Staying (dis)connected with Telstra

A man and power lines are reflected in a Telstra poster adorning a public telephone in Sydney, AustraliaScene – at my local Telstra shop.

Me: “I’m not sure what to do, I’ve smashed the screen of my iPhone, but I believe I have insurance…”

Them: “The best thing to do is to call Telstra, find out if you have Stay Connected and take it from there – if you have Stay Connected, you get two gigabytes of free data, and they will replace the phone.”

Me: “Really? That sounds simple…I was thinking of just getting the screen replaced in the shopping centre…”

Them: (Sternly.) “If you do that Madam, you will null and void your warranty and any problem you have with your phone will not be covered. Would you like to wait in the queue? Our waiting time is only four hours at the moment.”

Me: “Oh. No, I’ll go home and call Telstra.”

* * * * *

Them: “I already have your year of birth so please tell me the day and month or enter it on your telephone keypad…”

Me: “May 15.”

Them: “Is that…the 25th of October?”

Me: “No.”

Them: “Please tell me the day and month of your birth or enter it on your telephone keypad…”

Sometime later:

Them: “How may I direct your enquiry? Blah, blah, blah or blah, or other?”

Me: “Other…”

Them: “Sorry I didn’t quite catch that…”

Me: “Other!”

Them: “So that would be telephone sales?”

Me: (Sighs.) “Yes.”

Person answers.

Them: “So you’re interested in purchasing a new phone.”

Me: (Patiently.) “No. I dropped my iPhone and smashed the screen, and I believe I have insurance.   I was told at the Telstra shop that you provide a replacement phone, and that with Stay Connected I can back-up two gigabytes of data.”

Them: “I’m sorry, that’s not my department. But I’ll put you through immediately to Stay Connected. Is there anything further I can help you with?”

Me: (Politely.) “Thank you, but no thank you.”

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-de-dum…

Me: ”Oh hello! Yes, I’m ringing about my iPhone, I dropped it and smashed the screen and I was told…”

Them: “Yes, that’s right. All you have to do is download the Stay Connected app, then you follow the instructions and you can back-up all your data. When you get your new phone simply follow the prompts and ALL your data will be restored…”

Me: “Really? That’s fantastic! Thank you.”

Them: “Perhaps you would like to stay on the line and complete a short survey?”

Me: “Sure.” (Thinks – In your dreams.)

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A few days later, new phone arrives. Download Stay Connected App onto old phone (which is still working held together by sticky tape and Gladwrap). Instruction tells me I can’t download data, because I have too much on the phone. Start to delete. Keeps telling me I have too much. I get below ONE gigabyte, still tells me too much.

Them: “…I already have your year of birth so please tell me the day and month…”

_________________Readers fill in the blanks.

Them: “Hi there, I’m Cherie from Stay Connected. How can I be of service?”

Me: “Well, the thing is I smashed my iPhone….I’m trying to use the Stay Connected App. I was told it took two gigabytes of data and I’m way below now.”

Them: “Oh, well, I’m sorry but the App is down at the moment. It’s being redesigned, and in fact you have FIVE gigabytes of FREE data on it.” (Said in tones of great excitement.)

Me: (With just a touch of sarcasm.) “So I’ve just deleted most of the photos and videos on my phone to get it below the two gigabytes I thought I had, and in fact your App is not working, but if it was I would have five gigabytes, which means I’ve completely unnecessarily cleared my phone out?”

Them: “That is unfortunately the case. However, have you ever backed up your phone through iTunes?”

Me. “Yes, I have.”

Them: “Well, due to our App currently being redesigned, perhaps the best idea would be to back up your old phone to iTunes and then insert your new phone, and instead of clicking up setting up new phone, click restore phone…”

Me: “Good idea. I’ll do it that way. Thanks for your help.”

Them: “Thank you and perhaps you would like to stay on the line to complete a short survey?”

Me: “Fine.” Thinks – in your dreams.

Back up old phone to iTunes. All G, as they say. Insert new phone. Message. Your phone cannot be connected to iTunes because your iTunes needs updating. Hmmm. Update iTunes. Your update cannot be installed because your operating system needs updating. Hmmmm. Update operating system. Your operating system cannot be updated because you don’t have enough free space. (Also although they don’t say this, someone out there is going, PLUS your stupid MacBook is way too old, Loser, and you ain’t never going to have El Capitaine on that thing…and if you can’t afford a new laptop you don’t deserve to back up your phone anyway…)

Reparación-de-celulares-mas-allá-del-simple-cambio-de-pantalla-en-Iphone-Ipad-y-Samsung

Them: “So I can direct your enquiry to the right place….”

Me: (Screaming) STAY CONNECTED STAY CONNECTED STAY CONNECTED.

Them: That would be, moving house?

Me: NO. You idiot. I am not effing moving house.

Them: “I’ll put you through now.”

