I’m sitting by the window in my bedroom, feeling the breeze and enjoying the blue skies and sunshine. Rain is forecast for most of the week, though we’ve been fortunate to have had a run of wonderful weather lately.
This Lockdown business doesn’t get any easier, does it?
The restrictions keep tightening — necessarily, in my view — and the days we’ve spent with the same people inside the same four walls keep increasing.
But the days are getting longer, too, and warmer. Yesterday Marvel Girl said she smelled a hint of summer in the air, and I suspect she was right.
Yesterday was a good day.
No working or schooling from home. No phonecalls. No Zoom.
We walked down to the netball courts near home, found a vacant hoop and played two on two for a while. Turns out that in addition to having a height advantage The Bloke and I still make a good team when it comes to ball sports. There was plenty of sledging and silliness and we laughed a lot while working up a sweat, then wandered home again.
Later in the evening, The Bloke pulled out the portable firepit we had planned to use on a camping holiday that got cancelled way back at the beginning of Lockdown. We gathered around it, filling it with dry sticks from the back yard and firewood from the servo down the road, and got a crackling blaze going. Soon we had salmon cooking over the flames, and then sat eating from plates laden with fish and salad and rice.
The moon rose, full and white, serene and wondrous.
We saw the International Space Station fly past.
We roasted marshmallows in the embers, ate popcorn and answered a steady stream of trivia questions from Miss Malaprop.
We played music: Christine and the Queens, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Wallflowers, Flight Facilities, Quincy Jones.
And then we tumbled into bed — tired, smoky and happy.
I knew surrendering to the doona on Sunday afternoon was a mistake. Naturally, every last one of the weather gods took note of my devil may care attitude to the sunny weather they had provided, and proceeded to drench the Northern Beaches in several of days of rain. Admittedly, there was a splash of variety to said rain: it was either steady and incessant, or squally and hitting when you least expected it, but the fact remains that it was still rain. On the one occasion I actually left the house (for 2 of the 4 allowable reasons under the current stay at home orders), I even drove through pouring rain in bright sunlight…which is a seriously weird experience even when one is not in Lockdown.
Anyway, after a shaky start (replete with yelling from all sides), both of my children appear to have adapted to this new regime reasonably well — which is rather a relief, given The Bloke and I are both working from home in finance-related jobs and Lockdown has conincided with EOFY. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have been keeping each other admirably entertained, including boisterous exercise sessions outside and plenty of creative pursuits inside, and have sometimes even remembering to clean up after themselves. Needless to say, I have issued an open invitation to all family members to empty the dishwasher whenever they find it full of shiny, clean crockery and cutlery, but sadly so far only The Bloke has taken me up on this salacious offer. OK…it’s not even remotely salacious, it’s just flipping necessary…
Miss Malaprop and I have indulged in a spot of Lockdown Baking — no, not sourdough — which is hardly surprising as we are both rather fond of bunging things in the oven and being able to eat them in the not too distant future. Spotting a claw of increasingly blackened bananas darkening the kitchen fruit bowl, we made Banana Bread. Not just ANY garden variety banana bread, but Yotam Ottolenghi’s Banana Bread featuring roasted pecans, if you don’t mind, which is why this particular baked offering requires the use of Capitals…so la dee dah..
Recalling her recent online shopping for new jeans, the Thrifty Fictionista has resolved not to bake too much during Lockdown, lest she find herself unable to fit into said jeans, which are yet to wend their way to my doorstop. That has not, however, stopped her from ummm… well, from ordering…a few, no…a largish pile, let’s see… shall we say “several other” things online? They’ve all been necessary purchases, of course, like a lovely tartan woollen blanket. And an iPad case. And two sweatshirts. And the Nespresso pods that are due to arrive this afternoon. You cannot seriously expect me to endure Lockdown with coffee, can you?! Besides, it’s not like I’m rushing to the nearest supermarket to panic buy toilet paper…
So far, despite adding many things to cart when I probably should have said, nay shouted at the top of my lungs: “NO! Begone, tempting online shopping demons of the Interwebs!“, the Thrifty Fictionista is rather proud of herself for not purchasing any more books — with the (exceedingly) permissible exception of some small tomes she sent to New Zealand for a friend’s upcoming birthday. Resisting the seductive siren song of Booktopia and the Book Grocer and all those other sublime online book retailers has not been easy, but I am pleased to announce that managed to apply myself and diligently finished the Nureyev biography (which I struggled to complete, simply because I knew it would have to end inevitably with his demise and that’s not the cheeriest subject matter to confront while unable to freely leave your house for the foreseeable future).
