Recapturing the Ballet

downloadBallet classes began when I was seven years old. I loved them.  The teacher placed me in the back row where my lack of co-ordination and heaviness of foot wouldn’t distract the star pupils at the front. I was completely unaware of the slur on my talent. As far as I was concerned I was destined to be Pavlova, Markova and Margot Fonteyn rolled into one. In my imagination, I was poised, graceful, lissome and supple. In reality, I wasn’t. Eventually the penny dropped, but in the meantime I was oblivious of my own lack of prowess or mother’s muffled giggles from the parental perch in the back corner.

Occasionally, when I watch a truly glorious ballet, I am still that seven year old on the brink of stardom.

Last night I went to Sadler’s Wells to see the Northern Ballet dance The Great Gatsby. It was sublime. And I, of course, sat in my mythical bubble feeling every bit as ethereal, elegant and diaphanous as those light-as-a-feather, lithe and fragile ballerinas with their pointed toes, pirouettes and effortless arabesques.

If you have ever read the book or seen the movie (with either Robert Redford or Leonardo), you should see the ballet. Choreographer David Nixon captures the mood of the Roaring 20s perfectly: the post-war frivolity, self-indulgence and glamour of the Lost Generation, and that entrancing, seductive, unrealistic American dream of insatiable wealth and success. And of course he also manages to capture, quite brilliantly, the essence of the novel: Gatby’s obsession, not for wealth, but for Daisy Buchanan; of an elusive dream of love and happiness; of the soul-destroying reality of a harsh world. It seems the perfect tale to weave into dance, and the only wonder is that it hasn’t been done before.

The score was written specially for this production by composer and jazz pianist Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE.Gatsby.3 Completed just before his death in 2012, it follows the story line with effortless style and exciting flashes of jazz, excellently performed by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia.

Jerome Kaplan’s sets are simple but effective, inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper – perhaps with particular reference to the artist’s ‘window’ sketches and carefully calculated compositions – to create an ephemeral world of lust and fantasy, and enhance the deep sense of human isolation.  (Although some rather unfortunate door banging was an unnecessary teaspoon of mundanity to undermine the fairy floss.)

Nixon and his team haves created a gem of a ballet. The Great Gatsby is a complex tale of convoluted relationships, but Nixon unravels the knots so the audience can follow the plot with relative ease. The dancers portray their characters through dance with more three-dimensionality than the actors ever managed, and the costumes, apparently inspired by Chanel, help to depict the loose, liberal, flighty era of the 1920s.

All this, and Sadler’s Wells too!

I read and adored Noel Streatfield’s “Ballet Shoes” as a child, and more pertinently, the Sadler’s Wells series by Lorna Hill. I have long been devoted to the legend of Sadler’s Wells without ever having been, so this was a much anticipated first, and I was bouncing with excitement like a five year old at a birthday party.

Gatsby.2Sadler’s Wells is named for both its creator, Richard Sadler, who opened a music house on the Clerkenwell site in 1683, and for the medicinal springs discovered on the site. The current theatre is the sixth on the site since 1683 and it is renowned as one of the world’s leading dance venues.

The first performances of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, with its all-male cast of swans – remember Billy Elliott? – took place at Sadler’s Wells in November 1995. Three years later, the latest reincarnation of this national treasure was opened, aided by funding from the National Lottery, and it is reputedly bigger and better than all its predecessors.

Possibly a more informed audience would be more critical, but this little amateur ballet lover was riveted to the stage from beginning to end of an electric adaptation of this iconic tale, and is just oversome with adjectives. I just wish there was some way of boxing it and taking it home to love forever, but it, too, is ephemeral, insubstantial, and impossible to possess. Sadly.

*With thanks to my dear friend Julia for such a very special treat, and to Google Images for access to the pictures.

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An Aubergine Anniversary

Aubergine (30)Aubergine is French for eggplant. The word aubergine comes from the Catalan albergínia, and the Arabic al-bādhinjān. An aubergine is a vegetable, that firm, smooth, shiny, pendular vegetable that soaks up olive oil like a sponge or grills into a smushy, smoky babaganoush. Aubergine is also a colour: a deep purply-black that occurs rarely in nature, a princely, rich and luxurious colour that I first saw in a tulip bed in Holland Park.

Princely, rich and luxurious indeed was our anniversary dinner at the fine dining French restaurant ‘Aubergine’ in Bonifacio Global City on Friday night. It was a long-postponed gift from a special friend, and I was really looking forward to it. Happily, I was able to book on line, which was much in its favour, and saved me all the hassle of having to repeatedly and ineffectually spell our name over the phone.

Reviews on ‘Aubergine’ are generally mixed. The unjustifiable prices and the inconsistency of quality and service are its loudest criticisms, while others rave about the attention to detail and outstanding food. I had been once before for lunch, and remember thinking it was “awesome”, but let’s face it, was far too occupied catching up with an old friend to notice our meal in any great detail. The One & Only was quietly concerned that this “awesome” restaurant sat above McDonalds on 32nd Avenue, which certainly didn’t sound like the most salubrious of locations.

Aubergine (9)Nor had the evening got off to a flying start. We were running late and I was just a wee bit stressed. Eventually, unable to find a taxi on a typically frantic Friday night in Manila, we unwillingly braved the madcap traffic on EDSA. Luckily, despite our misgivings, we arrived only 10 minutes late and even fluked a car park only metres from the front door. As we entered, we were instantly met with warm smiles and ushered into a cozy, comfy booth that was blissfully, discretely private from the other diners. Leaning back into the deep banquettes, we felt the stress drift away, and suddenly all boded well for the romantic evening we had been anticipating.

The first page of the wine list was labelled Private Selection, and looked dauntingly pricy. However, relaxed and happy, we took our time, and pottered lazily through the pages, meandering across the wine regions of Europe and South America, South Africa and New Zealand, before settling on a reasonably priced Australian wine: a full-bodied, fruity Woodstock Shiraz from McLaren Vale. Commenting on the classy wine glasses, we sipped slowly and decadently before reaching for the menu.

Here, we found that many dishes offered three ‘tastings’ like a mini degustation menu, such as a selection of upmarket ‘surf and turf’ – that traditional Australian pub offering of generous red meat and fish combos –  an appetizer with three styles of tuna, and a main course medley of seafood. Duck also played a significant role with an emphasis on foie gras, which was bound to keep me sated with joy.