(I’m pretty sure she said it in huffy tones – they probably have a huffy robot tone…)

One hour later.

Them: “What seems to be the problem?”

Me: (Sobbing quietly.) “I smashed my iPhone…”

Them: “I can hear you’re having some problems. Have you tried

downloading your data to the cloud – have you done that yet?”

Me: (Deep sigh.) “I tried once but it seemed to take a long time.”

Them: “The first time does take a while but I’m sure that will solve your problem, and it’s very easy, you just……………”

SIX hours later – you know the drill. “Welcome to Telstra. I already have…”

Me: (Finally talking to a person.) “Look, I’m having some troubles downloading my data to the cloud – it’s been six hours so far and it doesn’t seem to have finished yet…”

Them: “Let’s see if there’s a problem.” Goes away. Dum-de-dum-dum-de-dum.

Them: (In an accusatory voice.) “Your internet is working very slowly…”

Me: “Yes, that’s something I’ve been meaning to mention…the Telstra shop told me that I could get NBN where I live, I’m thinking it would be a good idea.”

Them: “Let me see.” (Pause.) “Unfortunately you can’t get NBN where you live. Have you tried backing your phone up to iTunes?”

Me: (Frothing at the mouth.) “Sorry, I have to go, I have an emergency…”

Them: “Perhaps you’d have time to complete a short survey?”

Me: “Sure.” Thinks – In. Your. Dreams.

THE NEXT MORNING – phone STILL downloading to the cloud. But at 4.00 am I had a bright idea. I have a Mac Book Air belonging to the company for which I do some social media work, and I have my own user profile on it.

I download iTunes, log in, and back up my old phone to it. I plug in the new phone – and Yippee!!!! It works. Data restored.

It’s only taken 36 hours, and I’m – oh yes – SO connected.

Perhaps I’ll wait until tomorrow to talk to Telstra about the NBN.

Candida Baker’s latest book is Belinda the Ninja Ballerina published by Ford Street.  You can purchase the book here: fordstreetpublishing

 

 

 

Silence is Golden

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Silence is not the absence of something

but

the presence of everything.

   John Grossmannn

 

 My best friend Sally and I could ride our ponies for hours through the English countryside where I grew up.

On the way back home, all of us – humans and horse – tired from our outing, would mosey our way along the grass verge, feet out of the stirrups, dangling our boots through the cow-parsley, while the ponies took the odd snack-on-the-go.

In those moments, life often seemed sweet and almost perfect, and it wouldn’t take much for one of us to burst into the chorus of one of our favourite songs…

‘Silence is golden, but my eyes still see

Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see…’

Anybody who remembers the song will know it doesn’t say much for our taste at the time, but it was 1967 and we were 12-years-old, and we were collectively in love with the Tremeloes, who, as it turned out were going to be a one-hit wonder, with not even, as I found out many years later, their own song.

What I remember thinking in those far-off days, and it’s a thought that has stayed with me all my life, is that there are two kinds of silence – an outside silence, which in a sense does not really exist, and an inner one, which arrives on a rare occasion – well, rare to me at least – unbidden, as a sudden sense of quiet inner peace.

I grew up in the country, and I now live in the country, and I still horse-ride – these days through the green macadamia-covered hills of northern New South Wales.

Until recently when we sadly lost my daughter’s Shetland pony, Sally-the-Boy to a brain tumour,  I would take my daughter for a trail ride on him, and  I would walk beside her.  Whenever we did our lane outing, she liked to close her eyes, so, as she said, she could hear the ‘quiet’ sounds. And the quiet sounds were the sounds her pony’s hooves make clip-clopping steadily along, the sound of the breeze, the carolling of the magpies and the far-off hum of the motorway.

If you want to further the argument that silence in a sense is a concept, and not something that really exists – think of the phrase, ‘Silence please’, and where it is used.

Take a school classroom for instance, at the beginning of an exam and the room falls quiet as students begin the unenviable task of working through an exam paper – is it silent in there? Of course not. There are a million little noises: the scraping of shoes on the floor, the occasional cough, the sound of a chair being adjusted, paper being turned – there is almost, in fact, a ‘noise’ of concentration.

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And yet, conversely despite this outside noise that makes the notion of silence not – in any world I know at least – a reality, there is that time when you are in the exam, when your inner world is in silence. Then, if you are lucky and you have studied your subject, a kind of meditative trance falls on you where you become unaware of anything around you, blocking out everything other than that which you are doing.

When we were children we used to play many games in the fields and the woods around my home. One of them, a perennial favourite, involved an attempt to be silent. One of us would hide our eyes into a tree, while another would pretend to be a Red Indian – as we still called native American Indians then – and would creep silently up behind to scare the person hiding their eyes. Sometimes if one of us was feeling cruel, we would all run off and leave the innocent waiting to be startled alone at the tree, and as I know, that produced its own torturous silence – the silence of no response.