Next, however, the Thrifty Fictionista took her own advice and cracked open the very beautiful (hardbacked and bookmark ribboned) Hilary Mantel box set I had been waiting to devour. Quite honestly, I am relishing every single moment I am spending with Thomas Cromwell in Tudor England.
Right from the opening line of Wolf Hall, the first book, I was entranced all over again:
So now get up…
It’s not such a bad suggestion, and one I probably should have heeded last Sunday instead of allowing the doona to welcome me as its own.
So now get up…
It really did remind me that Lockdown doesn’t have to be all bad. It doesn’t have to mean forgetting to shower on a regular basis, or spending days in your pj’s because you can’t be bothered getting dressed, or lamenting the fact that you can’t do anything.
Because there’s always something to do, somewhere, if you’re willing to look for it.
Folks, I’m still in lockdown as I write this, but am hoping against hope that restrictions will ease tomorrow and we will finally be able to escape the Northern Beaches for the first time since 19 December 2020.
Not surprisingly, escape seems to have been the theme of much of what I consumed on screen in 2020. In my view, desperate times call for comedy, for fantasy, and for distraction – and that’s just what I went for last year. So yes: I watched things like Space Force and allowed my children to binge way too many episodes of Brooklyn 99. But I also needed things to be real, so I devoured (along with most of the TV watching population of the planet) The Last Dance, and also took in Cheer and My Octopus Teacher and other documentaries – even Operation Odessa, from which I am still recovering.
Most of all, now that I reflect on it more deeply, I think much of what I really enjoyed on screen in 2020 revolved loosely around notion of “family” – which, as we all know, is much more about what you make it rather than what you’re born into. I’m very fortunate 2020 brought me closer to my own family than ever before.
So here, in no particular order, is Blue Jai’s Top 5 on Screen for 2020:
The Mandalorian, Season 2 (Disney+)
Can we all just take a minute to acknowledge the genius and greatness of Jon Favreau? The Mandalorian has clearly been such a labour of love for him – and in my view he has triumphed, successfully tying together so many disparate threads from the Star Wars universe, as well creating a thoroughly entertaining series populated with fantastic characters. Our family has loved hanging out together taking in the eight episodes of Season Two, delighting in the developing bond between the Mando and Baby Yoda, watching awesome warrior women like Cara Dune and Fennec Shand kick butt alongside Boba Fett, and screaming with excitement when we finally saw Ahsoka Tano appear on the screen for the first time (as a live action figure, obviously – she was probably the best thing about Star Wars: Clone Wars). And the blockbuster final episode? I want to talk about it so much! But also don’t want to spoil it for anyone…it’s that good.
The Mandalorian has brought us joy in a year tainted by so much…other stuff, and I’m so grateful that the Space Western genre is not only alive and well (complete with masterful musical contributions from Ludwig Göransson), but is thriving in the eminently capable hands of Jon Favreau and his team.
Other than The Mandalorian, I don’t think anything on screen in 2020 has been obsessed over as much by me and my family – especially Marvel Girl – as Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers a virtuoso performance as creator, producer and star of this incredibly successful musical. I have lost count of the number of times we’ve watched it or listened to the soundtrack, and lines from the show seem to sneak into our everyday parlance with astounding regularity. The libretto is astonishing – as is Daveed Diggs, but that is a whole other story. Watching this masterwork prompted me to post a note on my kitchen wall reminding me (and the other people who live here): You have as many hours in the day as Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The Bureau, Seasons 1-5 (SBS On Demand)
Let’s change it up a bit, shall we? Once the world (well, my world) became a bit less tense in 2020, I was able to take in content that was more suspenseful. By this I mean that I binged five entire seasons of the brilliant French production The Bureau and loved every minute of it. This spy drama has it all – a superb cast, great characters, gripping plotlines, realistic engagement with current events, the works. You will probably recognise Mathieu Kassovitz, who plays main protagonist, Guillaume Debailly alias Paul Lefebvre alias Malotru, from the cult classic movie Amelie. Here, however, Kassovitz portrays a deep cover agent for the DGSE who is unable to let go of a former love when he is unexpectedly recalled to Paris, setting off a chain of events which have repercussions for him, his lover (played by the luminous Zineb Triki), his daughter, his colleagues, and many others. I sincerely hope Season 6 is in the works – I’d watch it in a heartbeat.
