Childhood and becoming ‘Aussie’



Early childhood

My memories are first in Holland. We were living in Amstelveen and I was a little 2 year old when I received my first pair of glasses. I was very shortsighted. This was not picked up earlier. My mother claims to have noticed but the doctor said she was needlessly worrying. On a recent trip to the Netherlands, my Aunt (my mum’s sister) reckons she was the one who pointed it out to my mother, which I am sure Mum would disagree with. Whoever rang the alarm bells, I am grateful, as I am convinced my fuzzy visual world would’ve caused a calamitous accident somewhere later down the track.

As it happened I had an ‘accident’ with the newly minted glasses only a short three weeks later. My sister was in possession of something I wanted. Christine, who is four years older than me, and who could be alternately my hero or enemy, wouldn’t relent of course, and I threatened an immediate action.

“I’ll break my glasses if you don’t give it to me” or words to that effect. Chris must’ve paused only for a moment, and not to be seen as a panic merchant with this ultimatum coming from her pint sized sister, and in front of my older cousin, then said, (no doubt curious what I would do) “go ahead”.

After carrying this out, I remember distinctly picking them up off the ground and looking through a large crack in one lens and hearing my sister wailing “Muuuummm…” I was stunned. A cause and affect object lesson rammed home to me right there and it continued, following with a sound spanking in front of my Aunt and grandmother who were visiting. This was humiliating, and I returned to a fuzzy world thick with recriminations. I had to wait for another pair to be made which took more weeks. And more money. Poor mum. Poor me.

Another vivid and horrible memory was being in my cot and waking in the night and seeing two eyes, which were not human, looking at me. They were disembodied eyes, electric blue, like two cold, coiled circles and I screamed in fear. My older sister gathered me up and took me to my mother and I remember sobbing in her arms and her pacifying me with a little snack they were having. A small fried spring roll called a ‘lumpia’ in Indonesian. It was never clear to me if I was dreaming or not, though for most of my early life, up till my late childhood, I suffered from night terrors and sleepwalked.

More happy memories include my Dad taking me for a motor scooter ride. His scooter had a little red seat in front of him so I was nestled between his arms. We rode nearby and I remember a lake with ducks.

The last winter in Holland it snowed. There are a couple of photos of me stuffed into a little snug suit standing in thick snow, watching snow flakes softly swirling around me. It was to be our last Christmas there, and it was very memorable. We had a visit from Saint Nicholas (Sinterklass) and zwart (black) Piet (who was the carrier of the sack of toys and presents) and it was so exciting. My Aunt had no doubt organized this treat to send us off to this foreign and very remote country called Australia. It must’ve been so sad for my parents to say goodbye to their families.

Before Saint Nick came, I remember Chris and I dancing around in the hall way near the front door, throwing tiny pepernoten (little spiced biscuits) in the air. This was so far the pinnacle event in my small life. I had no idea that in a few short weeks all our lives would radically change.

Going to the Great South Land

My memories of the boat journey are few. I was sick for the first part. It was a six weeks long trip in those days and it would’ve been longer if we hadn’t been able to go through the Suez Canal. I had measles just weeks prior to leaving and then a secondary infection occurred just as we were about to board the ship. I remember a nurse taking my temperature in the cabin. I recovered and was well enough to join the family for a short visit at Port Said in Aden (Yemen). It was so exotic and different. I remember asking my mother to take me to a toilet, where upon she said there were no public toilets and if I needed to go, I should do it in a nearby bush. I held on.

The last memory of that journey was a celebration on the top deck as we were sailing into Sydney Harbour. The crew organized some games for the children and prizes.There was a person describing to a little boy and I what we were to do. I had no idea what was required of me, (not sure if he spoke in a language I understood) but I surveyed the spilt coloured blocks and thought that it looked messy. Not sure what to do, my mother’s voice rang in my head about anything that looked messy.

“Opgeruimd ziet er netjes uit” Which translated means – “tidied up looks neat”  So, thinking I should do the right thing, I put the blocks back in the box. The next I knew, I am hoisted up in the air and declared a winner and given a ‘medal’ and a toy. It was a black furry poodle that squeaked when you pressed its belly. Welcome to Australia!

