the dirt, gnaw old bones and pick up fleas and, most important of all, when Liz gets home she starts up the ‘maybe we should put up a gate’ argument.

Andrew won’t consider it, of course. His strategy was to build barriers, first with chicken wire, then with planks, and finally with a kind of scorched earth policy in which he flattened the vegetation along the entire underside of the house and walled it up. ‘Hey Liz,’ I said. ‘Is he related to Donald Trump?’

It took me a few weeks to get through that round of border protection. But last night I succeeded. There was only one problem, I couldn’t get out. Andrew had screwed my escape route closed. I had to lie under their bedroom floorboards yapping until Liz crawled out of bed, found a screw driver (yes, she learned to use one in Wales) and set me free. 

‘Biskit,’ she said. ‘Give up. You can’t win this.’

I know she’s wrong. Because I’ve tallied up the hours Andrew has spent ‘protecting’ the side of the house. And it’s quite a few. Added to which, one day soon, he’s going to forget to close the gate and I will break free. At which point, the ‘it’s me or the dog’ bomb will start ticking all over again.

Angry Birds: how I nearly failed the Aunty test

One of my more recent pleasures is having my brother and his family settle in Melbourne. This means I get to be Aunty Liz to my nephews, let’s call them, Gideon and Jonathan. I have in fact, been Gideon’s aunty for eighteen years but the small matter of him living in Africa limited tangible expressions of this relationship. When asked, recently, whether the boys could stay with us for the weekend, we agreed readily. Though, of course, I had forgotten how much energy was involved in managing teenagers. Especially when the said teenagers have quite distinct needs. 

Gideon is small and particular and funny and needs loads of time to himself. Jonathan is sporty and outgoing and busy trying to establish himself in Melbourne. He also eats a lot. I had forgotten how much fuel teenage boys need. I shopped for Shapes and bread and fruit but Jonathan got home before me and Andrew had recently flown in from Huston, Texas, so there wasn’t enough food in the house. 

Right, I thought, this is going to take a bit more forethought than I had envisaged.


We had an ESL dinner at church which meant I had cooked a risotto. This, combined with curry, rice and some home baked muffins did the trick for an hour or two. Andrew, due to the residual effects of jet lag, volunteered for the early Saturday morning sports run while I looked after Gideon (I am so good at this morning routine that I can do it in my sleep, literally). Having to take my hearing aids out the night before, helps significantly. I woke at a not unreasonable hour Saturday morning and thought, why is Gideon in the shower? Half and hour later, when I woke again, I thought, why is he still in the shower? Turns out the Wiggles played, over and over, down low, sounds like running water. Who would have thought? 

Around lunch time, Gideon and I met Andrew and Jonathan in our local cafe for brunch. Yes, turns out we are a hipster aunt and uncle. We asked the boys what they would like to do that evening. Jonathan wanted to see Captain Marvell, Gideon, Angry Birds. We searched for a cinema in which both movies were playing simultaneously. Northland, had an almost perfect solution as long as Andrew and Jonathan left early and cycled to the cinema, leaving Gideon and I to follow in the car in time for the shorter Angry Birds. The movies would finish within fifteen minutes of each other and we would buy dinner (yes, hipsters on steroids, or perhaps, just making up for eighteen years of neglect).  

Now, I had never been to Northland Shopping Centre (I’ve never done the 1000 steps either, or been to the MCG). Call me unadventurous but I wasn’t exactly lining up for the Northland experience. But I punched the address into my iPhone, started the navigation program, and set off nice and early. We arrived in plenty of time. Which was good because I parked pretty much as far from Hoyts as possible. Speaking of which, I haven’t been to a Hoyts since I left Neighbours country. A fact that will become patently obvious as the story unfolds. 

