Thinking about Balmoral

By Vita Forest

It’s the summer holidays and that means lots of time spent swimming in salt water.  One of my favourite haunts is Balmoral Beach, a place with so many layers of memory washing over it.

There’s the lemon scent I catch as I walk down the street where I usually park the car, from who knows what plant – it’s not a lemon tree.  This street with the sign at the entrance to the driveway of a block of apartments “Don’t even think about parking here” which causes equal parts outrage and laughter.  The flats, with the garage that at one time had its door raised to reveal a private gym, and another time, another year, a stall of random items for sale including a couple of Margaret Atwood books.  One day I bought The Blind Assassin.  The next day I bought Alias Grace.  A street I walk along and wonder, which house would I live in?  If I could?  Or would I choose that low-maintenance apartment with its shady verandah looking out over the beach?

There’s The Baths.  Years ago, we used to have our initial swimming carnival for high school there (before moving onto to the more serious North Sydney Olympic pool for the finals).  It was a fun day out, with those who wanted to participating in the races, diving off the floating blocks into the often choppy water, while those who didn’t, sunbaking on the slatted wooden jetty or splashing about in the shallows near the sand.  In recent years, Max and Lucy have floated there on giant doughnuts or blow up boats or snorkelled under the jetty looking for fish and crabs and the rumours of seahorses living in the waving kelp.  In recent years I have returned here to swim, simplifying my routine by swimming without goggles or a cap.  Perhaps that is why I don’t do Freestyle anymore – too much water gets in my ears.  Instead I keep my head out – all the better to see where I am going and to pause every now and then to look up at the bush on the headland or the clouds floating in the blue sky.

Further south, there are large fig trees that grow on the grass behind the sand.  Some of them are like pavilions with branches extending over the beach itself.  It was under one of these that I used to sit with Lucy as a baby, her body lying between my legs, her feet kicking into the air as she gazed up at the twinkling brightness of the sun through the fig leaves.  It was here that her feet were first dipped into salt water, tiny toes flaring up at its coldness.  It was here I rocked the pram covered with a muslin cloth, groggy with lack of sleep, and watched Max play on the pirate ship in the playground.

Heading north, there’s the island attached to the promenade by an arched concrete bridge.  It was here we drank cheap champagne on one of our last days of high school.  It was here I have stopped with innumerable friends on innumerable walks up and down the beach in summer and winter, sunshine and rain.  It was here a month or so ago, I sat on a rock and drew a fig tree growing out of a crevasse between two boulders of sandstone, its roots clutching and wrapping around the rocks.  It was on that occasion that I saw the young bride and groom, she in a backless white gown that showed off the tattoos on her tanned shoulders.

It’s to this place I have come in summer, either early or late, to avoid the harshness of the midday sun.  And so I never see Freya, who I work with, who only goes there at the hottest time of the day.  She is young and invincible and lies in the sun to get a tan, something I never do.  Me in my long-sleeved rashie seeing if I can still swim a kilometre.

I can.



This week (or so)

By Vita  Forest


This week (or so) I have been

READING Death comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

WRITING and EDITING my novel!


  • the city to see the Christmas lights


  • Manly for some sketching

Ferry ride to Manly

  • The Goods Line, the UTS Building by Frank Gehry and the Central Park Precinct  (- the kids and I gave my parents a little tour of the area).



  • at Cremorne Point and Balmoral Beach


Tourists at Cremorne Point


  • Manly
  • Cremorne
  • The Botanical Gardens

MAKING White Rocky Road (mmm mmm!)

ENJOYING being on holidays!

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING Through the wardrobe

READING Thomas Appleby Convict Boy by Jackie French (getting ready for next year’s history topic).

SAYING farewell to students and teachers and other staff who are leaving the school.

CLEANING the classroom

WATCHING the excellent Year 6 musical

PERFORMING a surprise teachers Christmas dance for the students (we felt like rockstars!)

SEEING some old pals at our Christmas party

SKETCHING a witch’s house at Annandale

EATING fish and chips at Balmoral Beach with Vastra then seeing a movie

PUTTING up the Christmas decorations at last

Through the wardrobe

By Vita Forest

School is done for the year and I’m thinking of the kids I won’t see again in the playground, gone off to other schools and even other countries.  And I’m hoping that next year  we keep the easy rapport, the banter, the in-jokes that have developed this year with the ones that remain.  And I’m thinking of the messages in the cards and the worries of the kids over who will teach them next year, or the year after, and who they will play with now their best friend is gone, and wondering how it will all work out, and knowing that it will.

