Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: Melbourne (Page 1 of 3)

Library lessons – from the other side of the desk.

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My name is Liz, I work as a librarian, and I love libraries. The public ones, due to their underlying principle of equity of access, research libraries due to their wealth of information. In addition to my multiple Aussie public library memberships, I hold Gwynedd and Powys library cards. I am also a member of the National Library of Australia, State Library of Victoria, and the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru (LLGC). 

One of my methods, when reading a secondary resource is to pore over the bibliography and footnotes, identifying further reading materials. A search on Trove made it plain that some of the items I require – like the Denbighshire Historical Society journal – will not be found in Australia. Others, are available through the LLGC website, and are now on my iPad in PDF format. Many of the medieval chronicles, parliamentary proceedings and patent rolls are also available online. But because I am a mildly (cough) obsessive person, I have also registered with the U.K. Data Service in order to acesss the Dyffryn Clwyd court rolls, intermittently presided over by Reginald de Grey, the man whose actions pushed Glyn Dwr into open rebellion. 

Yes, I know, major excitement.

But Liz, I hear you ask, do you need all this detail when much of it is provided in the secondary sources? Possibly not. But I am learning to trust the process. Indeed to revel in it. For my recently completed novel, I spent two afternoons in the Victoria and Albert Reading rooms sifting through nineteenth century theatre play bills. Did any of them make it into the novel? Well, no. But they made the whole damn thing feel pretty real. And when you are trying to connect with an historical character, real is important. Imagine my excitement, when scrolling through a muster roll of medieval soldiers, to see Owain Glyn Dwr listed. To quote Billy Elliot:

‘It was like electricity.’

I experienced a similar frisson of excitement when I found the Bulletin Board of Celtic Studies journal on the state library catalogue, with issues spanning all the way back to 1921. The record said:

Available  Phone 03 8664 7002 to arrange delivery from Offsite Store  YA 913.36 B87

Ten o’clock Monday morning I called the state library. ‘Good Morning, I said. I am phoning to order some journals from offsite storage.’

Silence.

‘Hello? The catalogue said to phone, is this the correct number?’

‘Yes.’ A sigh on the end of the line. 

‘Are you the person I need to talk to?

‘I am, but it will be difficult.’

‘Difficult?’

‘Our process is clunky.’

At this point a younger, less experienced version of myself may have said, ‘Oh, I see, well, sorry to bother you.’

But I am no longer a girl and I work in a library and I have it on good authority that this is not how one is supposed to conduct a reference interview. In fact, I strongly suspected this librarian was being lazy. ‘Would it be easier if I came in and made the request?’

‘No,’ another sigh. ‘What journal are you after?’

I gave him the name of the journal, heard the keyboard clattering, imagined a bald, bespectacled librarian, let’s call him Lionel, peering at the screen. (yes, yes, I know, a stereotype, but some of them are real okay) ‘Yes, it is in our collection.’ Lionel dredged the admission up from the soles of his scuffed, brown lace-up shoes. ‘What issues are you after?’

I pulled up my list, began reeling off years and numbers.

‘Hang on a sec!’ Did I detect a note of smug triumph in Lionel’s voice? ‘You are only allowed six items.’

‘So, you want me to order six items now, cycle into the library tomorrow, then call again the next day and order six more issues, cycle home, then repeate the whole process the following morning?’

A longer silence. To give credit where credit is due, Lionel was starting to register my level of persistence. ‘Leave it with me,’ he said. ‘I’ll make enquiries.’

When Lionel called back a couple of hours later, he told me that he had managed to put in a trolley order. ‘I’m not sure if it will work,’ he added with a signatory puff. ‘But hopefully there will be something on the reserve shelf tomorrow.’

The next morning, I don’t mind admitting, I approached the reservation shelf with a degree of pessimism. I was not surprised to find that there were no journals under my name, only the three additional books I had ordered through the catalogue. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard borrowers announce that their reservation is not on the shelf, only to find it below, the items under letter of their surname having spilled over onto a lower shelf. I scanned the reservation area, saw four huge cartons, with my name on them. Journal upon journal, some wrapped in plastic due to their infrequent use. Lionel had delivered. Big time. From which I concluded he wasn’t a lazy librarian at all. Though, I strongly suspect the poor fellow has confidence issues. 