I was initially wary of the fact that all the meat had been imported from the faraway fields and forests, streams and seas of the US, Australia and Scandinavia, and therefore had presumably arrived in frozen form in the kitchen. I need Aubergine (16)not have worried. Everything we ate was enough to stop the clocks while we focused on the flavours and textures waxing lyrical on our tongues.

My “French duck foie gras and duck breast delight” consisted of a lightly pan seared, melt-in-the-mouth slice of duck foie gras on a nest of apple-celeriac puree, a smoked duck breast accessorized with mango lightly marinated in Port, and salad greens in a raspberry dressing. The piece de resistance was indubitably the duck fois gras terrine – a thick creamy almost-dessert draped in a sash of calvados jelly.

The One & Only chose a beautifully presented trio of Yellow fin tuna: mouth-watering tuna tartar; a wee Rubix cube of tuna encrusted in thickly ground black pepper and lightly seared, and a slice of raw tuna marinated in soy and honey. These were accompanied by an amazing assortment: a zesty mango and papaya relish, avocado, marinatedAubergine (18) shiitake mushrooms and salad greens in a sesame and ginger dressing.

I then paused for breath while the One and Only enjoyed a surprisingly light and moreish cream of pumpkin soup, texturted with bacon flakes and roasted walnuts.

I had read a few reviews commenting on the arrogant service at Aubergine, but I found our servers very sweet and attentive. My only complaint was that they hovered a little too closely. After the third waiter in as many minutes leant in to pour more wine into glasses already half filled, I had to move the bottle out of their reach and ask them politely to drop in less frequently, as we were trying to enjoy a romantic anniversary dinner. After that, they politely kept their distance, except when needed – and we were delighted when one had the forethought to ask if we would like a fifteen minute break before they brought our main courses.

So we gratefully did not rush on to the main courses, but with true elegance, sat back and mused over a scoop of banana sorbet to cleanse the palate.  I will say, however, that while it was overflowing with fresh banana flavour, it was a little heavy for a true palate cleanser.

After a lengthy discussion earlier in the evening, we had ordered beef and lamb respectively, although both choices were far more sophisticated and creative than the average meat and three veg.

Aubergine (27)My 3-way Australian lamb was  beautifully presented, and came in many parts. The first was a sous-vide lamb shoulder confit. I am ashamed to admit I had no idea what that meant. Later I discovered – thanks to an article entitled “what the hell is confit?” – that confit is, in short, slow cooked, tenderized meat (often poultry) cooked and stored in a preserving liquid, usually fat, invented in South Western France. The word confit (pronounced “kon-fee”) comes from the French confire, which simply means to preserve. The preserving liquid had created a thin layer of fat over the meat, and to be honest, tasted like nothing more than a heavy, rather tough German sausage, with about as much flavour.  A roast lamb loin passed muster, however, as the meat fell apart beneath my fork like osso bucco. This was followed by a perfectly grilled lamb chop, of which  I could cheerfully have eaten a whole dish. There was also a wide variety of side dishes. These included an artichoke cous cous dressed up like a large California roll and a grilled polenta that I, surprisingly, loved, never having found polenta very inspiring. There was also a spoonful of dense, rich ratatouille and a flightier papaya salsa. That French women don’t get fat must be a modern myth. On a diet like this I would be the shape of a giant California roll in the blink of an eye.

As all good couples celebrating over two decades of marriage, ordering separate dishes only meant more to share. Aubergine (23)And of course I am writing the review, so it is part of the job to try everything. (Although I promise I didn’t get greedy, it was only a taste.) Served in a sumptuous Port wine jus, the slow cooked veal cheeks almost dissolved on the tongue they were so tender. The braised and barbecued (or barbecued and braised) Angas beef short rib was also deeply flavourful and delicious. The oxtail ravioli, on the other hand, was surprisingly light on flavour, but a good balance for the rest. With sides of potato mousseline (French for creamed spuds), grilled Portobello mushrooms and glazed carrots, no one would be leaving the table in search of a top up!

Sadly, that excluded dessert as well, but it didn’t stop me gloating over the dessert menu, and I am definitely going back for a serve of soufflé scented with Grand Marnier, not to mention the other half dozen items on the menu that I had to vote out in the first round. And I can only hope that the second performance will be as good as the first.

All in all, with a few very minor discrepancies, we had a lovely evening, and I was very impressed when the staff followed up with an email to thank us for choosing Aubergine. Most satisfactory and encouraging. Keep up the good work, Aubergine.

*With thanks to my One & Only for all the wonderful years of sharing food – and photos! 

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“Such stuff as dreams are made on…”

Harmony-Beach-picture-720x290

Twenty five feet from the sea squats a small, thatched hut with a veranda from which we step straight onto the sand. A traveller’s dream destination, fittingly labelled ‘Play House,’ we happily make a temporary home in this cosy little Wendy-house beside the ocean. Further up the beach, the sea-bound cottages perch precariously over the reef on stilts, like leggy flamingos. On the no-so-distant horizon, the cruise ships pass, brightly lit: fat, luxurious barges of self-indulgence, top-heavy on the water, like pelicans. Here all is perfectly simple. A large piece of driftwood is a bench beneath a tree weighed down with large glossy leaves. A banca lurches drunkenly to one side on the sandbank. We can hear the sound of waves lazily lapping, melodic, hypnotic as we drift off to sleep. Last night they were almost washing the doorstep, competing boisterously with the persistent swish of the fan above our heads. But as the sun rises sedately, they have retreated shyly to the edge of the reef to be near her glowing warmth, and sound far off and muted.

For the past hour, even in the pre-dawn darkness, a young man has been house-keeping: raking the sand; tidying it of stray leaves that have fallen during the night; wiping out the erratic paths of nocturnal sea creatures to create a uniformity that is kempt and cared for in the bright sunlight. As the sky lightens under a blanket of grey cloud, more men appear on the beach in green t-shirts, wielding a battalion of rakes, until a sudden burst of heavy rain sends them scuttling for cover. As the rain recedes, the men and their rakes promptly reappear. They beam cheery ‘good mornings,’ sweet and deferential, as they potter on with their work, but I smother the urge to send them away, to obliterate the scratch and swish of their rakes, to enjoy the peaceful absence of human noise a little longer, wanting only the persistent, distant crow of a rooster heralding in the day with his trumpeting reveille, and the light patter of rain on thatch.

