Change is the only constant

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tzu

To everything, turn, turn, turn!
To everything, turn, turn, turn!

A week ago today M was smiling as he walked through the front door after a day in the office. He had his headphones in his ears.

Kissing him hello, I asked, “Are you smiling at me or did you hear something funny on a podcast?”

“Oh no,” he said, “I’m smiling at you.”

I looked at him. He raised an eyebrow slightly. I said, “You’ve been offered a job.”

He said, “Yep.”

I said, “Where?”

He said, “Islamabad.”

And so, off to Pakistan we shall go.

M’s too modest to enjoy hearing me repeat the following story but it’s one that I enjoy telling, so sorry, M, look away now. The first time I introduced M to my colleagues in the job that I was doing when we met was at a broadcast exhibition that we were working at in Las Vegas. My colleagues were my Suffolk surrogate family, so their opinions on things like my new man and the lifestyle choices that came along with him counted. After dinner and a few drinks with M, my boss said that what he liked most about him was that while he could very easily hold his own in a conversation about all things cultural and political, he also gave the distinct impression that he could wrestle a crocodile before breakfast. That’s my man. And such a man, while doing a fantastic job and enjoying a lovely life of wine, freedom, food and frolicking in the hills on the French-Swiss border, really belongs out in the field. And while I don’t suppose there are many crocodiles in Islamabad, one doesn’t get much further afield than that, and I can already see his synapses firing in an altogether different way now that he’s contemplating being back out there.

And as for me… This is where I come into my own. This is where all the many goodbyes that I’ve ever said to the people that I love, and all the desire for new horizons, and all the optimistic anticipation of extraordinary adventures snowball together into something large and fast-moving enough to swallow up our beautiful life here and propel it onto another continent far, far away. (And I’m pretty good at packing boxes, too.)

The disadvantages of this lifestyle are manifold. I’m always away from my family. I constantly have to say goodbye to the amazing people who become my friends. I never speak the language of the place that I call home. And by the time I’ve started to get to grips with how a place works it’s time to move on to pastures less familiar. But there are also massive advantages. And one of those is that it makes life very, very long.

I assume that most people have read Joseph Heller’s brilliant satirical novel, Catch-22? One of my favourite characters is Yossarian’s friend Dunbar, who is “working hard at increasing his life span… by cultivating boredom.”

Heller writes, “Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of it and the time passed so slowly. He had figured out that a single hour on the skeet-shooting range with people like Havermeyer and Appleby could be worth as much as eleven-times-seventeen years.”

His friend Clevinger argues, “Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?”

“I do,” Dunbar told him.

“Why?” Clevinger asked.

“What else is there?”

Yes!

While I absolutely agree with Dunbar that since we only have one life we’d be foolish not to make it last as long as possible, experience has taught me that he’s going about it all wrong. For me life seems longest when I’m filling it with new places, extraordinary experiences, previously unimagined people and challenging new situations. Each year since I met M and moved to Jerusalem and then to Geneva and then to Ruffieux and then to Divonne has seemed to last at least three years… And I mean that in the nicest possible way! I want to stuff as many years as I possibly can into my years, and so far I’ve found no better way to do it than this. I may not know where I’m going to be living in two years from now, but I can be fairly confident that it’s going to be memorable.

One day when my lovely friend H came to visit M and I in the chateau that we happily inhabited in the French countryside, she said that the place really felt like home. Then we moved out of the chateau and into a bog-standard two-bedroom flat on the second floor of an ugly (but much more conveniently located) apartment building. And when H came to visit us here she said that this also feels like home. Her conclusion was that M and I have a home in one another. Thankfully, our home is portable. And from October 1st it will be located in an Islamabad suburb.

I hope H can visit us there too. And all the other beautiful people that I’ve met in France and Switzerland. And the amazing people that I met in Israel and Palestine. And all the people that I miss so much from my adopted homeland of England. And my friends and family in my native land of Australia. And anyone who might still remember me from back in the day in Japan. And whatever family I might still have in my ancestral homeland of Holland. And all the people that I’ve met along the way who’ve chosen new destinations, from Spain to New Zealand to Hong Kong, to make their own lives long and memorable.