 

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Library lessons

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You get a sixth sense with some library customers. As I worked through the simple trouble-shooting steps, the woman beside me was becoming increasingly agitated. 

‘I have to scan these documents,’ she said.

‘Yes, we have to get you logged onto this PC first.’

‘Then I have send them.’ She shifted nervously, from foot to foot, her frame slight, her jaw tight.

‘Yes, we can do that too. Have you logged out of the other terminal?’

‘Oh, no, sorry.’

‘Right, let’s try the password again, shall we?’

We eventually got the woman logged onto the fifteen minute PC. At which point, I could have handed her over to my colleague. I was only meant to be on the library floor to cover tea relief. But my colleagues were busy and I’d taken longer to troubleshoot the problem than I’d have liked. I pulled up a chair and prepared to see the woman’s project through to the end. 

We placed the documents onto the flat-bed scanner and followed the simple step-by-step instructions. She had logged onto a fifteen minute terminal and the clock was ticking down. I asked how she wanted to save the documents. She chose to email them to herself. Though, from her nervous smile, I could tell wasn’t too confident about her ability to complete the task.

We logged onto Hotmail, attached the documents. ‘Write something in the subject line so you can find them,’ I suggested, imagining she simple, neutral words like: scanned documents, or library scanning. She typed the words: application compassionate grounds.

As I said, you get a sixth sense with some people.

We sat waiting for the email to arrive. By the time it hit the woman’s inbox, her fifteen minutes was almost up. We checked the attachment, deleted the file from the computer’s memory and logged out. 

‘Do you want to log you onto another terminal and send them now?’

She hesitated. ‘Maybe another day.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘It’s just well, I get anxious, you see.’

Yes, I saw, perhaps more than she realized. ‘They will be safe in your inbox until next time,’ I assured her. ‘You can do them whenever you are ready. We are always here to help.

‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Thank you for understanding.’

*

At other times, you get the whole thing wrong. In this instance, I was serving a stooped, elderly woman wearing a yellow hand-knitted beanie. 

‘I can’t use your computers,’ she said. ‘Can you help me find a book?’

‘Yes, of course.’ I smiled benignly. Hers wasn’t an uncommon question, especially among the woman’s demographic many of whom missed the boat on the technology front and now find themselves needing help in certain circumstances. ‘What book are you after?’

‘I’d like something on Canadian totem poles.’

Right, I thought. That’s out of the box. I’d expected her to name a favorite author, or the latest family saga. 

‘I’m a lacemaker,’ she added. ‘My son and his family are living in Canada. I’d like to create a piece of lace based on the totem poles in their area.’

Right, I thought, technologically challenged and beanie wearing but no slouch in the arts and crafts department. I couldn’t make a piece of lace to save my life. But as it happened, if did know a little about Canadian totem poles. We used to have an amazing book about the artist Emily Carr. I typed in her name. Sadly, the book was no longer on our system. I widened my search, found some possibilities and and took her down to the relevant section. ‘If you don’t find anything come back to me,’ I said. ‘I can always do a Google search and print a picture out for you.’ 

‘Oh, I’ve already done a Google search,’ she said. ‘On my tablet. I didn’t find anything that took my fancy.’

Right, I thought, a culturally aware, lace-making, tablet-using old woman. I slunk back to the reference desk making a mental note not to make anymore foolish assumptions about stooped, senior citizens in hand-knitted beanies.

 

 

 

 

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Colour crises and other important life matters

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You may have noticed I have a slight (cough) preference for the colour red. What you may not realise is that this preference is in fact a more recent phenomenon. I distinctly recall doing Dolly Magazine quizzes in my teens and simply not knowing what may favourite colour was. Imagine that? Not knowing my favourite colour? When red was there, fluttering her eye lashes at me all along.