The reef stretches, patchy and puddled, exposed by a fickle tide, along the length of the beach. The scratching continues like fingers on a blackboard. Ceaseless, but beginning to blend into the background as the beach-keepers move further off.

The sky is gloomy, blotting out the deep blue skies of yesterday, blotting out the lumpen islands on the horizon, unwelcoming and drear, yet adding a damp freshness to the air, a world washed clean of pollution and humidity. Each time I look up, the world is a little brighter, the sky an expanding palette of blues and greys. Now the electric lights have been extinguished. The sea lies lusterless, flecked by a light breeze, like Selangor pewter. Tiny birds duck and dance across my line of vision, as I peer beneath the thatched eyebrows of our cottage. Geckoes cluck under the eaves and there is an eager chirruping, and a warbling response from a small chorus of song birds hidden in the undergrowth. Cookie-mix mounds of leaves dot the sand. A light breeze flutters across the veranda. My tea gets cold.

Hannah's 21st (3)Shall I rise and explore the reef? Introduce myself to the nematodes and starfish huddling in their suddenly reduced
world? Or sit here with my cooling tea and enjoy the panorama? I am in no hurry to emerge into daylight. I love this half-way world, this time for reflection and no expectations. Later I will consult my pile of books, my emails, my breakfast menu. Now I am happy to contemplate creation till, in the light of day, “all which it inherit, shall dissolve,” and I will tap at the keys of my imagination, as the swallows swoop and dive in staccato, playing an early morning game of kiss-chase, while I sit alone on the beach like Shirley Valentine…

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Exploring Corregidor

corrigedor.2Corregidor Island is one of those Must-Do trips on the tourist trail around Manila. But it requires a ridiculously early start, at which I have baulked for years. Recently, however, I jumped at the opportunity to join a small group of friends and brave the waves across Manila Bay to see what all the fuss was about.

Corregidor is the largest of five tiny islands clustered around the mouth of Manila Bay,  a mile off the southern end of the Bata’an Peninsula. Measuring 900 hectares, its distinctive shape is often described as a tadpole, but twist it around and it looks like a crab’s claw snapping at invaders. However you see it, Corregidor has played a significant role in Filipino history, particularly during World War II.

Once upon a time, Corregidor was home to a small Filipino fishing village. Later, under Spanish rule, it became a fortress, a jail, and a customs post. Then, at the end of the nineteenth century, the Americans arrived. Realizing the strategic significance of the Philippines, the United States government made a huge military commitment to the region. This included the fortification of Corregidor Island and the training of a large Philippine Army. Together with El Fraile island (Fort Drum), Caballo Island (Fort Hughes) and Carabao Island (Fort Frank), these islands became deadly weapons with which to defend Manila.

As we headed out to sea on a Sun Cruises catamaran packed with sight-seers, we were shown an introductory film about the island, largely focusing on World War II footage. Bombs exploded and aircraft dived into the sea accompanied by a nauseating B-grade commentary reeking of wartime propaganda, but it filled in the time.

Landing on the island after a comfortable hour and a half at sea, we were greeted by a large bronze statue of the 800px-Douglas_MacArthur_lands_Leyte1notorious General MacArthur, who sat out the war in Melbourne after being driven out of Manila by the Japanese in 1941, and fleeing to Australia in February 1942, after holing up on Corregidor for ten weeks. In true Hollywood style he announced to the press in that well-known speech: from South Australia ‘I came through and I shall return.’ Apparently, Washington asked MacArthur to amend this to ‘We shall return,’ which he ignored. Despite his somewhat ignominious retreat, MacArthur became the symbol of the Allied forces resisting the Japanese, and would receive many  accolades ‘to offset any propaganda by the enemy directed at his leaving his command’ Today his image stands proudly at the dock,  hailing the Philippines, as on the day he kept his word and came back to rout the Japanese, wading through the see at Leyte three times to create that iconic photograph captioned ‘I have returned.’

On the dock, we clambered onto a small, open-air bus-in-tram’s-clothing, and drove up from the quay to Topside. Like a steak, the island is imaginatively zoned Topside, Middleside, Bottomside and Tailside. With great excitement, we glimpsed a small macaque squatting under the trees, watching us cautiously. Apparently there are plenty of these tiny monkeys living on the island, but they kept a low profile and this was the only one we saw all day. The deer and monitor lizards stayed in the shadows too. However, there were geckoes in abundance, including a giant pair breeding amongst the ruins.

corrigedor.4Our guide had a passion for the facts and figures of World War II and a plethora of puns and quips to keep the commentary light and breezy. He also had a private supply of memorabilia garnered from the forest floor, and he delighted in taking us off the beaten track. I must admit, my memory for such detail is a little hazy, but I enjoyed the irony behind the origin of Fort Mills: built with reinforced concrete straight from Japan, and apparently strong enough to withstand hurricanes, it was not, however, strong enough to withstand Japanese bombs. Twenty thee gun batteries were installed on the island, the 14 ton guns made in Pennsylvania’s heart-of-steel at Bethlehem, and many of them were blown literally sky high when the Japanese bombers flew in, direct from their rendez-vous with Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941.

Their plan was to neutralize America’s role in the war, and they were initially so successful that MacArthur was forced to evacuate Manila less than three weeks later, removing Army headquarters and the Filipino government to Corregidor and withdrawing the troops to Bataan. By 31st December, MacArthur had gone to ground on Corregidor with 8,000 soldiers and hospital staff holed up beneath 300 feet of the solid rock. Hospital staff, realizing that the hospital would be a prime target despite the Red Cross on its roof, had managed to gather up all their patients in the hours before the Japanese arrived from Pearl Harbor, and carried them into the tunnels where they survived as best they could in the dank and claustrophobic atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the huge guns installed on the island were being used to defend the island, but as it turned out, they provided little protection against the heavy shelling of  the Japanese artillery.  One direct hit on May 2 detonated the magazines of Battery Geary, causing an explosion that blew one fifty ton mortar barrel through three feet of reinforcedcorrigedor.3 concrete wall into the adjoining powder magazine of Battery Crockett. Large chunks of steel flew from another, killing 27 of the battery crew instantly. Today, one remaining mortar still holds a live round in its breech, and many tourists peer into the dark mouth with a shiver.

