Yesterday my tired and over-travelled other half arrived back in Canberra. In the last month he has been ALL over the UK (as well as 10 days in Thailand for field work) and flew back into Sydney (via Thailand again) on Sunday. Monday was a bank holiday here (for the Queen’s birthday) so he spent the morning having a well earned brunch with his brother then coached his way over here. Whilst he was doing that I got busy…
After all of that travelling I thought he deserved a nice bottle of Merlot-Cab Sav, the box of oils my Mum sent us (which we mostly for him anyways), a selection of coasters with Canberra bus shelters on (I sh*t you not!) and a home made vanilla cheesecake- because he loves it, although this was slightly over cooked! (He let me try a bit of the wine, and I highly recommend it- wine post to follow!)
I decided this week that I wanted to get to know my new home country a little better. To that end I am exploring some Australian literature. I’ve read English classics as part of my education, which also included points of focus on American classics as well. But, apart from “A Town Called Alice” I have read almost nothing about Australia (I have read Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Sunburnt Country, but I’m not sure that counts as high literature!). Recently I have devoured ‘The Road from Coorain” by Jill Ker Conway who grew up on a sheep station in the West of New South Wales and which tracks her experiences of the joys and hardships of that life. As soon as I opened the book I knew we were going to get along. You have probably read my long, overly descriptive and rambling prose on the landscape around me? Well Jill described her world in similar ways:
As a ‘coming of age’ story it deals with big issues and small, with personal and social awakening, with tragedy and love, with finding your place in the world and with all kinds of other issues big and small. I think this book might stay with me for a while.
What else should I be reading? Australian friends, what else is ‘classic’ Australian literature or central to understanding the Australian or Indigenous experience?
This weekend is a bank holiday weekend. And I’ve been sleepy so I haven’t written much- sorry! It is properly autmnal/wintery here this weekend. The sun has hidden behind a blanket of grey cloud. It is as if someone has put a lid on Canberra, and I’ve lost some of that sense of space that I usually get from the vast skies and views of the mountains in the background. The light is that flat light you get in winter where it feels like the day can only just be bothered to get going for a couple of hours before falling asleep into the evening, early. I am missing the long, long British summer evenings at the moment!
Because it was a bit rubbish weather, and because most people seem to be out of town for the long weekend, I took the opportunity to go back to the National Gallery of Australia. There were a couple of exhibitions I wanted to check out, and given the naff weather it seemed like a good day to be inside. This time I didn’t get lost getting there #win, and I spent a long time going through the section of Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander’s art. I know little to nothing about the ‘dreamtime’ that informs a lot of Aboriginal art and, I have to confess am not a huge fan, aesthetically, of the browns, ochres, and natural tones that I had seen on various prints. However, I was delighted to discover, of course, that there is so much more to it. The dot work which makes up the vast majority of the paintings in the gallery is set on top of other colours, giving depth as a slightly ‘trippy’ feel from some of the colour combinations. From a distance you just seen the colour of the dots because they are close together (a bit like the work of European pointillists like Seurat), but as you get nearer a ‘sense’ of the background colour begins to emerge. It is mesmerising. As someone who is occasionally obsessed by nature, the landscape, and weather (you may have noticed!) it was really interesting to see the different way the landscape was described, how the Aboriginal relationship with the land was explored, and how important points were represented. My favourite paintings were a series of large scale and brightly coloured pieces:
From this section I visited the 3rd Indigenous Triennial Art Collection: Defying Empire. This consisted of contemporary pieces of Indigenous art. And it was beautiful and deeply moving. There was (understandably) a LOT of politics involved. And some of the pieces moved me almost to tears. Right at the start there was a series which I found particularly painful to reflect upon- the artist, Blak Douglas, had created a series of well used words and phrases (LOL, No Worries) but the letters were made from old photos of enslaved/brutalised/starving black and brown people. The juxtaposition, for me, took my breath away and reminded me of the continuing power and legacy of white brutality both in Australia and across the world. There were plenty of other pieces which also served to send this message home and I came out of the exhibition in a contemplative and concerned frame of mind.