For a large part of the past 35 years I have been a journalist working in busy newspaper and magazine offices, and in those offices the ability to call on inner silence becomes absolutely vital. They’re noisy places, newspaper offices. Not quite as noisy as they were pre-computers, but noisy enough. A large open plan-office with telephones ringing and people talking, meeting, arguing, creating is not necessarily the kind of place that you would think would be conducive to writing, but write you must – and so you do – learning to block out every sound, so that you can meet your deadline. Much, dear reader, as I am doing now.

In a relatively quiet, relatively small space in my house, with white desks and two windows overlooking the paddocks below, I am typing an essay on silence. Outside I can hear the sound of the neighbour on his ride-on mower, every now and then my son’s mobile phone pings. I can hear the magpies, crows, rosellas, butcher birds, minah birds and doves that are just part of the noise landscape. One of the dogs is drinking water, each lap magnified by my attempt to hear silence. If I pause for a moment, I can absorb these sounds deep inside, and by absorbing them they become part of the silent interior, the place from which I am attempting to write.

William Penn once wrote: “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” For me that rings true, because the curious thing about turning into the inner world is how energising it is.

Sometimes, although not often enough, I manage to get up in the very early hours of the morning to meditate. Even then, deep in the country at four in the morning, the world is not silent. The creaks and groans of an old house keep me company; the cat appears at my side and grooms herself, if there is rain every tiny drop is magnified by the absence of day noise, and the silence of the night reveals itself as anything but, as I try to empty my mind and find that still place within.

If nature is so noisy, is it ever silent? “See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence,” said Mother Teresa. “See the stars, the moon and the sun how they move in silence….we need silence to be able to touch souls.” I like that idea that the tree whose branch creaks over my roof, is growing in silence, that silence can be something tangible, if not in fact what we assume it to be. I’ve never thought of the sun, stars and moon as silent, but it’s true, at least from a human perspective. I see its trajectory over my house, I don’t hear it and that somehow reinforces the idea of silence being a sensation, having a presence, rather than an absence.

I have often wondered if wilderness places are silent – if you climb Mount Everest, for instance, do you sit in silence? In the Antarctic are you surrounded by silence? People tell me this is not so, that even in the quietest places there is noise, even if the noise is the beating of your own heart – even the absence of noise can be noisy.

There is a wonderful book by photographer Jeffrey Gusky entitled ‘Silent Places’. This poignant photographic journey through Eastern Europe documents in black and quite the crumbling landscape of the Holocaust. Houses, synagogues, railway lines, a simple corridor, a door, the entry to a Jewish home now used as a public toilet – every image silently tells a screaming story. His work is of outstanding quality, and somehow what he brings to the photographs is even more poignant than those of the time – the absence of people tells us these were their homes, their places of worship, of education and play – and in the case of the railway line to Auschwitz, their journey to death.   You feel that if you stare at them long enough you will bring them to life somehow, that the families will return, peeking out of the shadows, bringing light and love and warmth and noise with them, but until then this landscape bears silent witness to the bloody past.

 

 

'Corridor in Kazimierz', former Jewish district, Cracow, Polan, Jeffrey Gusky, 1996.

‘Corridor in Kazimierz’, former Jewish district, Cracow, Polan, Jeffrey Gusky, 1996.

Battlefields, memorials, cenotaphs, burial mounds, roman ruins – everywhere where man has once existed but is no longer, it is not the silence, or lack of it, in the direct environment of these places it is the silence of the structures themselves that strikes one as being so overwhelming, hinting at one’s own mortality. I am here, I am noise, I am flesh, I am anything but silent, my blood flows, my heart beats, my stomach growls, my joints creak, my eyes see, my ears hear, tongue tastes, in each movement I make, each kiss or cuddle I give or receive, in each angry word, or happy laugh or bossy command I am an active presence.

Perhaps it is this more than anything that creates anxiety for a lot of people around the idea of silence. In a world full of iPods, iPads, tablets, phones, facebook and computers, whether we live in the (supposed) peace and quiet of the country, or the white noise of a city, the idea of silence, without or within, can be laden with fear. I can’t hear, does that mean people can’t hear me? Do I, if I am not constantly in contact with humanity, matter? My lack of silence, my constant interaction reassures me – I am here, I do matter, I am in contact.

The very fact of modern human’s difficulty with silence means that it is increasingly more important for us to acknowledge it, to hold it within and embrace the silence – to give our soul a chance to speak.

Perhaps one of the best-known prose poems in the world is the Desiderata, which far from being written in the 1600s as was commonly thought, was in fact penned by Max Ehrmann in 1927. Ehrmann, a philosopher and writer who wrote six books in ten years and then became a lawyer because he felt he would never write a book that made him enough money to support his family, would be astonished and gratified to know that 84 years later the Desiderata is one of the most widely read poems in the world.

‘Go placidly amid the noise and haste,’ he wrote, ‘and remember what peace there may be in silence.’