Today, Corregidor is like a scene from Indiana Jones, the ruins draped in jungle and tethered by Strangler Fig. Bullet holes riddle heavy metal doors while bomb craters have become a feature of the landscape. War souvenirs still continue to emerge like buried treasure from the jungle, thanks to the persistent searches of war buffs: buttons and medals, dog tags and coins are on public display at the museum, while guides are always delighted to show off their own private collections.

On the highest point of Topside is the Pacific War Memorial to honour the Filipino and American soldiers who fought in World War II. Beyond the memorial stands the Eternal Flame of Freedom, a 40 foot weathered steel structure designed by American sculptor, Aristides Demetrios.

We climbed to the top of the lighthouse on Topside for amazing views across the island and out to sea. A lighthouse has stood on this spot since 1853, but the original lighthouse was irreparably damaged during the Siege of Corrigedor in 1941-2 and needed to be totally reconstructed in the 1950s.

corrigedor.1As we roamed over the island, I sat on the bus and tried to imagine life here before the war. Clambering through the ruins of the vast hospital, or driving past the Mile Long Barracks, it quickly became clear that a posting to Corregidor in the early twentieth century would have been a cushy little number. Who would argue with an army posting to a tropical island that was decked out like a beach resort, with free trams, a golf course, a high school and Olympic Pool, duty free and cheap-as-chips staff? Four thousand American soldiers could live like kings on this five star island, accompanied by 4,000 Filipino soldiers and a large local support staff.

A far cry from the stultifying existence in the Malinta Tunnels during the 1940s, where no natural light could find an entry, and only a handful of air vents could bring fresh air into the airless tunnels. Wounded soldiers lining the tunnel walls, limited latrines, and the ever-present cigarette smoke thickened what air there was. Empty, the tunnels are quite broad and high, but crammed with hospital beds and thousands of soldiers and hospital staff trapped like rabbits and listening helplessly to the heavy bombardment above their heads, knowing they were running out of food  and ammunition, it must have felt both suffocating and petrifying.

Our final stop was the controversial Japanese Garden of Peace, built as a memorial to the Japanese soldiers who fought and died on the island during WWII, completing the circle of Corregidor as a memorial to war: to the death and destruction and its effects on both sides, and the ongoing hope that such horrific scenes will never be repeated.

*With thanks to June Vann for her fabulous photos, and to Google Images for “I have returned,” and adapted from an article first published for ADBSA Newsflash, March 2015.

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The Flying Fish Café

IMG_0462 (2)The Flying Fish Café at Port Elliot on the south eastern lip of the Fleurieu Peninsula. A 42 degree day in February. A jetty. Scalding sand. Basking children. A lapis lazuli sky reflected in a glittering sea. Norfolk pines march in single file along the shoreline. Swimmers shriek with glee as they get tossed about by an obstreperous surf. Heat haze off a carpark crammed with perspiring station wagons. Small kids dashing bare foot across the melting tarmac desperate to reach the grass. Picnics on the lawn by the playground. Huge tubs of sunscreen lying on toasting towels. Naked toddlers basted in sand, like schnitzels.

We watch, relaxed and just a little smug, from our air conditioned eerie above the beach. A foodie friend has often raved about this little gem of a restaurant on the foreshore overlooking the glorious Horseshoe Bay. At the beach for fish and chips, it no longer comes in butchers paper with the ubiquitous chicken salt and brown vinegar, the chips IMG_0455 (2)already slightly soggy, the heavy batter flaking off as you wrap it in a strip of paper to protect your fingers, then douse it in mayonnaise. And there is no risk here of sand getting kicked over your chips.

The name Flying Fish has lead us to believe it was seafood restaurant, but the fish choices were surprisingly limited. Apparently it is more about showcasing South Australian produce, and having made our decisions, there were no complaints about the quality. (Although pricewise, $36 for fish and chips seems a little intense.)

Flying Fish is a small but sunny venue, with barely half a dozen tables and maybe thirty diners. The wooden floors make it seem like twice that many, to the detriment of the older members of our group – those over forty – who struggle to hear. Still, our waitresses are charming: warm, friendly and happy to oblige. Once everyone has gathered, I order a bottle of my favourite Rockford’s Alicante Bouchet rosé, and a couple of appetizers to share: a delicate, freshly made salmon dip bedecked in cucumber ribbons and triangles of crunchy lavosh and a salt and pepper squid with mango IMG_0457 (2)salad. We descend like a flock of seagulls.

For main course, Ben and I decide on King George Whiting from Streaky Bay, lightly dipped in a batter of Cooper’s Ale, crispy and moist, served with a small, fresh salad and a solid serve of reasonably crispy chips. With the Alicante, it is utter perfection. Having given up on chips and chocolate for Lent, my daughter chooses the Wakefield lamb (rare) served with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, a fetta and rocket pesto and quinoa (well, if it was cous cous, as the menu suggested, it has serious obesity issues). Mum and The Aunt both go for a smoked chicken salad with paw paw and toasted almonds, and conversation is negligible until their plates are scraped clean. Dad decides more calamari is called for, so as the salt and pepper squid puts in a second appearance, I surmise it is good.

Dessert anyone? Well, I absolutely have to taste the honey and lavender parfait, accessorized in honeycomb sprinkles and something delicately designed in chocolate that would be fitting on a Melbourne cup hat. The lavender flavour is impressive, the parfait luxuriously creamy. With help from my neighbours, it doesn’t last long enough to melt evenIMG_0464 slightly.

My daughter delights in the strawberry tart, and pronounces the quenelle of strawberry ice cream especially delicious. We help her out on the honeycomb sprinkles. The Aunt chooses a rather sophisticated affogato (espresso coffee poured over ice cream) laced with Cointreau and garnished with whole coffee beans. The teaspoons fly across the table like hummingbirds for quick, surreptitious dips.

We finish our late lunch with a quick dip in the sea to cool off before driving back to the city. The sea is tousled and nippy, but we are flushed and overheated, after prancing like Lipizzaner stallions across the molten tarmac and fiery sand, and find the cold water wonderfully refreshing. Only briefly, however –  we have no desire to melt messily like parfait in the sun or end up like pork scratchings on this sizzling summer afternoon.