A Suitable Boy(Netflix Series)
I watched a number of shows with a subcontinental theme this year, including Never Have I Ever (which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially since it is narrated by John McEnroe and also features one episode narrated by Andy Samberg) and Indian Matchmaker (which I found hilarious and heartbreaking all the same time). But in the latter part of the year I was delighted to discover something Indian with which I was far more familiar: A Suitable Boy.
I have a rather large soft spot for A Suitable Boy, not least because I had the privilege of meeting Vikram Seth, who wrote the book upon which this show is based, when I was seventeen. It was the first time I’d met a famous published author, and my copy of A Suitable Boy, which he generously inscribed for me, remains a treasured possession – even though The Bloke jokes that it could double as a door stop, such is its size.
The Netflix television adaptation of A Suitable Boy necessarily leaves out some of the incredible detail which characterises Seth’s book, but it remains full of colour and life and tackles the personal and the political in greater depth that I had imagined it would. At its core it’s a love story, but it is so much more besides. Tanya Maniktala does a great job as Lata Mehra, the main character, but for my money Tabu nearly steals the show as Saeeda Bai. This six part series is well worth watching.
The Queen’s Gambit(Netflix Series)
I was tossing up a number of options for my fifth choice, but TheQueen’s Gambit managed to pip several other contenders at the post because of its polish. The production values of this Netflix show (another screen adaptation of a novel, this time by Walter Tevis) are consistently high, and the attention to detail is second to none. I have next to no interest in chess, but this series kept me hooked – probably in part because of the attention to detail paid to the fashion, décor and music of the time in which the series is set. Add to this Anya Taylor-Joy’s mesmerising turn as Beth Harmon, and throw in the ‘chess family’ she ends up with, and I was left well satisfied.
Under the category of Highly Commended for 2020 I would have to include:
Umbrella Academy Seasons 1 & 2 (Netflix) – more escapism and quirky takes on “family”, not to mention the zany brilliance of Robert Sheehan as Klaus;
Douglas(Netflix) – Hannah Gadby’s masterful follow up to Nanette, in which she tells you exactly what she’s going to do to you and you still laugh as she does precisely what she told you she would;
The Highwaymen(2019 Netflix Film) – in which Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner take on Bonnie and Clyde (I particularly love the way this movie was shot, without showing the faces of Bonnie and Clyde until they are finally ambushed);
Freeman(ABC iView) – introducing Cathy Freeman’s historic gold medal win at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games to my children was a more emotional experience than I ever expected.
That’s a wrap of Blue Jai’s Top 5 On Screen for 2020 – stay tuned for the next episode, in which my trusty alter ego, the Thrifty Fictionista, tackles Blue Jai’s Top 5 Books.
Folks, it’s been a veritable age since the Thrifty Fictionista had the urge to raise her head from whatever book she has currently fallen into and poke her nose into cyberspace. Not surprisingly, it has taken a truly momentous event to encourage her return, and that fabled occurrence happened to be the delivery of a huge box of books (twenty, to be exact) for a truly bargain price (precisely $100, including shipping).
A treasure trove of volumes! Heaven in a box!
As an aside, and before I go any further, please allow me categorically state that this post is in no way sponsored by the suppliers of said heaven-filled box, but it must also be stated that the unfathomable joy of having that many books delivered for such a bargain price has stayed with the Thrifty Fictionista for several months now (given she received it in September).