What he was speaking of, I am sure, is inner silence – that deep, profound state of being when all is right with the world, so right that one could still be compelled, in the right circumstances – a horse ride along a quiet avenue of trees, a dog or three at my heels – in my case – to sing out loud, ‘Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see’. And always to remember, of course the wise words below:

Keep-calm-and-enjoy-the-silence

From horse’s hooves to ballet shoes

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I’M PORING over the entries to the next dance eisteddfod – I know we’ve got to tick the contemporary solo under 14, that’s easy, but OMG what about all these others? Not just the obvious ballet, hip-hop, jazz and tap, but modern, lyrical and even lyrical expressive – I’m tearing my hair out here. It’s like a completely different language, I mean – I’m a horse person not a dance person.

I was lucky when my son was small that I very soon noticed his interests dovetailed with mine – i.e. horses, horses and more horses. His best toys were an already second-hand collection of my little ponies that we picked up at his kindergarten fete one day and paid 50 cents each for. I can remember the names he gave them 20 years later: Paris, Hank, Charlie B, Angel and David. (I can partly remember the names because I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw them away and they’re still in a toybox in my room somewhere.) His growing obsession with all things equine allowed me to extend myself from someone who had ridden a bit all her life and knew a bit about horses into someone who knew a lot.

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Twenty years on and a lot of pony club, horseshows, natural horsemanship, horse rescues, horses bred, bought and sold, we still have six lovely equine friends in our paddocks, and although I ride much less, I spend a lot of time talking to and working with them, and Sam trains the young ones.   As we went I learned to plait manes, and call dressage tests, to know the difference between a Liverpool and an Oxer, a six-bar course and an AM5, and when to give him advice and more importantly when not to (at least I think I mastered that skill although he would probably disagree).

But his younger sister, although she loves horses in a broad humanitarian way has a different skill – one to which I’m completely new. She is a lovely dancer and getting better all the time. When I realised we were heading towards a fairly serious hobby, I was relieved that it wasn’t horses. No more charging around the countryside with a float and camping gear and horses in tow, no more standing out in the wind and the rain and the hot sun in numerous Australian country towns, no more one day a rooster and the next day a feather duster depending on that peculiar combination of horse and rider and the many variants involved. No more, oh, thank goodness, no more arriving at a showground and hearing the twanging nasal sounds of ‘We’re the Boys from the Bush and we’re back in towwwnnn’. I imagined being a Dance ‘Mom’ as a veritable bed of roses. I’d already been so inept at doing hair and make-up that I’d been given a withering look and told she’d do it herself. Suits me I thought, I’ll read a book, or better still write one, while I’m sitting around genteely with oodles of time on my hands. Plus I thought, at least it can’t be as expensive as horses.

Ah, how wrong can a person be! First of all of course there’s the hours of training – five and even six days a week, and that means a punctual and reliable taxi service. Then there’s the incredible array of ‘stuff’ – leotards, dance shoes of all kinds, tutus, bun-nets, bun-pins, bobby pins, tights, dance shorts, and of course costumes.

Halfway to her first solo eisteddfod in which she was entered for her self-choreography, she announced she’d ‘forgotten’ her tights, and then after we’d dashed into our local dance shop and got back on the road, her shorts. A quick sideways duck into the shop where, in Australia, ‘you don’t pay for any fancy overheads’, and we were on the road again.

Then came the nerves, and with it the Jekyll and Hyde personality change.  (Oh, I remembered that one SO well, culminating in a moment at Caboolture showground when my son, sitting up on his 16.2hh showjumper, looked down on me and exhorted me to: “get off my high horse.”  And then cantered off furiously when I laughed.) Anna having by then criticized me for everything from my posture to how I tap my hand on my knee when I drive, to my laugh, I decided the best thing to do was to keep quiet. “Why aren’t you talking to me?”, she moaned after a few minutes silence. “Talk to me.”

It was fear, of course, and I understood that. It was also not helped by our rather overwhelming dose of reality when we got to the eisteddfod. I mean, here were girls with literally mobile racks of costumes – the amount of make-up they had would fill a Louis Vuitton luggage set. We sat in the corner at the back with our little chiller bag from Aldi, and the mini-make up set and the one costume, adapted form her Year Six formal dress at primary school and I felt, I can tell you, like a rank amateur. Why had it not occurred to me that if Anna was going to do well at this I was going to have to do well also? I was going to have to learn the language, buy the stuff, be the support system.

Just a little luggage...

Just a little luggage…

It caused me to stop and think about how it’s not that hard if you’re a parent and your child has an interest in something you love to do and that you fundamentally understand. It’s much harder when it’s something for which you don’t have a natural affinity, but it’s just as essential, if not more so. I think many of us have felt the emotional blackmail from our parents to do something that pleases them rather than to do the thing that pleases us, and perhaps one of the most active areas of growth as a parent is to jump in with that. To be on board for your child and help them develop their passion so it can sustain them throughout their lives at whatever level they choose.

