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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Timing is everything

The last few weeks has seen my work life taking revised shape under our new owners. There have been calls and meetings with a variety of people as we work together to take next steps – confirming where documentation is available, discussing projects’ status and making a start on connecting the right people across the new organisation.

There’s also been the additional challenge of extracting both the knowledge from being in the business for five and a half years and what I’ve learnt in my role over the last two and a half years. You don’t realise how much you know and do in your job until you are asked to share it.

But just as things were getting on a roll, I was struck down with a stomach bug and have spent most of last week feeling unwell, sorry for myself and a bit frustrated.

My intention in sharing this is not to elicit sympathy (although any offered is always gratefully received). Rather it’s to set the scene for what happened next.

After a couple of especially unpleasant days, I’d managed to get myself to the doctor to confirm that it was just a bug and that it would pass. My first venture out in three days left me feeling shattered and I was just looking forward to lying down in the coolness of my flat again. As I opened the front door and prepared to step over the post, thinking I’d get to it later, I noticed a small yellow envelope on the door mat.

Intrigued, I picked it up and opened it to find a card inside.

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It was from Mum and had travelled all the way from Australia – with its poignant and perfectly worded message – to arrive on my door mat at the very moment I needed it.

It took me back to a post I wrote last year about what I like to call The Butterfly Principle – about being ready to emerge and take flight despite an uncertain future – and it reminded me to cut myself some slack and use this time to restore myself to full health. After all, when the next opportunity comes calling, I want to be ready to make the most of it. And as it’s not clear exactly what it will look like, I need to stay curious and energised as it takes shape.

Because quite frankly peeps, I’m rather feeling partial to something fabulous.

A dinkum daughter

My name is Kym Hamer, I am 46 years old and I have just cooked my first BBQ.

Yes yes I know. As a dinkum Aussie sheila, I ought to be ashamed of myself for not mastering this patriotic part of my culinary repertoire before now.

It’s not that I’ve been blind to the art of BBQ – I have actually been around BBQs most of my life but it has always been someone else pricking the snags and flipping the burgers.

23KYM

My introduction to BBQ-ed vittels started early in life – but Opa (back middle) was in charge of the cooking.

And quite frankly these BBQ bastions have been happy for me to do my part by plonking a few salad leaves artfully in a bowl and scattering a few condiments around, so who am I to argue (with glass of wine in hand)?

But the weather was looking good…

Phone temp

…my outdoor setting had been re-oiled after a long and rather exposed Winter…

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…so Aussie-K came over for a barbie.

Of sorts…

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To be honest, my turkey and chilli burgers stuck a little and would probably have been better served by a hotplate…

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…but they tasted delicious alongside the lime and chilli mayo, salad and warm ciabatta straight from the oven. And wine of course.

(I would not want you to think I was some sort of kitchen maestro or anything so I must confess again, this time to not making the ciabatta myself.)

And we topped it all off with a slice of shop-bought (just keepin’ it real here peeps) lemon tart, fresh berries and cream.

So on this Mother’s Day, with our respective Mums on the other side of the world, chatting in the sunshine and eating good food together was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

As was ticking my long overdue BBQ baptism off the list.

Mum would be so proud…5KYM

Happy Mother’s Day Mum from your fair dinkum Aussie daughter.

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.

Camden April16

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…

DA - Cogges Manor Farm

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…

A mosey ’round Merseyside (Liverpool #2)

The story so far…

Mum and I went to Liverpool over the Easter break. On Day 1 we did a Magical Mystery Tour, took the Ferry Across the Mersey, trawled through The Beatles Story and sweated it out at the Cavern Club. It was an excellent and very musically-themed beginning to our trip but there was much more to come. Here’s what happened next.

On Day 2, we started out with a City Explorer Bus Ride to orient ourselves with the other things to see and do in Liverpool. Our guide on the bus had a traditional Liverpudlian accent which Mum mentioned was sometimes hard to understand. Speaking of Mum here she is on the bus, taking photos (a common sight when one travels with my mother) and her version of rugging up against the blustery cold wind.