This evening I am having the least rock n roll Friday ever. I presented my PhD research to my new colleagues at lunch time and apparently was more nervous about it than I thought. Everyone was lovely and (aside from the computer shutting down before my last two slides) it all went ok. There was a strange moment, that I think a lot of people who are knee deep in their research might get. That bit where you are half way through an explanation of something theoretically in-depth and suddenly another part of your brain goes “good luck with explaining that in 5/10 minutes!” and then you suddenly worry if you a) maybe said that out loud b) aren’t getting your point across or similar. But aside from these kinks, I was pretty happy with how it went. And mostly just pleased that I’d done it. The more I get into my new project the more I lose sight of the details of my PhD and some of those details are key to explaining the point of the entire project!
When I got back, admittedly slightly earlier than usual, I sat down with a cup of tea and a the intention of reading through some papers. I woke up to cold tea just over an hour later. It fascinates me the way the body sometimes just goes “SLEEP” and you do. I have been struggling to get to sleep a little bit recently (hence the shed loads of exercise!), and it took quite some time to persuade my brain to shut off last night. Having to get up earlier than usual for an electrician and the big scary monster of “you are presenting to all your new colleagues (what if they hate it/think its shit?!)” got me out of bed rapidly this morning so I was hoping for an easier nodding off this evening… turns out “this evening” was slightly earlier than I was expecting but hey! I was planning on going to another yoga class this evening but I’ve zzzzzzz’ed my way through it!
Having the presentation today has also helped give my mind something to do whilst the British general election votes were counted. I have a love/hate relationship with watching counts. I never stay up to watch- its just too stressful, too incremental; there is too much at stake. So I usually watch the beginnings, prophesize (sp?) negative outcomes regardless of exit or other polls and get a good night’s sleep. When I wake up, then, its just a case of a) accepting the negative outcome or b) being pleasantly surprised. I made the mistake of feeling positive about both the recent Brexit and US elections- and MAN was that a come down in the morning! Being in Australia, because of the time difference, I haven’t been able to sleep through the election count- its been buzzing away on my computer background. Had I not had a presentation to finalise and to prepare to give I think I might have actually gone insane watching each seat coming in. TBH although I have voted in this election and the outcome has been, from my perspective, more positive than expected (game plan!), I am still not sure this spells the necessary good for the British public. But hey.
Having (accidentally) napped and had a nice comforting cup of tea I think I need to get away from all of the stresses of the real world. Perhaps a film is in order.
Today I had my first work meeting. There were people I had met and people I had never met before. Always a little nerve-wracking! The meeting was pretty standard. BUT there was one guy, a colleague who I hadn’t met who spent the whole time making origami animals…
the whole time!
At first I was trying to watch surreptitiously but it was too awesome! He even curled the flower petals around his pen. None of this impaired the meeting or prevented him from occasionally interpolating salient remarks by the way. I wish I knew origami. Might stop me chewing my nails…
After the meeting I said ‘Hi’ and introduced myself. He game me all of the origami which is now chilling on my office shelf- interim decoration before I finally get around to bringing some plants in! It’s like an origami jungle!
Today I present you with a random amuse bouche of musings…
1. Pasta made from black beans really isn’t as tasty as it could be (even served with pesto and blanched green beans!). And finding it somewhat tasteless impairs the smug feeling you get from having remembered to pack yourself a healthy lunch.
2. I haven’t got lost in Canberra for quite some time now. Does this mean I’m starting to know my way around or am I just getting less adventurous? (My tablet autocorrected lost to osteoporosis… unexpected!)
3. Taking two yoga classes in two days after two weeks of no yoga makes it difficult (physically) to get out if bed in the morning. Which makes a change from existential dread causing accidental lie ins!
4. Reading dense texts is always easier, or maybe just nicer, curled up on a sofa with a blanket. Ideally a non-itchy blanket and ideally bathed in sunlight (morning or afternoon I’m not picky!)
5. It’s really embarrassing when you have three degrees and are trying to convince your work mates that you are qualified for your job and you have to ask someone how to make a file work. #notevenjoking And it was quite straight forward really… I’d tried some kind of origami to get it to work… not necessary
6. This is about the right time, I feel, to start planning a housewarming party…
I write this knowing its going to make me sound like a complete princess, but hey it made me laugh!
