I spent my 40th birthday on a bucket-list adventure, too busy engaging with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to think too much about the arbitrary commemoration of milestones. I’ve no idea if I would have felt the milestone keenly had I been less pleasantly occupied; I’m thoughtful about it now, but more in the sense of its place in time than in any ‘ohnoes I’m getting old’ kind of way. 

I mean, I’ve been telling other people that I’m forty for a couple of months now, so arguably I’m well and truly used to it. 

I was thinking about it this afternoon, though: about where I am now vis-a-vis where I was at thirty, at twenty (ten is a little harder to remember). 

Twenty was awful, marking both the end of a (short-lived and not especially memorable) relationship and a much deeper (I thought) friendship. It’s a little mind-boggling to realise that that was half a lifetime ago – literally – though of course it has little emotional resonance for me now. 

Thirty was better. My parents took my then-partner and I for an amazing lunch at Quay (there were Snow Eggs! And so many other delicious things), and if you had told Louise-at-thirty how much her life was going to change in two years, let alone ten, I’m not sure she would have believed you. 

Then again, would Louise-at-twenty have believed in the life being lived by Louise-at-thirty? What will Louise-at-fifty think? 

I kind of love that: my life hasn’t been static. Absolutes from one decade have not remained absolutes. I like looking back and seeing how much I’ve grown and changed. I like to think that Louise-at-thirty would have been incredibly surprised at Louise-at-forty… but I think, once she got over understanding the big changes and the reasons for them, she would have been proud. 

So: I’m forty. 

I never had any particular drive to have children, and at this point it seems likely that won’t change: not the lack of drive, and not, either, the circumstances that make them a possibility. 

I’m comfortably single, and I’m not sure that’s likely to change either: it’s not that I’m against the idea, but it would take something pretty amazing for me to give up my independence (or rather, it would take something that did not require me to give up my independence, but rather enhanced it). Louise-at-thirty thought she was in a relationship that would last the rest of her life; Louise-at-thirty was also ignoring fractures that would eventually become breaks. 

I have a career that, most of the time, gives me enormous satisfaction (and pays me enough to pursue my other passions); I’ve always chosen to work for organisations with some kind of social conscience, rather than an emphasis on profit, and it’s been satisfying to do that and still get financial rewards. Louise-at-thirty was still working this all out: she had a sense of career, but was still working out the details. 

I travel, both near and far – and this is something that Louise-at-thirty would be so impressed and pleased with. Louise-at-thirty knew she enjoyed travel, and knew she wanted to go places, but didn’t feel like she had the means; mostly, though, it came down to being with a partner who was not similarly inclined. She put a poster of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species on the wall, but couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which she would be able to visit the Galápagos. 

I own my own home. Louise-at-thirty knew she wanted to, but had started investing her savings in the stock market because homeownership was otherwise out of reach. (Actually, she made some excellent investments: her choices definitely impacted my ability to buy.) I hope she’d be pleased with where I ended up. 

Louise-at-thirty was deeply lonely. Most of her in-person friends were via her partner; most of the time, she felt like an accessory rather than a real person. I’m so grateful that Louise-at-forty stands on her own two feet: Louise-at-forty has both multiple social circles and the ability to be completely comfortable with her own company. 

Louise-at-forty celebrated her birthday multiple times: with coworkers, with friends, with newfound friends, and with family (remotely, but also, still to come, in person). 

Louise-at-forty has enormous, exceptional privilege: physical health, mental health, financial resources. Safety. (Louise-at-forty is hyper-conscious of this, and spends a lot of time – though not enough – trying to give back.) 

Louise-at-forty has no complaints. Bring on Louise-at-fifty – I can’t wait to see what changes between now and then. 

A place of one’s own

Thursday marks five months exactly since the offer I made on a beautiful flat in a tree-filled part of South London was accepted. Coincidentally, it’s also the date we are scheduled to complete – which in UK house-buying parlance, means the day I actually become the owner of it. Five months isn’t an unusual amount of time in this country, where the process is convoluted, and where generally people end up in property chains where people must sell and buy on the same day. It’s still a horrifically long time when you’re in the midst of it.

Needless to say, the current covid-19 situation has also thrown some spanners in the works. As of today – Tuesday – I’m told we are permitted to go ahead with completion, and that I will be able to move. I am trying to focus on that, but also not get my hopes up too high, because despite the fact that we are now contractually obligated to complete, this is a crazy time and no one really knows what’s going to happen.