I cannot recall the moment I realised red was my one true colour but, looking back, believe the love affair may have started with a pair of red shoes. We were dirt poor at the time, having married while still at university and, thanks to an idealistic family planning decision, popped put a baby within the first year. Andrew started work a month before that baby entered the world and with family help we managed to buy an ugly little wooden house on a main road beneath the a massive street light. By the time my twenty-third birthday came around, we’d made a second, can-you-believe-it-was-planned addition to the family. Mum took me shopping for my birthday. I chose a pair of red shoes. I think they were supposed to be ‘for best.’ Fact is, from the moment I unwrapped them, I wore those shoes everywhere. When they finally fell apart, I bought another pair – and another. 

A life long passion for red shoes was born. 

I’m not sure when the red passion crossed over into other items of clothing. I did not wake up one morning and think I am going to wear a touch of red every day. Only that, for some reason, I do. I’m not unadventurous. I do occasionally wear other colours. Only last week, I purchased a jumper without a hint of red in the mix. Okay, so I did break into a cold sweat at the audacity of the purchase and I did lay it out on the armchair once I arrived home wondering whether I should return it and, okay, when I did finally pull the tags off, I teamed it with a cranberry coloured scarf. But the jumper is not red. That’s the point I’m making.

In addition to red clothing, I may also have acquired a few personal accessories. Actually, not just a few, and not purely personal either. I have a red bike, a red yoghurt maker, red-toned cushions on my couch, a red iPad cover, a red phone cover, a red handbag, burgundy towels in the bathroom, a burgundy scatter rug, and red Welsh tapestry place mats on which I place my red candles while journaling in my red leather notebook (okay, so maybe a little over the top). But rest assured I use the contrasting blue/green side of my Welsh tapestry placemats. The candles, I always buy in bulk, from Dusk. Not just any old candles either – spice scented cranberry red candles called, Vienna. 

There is no Dusk outlet on Sydney Road. Andrew says there is a message in that. ‘Like, Dusk is so suburban.’ But I have remained loyal to my suburban roots. On a recent trip out east, I popped into, Eastland to stock up my candle supplies (yes, Eastern dwellers, the new Eastland is amazing, yes, I’ve never seen anything like, no, there isn’t any reason to go to the city). I parked in my usual spot, passed through the Woolworths entrance and made a beeline for the Vienna votive shelf in the Dusk store. 

The candles weren’t there. I glanced left. Right. Circled the store, came back to the Vienna votive shelf. Still not there. There were no pillar candles either. No Vienna at all. 

‘Can I help you?’ I’d been so busy staring at the shelves I didn’t notice the shop assistant coming alongside.

‘I’m looking for the Vienna votives.’ 

I’m afraid they have been discontinued.’

Discontinued, without notice! As if they were nothing but a consumer product.

‘We have a new Vanilla scented candle,’ the assistant added, smiling nervously, ‘if it’s the spicy scent you’re after.’

The Vanilla votive smelled nice. I had to admit. But, it was white. It wouldn’t match my place mats. ‘It isn’t the right colour.’ I told the shop assistant. 

‘Oh, we have red candles too, Signature Love.’

She handed me a sickly candy-red candle. The scent wasn’t right either – all old lady’s sweet rose and lavender. I passed the candle back to her. Things were happening too fast. It was like the Great Colorado Clothing Crisis all over again. On that occasion, I had passed from the age of wearing hip hugging teenage fashions and not being not quite ready to surrender to Millers, and had fallen into the habit buying most of my clothes at one particular clothing outlet. Actually, not most of them. I was pretty much little-miss-Colorado. When Colorado went into receivership. I refused to believe it, kept thinking, hoping, trusting, praying they would return. Until, Eastland boarded up the store front (yes, Eastland has a lot to answer for) and I returned home in white faced shock.

It took me ages to recover from the Great Colorado Crisis. Even now the family are careful not to mention the C word in my hearing, remembering the too-long conversations – on the phone, at dinner, during family gatherings. Items bought and returned. Requests to please-come-and-help-me-choose. But recover, I did. I now buy clothes online, at markets, at funky little artisan stores along Sydney Road. In fact, I hardly ever think about Colorado anymore. Apart from sometimes…late at night. It will be the same with Dusk. I mean, they are just so suburban, right? I’m gonna find me a new handmade hippy candle outlet, that understand loyalty and habits and finding just the right scent and, once I’ve found them, I’ll buy me a life long supply of candles and, as so long as the they are not candy-red, I will never have to shop at Dusk or Eastland, ever again. 

