Are You Sitting Comfortably?

How often does one spend a Sunday in a church hall observing a skeleton sitting in a chair? It sounds like something from the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) but our skeleton was not of the once flesh and blood variety, but a model – although we did dress him up to look like a cool dude – used for educational purposes.

I was, in fact, in a Feldenkrais workshop. I’ve written about the Feldenkrais Method before: pioneered by Israeli Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1940s and 1950s, it’s about developing awareness of how you move, exploring ways of letting go of the holding patterns in your body and reconnecting your movements into a fluid whole. I am a big fan of Feldy as we call it.


The workshop was all about how to sit more comfortably, be it at the computer, on the plane, the train or in a theatre or cinema. Many of us spend far too much time sitting, which can put a lot of strain on our back, neck and shoulders. I was particularly happy to spend a day tuning into my body and relaxing the muscular effort having spent five hours in the car the day before.

A work colleague and other fellow fundraisers who were spending a weekend in Woodend (near Hanging Rock for those not so familiar with county Victoria), invited me up to join them for a day. Now, I had imagined that the person living in Woodend would be doing lunch and had taken some special biscuits and some chocolate as a present.

As it turned out I joined them halfway through a day out and caught the end of a farmers’ market at Trentham, about 25km further on from Woodend. As I bought some olive tapenade to add to my contributions to the lunch I was looking forward to, Bertie cocked his leg on the tarpaulin covering the stall. Luckily the lady didn’t notice so we continued merrily on our way on as he sniffed around for scraps and barked loudly at other dogs.

Our hostess and tour guide for the day bought some live chickens to add to her brood, and then we stopped at the bakery for coffee and refreshments. This would have been the ideal place to have lunch but I was advised to hold back as we were heading to a winery where they served cheese platters. What’s more vanilla slices were promised for afternoon tea.

After the coffee (chai in my case), we ambled round the various shops – giftware, New Age, vintage (we’re talking Edwardian and Victorian with pince-nez, lace-up boots, corsets, crinolines and outfits that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jane Austin film) and other quirky stores. Poor Bertie had to put up with being tied to various lamp posts when sunny paddocks beckoned just outside the township.

Retail therapy accomplished – I only bought a loaf of spelt bread from the bakery – we popped back to the house, a wonderful rambling building up a long driveway, to drop off the chicks. Part country chic and part scruffy, the house was once a coach house and had an observatory dome for star-gazing, a spacious verandah strewn with wisteria seed pods (did you know that wisteria belongs to the pea family?), a large garden and tennis court.

The winery was yet another 25km in the other direction and so it was close to four o’clock when we got there. At this point I realised that I’d have to drive straight home from the winery thus forfeiting the vanilla slice, but I was consoled by the thought of the cheese platter – my stomach was startling to growl with hunger at this point.

The winery looked elegant in the autumn sunshine, the late afternoon rays glinting over the lake. But our business was inside in deep comfy sofas positioned around the fire. I looked around and saw wine lists and bottles lined up for tasting sessions, but no sign of food or menus anywhere. “Oh no, they don’t do food here,” said our hostess, “just big dinners cooked by well-known chefs that sell out months in advance.” I pretended not to mind (in other words I ate my words…) as the first sip of sparkling Pinot went straight to my head.

I spotted this in the ladies' room at the café

I spotted this in the ladies’ room at the café

At 4.30 p.m. I got up to go knowing I had to get back to Skype my mother (my father had been very unwell the previous week and we were long overdue a chat) and to attend the Feldy workshop on the Sunday. Before I set off I devoured hunks of the spelt bread topped with the salted caramel chocolate that I had originally bought as a gift. Not a bad combination as it happens! I did my best to keep the journey home interesting by listening to a German Berlitz CD and singing along to Hayden’s Nelson Mass, but I was a little weary and stiff from sitting by the time I got back. And I felt a little cheated of culinary comfort.

So what a treat it was on the Sunday to play around with different ways of sitting more dynamically, making circles with the pelvis (a favourite Feldy exercise known as the Pelvic Clock), connecting the head and pelvis, freeing up the thoracic spine and the ribs (the thing about the rib cage is just that, many of us keep our ribs rigid and imprisoned rather than free and flexible) and bending our torsos sideways into C shapes. Another exercise we did was getting up from our chair all the while imagining a pair of spectacles attached to our behinds; the idea was to get up in such a way that we had to tilt forward. That’s the fun of Feldenkrais – it’s a way of freeing up bodies and minds to move with greater ease. I’m still feeling the benefits after a long day at work today. Yoo Hoo!

I never can (or could) say goodbye…

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.

Who needs Melbourne, I thought when we hit the traffic driving back after five days of bucolic bliss.