Please come and stay. All the curries and rotis and rice you can eat are on me.

Pictures and peacocks

Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.

Marc Riboud

Pride

Hey, I just remembered something exciting – I have a blog!

It seems that completing the April A to Z Challenge must have taken it out of me. I haven’t written a single word since 30 April. I’ve barely even looked at my blog. I haven’t even responded to some of the lovely comments that people kindly left, congratulating me on making it to the end. And a whole lot of messages and emails that gorgeous friends have sent to me in the last number of months remain unanswered.

Sixty days have passed since I composed the final fullstop of the 30,000 words that I wrote for my Vagina Monologues-inspired challenge, and now I suddenly feel compelled to write again. That means that I’ve needed one day’s recovery for every 500 words that I wrote… I can hardly call myself a writer with those sorts of statistics following me around!

I’m offering one final stat, though, to explain the mitigating circumstances behind my absence from the world of writing. Since I last posted on my blog I’ve taken about 3,000 photographs. And I even quite like one or two of them. I’ve started to frequently update my Flickr page and also to follow and be inspired by some amazing photographers on that forum. (Do you have a Flickr page? Please let me know so I can follow you too!) And I’ve been reading some great photography books, like the brilliantly named (and brilliant) Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs. I do. And I did. And I’m not taking great photographs yet but I’m working on it.

I’m going to ease back into this writing thing slowly… There are already 250 words on this page and I don’t have a day to spare for recovery! Instead I’ll show you some more pretty pictures of a peacock.

Here you go. Proud-looking fellow, isn’t he?

Fine feathered friend

And another one, with the object of his affections.

The object of his affections

Let’s see what Switzerland offers up for me to share with you tomorrow. I have high hopes.

Ooh, and just to let you know, I’m making my own greetings cards out of my photos these days. Let me know if you ever see anything here or on Flickr that you’d like to send to a loved one on a card and we’ll see what we can do.

Work

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.

J.M. Barrie

Subtitling and stuffing my face
Subtitling and stuffing my face

Back in the very old days when I worked in schools and offices, and didn’t have the flexibility of working from home, I thought I’d be hopeless at trying to do a job when surrounded by the comforts and temptations of my own abode. I thought I’d spend all day gazing into the fridge or watching daytime TV or vacuuming under the bed.

But I’m not like that with subtitling. I really enjoy it. As soon as M leaves the apartment at 7am I sit down at my desk and throw myself into it. I enjoy the tick-off-the-list nature of the work – I’m given a programme to subtitle, I download the video, I subtitle the programme, I do a detailed review of my work, I spellcheck, integrity check, save the file and send it to the client. Tick. The job is done and I move onto the next one. It’s quite mechanical but there’s something in that that appeals to me. And I do, of course, appreciate the fact that essentially I’m getting paid to watch TV.

But on Thursday last week, I was distracted. I’d wrapped up one season of The Only Way Is Essex and was moving onto another, and all I could think about was food. I kept getting up from my desk to grab another chocolate Easter egg or make another coffee. Or have a sandwich. Or eat the leftovers from last night’s dinner. Or wish that I’d bought that packet of Zweifel paprika crisps that I’d eyed in the supermarket so that I could now sit here and scoff the lot.

On Friday morning, when I sat at my desk and tried to get back into the awful mind-numbing rhythm of TOWIE, I felt the same way. There was a Lindt bunny with my name on it. But as I got up to grab the doomed rabbit, I spied my camera. The SD card, I knew, was still full of the hundreds of photos that I’d taken during our hiking holiday. So I slotted the card into my computer and 90 minutes later had chosen some of my favourite pictures, uploaded them to my Flickr account, and thrown myself back into TOWIE with a level of energy and enthusiasm that had been absent since we’d got back from our break. The lovely Lindt bunny lived to tempt me another day.

This was such an important reminder for me about what I already know to be true about work – that you have to choose a job that you love doing. Sorry, I know it’s obvious but sometimes I forget the glaringly self-evident and have to beat myself over the head with it. Don’t get me wrong – I love subtitling. It’s harmless and it’s helpful and it appeals to the pedant and the geeky grammarian in me. But as a freelancer I have the gorgeous joy of being able to mix it up a bit. I can do the work that I get paid for and I can intersperse it with some “work” that makes my heart sing. And that prevents me from eating my own bodyweight in chocolate. And I think if I didn’t have this flexibility in my scheduling then I’d have to come home from the nine-to-five and learn to paint or write a novel or knit jumpers or start trying to recreate the Bayern Tapestry. Or something. Anything to remind myself that work is important but fulfilment matters more.