It’s a difficult place to be in. I’d expected to be anxious with excitement, this week, counting down the days with pleasure. I’d booked in leave so that I could have the better part of a week at home, to nest, following the move. (This is hilarious, in retrospect, because… if this move goes ahead, I am going to have nothing to do BUT nest.)

Pink oven! Wooden bench-tops! Swanky tiles!

Instead of excitement, I’m in a constant state of anxiety. To be honest, knowing me, I’m sure there would have been anxiety anyway. Some of the anxiety dreams I’m having result in me waking up absolutely convinced I’ve forgotten something important, or leaving confused instructions for myself that, in the morning, mean nothing. Last night, I appear to have set myself a reminder for ‘vital shopping’. I don’t know what ‘vital shopping’ refers to, but I’m 99% confident I’m covered. I’m pretty sure that kind of thing would have happened regardless of this whole situation, because I am an anxious person, and this is not unlike me. I’m pretty sure, though, that the whole situation has amplified it.

So I’m anxious. I’m not sleeping (or at least, not sleeping well). I’m also hyper-conscious of the fact that I’m doing this alone, and that it would be so much easier to get through this if I had a partner. Which, on the other hand, makes me feel pretty good about myself for managing on my own… but still. Most of the time – 99% of the time – I am perfectly comfortable being single, and then there are these moments where I can see the benefit of having someone.

Which is not to say that I’m alone, because there are lots of people in my corner right now, talking me off cliffs or just generally being supportive.

First order of business, upon moving, will be to test out my new bathtub.

And… look. As stressful as all of this is, I’m still in a place of enormous privilege. Even if the purchase gets put on hold, I’m not homeless (I don’t really want to stay where I am, and it will cause me stress, but I won’t be homeless). I have a stable job, unlike so many other people. I’m in good health. I’m in the financial position to be able to buy in the first place. Whatever happens, I am incredibly lucky.

And whether it ends up being Thursday, or some later date, I am going to finally be able to realise my long-held dream to own my own home. And that’s super exciting.


I was two-and-a-half when we moved from Auckland to Sydney, and six-and-a-half when we moved from Sydney to Atlanta. I was young enough the first time to have no particular feelings of displacement (that I recall), but the second move was harder. Aside from the stupid (and I do mean stupid) questions (“How are you finding having electricity?” and “How did you learn English so well?” and “Did you used to ride kangaroos to school?”), there was always a sense of not-quite-belonging. Home was elsewhere, but home also didn’t exist anymore; ‘home’ was confusing.

We didn’t come back to Sydney to visit that first year (we went to Europe instead – a very smart move on the part of my parents, one I echoed in my first year in London), but the second year we did (thanks to a very generous travel allowance provided as part of my dad’s overseas package from work), and it was… still hard. There were other people living in our house in Sydney, of course, and that was strange. Everything was moving on without us; I still had friends, but they had other priorities and were interested in things I was not part of. I’d expected to feel like coming home, but… it didn’t entirely feel like home anymore.

In contrast to that, of course, there was our stay in New Zealand, with my Oma and Opa. In many ways, their home became my second home over those next years; it changed, but in gradual steps, and without the sense of alienation that came with change in Sydney. Most things, really, stayed exactly the same: it was a place that felt safe.

My paternal grandparents, Grandad and Grandma, were much older. Grandad died before I was born, and Grandma began to sink into dementia when I was still relatively young. In contrast, Oma and Opa had a constant presence in my life. Opa was loving but more distant, a quiet man with whom it was difficult to have real conversations. And Oma, well, she was the heart of the family, the centre of everything. Plump and cuddly, and increasingly child-sized as she got older, Oma was practically perfect as a grandmother. Her great passion in life was for books, and her house reflected that: it was a treasure trove of mostly children’s books, old and new (but mostly old), and every visit meant discovering new treasures and rediscovering old friends.

A hand-made teddy bear ('Jacquie Bear') sitting on a bed.

No home of mine is truly home until Jacquie Bear is sitting on my pillow.