So I went to our office kitchen to make a cup of tea yesterday morning. It’s a cute little kitchen with way more appliances than you are usually allowed in a work kitchen at home- for example, there is a toaster. I had two toasters confiscated by health and safety back at my UK work place, so this is a huge deal. Obvious by huge I mean minor. But it does mean I can eat bagels to my heart’s content. Having a kitchen on site is also fab because there is only one cafe/food outlet on campus and it largely caters to the fried things line of food. Which is fine once a month or so but when you are paying through the nose go r food I’d rather it had at least one vitamin in!!
Anyhoo… This is getting rather rambly… I went to make a morning cup of tea (don’t drink coffee, makes me hung over, slightly frightened that they may throw me out of Australia for this confession!) and I’m looking through the tea bags and they “only” have Earl Grey or Lady Grey. It’s before midday and before I can stop myself I’m thinking “well I’m screwed, no tea, you can’t have Grey in the morning”. This is of course before I shimmied into my corsets and was told off for going out of the house on my own because it’s the 1800s!
Fortunately I discovered a stash of Lipton’s teabags hidden in a coffee pot (cheeky!) which saves the day. I did also go back after lunch and enjoy a nice cup of Earl Grey…
In retrospect I’m not quite sure this is worth telling but hey, how was your day?.
It’s all about to get a bit philosophical I’m afraid!
I’ve had a bit of a case of the mondays today. A fretful unsettledness that comes from reading too much (?!) of the news from around the world, worrying and feeling like there is simply too much to do to make any positive impact.
Sometimes I stub my toes up against some heavy duty existential angst, the point(lessness) of it all, my own apparent impotence in the face of negativity, the sheer scale of the ocean of pain out there.
So this evening I took the slow bus home. And it really is slow. It goes out into the suburbs, back round near my work place, out through another suburb via 8 sides of a triangle and then onto my road. But in the mean time, it also goes through a valley that traps the sunset, bends and flattens rays across fields of cows, wriggles of rivers and troops of grazing kangaroos. In the background a plane takes off, going somewhere, nowhere, writing vapour across the sky which seems wider here. Big purpley-blue hills rise up against this expanse and weirdly enough it helps me settle. Watching a slow sunset as the bus stops and starts in traffic or along tree lined avenues, as people get on and off, going places, somewhere, nowhere, something eases.
Today might have been a fractious, unproductive feeling day but it’ll pass and tomorrow night be better. That knowledge and a yoga class tonight and I should be back on the ball tomorrow.
I’m sorry about the radio silence. I wrote a long and involved post after hearing about the attacks in London and then went away and thought that that is probably the last thing you need. You know what’s been going on (if you don’t, where have you been?!), and the last thing, the very last thing anyone needs to hear is my opinion on it all.
But then it was hard to write something flippant and uplifting. So I went away again.
But hey, uplifting and day-to-day is probably what we need. I know it’s what I need. Something gloriously mundane. So here we go.
Saturday some lovely local girl friends invited me to the cinema. We went to see 20th Century Women which is a kooky, coming-of-age film about different generations. It made me laugh (out loud and loudly- but fortunately my friends did too) and it made me weep silently and hope my mascara wasn’t running. It also made me cringe and hide behind my hands sometimes- which I figure is a good representation of teenagehood in general!
The cinema itself was also pretty awesome- the Palace Electric in Acton (http://www.palacecinemas.com.au/cinemas/electric/). It was part of a bigger building of restaurants, and possibly art galleries and a hotel. The ceilings just outside the cinema are pretty mad- lines and lines of wood, not all stuck together like wood flooring (I think I may be failing at describing this) but just…. hang on, let me give you a picture…
How wild is that? I love it, with all the lights peeping through the planks- it’s a bit like a man made tree- the pillars as the trunks, the planks as the branches, the lights the dappled shade… BUT that wasn’t the best bit about this place. Oh no. The BEST bit, was the bar, the PROSECCO bar. YUP.
