A force of nature

 

"Flooding water is unpredictable..." Photo:  Candida Baker

                “Flooding water is unpredictable…” Photo: Candida Baker

Deeper Water by Jessie Cole, Fourth Estate rrp $29.99 346pp

 

In literature, and in film, there are some classic plots almost guaranteed to grab the audience’s attention. The Stranger Comes to Town is one, Coming of Age is another and what in England we might call Something Nasty in the Woodshed (a reference to the wonderful novel Cold Comfort Farm) is another.

Like a practiced chess master, local Burringbar author Cole, who grew up in relative isolation on a country property, has used all these themes to create a novel that is as deep, chilling and sensuous as the title itself. Her first book, Darkness on the Edge of Town,(which also used the stranger in town device) was good, this one is not just better, it’s extraordinary.

It’s ten years ago this year since I moved to the Byron and during that time we’ve experienced nature at its best and worst. You don’t need to live in the country to appreciate Cole’s novel, but it’s certainly familiar territory – which she writes about with tender clarity – if you do happen to have suffered from the arbitary forces of nature. At the start of Cole’s novel, we’re introduced to the main character, a young woman, Mema, who, like Cole, has spent all her life living on the family property – she’s trying to get a cow who has started to calve away from the edge of the rapidly swelling creek, when a car is washed off the close-by bridge. Mema rescues the young man, Hamish, with a long branch, bringing herself close to disaster at the same time. When Hamish is finally safe, his 21st century life and all its accoutrements in the bottom of the creek, he takes one look at Mema, and says: “Fuck, you’re just a girl”.

Just a girl. Mema thinks how horrified her mother would be, and in the space of a remarkably short time we get the idea – Mema is a capable 22-year-old, who also happens to have a club foot; her potter mother has alienated all the surbanites in town with her ‘feminist’ ways, and because she’s had children to different men, all of whom have left her. Mema’s older sister already has a toddler, and a baby on her hip; Mema’s best friend, Anja, is as light and as unstable and dangerous as mercury, with a father who is a drunk, and possibly abusing her. Into all of this strolls Hamish, the city-slicker, an environmental consultant who is in the area to asses a proposal to turn sugar cane waste into power. And then there’s Billy, a somewhat brooding presence, who’s had the ‘hots’ for Mema for years.

cov_deeperwater

It’s a volatile mix, but no less volatile than Cole’s actual life, and if a writer is as good as their material, then sadly for Cole, she has been given first-class material in the suicide of her older sister when she was a teenager, which drove her psychiatrist father to madness, and also eventually to suicide. With two young children by the time she was 23, Cole was suffering depression when she first went to see a counsellor who encouraged her to write everything down as therapy, and in an ironic twist of fate, the life that had caused her such deep grief, has become a deep well of complex emotional material.

It’s almost inevitable that Mema, who has never taken much notice of men, should fall for Hamish, but Cole doesn’t take the easy route of giving Mema and Hamish a relationship, instead all of Mema’s longings are stirred into a melting-pot of desire and confusion which, in the end, allows her to notice Billy, and his devotion to her.

There is warm, rather than cold comfort in this novel, in the end, which is perhaps testament to Cole’s growth as a writer. Where her first book was chilling to the bone,Deep Water allows for, in amongst the tragedies, the sweeter things of life – that a local farmer who has been leaving flowers for Mema’s mother at her driveway, should finally be given permission to approach the prickly matriarch, that Hamish should warn Mema that the company he works for does not necessarily have the area’s best environmental interests at heart; that Billy and Mema, despite misunderstandings, begin to see themselves as a couple.

One of the most compelling aspects to this novel is the way Cole writes about landscape. In this book – and parts of it remind me of Peter Carey’s ability to make the landscape a character in itself, in both Bliss and Oscar and Lucinda – the landscape is a living, breathing entity. Mema’s connection to it is visceral, and in a sense it is the force of nature – the flood, her awakening to love in the woods around her house, a potentially lethal fire, her call to environmental action, that create a backbone, or trunk, for the novel. If Mema’s mother is the brooding matriarch of this big, scattered, somewhat chaotic family, then this country of the Northern Rivers is the matriarch of the entire novel, a Kali-esque presence that can switch from giver to destroyer of life in a few minutes, but whom, in her turn must be mothered and nurtured. It’s that unseen compelling Gaia presence that certainly keeps me here, where life is often extreme in surprising ways.