We bought our tickets. The woman mentioned something about Extreme Screen. But, you know, it’s a long time since I have been to a Hoyts cinema and I was looking for a number. Even though it said, Extreme Screen, on the ticket, right where the number usually sits, and even though we walked past a theatre labelled Extreme Screen. The penny did not drop. I saw L 12 and even though that is clearly a row and seat number and even though, theatre number twelve didn’t have a row L. The penny didn’t drop. Not when the movie didn’t start on time either. Or when there were no children in the audience. I thought: gee, it’s amazing how many adults have nothing better to do than watch Angry Birds on a Saturday night. It wasn’t until the film started to roll that I felt my first twinge of unease. Gee, I thought, fancy Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant being the voices in Angry Birds. It wasn’t until the words Florence Foster Jenkins filled the screen that the penny dropped.

‘Gideon,’ I said, ‘this isn’t Angry Birds.’

‘No,’ wide, serious eyes, ‘I don’t think so either.’

We left the cinema. The young girl who had sold me the ticket had great tact. I didn’t sense an inner eye-roll, or even the smallest hint of oh-my-God-what-loser in her manner, at all. 

‘Angry Birds started twenty minutes ago,’ she explained, politely. ‘But we have another session starting at 7.00.’

I turned to Gideon. We can go in now and miss the beginning, or we can wait until later. What would you prefer?’

‘I just want to see Angry Birds.’ Gideon replied, in what I am beginning to recognise is his wide-eyed, serious, trade mark style. 

By which I deduced he meant the whole movie.

Fortunately, we live in a technological age. I was able to convey the change of plans to Andrew and Jonathan, grab a quick, pre-movie bite with Simeon while waiting for the next session, which would be playing in an ordinary numbered theatre. I am still none the wiser about the Extreme Screen experience. But if Gideon’s doubled over laughter is anything to go by, Angry Birds was worth the wait and, I think, I may have even passed the Aunty Test.

Dod adref – some thoughts on belonging

'You came back!' A neighbour said when I ventured out onto the streets last Saturday afternoon. 'I didn't think you would return.'

'I always knew you'd be back,' another neighbour ventured. But she had to believe that. She'd been left minding my dog.

Just for the record, I always knew I'd come back. I loved every minute of my time in Wales – speaking the language, revelling in the culture, the scenery, the history, living with a parade of artists, being part of the Corris community. I didn't want to leave. But I always knew I would be coming back and that, once I got home, it would be fine. Why? Apart from the obvious reasons like a husband and family? This is a question I have been exploring with a friend on Facebook. She asked whether it felt weird to be back. Here is what I said to her:

Strangely, not weird at all. It's slipping into a well worn glove. But I always feel like that at when I land at Heathrow, even more so when I cross the border into Wales. I guess it is possible to have two homes.

She asked: do you feel like two different people?

Definitely. I am different people – two versions of Liz. Speaking Welsh makes this more pronounced. I am a different person when I speak Welsh. There are aspects of me that people who don't speak the language have never seen.

She asked: do you find each person to be equally real?

Wherever I am feels the most real at the time. Yet strangely, I feel more Australian when I'm in Wales than I do when I'm in Australia. I am acutely aware of how much Oz has influenced me. There is no escaping it, I've been here since I was five years old. I am not polite enough, circumspect enough, or knowledgable enough to fully belong.

She said: Hmm… I'm not sure that I understand…?

Here is the example I gave:

In Welsh class, in Machynlleth, when we were learning animal names, we were given photos. People looked at the photos and provided the Welsh names. I pointed at pictures and said: what is it? They all looked at me blankly. I said: I've never seen that animal before. If you extend that knowledge gap across history, flora, marine life, seasons, customs, life expectations, the school, medical and political systems, you might begin to comprehend the yawning black hole. It would take a lifetime to acquire that lost knowledge. Even then, I could never fully do so. It is gone. Forever. I was raised in Australia.

