This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

READING The Circle by Dave Eggers (hope to have it finished before Book club…)

DISCUSSING with my kids how radicchio sounds to them like a spell from Harry Potter, try it – Radicchio!

FINDING out that our dance group got through the auditions and into the big interschool performance to be held later this year.

WATCHING some Olympic finals with the whole school – deafening cheers!

GETTING the carpet in at last. The kids love it “It’s like walking in a meadow of soft grass.”

VISITING Balmoral Beach with my Dad, sister Briony and kids Max and Lucy on a sunny winter’s afternoon.

SPENDING some time hanging out with the kids and the cats,  luxuriating on the velvety soft carpet, while looking out at the blooming camellia tree, as the sunshine streamed in.

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This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

READING Possession by A. S. Byatt 

WRITING  Suburban Pool Tales

SPARTYING (that is enjoying Diana’s spa with its disco lights).

CATCHING UP with some lovely old high school friends (check out the view from the appartment!)

HOUSE and CAT-SITTING for Diana “up north” (half an hour from home).

CLEANING up a lot of dust after my apartment floor was jack-hammered and repaired…

CHOREOGRAPHING a dance extravaganza for Year 2 to perform to “Surfin USA” (with the assistance of Lucy).

WATCHING most of the Harry Potter movies with the kids… (We like number 3 and number 8 best).

On listening

By Vita Forest

Listening

Listening

Lately, I’ve been thinking about listening.  It’s wonderful to read to yourself and flick back and forth in a story, rereading, flashing back, controlling the pace.  But there is something lovely about being read to.  About having the opportunity to listen.

School has started again, with a new school year, and a new set of little people to teach.  This time of the year is exhausting and a trifle stressful for all concerned.  The kids are getting to know me, I am getting to know them, and we are all getting to know the new 2016 “things”.   So it’s nice to take some time out to listen to a story.  There is something immediately calming about pulling out a book and reading it aloud.  Last year, some of my major fidgetters and fretters would crawl closer, hug their knees and become quiet and calm, soothed by Harry Potter’s latest adventures, or by their desire to hear just how Matilda was going to outwit Miss Trunchbull.  This year, we have started with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which immediately got their attention with its promise of bears, wolves and wild cats…

While working on the good ship Possession in the holidays, I reminded my own children about how, when they were quite small, I used to read them one of A.S. Byatt’s fairy tales included in that novel.  I reminded them of summer holidays lying three across in a tent and how I read The Glass Coffin to them again and again and again.  Their eyes wide and their bodies still, as they listened to the story of the little tailor, who ventured into a dark forest and met an unusual household who offered him a magical gift.

You have chosen not with prudence, but with daring.  The key is the key to an adventure, if you will go in search of it.”

Lucy pulled out the book and curled up in a corner, now able to read the words herself that before she had only listened to.  (Max remembered the story without needing a refresher – he is older, after all).  Now Lucy reads to me.  As I cook, or sip my tea after dinner.  It is luxurious to be read to, to not always have to do the reading.

And in the holidays, I was reading (to myself) Anthony Doer’s All the light we cannot see where a brother and sister in an orphanage in Germany are enthralled by voices on the radio, and stopping to listen to Radio National while I worked on my boat building, and everything intersected and made meaning.  I listened alone while the kids were at their Dad’s, but I was not alone because the voice on the radio was company, was an intimate presence in my ear.  A soothing presence, like the French gentleman’s radio programs, flying through the air, all the way to a tiny attic in Germany.

I remember hearing about a couple who read books aloud to each other.  Sharing entire novels, taking turns listening and reading.  A way of spending time together, connecting. And I remember too, my lovely friend Mardi, who created an organisation in the U.S. to encourage adults to read to children.  She was invited to speak about her project to the inmates of a prison and was concerned about what she could possibly say to those people with whom she had little in common.  But she ended up sharing with them that reading to someone else was a way of bonding, of showing that you care, of connecting.  These incarcerated men got that, and looked forward to reading to their own children as a way of building a relationship.