I’d love to have a chance to ask Eve Ensler whether she felt like she was working when she wrote The Vagina Monologues, or when she first performed it as a one-woman show.

I’d be prepared to bet that she didn’t.

Travel

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

onebillionrising.org
onebillionrising.org

One of the best things about having a vaguely itinerant lifestyle is the fact that you get to meet so many extraordinary people from all over the world. Last night I had dinner with three lovely friends, one of whom was from New Zealand, one from Ireland and the other from the US. Our lovely English friend was up to her neck in work and wasn’t able to join us, but if she’d been there we would have represented five English-speaking nations. And the fact that we were all English-speaking made ours quite an unusual gathering for Geneva, where international organisations attract people from every possible ethnic background.

Last night our Irish friend reminded me of a story that I’d told her once before. In 2001 I’d been living abroad for about ten years and decided that it was time to make up my mind, once and for all, where I wanted to live on a permanent basis. I put my stuff in storage in London and landed on the doorstep of my fantastically obliging little sister in Perth, Western Australia, and stayed with her for an amazing six months.

There are many things that I could write about that time (and I’m sure one day I will) but my point for this piece is that for the six months that I was there, I only met one person who spoke with an accent that wasn’t Australian. I don’t remember this Belgian girl’s name or very much else about her now, but what I do remember is that I absolutely adored her. And all she had to do to earn this adoration was speak with a foreign accent, so starved were my ears of a variety that had become familiar after years of living in London. Of course there were “foreigners” living in Australia, but for some reason they weren’t in my circle of acquaintance during that time, and I missed them.

I was very young when I left Australia and I think it was probably my youth, while I was there, that made me feel disconnected from problems in other parts of the world. The distance was also a factor, of course, but I think it was mostly the fact that I find it much easier to identify with other places when I’ve been on their shores and/or met their people. It’s much more difficult to have an “I’m all right, Jack” attitude when the people of whose suffering you read are people with whom you’ve eaten and talked and travelled.

That’s why it was so important for me to be involved in The Vagina Monologues and by association with One Billion Rising. I had the random good fortune of being born into a society where my very existence wasn’t threatened because I was a woman. But I’ve met people who didn’t have that same chance. I have no more right to life, freedom, self-determination and dignity than they do. There are some rights that should be inalienable.

Perhaps this three-minute video will give you a better understand of what trying to say. Be warned that it’s not for the faint of heart. And be aware that it concerns issues that everyone in the world should know about.

 

Rest and relaxation

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.

Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

Japanese garden, Interlaken
Japanese garden, Interlaken

Shh! Don’t tell anyone but I’m taking a day off. A day off from hiking, a day off from taking pictures and a day off from my A to Z blogging theme. Ah, the self-indulgence is delicious!

The rain that greeted us when we opened the curtains this morning made the decision for us. We’ve been out there hiking and sightseeing for at least eight hours a day for the last four days and it’s been amazing. But what’s the point in heading up a mountain when all you’ll see is cloud? Today I’ve stayed in our hotel room with Easter eggs, The Guardian, books and cups of tea and I’ve loved every second of it. M’s gone out for two walks and I’ve declined both invitations to join him. I even turned away the lady who came to clean our room so that I could stay comfortably tucked up in bed. Ah, the bliss!

This is the second post that I’ve written today as I had to catch up from a period of lagging behind on the daily blogging challenge, but now I’m even cheating on this… I’m not going to write but am putting up some pretty pictures instead.

It’s radical, I know. I’m a reprobate. But don’t be reproachful. Tomorrow I shall be renewed. And I shall try to restore my reputation.

But for today, I’m remembering that a picture tells a thousand words. So let me regale you with this random selection of photos from our R&R…

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Pâques (and pictures)

There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.