For me a pre-requisite for a novel is that it should transport you to another time and place, and allow you to connect to its characters. I walked around for days imagining myself in the world of Deeper Water and I can’t think of higher praise than that.

This post first appeared in my new publishing venture Verandah Magazine…if you’re interested to read more go to: verandahmagazine.com.au 

Advertisements

The Horse Rescuer

Amanda Vella has one mission in life - to rescue as many horses as possible

Amanda Vella has one mission in life – to rescue as many horses as possible

SAHA’s mission: To provide as many neglected, unwanted, slaughter bound horses with a second chance at life and love.

  When Amanda Vella, the founder of the charity Save a Horse Australia, got engaged last Christmas, she put in on Facebook, definitely the modern way to communicate important events in our lives.  But for Vella the announcement wasn’t made to a few dozen, or even a few hundred, or even a few thousand people.  It was made to an astonishing 20,000 people who follow Vella, her steadfast band of volunteers and the stories of the horses she rescues on a daily basis from her home at Beaudesert.

But despite the overwhelming support and congratulations from those who support her and her organization, there are only a few who know the full story behind the engagement and fewer still who know Vella’s personal story of love lost and love gained.

Vella grew up in the small country town of Narrandera (population 3,871), on the banks of the Murrumbidgee in the Riverina district of southern New South Wales.  “I always loved horses,” she says.  “I was just born with a love for them.  I borrowed a neighbour’s pony, and I got my own pony when I was 11. I was in Pony Club for a while, but I got kicked out for being naughty – I was a bit of a rebel.”

But the rebellious streak was not surprising.  Vella lost her mother to cancer when she was seven, and her father, who didn’t cope well with her mother’s death, committed suicide when she was 13.  Vella, caught in a maelstrom of loss and grief, turned to horses even more. At 14, she rescued her first horse, Gypsy.

“I paid $75 for her from the horse sales,” she says. “I had her with me in Narrandera for three months, and I adored her.  But I knew I had to get away from home, and when I was 14 I made the decision to move to the Gold Coast to sort my life out.” For Vella, who has older and younger half-brothers and sisters, but was the only child to her parent’s marriage, the Gold Coast was one of the few places she knew that had happy memories. “I’d been taken there on a holiday by a family friend,” she says. “When things got difficult with my family I was living with my grandmother, who was not able to keep me permanently, so it was a question of going into care or leaving Nerrandera.”

Vella chose to leave, selling her childhood pony, Sandy to raise her bus fare, and for almost a year, lived, as she puts it “rough”, until with help from the Miami school principal, Jim Baker, she got an orphan allowance from Centrelink, and Austudy to go to school. “Mr Baker actually became my legal guardian at the time because I couldn’t even go to school unless I had a legal guardian because I was under 16,” she says.  “I rented a caravan near my high school, Miami High, and I worked part-time – at Bernie’s Burgers, Sizzler and Toys R Us.” (She tells me this almost casually, as if it’s an everyday occurrence for 14-year-olds to move thousands of kilometres away from home, live in a caravan, study and work three jobs.)

It took Vella some months to feel secure enough to send for Gypsy, who was being looked after by a friend in Narrandera. When Gypsy arrived Vella was overjoyed – until disaster struck again.  “I’d only had her up here for a few months when she was stolen from the property where she was agisted a 30-minute drive away from where I was then living.” she says.  “I was completely devastated, at that time Gypsy was my life – I looked everywhere and advertised for her return, but nothing.  I never found her, and I worried about what had happened for years, until only fairly recently I finally managed to trace her to a lady who had got her from the RSPCA so obviously the thieves couldn’t or didn’t keep her. This lady owned her for years until she was put to sleep – and I only missed her by a few months, but at least I knew she had been well looked after.”