Every time I want something to read, my now burgeoning bookshelves have something for every occasion. The box included a beautiful hardcover cookbook, a couple of political biographies, an actress’ memoirs, a book on girls and the outdoors (immediately nabbed by Marvel Girl and never seen since), a gorgeous volume of short stories with an invitingly textured dust jacket, several volumes of historical non-fiction, and even a couple of books about women in business.
In all honesty, there were only a couple of books in the box that failed to interest me, but at the ridiculously low price point I was not worried by that at all. I was able to review the contents prior to ordering, and my bargain-loving nature has been well satisfied by the vast majority of the contents. I am set for a summer of reading all sorts of things I would not normally have picked up under ordinary circumstances (which may or may not entail wandering with a slightly glazed expression around bookshops while mentally calculating my current level of credit card debt).
And now, on this Black Friday (which Australian retailers appear to have embraced with perplexing alacrity, despite the notable absence of pilgrims in the First Fleet and – more troublingly – of any concept of collaborating with this country’s original inhabitants that would warrant us celebrating Thanksgiving), the same book seller from which I procured my magical carton is offering not twenty, but FORTY books for $100.
Be still, my beating heart!
Or, perhaps more accurately: gird yourself, my slightly melted-around-the-edges-from-overuse credit card...
Oh yes, folks. The Thrify Ficitionista has definitely returned…will she be able to resist?
Weatherwise, it’s a miserable day here in Sydneytown. Southerly squalls started gusting before dawn, and when the rain hasn’t been slamming us sideways, the sun has straggled out to show ragged strips of grey cloud racing their way north.
After hearing the mere mention of the words “East Coast Low”, I am glad that I officially proclaimed today “Trackie Dack Tuesday” — we have dressed accordingly and hunkered down indoors for the day, listening to Sigur Rós, playing Scrabble, baking cookies and cutting out sewing patterns. We are all a little sad plans for netball training this evening have been ditched, but at least the cancellation means we don’t have to change out of our aforementioned (super daggy) attire. Besides, being at home for the day has given me the opportunity to reflect on what has been happening lately and pinpoint the moments of delight that have captured me since winter began.
Without further ado, here are four highlights from our winter (such as it usually is) so far:
Ahh…what a wonderful word: precise, perfect, and something I cherish. Apricity means “the warmth of the sun in winter”, and I am particularly fond of seeking it out — especially on days when the blue sky stretches high but the temperature drops deceptively low. Recently I have been struck by my appreciation of apricity when chatting with my elderly neighbour over the back fence, shooting goals with my family down at the local neball courts, and curling up with a good book on the lounge beside my beloved cat. Apricity is a true winter delight (and one most felines can point you in the direction of, if you care to follow their lead…which in my view constitutes another reason to join the Cat Race). Besides, in winter a decent dose of Vitamin D is good for you.
Phosphorescenceby Julia Baird
The good book I was curled up in the sun with? Well, when I wasn’t on a fiction bender reading all eight of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass books (because it’s school holidays and who actually needs an excuse to escape into a book anyway), I was completely and utterly caught up in Julia Baird’s latest offering. It’s full title is Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and the things that sustain you when the world goes dark, and it is absolutely worth getting your hands on a copy — not just because the cover is truly a thing of beauty. While I was reading it, this book made me think deeply about Baird’s many and varied insights, and after finishing it several weeks ago I am still pondering her observations, recalling certain turns of phrase, and picking up the book to delve into certain sections again.
Is there anything more satisfying than biting into a freshly made chocolate croissant? Particularly when in it is a perfect ensemble of crisp, flaky, buttery pastry and decadently high quality dark chocolate? Do I even need to begin justifying including this as a delight? I think not…and I am abundantly grateful to have a magical patisserie not far from home where these masterpieces are made every single day. Nom.
What a wonderful coincidence, that Disney Plus released the film version of Hamilton the very same evening the NSW winter school holidays began! For me, the fact that this already marvellous confluence of events also happened to line up with Marvel Girl receiving news that she had been accepted into the high school she was aiming for made it all the more magical. Marvel Girl and I are big Hamilton fans and even bigger devotees of the insanely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, so settling in to watch this massively ambitious piece of musical theatre was an absolute, unmitigated delight. We relished and rejoiced in every rhyme, and since then even Miss Malaprop has been known to sing out a line or two…especially if it allows her render a completely lifelike Jonathan Groff impression to send a fully armed battalion to remind [us] of [her] love!