‘Alice in Wonderland’ was her particular favourite, and her collection of Alice editions took up a whole bookcase in the living room. There were books in every room, though, shelf upon shelf of them: thousands and thousands in total. There were toys, too, and particularly bears. In the mid-90s, Oma started making her own teddy bears. My own, Jacquie Bear, was ‘born’ in April of 1995 (midwife: Oma Filbry), and shipped to me in Atlanta for my birthday in May, or so the handmade passport in her little backpack tells me. Jacquie joined me in my bed the first night after my ex moved out in 2016, and has slept beside me every night I’ve been at home ever since. I came to London with two suitcases, and she was carefully tucked into one of them, my constant companion.

Oma also spent a lot of time in the 90s researching her family history, and eventually writing a book about the family but also her own life experiences. There’s a copy of her book in the library of the Auckland Museum, and later, when they were putting together an exhibit about immigration to New Zealand, that book meant that our family was chosen to represent the Dutch experience. (There is, let me tell you, a great thrill in seeing one’s own family represented in a museum.) That book helped me understand so much more about where I was from, as did visiting Holland with Oma and Opa, and letting them show us the places that were important to them.

A picture of One tree Hill in Auckland New Zealand, with sheep in the foreground.

One Tree Hill, in central Auckland.

Oma and Opa’s house sits at the bottom of One Tree Hill, one of the hundreds of dormant volcanos located in the Auckland area, and a massive park complete with herds of sheep. It was my mother’s childhood home from the age of 7, and so many experiences that I had as a child, staying there, were ones my mother had too, years before. Like my mother and her siblings, my siblings and I used to climb to the top of the hill, spending hours exploring the massive park and trying to avoid stepping in sheep turds. We’d also take trips to the Auckland Museum, to the Wintergarden in the domain, and to Devonport and the beaches and Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium. Clearly, my memories of visiting Oma and Opa are of childhood treats, but above everything, they made me feel safe.

Two photographs, one a studio portrait of a woman (Jacoba) in her late teens, the other of the same woman and her husband on their wedding day, standing on a bridge.

Left, a photo of Oma in her late teens
Right, Oma and Opa on their wedding day

Jacoba Josephina Schoondergang was born in Leiden, the Netherlands, in August of 1925. Her father had a canning factory, and they lived, I think, a very comfortable life. She was fourteen when the second world war began, and spent most of her teenage years living in a country under occupation. The only daughter, she chafed, I think, at being expected to do more household tasks with her mother than any of her brothers: she would much rather have spent all of her time reading a book!

Frans Filbry was the brother of one of her best friends, and she remembers seeing him standing at the top of the stairs and deciding that this was the man she was going to marry. In many ways, it’s difficult for me to understand what drew them together: she was bubbly and bright, warm and friendly, and he damaged by his wartime experiences, quiet and stern and withdrawn. That they loved each other deeply, however, was one thing I was always certain of – a cornerstone of my life.

Faced with post-war life and all it entailed, Frans wanted to get as far away from Holland as it was possible to go, and so – now engaged to Jacoba – he moved to New Zealand. She followed in 1953, travelling by plane (a journey that took, in those days, something like 10 days, always stopping overnight). Despite having both come from reasonably well-off families, they were very much working class in New Zealand. Frans worked for many years in the Holeproof factory in Royal Oak, first on the factory floor and later as a night watchman. They had five children together: Eric, Miriam, Frank, Victor and Helen.

Money was tight, but despite that Jacoba always found ways to buy books – the beginnings of her great collection. Neither of them ever saw their parents again, and indeed, scarcely if ever even spoke to them on the phone. Oma told me, not long after I moved to London, that phone calls were too difficult: just hearing the voices of those she loved made her cry, and the calls were too expensive to be taken up by tears. In later life, they managed to take several trips back, and some of their family members took trips out to New Zealand to see them, too, but it was a long time before that. For me, having also chosen to move across the world, that really struck home. It can be difficult enough for me to be so far away, but I have so many easy and cheap ways to stay in touch. The same was never true for my Oma and Opa.

My mother and her siblings spoke Dutch before they spoke English, it being the language spoken at home, but largely lost their Dutch once they went to school. Nonetheless, their heritage had a big presence in their lives, as it did in mine. Mum remembers eating hutspot on October 3rd to commemorate the siege of Leiden, a meal she says was much more fun to play with than actually eat. They also celebrated Sinterklaas on the 6th of December (and I recall very vividly receiving a chocolate letter ‘L’ each year). Salted dutch liquorice, chocolate hail on buttered bread, speculaas biscuits, borstplaat, croquettes, appelmoes; all of these, for me, taste of my childhood.