Top:  Trixie not long after she arrived at the sanctuary, and bottom, a few months later

Top: Trixie not long after she arrived at the sanctuary, and bottom, a few months later

It wouldn’t have been surprising if Vella, still traumatized from her emotional roller-coaster ride, had given up on horses at this point, but far from being deterred by Gypsy’s disappearance, Vella rescued her second horse, an emaciated bay Thoroughbred called Buddy she heard about from a friend.  “My friend called me and told me about someone he knew who had a really skinny horse, so we rang him, and he told us to come and get him.  He was in North Brisbane when we collected him, and after he’d recovered his weight we adopted him out to a lovely lady in the Lockyer Valley.” For Vella her trials have simply reinforced that this is her calling.  “I’ve heard people say that they’ve been brought to earth to do a particular job,” she explains, “and that’s how it is for me. I was born to do this. I know that, and I’ve always known it.”

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and watching Vella at work – organising to pick up a surrender case, speaking with the local RSPCA, confirming the care requirements of a particular horse, and telling me she’s had to make the heart-rending decision to euthanaze a horse that isn’t going to make it, I wonder whether she feels that the loss of her parents – and of Gypsy – actually in some way prepared her for the life she leads now, a life in which she witnesses again and again the best and the worst of human behaviour and where she has to handle the prospect of a horse’s death on an almost daily basis.

“I think it definitely gave me an ability to cope,” she says.  “Not that the decisions I have to make are easy, but at the same time what I do feels urgent and necessary and so I just get on with it.”  (In a sad postscript to her Buddy story, his adopted family had him for many years until he and three other horses were drowned in the massive 2010/11 Queensland floods when the waters swept through the Lockyer Valley.)

Despite her long-term ambition to own a horse-rescue centre, even as a teenager Vella was canny enough to know that it would take money, and working her way school and university, she became a business development manager, earning enough to self-fund her horse rescue habit through her salary.  “I started my charity the opposite way to most people,” she says.  “I had 15 horses in care, and I was still working full time and self-funding all the horses. I finally decided to register the charity in 2009, and self-funded that for a long time as well. But then it gradually started to take off.  I started up a Facebook page, and that just went crazy, and now a lot of our pledges for support come through Facebook, and last year I was able to start working full-time for SAHA.” Examples of goodwill towards Vella and her charity include a woman recently donating $10,000 to pay for an urgent operation needed for a rescue horse, vets donating their time whenever possible, and thousands of people donating money on a daily basis. “Everything helps,” says Vella. “Even five dollars makes a difference, and I am thankful for every dollar people give us.”  (At the time of writing SAHA has 47 horses in care, and Vella says over 700 horses have been through the centre, although sadly not all of them make it, and even during the course of this article several horses had to be euthanized for various health complications.)

It takes a lot of people to run a rescue operation based around our largest domestic animal, and Vella now has around 35 people working with her – volunteers, committee members, foster carers and adoptive homes as well as an additional army of horse vets, dentists and farriers. What’s more, this is no glamorous get a gorgeous horse for free outfit – as Vella wryly puts it – “we’re not talking Olympic champions here.”  Even running a charity, and with the massive amount of supporters she has, she’s found that, as she says: “Most people want something for nothing. And the horses we get are mainly old, or younger ones with particular problems, or horses that have been almost starved to death.  Re-housing them is very difficult, and often we have to keep the very old ones ourselves. With the younger ones, once they have been rehabilitated, they are trained, and then fostered out before they are offered on lifetime adoption contracts.”  (As well as the numerous amount of foster carers on personal properties, SAHA has two permanently leased properties – one of 20 acres in Beaudesert, and a 12-acre-property at Wongawallan in the Gold Coast hinterland.)