Like many of you all around this wonderful world, I’m stuck at home riding out this awful COVID-19 pandemic. One would think it was an entirely delightful thing for an introvert like me to be stuck in the house, and that I would be completely au fait with such arrangements given I happily work from home three days a week. When my usual routine has been combined with (or has, more accurately, collided with) home schooling, however, I am finding that I am yearning for time ALONE rather than time AT HOME.
Even so, there are still moments of delight in these self-isolated times, little gems that have kept me going as my dear children have driven me slowly but surely around the twist. It’s true that we’ve had a lot of laughs, including when Marvel Girl decided to christen me “Catnip Everdeen” when I volunteered to run the grocery shop gauntlet and our list included cat food and litter. I also had a life-changing moment of glory when I managed to find not one, but two display books to keep the kids’ many home school materials separated and corralled.
Looking back, there have been several things that I have found truly delightful in the past couple of weeks, and I share them in the hope that you find some in your own self-isolated exile.
Our Tibouchina Tree
In the corner of our back yard stands a Tibouchina tree. Most of the year it is an ordinary, stock standard tree — you know: green leaves, brown trunk, sometimes bits fall off it, other times there are birds in it. But every year in February and March, the Tibouchina tree transforms itself into something truly resplendent, crowned with beautiful purple flowers. Every year it brings a smile to my face — and this year, believe me, it felt extra special.
I never thought I would live in an era when hoarding groceries became a Thing. The silver lining to this unexpected (and more than likely unethical) behaviour, however, is that when I found a four pack of paper towel on the supermarket shelf while doing my aforementioned Catnip Everdeen impression, I felt like I had won Olympic Gold.
I might have even sent my mother a picture of it…
Yep, you read that right. Passionfruit. On another of my early morning Catnip Everdeen runs (and believe me, I do them far less frequently than this post is seeming to indicate), I found a whole pile of passionfruit: large, plump and — most importantly — heavy.
I bought six.
Three of us have eaten one so far.
We are all in agreement — passionfruit this good is an unmitigated tropical delight.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
It’s no secret Australians are completely, perhaps catastrophically sports mad, and the fact that Coronavirus made its unwelcome appearance in our country just as winter sports seasons were kicking off could be described as…unfortunate? No, let’s be honest, here: it’s been devastating — particularly for Miss Malaprop, who worked super hard to make the A Grade team in our local netball competition, only to have the season scrapped before it started. At least I was able to tell her all the professional sportspeople have been affected, too. The Sydney Swifts won’t be playing either. The Olympics have been postponed. The Melbourne Grand Prix was cancelled…
And that’s when I remembered seeing something about car racing popping up in my Netflix home screen — Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Needless to say, in the absence of any other televised sport, I am devouring it. The ups and downs of Formula 1 racing are so far removed from my daily grind the show is providing me with much needed mental relief. I get so caught up in watching it I don’t think about anything else — and that, at the moment, constitutes pure delight.
Ten Thousand Views
Another moment of delight also came via screen this week…by the very screen I’m watching these words appear on as I type. This, my little blog, the patch of cyberspace I escape to every now and then to make sense of this crazy old world, ticked over 10,000 views — and this Daydream Believer was delighted.
I honestly never expected for anyone to really read this — but apparently more than 7,000 of you out there decided to prove me wrong, and some of them obviously came back for more. It’s times like these I feel most grateful for the opportunity to write, and they take me back to a post I wrote some years ago called The Wellspring, which is as close as I have ever come to writing a manifesto describing what this blog is about. It also reminded me of how I have often used this space to try to make sense of things that confront me (like restlessness), or confound me (like the treatment of refugees), and comfort me (like reading cookbooks, of all things).
I also want to say thank you for being one of those ten thousand views…whoever, wherever you are.
Here comes the second instalment of my Top Five’s for 2019 — movies and television. I should probably preface this by saying that for me, any time I’m sitting in front of a screen without a keyboard is a form of escapism, so I’m not too likely to be using much grey matter when I’m watching. It’s all about being entertained!