John Steinbeck

 

Easter breakfast
Easter breakfast

My mum was good at Easter. I remember it as being almost as exciting as Christmas. Mum always got up before the rest of us and we’d wake to the smell of tea and hot cross buns. My little sister and I – we shared a room – would sneak into the dining room to see the table magically laid out with tea cups and side plates and coloured eggs galore. We’d have chocolate for breakfast, altogether as a family of eight. It was the most exciting thing ever. After breakfast we’d go outside to search for the Easter eggs Mum had hidden in the garden. The six of us would compete to find them, the older ones surreptitiously helping the younger ones, then we’d pile all the eggs up together, count them and divide them equally between us. I thought I’d carry these traditions on with my own children.

But last Easter M and I were in the south of France mourning the end of an adventure that never began. We spent four days staring out to sea and contemplating both the future that wasn’t to be and the one that was within our power to create. Like much of life, it was hard but it was beautiful. We cried but we got closer.

This Easter we’re in Interlaken making the most of the life that seems set to be ours. We won’t have any little people with us tomorrow morning getting excited about Interlaken’s Easter egg hunt, but we will have each other. And we’ll have beautiful countryside to explore and gorgeous Swiss chocolate to eat and lakes to look over and mountains to climb.

The first Easter that M and had together we spent diving in Dahab. The next year we had Easter in Egypt. Then last year there was sadness in the south of France.

This year we have satisfaction in Switzerland. Life could be a whole lot worse.

Joyeuses Pâques, everybody.

Happy Easter.

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Notoriety

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

Oscar Wilde

Notorious
Notorious

The first day that I ever spent with M was a beautiful one. We started, I can see looking back now, as we meant to go on. The day wasn’t particularly planned out but we were lucky enough to amble from one gorgeous, relaxed experience to another, talking all the way. The good fortune that would characterise our relationship began when we got the best seats in the house for our lunch at the Suffolk Food Hall, on the balcony overlooking the Orwell Bridge. Then we went for a walk through the beautiful tranquility of Pin Mill and had a beer at the Butt and Oyster. The late afternoon saw us having coffees on the Ipswich Waterfront, then we went back to my house to sit shyly on separate sofas while we ate Thai green curry and watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. 

Ah, now there’s a film. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman both look absolutely luminous as they play characters who define the word “notorious”. Ingrid Bergman is Alice Huberman, whose German spy father has committed first treason against the USA then suicide in prison. Alice drowns her shame and sorrows in alcohol and affairs and is then recruited by Grant’s gorgeous government agent Devlin to spy on her father’s Nazi mates in Rio de Janeiro. The film features espionage, elicit love, poisoning, affairs, alcoholism, betrayal, a moment of violence and a very famous kissing scene. Those are things that could justifiably end up making a character notorious, and the film was subtly and appropriately named.

Many of us in 2014 like to think of ourselves as fairly progressive. We like to imagine that our attitudes are moving forward and that we’re becoming more open-minded and less easily shocked. And sometimes that’s true. But it occasionally becomes apparent that there are funny little glitches in the topics to which we’re willing to open our minds. Ingrid Bergman’s Alice had to go some to achieve notoriety in Hitchcock’s 1946 film. But all Eve Ensler had to do to ensure notoriety for the play that she wrote in 1996 was put the word “vagina” in the title. Aw! Look at us and our blushing, puritanical attitudes!

Watching people’s reactions when you mention that you’re going to be in a play called The Vagina Monologues is interesting. M told his mum on the phone that I was going to be in a play but then studiously avoided mentioning what the play was called. A 32-year-old Irish woman blanched and said, “That’s disgusting. There are some things that should never be talked about.” A 72-year-old British woman said, “I can’t wait to come and see it but I won’t tell my 43-year-old daughter about it because she’d be too shocked.”

John Wilmot, the real-life historical character that Johnny Depp played in The Libertine achieved notoriety by drinking and debauching his way through 17th century society. And yet whatever notoriety I might have achieved in my own tiny circle in 2014 is from standing on a stage and saying, “Vagina”.

Really, all I can say to our shyness and naivety is, “Aaaw!”

Ladylike (and Lucille)

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.