And I’m thinking of our Narnia project – the scenes brought to life in miniature, in paper and cardboard, the wardrobes, the forests, the lampposts, the beaver’s house complete with washing on the line and even a moon on a paper scroll that moved when you turned it.  Of Tori and Quentin stamping shards of snowflakes out of white and grey paper and carefully arranging them in drifts through the wardrobe.  And Milos making rows of Narnian trees standing upright on folded cardboard stands and Brendan and Barnaby cutting a forest as they chatted and coloured and worked out how to make it all work without the roll of sticky tape sitting on my desk.  And the origami girls folding tiny squares into boxes that were piled up into chest of drawers (because there would be one near the wardrobe in that room in that house).  And how they made me mini chatterboxes too and boxes to sit them in and a flat white giraffe to stick on the side of my computer screen across from a lonely gecko left over from last term.

And I’m remembering how on the last day, they lay down in front of the whiteboard with cushions from the corner and rugs from home and made headrests out of old tote trays and lay and watched in a big clump of nine and ten year olds, as the story they had read appeared on the screen.  And how Evan and Kyle N slipped back to their desks to draw while they watched, as they always liked to do.

And that last week, Freddy and Aiden loved to clean, moving canvases and shelves and wiping out the dust that had blown in all year and coated the window sills and the backs of the computers and the spaces around their trays.  And we emptied out their trays and pulled out the shelves and it was just like Christmas!  Finding the homework book that had got lost a term ago, the book of Times tables and too many pencils to even count.

And how we listened to a flurry of one minute speeches on anything they liked which meant we heard about War and Memes, Scams, their cat, their dog, Soccer, the Life Cycle of Frogs and even Porridge .

And how every morning they would come into the classroom before the bell rang to stand about and chat and show me things and just generally hang out together, so when school started most of them were already inside.

And wondering if I’ll ever meet a nicer bunch of kids.

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING Mobile Tales 11: a sky full of stars

READING The Girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making by Catherynne M. Valente

PLAYING Muggle Quidditch at school after

MAKING broomsticks out of newspapers and masking tape (but no one completed their homework and learned how to fly…)

VISITING The Finders Keepers Market at Barangaroo with the whole family

ATTENDING the Year 6 Farewell

FEELING rather exhausted

Mobile Tales 11: a sky full of stars

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel awakens to discover changes in the night sky.

There were bumps.  There were rattlings and bangs.  There were loud voices as storm clouds disagreed with each other.  There were preparations for A Party.

Below the sea, it was tempestuous too.  The usual inhabitants of The Tabletop were swept away by the sudden maelstrom, even the whales had left, seeking refuge in Another Room.  Spiralling silver whirlwinds snaked down from the ceiling and strained toward the sea, ready to snatch up the unwary sailor.  The sun was having difficulty peering out behind the storm clouds and so the colour had been fairly removed from the world.   The Good Ship Possession swung about on its anchor in this monochromatic new realm.

Christabel, like the whales, was quite put out by the sudden disturbances in the atmosphere.  Why was there a need for all this whirling and washing, this spinning and stretching?  Why could the world not stay as it was?  For despite being an adventurer, the truth was that Christabel preferred routine and the predictable to savage disruption and hurly burly.  And so, after stowing the sails, and ensuring the anchor was still firmly lodged in the ceiling, Christabel retired to her cabin (and, in truth, to bed).  She would pass the remainder of the storm below deck (for she was fortunate to have a strong constitution and did not require fresh air to keep sea sickness at bay when the waves swelled and broiled).  Thus it was, that through the noise and the tempest, through the shrieks and the celebrations, through the games and singing of ditties, Christabel slumbered and snoozed under her cosy down quilt.

As was often the way in times of discord, Christabel slept when it was tumultuous, but woke when calm returned.  She opened her eyes and listened.  Through the thick paper-mache walls of The Possession, all she could hear was muffled voices, the clink of glassware in The Kitchen and gentle music.  The Party was Over.

She crawled from her bed, wrapped her gold silk kimono about her and climbed the ladder.  When she reached the deck, her eyes widened in wonder.  The Ceiling had been transformed.  Where once she had looked out on wide expanses of clear white skies, she now found The Possession floating beneath a sky full of stars!  Christabel clutched the side of the ship and gazed in delight at the new constellations.  How they sparkled!  How they twinkled merrily about her!  She leaned on her elbows and smiled up at the sky.

Perhaps there were good things that came of storms after all.

A sky full of stars