It's taken me years to come to terms with this sense of dislocation. It is no accident that when I decided to write a novel it would be about migrants. Moving to Australia was the single most defining event of my childhood. It is why learning Welsh has become such an important part of my life now. Many of the people in my class share that sense of dislocation. In fact, one of my friends, Dai y Trên sent me a poem that tackles this issue. Like me, he came to Oz as a child. He has Breton and English heritage. He has been learning Welsh for twelve years and he is, incidentally, the person who first introduced me to Say Something in Welsh. He gave me permission to share his poem (in Welsh and English) so long as I acknowledged the assistance of our long-serving tutor, Faleiry, and the members of our Welsh class. Dyma hi:

Hiraeth (A pham fedra i ddim mynd yn ôl)

Pan o'n i'n ifanc cymeron fi o wlad fy ngeni

Dim fy newis i ond heb eu beio nhw.

Ond fedra i ddim caru gwlad haul-sychu

Anialwch crasboeth, peryglion,

A coed sy’n edrych yr un fath i fi.

Na, well gen i gwlad mwy harddach, gan flodau anhebyg

Caeau gwyrdd, lonydd deiliog a chrwydro

Ble mae’r haul yn gynnes, dim yn ddeifiog,

Ble does dim byd yn dy frathu di

Ac maen nhw dal yn parchu’r trênau stêm arddechog.

O hanner byd i ffwrdd dwi 'n teimlo'r hiraeth

Mewn breuddwyd fy nhynnu nôl i wlad garedig.

Ond rhoddodd tir hwn wraig a phlantteulu perffaith.

Pe bydda i gadael nhw am reswm hunanol

Baswn i’n arwyddo fy ngwarant marwolaeth.

Hiraeth (And why I can’t return)

When I was young they took me from my birthplace

I had no say, though them I will not blame.

But I cannot “love a sunburnt country”

With its deserts harsh and dangers

And the trees that still to me all look the same.

No, I prefer a land more gentle with lots of varied flora,

Verdant fields and wandering leafy lanes

Where the sun is warm, not burning,

Where nothing tries to bite you,

And they still revere those little steamy trains.

From half a world away I feel the tension,

In a dream I'm drawn back to a world benign,

But this land gave me a wife and two fine children

If I abandon them for selfish reason

The death warrant I’d be signing would be mine!

Dai y Trên. 16ed Mawrth 2016. (Diolch am fy ffrindiau am eu help efo’r geirau Cymraeg)



Blog thirty (o Heathrow) – things I am looking forward to

Being one of two

Day or night

Better for worse

Being part of a bigger group

The Welsh word is teulu

Walking my dog

Riding my bike

To the shops

To the city

To the gym

(Okay, so that’s a lie)

But I’ll do it anyway

Join the gym, I mean

And shelve books

At the library

After stretching

Not wearing a raincoat

Every day

Or sleeping with a hot water bottle

Or in my down jacket

Hipster cafes

Good coffee


No, I mean everywhere

Not just Adam and Andy’s

The sgleen of trams

Along Sydney Road


All day – every day

A phone signal

In most places

Sushi, kebabs, skinny flat whites

Salad on every menu

Water bottles on cafe tables

Being part of a faith community

On Sunday mornings

Where I’m not the visitor

From Australia

Welsh class

On Tuesday nights

In the bar afterwards

The smell of eucalyptus

Straight talking

Aussie, no nonsense

Barely polite

By British standards

Electricity sockets in the bathroom

Chasing my dog around Coburg

(Okay, so that’s a lie too)

But if he gets out, I’ll have to

Drinks with the neighbours

Rosie and Ted

Bike rides with friends

Charging my headlights

Riding home in the crisp cool evening

Turning into the bluestone lane

Heritage listed

But still bone jarring

The sensor light coming on

The garage door lifting


Yes, I am coming home


Our great big family wedding anniversary

Back from a week of sand, sun and poor phone reception, surrounded by the people I love most in the world – my brother and his family back from Malawi, Africa, the kids and various partners, our first grandchild (who possibly is the cutest baby in the world) and a good friend who joins us on most family holidays. We had fifteen people at the height of the week with a contingent opting for the comparative serenity of the local caravan park. Despite debates, daily planning meetings, big dinners, a shared bath room, and regular, hush-baby, sleep times, it somehow still managed to feel relaxing.