So, without further ado, here (in no particular order) are my Top Five great escapes on screen for the 2019.
1. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Now, this one was always going to be on here. It seems like only yesterday that I was wondering whether my kids might be ready to watch the Star Wars movies, and since then they have devoured everything in the universe currently available (though they might not be quite up to date with the most recent episodes of The Mandalorian).
We saw this movie as a family (which always makes it more special) and we all, unequivocally, loved it. After all, outer space could possibly be the greatest escape of all. On a side note, Miss Malaprop was also properly impressed I accurately picked Rey’s parentage within the first ten minutes…
2. Captain Marvel
As a mother of two girls, strong female role models are always high on my lookout list when it comes to movies — Rey in The Rise of Skywalker being a case in point. And while it might seem like completely hyperbolic overload to include two massive blockbusters in this year’s Top Five, I simply could not relegate Captain Marvel to the Highly Commended section.
Ironically, part of what made this movie special for me was that I saw it in Hobart with The Bloke when we’d absconded from Sydney without our two (mostly) cherubic offspring for a long weekend in Tasmania. I will always love the Marvel Universe, and I thoroughly enjoyed Captain Marvel from start to finish — and I was, of course, totally entertained by Goose the Cat/Flerken. Winning.
3. Patrick Melrose
Thought you might need a change of pace…
This TV series was one I would describe as an emotional onslaught of epic proportions. How Benedict Cumberbatch pulled off playing the titualr role so brilliantly — being, as he is, in virtually every scene of the entire production — I will never know. Hugo Weaving’s performance as Patrick’s father is also devastatingly good.
It was difficult to watch Patrick’s life unravel, particularly as the audience is given increasing insight into the unmitigating awfulness of his childhood. What makes it even harder to watch is knowing that the series is based on the semi-autobiograpical novels of Edward St Aubyn. That Patrick persists (for the most part) and attempts to overcome the trauma of his past and the addictions of his present transforms Patrick Melrose into compelling viewing.
The final episode also delivered one of my favourite exchanges of dialogue for the year:
Patrick Melrose: I’ve decided I’m bored of ghosts. I want to see people instead.
Mary Melrose: Oh, I see. OK.
Patrick Melrose: Or is it too late to change my mind?
Mary Melrose: Not at all. After all, that’s what it’s for.
It’s not always comfortable viewing, but well worth the effort.
4. The Crown, Series 3
I, like many others, was loathe to see Claire Foy, Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby relinquish their roles in the newest series of The Crown, but my fears were unfounded. Olivia Colman is brilliant as Her Maj, and Tobias Menzies (once I had got past seeing him as Black Jack Randall) was equally good as Prince Philip. I was less sure about Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, but she does cut a suitably tragic figure.
The inclusion of Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten was a stroke of genius (though it could reasonably be said that the inclusion of Charles Dance in just about anything amounts to a stroke of genius), and I was delighted by the performance of Erin Doherty as Princess Anne — particularly the scene where she sings along to David Bowie’s Starman without losing a modicum of her stiff upper lip.
We all know what’s going to happen in The Crown — let’s face it, it’s recent modern history, so you’d have to have been living under a rock not to — but I was drawn to the way certain key events were portrayed, humanising both the happenings and the Royal Family themselves. I can’t wait for the next series. Not to mention the costumes…
5. Killing Eve, Series 1 and 2
OK, OK…so I was late to the party on this one — but how good is Killing Eve?!
Sandra Oh excels as Eve Polastri, and Jodie Comer turns being the villanous Villanelle into a fine art. Never has being a psychopathic assassin looked so good — or so fashionable — not to mention sounded so incredible (thanks to Comer’s brilliant range of accents).
That this show also features Danish actor Kim Bodnia (who I first encountered in The Bridge) as Villanelle’s handler was an extra treat for me. Bring on Season Three — waiting is so boring!
I watched a bunch of other stuff during the year, including a French show called Chefs which kept me entertained, and (thanks to my kids) more episodes of Nailed It than I would care to recall, and fell asleep during almost every instalment I tried to watch of The Witcher — which probably had more to do with the time of year than with Henry Cavill, and I am resolving to do better in the future.
