The Delights of Spring

SPRING! The word itself is a delight, and I happen to think Southern Hemisphere Spring is particularly magical.

I haven’t written about my quest for the delightful since midwinter, and have been more preoccupied by the progress of the pandemic and by The Professor’s dementia that I would like to be, so the delights of spring have been a welcome and much needed distraction.

Springtime, here in old Sydneytown, begins at the same time as the final school term of the year and the onset of Eastern Daylight Saving Time. While seasonally spring may be about new beginnings, for Sydneysiders it signals the beginning of the year’s denouement, when we start enjoying warmer weather and longer, increasingly golden evenings.

The end of the year is in sight, and I suspect many of us are keen to see the back of 2020. What a year! Though, on reflection, I could never in my wildest imaginings have known what a strange and eventful year this would be to take note of the delightful I encounter in the everyday — if I only look for it and recognise it for what it is.

So here, in no particular order, are some of the things I have found most delightful this Spring:

Spring Flowers and Fresh Herbs

For Christmas some years ago, The Bloke and the kids decided to present me with a raised garden bed. After it was assembled in the back yard, the following month they arranged a delivery for my birthday: several cubic metres of top quality soil. Not the sort of thing you can easily gift wrap, but greatly appreciated and loved ever since…until this year.

This year I had such great intentions, during lockdown in particular, of getting outside and fixing up the yard. My raised garden bed was looking decidedly bedraggled, particularly since a bunch of baby tomatoes (and other less desirable plant species) had decided to self-seed and subsequently launched a bid for world domination.

Humble new beginnings…it looks much better now…

Finally, a few weeks ago, I found a moment to show those baby tomatoes and assorted weeds who was boss. I removed the netting that had been possum-proofing the garden bed since forever, and I ripped everything out.

YASSSSS!

What a breathtakingly cathartic experience — and one I can highly recommend as a delight! But was what was even more delightful was replanting the raised bed with loads of spring flowers and verdant herbs, and watching each plant blossom and grow. I have relished being able to use herbs straight from the back yard when I cook, and have enjoyed the surprise of seeing colours emerge and change as different flowers bloom.

My Octopus Teacher

I think just about everyone I know who has seen this film has raved about it, but for me the true delight came in watching it with my children. The cinematography — particularly the underwater sequences — is utterly breathtaking, and they were both captivated.

Witnessing the bond between man and octopus was astonishing, especially since (as coastal dwellers) we’ve had to drum it into our kids never to touch any octopus they find in case it’s of the blue-ringed variety. The beautiful but highly poisonous Hapalochlaena is a regular visitor to tidal rockpools near our house, and a single blue-ringed octopus carries enough venom to kill 26 people in minutes, so seeing a human interacting with an octopus in such a carefree manner was quite extraordinary — even if it did come with a deadly serious and timely “don’t try this near home” reminder for the kids.

What I found most delightful about the movie was that it immersed me in a world completely different from the one I inhabit, offering me a window into what it’s like to live below, rather than above, the ocean surface. Clearly Craig Foster has some crazy free diving skills — but it’s his talent with an underwater camera that filled me with wonder and awe.

Free Books

Now this is a delight I would welcome at ANY time, but was one I was extra grateful to receive just before the school holidays. A while back I received an email from a large book retailer, offering me advance copies of a couple of new books. I clicked on the link, not thinking I’d end up with anything in return, and was utterly amazed when a package turned up on my doorstep a couple of weeks later with proof copies of two novels for me to read. Needless to say I’ve already devoured them both, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more of those email gems hitting my inbox!

The Light

There is something about the quality of the light at this time of year that makes my soul sing. I think I summed it up best when I wrote this post five years ago…though reading all my references to Jazz Festivals and NRL Grand Finals makes me realise just how precious delights are in these crazy times.

So that’s it for now folks — just a few of the gems I’ve noticed as Sydneytown greets the Spring. I’d love to hear what is delightful in your part of the world at this time of year…

À bientôt, BJx

Meet Me in the Middle of the Air

Early this morning I went for a walk down to the beach. The sun had just risen, but the air was still cool and the sky overcast. It was quiet, save for the distinctive calls of whip birds hiding in trees on the path by the lagoon and the hiss of the not yet visible surf.

Then, rumbling out of the clouds, came a huge passenger plane. It loomed above me, a rare sight in these even rarer times, and I was suddenly overcome with emotion.

For born and bred Sydneysider, there is no experience quite like flying into this city, especially if you have been away from it for a long period of time. I’ve waxed lyrical about my hometown before, but this morning, seeing that plane full of people returning home in the midst of these troubled times brought me undone.

If you’re flying into Sydney from afar (and let’s face it, the vast majority of places are far away from the Great Southern Land), you’ve probably been strapped into a seat for the better part of fourteen hours or more. But chances are, given the way this beautiful blue planet turns, you’ll be arriving here as a new day dawns.

For me, the sense of anticipation that builds as the sky lightens and the coastline appears is incomparable. As each familiar beach and headland becomes clearer I feel a genuine buzz of excitement, regardless of where I am returning from.

From the air, Sydney Harbour opens its arms before you, stretching its fingers far inland, into every nook and cranny of foreshore crammed with houses and flats and parks and trees. In the midst of it all, the Harbour Bridge arches gracefully over the vast expanse of blue, connecting the City to the North Shore.

This is land of the Eora people, and has been for more than fifty thousand years: I reside on Cammeraygal Country. This place has connected the people who live there to it for centuries.