While on holidays, Andrew and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary.

A bit of a strange way to spend such a significant anniversary, you might think. Yet somehow apt, seeing as I spent my first wedding anniversary in a hospital maternity ward having recently given birth to our eldest son, Jack. With four children, three exchange students and a couple of other young women who also bunked in with us on separate occasions, they have been significantly child filled years.

Andrew and I went out for lunch to celebrate, of course, and there was an exchange of cards and gifts, as expected. But the big surprise was Jack facilitating an impromptu, Denton style, interview on the eve of our wedding anniversary. We talked about the highlights (all present in the room) and the difficult times, how, looking back, those difficult times were all quite normal, and yet they didn't feel normal at the time. How sometimes we were just hanging in there because we said we would, at others because it all made sense. How various health problems have been taxing over the years, yet, strangely, this has also strengthened our marriage. How the four years we spent in Fiji expanded our view of life. How immensely proud we are of our children, how raising them has been our commonest interest, and how glad we are to have put the time and energy into building those relationships. How happy we are to have moved to Coburg. Yet some nights Andrew still looks around the empty dinner table and asks, so, where are the children? How the years have gone by as if in the twinkling of an eye. How the next thirty are going to present significant age-related challenges. That we are currently trying to work out new common interests and how, somehow, in the midst of it all, God has been present to us.

At the conclusion of our 'interview,' I asked my brother, Ian, to pray for us. He said, he thought the children should also be part of that blessing. So, they were, right there in that living room, with tears and choked voices and with ordinary, not-so-awkward silences, and in their prayers, we tasted the fruits of our thirty married years.


An unco guide to Les Mill’s group exercise classes

Can you pat your head and rub your belly? Really? I can't. I struggle with any physical regime that involves that level of coordination. Yet, over the last six months I've started doing Les Mills exersize classes. Why? I sometimes ask myself the same question. And as at 12:01 on the first of this month, half the western world vowed to lose weight and get fitter, my guess is that you are asking yourself too. I have therefore decided to give you the benefit of my advice. However, before we begin, I think its fitting to share a little of my personal exercise history.

As a migrant child my parents made sure I experienced every possible sporting activity. See, they'd tell the relatives in letters and phone calls, she's doing gymnastics and horse riding, along with Judo, netball, little athletics, sailing, swimming, golf, softball, and dance lessons. The list goes on folks but truth is, I wasn't that good at sports. Neither did I like them. I certainly didn't care whether my team won or lost. At least not enough to put myself through pain.

Once I'd had this epiphany, I gave up all pretense of being sporty. But, sadly, I couldn't ignore the fact that some exersize was good for me. In my first year of university, I remember lamenting this fact with another sports loathing friend. And as this was the 1980's, my friend and I decided to buy matching, electric blue leotards, and give aerobics a go.

A few years later when Andrew and I moved to Melbourne, I realised some attempt at exersize was still required. I went back to aerobics but with two pre-school children, it was a major logistical exersize and, to be honest, prancing around at the back of the class, I was always three steps behind. In fact, looking back, that was a terrible time in my life. Young, broke and in a strange new city without the support of old friends and family, those aerobics classes were a lonesome experience. No one talked to me. Skinny and tanned, the women of Nunawading arrived in laughing groups, wore expensive gym gear, and went out for coffee afterwards (a possibly jaundiced view of the situation). No one, I repeat, no one wore a faded, electric blue leotard. Over the years I've tried many exercise regimes – Curves, walking, jogging, swimming and finally the weight room experience. And truth is, I've hated all of them. But none as much as those Nunawading aerobics classes.

When we moved to Coburg, one of the first things Andrew and I did was join the Coburg Leisure Centre (his priority not mine). I pursued my usual lack-lustre level of fitness until the complimentary personal training session. The trainer suggested I might like to try some group exersize classes, you know, to change things up a bit. I nodded, trying to look non-committal and muttered something about working to my own schedule.