And last weekend, my kids and I came across a series of radio stories as we drove to the beach and spent some time discovering the joys of a quirky tale read by a fabulous actor interspersed with sound effects.  When Max was a newborn, I discovered Margaret Throsby‘s interviews on Classic FM, listening in to conversations with artists, writers, scientists and educators, in my sleep-deprived, house-bound new-mother state. A few years later, Max and Lucy and I stayed in the car long after we had reached our destination, until her interview with Monty Roberts the horse whisperer ended.  So enthralled were we.

It’s a primal thing, listening to a good story.  Have you listened to anything wonderful lately?

 

The end of the affair

By Vita Forest

What's wrong with a happy ending?

What’s wrong with a happy ending?

The truth is hard and tough as nails, that’s why we need fairy tales.

from Munchhausen by Hollander

While convalescing at home, awaiting the results of a whooping cough swab, with my voice deepened to a sultry level, but missing the resonance required to address twenty-three small children without it cracking into inconsistent seal yelps, I turned in consolation to literature.

As you may know, I have recently finished reading the delightful Brother of the more Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido.  Before being laid low, I had handily picked up a couple more of Trapido’s books from the library.

I have finished Juggling (not as lovely as BOTMFJ) and have launched into The Travelling Hornplayer.  Some of the characters began to feel familiar, then I realised there were favourites from the aforementioned novels, now years later, bumping into each other across the end pages of those other books.  This was not necessarily a cause for alarm.

But then it was.

“No!” I wanted to scream in my cracked voice, as my literary crush from BOTMFJ engaged in a seedy affair in a grimy flat in London while his wife pottered about in The Cotswolds.  “No, Barbara Trapido, I don’t want to know this!”

Some books do not need epilogues, do not need sequels.  I want to think back affectionately to the “closure”, to the satisfaction of everything ending how it should have.

I want Georgie giving Lu the kiss of life in the bottom of a boat after he has pulled her from a sinking plane, not reading that Tim Winton has written a play reusing these characters in which Georgie is grieving her lover who has been KILLED.

I want Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson  to live blissfully together after she throws over that cold fish Cecil, not the future mapped out in the epilogue of boredom, resentment and cheating.

I certainly don’t want to read about what happens to Darcy or anyone else after the perfect ending (particularly from someone who is not the original author…) but when it is the author – oh, they still need to be very careful.

Melina Marchetta has done it successfully (“Of course,” I hear you say, “Could you stop going on about her!”)  J. K. Rowling too.  And I didn’t mind meeting up again with Michael Ondaatje’s Caravaggio and Hana once more in The English Patient.  But I agree that A.S. Byatt didn’t need to add the epilogue to Possession and I think that Suzanne Collins could have stopped after The Hunger Games.  Don’t even get me started about Stephenie Meyer…

So I suppose I will continue reading The Travelling Hornblower but my hackles have been raised.  I do not want to fall out of love with Jonathon.

Have you ever wished an author had just stopped?

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Orange Grove Market

Orange Grove Market

This week I have been

  • READING Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
  • WRITING
  • MAKING a Hedwig owl soft toy to go with Pigwidgeon (for Lucy’s birthday).
  • VISITING Orange Grove Market, Leichhardt.
  • WATCHING The Principal on SBS.
  • SPOTTING pelicans off Tunks Park, Cammeray.

Beware of wand thieves and sunburn

By Vita Forest

On the way to Shelly Beach

On the way to Shelly Beach

Last weekend, Lucy and I met some of my old high school friends and some of their children for a day out.  Heather, Venetia, Gemma and I (the adults) were keen to do a big walk somewhere beautiful.  The children (Ava, Jasper, Bob and Lucy) were not so keen on the walking part, but came anyway with the promise of icecream.  We settled on the Manly to North Head walk and met at Circular Quay to catch the Manly ferry.

