Rule 1: You must leave the house

After publicly announcing my desire to find a partner (see my last post) I’ve done remarkably little about it. I haven’t rejoined any of the dating sites I tried out years ago. I gave up on them when the replies I received came from men who obviously hadn’t read what I was like or looking for. It was too frustrating to continue. Just today I’ve deleted three emails offering me special deals to find that special man.

I’ve been told I should go out more, be more social, meet more people, attend more functions. However, I haven’t taken the advice, and this week I’ve gone directly home from work, stopping only to buy groceries on the way. But where should I go, how do I meet people? These days I don’t want to meet someone who spends his leisure hours in a bar or club. Where do the single men I want to meet hang out?

A part of me still believes in love at first sight, in accidentally being in the same place as the one you are supposed to meet and fall for. It has happened to other people. Apparently Matt Damon saw the woman who would become his wife from across a room and immediately fell in love with her. The same thing happened to Matthew McConaughey when he first saw Camila Alves. So, it can happen, hopefully not just to celebrities. Now it just has to happen to me. I guess I do need to get out though, so I can walk into that room where my future partner will see me, and we will fall in love with each other, at first sight of course.

First, I must find that room. I hope I will find it at a writer’s talk, perhaps at the Wheeler Centre, or during the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, maybe at the State Library. Or it is possible the room could be one of the art galleries I plan to visit. It is not unimaginable that the room could be outdoors, at the beach, on a hot summer’s day. Wherever the room is, I do realise I have to make a move to find it. Sitting at my front window dreaming about it is not going to bring a partner any closer to finding me, or me him.

In the meantime, there are writer’s talks to attend, galleries to view, book launches to go to and plenty of sand on the beaches to walk on.

Looking for a Unicorn

For the last week, in my spare time, I’ve been watching reruns of Sex and the City, which is kind of like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. After a bit of chit chat, it doesn’t take long before you feel as if you have never been apart. I’d forgotten many of the episodes, Samantha dealing with breast cancer, Miranda looking after Steve’s mother, Charlotte going through IVF and Carrie’s short-lived affair with another writer. Everyday problems which could happen to any of us. In my opinion, that was why the show was so successful. The sex was the glitter sprinkled liberally around what are sometimes difficult issues to discuss and sometimes simple girl talk we all could relate to.

As I watched I couldn’t help but wonder what the girls would have done if, like me, they were single in their fifties. I doubt they would still be doing the rounds of trendy bars and clubs, which are really the territory of the young and nubile. Cafés and restaurants perhaps, but in her late fifties I don’t think even Samantha could bring home any of the young, sexy waiters. And would she want to anyway?

No matter how well you look after yourself, unless you have undergone surgical procedures and filled yourself with Botox, it’s unlikely your body is the same as it was in your twenties or thirties. I shouldn’t generalise, but this is true of my body. Maybe every other fifty something single woman has the same drop dead gorgeous, firm body they had in their youth, but I doubt it. Much of the appeal of the sex in Sex and the City, was the images of intertwined sleek, well-kept bodies. Very few people want to watch wrinkles and saggy flesh jiggling up and down together, in my opinion.

After fourteen years of being single, I’m toying with the idea of finding a partner again. Over a few wines with a friend, I listed the qualities I’m looking for in a man. My friend laughed and suggested I’m looking for a unicorn. Apparently, she doesn’t believe I will be able to find any man around my age who physically looks after himself, and can have an intelligent conversation, and is caring, thoughtful and honest, with a sense of humour as well as being financially secure. Oh, I’d also prefer someone over 6’4” who doesn’t like fishing, camping and the great outdoors. My idea of camping is lazing around the pool at a five-star hotel.

What I’m missing is that small group of close friends who are also single and looking. I don’t have a selection of wing women to choose from. Most of my good friends in Melbourne have partners and are loathe to go out without them. Which leaves me on my own. I have yet to work out where I will begin to look for my unicorn.

According to the 2016 Census, 30% of Melbourne’s population is aged over 50. There are approximately 239,000 males between the ages of 55 – 64 and 254,300 females. That’s not good. However, I’m open to dating a toy boy, which I believe only improves my chances. We shall see.

New Year Resolutions

I have been seriously slack. I have not written anything for this blog for weeks. It isn’t because I haven’t known what to write about. It isn’t that I haven’t had time.

It is because I have not been motivated.

So, what would motivate me now?

The date of course. It is the first day of the new year. The first of January 2018.

I’m not sure what it is but the first day of a new year seems to be the perfect time to be motivated again. In other words, it is the perfect time to make a resolution, to resolve to motivate myself even if I would rather curl up in front of reruns of Sex and the City with a glass of red and a slice of pizza.

