This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been


READING my old novel in preparation to rework it.

LISTENING to an inspiring interview with Tim Smit on Radio National (he instigated The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in Cornwall).


  • with my old high school gang for a lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with Saskia and friends for another lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with family – to see my cousin up from Victoria.
  • a local national park with an Indigenous guide.

DANCING in the school hall for a very fun Zumba class.

MAKING 3D whimsical flowers with my class (potted up in strange receptacles in the style of Shaun Tan’s Eric).

STARTING our senior dance group’s rehearsals.

PREPARING for Parent/Teacher interviews next week…



By Vita Forest


Did he have water?  Had he put sunscreen on?  Was he at least taking a little bit of food?  I was distracted by Max getting ready, Max who had forgotten to take a water bottle on the previous scorching day, that stinker, that heatwave, and had managed by slurping from various taps and bubblers but had come home parched, lips cracked, cheeks red.

I had been distracted by Max, checking his phone, throwing back a glass of milk, checking his phone, cleaning his teeth, checking his phone.  We were leaving early to drop him at the other train station where he was to meet his friends before I went up north for some Zumba with my favourite Latino instructor, the one I scour the timetable for, who I travel for, who brings a smile to my face with his high-energy antics.  But I was distracted by Max, so I slid my feet into my slip-on shoes, the wrong shoes, the unsuitable shoes, but I was distracted.  We got into the car, Max – cap jammed on his head, skateboard jammed by his legs, idly spinning its wheels with his right pointer.

“They’re already there,” he updated me, checking his phone.

These school holidays Max has become a true teenager, preferring his friends to his family, taking his opal card and flying all about the city on trains, buses and boards, following rumours of skate-parks, cheap food and branded shoes.

“Do you remember when I hated teenagers?” he asked as we waited to pass the local roadworks.

I saw him again, hunched in the corner of a bus seat on a ride from Lucca to Barga in Italy, glaring when the aisles suddenly filled with loud local teens, shouting, laughing, full of joy and private jokes, delirious that school had ended for the day, unconcerned with the ears of other passengers like Max, who found them obnoxious and unbelievable.  Their mindless chatter, their supreme confidence, their lack of consideration.

“I hate teenagers,” he had announced, all of eight years old.

“Huh!  Now we are probably like that…” and I could imagine Max’s gang up the back of the bus, shouting over each other, one-upping each other, skateboards flipped up beside their too-large bodies.

I was distracted by watching Max as if through a stranger’s eyes, jumping out of the car at the kerb and sloping up to the traffic lights, waiting for green, then running, running off to meet his friends so they could make the next bus to the beach.  I was remembering how at Pilates the day before, I was chatting to an old acquaintance, catching up on news, when I became aware of a woman standing beside her waiting.  And then was introduced to her daughter, Max’s age, who I remembered as a curly-headed pre-schooler, all grown-up now (or looking that way).

As I lost sight of Max, I turned on the radio and became distracted by the story of a man in Noosa telling an appreciative crowd about his three angels – his adoptive mother, his adoptive grandmother and his birth mother.  How they watched over him when he couldn’t cope and how they led him to meet an unknown brother who was there in the crowd today!  (I blinked away tears – items on Radio National always get me in the guts).

Then I was distracted by Ted Hughes reading his poems at the Adelaide Festival years ago.  The Thought Fox, which we had done at school and Song for a Phallus, which he almost sang, and struck by the violence and brutality and passion of Lovesong.  I was distracted by learning that after the break, he had actually met up with Sylvia to discuss her Ariel poems – they were not new to him at her death.  I was distracted by remembering reading Ariel for the first time in the cool quiet of the library of UNSW, my lecturer warning that “it will be an experience”.  She was right.

And so I sat in the car, listening and thinking, then distractedly turned off the engine when it was time and walked into the gym thinking of Sylvia, Ted, Max, that pre-schooler now woman.  Then I looked down at my feet and gasped – the wrong shoes!  No Zumba today.



On listening

By Vita Forest



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?