Around The World and Back Again

Getting back into this blogging thing is easier said than done, I’m finding. And it probably hasn’t helped that I’ve been away for the past three weeks on the other side of the world. Apologies for being late getting back to comments, too!

So, where have I been?

Back to my husband’s native Australia, to see family and friends we’ve not visited for seven years. It’s a trip that was a long time coming, house renovations and life getting in the way of previous plans to visit.

I confess, I was a little bit nervous about going back. Australia is a wonderful place, and there are a lot of people I love living there. But it’s a VERY LONG flight, and I’m not the biggest fan of flying. Plus, I found that, despite all the work I’ve done sorting myself out over the past few years, it turned out there was a bit of emotion to unpack about the idea of heading back to the place where I lived for seventeen years. As I said to friends when we were there, I have three passports and a lot of issues.

People often comment to me that I’ve lived such an interesting life, moving around the world, travelling and seeing different places. And I agree – I’ve been so fortunate to have lived in some wonderful parts of the world. But that has come at the price of roots, of continuity, of having a place that feels so familiar that, no matter where you are in the world, it feels like home. All the moving around I’ve done (24 different addresses, six different cities, three continents) has left me with a deep desire for a place that is mine, that won’t change and doesn’t move, where I know everyone and they know me. Returning to live in the UK seven years ago was full circle for me, both physically and metaphorically, as it’s where I was born, and where I feel most at home. Living in Australia was wonderful, definitely, but it was also tough, as I was (literally) half a world away from many of the people I loved most. Going back there brought with it a whole host of emotions and I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t going to stay there, that I was coming back.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it? As though I hated the place so much I couldn’t bear to stay there. This is not the case at all. If you’ve been to Australia you’ll know how beautiful it is, how blue the water, how bright the sky. Some of my best friends in the world live there, as well as family. It’s a country I truly love.

So, once I’d worked through all of that, I was able to face the flight with less stress and, when we finally touched down in Melbourne, I could enjoy the city for how wonderful it is. Our first day was a perfect Melbourne day – seeing family, walking through the Botanic Gardens to the National Gallery of Victoria to have lunch and see the Escher exhibition (quite a mind-blowing experience with jetlag), then dinner that evening with dear friends. And so the days unfolded, one beautiful experience after another, but each of them then tempered with goodbyes. And that, perhaps, is the key to my struggle. The endless round of goodbyes.

Well! This started out as a post to say hey, I’m back from my trip, but it’s turned into something quite different. As you can see from the photos, I had a fantastic trip in a wonderful part of the world. However, I’m glad to be back home again now (and I will be getting to comments, too!).

If you’re in the UK, here’s wishing you all a lovely holiday weekend. Also, May the Fourth be with you 😉 (Yeah, I said it.)

xx

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 8 – Farewell

So this was it. The final stop on my weekend with the Silent Eye, not far from where it had begun for me, two days earlier. We were very close to Aberdeen airport, but, other than the occasional plane or helicopter overhead, you wouldn’t have known it.

We were standing on high ground overlooking a river that turned, serpent-like, through a green landscape. A huge boulder sat on the edge of the drop and across the river from us were several homes, nestled among trees. Behind us was a ruined church, roof and windows long gone. Yet it still held secrets.

We went into the tidy churchyard, rows of stone monuments to war dead from both sides reminders of a not-too-distant past. The church itself, dedicated to St Fergus, was built of grey stone, weathered by time like the grave markers surrounding it. Interesting that it was the second church of the weekend – sacred places in the landscape were often overtaken by others as beliefs changed, often as part of the process and against the wishes of the community.

Yet symbols and relics remain, and inside the church were several such reminders of a far more distant past – the Dyce symbol stones. Carved Pictish stones, once again marked with the mysterious symbols we had seen on the Maiden stone and others, stood against the wall just inside the door, a small wooden overhang protecting them from the worst of the elements.

There was a double disc and z-rod, and another of the mysterious beasts that look like a cross between a bull and a dolphin, their message obscured by the passage of years. There were Christian symbols too, reminders of a time when Christianity and mystery dwelt side-by-side. On another carved stone set into the wall itself, white quartz pebbles had been left in offering, a nod to a much older belief system.

After spending some time in the chapel we went back out to where the land rose high above the river Don, one of two rivers from which Aberdeen takes its name. We stood in a circle around the large boulder, water below us, the sky wide above, and shared readings and reflection, a last opportunity to consider all that we had seen and experienced over the weekend.

All too soon, it was farewell. We split up into separate cars, with plans to meet down the road for tea and a last chat. However, roadworks scuppered that plan, sending us in different directions until we realised we had no choice but to simply keep going. I ended up at the airport earlier than expected, finding it strange to be all at once alone. However, I’d booked into the lounge so spent a comfortable afternoon watching planes and helicopters take off and land, still half in a dreamworld of mist and rain and dark Scottish pines, grey stones humming with power and warmth. It seemed a million miles from the modern world of steel and internet, and perhaps, in some way, it was.