But I can’t think of anything else that really stood out for me in 2019. No doubt I will as soon as I hit the publish button…but no matter.
Don’t change the channel — next up I’m talking best books of the year.
Two nights ago, the girls and I had three chapters plus the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left to read. Last night, we simply couldn’t stop — could anyone have stopped, I ask you? — and I kept reading aloud, and drinking peppermint tea, and reading aloud some more until the book was finished.
And now, quite understandably, we are feeling a little bereft.
It seems like only a month or so ago that we started reading Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, embarking on our J K Rowling odyssey. In reality, it was several years ago, and we even had a considerable hiatus between books four and five to allow our (very visual and emotionally sensitive) Miss Malaprop to be sufficiently old enough to cope with the content without having nightmares.
There have been so many laughs along the way, as well as tears, as Harry Potter and his friends have woven themselves in the fabric of our existence. Whenever any of us has to read something less interesting or onerous, we trick ourselves into persevering by inserting the words “Harry Potter and the…“ before the title. Recent examples of works made far more palatable by this process have been Harry Potter and the Land Tax Exemption for Land Used and Occupied Primarily for Low Cost Accommodation, and Harry Potter and the Effects of a One Year Development Programme for Recently Graduated Veterinary Professionals on Personal and Job Resources, and the truly inspiring Harry Potter and the Australian Privacy Principles.
See? Every so much more fascinating once you add in a dose of Harry. A little magic goes a long way in such cases.
Both my children have the words Nox and Lumos on their bedroom light switches. Both have Hogwarts robes, Gryffindor for Marvel Girl and Slytherin for her sister, in their wardrobes. All three of us have our wands, which chose us (of course) at Ollivanders, and mine (since I am a Ravenclaw) sits beside my laptop, ready for use at any time. I even have my Hogwarts letter, apparently redirected many times over until it finally arrived, courtesy of a dear friend and a then much smaller “owl” who flew it to my doorstep on my 40th birthday.
All of these things are treasured.
The world is not a smaller place now that we have finished reading the books. Rather, each of our universes has expanded to include the realms of possibility, of imagination, and of magic. We are all more conscious, every day, of the saving power of love.
And it was hard last night, really hard, not to tear up when reading the final portion of the seventh and final book in the series to my children, particularly when I read these words:
Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.
How fortunate are we, to have the benefit of these so-called children’s tales, and to know their power really is beyond the reach of any magic.
And so we will embark on new adventures, in search of new tales, perhaps with Sparrowhawk as he wends his way from the Isle of Gont towards becoming an Archmage, or with Zaphod Beeblebrox tripping through the galaxy, or perhaps we will stay closer to home, roaming the streets of colonial Sydneytown with Beattie Bow, or dancing in the Anzac Deli with Mareka Nikakis.
Yet I know, deep down, that in years to come my children will more than likely read the Harry Potter books to their children, and will love them just as much then as they do now.
Nothing makes me happier than hearing my children say these words — particularly when we’ve just spent the school holidays, in their entirety, at home.
I mean, we have left the house every now and then, because good old Sydneytown has turned on a run of truly spectacular winter days. It’s wonderfully warm in the sun, and even though it’s been windy the skies have been mostly clear of clouds. Staring skyward has been like looking up at a shimmering swathe of pale blue silk, stretching high into the heavens.
But the best bit has been the freedom.
For me, there is nothing more liberating than turning off all the alarms on my phone, knowing that we are — blissfully — not bound by routine for two whole weeks.
Being winter, we have slept in, relishing being able to get up with the sun at seven rather than scurrying out of bed in the dark. Even better, there have been days when we have stayed snug beneath our bedcovers, reading books or revelling in the very real pleasure of not having to be anywhere at a specific time.
We have enjoyed other simple things, too. We have walked in the winter sun, sometimes with a destination in mind and other times just because we can. We have watched Captain Marvel and endless episodes of The Adventures of Merlin, reminding ourselves that magic should be part of everyday life. We have planted flowers to brighten the back yard. We have played board games and card games while sipping hot chocolate and even hotter coffee. We have baked more muffins than it’s sensible for humans to consume.