I visited less often, in adulthood – I suppose that’s always the way it goes. I was there for Christmas in 2004, for a visit before a holiday with the ex in 2010, and to see Oma while she was in hospital for an extended period in (I think) 2011. Opa died in 2011, and I was back for the funeral; four years later, I was there for Oma’s 90th birthday, the first time the whole family (aside, of course, from Opa) had been together in decades.

The following year I moved to the UK, heavily conscious that I might never see Oma again. We had a few good email exchanges after that – even into her 80s and 90s she picked up enough technology to be on email and even, sort of, facebook – and even a few skype calls when my parents were there, but contact was limited. I’ve never been good at keeping in touch.

I sent her a card for her birthday in 2017, a pop-up card with a bear in it, to combine two of her passions (pop-up books being another of them). The bear was promptly named Concertina Jack, and was still displayed with pride in the living room as of a few days ago. At time of writing that card, I’d already planned a trip back to Sydney for Christmas, and I’d deliberately routed my travel via New Zealand so as to be able to see Oma. Even as I did so, I had the fear that it might be too late, that she might be gone before I made it, but I had to try. She was so thrilled that I was going to visit.

She was noticeably older and frailer that visit. Still mentally there, for the most part, but physically frail. My aunt and uncle took her out for daily drives, though she couldn’t do much at any destination (aside, of course, from drink coffee), which kept her occupied. Her hearing was mostly gone, but we still managed to have some wonderful conversations. She was so proud of me; we spoke at length about my move, my new home.

When I flew back to London, it was with the firm expectation that, this time, it really was the last farewell. I would never come back to that house that had always been my second home, and I would never again hug her or tell her I loved her. I had no plans to be back any time soon – plans for Christmas 2018 involved central America – and how likely was it that she would still be around in two years, or more?

On December 15th, my final day of work for 2018 and the day before I was due to fly to Costa Rica to meet my family for the trip of a lifetime, I was 10 minutes into my commute when my phone rang. It was my mother – and I knew.

Oma, she told me, was in hospital, and it was expected that she had no more than 24-48 hours to live. She had a herniated bowel, and was considered too weak to survive surgery. Clearly, Mum would be flying to New Zealand as soon as possible, and my siblings also intended to do so. What did I want to do?

Of course I wanted to be there, though I wasn’t sure if that was even possible. Would there even be flights available, at this time of year?

12 hours later, I was in the air. I can’t begin to describe what it is like, boarding a long-distance flight in a desperate attempt to reach someone in time, knowing that you’re probably going to be too late. After we landed in Tokyo, more or less the halfway point, my hands were shaking so badly I could barely turn on my phone, dreading what news would be waiting for me.

The author with her Oma.

The day I arrived in Auckland, reunited with my Oma.

She was still alive when I landed in New Zealand, just short of 48 hours after the diagnosis. I was rushed from the airport to the hospital, exhausted and sweaty and still wearing my winter clothes. She’d just woken up when I got there, and was conscious enough to talk to me; we all assumed that she’d been holding on just to wait to me, the very last family member to arrive. We all assumed that, now I was there, she’d go quickly.

She didn’t.

She was in pain, she was uncomfortable, and she was ready to die, but her body wasn’t ready to let her yet. Between the family, we made sure that someone was with her twenty-four hours a day. The nursing staff were amazing, but they weren’t – couldn’t be – always there; we helped feed Oma sips of water, put balm on her lips, gave her throat spray for her irritated throat. She was happy to have us all there, but she wanted to die and she just couldn’t.

I’ve always been pro-euthanasia, and watching Oma over the last five days of her life, I can only say that I am doubly certain that it is the humane thing to do. At first, we were able to have conversations with Oma. We sang, we read her books, we talked about our lives. She again told me how proud she was of my decision to move. She made jokes, mostly black comedy about dying (she’d close her eyes, as if intent upon deliberately dying then and there… and then open them a few moments later with her eyebrows raised as if to say ‘well? WELL?’).

Talking to Oma while she was still conscious, with my sister Kathryn standing behind.

Talking to Oma while she was still conscious, with my sister Kathryn standing behind.

A priest came in to give her last rights and she asked us all to leave the room – and we could see her inside, waggling her finger at him as she told him exactly how she felt about the Catholic Church’s stance on euthanasia.