Which brings me to my next resolution – to look after myself. So, no more pizza. Or not very often anyway. Red wine is still ok, but in moderation. 2018 will be my year for healthy food, yoga and meditation. Luckily, I enjoy cooking, I’m starting to get better at yoga and meditation is becoming easier.

And I will read more. Lots more. In different genres, genres and authors I wouldn’t necessarily read. I want to challenge myself more.

Writing. I must make sure I sit down to write for at least half an hour a day. Even if I write nothing more than this blog.

That’s it. There’s nothing in my resolutions I can’t manage. Nothing scary.

But what is it about the beginning of a new year which prompts us to make resolutions or start over again? It is just another day in a long line of days, another 24 hours in a year full of hours, most of which we don’t utilise. It can’t be the fireworks of the night before, or the countdown to midnight, if you can manage to stay up that late. I can’t explain it, but I know that the first day of a new year always fills me with promise and hope.

So, let’s see if I can keep my resolutions. By this time next year I hope to be healthier, fitter, well read and the writer of many words.

I found this quote by Edith Pierce, it sums up how I feel, “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

Anthology Launch – A New Beginning

Yesterday the Writing Group I belong to launched their first anthology and one of my stories is in it!

Women Who Write Melbourne is a wonderfully supportive group of over 600 women who are all interested in writing. We have a Facebook page where we can connect and discuss all aspects of writing, and we have regular meet-ups around Melbourne. Our Anthology, titled “A New Beginning”, is made up of short stories, memoir and poetry and was the culmination of many months of hard work by the committee, led expertly by Lee-Ann Hawe, the founder of the group.

Yesterday, together with friends and family, we gathered at Lulu’s Café and Gallery in North Melbourne, to celebrate the result of the hard work. There were plenty of compliments when the books were unveiled, they look fantastic. It wasn’t long before we sold out of copies! But those who missed out shouldn’t be unhappy as the digital version will be released soon.

There were speeches, readings, wine, food, chatter and laughter, but above all there was a sense of achievement. I for one am proud of all the women who contributed to, worked on and supported this anthology. I am proud to be a member of this group. We are proof that no matter how diverse we are, or the differences between us, we can all pull together for a successful outcome.

That’s me, signing copies of our anthology!

 

 

Grandchildren

I’m not sure there is anything more wonderful than holding a sleeping baby, especially when their fingers curl around the top of your shirt and they relax into the deepest of sleeps with a sigh. Unless it is the sudden rush of a toddler as he appears from nowhere and unexpectedly jumps into your arms, sending you rolling backward on the couch. There are always moments to cherish; the splashes at bath time, the food covered face, reading the same book twenty two times and then just one more, baby feet kicking your stomach, the six week old head butting you when you put him on your shoulder, the tears and tantrums, the cuddles, the baby smells, the kisses, I could go on and on.

I’ve been missing from blogging while I’ve been spending time with my adorable grandsons, one nearly two and the other six weeks old. The older one with so much energy and the younger with colicky pains, that by the end of each day all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and recover. Writing certainly took a backward role for the last twelve days. To be honest, it had no role at all.

I had never imagined the pure joy grandchildren would bring me. I was an impatient parent who was simply trying to survive. Now I can enjoy every minute I spend with my grandsons. Those small arms reaching up to you, asking to be lifted and held; that sudden grin; those chuckles; the grumpy look which turns into smiles with a story, and that’s just the toddler. I had to work hard for smiles from the six week old, but every one of them was precious, and his frowns were just as cute. I can’t wait till he is old enough to jump on me too.

It’s hard to leave them. Difficult to know they will have changed so much by the time I get to see them again, not until next year sometime. But I’m so happy I had this time with them making memories.

Phone down, but I’m not out

Bergen is a beautiful city, which I hope to visit again one day. Unfortunately, it will remain in my memory as the place where my phone crashed and I lost photos, videos and Apps.

I have a confession to make. Not only do I have a Windows phone, but I also love it. I realise it has disadvantages. I cannot access some of the Apps available to other phones, so I miss out on the Snapchats my family send to each other. But I can overlook that. I am comfortable with my phone. I know how to use it and, sometimes it even surprises me with an extra bit of functionality I hadn’t realised was there. My relationship with my Windows phone is a bit like that with my children. I know they all have shortcomings, but I love them regardless.

I am very rarely disappointed with my phone but in Bergen I got furious with it, threatening to replace it. In retrospect, it was probably my fault for not performing a hard reset when I upgraded to Windows 10. In my defence, that wasn’t clear in the instructions. Move forward several months, in a foreign country with no phone access and suddenly I can no longer contact anyone on WhatsApp as apparently there is no storage left on my phone. Why didn’t I have an SD card, you ask. I did, I say. However, although I made sure everything new was stored on the SD card and everything I could move to it was moved, I still ran out of storage.