Mum in Liverpool

We then spent some time wandering around Albert Dock, taking more photos…

Albert Dock

Liverpool architecture

Top: The three graces of Liverpool Bottom: View from Albert Dock

…and visiting the International Slavery Museum.

Slave museum

We spent a couple of hours here. It was a great follow up to the Sugar and Slavery walking tour that I did in London in March and I must say that I left not only shocked by the legacy of the slave trade from the 15th and 16th centuries but devastated that slavery continues to prosper in places like India and Africa (just to name two).

We topped off our more leisurely day with a nanna nap back at the hotel before a fab dinner just around the corner at Jamie’s Italian (complete with a friendly waiter who had just returned from travelling in Australia).

Our final day dawned and with a mid-afternoon departure scheduled, we decided to spend our remaining time exploring on foot with a view to visiting Liverpool’s two cathedrals en route.

The streets behind the hotel yielded some interesting ‘art’…

Street scenes Liverpool

…but we did find our way to Chinatown…

Chinatown

…before heading to our first place of worship, the gothic-inspired Liverpool Cathedral.

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - exterior

It was magnificent, full of soaring arches and stained glass. I particularly loved the intimacy and quiet of the Lady Chapel and the series of windows dedicated to some of the important women in English history…

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - Chapel windows

After a fortifying coffee in the cathedral cafe, where we gazed out over the nave spotted with coloured light from the windows, it was time to head up Hope Street…

Suitcases

…to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

This is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and while it may not have the same traditional look as its Anglican counterpart at the other end of Hope Street, Paddy’s Wigwam (as it is also known) is Grade II listed. Originally the cathedral was to be the largest in Europe, planned to be on a par with St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City but after several years and millions of pounds invested, only the crypt was completed and work stopped as the money dried up.

However, it was generally acknowledged that Liverpool still needed a cathedral and so Frederick Gibberd, winner of a world-wide design competition, built the existing cathedral between 1962 and 1967. He managed to do this within both the time period specified (five years) and the one million pound budget as well as preserving the crypt which is now used for all sorts of events and concerts.

After I got over my shock at its modernity, the space and light really grew on me and after wandering through the crypt as well, I left feeling more inspired by this unconventional tribute to faith than the traditional magnificence of the Anglican Cathedral at the bottom of the hill.

There was not much time left to explore so we headed back to the hotel to collect our things and made our way to Lime Street Station to catch our train back to London – just in time! But here are a few of the other places we saw on our final foray through the streets of Liverpool…

Liverpool street scenes 2

Clockwise from top left: The Everyman Theatre stands at the top end of Hope Street opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral; The Monro Gastropub in Duke Street, a former merchant’s house built in 1765, was named in honour of the first passenger service scheduled between Liverpool and New York in 1817; St Luke’s Church was built in the early 1800s and was badly damaged in the Liverpool Blitz of 1941 – the ruins are Grade II listed; the Philharmonic Pub on Hope Street, another Grade II listed building, was built for local brewer Robert Cain at the end of the 19th century.

And so that, my friends, was our Merseyside mosey. Liverpool turned out to be a great city with plenty to see and do so I hope you enjoyed the armchair tour.

A Single Story…

I had the enormous privilege of seeing Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie speak about her latest novel last week. I knew nothing about her except that she was Nigerian and that she had written a book I’d loved (Americanah 2014 #29 in The Book Nook). I left the event 90 minutes later inspired and wanting to know more.

Today I watched Chimimanda’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single StoryThroughout she talks about how limiting and how damaging a single story or viewpoint about a person can be, that it creates stereotypes that while not necessarily incorrect, are more often than not incomplete. That a single story creates presumption rather than openness, a potential wall of prejudice in our relationships with one another as human beings. She told of her own single stories, blown apart by having the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and also of the single stories about herself, experienced through the eyes of others.

It made me think more about single stories and one of the most extreme and damaging of all time – the Nazi ‘story’ about the Jews. Scary stuff.

It also made me think about the single stories about me: each twist of my kaleidescope reveals a potential single story – laconic Aussie, 40-something woman, single lady, career woman, Dutch pragmatist just to name a few. Even so, the whole is so much more than just the sum of all of these.