Migrant Hostels

Well, life took on a different tack after that. My first memory of the hostel, which was located at Scheyville, was the cafeteria. This was where meals were made and served to the hostel community. There was a different smell in the air as we lined up to receive the evening meal. It was the odour of boiled pumpkin. It looked uninspiring on the plate and I of course refused to eat it. There were also plates of dry white bread accompanying every hot meal, followed by tea, which I think came out of a tap on the wall. Dutch people, I was led to believe at the time, were mainly coffee drinkers and the tea that was available was very weak. Looking puzzled my mother declared that tea was only for convalescing people. She also looked worried. It seemed to herald the first challenge. At that time, I think it was quietly decided that to embrace the Aussie diet was going to take some time. Confusingly, they called dinner ‘tea’ as well. After that, I can’t remember too many more meals there as mum took it upon herself to cook for us on a hotplate in our hut. It was a hut. There is no other suitable word for it. These were old army huts that looked like someone bent a piece of corrugated steel into a curve and pinned the ends into the ground. It was cosy and to a four year old, nothing mattered except that we were together.

One day, after refusing yet again to go into the day care kindergarten, mum and I were in the laundry where the weird contraptions for washing were kept, what I now know, were a boiler and a wringer. As I was playing around her feet, I heard a plaintive little sound. Curious, I looked underneath the concrete tubs and there to my astonishment was a tiny kitten. Mum reached under the tubs and pulled out this bedraggled creature and we took it home. My sister Frances was enthralled and took to nurturing it. We have a photo of said kitten with her holding it outside our hut. I also ended up in the wrong kindergarten one day, coming back from my day speaking fluent German! Oops, wrong kinder. There were many nationalities there, and according to my oldest sister, the Russians were the liveliest.

Whilst walking around the city one day, looking for work, Dad stopped at a park bench and ate his sandwich which was made and carried in a brown paper bag from the hostel. The lunch was a sandwich and included an orange. Dad decided he was full enough and didn’t want to eat the fruit and he wasn’t keen on bringing it back on the train. After disposing of his sandwich wrappings, he walked around asking if any one would like to have his orange. He was amazed that no one wanted it and some looked at him queerly. Fascinated by that, he went home and wrote a short story about this little event. I think after his experiences in the P.O.W. camps he valued food highly. He also liked to study human behaviour and he reflected that people in the city were suspicious of a foreign sounding man who wanted to give something away.

Here is the story I have copied from Dad’s original typed out text.

The Orange – June 1960

 Lunch is supplied by the Migrant’s hostel in a brown paper bag. Sandwiches and a fruit. This time, an orange. I had eaten the bread but the orange was too much, didn’t feel hungry enough. It was one of those navel oranges, big and juicy. Let’s give it to somebody, anybody, rather than throw it away. That girl there, “Miss?” – man, the look I got! A freezing the-nerve-you-have look. What about that elderly couple? He wears the obvious stamp of retired authority, Armed Forces probably. * “You wanna orange?” He stops dead in his tracks, biting his mustache. Tugging at his sleeve to hold him back, she says smilingly, “No thank you kindly, young man”, showing Henry once more that a friendly word is more effective than flying off your handle.

I try other people along George Street but “No thank you”, or “Wha’s the catch mate?” or just a glance of deep suspicion. The orange, growing bigger and bigger in my hand has by now turned into an object of challenge. I must find somebody in Sydney who does not find it too risky to accept an orange from a complete stranger. I even try a police officer who declines sternly. Going up Margaret Street I can still feel his eyes pin-pricking in my back.

At last, eureka! He’s a lift driver in Kembla House. There is no surprise on his face when I, in silence, offer it to him. Just a simple “thanks”. When I’m stepping out of the lift-car he says; “Mum always puts an orange in my lunch box. Must’ve taken it out and left it on the canteen table upstairs. Nice of ye to bring it back down. Thanks mate.”

*I am marvelling copying this story out, that dad used the slang way of an Aussie talking after only being here a few months, a sign to me that he embraced this new country and wanted to fit in.

 We didn’t stay long in the hostel as it was only meant to be a short time so that new migrants were educated and informed about Australia and assisted to find employment. As my father’s qualifications weren’t formally recognised in Australia (meaning he had to start at the shipping docks from the bottom rung and work his way up) he decided to find work where he could. Which led to a rather short career as a shopkeeper. Which led us to live in a place called Blacktown. He bought the convenience store with borrowed money and failed to make it thrive largely because he had a line of credit for the strugglers who didn’t pay their bills and then the Bank foreclosed in the credit squeeze of 1961.