From time to time I have marvelled at my children’s creativity, partciularly when they took it upon themselves to transform a large cardboard box into a Viking longboat in the back yard. I have smiled to myself in wry amusement when they protested having to scrub paint out of their pants when their artistic endeavours haven’t gone entirely to plan. I have admired their generosity when they have gone through old books and clothes and toys and worked out what they wanted to pass on to other kids.
And in the evenings, when the winter darkness falls so fast, we have heated our home by making stews and coming up with new spice blends to season homemade chicken nuggets, all while listening to Miles Davis and other jazz greats, or The Bad Plus working their own kind of wonder with instrumental versions of long-beloved songs like No Woman, No Cry. I’ve probably drunk more wine than I meant to, stirring pots on the stovetop and peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips to bake, not because the kids are driving me crazy, but because I am relaxed and happy — and because these are my holidays, too.
We’ve had the best time.
And I have, too.
…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
I have been saying NO to my children for a very long time.
Despite my best efforts to be a mother who phrases things positively, explaining what I want them to do rather than what I would like them to stop doing, there has been one small, though significant thing I have been saying no to repeatedly — pretty much ever since they learned how to walk and talk.
No, we are NOT getting a pet.
No, not a cat.
No, not a dog either.
No, not even a fish.
And it’s not like I haven’t had good reasons for saying no. In fact, both my girls can quote you, chapter and verse, the many and detailed reasons I have provided to them over the past nine years (since our last pet passed on) why we would not be getting a replacement four legged friend any time soon.
There have even been occasions — usually when they have been particularly persistent in their pestering for a pet of their own — when I felt tempted to start spounting the lines from Labyrinth Sarah uses to defeat the Goblin King. Go on, I would think to myself, try me: “My will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great…YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME!”
But the thing is, as it turned out that one small creature DID have power over me.
During the Easter holidays, I softened my hardline just a smidge: I finally relented and informed the girls that they would be allowed to get a small tank and some fish. They would need to be in charge of cleaning the aquarium, feeding and caring for their new finned friends. They also needed to work out how much everything would cost and stick to a budget when making their initial purchases — gravel, tank decorations, the fish themselves, the works.
And then, while we were at the pet store, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop just happened to venture down to the far end of the shop to a couple of cages containing animals who were up for adoption. They might even have “borrowed” my phone to take pictures of said creatures…or, more accurately, of one in particular.
We went home, set up the tank, washed the gravel, positioned all the plants and the hula hut decoration, got the filter and lights going and and began treating the water so it was ready for fish.
Later that night, once the kids were in bed, I found a series of photographs on my phone. They weren’t great pictures, because many of them had the bars of a cage featuring prominently in the foreground. But beyond the bars was a small, furry feline with tabby/tortishell markings, spectacular whiskers, beautiful eyes and an elegant tail that resembled a plume.
She was one year old. Desexed, microchipped, vaccinated. And she was a stray.
Next morning, I woke up well before the kids. Without even meaning to, or realising what I was doing, I picked up my phone off my bedside table and began scrolling through the images of the small, furry creature who was most definitely not a fish.
The Bloke rolled over, wondering what on earth had possessed me to start checking my phone at 5:00am.
Ah, he said. I thought this might happen. I saw her too.
So, as it turns out, we returned to the pet store that day and came home not with fish, but with a small and ever so delightful cat we have named Tauriel.
And since we got her — or since I said YES — I have made some interesting discoveries.
I have yelled less. We have all been calmer, and made an effort to get along with each other better. We have tried to make Tauriel feel at home, and she was rewarded us with her madcap toy mouse-capades and her speed scampering up and down the hallway, with purrs and playful bites and with the joy only an animal can bring.
The many and varied reasons why we should not have got a four-legged friend remain, and will continue to do so, but after eight or nine years of saying NO, Tauriel appeared at precisely the right time for me to change my formerly made-up mind.
A rescue cat, is Tauriel. And even though we may have rescued her from an uncertain future, I suspect we all feel she has rescued us, too, and that we are as lucky to have her as she is to have us.
And the fish? Well…we finally got them too — and Tauriel takes great delight in watching Mahalo, Taco, Nacho and Mrs Norris swimming around in their tank. So do we.