Letter from Cronulla NSW: Sojourn in the Shire

Afternoon treat at the Tea House, Caringbah NSW

Afternoon treat at the Tea House, Caringbah NSW


Clive’s daughter lives south of Sydney, in the Sutherland Shire, a district usually called simply ‘the Shire’. New South Wales contains many shires but for some reason, this one is widely known and recognised – at least in the areas closest to Sydney – as the Shire.

It’s been a great week thanks to Kylie managing some time away from her demanding job, a high-level position at a conference centre on the beautiful Port Hacking River, surrounded by Royal National Park. She may not have as much time off as Clive’s grandchildren on their school holidays, but we’ve enjoyed a range of activities.

Kiama blowhole, NSW

Kiama blowhole, NSW

Our travels around the Shire and south coast have included visiting Berry NSW, a classic Australian country town, seeing many beaches and headlands (including the Kiama blowhole, seen in above photo), relaxing over afternoon tea at the Tea House at the National Camellia Garden, making various stops for coffee and lunch or dinner, and viewing ‘The Triumph of Modernism in the Art of Australia’, a terrific exhibit at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre.

The wonderful Hazelhurst Gallery, Gymea NSW

The wonderful Hazelhurst Gallery, Gymea NSW

My mother always said, ‘It doesn’t matter what we do; it’s just great to be together.’ As years go by and many families, including ours, become geographically dispersed, I realise more and more the truth of that sentiment. Always the best part of family visits is just spending in-person time together.

Kylie & Clive on the Sea Cliff Bridge, Coalcliff NSW

Kylie & Clive on the Sea Cliff Bridge, Coalcliff NSW

We’ll soon be heading back to Manly and this trip’s final phase Down Under. A week from now, we’ll be home in the UK. The next time we’ll be together with the Aussie gang will be in the U.S. this coming October, for a certain big event on my side of the family.

Thanks Kylie for that last-minute change of plan tonight and the tasty Thai dinner. As this part of our trip draws to a close, we’re grateful for the time we’ve had here in the Shire.

Sunset in Royal National Park, NSW

Sunset in Royal National Park, NSW

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from NSW Central Coast: Where the Bush Meets the Beach

Family on Putty Beach, Bouddi National Park NSW

Family on Putty Beach, Bouddi National Park NSW

Clive’s son and family live north of Sydney on the New South Wales Central Coast, surrounded by the natural beauty of countless beaches, bushland, coastal walks and National Parks.

We’ve had a great week doing many activities with the family and seeing some of the special places near where they live.

Bouddi National Park contains multiple beaches and bushwalks. One afternoon the family showed us part of the Bouddi Coastal Walk between Putty Beach and Bullimah Beach.

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We parked (for ‘free’ thanks to the family having an annual National Parks pass) and Clive’s son led us out to Putty Beach, a beautiful arc of typically golden Aussie sand. A set of steps led up from the northern end of the beach to the walkway along the headland.

View back to Putty Beach from the coastal walk

View back to Putty Beach from the coastal walk

Most of this part of the walk had a boardwalk, easy for everyone to enjoy. I kept stopping to ooh and aah and take photos as we wound around the headland, admiring the ocean views and sandstone outcroppings.

Clive & his grandsons on Bouddi Coastal Walk

Clive & his grandsons on Bouddi Coastal Walk

We were all drawn to the tessellated rock formations, or pavements, lining the walk at this point. Their swirly, geometric patterns were apparently formed by weathering and erosion and the shrinking and swelling of clays over thousands and millions of years.

I’m always struck by the awesome natural beauty of Australia and how blessed children are to grow up with all of this around them. Australia is sometimes called ‘The Lucky Country’ and in light of its scenery and landscape and the appreciation its citizens have for it, it seems very lucky indeed.

Great young walkers on tessellated pavements, Bouddi National Park, Australia

Great young walkers on tessellated pavements, Bouddi National Park, Australia

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from south of Sydney, near the Royal National Park, New South Wales.

Letter from Sydney: Remembering Gary at Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach, Sydney

Shelly Beach, Sydney

Gary, my late husband, loved this small patch of Australia where ocean, headland and beach meet on the eastern edge of Sydney.

Within months of arriving Down Under, Gary completed his first scuba diving course.  That December, when we composed our family Christmas letter, he included, ‘scuba diving at Shelly Beach, eleven minutes’ drive from our house’. We bought our own home here a few years later and, much to his delight, halved that time and distance.