After the shop fiasco, Dad would take the train to the city most days, poring over the newspaper, looking for work. One day he was taking off for an interview for a clerical position in the Lottery Office. He was a very intelligent man with good mathematical skills, which not one of his four daughters inherited. As he tells the story to me years later, he was about to leave, when mum said ‘I will bake us a cake’. Dad and she knew that would use up the last of their pantry resources but her faith in him was solid. He marvelled at her optimism.

At the time we were living in a suburb called Blacktown. The street where we lived was not kerbed and guttered and on rainy days the earth quickly turned into mud. One day Chris decided it would be fun to trick a passer-by by digging a hole in the soft earth and covering it up with grass. We then hid behind something and waited. Along came a man and we watched him approaching the spot where he would tread in the hole. Suddenly, Chris burst out in front of him and warned him about his impending mishap. This wasn’t according to the plan but I think her guilt got the better of her.

Our backyard was part wilderness. I think there was a ubiquitous Australian Hills Hoist near the house where clothes flapped in the breeze. It also had a granny flat where an old man lived. The grass was mowed up to a point where there was a bit of a falling down wire fence with a gate. Beyond this waist high grass, was a willow tree, which had, enticingly, a swing tied underneath it. To get to it we had to brave the possibly snake infested grass. No problem for two ‘bored out of their brains’ kids.

We also had a horrible outside dunny. The now almost extinct pan toilet, which to a four year old, was huge and being short of stature, a threatening sight. This was the bane of our lives and certainly a hazardous place. One had to be vigilant for Redback and Funnel Web spiders. What was also interesting was that a man, once a week, came at night to empty it. What a job!

The shower/bath water was heated by gas and this had to be lit with a match, which made a small explosive sound when it ignited. Another reason not to brave the freezing cold bathroom, was that it had old wooden floor boards where the winter wind whistled up your legs at night. We also had a dog, another cocker spaniel named Sooty. I think my older sister Mary-emma rescued it possibly from the dog pound. This blighted dog crapped all over the house like the last one we had. My mother tolerated this impediment (her dedication to animals knew no bounds) but my father sometimes kicked that dog from one end of the house to the other especially as one time, arriving home one night, he had stepped into a pile of it by the front door.

Sometime later Sooty vanished along with my oldest sister who decided after much arguing with our parents, that it was time to venture out to the Big Smoke, Sydney. This was a brave and audacious move and Chris and I looked forward to her visits home. To our childish eyes, she wore exotic clothes and had worldly ‘know-how’. On one such visit she took the family to Bondi. Oh, did we fall in love with the sea! Well, not my parents so much, but they decided that it would be a better place to bring us kids up. No matter that it was a world famous beach with highly sought after rentals.

Frances was a year off matriculating with her leaving certificate (the equivalent of the School Certificate) and I was ready for Kindergarten, which I already had begun in Blacktown. Christine was still in Primary. So shortly thereafter, Dad saw in the newspaper a flat available for rent. I’m not sure how readily available rental housing was then, but as he may have missed out before, he arrived at the Real Estate office at 6.00am and was the first one there. After that a steady stream of people arrived and when he was ushered in, he said he would take it, sight unseen and paid a cash payment for the advance rent. His job in the Lottery Office would cover it of course but there wasn’t a lot left after paying the rent every week.

This flat as they used to call apartments back then, had two bedrooms, plus a sunny room and was on the middle floor of a dark reddish brown brick building with four levels. It had a spiraling staircase and two grand entrances with tiled hall ways . One entrance closest to us was in Edward St. near the bus stop. The other was below us by two flights and it came out in Francis St where we hung out with the neighbourhood kids, all of whom were migrants. There were Russians, French and Hungarians everywhere. My bedroom for part of that time was in the sunny room and it looked directly towards Bondi Beach. You could hear the surf at night and in summer hear all the squealing fun of people enjoying the water. The shark alarm was heard too. That view and the location was what made this flat so expensive. Plus we could walk to school along Campbell Parade. On the very top level was a laundry with concrete washing tubs and lines where we hung the washing. Sometimes neighbours would comment on our mother’s very white sheets. How did she get them so white? She replied “ I rinse them three times”. She was a standout in the housekeeping department.