Because of the extraordinary numbers of horses that end up at knackeries – close to 40,000 per year according to Vella, she has had to narrow the focus of SAHA to something achievable.  “It’s hard to actually quantify the exact number or horses that are killed every year,” she says, “because no government body keeps an exact account, but we know there are two official production plants that kill 700 horses a week each in order export the meat overseas for human consumption – one in Caboolture and one in South Australia, and there are 33 licensed knackeries in Australia, so even guesswork makes it a huge number of horses that are killed every week.”  The charity’s decision was to bid against the ‘doggers’ as they are called, at the sales, and therefore save lives.  “Once the slaughter men have bought them they are not allowed to sell them on, so we try to outbid them once we’ve decided which ones to try for,” she explains.  And that, in itself, is a heart-breaking process.  “We have to ignore the ones that we know cannot be helped, and that we would have to euthanaze straight away,” she says.  “But other than that we don’t discriminate at all.  Fortunately at many of the smaller sales, the younger horses in good condition – young ex-racehorses for instance – are often bought by people looking for a horse, which leaves us free to bid for those horses that need a second chance, but sometimes we will buy a young healthy horse to stop if from being slaughtered.”

There are a few things that make Vella angry and one is the idea that saving broken-down or old or sick horses is not valid. “Sometimes we get comments on Facebook about it, as we also do about the people who have let the horses get in this condition, and also about the guys that run the ‘kill’ lists and buy horses on a kill quota from the abbatoir,” she says.  “I am absolutely firm on the fact that every horse deserves a chance at life no matter what their condition, and those of us that run the charity make the choices for good reasons about which horses to save. There’s no point in making accusations about people – stuff happens, people get in bad situations, or they simply don’t know, and the kill guys are just doing their job.” It’s a credo that she takes into her social media, frequently stopping negative lines of comment with a firm hand.

The day I visit the sanctuary I meet one of the stars of SAHA’s recent rescues.  The completely adorable Trixie – a small (13hh) grey pony who arrived, having been bought by SAHA at Grafton sale for $100 so emaciated she was basically a terrified bag of bones.  When horses are this sick they have to be introduced to food extremely slowly, and little Trixie was touch and go for a while.  Because she was in such poor condition, she contracted a chest infection that required massive antibiotics, and just as all of her growing legion of FB fans were breathing a sigh of relief, she was affected by a paralysis tick, and again, being so small and thin it was a life-threatening situation.  For three days she was kept in a stable with mattresses on the floor, and around the walls, so the 24-hour-volunteer roster could turn her every few hours. When she finally got up and walked and started eating again, there was an almost palpable sigh of relief from her thousands of followers.   A few months later, she’s well, happy, putting on weight, and has learned to trust the human race again.  With her little pink outfits (even a pink playball in her stable), she walks herself into her stable at night, and tucks herself up for the night. “Worth saving?” says Amanda. “You bet – and if she continues to improve there’s a good chance she’ll find a forever home.”

Trixie - one of the SAHA stars

Trixie – one of the SAHA stars

With all of this going on you would hardly think Vella would have time to look for romance, but it found her in the strangest way possible.  “When I was at high school in Narrandera I had a boyfriend, Mark, (Davies) but we were young, and when I moved up to the Gold Coast we lost touch,” she says. “Then for Christmas 2012 I went home to see the family, and I met Mark again, and basically we just reconnected. What was so strange was that he was living and working in the Gold Coast too – we’d been living near each other for years, and had no idea, and then we met up at home again.” The romance quickly became serious, and Davies, who works in a quarry at Beaudesert has thrown himself into the SAHA work, helping Vella out at the weekends and whenever he has time.

It was a year later to the day that Davies proposed, and a delighted Vella accepted.  Their long-term ambition is to move further out of the Gold Coast to Beaudesert or to the Lockyer Valley in order to open a horse sanctuary on their own property.  Just to contemplate what this young woman has done with her life in the past 20 years is to know that there is absolutely no doubt she will succeed – and in the process she is not only, as she says, “making horses better and giving them a second-chance,” she is giving many of us who are horse lovers a chance to be better people.

SAHA

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

Make Mine a Mule

The Story of a Friendship
Make Mine a Mule
By Ann Walker
Equilibrium Books pp101 rrp $24.95
Review by Candida Baker

When I was a horse-obsessed child growing up in rural Oxfordshire, my mount was a somewhat unpredictable Arab/Fell Pony mare, who had some strange foibles.  She hated pigs, for instance, and whilst my friend’s horse would walk quietly through the piggery, Hester (named after Lady Hester Stanhope), would balk, buck and bicker with me for what seemed like hours.