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Undercooked

In the course of a once-in-a-lifetime family reunion for our parents Golden Wedding Anniversary, many well-known and oft-repeated tales,  some gospel, many apocryphal, came out of the closet for yet another airing. In light of the fact that many of those present at the celebrations have enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the ‘Bride & Groom’ over the past fifty years, this seems the right time to air this particular tale – with apologies to my mother, and allowing for a good dose of poetic license…

garfield1 The first time I invited my One & Only home for Sunday lunch, my mother made lasagna. It was coated in all the right sense of occasion: a family gathering to welcome the latest addition; sharing, caring and hospitality, and a welcoming hand across the cultures. L’Italiano meets the Skippys.

Only, I guess Mum had never made lasagna before, not even a practice run. It was brought proudly out to the table in the garden, that large baking tray smelling quite wonderful. Our mouths moistened in anticipation. The cheese on top had melted perfectly and was just tinged a light golden brown from the grill. And there the fantasy ended.

In those halcyon days of grey bolognaise and over-cooked spaghetti, culinary expertise in foreign cuisine was rare in Anglo-Australian suburbia. Who knew that one was supposed to soaked the dried pasta sheets before laying them on top of the sauce? Not my mother, certainly. The serving spoon rose ceremoniously, and we all waited with baited breath, salivating… and watched it crack through the pasta like a rock through a glass window. We flinched. “Oops, a little dry round the edges,” Mum exclaimed cheerfully, wading bravely on. She lifted a large shard of pasta topped with cheese onto the nearest plate, exposing the sauce beneath. We all peered in, ever optimistic.

While none of us – except my One & Only – was familiar with how a lasagna should look, I think we all knew this garfield5wasn’t quite right. Beneath the crust lay a pond of pink juice. In the pond, whole plum tomatoes bobbed gently. It felt suddenly like Halloween. And among the bobbing ‘apples’, tiny kernels of yellow corn ducked and wove across the lake. “Corn?” asked some brave soul cautiously. “O I had half a tin left over in the back of the fridge,” our innovative mother explained brightly. “And the mince?” I hear you wondering. Yes, well. Grey and lumpy, it had sunk in complete ignominy to the bottom of the lake.

Yes, she had followed a recipe, but like too many cookbooks it hadn’t really explained the process clearly. So there was no advice to ‘smash, dice or puree the whole tomatoes,’ or ‘cook the sauce down for a couple of hours till it thickens;’ no useful tips for those of us who didn’t learn to cook by helping our grandmothers in the kitchen, or who grew up in the centuries before Nigella, Jamie and Julia Childs. Like Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmothers trying to make a birthday cake without magic, my darling mum took each step quite literally. The One & Only was sweet, polite, forgiving, her four children not so much, and Mum’s corn lasagna has gone into the annals of family history as one of her most outstanding efforts.

Yet, while neither Food of the Gods, nor aphrodisiac, it perfectly illustrated the kindness and innate courtesy of both my mother and my future husband. So perhaps a culinary gem – of sorts!

*Adapted from an article written for Chop Soey, Januray 2015, and with thanks to Google Images for the perfect Garfield cartoons!

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“The Air is Full of Spices”

spices1Where would the world be without spice? That pinch of fairy dust that transforms the simplest dish into something other, heightening our senses with their exotic aromas, and adding a glorious depth of colour and flavour to our cooking. From seed and bark and bud and berry, spices are wisps of volatile oils that were once craved by kings, endowed with the glamour of opulence and blessed with the belief in their powers to ensure good health and enhance virility.

The history of exploration and colonization in the modern world is written in the kitchen spice rack: from black pepper, saffron and salt, to cinnamon, cloves and coriander. Traders and explorers were sent scuttling round the globe to claim not only these fragrant exotica but, on behalf of their rulers, the countries from whence they came. Rare and expensive, spices wove an alluring tale of privilege, power, romance and adventure, and often became a currency as precious as gold or silver. The Chinese even believed that cinnamon conferred immortality. With such a reputation, is it any wonder that the lust for spice became insatiable? Arabs, Romans, Vikings, Venetians, Turks, Spaniards, Dutch and English – every major civilization supported and spread its dominions through the Spice Trade, which drove the world economy from the end of the Middle Ages until the end of the nineteenth century.

The Arabs, strategically placed beside the sea link between east and west, monopolized trading for centuries. The Romans, with a keen appetite for spices and other outlandish ingredients, briefly elbowed their way into the business and sailed down to Malabar, while the Silk Road gave them access to central Asia and China.  Aromatic herbs  such as coriander, cumin, laurel and lovage, rue, mint and mustard became the culinary flavours of the day while the Roman spice rack focussed on pepper, saffron, cardamom and ginger. After the collapse of Rome, international trade died down, only to be resurrected from the 11th century onward by the reopening of the Silk Road, returning Crusaders, and the writings of Italian merchant Marco Polo.

In the early fifteenth century European explorers Vasco de Gama and Columbus introduced the Europeans to India andcastlekitchenlg South America respectively, opening up maritime trade routes around the globe that would make hundreds of new flavours accessible to European kitchens.

Arabia and China, Malabar, Madagascar and Malaya, the names of their origins are as exotic, aromatic and mellifluous as the spices themselves, which appear to have been scattered round the globe like confetti by a thoughtful god with culinary aspirations. James Joyce once wrote, however, that God created food, but the Devil invented spices, which is a legitimate assumption when you consider how many wars have been waged on their account. Spices were both highly prized and highly priced, their sources often shrouded in mystery, as traders wove complex fantasies to confuse their competitors. It was a fierce and risky business, and bloodshed was often at the end of the treasure hunt.

As the Spice Trade burgeoned, mediaeval cuisine was soon characterized by a passion for spice, each region selecting its favourites.  Spices were still only available to the wealthy, however, as the peasantry could never have afforded the exorbitant prices. This was to change. With European expansion into Asia and South America, the modern era of food globalization had begun. With growing demand came cultivation, and eventually prices dropped until spices were no longer luxury items on a shopping list. By the twentieth century, modern transport and refrigeration had spread the net of globalization ever wider for new markets, new spices. One source of new spices, however, was almost overlooked.

Lemon_myrtleAustralian Aborigines used indigenous herbs and spices to flavour their food for thousands of years before British colonists arrived in the eighteenth century. The new settlers barely acknowledged the native flora and fauna, finding them strange and unfamiliar. They preferred to cultivate plants and animals they knew from home. Over the last thirty years, however, from Sydney to Outback Australia, new Australians have finally begun to recognize the potential of Australian native spices, thus adding another element to this fusion cuisine. Wattleseed and lilly pilly, lemon myrtle and mountain pepper are the trendy new tastes of modern Australian cuisine. As chefs experiment with an expanded spice rack, food writers experiment with the language of taste to describe them.