It was special, though, to have that time with her – and for the family to gather. I spent more time with my cousins than I have since we were small children. It was hard, but it was also important. One evening, a bottle of wine was brought in and she sucked some of it off a sponge, much as she’d been doing with water for days (there were also some wine ice cubes, because why not).

It got harder and harder to get her out of bed to use the toilet, until they finally put her into an adult nappy instead (apparently, the doctors wanted her on a catheter and the nurses basically revolted and refused to do it – good on the nurses!). It got harder for her to talk. She became more and more agitated, and kept choking. My brother and I did an evening shift with her, from 7-1am, and it was awful. She kept trying to sit up and reach for things, but couldn’t tell us what she wanted. I know she was still partly with it, though, because at one point when I thought she was asking for water, she was actually trying to tell me yet again what a wonderful life I was having in the UK.

The following morning, the doctors decided to take her off the fentanyl she’d been on and put her on morphine. After that, she didn’t really wake up again, not properly. That night was quiet. I came in at about 6.30 that morning (jetlag is good for something) to take over from my aunt and uncle, and she didn’t stir at all in the time I was with her alone. Her breathing was laboured, and sometimes she’d go for ten or fifteen seconds without a breath, meaning I was constantly on alert as to whether she’d stopped breathing altogether.

That morning, the day nurse, Claire, invited us to help her wash Oma for what was likely to be the last time. My mother, aunt Helen, sister and I all helped, carefully wiping her down and then smoothing lotion into her skin. She was so small, so fragile; she never even stirred.

Most of us actually left the hospital for lunch that day, going to the kiosk in the domain (admittedly, right next to the hospital) rather than one of the hospital coffee shops just to get outside for a little while. We were all exhausted, emotionally and physically, after spending long hours – and overnights – in the hospital for most of the week. It was Friday, a full week after the diagnosis.

When we came back into Oma’s room, my cousin Kim was singing to her. Within thirty minutes, between one song and the next, she finally drifted away. In the end, after everything, it was peaceful: she was simply gone.

I’d never witnessed death before.

The death notice of Jacoba Filbry, noting her death on 21st December, funeral on 24th December, and her family:husband Frans, children Eric, Miriam, Frank, Victor and Helen, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The death notice.

We held the funeral on Christmas Eve, in the same venue as Opa’s was held seven years previously. It made Christmas a more subdued affair than usual, but also perfect in its own way. It’s probably the last time the whole family will gather like that. It’s certainly the last time we’ll all gather in that house.

The house is crammed full of memories, for me and for everyone else in the family. It is also crammed full of actual stuff, from the thousands of books, the many teddy bears, the antiques, the delft, the art and the detritus of fifty years.

It feels uncomfortable, to me, to be told to go through and pick what I want from a house that has always felt like home to me – like grave-robbing, picking through the remains. But it is important, too, to save the things that matter most to us. I will never see that house again: the house is not in great condition, and the land it sits on is worth potentially a lot of money. By the time I am next in New Zealand, whenever that may be, the house will be long gone.

So yes, I picked through the remains. Two antique and beautiful books have come home with me (a second edition of Jane Eyre, a first edition of Daddy Long-Legs), as has a framed tile depicting two traditional New Zealand villas (not dissimilar in style to the bungalow that is Oma’s house) with One Tree Hill in the background. I’ve also adopted another teddy, Ralph, who will be foster-parented by my parents until such time as they can get him over to me (alas, he did not fit in my luggage), and who will join Jacquie Bear in sharing my bed. Packed away in my boxes in Sydney, I also have an antique writing box that Oma and Opa gifted me from their collection for my 21st birthday. For me, these items will always help me remember.

Not that I need things for that. I am so lucky to have had my Oma for thirty-four years of life. Not many of us get that long!

She was one of the kindest, biggest-hearted women I have ever known. Open-minded, interested in everything, acquisitive when it came to her passions and also generous in sharing; equally, cheeky and full of fun. My mother claims to remember her once flinging a forkful of mashed potatoes at the plate of one of her sons, saying she’d always wanted to do it. My aunt remembers it being a forkful of peas, and no one else remembers it at all, so who knows what really happened – but it makes a great story, and seems entirely in character.

I flew back from Auckland yesterday, spit out of Heathrow airport at 5am to a foggy, damp winter’s morning. It’s hard, being so far from home again. It can be lonely, sometimes.