But deep down, in the chambers of my heart, I'd vowed never to do a group-exersize-to-music class again.

Then my children started doing classes. This is one of the worst things about having adult children. They won't let you stagnate. They said, it's only an hour Mum and you work every part of your body. They said, it's the best thing to do if your naturally lazy because the trainers really push you. They said, you don't need to be very coordinated, you might even enjoy it. Why not give it a try?

I started skulking round outside the Coburg Leisure Centre group exercise room. People appeared happy, in a tortured, sweaty, why-am-I-doing-this kind of way. And, there were all sorts of people in there. Ones that followed every step perfectly, others that bounced around like Raggedy Anne dolls, whippet thin girls who could lift the weight of small tractors, portly men who danced through Attack like pixies, a range of assorted body types, cheap shorts and leggings, even a girl with a Guide dog. I thought, if she could follow, maybe I could too.

I went to my first Pump class with my son, Jack, in Canberra. The girl at the front was the skinniest, cheeriest Kiwi with the strongest accent I have ever encountered and by the end of the class I was doing a fairly good impression of a jelly-fish, but I decided it was worth a second try. Once back in Coburg, I added Body Step to my repertoire. Eugene the instructor told me I would feel completely uncoordinated for the first six to eight classes. Six, to eight? In my case that was unrealistic. I doubled the number and made a pact with myself. I wasn't allowed to quit Step until I'd done at least twelve sessions. After that, if I still hated it, I could walk away guilt free.

Six months later, I'm still going to Step, Pump and, sometimes Attack classes. I can't stand, hand on my heart and say that I love them and I'm still not very coordinated but I do feel a hundred percent better for the exersize, and sometimes, now and again, I experience a nano-second of enjoyment. As you will too my dear, new-year's-resolution-making friend, if you heed my advice. And that I think is my segue. Here it is folks, without any further ado, my fail-safe guide to surviving Les Mills group exercise classes.

  1. choose a good community gym
  2. make a pact with yourself
  3. Be realistic (you may not be the best in the class)
  4. don't wriggle out of it
  5. try a range of classes
  6. then choose time slots and turn up regularly
  7. never stand at the front of the class (if you are anything like me you won't be able to follow the instructor's back to front movements)
  8. stand behind someone who knows what they are doing and copy them
  9. take courage from other people's mistakes – even the best make them
  10. don't worry if you can't do all the fancy foot work, just smile and keep moving
  11. never, I say, never look in the mirror – keep your eyes on the person in front and pretend you're grooving just like them
  12. enjoy the music – I don't listen to a great range of music but, sometimes, when I'm flapping around the room to Pink's, You gotta get up and try try try, I feel, well, almost modern
  13. And finally, for God's sake, throw away your 1980's leotard if you want people to talk to you


PS. I saw on Facebook the other week that my 1980's sports loathing friend recently did a fourteen kilometre run with her daughter. I'd like to think my early influence had something to do with this achievement. But we both know that's rubbish. And as like me, she's pushing fifty, I can only suppose she is pursuing a healthier, fitter ageing process.


Four girly tips for every commuter cyclist

The other day I received the following message on Facebook:

U went out in the dark on your bike on your own?

The week before someone had said to me:

Well done riding to the city on your bike.

On telling someone else that I’d been knocked off my bike and gone over the bonnet of a car without laddering my stockings, they said:

You wear stockings on your bike?

In the face of such incredulity I feel that I need to explain. I ride my bike most places. Out to dinner, to the gym, grocery shopping, to the hairdressers, to the Doctors, to church, to small group, to Welsh class, sometimes even to work.

If you’d predicted this a couple of years ago I’d have laughed in your face (so, I’ll excuse your shocked responses). But the unlikely has happened folks – I am now a commuter cyclist.

And as I have been living this lifestyle for over a year, I consider myself entitled to offer a few tips on the subject.

I hope you are ready? We’re going for ride. And it will be deeply insightful.