We were so overwhelmed by the professionalism of the girls around us that in a way it worked for Anna, she was so convinced she wouldn’t get a place she simply relaxed, went out and danced like an angel. When she got a Highly Commended she was as pleased as if she’d won. Our journey home was very different – she chatted amiably all the way home. Stress relieved, mission accomplished, first solo eisteddfod down.

And a dance mum explained the difference between the dance types for me. “Contemporary is slow controlled movements,” she explained patiently. “Modern is more expressive and emotional, and lyrical or expressive or lyrical expressive is a combination of those with its own element thrown in.” Ok…makes a 2.1 dressage test look easy by comparison really. In fact a room full of hormonal teenage girls in full preparation for a dance contest makes driving around the countryside with horses and a horse float look easy.

To be honest I don’t see the novel being written, or even read, anytime soon, but I am fully involved in the Dance Mom’s Handbook.  (Actually I made that up, but if it doesn’t exist, it probably should…now there’s a good idea.)

Cool, becalmed and collected

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So there we are, sitting in the middle of the ocean, and not a breath of wind in sight.

We’ve come up to the beautiful Whitsundays for a week’s sailing, and even I, as a non-sailor, know that wind is kind of essential to make the boat move.  Not only that but due to the other half having never experienced the Whitsundays without wind, he hasn’t bought quite enough petrol with him, so we’re not sure if we’ve got enough to get back to Whitsunday Island where we’re camping for four nights.  It’s all a little bit hairy, if you get my drift, which is certainly what we were doing – drifting.  Not only that, but something’s gone wrong with the motor and it’s not working.

Surely there must be wind somewhere, we beseech the sky, which taunts us with some tiny little gusts from every direction at once.

Finally, the motor decides to splutter into life, and having had to give up on our attempt to get to a snorkelling spot, we opt for lunch in one of the many beautiful coves that dot the edges of these tropical paradise islands.  We drop anchor in May Bay among the million-dollar motor-boats and try to look as if at least, because we’ve got sails, we’re superior.  Which would be all well and good if the sails were actually working of course.  We dive into the deep, clear blue water, and consume a delicious picnic lunch on deck.  It’s enough to restore our optimism entirely, and even better, the wind picks up, so I’m told we’re going to sail out of there triumphantly.

Unfortunately the only large gust of wind of the day arrives at the very moment we discover the anchor is stuck deep down below – probably snagged on some coral – and we’re heading at high speed for one of those above expensive motor boats, and I have NO idea what I’m doing. Disaster is averted by a millimetre, the anchor finally obliges, and we sail for all of 500 metres before the wind disappears.

Apparently, this is what sailing is all about – hours of boredom, minutes of adrenalin and moments of panic and pandemonium.  We motor slowly back to our temporary home on Dugong beach, with our sails between our legs, and wonder exactly how we’ll manage to do the snorkelling trip we’ve planned to Blue Pearl Bay the next day, and get our selves back all the way to Shute Harbour in Airlie Beach the day after if we have no wind and not enough fuel.

But in a way, all of these adventures are part of what we wanted – a down-to-earth (or sea) real-life as far away from the madding crowds style holiday as possible.  Dugong Beach on Whitsunday Island has only eight camping spots, metres from the edge of the beach, fringed with shade, and walks to Sawmill Beach, or if you’re feeling fit, to the top of Whitsunday Peak.  It’s picturesque and peaceful.  Shortly after we arrived we were the only two people on the island, with only the resident Curlews and goannas for company.  We took our chairs down to the sand and watched the lazy resident turtle bob across the bay, and felt we were very privileged indeed.

Now, though, we’re lucky in a different way – experiencing the kind of friendly helping hand that I’ve found is often extended on holidays, and I hope I’ve offered in the past myself.  We meet a couple, Liz and Paul McCarthur, who both work on Hamilton Island, and are taking a few days out camping on Dugong.  They offer to take us snorkelling in their motor-powered runabout, and we accept their offer gratefully.

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If yachts need wind, motorboats most certainly don’t and skimming across the flat ocean the next morning is a treat in itself before we even arrive at the aptly-named Blue Pearl Bay.  On the way, we pass Hook Island and Hayman Island, and when we arrive at the Bay one of the lovely things about it is that there is every kind of boat there – from massive old clippers redone as charter boats, private yachts and motorboats and smaller charter boats.  There’s even a custom-designed drop-people-straight-on-the-beach from Hayman Island boat, a long thin flat-bottomed affair with three genteel steps forrard (that’s a nautical term just so you know I was paying attention) so people can simply walk down onto the coral beach, and straight into the water.

