Saying goodbye doesn’t get any easier, particularly when it comes to waving off members of my family at the airport. That’s the thing about having family in England and living here in Australia. It may be just a day away, but it’s a long (and rather costly) day spent in a pressurised cabin.
I loved having my mother here and once we got a few teething troubles out of the way – the stick in the park leg gashing, the jet lag and Bertie dog’s digestive dramas – we got into a good rhythm. Mum did confess that she found it hectic at times with me madly trying to keep so many balls in the air– work, renovations, dog walks, visits to the vet, the lighting shop, the bathroom and kitchen showroom, cupboard clearing, introducing her to my friends, taking her places etc – but I think she loved dipping into my life for a few weeks.
When she left I missed her like mad – especially at lunch, afternoon tea, drinks and dinner time, congenial punctuation marks in our day, however busy. How I loved her company, the effortless chat and someone to cook for and eat with. For a few days after her departure I couldn’t look at the things that reminded me of her – the coffee pot, the breakfast grapefruits, the earl grey tea and the apples I bought her from the farmers’ market. There was a big absence where she had been, and I shut the door to her room rather than look at the stripped back bed, only to fall apart when I spotted one of her hearing aid batteries on the window ledge. After a few days, however, I was able to shift from feeling weepy to celebrating how successful her visit had been, that she had arrived home safely and was planning to come again next year. And, as just as I predicted, we had created a stock of new memories and stories to feast on in the meantime.
In the midst of all the pre-renovation madness and my cramming in bits of work to pay for said renovations, we went off for a little holiday to Gippsland in South East Victoria, and wonderful it was too. We stayed in a little cottage with a sunny veranda adorned by roses and lavender just outside the little township of Koonwarra, known for its general store.
Although we were just off the highway and were aware of the traffic at times, the main soundtrack had a more bovine register. In fact, such was the cacophony that we thought at first that there must be a folk festival (I could have sworn someone was playing the trumpet) or party going on in the nearby paddocks. And Mum, whose room was at the front, reported that it went on all night. This continued for a few days until, on the way to Leongatha, we passed a sale yard and found the source of the trumpeting to be chorusing cows. We were, of course, in the heart of cattle country. I worried that the trumpeting was perhaps signalling distress: “It’s the kind of thing that tempts me to become a veggie,” I said, “but, then again, I simply couldn’t live on flatulent beans and pulses.” That night I made a beef nicoise salad– oh dear– using local porterhouse steak. A short-lived dilemma, you could say.
Our only other quibble – in an otherwise perfect getting-away-from-it-all break – was the use of the word luxury to describe our cottage. Lovely as the setting and general vibe were, the beds felt like bricks, the sofas sagged and the lighting inside the cottage was poor making it dingy after sunset. And my room consisted of nothing more than a bunk bed, electric fuse box (while Mum had the nocturnal cows, I had buzzing wires) and a cupboard. Petite as I am, reading in bed was tricky as my head bumped up against the top bunk. OK, so there was a spa bath – a very 1980s one at that – but the place lacked the kind of cushioned comfort, waffled bathrobes and chocolates on the pillow that normally come with luxury. But all this apart, we loved our time in Gippsland or Gippers as I now call it.
We sat on our veranda and watched the fairy wrens flit around, listened to the wind rippling through the tall gums, played patience games (Bisley and Fours for card connoisseurs), listened to a CD of Yorkshire-born playwright Alan Bennett (you may know him as the author of the History Boys) reading his wonderfully poignant and funny Untold Stories, visited the Lucinda Winery and tasted earthy reds, a light fizzy rosé, and cider made from apples and pears, walked a bit of the Great Southern Rail Trail, had a couple of picnics – one in the car in the rain– and toured local townships.
This part of Gippsland – (the Melbourne side of Wilson’s Promontory) – attracts artists, artisans, food lovers and crafts people. In Fish Creek, where fish symbols and sculptures adorn roof tops and benches alike, we admired the sculptures and furniture at Ride the Wild Goat, where artist Andrew McPherson creates flowing, organic shapes from salvaged metal, iron, wood and other materials.
In Meeniyan we browsed gift shops and galleries, tasted local cheeses and deliciously vanilla-y prune plums at an organic food shop, dined on wood-fired pizza at Trulli Pizza run by a young Italian chef from Brindisi, and treated ourselves to the most wickedly calorific flourless chocolate cake at the Koonwarra General Store. Then at the antique shop, I bought an old-style two-seater upholstered sofa from an eccentric character with more than a passing resemblance to Tweedledum. I even had my hair trimmed at the local hair dresser.