When we arrived, we walked through Manly to the surf beach.  It was a beautiful Spring day and the beach was busy.  Before walking to Shelly Beach, we checked the sunscreen situation.  Bob was prevailed upon to apply some more (he hates it so much that he has been known to wear long sleeves in Summer just to avoid it).  The females admired the ocean waves, the surfers and the clear blue sky, while Jasper and Bob turned away from the beach and admired the real estate.  I pointed out to Lucy the small child-height statues dotted along the rocky wall that she used to toddle between as a two-year old.

Sculpture of a snorkeler, Shelly Beach

Sculpture of a snorkeler, Shelly Beach

We climbed higher and looked out over the ocean (making a slight detour when a water dragon appeared in our path, cocking its head and waiting to see whether it had to run.  It did not).  There was some confusion as to whether we could walk through the bush, Venetia’s instructions were via the streets, so through the streets we went.  (Apparently you can walk through the bush, but it was not well sign-posted). Up the hills we went and  entered the Sydney Harbour National Park at North Head.  We didn’t see any bandicoots but we did see this sign.

We didn't see any bandicoots, they are nocturnal after all.

We didn’t see any bandicoots, they are nocturnal after all.

The bush there is thick, dense scrub.  You can’t see far into the distance on the track, but all at once you feel a cool breeze, and the vegetation suddenly breaks open and you are standing looking along the cliff line.  There are some old military sites to explore, including observation posts cliffs facing out to sea.

Ava collected a good solid stick that she swished about as a wand (she had just watched Harry Potter).  At one lookout, another child came over.  She held it out to him to inspect and to her astonishment, he snatched it and ran off!  Luckily there were plenty more wands to be had.  After that, we were on the lookout for wand thieves.

The view North

The view North

Signs indicating the distant existence of a café pricked the interest of the girls, who were deflated to learn we had brought our own lunch.  They chewed on snacks as we stepped along the mesh path over the Hanging Swamp.  The spring flowers were putting on a fine display – flannel flowers, grevilleas and bottlebrush.  Ava wanted some spells for her new wand, preferably one that would help us fly and so avoid the walk in the hot sun.  She asked Lucy if she knew any.  (“Not Avada kedavra,” I instructed. “Or Sectumsempra!”)  The girls settled on Wingardium levisoa and Obliviate.  Ava tested this last one by giving her Mum a small punch and then using the Obliviate spell to see if Gemma would forget her naughtiness.  Unfortunately for Ava it did not work…

The

The Path through the Hanging Swamp

After stopping for lunch (outside the cafe), we visited the Quarantine station cemetery.  It was was brimming with wild flowers which dwarfed the crumbling monuments that stood on the hill looking back towards the city.  Heather even found one grave for a Edward Kelly (a not so famous one we presume).  We continued past  the Quarantine Station (“Ghost tours!” said Jasper) and on to the lovely Collins Beach, into penguin territory.  After a brief paddle it was back to the ferry wharf where we were herded on to a ferry back to Circular Quay.

Wildflowers in the cemetery

Wildflowers in the cemetery

Lucy and Ava waved to the passengers on passing boats, and Gemma reminisced about doing the same with her sister on car trips when they were children.  If anyone waved back, they were “allowed” to come to their birthday parties!  Gemma always collected more waves than her sister.  Jasper closed his eyes but opened them a crack when Ava gleefully announced that her brother was asleep.  By this point, we were all grateful to be sitting down.

At Circular Quay, we all indulged in the long-awaited reward of gelato before Lucy and I had to say farewell and rush off to try and make the kids’ 5pm handover.

We all slept well that night.

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Green Square

Central Park

This week I have been

  • READING The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (it was the school holidays after all – extra time for reading).
  • WRITING
  • MAKING Hedwig and Pidwidgeon (see last week’s This week… hand sewing takes a long time).
  • VISITING The Goods Line, The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by Frank Gehry, the Central Park precinct and McKell Park.
  • WATCHING The Good Wife Season 1.
  • SPOTTING a seal! from Sawmiller’s Reserve at Berry’s Bay.