The road to motherhood

Today is Mother’s Day in the UK.

I am close to my Mum and always have been. Even though I now live on the opposite side of the world, we still keep all the connections going and spent time together just recently when I was in Melbourne over the Christmas / New Year period.

Others are not so fortunate. Some will spend the day in remembrance whilst a great many more will fall somewhere between the luxury of close proximity and feeling separated emotionally. For still others, this is just another day.

In Australia, we celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May so today is a bit of an awkward one for me. There’s the flurrying around me here but my official nod happens in May. I’ve been grappling with how best to acknowledge this UK version for the last couple of days.

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En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…

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After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.

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Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…

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A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.

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Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…

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View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…

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There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.

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This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..

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A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Hanging out

It’s been a busy few weeks and if you’ve been reading recent posts, you’ve probably gathered that Mum has been for a visit. The last time I saw her was on my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under in December 2014 and, being rather a long time between familial drinks, we made a plan for her to have a three week sojourn at Gidday HQ.

Over Easter we had ourselves a three-night city break in Liverpool but this was just the tip of the iceberg – for three weeks we drank coffee, saw a few sights, did a bit of shopping and cooked some meals – Mum made some old favourites from my childhood and I added a few new dishes to my repertoire (so great to have the time and opportunity to try out a new recipe on someone else). But mainly we just enjoyed hanging out together. Here are some of the highlights.

We strolled along the Thames on a cool Spring Saturday and met some friends of mine for lunch at the Design Museum.

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Mum, yours truly on the banks of The Thames

We took a short tube ride and spent a colourful couple of hours at Camden Market.

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Left: Camden High Street is a mecca of self expression. Right: Statue of local girl Amy Winehouse

We also managed a Fab Four, post-Liverpool top up with Richard Porter’s Beatles In My Life walking tour which wound its way through John, Paul, George and Ringo’s London haunts and culminated in that crossing on Abbey Road.

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I stopped traffic but it had to be done

We went to see Glenn Close demonstrate some serious vocal chops as Norma Desmond in the musical Sunset Boulevard and also took a trip into the world of Downton Abbey with a visit to three of the show’s most famous filming locations…

Cogges Manor Farm (aka Yew Tree Farm) in Witney…

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The top middle photo shows where Mary’s antics with the muddy pigs were filmed (fans will know what I mean!) while the roof seen top right is where Daisy gets a new perspective on Andy in the closing scenes of the series.

…the village of Bampton (aka Ripon in the series)…

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The village church (top right) was the scene of many a Downton wedding whilst the hospital scenes were filmed in this old schoolhouse to the bottom right

…and of course “Downton Abbey” itself, Highclere Castle.

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The castle is a family home – the family being the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, Lady Carnarvon and their children – and as such is only open to visitors 60 days a year. Did you know that their ancestor, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun‘s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922?

Then on Monday night I put Mum on a plane and that, my friends, was that. Three weeks – gone by in a flash.

It was busy and full and so fabulous to spend time with Mum. And even though it’s always tough to say goodbye, there’s only about 8 months (or 251 sleeps) to go until I arrive in Melbourne for Christmas. In the meantime, this weekend has been ‘going-out free’ and today, with the washing drying in the Spring sunshine, the patio might be beckoning…

Smartie

This morning on the way to work, I opened an email from Mum containing some sad news – that Smartie (the cat) had died.

Smartie and sister Kit Kat arrived at Mum’s beachside pad about 12 years ago and quickly made themselves part of the family. While the hormonal effects of having them spayed led to their affectionate dubbing as Fatty and Scatty by Lil Chicky, there was no doubt of their permanent place in all of our hearts, especially Mum’s.

I’ve been living overseas for 11 of those 12 years and Kit Kat and Smartie have been every bit a part of my familial pilgrimages Down Under, whether curling themselves through my legs as I come through the door, mewling plaintively as I sit in ‘their spot’ on the couch or purring quietly next to me in Mum’s tiny courtyard garden, me draping one hand over the side of the chair to stroke an upturned chin or bowed head while I read.

Even so, I was surprised by how upset I felt by the news.

I walked along Victoria Embankment to the office today, through Whitehall Gardens with the Thames on my left, the morning sun glistening gently off the water. And it was the perfect place to give in to my tears. I cried for the cat for whom endless patting would never be enough. The cat who climbed into the bathroom sink each morning to watch Mum put her makeup on. The cat who sat out in the rain yesterday and then hid herself away to die.

I cried for Kit Kat, wondering where her sister and playmate has gone.

And I cried for Mum, for whom this is so sad a loss. Her email brought her worry, her search for Smartie and her sad discovery all the way across the world to the banks of the Thames and it pierced my heart to read her words and reflect on Smartie’s affectionate – albeit insistent – charm and the Smartie-shaped gap left by her passing.

As I dried my tears. I kept thinking to myself it’s not Mum, it’s not Lil Chicky or anyone else in my family. It’s not like the family pets we lost as I grew up, the ones I shared a house with and shouted at in frustration to ‘get off my beanbag’ or ‘leave the sausages alone’. But there it was anyhow – a heaviness in my heart and warm tears in my eyes.

Smartie now lies peacefully in the bower in Mum’s tiny courtyard garden.  The very place she’d come to find me, meowing insistently until my hand fell from the arm of the chair to rub my fingertips between her ears.

May she rest in the place I always found peace.

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