Nora Ephron, Commencement Address, Wellesley College, 1996

Lucille
Lucille

My mum was a fantastic and fun-loving person. She was beautiful and self-deprecating. In the early eighties in Australia there was a series of ads for a brand of paint called Walpamur which featured a monkey called Wally. My mum once went to a party dressed as Wally Walpamur and wasn’t recognised by a single one of her friends. She was a lady who knew when to bend the rules.

Wally Walpamur
Wally Walpamur

But she was a lady. Like most of us, Mum was a product of her generation and she mostly conformed, as I do, to what was expected of her. Not all of the lessons she taught them rubbed off on Mum’s five daughters – and I’m quite sure that she’d have changed her mind about a lot of them if she’d lived and kept changing as the world changed around her – but I do remember hearing things from her like, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.” And, “When a woman is walking with a man she should take two steps to his one.” She was strong and amazing but she believed in being a lady.

I don’t so much. Some of the sexiest and most fantastic women I know are those who believe that it’s what you do that’s important, not what you look like when you do it. And because of their lack of concern about being “pretty” they look absolutely amazing. Strong, clever, fearless, vital and striving. So much more attractive, I think, than “ladylike”.

One of the angriest of The Vagina Monologues, Geneva, was delivered by (L for) Lucille. Lucille is a lawyer and her stage presence was such that I’m sure that every person on the stage and in the audience, based on her performance, would choose her as their legal representation. The piece she presented was “My Angry Vagina” and as she strutted confidently around the stage she made people laugh and cheer and agree with her every word. This was not about being ladylike. This was about being liberated and level and likeable and learned. This was about being Lucille.

I feel so lucky to be living in a time and place when I’m allowed to have a voice. When I’m not supposed to just sit in a corner and be quiet and demure and pretty and accommodating.

Ladylike? I’d rather be licentious.

 

 

Jubilation

I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the coloured arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.

Sylvia Plath

Wild flowers. Wild.
Wild flowers. Wild.

So let me ask you something… When was the last time you felt jubilant?

It’s a nice word, isn’t it? All jooby and succulent. Jubilant. The very sound of it makes me feel like jumping up and down.

Jubilation is a bit different from happiness, I think. I’m very good at recognising and appreciating happiness, and I it feel it in various guises all the time. I’ve had some fairly low points in the last couple of years – we all have to have them, right? – but if I look at even these difficult times as a collection of moments then the bright, happy ones definitely dominate the dark. When a lovely friend came to stay with us in the Chateau last year she commented on the frequency with which I uttered the words, “Ah, I love my life.” I hadn’t even noticed. I do love my life. It’s not perfect but it’s gorgeous and it’s mine.

But jubilation… That’s something different. Jubilation requires a whole special combination of people, place, serendipity and circumstance to bring it into being.

In my old working life, when I travelled a lot, I felt something fairly close to jubilation every time the plane that I was strapped into left the runway. There’s nothing like take-off, when you can feel the thrill of a new adventure in your gut as the force pushes you back into your seat. My lips involuntarily broke into a smile every time. I loved it. But it wasn’t quite jubilation.

I do remember feeling jubilant once at work. We were at a broadcast exhibition in Amsterdam and we made an unexpected sale. My friend and I literally danced in the street afterwards. (And yes, when I say literally I mean literally.)

But jubilation…

Ah, yes. I remember another time when I experienced it recently. There was something of a build-up to it. First I’d auditioned for a part and got it. Then I spent six weeks rehearsing and getting to know a group of amazing women. Then we had a dress rehearsal three days before the first performance and realised we still had a long way to go. Then we heard that the show was sold out so the pressure was on to make it great. Then we came off the stage after a brilliant first night and ah, there it was…

Jubilation.

Have you ever seen the episode of How I Met Your Mother when they talk about the Woo Girls? Even if you haven’t seen it I’m sure you can imagine. They’re the girls (and I have general consent now, to use that word to describe women of all ages) who celebrate any utterance with a “Woo!”

“We’re having a drink.” “Wooo!”

“Tomorrow’s Friday.” “Woooo!”

“We’ll all die one day.” “Woooo!”

I am not a Woo Girl. But I have to admit that that night I woo’d.

And now that the play is over I still love my life.

But I’m looking for my next hit of jubiliation.

“Wooo!”