Then there are my single stories about others and I began thinking about how this starts with our parents. We see them as Mum and Dad and then they become ‘people’ as we get more and more perspective about them. How my Dad went from the person I thought was my biggest critic to someone who was more proud of me than I ever knew. How my Mum continues to be one of the strongest and most inspiring women I know, rising to every challenge and finding strength of purpose again and again in making a difference. 

I was even thinking beyond people to my original single story about London and how every discovery I make about it both enriches my experience of living here and deepens my love for this amazing city. 

It made me think about my reading of Americanah as my first dip into ‘Nigeria’ and how much I loved it and took the story to heart. And how this was my single story until I saw Chimimanda speak both on Thursday night and today on her TED talk. 

And as I only read it three weeks ago, it made me think (not for the first time) that life has the ability to transform when you read.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Paris Parallels…

Firstly, I know I said that the Armchair Tours of Paris would start next but Mother’s Day (the Aussie version) falls on Sunday 12th, which is tomorrow, so you’ll have to wait a little longer. C’est la vie.

In thinking about how I would roast honour my lovely Mum this year, I was taken back to my very first visit to Paris…with Mum. We’d been away for 5 weeks and Paris was the final few days of our continental grand tour. We were tired and non-French-speaking so we had a few multitude of silly moments together in the City of Lights. (A rather ridiculous session of charades with a patient shopkeeper in an effort to get directions to the nearest cash point springs to mind.)

And I took what seemed like a squillion photos then too (which, in the pre-digital age, cost me an absolute fortune to have developed). Mum took more.

It is well-known in our family that Mum is a little…well snap-happy.

And this has been borne out over the years as her wanderlust has expanded to take in places like the USA and Canada, and adventures like a snowstorm in Petra, a cruise on the Nile and a whole lot in between.

I know this for a fact. I’ve been back to Melbourne. I’ve seen the evidence photo albums.

Anyway, I had been wondering whether I had kept any photos of her from our inaugural parlay with Paris…and you’re in luck (Mum maybe not so much…) So here’s how much things have really changed.

There was our bird’s eye view from the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower on the night of our arrival in 2000…



…while this time my opening night perspective was a little more grounded from the Place de la Concorde.


Being new to the whole travelling lark, we were fascinated by the public loos in the streets of Paris. There was some consternation about what would happen if you got stuck in there. Mum was relieved in more ways than one when the door opened…


…while this time around I was just relieved my loo with a view came with no windows directly opposite.

This was a rare moment of still and quiet contemplation for Mum near the Jardin des Tuileries…

…whilst last Sunday I found mine – with a good book in hand – on the way from Raspail to the Jardin du Luxembourg.

And finally there was Mum’s first espresso on a cafe terrace overlooking the Place de la Concorde (she succumbed to my nagging sound advice after five days of having moaned about Paris’ horrible and expensive cappucinos)…

 …whilst not too far away, on a grey afternoon more than 12 years later, I found heavenly, chocolate-y solace – and a coffee – at Angelina.

Such great, great memories.

So all that’s really left to do is to find her an armful of gorgeous flowers (freshly pic’ed from the Jardin du Luxembourg)…


…and send her lots of love and squillions of virtual hugs.

Happy Mothers Day Mum!

The Beginning Of Time…

As regular readers of Gidday From The UK will know, I have just played host to my lovely Mum at Gidday HQ. Having visitors of the family kind stay in ‘your space’, I’ve always felt that it’s important to sprinkle the intensity of trying to cram 18 months apart into 10 days with a jaunty outing or two. Which brings me to Greenwich.

After stuffing ourselves severely the day before (see the Departures post for a snippet of our High Tea exploits), what was called for was an outing full of fresh air, fascinating facts and fab photo opportunities. So we headed out into a clear, crisp Sunday to explore the delights of South East London. Having never been there before, I seriously underestimated how much there is to actually see and do in Greenwich. There’s the Royal Naval College, the Maritime Museum and Greenwich Village just to name a few. But Greenwich is most famous for its status as the beginning (and end come to think of it) of time and so, like good little tourists, it was to the Royal Observatory we went.