And what water it is.  This is not my first snorkelling experience on the reef, but it certainly was the best so far.  As soon as we slid into the water, we were surrounded by fishes of all shapes, sizes and colours – angel fish, butterfly fish, the exquisitely coloured parrot fish, to name but a few, and the highlight of this particular bay, the incredibly friendly, curious and massive Murray Wrasse, with his or her smaller friend, who followed snorkelers about in an almost dog-like fashion.  Murray Wrasse can live to the ripe old age of 30, and can grow up to two metres long, but are unfortunately still on the endangered list because of their reputation as a fine fish to eat.

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One of the most extraordinary things about snorkelling is not only the invisible presence of this brightly coloured underwater world below the surface of the sea, but the blissful silence.  I drifted through the water, schools of fish twisting and turning around me, and felt completely at peace.

Back at Dugong we watch the sun turn the sea a golden orange; in the morning we wake to the turquoise still waters of our little beach.  I manage to cook some strangely imaginative meals over our one gas burner, we marvel at our nocturnal visitor – the cheeky bush rat, the shy potoroo and the tiny marsupial mouse are all visitors to our campsite, while no night would be complete without the mournful wailing of the Curlews.  Every morning I wake up to the sight of the beautiful hoop pines that cover this and all the 74 islands that make the Whitsunday group, and thank god they have not been completely deforested.  As the days go by, we become increasingly grateful that we have a tiny luxury in the form of the shower tent for our solar powered shower bought just before we left.

I’d had the foresight to make a bargain – five days sailing and island living in return for two nights luxury.  Clever me.  By the time we sail (with a little helpful motor power of course since there is still hardly any wind) into Shute Harbour I’m more than ready for a little luxury.

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I’ve chosen Peppers in Airlie Beach as our destination, and the resort is perfect.  A large one-bedroom apartment with a huge deck overlooking the new Port Harbour complex, and with a huge spa bath, is exactly what is needed for restoration. The restaurant serves delicious tropical meals, and it is right next to the wet-edge pool – easy to go from eating to swimming and back to sleeping.  It’s also a perfect antidote to the 75 (I counted) sandfly bites I unfortunately collected.  Warning:  take the strongest mosquito repellent that exists and wear it permanently. Ahhh, tropical island holidays!

Airlie Beach is a perfect holiday town. The European-style restaurants and cafes along the tree-lined boulevard next to the park are beach are full, the child-safe lagoon offers relief for families and children on holidays, and there’s plenty of shopping in the main street.

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What the Whitsundays offer is the best of all worlds – a holiday everybody can enjoy on any budget. For me the mix of adventure and luxury was perfect.

Photographs:  Candida Baker (apart from Murray Wrasse)

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

To get to Airlie Beach fly Virgin or Jetstar to Proserpine. There are regular shuttle buses to Airlie, which is about 40 minutes away, or hire a car from Proserpine.

SAILING THERE

At Airlie, Shute Harbour has plenty of charter boats on offer. For most of the boats no boat licence is required, and some companies, such as Bare Boat Charters, offer shorter charters of three, four or five nights, see airliebeach.com/bareboatcharters/welcome.html. You can hire anything from a small yacht to a sailing or powered catamaran, a motor-boat, a luxury crewed power cruiser, or a crewed sailing ship. According to charteryachtsaustralia.com.au/, the cheapest charter is around $440 a night for a yacht that will carry a maximum of four up to around $1800 a night for a sailing catamaran which takes up to 10 people; the sky’s the limit on the luxury crewed boats. Charter companies offer boat tuition and help is just a radio call away.

CAMPING THERE

Many of the Whitsunday Islands offer camping. See nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/.

MORE INFORMATION tourismwhitsundays.com.au

From Paris to Paradise

Sarah Turnbull’s journey along the rocky road of hope…

This review first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 6, 2013

Sarah Turnbull

Author Sarah Turnbull.  Photo Andrew Goldie

It’s a hard thing in life to know when to let go of a dream and when to fight for it. In Sarah Turnbull’s first memoir, Almost French, we followed her journey as she bravely let go of her Australian life to move to Paris to be with Frederic, the man with whom she’d fallen in love.

After many trials and tribulations, all seemed to be well that ended well, and this is where we once more plunge into Turnbull’s story at the start of All Good Things.

Turnbull proves once again what an accomplished, versatile and humane writer she has become.

The couple are renovating their apartment; Frederic is working as a lawyer and Turnbull is researching a novel; they have their terrier, Maddie; and their life is full, to the outside eye at least. The only thing missing is a baby and, although for the reader there is no reason to suppose that a little one won’t make its presence felt there is a slightly wistful air almost immediately, as Turnbull describes her visits to her local church where she lights candles for her cause.

When Frederic is suddenly offered a job with his firm in Tahiti, their first thought is to refuse it. After all, they reason, why would they leave their perfect city life? And why, too, would they leave the place with the technology to help them make babies?