1) you gotta love your bike

I started out on an old bike because, though I’d been telling everyone I was going to ride my bike everywhere once we moved to Coburg, no one believed me. Even I didn’t have faith. So, we rigged up his old hybrid bike of my husband’s. After a few weeks of riding hunched over with cramped shoulders I said to my him.

‘Some people sit upright on their bikes.’

‘You’re not supposed to sit upright.’ He explained. ‘It slows you down.’

Well, yes, this made sense…if you were training for the Tour de France. But not if you are Lizzie long legs mooching around the back streets of Coburg. In fact, I would say speed is less than ideal in the city traffic. It makes you vulnerable to flung-wide car doors and haphazard pedestrians (this is a bonus safety tip by the way write it down).

In the city speed is not essential.

Three months after becoming a serious commuter, I bought myself a retro-style upright bike. My husband and daughter came to the shop with me. I had a model in mind – not top of the range, but aluminium (for lugging up city steps). It had seven gears for the occasional hill and, of course, a wicker basket. As I wheeled my new bike through the door with an air of lordly pride (clever literary allusion in case you were wondering), I turned, looking back over the rows of gleaming handle bars.

‘Have I chosen the right colour?’ I asked my daughter

‘Mum,’ she said. ‘It’s red.’

She was right, of course. My bike was red and I loved it. And, I can’t emphasise this enough folks, you’ve gotta love your bike.

In the pebble hard rain, you’ve gotta love your bike, and in thirty-six degree heat with sweat streaking on your cheeks, you’ve gotta love your bike. When balancing it in a crowded railway carriage, you’ve gotta love your bike. Ditto, when sitting in the gutter with your third puncture for the week. And and when you’re pedalling hard against the wind. It’s just you and those two wheels against all those kilometres.

You’ve gotta love your bike.


2) you gotta get the gear

I started out riding with a high vis workman’s vest and a battered old helmet. As winter approached, I began to mull over the dilemma of staying warm and, more importantly, dry. Once again, I put the problem to my husband.

‘My winter coat is too thick for cycling.’ I pointed out.

‘Wear your camping coat.’ He replied.

Now this was the wrong answer (though, on the surface, it may have sounded like good advice). The camping coat was light-weight and waterproof, perfect for the bush. But, it was black, I mean, that’s a safety issue, right? (second bonus tip: justify all cycling purchases on safety grounds). And, it had all those freezing-cold-line-up-for-showers-smoky-campfire associations.

No, I couldn’t possibly face the winter in my camping coat.

I did my homework. There aren’t many girl-friendly commuter cycling outlets in Austealia. In the end, I bought a red trench coat with a polka dot lining from CycleStyle. It’s Dutch designed and made with waterproof seams and slightly longer arms for cycling. Not a camping coat. A city coat. Perfect for dinner and a movie in Carlton. I teamed it with a Nutcase helmet from Velo Cycles, an adjustable high vis harness and a cheap pair of waterproof pants from Katmandu and some retro style panniers and I was all set. And, here’s the thing (you may consider this bonus tip number three), a Lycra clad cyclist is a common sight in Melbourne and motorists don’t tend to cut them a lot of slack. But ride an upright bike with a red trench coat and a polka dot helmet and, I tell you, people steer clear of you.


3) you gotta heed the signs

Despite the formidable protective powers of my polka dot helmet, I’m not a big fan of city traffic (bonus tip four – have realistic expectations of your equipment). The trouble is, I quickly worked out that the Merri Creek and Capital City trails are great for Sunday afternoon leisure riding but not if you actually want to get anywhere. There are too many bends, bridges, drains and steps for serious commuting. There are, however, heaps of on-road bike lanes – on the back streets of Moreland, in the city and out into the eastern suburbs. I carried laminated squares of council transport maps around with me in the early weeks like a tourist or, worse a middle aged-empty-nest-wannabe-city-girl from the suburbs. Then I realised there were all these signs.


I now follow them dot-to-dot all over the city.