Yep, there is it. On the top of the hill. A meander through Greenwich Park followed by a steep, short yet concentrated walk upwards.

The Royal Observatory was founded by Charles II in 1675 who decided to build an observatory in Greenwich Park, his own royal back yard so to speak. The ability for early sailors to safely navigate the high seas once out of sight of land was extremely limited and while a comprehensive understanding of the skies was seen to offer a solution, the conundrum of time was inextricably linked. And in defining one’s position east or west, the important question of ‘from where?’ has left us with the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time.

John Flamsteed was appointed Astronomer Royal and every night for 40 years he used a telescope and clock to record the movement and altitude of stars across the meridian line. After a disaster at sea in 1707, more reliable means of finding longitude at sea were sought and it was Yorkshire carpenter turned clockmaker John Harrison who solved the problem almost 60 years later. (His four timekeepers are on display and in full working order!) On his 1768-71 voyage to explore the South Pacific, then Lt. James Cook (yes, the dude that came a cropper on the reef off the coast of what is now Far North Queensland Australia in 1770) became the first to successfully test this new method of finding longitude at sea and he continued to test emerging methods on two further voyages until 1779.

The meridian line shifted four times (across the now Prime Meridian Courtyard) as each new Astronomer Royal took advantage of the increasing accuracy available. And finally in 1884, the Greenwich Meridian was awarded the prize of Longitude 0º by 41 delegates from 25 countries, making it the Prime Meridian of the World. Makes it sound like a super-hero doesn’t it?

The Prime Meridian Marker at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
I had to be quick to get this before the next in the very long line positioned themselves for a happy snap.

So that’s enough of the history stuff for now. Suffice to say we spent all afternoon wandering around the Observatory and finished with a stint at The Peter Harrison Planetarium to see ‘Secrets of the Stars’ before some coffee and cake overlooking the park. Here’s how it went…

There’s a spectacular view of Canary Wharf (L) and the O2 (R) from the Observatory hill.
This is just one part of the 40ft long telescope that William Herschel, famous for the discovery of Uranus in 1781, had built but rarely used. Boys and their toys eh?
Flamsteed House was built by Christopher Wren for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. The red ball was known as the Time Ball and every day at 1pm, the ball would fall, allowing all around to set their timepieces. Those who may have been partaking of a few too many and missed this daily ‘missive’ were deemed to be ‘not on the ball’. 
Told with great enthusiasm in the Prime Meridian Courtyard, we learnt about the beginning of ‘time’ itself.
Mum though she should check out the Prime Meridian laser, just be sure.
And here it is. The beginning and end of time. It lights up at night but it’s a little underwhelming for something so renowned isn’t it?
We wandered around the galleries for a while and there’s some amazing stuff – like John Harrison’s 4 timekeepers – but it’s really difficult to get a good photo. So you get this quirky display of telecommunication through ‘the ages’. I probably shouldn’t admit that I remember them all!
The Peter Harrison Planetarium, home to the winners’ gallery for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year and our tryst with Patrick Stewart, he of Star Trek fame and narrator of ‘Secrets of the Stars’. This is also home to the oldest thing from my Departures post – a piece of Gibeon meteorite some 4.5 billion – yes that’s with a ‘b’ – years old.
Finally it’s time for coffee and cake but boy it was chilly!

As closing time approached, we reluctantly shifted from our glorious vantage point…

…headed back down the hill and across the park to the bus stop. I must admit that, in the face of the trek back to North London after so long on my feet, the little voice in my head was groaning a little with each step I took. A little ‘beam me up Scotty!’ would not have gone astray.

So that was Greenwich peeps. The beginning and end of time immemorial. And definitely worth a visit with so much more to do than we managed in an afternoon.

Your 2012 Five A Day – March

Violent Veg’s March offering, a take on the quiz show Deal or No Deal for those who don’t know, might seem to be a bit naff at first glance but funnily enough there’s a little story I have to tell.

I’ve just spent 10 days with my Mum who loves a quiz show. Any quiz show. She’s applied for a few, been on a few and still working and saving frantically to support her travels. Which basically tells me that it’s harder than it looks.