She was also in love with a donkey.  We would pass this particular paddock on one of our rides, and I never knew whether to be amused or furious when she would literally dash across the road to his field, and stand there talking to her long-eared friend, and taking absolutely no notice of my orders to her to “walk on”.  One day my friend and I talked about what would happen if she was allowed to run with the donkey.  “She’d have a mule,” my friend said.  “Yuk,” I shuddered.  “A mule!”

Make Mine a Mule

Not that I knew much about them, but I knew they were stubborn, and I knew they looked, well, a bit peculiar – beyond that I didn’t ever really think about them much at all.

But that’s all changed now, thanks to Ann Walker’s splendid book, Make Mine a Mule, the remarkable true story of her twenty-eight year friendship with Pepita – a beautiful, 12 hand high mule with the largest brown eyes you ever saw.

Walker is also from a rural English background, and when she and her husband – who had owned ponies and a donkey in the UK –  emigrated to Tasmania, they decided to continue their interest in donkeys, little realising that they were moving to a state where, at the time, there were none.

When Ann and her husband decided to import six donkeys as a basis for their newly-formed Keysoe Donkey Stud, the new arrivals featured in all the State’s media, quickly becoming stars of TV, radio and press.  Ann, a novice breeder, became an overnight donkey ‘expert,’ somewhat to her own amusement. It just so happened that one of the numerous people who sought Ann’s advice, was a woman from Victoria who was keen to breed a mule.  The woman wrote to thank her for her help, and a year later again to tell her that her mule filly had been born.

Fast forward four years, and Ann and her family had moved once more, this time to Victoria, where Ann had gathered mule experience in the form of Juanita, whom she had raised as a weanling. (Years later, Juanita, with her owner, Patsy Sinfield would become famous for being the first mule to complete the arduous 100-mile-Quilty endurance ride.) When she got a call from the woman in Victoria, offering to sell her Pepita, Ann jumped at the chance of owning her.  Assured that she was quiet and had been taught all the basics, Ann decided that Pepita would make a perfect family mount.

As it turned out, Ann was right – but not before she found out to her cost that, as Ogden Nash once wrote, ‘In the world of Mules, there are no Rules’.  Quiet Pepita certainly was, but mules, seemingly endowed with much more brain than either horse or donkey, need to have confidence in their owners before they will allow themselves to be persuaded to do something.  But the amusing to read although no doubt les amusing to experience trials and tribulations in the end created an extraordinary bond between Ann, her family and Pepita.  After a somewhat rocky start, Pepita even became a Pony Club mount, taking part in all Pony Club activities, including jumping, which she was remarkably good at – always clearing the jump by just a few centimetres – another mule trait, as Ann discovered on her mule journey.

The wonderful stories in this book will delight, entertain and enthral animal lovers everywhere.  There’s the story of Pepita’s first mule class, when she realised it wasn’t her beloved Ann behind the long reins, and dashed the entire length of the ring braying the entire way, to stand beside her; or how Pepita saved Ann’s pony, Peppi, one day when Peppi fell down a steep bank, and in her anxiety was struggling so much she was in danger of falling into a ravine.  Ann describes how Pepita stood there and ‘talked’ Peppi into becoming calm.  Many years later Pepita saved Ann herself from a ferocious ram that was about to charge into Ann with full force.

Not that Pepita was always perfect – with her delightfully stubborn mule streak in evidence, Pepita would try and persuade Ann that she didn’t want to take a particular route by lifting a hind leg, and gently tapping Ann on the heel.  If Ann persisted in her desire to go her way, Pepita would try once or twice more before reluctantly giving in.

But perhaps the two most moving messages to come through this enchanting book are the level of telepathic communication available to equine owners if they should choose to listen (and it’s something I’ve experienced myself), and the intense loving friendships that animals can have with one another (also something I’ve witnessed).

Pepita lived to the ripe old age of 32, succumbing, sadly, to colic, when Ann had to make the decision to have her put to sleep.  Shortly after, she received communication from a clairvoyant with messages that Ann knew could only have come directly from Pepita.