 

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

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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. 

Misery!

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.

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Library lessons – or how to be a decent human being

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I am not a morning person. But Friday, I had to start work by eight o’clock. As I dressed in a fumble, main lined coffee, grabbed my make up bag and hair care products, and headed out into the half-light, I was surprised by an overwhelming I’m-living-in-Melbourne-and-lovin-it, sensation. It didn’t last. As soon as I saw the five lines of creeping of red tail lights on the freeway, I knew this would be no easy run. My foreboding was confirmed by the electronic sign:

Incident on the Bolte Bridge, expect delays. 

Unfortunately, this instance, Citylink, weren’t exaggerating. I arrived at work, tufty-haired, late and without my age-defying foundation in place. It didn’t help that I had to fit an extra home library delivery into the two hour set up time. Or that the cash reconciliation wasn’t straight forward. As I walked out onto the library floor at opening time, I saw one of our most everyday difficult customers pacing up and down outside the door.

‘She’s early,’ I said to my colleague.

‘My thoughts exactly.’

‘Let’s hope it isn’t a bad omen.’

The minute we logged the phones in, all three started ringing. It was story time, so there were lots of mum’s and crying babies. Added to which, every woman and her dog wanted to join the library. Not sure why, maybe it was announced on the radio?

<insert ABC News music>

We interrupt this bulletin to make and important announcement. That building in the High Street that you have walked past a thousand times, is a library. If you race down there today you will get a discount on your free membership.

Whatever the reasons, they didn’t stop coming. By mid-morning, my blood sugar levels were seriously low. Good Afternoon, I said to the woman standing at the desk. How can I help you? 

Silence. I realised my error. ‘Sorry it isn’t afternoon yet, it only feels like it.’

I went through the usual spiel about needing ID, with a current address to join the library. She passed me her drivers’ license. I handed her a piece of paper on which to write her email address and phone number and began typing details into the catalogue. She paused after jotting down her phone number, looking up at me.

‘Can I give you my husband’s email address?’

 ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘as long as he checks it.’

‘He does,’ every day. But I don’t use the computer.’

I froze. Though this wasn’t an uncommon admission, especially among the elderly or so socially disadvantaged. But this woman didn’t look old, or poor. Didn’t she realise the world has changed? I see this often among my home library clients. Women who never learned to use a CD player in the 1980’s are now old and infirm and beyond learning and we no longer have cassette tapes in the library. If you extrapolate this scenario out across all the other technologies that have emerged and how they have transformed the way society operates, this woman was setting herself up for social and emotional isolation in her old age. 

I didn’t say this, of course. My job is to meet specific information needs not to lecture people. I did however carry a waspish sense of sense of outrage over to my next enquiry. A significantly older woman with a list written in a spidery old lady hand. She wanted to know about a book called Dancing with Strangers. My colleague had punched the title into Google and come up with a number of possibilties. 

‘Do you know the author?’ I asked.

‘I think it might have been Glen Dinnen.’

I typed: Dinnen, Glen, into our catalogue. No result. I looked at the Google list again.

‘Do you remember what the book was about?’

‘It was about the early settlement of Australia and the first contact with the aborigines.’ 

‘Ah, I said. Clendinnen.’ But it had been a long morning, and I was due for morning tea and, as I read the book description out to her, I found myself thinking: if you’d learned to use a computer you could have worked this out for yourself. 

‘It’s for my book group,’ the old lady said. ‘I’m ninety two years of age. But I like to keep my mind active.’

Ouch, I thought. Retract earlier waspish sentiment. I found myself wondering whether I’d be discussing books and ideas in my ninety-third year. But that wasn’t the end of the lesson. Have you ever found that? When life sets out to teach you something, it is rarely gentle? As I worked through the woman’s book list, trying to ascertain how many copies of various titles we had in the collection, I started writing down, authors, titles and numbers for her.

‘Oh,’ she said, on seeing the list. Thank you… thank you so much.’ She stopped, swallowed, her voice wobbling with emotion. I kept my eyes trained on the computer screen. 