Gary scuba dived at multiple Australian locations, including two Great Barrier Reef islands, but his favourite dives of all were Saturday morning shore dives at Shelly Beach.

He felt most comfortable walking into the water – he once told me he felt anxious when he had to ‘fall in’ backwards from the side of a boat – and the Shelly Beach reef offered great variety of marine life in a beautiful and relatively sheltered setting.

Gary enjoyed telling people Shelly Beach is the only west-facing beach on the east coast of Australia. The way the headland curves around gives a view from Shelly back to Manly and the stunning string of crescent-shaped Northern Beaches. An easy walking track leads from the beach up through the bush and around the headland for more beautiful views of the Northern Beaches and out to sea.

View from Shelly Beach headland to Sydney’s Northern Beaches

View from Shelly Beach headland to Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Gary didn’t have a lot of Saturdays free for diving – he was, among other things, a baseball coach and umpire, a gifted gardener and a home-improvement/DIY expert – but whenever a Saturday morning was available, he eagerly joined the shore dive at Shelly.

After the dives, he enjoyed chatting with the day’s group. He’d tell me about them, always an international mix: ‘three guys from Germany’ or ‘a group of women from Japan’ or ‘a couple from South Africa’. It tickled him no end that we lived so close to a dive location sought after by global travellers.

He loved, too, Shelly Beach’s proximity to Manly Beach, where he would get a post-dive coffee and stroll through the weekend outdoor markets, relaxing and soaking up more sunshine before driving home. Over the years, he gave me several gifts from the markets, one a hand-made, square pottery dish with a red heart in the centre.

Shelly Beach, looking toward Manly Beach, Sydney

Shelly Beach, looking toward Manly Beach, Sydney

Gary always came home from Shelly Beach smiling, happy, energised, talking of the dive’s conditions and what he’d seen. One Saturday afternoon we went out in the car and as he drove again towards Manly, he said, ‘I just want to say one thing.’ ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I love where we live,’ he said.

On the evenings after a dive, Gary would sit quietly on the sofa — usually with one of our cats curled on his lap – and page through his ‘Australian Sea Creatures’ book, noting the date beside ones he’d seen and updating his dive log. He’d sometimes lean over to show me a picture and point to an exotic creature he was excited about. I admired and appreciated his enthusiasm though never felt the urge to join him underwater. Now I treasure the book and dive log that meant so much to him.

Gary named Shelly Beach in the last days of his life. We had always talked openly with each other about many things, including life and death. One afternoon when I was sitting beside him in his hospital room, he said in a quiet voice, ‘Scatter my ashes into the sea somewhere. Maybe by Shelly Beach.’

At sunrise five days after he died, that is what we did.

Shelly Beach headland

Shelly Beach headland

Thank you for reading. Today we changed location. Next week’s letter will be from the Central Coast of New South Wales.

Letter from Heathrow: Departure Down Under

Morning at Manly Beach, Sydney

Morning at Manly Beach, Sydney

Tonight we’re in transit, specifically in the airline lounge at Heathrow until our flight departs for Sydney.

Champagne has been consumed, following that moment of relief when one is through airline security. It was relatively painless this evening but it’s still such a gauntlet (even the ‘Fast Track’ can be slow at times): waiting on line, removing laptops and tablets and sometimes belts and shoes; getting behind someone who for some random reason is v-e-r-y s-l-o-w; getting stopped for a random body check and/or who knows what else, waiting on the other side and ‘re-dressing’ one’s self with belts, shoes (if removed), and making sure we haven’t left some important technology in one of the plastic bins. Plus, I always feel conscious of the people following me on line and *not* wanting to be one of the s-l-o-w ones, which inevitably adds to the stress of trying to go fast.

Arrgh.

On the plus side: Heathrow has implemented a new security ‘conveyor belt’ set-up in which there are little plastic dividers/sections for each person disgorging their stuff. I *LOVE* this! It means you have your own little ‘space’ in which your plastic bins sits, between the plastic dividers, and you put your stuff into a typical bin (if you fill one, you push that onto the conveyor belt and start filling another) and the people on either side of you are doing the same thing, without each other’s stuff or each other’s bodies pushing and shoving along. I don’t know if this is becoming standard practice in other airports but this was the first we’ve seen it tonight.