Our years there were some of the happiest.

Sideways thinking

under water photo
Photo by Pete Johnson on

Driving to work the other day I started thinking about how our thought processes work. It’s a bit like how we see things around us. I can see a bird flying by me and register it but I can also observe it and enjoy its smooth trajectory in the sky. We see what’s in front of us. We can respond to that stimuli and it is well that we do. All those things going on in our brain, clamoring for attention. We are truly amazing creatures able to hold so much brain traffic, making constant decisions and following through. Good, solid linear thinking.

Then there is our peripheral vision. That handy knack of seeing things just on the edge of our main focus, on the side. This is always switched on, you don’t have to think about it. It’s just there. Thank goodness because that way you can duck that ball coming for you in your sideways vision. I wondered, do we also think sideways?

Some days  I catch myself  musing, going off the main focus, and think these dreamy and interesting thoughts. I had no idea that ‘sideways thinking’ was an actual term, already thought of and written about.

Edward de Bono coined the phrase and wrote the book, Lateral Thinking (1967) about thinking outside the square  (horizontal thinking as opposed to linear, vertical thinking)   which means solving problems in an indirect, creative way. Paul Cronin, Director and Cinematographer (2005) wrote that “sideways thinking may be more a kind of relaxed mental state”. He said this was where his most creative ideas came from.

In that relaxed mental state, on the periphery of what’s obvious, there is another process going on. Children are naturals with this. They wonder and ponder. Unfortunately it gets pummeled out of them in the systems of educational institutions where conformity and competition is instilled. Reasoning and critical thinking are excellent, I agree, but there is more.

What’s on the surface of our thinking processes is, to me,  like looking at the surface of the water  at the beach. You look at the ripples or waves and make judgements and decisions based on what you see, whether you decide to lie back and  float or if you are a surfer, how the waves are checking out. Now dip your head under the water, or go snorkeling to where there is another world, a different perspective. A quiet world of muffled sound and dimmed light. A life all of its own. Like wise, we have an undercurrent in our thoughts.  I think our thought processes are all so simultaneous and automatic that we don’t really discern what’s really there, until, we pause in our thinking and listen. What would we see if we looked away from the obvious and observed what’s on the ‘side’ of our thoughts? The thought processes going quietly on in the margins of our mind. That space around our ‘main text’, of what is needed for our day.

On slowly waking in the morning, before the thrum of the day kicks in, sometimes I hear a different rhythm. There, some of my most lucid thoughts and pictures quietly come and are allowed in.  These thoughts don’t always contain a readable text. It can be just a feeling, a hankering. That desire to do something, or that insistent prod to consider another direction. Or another way to do solve a problem. A realm of possibility can open up. Imagination is stirred. A new path can open up.

It’s about desire. It’s about possibility. To say to yourself, I can try this, try to do it another way. Follow that idea. Where is it going? It can be killed off instantly with that executive brain telling you all the reasons why you shouldn’t follow that idea.

Not all ideas come with a fool proof plan. Not all  dreams happen by themselves. So if for example, you have always loved poetry, have written some, find a ‘poets corner’ event and read yours aloud to an audience. Liberate yourself from thinking you have to be perfect, exceptional. It’s the experience that brings you to life. People say when life presents them with a near death experience or a terrible trauma, they decide life is for living. Or go to that part of the world you have always wanted to go to. Make some memories.

For me, I have invited that sideways thought, the scribble in the margin, looked at it more steadily and decided to make small steps in pursuing my heart. Not having to know the result or whether its going to be a success or failure. To contemplate a different thing, to try, to learn. Fish at a different spot so to speak, create new habits that benefit you. If you have a yen to learn something, create or change, then consider a different script.

Listen for  the cadence of your thoughts this year. What is there, off to the side of the main plan, besides the demands of your life? You will reason and foresee  all the possible reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t. Cross that bridge when you come to it, is one of my favourite sayings. Make a start and see where it goes. Failure is fine too, as this will sometimes springboard you off to a better idea. It’s about giving yourself permission. Recently I read, “I dwell in possibility…” (Emily Dickinson)  I love that.

I say, to you and me,  please do.