But then I remember how much harder it was for my Oma and Opa, and how lucky I am that my own parents are only a facebook message away, and that I will see them again later this year, and that when the moment came it was possible for me to fly back to say goodbye.

Watching my Oma die was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but being able to be there for her was one of the most rewarding.

I miss her.

Ups and Downs

Oof. It’s been an interesting few days – ups and downs all over. That’s inevitable, of course: I uprooted my entire life, moved on my own to the other side of the world, and did it all within the space of six weeks. It’s basically inevitable that some days will go better than others, and that some things will be more difficult than others. On the whole, though, I have to say I’m doing pretty well: I have moments of… not loneliness, as such, but uncertainty, but they pass. I don’t really feel as if I belong here, yet, but I also don’t expect to. I’ve not even been here three weeks, and I’m still largely in tourist mode; that will change.

wine tasting

I was supposed to write tasting notes. I… didn’t.

I went to a wine tasting on Monday night – all South African wines from Meerlust. Again, I was almost certainly the youngest person in the group, but that’s never especially bothered me: I had a very enjoyable evening chattering with some of the other women, and enjoying the wine. Some of the wine, anyway: one of them I thought was awful, and several were merely okay. The two most expensive wines? Yes, I’d gladly drink them again (of course). If you get the chance, do try their ‘Rubicon’ – highly recommended. There were six wines, and for tasting serves, they were generous; that, followed by the pinotage we had with dinner afterwards, meant I was relatively tipsy by the end, especially as I’ve not actually been drinking much at all since arriving in London. It made for a merry evening, though, and a very pleasant one, and the leader of our group (this is another meetup group) clearly knows his stuff – I’ll be doing more things with him (in fact, I’m going to a dinner with this group in two weeks, and then on a champagne weekend to – yes – Champagne in November, and no doubt more in between).

I teetered a little on the way home, but it was a relatively straightforward trip: Jubilee line between London Bridge and Bond Street, then a quick change onto the Central line for Notting Hill Gate. Increasingly, yes, I know my tube lines (some of them).

Tuesday was quieter: some contract work in the morning, and an interview with (another) recruitment agency in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, I ventured out to Hampton Court Palace. Lovely! I’ve actually bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces – there’s another four I can see (The Tower of London and Hampton Court being the first two), and I’m quite sure I’ll squeeze them in over the next year.

To get to Hampton Court, one (or at least, if one is me) catches the District line to Wimbledon (this is as close as I’ve gotten, or will get, to the tennis), and then an actual train from Wimbledon to Hampton Court. I actually really enjoyed that: you can watch the shift from inner London to outer London, bit by bit, until you’re basically out in the country. And oh, the green. It’s going to take some getting used to, for me: grass actually being green. That… isn’t so much a thing in Australia, a lot of the time.

Oh, Henry

Oh, Henry

The garden show is also on at Hampton Court at the moment, which I hadn’t realised; I was a little perturbed by the masses and masses of people getting off the train with me, but they quickly thinned out to head to the garden show, as I ducked into the palace itself (which has lovely gardens of its own). Thomas Wolsey rebuilt the original manor house into a palace in the early 1500s, and then it was taken over by Henry VIII and has been a royal palace ever since. In the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt some of it again to turn it into a baroque palace for William and Mary, which means it’s an interesting collection of time periods. There’s lots to explore – and even some live action recreations to be part of (I rather enjoyed being one of Queen Catherine (Howard)’s court, though regrettably we did not save Culpepper or Lady Rochford – alas! Though perhaps they deserved it, the treasonous scum).

Rather than retrace my steps on the train and tube, I elected to pay a little extra (£17, ouch!) to take the three hour river cruise back to London. I wasn’t in any particular rush, and it seemed like the right thing to do: the Thames is such a notable part of London, after all. There weren’t a lot of people on my boat, which was fine by me – plenty of room to spread out – but unfortunately the commentary I’d read about did not eventuate. I wonder if they only do that on trips upstream rather than down? In any case, it was still an interesting trip – there are some lovely, lovely houses along that river, let me tell you.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a headache by the time we got back to Westminster. Extra unfortunately, I couldn’t go straight home (which would have been a bad idea anyway – the tube can be pretty hellish at 5-6pm): I had an appointment to view a flat and no time to get home and then back out again. I ended up having dinner at a pub in Southwark, and a glass of wine that regrettably did nothing for my headache (sometimes it helps!), but I managed: it was bearable. By now, too, my phone was beginning to run out of battery, and I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find my way to where I was going before it died – disaster!

