Saturday, December 30, 2006


Season's greetings

I spent a very peaceful Christmas with my aunt and uncle in Melbourne. The area they live in is close to the sea and incredibly quiet, with the only sound an occasional bird singing in the garden. On Christmas Eve we carried out a very moving Polish custom: a large wafer of unleavened bread was broken into pieces for everyone present. Then we approached every person individually, gave them a morsel of our bread and took a piece of theirs, and said what we wished for them in the year ahead. It's pretty moving to actually be able to come right out and say "You are a great person! I wish you health and happiness and fulfilment in your life and work!" Yes ... I am English ... although I don't think I'm particularly inhibited. I've thought positive things about my family for a long time, and I'm used to sending emails or text messages containing virtual hugs, but actually breaking bread and saying these things to their faces, followed by hugs, was pretty inspiring. We sat down to eat the magical burgundy-coloured beetroot soup with tiny star-shaped pieces of pasta, relaxed and smiling.

Talking of food, I have been reading the reminiscences of appalling Scots poet William McGonagall, and the many challenges he faced in bringing his poetry to the ungrateful masses. Here is an account of the first time a publican threw peas at him.

On the luxury Firefly Express coach from Adelaide to Melbourne (lots of leg room and 2 movies during the 10 hour journey) I was startled to see the blue skies and heat haze of South Australia give way to general greyness in Victoria. It's a long journey, but I had a lot of music to listen to ... Ararat is a stately place to drive through, laid out by Chinese miners in accordance with feng shui. As you head down the wide main street it is aligned with the Grampian mountains in the distance. Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising the weather - merely observing that I had to wear long sleeves; jeans rather than shorts; and, shock horror, socks about the house!

Returning yesterday, the heatwave finally broke and we had several hours of tropical downpouring rain. It's something I never really commented on back in the UK, especially when I was in Manchester - I certainly never imagined missing precipitation. Then again, I had no comprehension of thousand-year drought at that time, even though I shared a house with geography students. That's what meteorologists are saying about South Australia - that this is the worst drought the country has seen for a millennium. Apparently, every week at least one farmer commits suicide.

But enough of this depressing talk: the pelting rain, which I really observed for the first time, felt fantastic. The air was cooler, the sky looked relieved, and seeing the drops pound down on the roads then bounce up was incredibly satisfying. Look closely at the picture, they're splotting down and rebounding. Apparently when you stand under a power shower, your body releases endorphins: it felt like the land was getting that rush too.

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