Being Human #1

Being Human #1

There’s a lot to being human. Take kindness for example. It is an underrated quality. You might be going through some shadows in your life or feel lonely but when someone smiles at you or a person you know shows a bit of kindness, it shifts things a little in your overcrowded mind. There are people in this world who have jobs that demand expressions of kindness and empathy to be mixed with their approach to people, like, say nurses or counsellors. Predisposed if you like.  Also there are organisations set up to give loads of kindness in the way of helping needy people. But when a person shows a little kindness, spontaneous and unsolicited, it’s surprising how this effects us. It reminds us we are human and not alone in this world. It gives a little hop in our step and puts a little bit of ‘glad’ into our day. An unexpected kindness given or received can drive despair away from your door and offer hope in all that is good.

Showing random kindness can be great, especially when you are on the receiving end. Like recently, someone gave me their shopping trolley with the gold coin in it, (that releases the lock when you return it) and I was like, heh, thanks! I wasn’t even fumbling around my purse yet looking for the coin. He just offered it to me, smiled and said, that’s my act of kindness for the day.

It can also backfire on you in funny ways. One day, Neil and I were slowly trolling up a hill on our way to a local busy shopping centre. I spotted a hunched over small elderly woman carrying her shopping bags. I jumped out of the car and told Neil I would catch up with him and offered the lady to help her to her home with the bags. She said, “oh no dear, I’m fine. I do this every day. It helps me stay independent” Kudos to her and not me…and humbling. Not all your ideas of helping will be received but no harm in trying.

I used to think, when I was young, if someone talked to me, say at a bus stop, that there was something ‘wrong’ with them but later when I was older, I realised that people might just be a bit lonely or just needed to communicate with another person in their day. Children instinctively know when you really listen and communicate your good intentions to them that they are valued by listening to their comments or stories. I watch these little ones flower in recognition that another human cares. I intentionally do this in my job as a teacher’s aide. I don’t remember too many adults in my own time growing up that did that. Because in those days, (pre-colour television, pre-internet, pre-mobile, pre-psychological education on every bookshelf), children weren’t ‘seen’ or ‘heard’, and therefore were not to count for much. My dear mother once said, that kids became human when they grew up! By that comment alone you can imagine what was going down in suburbia in the sixties with kids!  We did on the upside  have a lot of freedom though, disappearing all day by ourselves to the beach or the bush.

But I digress. One of the ways I think kindness and consideration can be shown to people we know and don’t know, is to pause and listen to someone when they are sharing their needs or problems. Resist offering advice immediately or the narcissistic tendency we all have to then tell them another story similar to theirs or our own.  We think it might help or ‘fix’ them. This will probably clam them down. Their story is what counts. They are the one who is brave enough to tell it. So listen.

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” Simone Weil

I love that. Just to simply attend to what someone is saying is an extraordinary kindness. Or best of all their stories. I am an endlessly curious people watcher, wondering about the rich lives and experiences that are sitting at the next table. If we are willing to put aside our preoccupations or judgements and to simply listen and respond it can benefit us too. I am not good at that, but I am learning. My attention span can flicker in and out. It is a skill, (listening) which I have had to develop. When I did a counselling course years ago, we were doing a triad where the supervisor would listen and take notes while I was role playing the ‘counsellor’,  listening to my ‘client’, one of my fellow students. Afterwards, he told me I was being presumptive. I had no idea what he meant. While the person was  speaking, I would be preparing my response. I would miss key words or not gain anything from the person who was speaking.  This was being presumptive, that I thought I knew what he was saying. Any one relate? So really listening is a skill and a gift to someone.Though it is harder to do when you know someone well. Enough said.

Thanks everyone. I bet you’re all good with this stuff. Not lecturing any one. Just learning like you all and musing about us, a crazy beautiful humanity. Humankind. Ha! a play on words right there.




Soul things

Soul things

I remember my mum always saying to me when things got a little tricky with me growing up,  “well, you’re in-between” (two ages or stages), and that was that. She was letting me know that I wasn’t able go or to do whatever it was that I thought I was capable of. Refusing to be held back, I was always straining ahead of my own age group. I had three older sisters. Two were much older and were already out of the house. One had been married since I was six. Another sister, closer in age, was a tantalising and frustrating four years older and therefore unreachable when the gap widened when she reached her teens. Life for me was a race to ‘catch up’. Now that I think of it, this is probably what caused me a lot of grief in my early life. I took risks that were not calculated. Impulsive and impatient, I ran into adult life. When you’re young, you just can’t wait.