‘My husband, is a veteran.’ She said, when she found her voice again. ‘It’s hard looking after him. I come to the library every Friday, on the oldies bus. It is the highlight of my week.’

I swallowed, looking up her. At this point, she wasn’t the only one getting misty-eyed. 

‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘Thank you, for making my job worthwhile.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Easter Aussie style – the rubber hits the road

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We had booked accomodation in the Victorian High country – a place of mountains, wineries and Autumn leaves. The theory being that I would be sufficiently recovered from my jet lag to enjoy a five day holiday. When I emailed to make the final payment, I found the accomodation had been double booked. The company had tried to phone me but I was using a UK SIM card and the emails they sent hadn’t materialised. I scrambled about trying to book alternative accomodation. There was nothing affordable in the High Country. I tried the coast. Nothing there either. I ended up booking and overpriced holiday cottage in Gariwerd (the Grampians).

‘It’ll be lovely,’ my daughter said. ‘Lot’s of nice walks.’

‘But no castles at the end of them.’ I replied.

‘There will be waterfalls.’

‘Yes.’ I forced a smile while secretly thinking: pigs might fly!

We’ve had a long hot summer in Australia. We’ve been waiting for a ‘good winter’ for the last ten years. All creek beds and potential waterfalls dried up long ago. There would be nothing in Gariwerd (yes, deliberate use of indigenous name) but dust and gum trees.

Now, at this point I must hasten to add that there is nothing wrong with Gariwerd – it is an area of outstanding natural beauty. But in Alexander McCall Smith’s, Number one ladies detective agency, Mma Ramotswe says:

Every man has a map in his heart of his own country. The heart will never forget the map.

While in the city it is possible for me to get caught up in the rhythm of daily life, to forget the map written on my heart. Face to face with the Australian bush, I would be reminded that I was in fact a long way from home.

I decided to take control of the situation, to make the holiday my own. Day one, I headed down to Bambruk, the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, and booked myself on a tour. I also bought tickets to an Ozact performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in the local Heatherlie Quarry. 

Shakespeare in the bush! How was that going to work? I wasn’t sure, to be honest. My reservations grew as we travelled thirteen miles along a dirt road, hiked the sandy path to the quarry and laid our picnic mat in the dust. I needn’t have worried. Once the performance started, the majestic sheer stone quarry became a perfect backdrop to Shakespeare’s imagined world.

The following morning, I rose early and headed down to Bambruk for my cultural tour. Only to find, due to a mix up, that the tour had left earlier than the specified time – and without me. Andrew had gone on a long bike ride. I faced ten hours alone in Halls Gap. There are plenty of things to do in Gariwerd if you like hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and four wheel driving. For me, the options are more limited. I could go for a drive or go for a bush walk. I chose the Chataqua Peak track a five and a half kilometre hike that boasted seasonal waterfalls. Of course, we were long out of season. There wasn’t a drop of water to be seen. Though, this little fellow did bring a smile to my face. 

The following day, I expressed an interest in returning to Heatherlie Quarry. I’ve spent the last seven months surrounded by abandoned quarry workings and, though this may prove to be nothing more than a local stone quarry, I’d seen information boards on my hike up the sandy bush track, abandoned buildings and equipment. For a museum and tour junkiee like me it promised and hour or two of great interest.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Established in the late 1860’s, Heatherlie Quarry was in fact one of Victoria’s foremost stone quarries. Transported to Melbourne by rail, the dressed sand-stone was used in a number on Melbourne’s historic buildings, such as Parliament House, the State Library of Victoria and the Melbourne Town Hall. 

After the quarry, Andrew was keen to visit Migunang Wirab (McKenzie’s Falls). I didn’t hold much hope for the visit beyond a parched picnic ground and a trickling creek. But bushfires had ripped through the area in 2014 and the whole recreation area had been remodelled. There were information boards (I read them all), well marked pathways, platforms and attractive railings, and lookouts from which we saw a beautiful waterfall. At which point, I didn’t feel so very far from home at all. 

