Shangri-la aka The Danders

If you have been off travelling there comes a point when you really just want to get home. Most of that feeling arises from a longing to reconnect with family, notwithstanding modern technology affords us opportunities to do that in real time more than we used to, and if I was really honest I was seriously in no hurry to get back. You miss the hugs though, the real warm connection you get from wrapping your arms around your children and grandchildren and it being reciprocated, something that cannot be achieved on video calls. So it was that I had a dilemma; I didn’t really want my trip to end but I longed for that kind of connection to my family that wasn’t available when I was still in Australia.

As we know only too well, those kinds of shows of PDA’s or get togethers are currently off limits for the time being. And so it was that we were to arrive back to a new reality. One where we were confined to barracks, quarantined, #staying home at least for the foreseeable future. A few blogs back I did write about a visit to my own home for the weekend. Gaining a new perspective on how it might look through a visitors eyes. Now I really was like a visitor, just back from a 5 week trek on the other side of the world slap bang into a new reality with nobody but the Lion to share it with.

My delight to be home, lasted all of five minutes. The silence was deafening, with only the buzz of the fridge, humming out of tune with my happiness, to welcome us back. There was food inside, so someone had been busy, but it lacked the invitation to dine, maybe since we’d scoffed too much on the plane. We simply needed to see people. These needs were unmet. We were abandoned. Alone. Do you know how hard that transition from touring with a group of 28 to enter the dismal, loneliness of the Danders is? It is normally writhing with bodies, ringing out with voices, clinking with glasses and the mastication of food.

My farmhouse kitchen table, the hub of all activities and normally brimming with people, wine and food, bore only a raft of mail accumulated over our absence and neatly sorted into his and hers piles by my daughter. There was a warmth, which I had ensured was in place through my Hive App, that greeted us on arrival. A heat that would be impressive, as we welcomed our guests inside from the wintery conditions outside, given the fact we had just arrived home. I hoped they would soon arrive to share our stories, our photographs and their presents, except that none were allowed to come. I caught sight of our cases sagging in the hallway, groaning with washing, tired from all the hauling and pulling and bulking up in the aircraft. Their newness depleted, bearing the scuffs, scrapes and ticketing labels, their own identifying memories of our trip.

The Lion opened all of the windows, inviting the fresh air to replenish the staleness of uninhabitation. He lit candles even before he had emptied the case as he returned to super OCD mode now he was home and had purpose. I stood still, listening to the silence, smelling the air, slowly gaining my bearings with familiarity. Everything static, frozen in time, just the way we left it. No ghosts of memories these past five weeks, the house craved noise and laughter but none was coming.

I thought it best to empty the cases. 8 piles of washing occupied the floor of the snug. Each aligned to a washing programme, and carefully placed according to colour, materials and dirt. The reek of sweat and sun lotion permeated the room once the clothing was released from the confines of the case. A pile of shoes, and one or two items that were never worn looked forlorn in the vacant space created by the expulsion of washing. The cases suddenly lighter as they were lugged up stairs to their final resting place at least until we went on a big trip again.

Toilet bags had been cleared of most of the contents at the last stop, with the stalwart items, always needed but never used, found their way back into their hiding place under the sink until next time. Our bedroom was such a haven, despite the thinly spread layer of dust on the furniture, our bed was inviting us back, tempting as it was I am sorry but not yet. We were still buzzing on life anticipating the opportunity to speak with family or friends who might remember that it was today we were coming home. I checked the phone several times only to find everything was in working order. No messages displayed. No cars arriving, no people passing. Silence – shattered only by the Lion trying to ignite the candles and huffing and puffing as he did so.

Day turned into Night, and we had still no real evidence of any joy that we were back. The house wrapped itself around us, warm, cosy and illuminated by warm white lights and twinkling light strips, the strengths of our very own Shangri-La were in abundance. Video calls with our nearest and dearest over, we finally accepted and embraced the comforts we were surrounded by and would sleep on our new reality, of no social contact until the next day….

The farmhouse kitchen

Melbourne, city of family.

If you’re looking for a City that buzzes, then Melbourne is for you. A population of 4.5 million, construction cranes and boring drills reflects a city that has no intention of staying static. We stayed on William Street at the Carlton Suites Gateway just on the banks of the Yarra River. The thing that many of us were anticipating most about this city visit, wasn’t the historic sites, the museums, the sporting arenas. No this visit promised us the sheer unadulterated pleasure that only the presence of washing machines in our rooms can bring to errant and sweaty travellers. Although only 10 days into our 4 week trip this was a critical requirement.