This is home.

So when I saw that plane this morning, I thought of the thousands of Australians who are still trapped overseas, waiting for flights. I thought of those patiently waiting out their days of quarantine, who are “home” but not quite. I felt proud of my home town for receiving more returning travellers than all the other states in this country combined.

And I remembered the safe passage request that can be found on every Australian’s passport, words from which I have always derived great comfort:

The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia,
being the representative in Australia of Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth the Second, requests all those whom it may concern
to allow the bearer, an Australian Citizen, to pass freely
without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every
assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need.

Every assistance and protection: these words fills my heart.

I wish I could provide more asssistance and protection for my friends in Melbourne who are enduring one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with week upon week of curfews and restrictions.

I wish I could offer more comfort and certainty to my friends who have family overseas, who don’t know when they will next see, let alone hug, their loved ones or be permitted to travel to their homelands.

I wish I could make plans — proper plans — with friends who used to call Sydney home, to turn crazy ideas for reunions on tropical islands into realities, to meet the children who have been born since a pandemic rewrote just about every itinerary in existence.

Wishes may be merely words, and words are wind, as they say.

But we will get through this.

We will overcome, and be so much stronger for surviving.

And when it’s over, I’ll meet you in the middle of the air.

Easter Delights

Easter has come and gone for another year, the difference being this year we didn’t go away. Of course, the bigger difference is why we weren’t allowed to go away, but I’ve had just about enough of anything to do with Coronavirus and am preferring to focus instead on delight.

It’s still possible, as I noted last time I wrote, to find moments of delight in this crazy world of self-isolation. Despite it sometimes feeling like the four walls around us are closing in, there have been a number of things that have kept me going over the Easter break — particularly since we’ve not been able to share it with friends and family as we usually would.

So here, in no specific order, are four things that brought me delight over the four days of the Easter long weekend:

The Hilltop Hoods Restrung Albums

Easter 1I love the Hilltop Hoods and the raw honesty of their hip hop. But I also grew up in a house where we listened almost exclusively to classical music, and have an abiding appreciation for many things orchestral. Operatic, not so much…despite my eclectic tastes.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that I think one of best things the Hilltop Hoods have ever done was re-release a few of their albums with a new “band” — the Adelaide Symphony — referring to the revamps as “restrung” works. The result is simply brilliant: a mixture of glorious horns, lush strings, great beats, phenomenal lyrics and a lexicon that will truly blow your mind. Check out The Hard Road restrung as an example…you can thank me later.

Opening the Peppermint Tea Box

Easter 2Initially I wondered whether I should include something in this list that appears, on the surface, to be completely mundane. But then I realised this is exactly what finding delight in life is all about: when the minty scent rushes out of a freshly opened box of peppermint tea, I never fail to smile. I feel enormous contentment. My heart sings.

These are the sorts of everyday delights that become a recurring pleasure, things I look forward to even though they seem, at first, to be so…ordinary. These are the small things that bring great joy to our lives, if we look for them and let them.

Bare Feet

Easter 3It is a truth universally acknowledged, to paraphrase Jane Austen, that an Australian is in possession of a pair of feet is only ever in want of a pair of thongs. Or ugg boots, as the season dictates. Part of the great wonder of living in the Land Down Under is our love of informal footwear — surpassed only, I suspect, by our preference for going barefoot whenever possible. During the summer, this phenomenon extends in the beachside suburb where I live to clothing: it is not unusual to see people down at the shops wearing wet swimmers and, at best, a towel…definitely no shoes. After all, they’re probably only at the shops to pick up a Golden Gaytime or a Chocolate Paddlepop, so what’s the point in getting dressed?

In the current “climate” — which could be called autumnul with a dose of pandemic — one of the unexpected delights of having to stay home is that I am able to indulge my love of going barefoot the vast majority of the time. On the rare occasions I venture to the shops I wear thongs. Sometimes, now that the evenings are cooler, I get my uggs on. With shorts. Because that’s how we roll, and we love it.

But being barefoot? It’s the best.

Jacinda Ardern

Easter 4Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s high time I acknowledge one of the great delights of the Asia-Pacific Region: Jacinda Ardern. Let’s face it — she sorted out Easter for concerned citizens the world over when she answered a question in a press conference regarding the current employment status of the Easter Bunny. Clearly stating the Easter Bunny was performing an essential service and would be able to deliver multitudes of chocolate eggs set the minds of many small people at ease, and explaining there might be a slight delay in delivery due to current social distancing measures was a masterstroke appreciated by parents who hadn’t quite managed a supermarket run in the leadup to Easter Sunday.

To follow up this classy performance with a Facebook post including an Easter Egg template she encouraged Kiwi kids to colour or decorate and display in their window so everyone in the neighbourhood could do an Easter Egg hunt on their daily walk showed just how much Jacinda Ardern gets it. And inviting those kids to email her the finished product directly? Genius.

From where we’re sitting across The Ditch, Jacinda Ardern looks like a bright ray of sunshine we’d like to bask in.  Watch out New Zealand…as soon as they open the borders we might all just move over.

So there you have it, folks: four Easter delights.

If you’re feeling so inclinded, let me know what made your Easter delightful this year.

BJx

Isolated Delights

Hello from the inside…

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

TibouchinaIn 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.

Paper Towels

tibou 2I 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…

Passionfruit

Tibou 4Yep, 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

Tibou 3It’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

Tibou 5Another 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.

I hope these words, in turn, bring you delight.

BJx