 

 

 

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Dod adref – some thoughts on belonging

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'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)


 

 

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

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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

Everywhere

No, I mean everywhere

Not just Adam and Andy’s

The sgleen of trams

Along Sydney Road

WIFI

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

Home

Yes, I am coming home

 

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Blog eleven o Gymru – three women on a boat

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When I told members of my Melbourne Welsh class I would be living in Wales for six months, two of my classmates announced their intention to visit me. I wasn’t convinced this would happen. Promises made in the bar after Welsh class are not binding. So, when I dragged my case across the Abergavenny railway bridge, it was something akin to a miracle to see Sue and Nicky walking towards me. It was Nicky’s first visit to Wales. For Sue, it was a return to the country of her birth. For all of us, it was pilgrimage towards something in which we have a tangible investment – yr hen iaith.

Sometime during the planning process, we had decided a canal holiday would be an essential part of the experience. Which is how, half an hour after meeting in Abergavenny, we found ourselves taking possession of a narrow boat. The training took over an hour. We learned how to tie knots, clean the propellor, charge the boat, steer with a tiller, fill the water tanks, turn on the power inverter and a host of other grubby, miscellaneous tasks. As I stood in owl-eyed concentration, listening to the man from Castle Narrow Boats explain the various procedures, I know I wasn’t the only one thinking: what have we got ourselves into?

It rained torrentially the first day. The words: ‘this is a bit miserable’ may have been uttered. But around mid-afternoon, as we sat drying our socks, skirts and shoes on the radiator the sun decided to put in an appearance. After that, we enjoyed slow mornings over coffee (an addiction to which we all freely admitted), traveling at a snail’s pace, coffees in cafes, dinners in pubs, and discussing every small decision and manoeuvre. We laughed far more than we could have imagined, especially when climbing into our coffin like bunks. After a glass or two of Reverend James, one of us (who shall remain nameless) decided the very Anglicised inhabitants of Crickhowell needed educating. A black texta was the proposed implement of instruction. The all English banner advertising a forthcoming literary festival need the words Gŵyl Lenyddiaeth added. Not to mention every-second retirement cottage with an English name. Fortunately, the shops were closed and we didn’t have a black texta, so Crughywel (proper spelling), missed out on the bi-lingual transformation. But we did enjoy making up wildly bigoted statements in Welsh as we walked back to the narrow boat that may have involved the words Sais and cropian and dros y fin.

 

 

After our canal boat holiday, we headed up to North Wales where it soon became apparent that the ‘opportunities to practice speaking Welsh’ that one eager member of the group had organised, were causing quite a bit of consternation in the breasts of others. The word fanatic may have crossed lips. Along with an observation that some were far more interested in Welsh men than yr hen iaith.

These differences established, we did all the touristy things one would expect in North Wales – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Beddgelert, Betws-y-coed, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerwchwrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yes, I can say it), photographing an ancient burial chamber and, of course, visiting castles. An unexpected highlight was Barmouth which is truly the tackiest seaside town outside of Y Barri. But you see, Sue and I were born in the UK. We have tacky seaside memories. In a wave of nostalgia, we purchased, rock candy, some truly dreadful coconut ice and Jack Straws, a game I played often in my childhood.

 

I didn’t know Sue and Nicky well before the holiday – apart from our weekly Welsh classes and the occasional Saturday night dinner. But over the last fortnight, we have discussed language, relationships, faith, our family histories, hopes for the future, the experience of ageing, and have simply explored Wales together. We will have these memories for ever. No one can take them away from us. Or the friendship we have forged.

It has been a month of holidays for me with no great progress on my manuscript. But Sue and Nicky are the last of my scheduled visitors. The days are getting shorter and more greyscale. The landscape around me variegated. This will be the first winter I have spent in the northern hemisphere since childhood and, like the squirrels I have seen gathering nuts, I am looking forward to hibernating and making final pre-submission changes to my manuscript. By the time the trees begin to bud again, I will be back in Australia, hopefully, up to my neck in the submission process, as well as working on my next project.

Tan wythnos nesaf!