The day after she arrived in London, we were walking past a hardware shop on the main road here in Fab Finchley when she stopped to take this photo…

Thinking that the jetlag had finally gotten the better of her, I think I said something like ‘What ARE you doing?’

In response, she told me that she’d gotten quite far along in one of these quiz shows but when faced with a question about DeWalt, failed to connect the power tools brand she has been watching sponsor car races for years with the DeWalt of the question. She has been rubbished about it by her partner and Lil Chicky and Husband ever since.

So we uploaded the photo on to Facebook for them.

Hope March gives you something to smile about.
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Five A Day Back Catalogue
January
February

Departures…

After a 10 day sojourn, Mum flew out to Dubai last night on the final leg of her February 2012 odyssey. It’s quiet here this afternoon at Gidday HQ but I have lots of things to be getting on with before it’s back to work tomorrow.

All up it’s been a busy 10 days with some ‘must dos’ not done as we traded off a few excursions for a little chill out time at home. I’ll post about some of the specific things we did over the next week or so – that’ll be more posts of the ‘Armchair‘ variety coming up for you – but in summary we shopped, played tourist, ate, drank and were generally slightly hysterical very merry.

Day 1 started gently for my erstwhile traveller, recovering from 2 weeks amidst the hurly burly of Egypt with a sleep in, a short stroll around my local park and a coffee stop or two before heading into The Tower of London in the evening for the Ceremony of the Keys.

The Ceremony of the Keys has been occurring every night at the Tower for the last 700 years and is the ritual of securing the Tower and the Crown Jewels for the night. From arrival at the West Gate at 9.30pm to departure at approximately 10.15pm, every moment was filled with a sense of both occasion and history as the Yeoman Warder led the group down to stand at Traitor’s Gate and watch the ceremony.

After explaining the ceremony itself, he left us to watch in silence as he joined his fellow warders in the ritual locking of the two outer gates, the steady march towards Traitor’s Gate right through to the proclamation that the Tower had been secured and the haunting notes of the bugler’s Last Post. This is definitely one of London’s hidden gems and even better, it is free but you need to send off a request form a couple of months in advance. You can click here to go to the website and check it out for yourself.

Saturday we were off to High Tea at The Connaught in Mayfair with A-down-the-hill to enjoy a significantly posher version of our previous Champers and Cupcakes escapades…

Champers gets our afternoon off to a fab start
There were also scones (they were scrum-diddly-umptious) and we got to choose three jams between us – my fave was the Apple & Quince!

Mum and I took ourselves off to see The Artist afterwards which meant a much needed 25 minute waddle along Oxford Street…

Oxford Circus
Selfridges
Get your five a day at the junction of Oxford and Duke Streets

Sunday was clear and crisp so we headed off to Greenwich. This will be featured as an Armchair post so more about our day later on. Suffice to say we managed to get our hands on something quite old…

We did a spot of shopping on Monday then decided on a ‘rest day’ before heading off to Dublin on Wednesday for 4 days. This little trip warrants a couple of dedicated posts but for now, I’ll leave you with a highlights package…

The Boyne Valley, about 45 minutes drive north of Dublin, has 40 passage tombs in all shapes, sizes and states of preservation…
…and we visited Newgrange Passage Tomb which predates the pyramids.
.
I poured (and drank) the perfect pint at The Guinness Storehouse (and have a certificate to prove it)…
…while Irish history came to life for me at Kilmainham Jail.
I was delighted to find a ‘host of golden daffodils’ in Merrion Square…
…whilst visiting the Famine memorial by the Liffey River was quite moving.

We managed to cram a lot into our four days and came back to Gidday HQ on Saturday night absolutely exhuasted. Then departure day had arrived, all too soon it seemed, with much packing and sorting going on before heading back out to Heathrow again and hugging Mum goodbye.

As I walked away from the Departure Gate, I felt the familiar tearing of my heart between the love of family on the other side of the world and the connection of my soul with London. And I wondered at what it was in me that led me here so very far away, and where I might end up next.