4) you gotta set yourself up

Finally, I’m not a morning person. I am practically comatosed until I’ve drunk my first plunger of coffee. Even then, my movements resemble a bear emerging from hibernation. Apart from having breakfast and getting dressed I’m not capable of much mental activity. If I’m commuting to work, I always pack my panniers the night before and, here’s the essential part, I keep make-up, toiletries and a hair dryer in my locker. This makes mornings easy. In fact, (here’s a secret), I don’t even brush my hair. I just roll out of bed, main-line coffee, pull on my gym gear and pedal. After cycling for almost an hour, I’m awake and zinging. I can then shower and do the beauty thing at the library.

So that’s it, folks – my explanation plus, four essentials, four bonus tips, a beauty secret and a clever literary allusion. What more can I say? Apart from, happy cycling!

Like the curious case of Benjamin Button

I haven’t blogged for a while – in fact forty two days worth of while. I expect you’ve been wondering what I’m up to. What? You hadn’t noticed my sad little absence from the blogosphere? I’m shocked and saddened and, so that you don’t become too unnerved by my absence, I’m here to fill you in one what has been happening.

Firstly, we’ve moved house.
Secondly, we’ve been on a holiday in the Grampians.
Thirdly we’ve had guests from Switzerland.
We’ve also celebrated a friend’s fortieth birthday in Sydney.

In fact, I’d have to say we’ve been out more than we’ve been in. Busy despite our newly purchased slice of tranquility.

But perhaps the biggest life change of the last forty two days ago has been my bike.

Now, I made a lot of noise about my intention to cycle more once we moved to Coburg. But I don’t think anyone, including myself, actually believed this would ever happen. When Andrew handed me my bike helmet on our first night in Rolls Street and said: enough, let’s go and get a gyros. I wasn’t quite prepared for it.

What now? I gulped, looking down at the helmet as if it had teeth. Can’t we just walk the first night.

No. Apparently we had to start as we meant to go on.

We donned our helmets and headed towards Sydney Road.

I have to admit, before this fateful night I’d scarcely ridden a bike in the last twenty five years. I’d stopped at the tender age of seventeen (when I first got my driving license). But putting my helmet on and riding out to dinner that first night and then packing our grocery shopping into my panniers to ride home again felt like the Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I felt myself growing younger by the minute.

Since then, I haven’t been able to get enough of the experience.

I’ve ridden to Welsh in the city and home along Sydney road. I’ve done a Boroondara Cyclewise course and overcome my phobia of public showering. I’ve ridden to work. Eaten at Beatbox, joined a yoga class and shopped at the Coburg night market. In between, I’ve walked my dog, finished the SSiW intermediate course and danced to Fflur Dafydd’s, Martha Llwyd in my living room.

But most importantly of all, I’ve been writing.

Yep, that’s right. My muse has followed me to Coburg. In fact, I’d have to say she rather likes it here. I’m putting this down to genetic programming. I mean, think about it? Before my parents emigrated, the family had never lived in anything bigger than a semi-detached house in Essex. Yep, that’s right small – so this empty nest, masterfully renovated Federation cottage suits me perfectly.

In fact, I’d even go as far as saying I’ve probably been overwhelmed for the last twenty five years.

Not that I regret the experience – kids, guinea pigs, school fetes, and trivia nights – a woman needs those things. But now my nest is empty and, although Andrew is looking around wondering where his audience has gone, wrth fy modd or in my element as the half-Welsh-woman in me is wont to say.

So folks, this blog is a great, big long winded way of saying I’m fine but you may not hear from me for a while. Oh, yes, I know it’s heart breaking. But don’t fret. Just think of me at my writing desk, drinking coffee, taking power naps, or smiling like a gate as I ride the wide flat streets of Coburg, and know I’ve got a novel to write.

Hopefully, 2013 will see it finished.

Tan fy mlog nesaf – Hwyl Fawr!

Making Plans

In Coburg, after buying a house here over the weekend. I’m doing some real estate admin, checking out the vibe. Here is the mission statement of Coburg Baptist Church.
Something tells me I’m going to feel right at home.

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