Thankfully, I had also brought my Surface Pro with me, so off to Google I went. Most of the websites I found recommended performing a hard reset. Half of them suggested taking the SD card out first, which is exactly what I did. The hard reset fixed the storage issue, but the phone no longer recognised the SD card, even after performing another hard reset with the SD card in place. This was a problem as I had all my photos, videos and apps, including WhatsApp – my main communication source for this trip – on the SD card. All of it was lost.

What about OneDrive you ask? Some of my photos and videos were uploaded, but then, being slightly suspicious of saving things in the cloud, I changed the settings.

I searched everywhere for some sort of help which I didn’t have to pay for. Eventually I tweeted Microsoft help and they suggested I try the SD card in a different phone to see if it was still working. Unfortunately, none of my fellow travellers could help. I tried downloading WhatsApp and Viber again, but they require phone connections for SMS codes, so it is out of the question until I return to Australia and have my phone again.

Consequently, here I am on a train to Berlin, having managed to travel from Bergen to Amsterdam and stay there a few days, still alive, still well and still enjoying my trip despite the loss of communication capability. Instead of texting my fellow travellers with my whereabouts, in the mornings we arrange a time and place to meet for dinner. I still have Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Twitter – what more do I need?

And, despite my threats to find a replacement, I’m going to keep my Windows phone. After all, you can’t exchange your children if they disappoint you, can you?

Stress less, travel more

But what do you do when the travel stresses you? For a holiday which was meant to alleviate my stress, I’m feeling more stressed than when I left!

First our flight from Cologne to Riga was cancelled. When I requested a refund, they rescheduled our flight to leave from Munich. Which is great, unless you are staying in Bonn, approximately 557kms away from Munich. And the airline refused to change our flight to leave from Dusseldorf instead. So, we had to book our own flights from Dusseldorf to Munich and a hotel at the airport in Dusseldorf to get to Munich in time for the morning flight.

Then, when we arrived in Riga, my suitcase was split open along one of the seams. So, I had to buy a new suitcase. Given that we didn’t know Riga at all, we stopped at the first shopping centre we found and bought a suitcase from the only shop selling suitcases. It set me back $329 which I hadn’t counted on.

On with the journey, still looking forward to our Scandinavian adventure. Riga was beautiful, as was Helsinki and Stockholm. Each city was special in their own way, I’ll try to write about our trip in greater detail down the track.

From Stockholm, we flew to Tromsø in Northern Norway. We had a transit stop in Oslo. When we arrived in Tromsø, we discovered two of our suitcases, mine included, had been lost in transit, presumably at Oslo airport. The staff at Tromsø airport were decidedly unsympathetic. Thankfully, the staff at the Radisson Blu were as helpful as they could be. We checked in, the two of us without luggage did what we could to freshen up and we headed to the Tromsø Safari desk to find out about our Northern Lights tour that night. They told us it had been cancelled.

Now, I totally understand that weather conditions cannot be controlled and it would have been wrong of them to take us on a tour when they knew we would be unable to see the lights. But coming straight after lost luggage, I was distraught.

The next day, our luggage had arrived at the airport but apparently the staff there had to wait six hours after 11.30am to deliver it to us. When the lady at the front desk of the hotel told me this, I did burst into tears. She was fantastic. She organised the airport to put our suitcases in a taxi there and then. Even though I had to pay for the taxi, I was grateful to finally have clean clothes to change into and the use of my Natio products. Lesson learned – always pack a few things in your backpack just in case.

Up till this point, although being tired and slightly grumpy, I still felt in control of the situation and determined to enjoy the rest of our journey. Tromsø was fantastic. On our second night we went on a Northern Lights tour to a husky farm and managed to see the lights. Then off to Bergen, which is truly a beautiful place and one I hope to visit again.

Except it was in Bergen my phone crashed and I lost all my apps, my photos, videos and all connection to any means of contacting anyone except through Facebook messenger. But that’s a story for next week’s post.

Travel Writing

I admire the travel writer who can discipline themselves to write while they are travelling. Those whose very passion for a destination can enthuse complete strangers to visit it, in the hope of enjoying the same experiences. The likes of Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux come to mind, along with the iconic Geoff Dyer who always entertains. There are also myriads of travel blogs, many of which I read before I booked our current European adventure.

In the days leading up to our journey, I had high hopes of filling this blog with the sights and sounds of the many cities we are stopping at over our six week visit to Europe. All of my hopes have now faded into nonexistence.

The fact is there is too much to write about. Each city or town we visit is filled with sights, sounds, architecture, food and culture foreign to those we see every day in Australia. There is simply too much which is different, or beautiful, or amazing, a complete sensual overload which is difficult to process on the spot. Then, after two or three nights, we have moved on and the experiences overlay each other until I’m no longer certain of where I saw that magnificent building, or tasted the wonderful dish or saw the wonderful murals.