Spices have also played a part in the language of romantic poetry, their intoxicating aromas inspiring the imaginations and passions of the poets in much the same way their flavours had piqued the taste buds of aristocratic circles.

One spice, a little shy and unassuming, that has sat at the back of the spice rack for centuries, is allspice. Native to Jamaica and Central America, it was originally  – and unimaginatively – baptized pimento by sixteenth century Spanish explorers (a derivation of the Spanish word for pepper) because they decided that the dried berries looked like peppercorns. The British, equally unimaginative, christened it allspice, because they thought its aroma had tones of several other spices, namely cloves, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In fact, the modest allspice has a broad range of uses. The Mayans used it as an embalming agent in the first millennium AD. Believed to have medicinal qualities, it was a traditional remedy for indigestion and colds. While mediaeval logic may have been a bit skewed in regards to natural cures and tonics, modern scientific research has actually qualified some of their suppositions. Today scientists suggest allspice may also contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, sedative, antiseptic, antiviral and antifungal properties. A recent study also uncovered the fact thatallspice allspice contains a compound called ericifolin, which could help to fight prostate cancer.

In the kitchen, allspice has a wide variety of uses too, from flavouring chocolate, cakes and pies, to stews and sausages. Indians season their curries with it, Scandinavians use the berries in pickled herring and sauerkraut.  Allspice makes its way into pates and smoked meats. Common in Caribbean cuisine, it is essential for jerked meat, seasoning and pickling, moles and marinades.  It is also used to flavour liqueurs such as Benedictine and Chartreuse.

For me, allspice is the heady fragrance of Christmases past, present and future.  Scooped up once a year from the depths of the spice cupboard, the little jar is dusted off and shaken up to help rejoice in the dusky richness of flaming Christmas puddings, to lift a thick and cloying pumpkin pie, to give a piquant hint of nostalgia to the mulled wine.   Allspice is a must for baking the gingerbread men to hang on the tree, and it is an essential oil that mingles decadently, sentimentally with bergamot oil to weave a spell of Christmas joy around your home. It is truly the taste and scent of Christmas.

First published in Chop Soy, Issue 1, January 2015, and with thanks to Google Images for the pictures.

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The Scottish Bard

“Fair and full is your honest, jolly face, great chieftain of the sausage race!                                                                          Above them all you take your place, stomach, tripe, or intestines:                                                                                                Well are you worthy of a grace as long as my arm.”                                                                                                                                 ~To a Haggis (translation), by Robbie Burns

o-ROBERTBURNS-facebookBurns Night. An evening in mid-winter dedicated to drinking, toasting and honoring a much loved and respected 18th century Scottish poet. A supper and a celebration in commemoration of  the man who wrote the remix of “Auld Lang Syne” that popular ballad with which to bid adieu to the past year on New Year’s Eve – or Hogmanay in the local lingo.  Burns was a prolific writer of poetry and songs, such as: Address to the Haggis and another to the Toothache; to Scotch Drink, ‘gud ale’ and ‘a peck o maut (malt whisky); a plethora of poems about women, such as The Red, Red, Rose and Kissing My Katie; To a Mouse, To a Louse, and To a Mountain Daisy. Then there is the oddly titled “Complimentary Versicles to Jessie Lewars.”

Burns had a wicked sense of humour and an irreverent strain that has kept him popular for more than two hundred years. His poetry is both satirical and sentimental, and has been called ‘a poet for all seasons’ with a broad understanding of humanity, its imperfections and its virtues. He is highly regarded as a disciple of the eighteenth century Romantic Movement, which emphasized intense emotion and the beauty of nature. Burns was also a strong political proponent of both liberalism and socialism.

Burns Night, introduced after his death, was, and is, a night dedicated to drinking, toasting and honoring this much loved and respected poet.

Our evening’s formalities began with a cheery welcome from the Chieftain, followed by a 17th century prayer, the Selkirk Grace, and the presentation of the haggis. For those unfamiliar with it, haggis is a savoury pudding containing lamb offal minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and stuffed into a sausage casing, then simmered in boiling water for three hours. Larousse Gastronomique claims that “although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour”.

The haggis duly appeared on a large silver platter, carried by the Chieftain’s son and accompanied by a kilted piper. Itcastle.3 looked suspiciously like a super-sized Christmas pudding. As I watched and listened, I was amused to realize that the ceremony bore a startling resemblance to the Holy Communion service, as the speaker presented the haggis and the whisky, like bread and wine, before sharing it with his off-siders. The haggis was then ceremoniously hacked in twain with a large dagger, toasted with the whisky, and the banquet officially began.

Tonight, the tent on the rooftop at the Dusit Thani was a far cry from the lochs and mountains of Bonny Scotland, but it seems that Manila has quite a contingent of patriotic expatriate Scots prepared to celebrate the talents of their favoured son. Kilts abound, and accents are thick. The Scottish flag hangs aloft and the banquet table is heavy with traditional Scottish fare for the hungry supporters of Robbie Burns. Of course there was the haggis, and ours had been imported from a Scottish company called Macsween, which was given three gold stars at the Great Taste Awards in 2013, the only haggis, apparently, ever to have received this award.  Neeps and tatties (swedes and potatoes), bannock (a heavy, flat griddle bread) and cranachan, a Scottish dessert a little like trifle, made with whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, whisky, honey and fresh raspberries also put in an appearance.   Then there were Scotch Eggs: an egg wrapped in sausage meat, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Our Chieftain tells me the Dusit Chef nailed it. Firstly…lastly… Cullen Skink is a traditional soup made from smoked haddock (tanigue locally), milk, potato and onion. It takes its strange name from a tiny village with the same strange name in Moray, on the north east coast of Scotland.

After we had eaten our fill, there was the traditional round-up of speeches. David Morrison began with the traditional speech to Robbie Burns’ immortal memory. Originally from Banff and looking every inch the Scot in kilt and sporran with a glimpse of red hair, he spoke at length in a heavy accent – despite decades in Hong Kong –  that must have left the Filipinos reeling.

castle.2Traditionally, the Burns Supper was a purely masculine affair, full of heavy drinking, carousing and ribaldry, and the next toast to the Lassies was originally intended as a toast of thanks to the women responsible for the cooking. These days room has been made for the women to speak too, and has primarily become an opportunity to poke fun – albeit with great wit and ever-so-affectionately – at the flaws and frailties of the ladies, followed by a robust rebuttal from the Lassies for the final say on the shortcomings of the men. Often a husband and wife team, this can lead to highly entertaining banter – or marital abuse! This year Matthew and Janelle Squires took up the baton and ably mocked their counterparts before making a toast.