Because, as it transpires, after discovering that Turnbull is in the throes of early menopause, Frederic and Sarah have taken the IVF route several times with no success and a lot of heartbreak. Quite soon it becomes evident that the Holy Grail of this book is their quest to have a baby, and Turnbull writes with searing honesty about the hormonal swings, the debilitating effect of IVF on her body, the moments of optimism, and the crash when yet again it doesn’t work.

Gradually, the idea of Tahiti takes hold. After all, Turnbull reasons, what could be so bad about a place that inspired Gauguin and Matisse?

They settle on Mo’orea – a ferry ride to Pape’ete where Frederic will be working, and not as busy or as populated. So that is where Sarah, Frederic and Maddie find themselves in a cottage by a lagoon, in a landscape full of vivid colours, with friends and an entire new culture and way of life to absorb. They both decide that it’s time to close the book on the baby quest.

Except that Turnbull, despite her glorious surroundings, finds herself sinking into a depression, unable to write, and becoming more and more withdrawn. When she finds a sympathetic psychiatrist, she dwells on the subject of her infertility so much that in the end he points out to her that she is not moving on; she is, he says, not even going backwards. ”It’s not a crime to hope, you know,” he tells her.

The story of their last, successful try and the subsequent birth of their son, Oliver, is interspersed with wonderful descriptions of learning to dive (not very well); travelling to atolls and the tiny islands that surround the mainland; their introduction to the darker side of island life – thieves that have no fear of invading a house at any time of the day or night – and the ongoing, often amusing account of a marriage between two people from very different cultures. A small example from early in the book: guests arrive both five minutes early and 90 minutes late for a dinner party in Paris. Turnbull can’t believe people would turn up so late, while Frederic thinks it’s the height of rudeness to arrive early. Vive la difference.

”All good things come to those who wait” goes the expression, and in Turnbull’s case there is a happy ending – a lively, healthy son and a new start again in Sydney for the family. In All Good Things, Turnbull proves once again what an accomplished, versatile and humane writer she has become.

All Good Things by Sarah Turnbull.

ALL GOOD THINGS

Sarah Turnbull

HarperCollins, 325pp, $29.99

Download the ebook here.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/from-paris-to-paradise-along-the-rocky-road-of-hope-20130704-2pct3.html#ixzz2YPVnlZkY

Magical Moon Moment

Original photo from Almost A Cowboy Western

Original photo from Almost A Cowboy Western

IT WAS a full moon the other night, and somehow it seemed to bring with it a small oasis of calm in the weeks of somewhat wild and unpredictable weather we’ve been having in the Northern Rivers.

I  look forward to full moons, because a while ago my daughter and I made a pact that we would try our best to do something different on a full moon, or – her school work and my writing permitting – a few nights either side.  In the past four or five months we’ve driven into the macadamia forests and had a fire and marshmallows down by the river; gone down to Byron Bay to watch the moon rise from the water – almost as golden as its brother sun; danced outside on our arena, and had a full moon dinner in the garden.

This month, we hadn’t even thought about a full moon moment.  In fact, the night before the weather had been so violent – with lashing rain and gusting winds, that full moon fever was the last thing on my mind.

But now, standing in my kitchen, looking out into the garden, everything was clearly silhouetted in silvery light, and I could see my Paint horse, Storm, lying down in his paddock, with his companion, Johnny, our grey Arabian, grazing close by.

Storm was born on the property, and I was lucky enough to be there when it happened.  When he was a foal, and used to take his baby naps, I would often go into the paddock and lie down beside him, and he was always welcoming.  He would open an eye, and close it again, and we would lie there together quite contentedly until I had to go back to work, or he’d had enough snoozing.  Sometimes his mother, Glimmer, would stand over us both, and they were always special moments.

I wondered if Storm would be let me talk to him now, in the full moonlight, so I wandered over to the paddock, and sure enough, he kept on resting, while I sat on the ground beside him and scratched his neck for him.  We sat there companionably together, and now that I was outside, I could see clearly into the house, back into the kitchen where I’d been standing, and where my daughter and her two friends were hanging out.

Wouldn’t it be lovely, I suddenly thought, if we could actually ride in the moonlight?  How amazing would that be to embrace the still, crisp night air, and the moon in all its glory, with a horse?

I looked at Johnny, grazing away.  We’ve had our occasionally slightly over-excited Arab for eleven years, and somehow along the way, he’s become a been-there, done-that sort of a horse – exactly the sort of horse to go riding on in the moonlight – as long as there were no horse-eating dragons out and about. (Fortunately, in Johnny’s horse brain, horse-eating dragons are usually absent from the arena, and only present when he feels he has to keep his wits about him in the macadamia forest.)

The girls were willing, and so was Johnny, and so there we were with the natural horsemanship halter, and the bareback pad, just in our tracksuits and gumboots, pottering around in the moonlight on a horse.  What a beautiful feeling it was!   No pressure, no force – we just let Johnny wander around with one of us beside him, and one of us riding.  He was mostly curious about the light shining from the ubiquitous iPod, and what he really wanted to do was just hang with us and cuddle – which was fine by us.  So we all had a turn, riding in the moonlight, and then we sat and chatted, while the other horses looked at us over the fences as if to say they too would like to join in.