Of course, there are some sights I can never forget. The palace of Versailles, the cathedral at Cologne, Riga’s streets filled with incredible Art Nouveau buildings will stay with me forever. But a few cities down the track and, I’m ashamed to admit, I am loathe to see yet another church or palace. Instead I try to find different experiences. Here in Stockholm, I’m lucky enough to have both friends and cousins. Yesterday was pleasantly spent at lunch with friends in a part of Stockholm I would never have visited on my own. Tonight, we will have dinner with my cousins.

Tomorrow we leave again, this time away from the big cities, to northern Norway where we hope to see the northern lights. It will be cold, much colder than I have experienced for many years, probably wet and no doubt extremely beautiful. As far as I know, there are no churches or palaces to be seen. It promises to be a very different adventure, one which I am both looking forward to and dreading. You ask, why dreading? To put it simply, I am not the outdoors type. My idea of camping is lazing around a glittering pool at a 5-star resort. Therefore, chasing the northern lights in a mini bus through the countryside in the dead of night, without a bathroom in sight, causes me to feel slightly anxious.

On the bright side, it will be very different from any other experience so far and one which I am certain I can write about!

A Story Told

There is something special about listening to someone tell a story, especially if their story relates to their own experience.

Over the last five years I have spent a lot of time researching World War II from the German point of view, to try to understand my father’s experience of the war. I have read books and essays; watched documentaries and movies; and read personal accounts I have found on the internet. I have travelled to Germany a couple of times and traced my father’s footsteps, all in the name of researching the book I am currently rewriting.

But the first time I went to Germany, it was purely for pleasure and to meet my family. It was 1987 and the Berlin Wall was still standing. In order to reach Berlin, one had to cross East Germany, in my case by train. For someone who has been brought up in democracies, it was a huge culture shock to see patrols of policemen with machine guns striding through the train carriages, checking passports. What a difference the western zone of Berlin was! But forever in sight or in mind was that wall dividing the city and the country. Still, I fell in love with the city.

In 1989, together with the rest of the world, I watched the Berlin Wall being torn down.

Three years ago I revisited Berlin. This time I stayed in what had been the eastern zone. Again, I toured what remains of the Wall. Every time I see it I am reminded of the attempts so many people made to get to the West, so many lives lost, so many families destroyed. Yet, until last weekend at our family reunion, I had never realised the true impact on my own family. In fact, I never knew that some of my family had lived in the Soviet zone.

Last weekend Germany celebrated reunification. It is a big holiday, which is celebrated each year in a different German city. This year it just happened to be held in Mainz, where we also had the family reunion.

On our last night together, although many of our family had already left, the ones who were still there gathered for dinner and a last few shots of vodka. Suddenly, one of the family got up to speak. In German, and then in English, he told his story of the night the Berlin Wall came down. When he finished another family member stood up and told their story, then another and another. If they didn’t speak English, someone translated for them, so we could all share in the moment.

As I said at the beginning of this post, there is something special about listening to someone tell a story. That night, the stories we heard were extraordinary, poignant and still raw. They made real a time in history I only knew through movies, documentaries or the news. I will never forget those stories, or those who had the courage both to live them and to stand up and tell them.

Family

My father’s extended family is scattered around the world. Most of them are from Europe, but I can boast distant cousins in America, South Africa, England, Ireland and even Indonesia. Every two years a family reunion weekend is organised and held in different places throughout Europe, which is exactly why I am sitting cross legged on a hotel bed in Mainz tapping out this post on my laptop.

Fifty-five family members, from babies to retirees, have gathered in Mainz, Germany for this weekend. Originally around a hundred had indicated they were coming but, for various reasons, nearly half had to pull out. The weekend has been planned, the schedule circulated and each of us have been eager to catch up from the last time we attended, in my case four years ago. There have been tours of local churches, a cloister, a rose garden and the Rhein river. Each night there will be wine and food, no doubt a few vodka shots, and plenty of conversation and fun. Coincidentally, Mainz is also hosting festivities to celebrate the reunification of Germany.

But to me this extended family of mine means far more than a weekend gathering. Each member of the family is another connection to my past, a thread which joins me to my family’s history. And our histories, although similar in many ways, also differ. We all have stories to tell. In one way or another we, or our ancestors, have all been migrants. Some have been both migrant and refugee. Some have lived in two countries, some more. Some, like myself, have had parents from different countries and even cultures.

And as I search for stories of my father’s family, I have discovered I am not the only one interested in the past. I’m not the only one struggling with identity and belonging. Yet another thing which binds me to this family. Where I thought I was alone in wondering where I fit into this world, which country I could claim as my own, which heritage to identify with, there are others in my family who feel the same. In a strange way, this is comforting.

Those of us who wonder about identity and belonging might never get the answer we search for. But as one of my cousins put it, we can simply consider ourselves to be citizens of the world. And we will always be part of our family.