Luckily for me, I found the bus I needed without too much difficulty, and equally luckily, it was a very direct route to where I needed to go: once I was off the bus, I literally only needed to walk around the corner, and there I was. I think the area is officially Bermondsey, or possibly South Bermondsey; it’s a little ambiguous. Either way, it used to be a pretty working class area but is increasingly (unsurprisingly) home to a lot of young professionals. It’s still quite multicultural, though, and I liked that.

The flat was the first I’d inspected, which was a little difficult: how did I know what questions to ask? Renting in London is very different, it seems, to renting in Australia. For one thing, most flats come fully furnished, and bills are often included in the price, so you don’t have to sign up to your own utilities or worry about additional bills. I suppose that makes sense when most flats are shared, and people don’t necessarily stay for long periods of time. Anyway, this particular flat was nice: newly refurbished, nicely decorated, with a bath and gas cooking, and a balcony. It’s just two bedrooms, and the living room has not (as in many other flats) been turned into a third; I much prefer this, because I don’t particularly like the idea of living in my bedroom and feeling uncomfortable leaving it.

So, yes: I applied for the first flat I inspected, and ‘applied’ is not really the right word because I think I was provisionally accepted on the basis of my email to the landlady before we even set up the viewing. It may or may not be wise to take the first place one looks at, but it worked for me. In part, that’s because I don’t have any local rental references (which are generally considered very important) or a job, so I knew a lot of agencies and landlords would be reluctant to consider me. In this place, I have an ongoing tenancy rather than a strict lease, so if I want to leave, it’s just a notice period of two weeks. Easy.

Having inspected the place, and verbally indicated that I was interested, I made my escape: home and bed, pls. My headache was pretty much pounding by the time I made it back onto the bus, and I felt pretty miserable. One nice thing about London’s long summer days, at least, was that it wasn’t dark yet, despite now being close to 9– you get some really beautiful twilights. Needless to say, I made it home safely. And then I slept. It was a long, long day.

Thursday, I promised myself, would be less long. It would be quiet! I would… I don’t know, do something simple and easy and not too taxing. I ended up at Camden Lock Markets, just because I could, and I’ve been basically visiting every market I can find in London, so why not? I didn’t buy anything (except a bagel and a coffee), but only because I had no cash in my pocket: there were some lovely, lovely things. Still, I’m trying to avoid buying anything more since in a couple of weeks I will have to pack up all my things into suitcases again and… well, I don’t know if they’ll fit.

On the way home, I had to change trains at Tottenham Court Road. Which… reminded me that I wasn’t that far from Leicester Square, and didn’t I deserve to reward myself for successfully finding myself somewhere to live? And wasn’t a theatre ticket a Very Good Reward? You can see where this is going.

Leicester Square is full of tourists, many of whom bitch and complain and moan and roll their eyes, but I still kind of love it. I overheard an Australian woman tell someone, shocked and horrified, that someone had stolen her purse right out of her open handbag on their first day in Paris. Gosh. (I don’t think I ever mentioned the wonderful exchange I overheard on my flight to London, wherein two young university students complained to each other about how one shouldn’t have to order a vegetarian or vegan meal on a plane – it should just be a normal option – to which I wanted to lean forward and point out that a) there are a number of types of vegetarian so which one should be catered for? and b) what happens when they run out of vegetarian meals before they get to you, mm?)

In any case, the queues at the TKTS booth were not long, and while I was tempted by all kinds of things, I ultimately decided to go to the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera. I grew up with the soundtrack to Phantom, and first saw it on stage in 1996, when I was twelve. We’d only recently moved back to Sydney, so it would have been June or July – 20 years ago, almost exactly. I remember we sat right beneath the chandelier, and it was thrilling. My seats were not quite so good this time (even cheap, last minute tickets can get expensive), but it was still absolutely magical – it’s one of those shows that really benefits from the spectacular staging of a permanent home. It’s hard to believe that it has been showing in that theatre in London for 30 years; almost as long as I’ve been alive. Needless to say, I enjoyed the show.