It was a magical moonlit moment out there with the three girls, and the snowy-white Arab – one for the memory banks, that’s for sure.

 

The Worry Monster, Mother’s Day and muddling through…

Cranes from the Art of Japan exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Cranes from the Art of Japan exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

I woke up in the early hours of the morning to the sound of the rain on the roof – as I so often do living in the green hills of the Northern Rivers.  (Note to self:  In Australia, a country renowned for its droughts, there’s a reason why this area is always green.  Second note to self:  Always research an area before moving there.)

As I lay there wondering if it was too early to get up at 4.30 am and work, the Worry Monster came to visit, and soon we were running through our favourite conversations – too many horses with too many fungal diseases (also due to the weather); too little time, too much to do, not enough money, no clear direction at the moment as to the way forward – and why not?  And what is wrong with me??? Everything was absolutely focussed with crystal-like clarity on what is wrong with my life.

And this day, the Saturday before Mother’s Day is always a little hard because three years ago we were told a very beautiful and valuable thoroughbred horse, Fox, whom we’d owned only for a few months, was dying of pneumonia.  It was a catastrophic series of tiny mistakes which had led us to this sad place, but there we were with just the slightest chance he would make it through the night, but at 5.00am on Mother’s Day morning, he died, and I’ve felt the sadness most acutely at this same time of year ever since.

I took a deep breath.  After several years of trying my best to acquire the positive habit of the Law of Attraction I knew I wasn’t doing myself any favours.

I decided, as I also often do, to tune into one of my favourite shows – Jennifer McLean’s Healing with the Masters, and her replay of her interviewer with author and teacher, Patricia Cota-Robles.

And there it was – the exact phrase I needed for that moment:

“The company of heaven say that worry is a way of praying for what you don’t want.”

 OMG!  So true.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, ignore the rain and take the dogs for a walk before I fed the horses.

As I drove up the lane where I live there was a single White-headed pigeon sitting bang-slap in the middle of the road.  I had to get out of the car and shoo it away before it decided to fly up into the nearest tree – and that was just the start of my morning adventures.

The pigeon was followed by more bird-life than I usually see in weeks, all in the space of half-an-hour.  Ground-nesting plovers stalked imperiously away from me scolding me crossly for daring to drive through their territory; flocks of Australian White Ibis and the Black-headed Ibis took to the sky in their droves as the dogs and I walked up and down the avenues of macadamia trees trying to avoid the pouring rain, a pair of delicate Grey Herons, (actually the Australian White-faced Heron by the way), rose gracefully into the air looking exactly like birds on a Japanese scroll.  Even the sky – a deep shade of Payne’s Grey – looked like a painting, ominous, brooding and beautiful all at once. On the way home a pair of Willy Wagtails and a pair of Butcher Birds were right next to the White-headed pigeon – which led me to wonder why the pigeon was by itself?  Had it lost its mate?  After all, pigeons are monogamous and mate for life – like many bird species who seem to have achieved something with which we humans have difficulties. Were the other birds keeping it company in its loneliness?

Stranger things have happened – certainly in my animal-filled life!

Talking of which, what do you when you get home and you need to move a guinea pig and rabbit from a horse stable so you can put two horses in the two stables in order to dry them out a bit?  You put them in an Ikea laundry basket – you know, the silver ones, with a wire frame and fine mesh all around.  Plenty of air, light to carry, fine enough mesh that the sawdust doesn’t fall out – problem solved – and it only took 20 minutes of chasing them around the stable to get them in there.

(Of course all of that might beg the question as to why the guinea pig and rabbit are in a horse stable to begin with, and that goes back to the weather.  They’re living in massive five-star hotel luxury because they were constantly being rained out in their previous home and I got sick of rescuing them.  Now they live in a stable big enough for a 17hh warmblood, and are ejected only when I need the stable.)

Then, because ‘needs must’, as my mother used to say, I heat up a bowl of olive oil – not as a nature’s own remedy for me, but in order that I can rub it in to one of the horse’s legs.  Our old show-jumper, Cardigan, gets regular outbreaks of Greasy Heel, which spreads up his legs, and olive oil is just one of the numerous treatments we have to apply.  I let the leg soak up the oil for a while before I spend half-an-hour happily engrossed in scratching scabs off.

By now my human needs are more than calling me – it’s time for a shower, breakfast and a cup of tea.

I discover, to my surprise, that I’ve enjoyed this morning much more than I might have thought I would when I first woke up, and the Worry Monster has been well and truly banished – at least for a while, and when she makes her presence felt I will remember, when I worry, I am praying for what I don’t want.

The illustration with this post is actually of cranes, of course, but it captures the heron spirit!

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