This year it was my privilege as a once-upon-a-Scot to stand up and toast our host country. And it was with the deepest gratitude that I was able to say thank you to a country that has so generously, warmly, and whole heartedly given so many of us a home away from home. You can talk of any country’s accomplishments and inspirational efforts on the world stage, but for me the most inspirational thing about the Philippines is the Filipino attitude to newcomers, the kindness and the unjudgmental affection I have found here.

Many of us here tonight are Scots – or, like me, Scots-once-removed. Officially a sixth generation Aussie, I do have a Scottish maiden name and, apparently, a family tartan. I guess a few others were just as distantly related, but nonetheless hold a torch for their Scottish ancestry. Yet, despite a strong sense of patriotism that unites us under the Scottish flag for Burns Night and the St Andrews Day Ball, we find ourselves gathering together half a world away from Burns beloved homeland. No slate grey skies and icy winds here, but the deep blue skies and warm breezes of the tropics.

While there are some obvious physical differences between the Scots and the Filipinos – weather, a propensity for redheads – there are also, much to my surprise, many common threads, which may explain why so many Scots feel at home here. For example, and on this night in particular, we see a mutual delight in the written word. Look at the national heroes: Robbie Burns and Rizal!

There is also a common love of music, dancing, singing and story-telling, as we can see at every karaoke evening orSPiper-568x375 ceilidh. Then, looking into their respective cooking pots, it becomes obvious that both countries enjoy their comfort food, with a preference for red meat, sugar, and of course, offal. Sisig and haggis are surely kissing cousins?

And in the melting pot of history, both Filipinos and Scots have shown a similar acceptance of the different races and cultures that have landed on their shores during centuries of trade and colonization. The proof of the pudding? I actually have a Filipina friend with a red headed daughter. Finally, perhaps the best thing about living here is getting to know the people, their friendliness and their lack of pretension.

So I proposed a toast to our host country and its people, “for their ready smiles, their generosity of heart, and their party spirit…. thank you for having us.” Filipino, David Guerrero, who I believe, is credited with the slogan “it’s more fun in the Philippines” then responded on behalf of the host nation.

The evening then took on a lighter note, with musical entertainment from Australian Piper Ben Casey, and fiddler Emma Swinnerton who hails from Uig, a Hebridean parish on the Isle of Skye, currently teaching year 3 at the British School Manila . Two long established St Andrews members, Diane Ross and Heather Price stood to share the glories of Burns poetry, by reading aloud an edited version of the excessively lengthy “Scotch Drink” and “To  a Louse”, a witty piece he wrote in church after watching a louse crawling over a lady’s bonnet. They kindly alternated the original Scottish verses with an English translation for those of use less fluent in that hearty tongue. The night was wrapped up, as is right and proper, with a rollicking round of Auld Lang Syne.

*With thanks to Google Images

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Inside Out in Akaroa

IMG_0221Gardening is not usually my bag. My mother has the green fingers, and the tendency to arrive home with clippings from friend’s gardens, Botanic Gardens, woodland or verges. But I do appreciate other people’s efforts, and I can name a handful of English wild flowers and trees thanks to a primary school nature program and my sister’s Flower Fairy Books. So, in late November, when I was lucky enough to make a spur-of-the-moment trip to New Zealand,  I was delighted to land in Christchurch in time for the Open Gardens weekend on the glorious Banks Peninsula.

The Banks Peninsula, lying south east of Christchurch, was created by the eruption of two volcanoes. Shaped like a piece of fan coral, it is lace-edged with coves, bays and beaches. Inland, the peninsula consists of two deep sea harbours, hilly farmland and native bush criss-crossed with walking paths. It is also home to some rare and endemic flora and fauna, such as the tiny white Lyttleton forget-me-not, ironically in serious danger of being lost and forgotten due to grazing sheep and wild goats.

First settled by the Maoris, it was later named by Captain James Cook after the ship’s botanist, Joseph Banks, as they circumnavigated New Zealand aboard the Endeavour. Observing it to be a barren and uninviting island, Cook sailed on without further ado. Other explorers, however, saw more potential in this remote region. In 1838 a French whaler, Langlois, provisionally bought land  from the Maoris, with plans to establish a whaling station. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he was upstaged by the British who rushed in to claim sovereignty for Britain as he headed home to gather settlers from Europe.. Nonetheless, Langlois was still able to  establish a small settlement on the banks of Akaroa Harbour, which has left its mark. Street signs read Rue Benoit and Rue Balguerie, Rue Jolie and Rue Lavaud; older buildings are built in ‘the French style,’ and there appears to be a lasting local penchant for French wines. The gardens, however, speak of a more Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Initially, it is the proliferation of roses that catches my eye:  red, pink, apricot and white, thick as clotted cream, the
IMG_0229fecund blooms top heavy on drooping stems, like busty matrons. Yet they are, surprisingly, lightly scented, as if all their energy has gone into the visual. Chubby peonies have collapsed onto the ground in drunken, overblown splendor. Lupins and lavender, pansies and espaliered pears, delphiniums and daisies fill the flowerbeds, reminiscent of an English country garden. Meanwhile a bustling stream, rimmed with buttercups and arum lilies, rushes towards the sea, overlooked by a stand of silvery eucalypts. Delicately curling ferns, like babies fingers, snuggle in the shade of leafy walnut trees. A pohutukawa, resplendent in scarlet baubles, heralds Christmas. The spiky orange blades of the libertia line a gravel path. Acres of perfectly manicured green lawns stretch down to a Monet pond coated in lily pads. Contrasting floral cultures intertwine like the honeysuckle and the bindweed.

We drive out to the Valley Road Vineyard, which lies on gently rolling hillsides across the Bay from the township. We park the car outside the cellar door (an old timber barn complete with loft-style accommodation) and wander up a leafy track. Around the bend, a couple of muddy ponds are tucked into the elbow of neat green hills, while a mulberry-coloured maple snags the eye among the long green leaves of iris and agapanthus. On a plateau at the top of the drive stands the original straw-bale home. It is obviously a house well versed in entertaining, with an outdoor pizza oven gracing the back patio, and spectacular views across vineyards and harbour. A flower bed of lavender and lemon trees buzzes with the sound of satiated bees.