Later, as I flew above cloudscapes coloured by the setting sun, I reflected on the weekend I’d just spent, the joy of spending time with companions known and the pleasure of meeting companions new. It seemed to me that it would take some time for me to process all I’d experienced and so it has been, this final post coming some six weeks after the fact. Even now, I can feel the resonance of that weekend, of lessons I think I’m still learning on a lot of levels. Scotland was a challenging land, a land that did not compromise, that refused to conform. Yet it was also a place of great beauty and welcome, and somewhere I instantly fell for, no matter the weather it threw at me.

I can’t wait to go back.

This is the final instalment of my account of a recent weekend away in Scotland with The Silent Eye. Click here to read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six and part seven.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Twenty One – Everybody (also, A Wednesday Wander)

It’s day twenty one of the 30 Day Writing Challenge, and today’s prompt is: Everybody.

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The beach near my old house in Australia

It’s also Wednesday, which means I’ll be taking a wander. However, in line with the prompt, this wander will be slightly different in that I’ll be trying to answer a question that just about everybody asks me, once they hear I’ve moved back to England from Australia. And the question is: Why did I leave Australia to come back here?

The short answer is: because my husband’s work brought us over here. But there is more to it than that.

Melbourne and the Yarra River

Melbourne and the Yarra River

In the UK, Australia seems to be sold as a sort of dream destination, an island paradise with white beaches and blue water and a cruisy outdoor lifestyle, where wages are double or almost triple that for the same job in the UK. The people look the same, speak the same language, the cities are comfortably cosmopolitan and it’s just sun, sun, sun all year round. People cannot believe I would leave such a place to come to a small green island that, according to some, gets more than its fair share of rain.

A beach in Wales I used to visit as a child

A beach in Wales I used to visit as a child.

Don’t get me wrong – Australia is a fantastic place. I lived there for seventeen years. My husband is Australian. Our daughter was born there. I have a great deal of love for and fond memories of both Melbourne and Sydney, as well as all the other places I visited. It’s a beautiful country and a lot of people who I love live there.

London

London

Yet, there was always a part of me that longed for mist and green grass and ancient buildings. For cold Christmases and tiny villages, rain-soaked high streets and cool mountains. A part of me that never quite felt at home among the brilliant sunshine and blue water. I remember coming back for a visit to the UK just over nine years ago. We were flying over the coast heading towards London and I looked out of the airplane window. The sun was just rising and I could see the Thames like a silver ribbon, winding inland. My husband leaned over to look out as well, then said to me, ‘How does it feel, coming back here?’ I watched the green landscape unfold beneath us and said, ‘Like coming home.’


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

 

 

Fear of Flying

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I bet you thought this post might be some sort of reflection on success and how it can change you, how sometimes we seek mediocrity because we aren’t brave enough to shine our light on the world or something like that 🙂

But it’s not. It actually is about flying. Because I really don’t like doing it. Yet I love to travel and visit friends and family all around the world, so I see it as something I have to put up with to get to all the wonderful places I want to see.

I’ve flown a lot, starting with a family trip when I was two to the Canary Islands. Apparently the plane before ours crashed on the runway and was still there when our plane landed, causing panic for family back in England who, for a brief time, thought the crashed plane was ours. Maybe this was a sign that, for me, flying would never be an entirely smooth journey.

The longest flight I’ve been on is fourteen straight hours from Melbourne to Dubai. Even the pilot sighed when he made his announcement at the start of the flight. The smallest plane I’ve been on is a four seater, with my father at the controls and my mother sitting next to him, me sitting in the back looking out the tiny window and wondering at the fact that a thin skin of metal was all that stood between me and eternity. I’ve flown business class a few times, including one time when I received the mythical free upgrade, and apparently I’ve flown first class once, though it was back in the eighties before they had all the reclining beds and doodads they have now, so I have no memory of it whatsoever, sadly. I do remember flying when there was a bar in economy class, a flight attendant standing there serving drinks to three businessmen who stayed there most of the flight, suit flaps spilling over the edges of the red leatherette stools. I also remember when you could smoke on planes – the smoking section was at the back with a haze hanging over it, and if you were seated just a row or two up from them, as my brother and I were on one flight, you left the plane feeling and smelling as though you’d just smoked a pack with them.

Me in the back of the four-seater plane - note the slightly panicked expression.

Me in the back of the four-seater plane – note the slightly panicked expression.