(Having said that? People who try and sing on their way out of the theatre, uh, probably shouldn’t. Phantom is not something most people can sing along to, and you’re really better off not trying. Seriously.)

Today? Today I did almost exactly nothing.

That’s not quite true, I suppose, but it’s almost true. I did laundry; I applied for more jobs; I ventured up to Tesco to buy more milk. I had a phone conversation with another recruiter, and spent an hour putting together a supporting statement for that particular job. And then, almost no sooner had I finished that, I received an email containing a letter of offer for another position, one I really had not expected to be offered.

So, uh, that was a surprise?

So, theoretically, I may have both a flat and a job sorted after 2.5 weeks in London. Which, now that I’m on this end of it, seems pretty good (but earlier today, I would have probably told you I was freaking out about lack of job progress, so). I’m pleased: as much as I’ve enjoyed being a tourist, I think I’m just about ready to start settling down. If I accept this job, I’ll have one more week of freedom to fill, and that seems reasonable.

I suppose we’ll see how it goes!

Where The Forest Meets The Sea

View from the Top

View From The Top

We were picked up from our hotel at 7:45 this morning (ouch), headed north: to the Daintree. As I mentioned earlier, I had been up this way before, but eighteen years is a long time, and my recollections were relatively vague. Today was, needless to say, quite different.

The Billy Tea tour groups are small: there were twelve of us, in four family groups, on our bus, with an eccentric frenchman as guide. There was a couple from the Central Coast (north of Sydney), a trio from Los Angeles, and a family of five from England. I was really impressed with that family: three teenagers, and they were interested, engaged, and full of intelligent questions, both with regards to what we were seeing, but also other topics that came up in conversation. They got along with each other and with their parents, and interacted well with the adults. We didn’t travel as much as a family by the time I was that age, so it’s difficult to compare, but I very much doubt we would have been quite that positive. I don’t know.



The trip was really well designed, with stops every hour or so – short stops at lookouts, and longer stops for a cruise down the Daintree River (we saw a crocodile!), for a walk through the rainforest, for lunch, and for a swim/tropical fruit tasting/billy tea and damper afternoon tea. There was a second tour bus with people doing the same trip as us, with some intermingling, but for the most part, it was just our group of twelve-plus-Frank-the-tour-guide– which was nice. It felt much more personal than yesterday’s trip, because we actually got to talk to people.



The Daintree is, unsurprisingly, beautiful. Cape Tribulation reminds me (unsurprisingly) of Jeannie Baker’s ‘Where The Forest Meets the Sea’. We were out of mobile reception for most of the day and that, too, was really quite awesome in a way. Annnnnnd there was a stop for ice cream on the way back (did you know that wattleseed ice cream tasted like coffee?), and that was nice too.

It’s been nice being able to use my camera properly again, too. I admit, I get really lazy: I have a fancy digital SLR, and yet I use it on manual more often than not. It bothers me that I do it, but it’s just… easier. And yet, today, I found the manual setting just wasn’t good enough to deal with the different light conditions, especially when we were in the depths of the rainforest; it tended to heavily over or underexpose, leaving my photos generally useless. As a result, I basically had no choice but to start playing with settings again, and it was, I admit, really quite fun. I won’t claim I really knew what I was doing, but I was able to get a few good shots, and some others that have come out quite nicely with a little bit of post production.



I do wish my eye sight was better, though. Even with glasses, I have a lot of trouble determining when my shots are focused, when I use manual focus; I just can’t see properly. That means I generally stick to auto focus, but sometimes the camera simply cannot cope with it, and gets confused, and then I have to suck it up and hope that my manual focus attempts come out more or less acceptably.

Sadly, I did not manage to get any good shots of the big crocodile we saw – or any of the fauna, really. Plants are easier: they mostly only move in the breeze. (mostly)

Beach Debris

Beach Debris

It was a long day, and I’m pretty tired now. We got back to our hotel a little after 6, and almost immediately headed out for dinner– yes, we actually ate out tonight, something we’ve done surprisingly little of thanks to our room’s kitchen. We still only made it as far as the hotel’s restaurant, but that was a good choice: I had the barramundi fillet and a glass of riesling, and Rohan had a three cheese and truffle oil gnocchi with a glass of pinot grigio. We followed that up with strawberry cheesecake and a botrytis riesling for me, and a chocolate brownie and a grappa for Rohan.

I am thus, now, tired and full, and feeling pretty content.