This story of a lifelong (and beyond) friendship is heartfelt and humorous, and full of wisdom and insights into the world of mules.  It’s a perfect gift for all ages.

The only problem is that now I want a mule!

Order Make Mine a Mule through Equilibrium Books: http://www.equilibriumbooks.com

Hair today, gone tomorrow…

Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices. – Shana Alexander




The Princess turned 12 the other day. “Mum,” she said. “My life is just going too fast.”

I laughed. “You should see it from my end.”

She looked so depressed I tried very hard to be sympathetic: “Never mind,” I said.

“You’re not even a teenager yet. Twelve this year and 13 next, that’s how the numbers go.”

“Thirteen!” She positively bounced upright. “That’s right. Everybody has that big party when they turn 13 – you know, it’s like turning 18 or 21, but there’s a special name for it.”

“There is?” Plenty of things sprung to mind – the start of the highway to hell, the teenage tunnel, the flouncing years, but not anything specifically connected to 13.

“That Bar Mitzvah thing,” she said.

Right. My no-religion daughter wants the religious ceremony Jewish boys have when they turn 13 for her party next year.

Notwithstanding that living in the Byron Shire has enabled her to study an eclectic mix of Bahai, Buddhism and even Catholicism during her school years, turning male and Jewish, not to mention learning the Torah, seems a tall order.

But it did start me thinking about rituals connected with age, and of course, as well as the Bar Mitzvah, there is the Bat Mitzvah for Jewish girls when they turn 12.

Both of them are a rite of passage – the recognition that instead of just studying the Torah, the young adolescents are now capable of understanding it.

Catholics of course, have their confirmation, but what do we, those of us who have put conventional religions aside, have to celebrate the arrival of the teenage years?

Somehow the English ritual of going from Brownies to Girl Guides and leaping over a giant mushroom with Akela and Brown Owl on each side of you doesn’t seem to quite cut the mustard.

It made me think about the 12th birthday too. What were we doing as a mother and daughter, to mark it as somehow special? What could we do?

I suddenly remembered my 12th birthday, and that my mother had taken me to her hairdresser for the very first time.

I remembered the smell of the salon, the pleasure of getting my hair washed – that I even had my nails polished. It might not have the deepest religious significance I thought, but at least I could introduce her to one of the true lasting joys of womanhood – the regular visit to the hairdresser.

As American comedian Fran Lebowitz once observed: You’re only as good as your last haircut.

And thus it came to pass, that Anna, once nicknamed Voldemort for the torturous sleeping regime she inflicted upon her parents, sat up in the highest of chairs, and received the benediction of Richard, my hairdresser.

Baptized in the basin, trimmed, very lightly, a side fringe artfully created, and her locks blow-dried to golden curly perfection, an 11-year-old girl went in and a gorgeous young woman came out.

It was a wild success. Even for a Leo the mirror admiration became obsessive. She tossed, and flicked, and twirled and gazed at the new perfection of her. The next day the hair was even better, which fortuitously coincided with her sleepover party. She was in seventh hair heaven.

But then came the fall. The first hairwash and the next day there were anguished tears. “It doesn’t look the same,” she wailed. “I want it back just like it was when it was cut.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry with her. I felt for her. We receive a beautiful moment, but it passes, all too quickly. Our highs are followed by lows. And life passes, all too quickly.

But marking occasions, creating rituals, acknowledging the importance of our lives is vital to our sense of self-worth, and to our ability to reflect on where we are and how we’re travelling on the journey of life.

The idea of a Bar Mitzvah, or even a Bat Mitzvah, has set me thinking about a 13-year-old party, what it could be, and how it can be made meaningful beyond the inevitable pizza, popcorn, tween-dvd sleepover – or even haircut, if that’s possible.

“Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.” – Anonymous

Check out my Midweek Mediation on http://thehoopla.com.au/ in the Wellbeing section…

Meditation on: Our Inner Child

“The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us, when the world seems familiar – when one has got used to existence one has become an adult.”
– Eugene Ionesco

Photograph of Anna by Candida Baker

My daughter recently turned 12, and over the past six months or so I’ve watched that perilous rocking between childhood and young womanhood with a sense of trepidation and excitement – on her behalf, and on mine too, I might add.