I’ve been on a flight where the pilot has pulled up just short of the runway, shooting back into the sky as passengers squealed, then coming on the intercom to apologise because he couldn’t see the runway due to a sea mist. When we did land, it was hard and fast and he shouted ‘Yeehah!’ I kid you not. On another flight we circled for a while above Sydney Airport, several other planes visible through our windows doing the same. Smoke from bushfires was obscuring the pilots’ view of the airport and there was talk of diverting to Canberra. Then the pilot came on. ‘We’re going to give it a try,’ he said, hardly reassuring words. So down we went, the cabin filling with the scent of burning eucalypt as we descended through billowing grey clouds, eventually landing safely, though not without me almost digging holes in the seat arms, I was gripping them so tightly.

The toughest flight I ever took was another long one, twelve hours or so from Melbourne to Dubai, flying through the night. We hit a large storm as we crossed the Equator and as the seatbelt light came on the pilot barked over the intercom. ‘Flight attendants to your seats now!’ That was the last we heard from him for eight hours as we bounced around the dark sky, all of us strapped into our seats and bracing ourselves as yet another bang buffeted the plane. The gorgeous child, four at the time, slept through it, but my husband and I gripped each others hands tightly, holding on, for there was nothing else to do. We landed, of course, the pilots coming on to apologise for our being twenty minutes late, as they had thought it best to fly around the storm, rather than through it. We all were happy to have landed safely.

I’ve had great flights as well, seeing the snow covered peak of Mount Rainier poking through clouds, the gleaming red Australian desert as the pilot flew above Uluru,  circling around so both sides of the plane could see it. Palm fringed beaches golden with sand as we flew over blue ocean, northern lakes gleaming silver in a frozen patchwork below. On a flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles I watched coastal mountains stream away, the undulating landscape beneath me keeping me occupied as we flew south, green giving way to brown. I’ve also had, for the most part, great experiences with flight attendants including one who, on my most recent flight, modified a pair of first class headphones for me to use, as the earbuds they gave us in sardine class were too uncomfortable to wear. He didn’t have to do that, and I really appreciated it.

Apparently it’s a control thing, if you don’t like flying. For me it’s a ‘don’t think about where you are right now,’ kind of thing. Because, screw the laws of physics, it just seems unnatural to be in a metal tube several miles above the earth with nothing holding you up except some equation to do with weight x ground speed = lift or whatever it is that gets planes off the ground. Intellectually I get it, I know the statistics, that the drive to the airport is potentially more dangerous than the flight itself. So this is just something I need to overcome, rather than sitting through another flight with my heart lurching in my chest and popping Rescue Remedy pastilles like they’re going out of style. (I’ve been recommended to take something stronger but I personally think drugging yourself to the eyeballs while travelling with a child isn’t the best thing – however, to each their own, whatever gets you through).

Whew! This is a longer post than usual – however, this is something I’ve been struggling with for a while. I think perhaps I might try and write my way through it, a story about my worst fears while flying, exploring the emotions and everything that happens. I probably won’t share it with anyone – it will just be my own little piece of writing therapy, forcing me to confront my fears.

So how do you guys feel about flying? Any stories you’d like to share? For me, I’m glad to have my feet on solid earth for the next little while, that’s for sure.

 

 

 

Of Doors and Getting Back Into Things

I’ve just come back from holidays. Oh, very nice, you might say – and you’d be right 🙂

At the same time, it was a busy couple of weeks. No sitting around on beaches – instead we had a planes-trains-and-automobiles type trip starting in Vancouver, Canada and ending in Cambria, California, taking in the sights of Seattle, San Francisco and Monterey before heading to a family wedding on the coast.

I’ve written before about how being away can make a big difference, and so I have found it to be again. In June this year I had pretty major surgery, and the recovery process took quite a while. I also published my second book, upped my blog output and was training fairly regularly in a variety of different exercises, as I’m of the use-it-or-lose-it school of thought when it comes to staying active. Since my surgery I had been easing back into my usual life, so taking a break has let me see where I could make some more positive changes to my regular routine. I’m also part way through Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and it’s certainly given me food for thought about how I conduct my creative life and what I expect from it.

I’ll be writing more about my trip over the next little while, including a post about the fact that I really, really dislike flying, plus a few other ideas that have been percolating in my mind. For now, I’ll leave you with this picture of a rather gorgeous door that I took in Cambria – perfect for Hugh’s News and Views latest Photography Challenge – Thursday Doors.

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And thank you to everyone who stayed in touch and kept up with my blog while I was away – much appreciated! xx

A quick update: Hugh from Hugh’s News and Views very kindly let me know that the door challenge isn’t his – it’s actually Norman Frampton’s, from Norm 2.0, and the link to his challenge post for today is here. So pop on over and check out his door, and add your own if you feel like it!