For me Melbourne was all about people; meeting up with family whom we hadn’t seen for over 50 years. Two members of my fathers family emigrated to Australia in the 1960’s; the Hastie’s and the Cruickshanks relocated to the suburbs of Victoria but close enough to retain contact with each other. Our visit to the area reflected a lot of Scottish heritage in the Victoria address book but there were also elements of Irish, Dutch and Aboriginal names on the roads and highways we travelled. Melbourne was a penal colony built by convicts, unlike the free settlers of Adelaide and Perth. The £10 fares encouraged many hard working honest people to relocate to the area. This included my family.

I was excited to be able to catch up with the Hastie’s on our first night in Melbourne. Only 3 of the original 4 who arrived in 1964 remained, but they had added 6 children and 3 grandchildren to the brood in the interim years. My Aunt, now in her 86th year had not lost one ounce of her West Lothian accent, other than her grey hair she had the same smile and was instantly recognisable when I emerged from the elevator. Both of her children, my cousins, had Australian accents but proudly claimed they still had British Passports. My eldest cousin, a tall, beautiful woman with golden brown hair and instantly recognisable eyes, I had not seen for over 56 years. She had never been back home. Married now to an Australian with 3 children and 2 grandchildren. She was a bit of an enigma to me when we were small, I was always looking up to her. My lasting memory of her was playing on the swings the week she was leaving for a better life and how I cried. Behind her beautiful blue eyes, however there dances a dark shadow, a heartbreaking loss so raw and so personal it threatened to destroy her family.

At the age of 19 her daughter Brodie took her own life, subjected to workplace bullying. This tragedy, when it happened was a mystery to us in Scotland since no-one could articulate the story without a guttural pain chocking back the words and us too polite to probe. Since that time my cousin has campaigned for Brodie’s law to make bullying a criminal offence. And she has achieved it, now running the Brodie’s Law foundation she tirelessly works to improve organisations and highlight the impact of workplace bullying. If I looked up to her as a child, I was even more impressed now with the strong, powerful woman before me.

My other cousin, her brother, bore an incredible resemblance to his dad, even as a baby I’m sure he had a moustache, I can hardly recall seeing him without it. He struck me as the one holding the family together, stepping into his father’s shoes. He held family dear in his heart and had organised this reunion, despite being awful at managing messages the importance of maintaining links was not lost on him. He clearly played a role when he lost his niece; the entire family had been impacted. And he was also out to see the newest Hastie currently residing in Brisbane when she arrived to cement the family ties so necessary when you first move here.

The Cruickshanks, dad’s sister and her family moved here from East Lothian in the 1960’s too. My cousin, his wife and their daughter met up with us in the Yarra Valley. My cousin and one of his son’s had visited Scotland recently but it was still great to meet his wife and daughter. Still resident in the same place they arrived to all those years ago they took us out to the Dandenong’s to provide us with an ariel view of Melbourne’s skyline. However the poor weather put paid to that as the mountain was swathed in mist and rain. We needed umbrellas for our visit and for a bit it felt just like being at home. Once the mist cleared however, we had an amazing panorama of the central business district’s high rise blocks in Melbourne.

The Sky Centre also boasts an English garden and play area for kids with a restaurant and banners celebrating the location as a wedding venue. Large totemic sculptures by the famous artist William Ricketts stand proudly around the gardens and are truly stunning examples of what you can do with a chainsaw. On our drive out to the Sky Centre the depth and sheer density of the woodland was a stark reminder about the threat my family live with at the time of fires. My cousin pointed out homes within the forest with debris on the roofs that made them vulnerable to fire. He explained that you need to put a tennis ball in the gutter to block the down pipe and fill the gutter with water to stop fire spreading.

We made up for the delay in commencing our sight seeing caused by the weather by sharing family stories, of our grandparents, aunties and uncles and cousins now living elsewhere in Australia; Newcastle, Airlie beach and Rockhampton. This cousin played Australian rules football and was good at it, we had newspaper cuttings to prove it, sent by a proud mother to my father over 50 years before. I had intended to bring them with me on this visit but forgot them. As his wife and daughter are currently logging the club’s history they were delighted we had kept these and I have promised to send them on. My second cousin I had already met through Facebook so it was wonderful to meet her in the flesh, say what you like about this form of social media but the connectivity to family across the globe is a truly wonderful thing. I knew what her son looked like, how he was doing in school, the family time they spent together. We bonded over a short ride to a local village and she filled me in on the family and how they were all doing. Proud of her roots she had wonderful stories about her grandmother (my aunt) and the close bond they shared, we drove past their old home in Coldstream and I could imagine them living there. We took a stroll to Olinda where the shops and restaurants are individual, quirky but friendly. The Lion, overhearing a Scottish Accent stopped to speak to the gentlemen only to discover that he was from Edinburgh and his brother lived in our town!

Melbourne gave me a great feeling of belonging, not so much with the city. It did however give me family time, so precious on this trip and it’s also the place where I made new friends……………