I could almost pinpoint the exact moment when lists of girlfriends gave way to lists to One Direction’s names, with Harry being Numero Uno of course; the moment when riding up the lane on her bicycle became ‘boring’; when going to the movies with mum or dad became no match for going with a rabble from school.

My daughter’s growing up – no doubt about it. And, paradoxically perhaps, I see part of my continuing job as her parent to help her stay in touch with her inner child – to help her, if I can, to keep her soul alive with those little things that have sustained and nourished her throughout her childhood.

I’ve seen Anna look after herself in dark moments by dancing, or by drawing, and as a small child she could summon her imagination and her humour to her rescue easily. May those qualities stay with her always!

Surrounded by Anna and her friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inner child recently – by the time I was 12 my mother was an alcoholic, my father was often drunk and abusive and for me childhood was something I wanted to leave behind as quickly as possible.

Through a friend’s posting on Facebook the other day, I chanced across a wonderful letter from the poet Ted Hughes to his then 24-year-old son, Nicholas. Nicholas was only a baby when his mother, the poet Sylvia Plath, took her own life, and sadly, Nicholas too committed suicide in 2009.

In part of the letter Hughes talks directly about the vulnerability of our inner child, and of its essential importance to our lives and our own understanding of ourselves. He writes:

“Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them…It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful.”

In inner child therapy what is looked for is what therapist Robert Burney describes as the tools to unlock the magic of the inner child, without giving it free rein to drive the bus, and derailing life because of its lack of a proper place in someone’s life.

One of the main keys to understanding this internal secret garden is to remember what your child liked to do when he or she was young. Often, if we stop and ask our inner eight-year-old what it might like to do as a hobby, a surprising answer will emerge – an answer which can lead us towards a more creative, more joy-filled life.

 “The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making,” wrote Anais Nin in her diaries.“Every child is an artist,” said Picasso, who knew a bit about his inner child, “the problem is how to remain an artist when you grow up.”

Such a multitude of grown-up concerns drive us away from that childish sense of glee and excitement in life – so many shoulds, musts, can’ts, fill our days, and as we grow older the accumulated weight of life’s lessons seem, well to me, I must confess, sometimes overwhelming.

Living in the country I’ve learned that sometimes something as simple as lying on my back under a tree and looking at the patterns in the leaves against the sky makes my eight-year-old grin with pleasure.

If I could say anything to my daughter now and have her remember it, it would be always listen to your heart.

As Ted Hughes writes: “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

Quote of the Week: 

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
G.K. Chesterton.

 

The Wisdom of Women

There are some truly enjoyable moments on the way to a book’s arrival in the shops – the moment you finish it, the moment it arrives in your hands, and the moment, most truly appreciated, when you realise that the original vision for the book has found form.  My latest anthology is a collection of stories from women around the world, linked together by my experiences….or as my publisher, Allen & Unwin describe it…

 

A celebration of the highs and lows of one woman’s life through the experiences of many others.

Description

Candida Baker grew up in a colourful family, with an actor father and costume designer mother. Her parents’ complex, and at times chaotic, lives made for a challenging environment, and from an early age Candida understood the importance of friends, finding comfort and support from many close friendships with women and from ongoing loving relationships with all her sisters.
In The Wisdom of Women, Candida celebrates all the wisdom and nurturing supportive female friends, family, mentors, and even strangers, can bring to our lives. With great deftness she weaves the tapestry of her life around the experiences of other women, who freely share their stories of kindness, laughter, betrayal and loss.
This book positively sparkles with womanly warmth and humour.


Candida Baker is an author, photographer, event director, journalist and animal lover. Her books include novels, short stories and works of non-fiction. She is the editor of a series of anthologies for Allen & Unwin: The Infinite Magic of HorsesThe Wonderful World of Dogs and The Amazing Life of Cats and now The Wisdom of Women. She lives in the hills behind Byron Bay.

Image