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Blog five – a matter of false information

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Those who know me and can be bothered counting, may have noticed this is my fifth visit to the UK in the last ten years. You may also have observed that now and again (cough) I like to talk about the place. I mention the walks I’ve been on in Wales, the beachside amusement arccades, pubs which allow dogs (very civilised) the way people eat mushy peas with their fish and chips (maybe not so civilised) and how the Brits have a tendency to strip down to their Y fronts whenever the sun peeks out from behind a cloud (need I comment?). What you may not realise, is that I may have been guilty of giving you false information.

The misinformation, has its origins three years ago when, one Sunday, during my month long Welsh language Summer School, I decided to walk from Borth to Aberystwyth. It was a warm, blue sky, day, with only a whisper of cloud. I meandered along the Ceredigion Coastal Park, taking in the heather covered hillsides and spectacular sea views. Just short of Aberystwyth, I stopped for a drink at the cafe attached to the local caravan park. Having spent a number of summer holidays in Aussie Caravan parks, I enjoyed seeing how the Brits (largely from the Midlands judging by their accents) did the summer holiday thing. No, sun smart campaign, judging from the lobster-coloured backs of the children paddling on the beach. No trees for shade, or sun shelters and some of the caravans had two doors. Oh, my! How quaint! Semi-detached caravans!

Roll forward three years, and you will find me a little further along the coast with a group of Welsh speaking friends looking out over a different caravan park. The day wasn’t quite as sunny and, if I’m honest, it was a tad more windy (like blowing a force ten gale). As I sat shivering on the walls of Harlech Castle, I fell to making random summer holiday observations:

‘We don’t have castles in Australia so … this is not a normal summer holiday activity for me (nor the chattering teeth). Do many people stay in tents? Those semi-detached caravans you have are quaint.’

Silence. Four sets of eyes turned on me. ‘Semi-detached caravans?

‘Yes. I’ve seen them, near Aberystwyth.’

‘Really? I’ve never seen one.’ One by one, they all agreed.

Now at this point, I probably should have backed down. Four born and bred, British people, one who has an onsite caravan in a Welsh caravan park were telling me there was no such thing as a semi-detached caravan. What other evidence did I need? But here’s the thing about me. As well as telling tales of Brits sunbathing in their Y fronts, I may also have mentioned the semi-detached caravans a few times. Okay, so more than a few – and I was pretty damn sure they existed. I mean, why else would a caravan have two doors?

Our holiday finished without further reference to the great two door caravan fib. But back in Corris, I could not let the matter rest. I knew the Corris Caravan park wasn’t far away. I set off, camera in hand, to gather evidence. Imagine my delight when I came upon this scene.

I immediately sent a Facebook message to my friends.

‘Tystiolaeth!’ (Evidence)

‘Efallai’ (maybe)? The friend with the onsite caravan wrote. ‘Neu jyst carafan dau ddrws’ (or just a two door caravan).

No need to tell you what I thought of that idea. Who would be potty enough to make a caravan with two doors. Another friend messaged that she would best visiting the seaside town of Aberdyfi later in the week. She would do some research. I decided to join her This was too important a matter to leave to prejudiced minds.

We set off after dark, two middle aged women sneaking round a sleepy caravan park. Fortunately, we were in west Wales, where the crime rate is quite low, or we may have been arrested. Especially when we started circling two door caravans and peering through windows.

‘This one only has one storage box,’ my friend said.

I had to admit she was right.

‘And one number plate.’

Right again.

‘And look this one only has a name.’

I looked at the caravan in question. Number two, Seaspray, and there was only one storage box. I had to admit the evidence was stacking up against me. But what to do? How to tell my Aussie friends that a glorious West Wales holiday in a semi-detached caravan was no longer a possibility? And what about all my other stories. Maybe those men weren’t wearing Y fronts after all?

I’m not sure where all this doubt would have lead too, if not for the quiet persistence of my friend with the onsite caravan. Quite apart from our nighttime escapades, he’d been conducting his own quiet research. It’s called the World Wide Web, in case your interested. Far more sensible than creeping around caravan parks at night. Here’s the picture he sent me.

There may not be semi-detached caravans in modern Britain but once upon a time they did exist. In fact, if enough people make enquiries about semi-detached caravan holidays in West Wales we might be able to bring them back again. Meanwhile, I’m conducting another branch of research. Can someone please tell me why some British caravans have two doors?

 

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