I asked Clive what he most hopes for in our trip Down Under and he said – not surprisingly, as I feel the same when we head to see my family in the U.S. – that he just wants everything to go well and for the family to have a happy time together. I couldn’t wish for more myself.

Clive with his son & family on the Central Coast, New South Wales Australia

Clive with his son & family on the Central Coast, New South Wales Australia

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s post will be from Sydney.

Letter from Felixstowe: Sydney Sensations

Morning sun on the Opera House, Sydney

Morning sun on the Opera House, Sydney

The streets of Paris suddenly seem far away, at least in the near term, as we turn our attention to our upcoming visit to Australia.

A week from today we’ll be en route to Sydney — not quite on the plane, but heading toward a night flight to Singapore and from there down to the magical Harbour city.

Clive’s son and family live about an hour north of Sydney; his daughter about an hour south. The purpose of our trip is to spend time with them, but we’ll start and end with a few days at Manly Beach, a short walk from our former home. Sydney and its Northern Beaches area is where Clive and I both lived and worked for many years, and as long as we’re travelling such a long way, we’re looking forward to seeing our closest Aussie friends and I hope to have coffee with a couple of my dear ‘girlfriends’.

As much as we try to pace ourselves on these kinds of trips, it’s always difficult to find the right balance of seeing everyone you want to see and doing everything you want to do but not running around to the point of wearing everyone (OK, ourselves) out. We’ll be moving around a lot – 4 locations and 24 nights, 11 of them near Clive’s three grandchildren — and more than anything we’re simply looking forward to being with loved ones and having in-person time together.

Autumn in Australia began on March 1st; the country will be on Daylight Savings Time until April 5th so we’ll ‘fall back’ there as hours of daylight decrease. Sydney’s climate isn’t perfect but I’ve always felt it comes close, with mild temperatures and gorgeous sunshine year-round. I’m convinced the beatific climate is a major contributor to the Aussies’ sunny outlook and relaxed, friendly culture.

I have so many memories in Sydney and am looking forward to creating a few new ones with special people in the next few weeks.

Clive with his grandchildren in Felixstowe last September

Clive with his grandchildren in Felixstowe last September

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from London Heathrow before departure to the land Down Under.

Letter from Paris: Weekend in the City of Light

Paris, je t'aime

Paris, je t’aime

Two days ago, in the midst of renovation and DIY projects, Clive and I agreed it would be possible, and good, to book train tickets for a long weekend in Paris.

Today blessed us with beautiful weather and a smooth journey, thanks to trains, Underground/metro and Eurostar. We arrived to bright sunshine and much warmer temperatures than on our last visit.

Arrival - March

Arrival – March

Arrival - December

Arrival – December

In the next few days, we hope to relax, walk a lot, and have a ‘couple’s interlude’ before the upcoming 2-1/2 months of intense family visits to Australia and the US.

I’m always overjoyed to be here, no matter what the season, no matter what the weather, no matter what we do. This evening we walked around during l’heure bleue, the blue hour, and watched the Eiffel Tower light up against the deepening sky.

Paris, je t’aime.

Eiffel Tower at dusk, Trocadéro, Paris

Eiffel Tower at dusk, Trocadéro, Paris

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from back in Felixstowe.

Letter from Felixstowe: The Worry Path

A walk by the River Rothay, Lake District, England

A walk by the River Rothay, Lake District, England

After a non-stop wonderful few days with my son, my thoughts are with a dear friend in another place who wishes to keep medical concerns private, but about whom I can’t help worrying.

I know: worrying is not helpful or productive – unless, perhaps, it inspires positive action. According to the Bible, the lilies of the field can teach me a lot: they do not toil or spin, but abide with beauty and faith. The ‘serenity prayer’ counsels acceptance of things we cannot change. One popular song advises, ‘Don’t worry. Be happy’; another – one my mother still loves – ‘Always look on the bright side of life’.

I get it. Worrying can eat away at a person without making anything better. But I think it’s human, and legitimate, to worry sometimes.

I’ve called it ‘the worry path’ because, maybe, thinking of it that way means it’s a conscious choice I can make: to go down that path – or not.

The person I hold close in my heart is getting excellent medical attention and is blessed with loving support. For this I’m not worried, but thankful.

If anyone reading this is a worrier, have you any insights on how to worry less?

Bridge and footpath near Ambleside, Lake District, England

Bridge and footpath near Ambleside, Lake District, England

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

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