Back down the hill we drift through the cell door… and behold the New Zealander with his Filipino family! We  happily compare notes on our experiences of Manila and New Zealand as I sip on the wine: a pair of Pinot Noir, a much-medalled Pinot Gris and a rosé of the palest pink perfect for an afternoon picnic. Feeling ever-so-slightly fuzzy-headed, we move on to a neighbouring orchard, where we picnic among the fruit trees, lolling on the sun-speckled lawn, our esky – sorry, chilly bin – spilling cheeses, dips, fruit and biscuits onto the grass.

IMG_0245Replete and re-energized, we drive east to the coast, skimming past Akaroa and getting ourselves ever-so-slightly mislaid on steep, gritty farm tracks before finding our way to Fisherman’s Bay. This glorious garden is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the New Zealand Garden Trust, and is looking absolutely glorious on this effervescent afternoon. Perched high above a stretch of weathered and dramatic coastline above the Pacific Ocean, this private garden boasts breath-taking views and appealingly unexpected nooks and crannies. Corrugated iron sculptures of Herbina the Cow and Marcus the Goat guard the windswept cliffs, while the rainbow colours of spring climb joyfully up the steep hillside towards the house. Behind the house stretches a feminine, textured,  pink and purple border. Our hosts are serving afternoon tea on the terrace: tea, coffee and an impressive selection of home-made cakes and slices, including the indigenous Afghan biscuit. We sit peacefully in the shade, sipping and nibbling and chatting to other visitors, garnering tips on their favourite gardens.

We drive into Akaroa, and unload the car into our bach (a New Zealandish weekend cottage) before heading out to eat. Again. Dinner is booked at a pretty Italian restaurant by the waterfront. On the back veranda, overlooking a graveled courtyard neatly trimmed with olive trees and climbing red roses, we laze in the cheerful glare of the evening sunshine. It isn’t long before we are replete on goat’s cheese and beetroot chutney, a hefty steak with salad for me, and a couple of glasses of local Pinot Noir, also for me. Afterwards, in need of a walk, I stroll home through the fading light, admiring one voluptuous garden after another, all accessorizing the prettiest little weatherboard cottages, while the scent of lavender drifted sensuously through the air. And tomorrow we have more to explore. In the meantime, I pause at a picket fence to smell the roses…

 *Adapted from an article first published in Inklings, January 2015.

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Purging Dr Zeuss

AreyoumymotherRemember that children’s book, ‘Are You My Mother’ by P.D. Eastman? It’s that one where the baby bird hatches only to find he is all alone, so he bravely leaps out of the nest, and sets off to find his mum. Published by Random House in 1960, it sat on our bookshelf with the ‘Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Yertle the Turtle’. Well, these days the shoe is firmly on the other foot, and the kids have left us, and I am booking flights to find them. And I have images of King Lear haunting my dreams…

Yet isn’t it perfectly normal for our kids to grow up and leave home? Isn’t that what they are suppose to do? It may have been a bit sooner than I was prepared for, but we had joked from Day One that we would be kicking them out at eighteen. As Third Culture Kids, leaving home probably means relocating to a different continent, which makes it a little more challenging – but at least they won’t be bringing their washing home at weekends. At a time when I am constantly reading about the “Boomerang Generation”— those young adults who keep coming home to live with their parents, or who simply never pack their bags –  we are now busily, sadly, and a little reluctantly, adjusting our lives to the lack of teenagers in the house. Although they all staggered home for Christmas, which was fabulous, they all have their own lives now, scattered around the globe. And we are facing a new chapter, without struggling for possession of the car keys, fighting over who’s washing up, turning up our noses at smelly football kit, communicating in grunts, or demanding a toll of hugs and kisses as they pass through.

Yes, it’s true, both boys leaving at once was a little confronting. Emotional? Me? Well, OK, I did get a bit weepy. Strangely enough, it was worse in the anticipation of departure than after the event. Maybe I am shallow, but once the flight has departed, I tend to move forwards, admittedly limping a little, but nonetheless “onwards and upwards!”

The psychologists warn us that there is an ‘Empty Nest Syndrome:’ a feeling of grief and loneliness at the sight of a teenager’s empty bedroom that can lead to a loss of purpose for parents, even depression. And apparently I am in the ‘particularly prone’ category. Looking back over the past six months, there may be a smidgen of truth in that diagnosis. For a while I struggled to make decisions, to plan, to organize myself. I retreated into computer games and lived  on Facebook. And yes, those empty rooms made me want to cry more often than I would have expected.

On the other hand, I am used to change. Eighteen moves in twenty five years, good grief, I am an expert. Aren’t I? And as I keep telling my friends, the boys are communicating more on Facebook than they ever did when they lived down the corridor – so don’t anyone criticize Facebook to me, husband dearest.

Yes, of course I miss them, but they have gone. And we are lurching about in an apartment that is way too big for us. So I have reached a decision. I am selling off the furniture, dumping a load of excess ‘stuff,’ and we are downsizing. It’s good for the soul, all this purging. It clears the detritus that has gathered over years, forces us to re-think our priorities, and makes us plan for a new era. Spring cleaning, past, present, future. The mad woman in me would like to reduce it down to the two backpacks we set out with in 1990, but that is probably unreasonable. And I find I am rather attached to some of the stuff, despite my best intentions. But emotionally I am now recharged, eager to move on and re-arrange. I am still on the internet at odd hours of the night – well, you try keeping three kids in three different time zones! – trying to sort out minor issues, book half term holidays, give advice about computers… but at least, as one friend remarked, there is always someone to talk to.

So I will not be a Bill Bryson, expecting those kids to come back a lot. They have flown. We will see them again and again, of course, but it is time for them all to test their wings, and go in search of their own dreams. It is quiet. And echoingly empty. And I can’t stop cooking for five. So we will continue to live on left-overs until I get the hang of it. But I am clearing out the book shelves and purging the picture books.

And let’s face it, we knew from the day they were born that we couldn’t keep them forever. ‘Better to have loved and lost’ and all that – although I suspect that Lord Tennyson wasn’t talking about our children.

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