They do serve things other than prosecco, but you can imagine my joy at discovering this. Particularly as prosecco is less common here because it has to come all the way from Italy and there is a big push to buy local wines (understandably) which tends to mean more reds and sweeter whites which I’m less keen on. Understandably, I availed myself of the beverages on offer here which I think served to make the film experience that little bit sweeter… but of course.
So yesterday I test drove our medical insurance with a visit to the GP. Nothing exciting going on just thought it might be a good idea to get registered and I had a couple of questions. In the UK, as you’ll know, you register with a doctor whose catchment area you fall into, here its like “pick a doctors, any doctor” and they all cost pretty much the same. But they all cost… about $80-90 per appointment (and that’s just a standard appointment not a long one which can go up to $150 or more). I was ready for that (and was pretty sure that my fancy new $210 per month (PER MONTH) medical insurance covered the costs (and I have no excess- win!)). What I wasn’t ready for was the bargaining over the cost of medication. I take medication everyday and whilst I got a couple of months supply (as many as I was allowed) from the UK I knew I would need to get a prescription here for that. Turns out that that medication actually costs less here because it is so old its practically the price of smarties (which is kind of awesome as a person who needs it regularly!). I also wanted to ask about the pill (this is probably TMI but we’re all adults here… I have PCOs and apparently its good for evening out your hormones (as well as contraception)- which sounds like a win to someone whose body has apparently no capacity to regulate itself!!). Turns out the price of different pills ranges HUGELY. Now I used to live in Wales where prescriptions are free, yes free. Then I moved back to England at a time when contraception was free for under 25s and then I had other options that meant I didn’t have to pay either. So this came as a bit of a shock to me. Not that medication can be expensive, I used to work in a doctor’s surgery in the UK, but just how much they vary for what is, ostensibly, the same thing. I had my eye on a particular version of the pill which is apparently particularly good for PCOs, called Yaz. Turns out that is one of the newer, and hence more expensive ones. If I got your bog standard old pill its about $13.00 a pack (I think per pack…), for the ones that I want it is, of course, $65.00 a pack. I need a lie down. Lets presume I take one pack a month (which is kind of the idea here) that’s a solid $780.00 a year! Jeez! However, I was then in for another surprise- I figured I’d go for the better more expensive medication because it’s medication and I have medical insurance. So the doctor popped out of her office along the corridor and got me two packets of samples, samples, like I was trying out a new face cream or something! Madness. Anyways, I was thrilled to save myself (or my insurance company) the equivalent of $130 so I said ‘thank you very much’ and pottered happily out of the office and paid my $90 appointment fee.
I then went to the local branch of my medical insurance firm to find out how one goes about claiming back the costs. After a bit of wrangling with the guy who was serving me we worked it out (the type of insurance I am on is different from most because of my visa type… or something) and he agreed that the company would reimburse me for the same amount as medicare does (which is the Australian sort of equivalent to the NHS- a sort of government medical insurance)… this made me wonder what the point of having the insurance was. So I asked him to clarify if I could self-refer to a dietician (which is something the doctor had suggested to check up on the effects of my meds) and he pointed out that despite the expensiveness of my cover and that fact that it said it covered all hospital and all out of hospital care, this was not in fact the case. It didn’t cover: dentist, physio, nutrition, eye-care, prescriptions or… in fact anything that we could be covered by on medicare- FOR FREE (the UK has a reciprocal health agreement with Australia so this is not the case for all people on my kind of visa). I asked the medical insurance guy what on the earth I was paying the $210 a month for then and he kind of shrugged but told me if I wanted to add the bells and whistles to my policy then I could do so for a cool $600 per month. ARGH!
Long story short (sorry I lie, this isn’t short), I am planning on cancelling our insurance ASAP and putting the money in a separate bank account for us to use for any medical costs that might not be covered by Medicare. I know that as Brits we have free access to all hospital care (excepting things like IVF and organ transplants which I totally understand) and frankly I don’t think we are going to regularly spend more than $200 in a month on doctors visits (especially as the recovered costs for doctors visits is the same with medicare as with the insurance).