I married and had three children in quick succession in my mid twenties. For a lot of people, this is the busiest time of their lives. Some of us get married and have children and have careers and this is what consumes us for the better part of 30+ years. There’s not much time for reflection. Time is measured by your kids’ ages. When you find yourself in the second half of life, it is a jolt. You ask yourself, did I do what I set out to do? Did I achieve more, or less? I could write a whole lot about that stage. In fact, there are many books written devoted to this subject. Mid life crisis is what it is called. It sounds alarming,  and it is. It feels like the mid-life express where suddenly you are aware that you are half way to the finish line. It’s a reckoning and a ‘looking back over your shoulder’ to what could have been or what you still feel unfulfilled in. It can propel you forward or backward. It is a chance to unpack your suitcase and see what’s in there, what you need and what you can let go. So on you go. You ignore the aging thing and try a gym, if only to achieve getting back into those skinny jeans, hopefully without straining a muscle.

Now, I’m in the beginning stages of what is euphemistically called  the ‘afternoon of life’. I’m at this other ‘stage’ (thanks ma). On my worst days, it feels like redundancy.  I’ve decided it’s not. More like transition. Which is a nicer word but I’m not really sure from what and where to.

Carl Jung said “The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, it’s meaning and purpose are different…”

Somehow,  20 or so years back when my focus was still on other things, I thought life would magically become more manageable. ‘Manageable’ is what you crave when you are constantly chasing money or raising kids or that elusive holiday. Life would be ‘settled’ at a later time. A couple of definitions: ‘to settle means to resolve something or to feel familiar with somewhere and calm down. Or, to put in order and arrange things or arrive at a desired state’. Yes….this is what we wanted when life was chaotic. But now that it’s not, ‘settling’ seems like an anathema. No longer in a hurry to ‘arrive’. I want time to slow down, to do everything that is on my proverbial list. Like that African Safari or dance on some grapes with my bare feet in Sicily. Develop a liking for Ouzo and sardines and live on a Greek Island. (I’m not really that keen on sardines) Write that book, sail that boat, take that sculpture class or whatever.

Herein lies the tension. When we allow our thoughts to travel down this path of desires and dreams, we can sometimes hit a wall of reasons why we can’t. There are people out there that are well adjusted and fulfilled, I’m sure, who might be able to sail through life, busy and happy. Good for them. But I’m not one of them. Experience can teach us many things along the way in life but we haven’t the all the answers, mostly just excuses, for what lies between us and just doing it.  I remember my mum saying in her last year of life that she had wanted to do so much more. That, haunted me for a long time. I no longer think any one of us will arrive at a time where we feel all is done and dusted, that we have nothing left to do. Just as well.

What I’m finding is this. When life delivers you that curve ball, or you are finding yourself at a cross road, with no idea what to do next, firstly, resist the temptation to run fast into the next thing. You have been presented with an opportunity to pause and listen. Invest in some soul-searching. I am reading some brilliant blogs and books and finding so much appreciation of the wisdom that’s out there. I don’t feel alone, or ostracized from the younger women of today who inspire me to stay curious. I now resist putting myself in a category. At any time (and age) of our lives, we can come up against ourselves and the limitations we impose. We need to explore and challenge ourselves, not because of someone else’s needs, but our own.

Steve Jobs in his commencement speech at Stanford University 2005 said this,

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” He finished off his speech with these four words, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”

I would like to also add this to my little offering, and end with this quote from a beautiful young woman who I recently discovered. When my daughter sent me this after a chat we had one afternoon, I thought this wisdom came from a much older person. I read it and it resonated deep within. It might speak to you too.

“Invest in soul things – the ones that rise in your chest and fill your eyes with light. Expect hardship and doubt. Cling to purpose and joy. Time is willing, but not bountiful. Know that it matters, that you and your soul things matter”. Later she adds; “Soul things are not selfish. They are a gift. They are purpose and provision. They are life giving and life changing. They can be uncomfortable and fear provoking. They can cause doubt and discouragement. They are worth the full spectrum of feelings. It is never too late. You are worthy of them. Don’t forget that.”   B.Oakman




All that has gone before you….


Every one has a story. A unique life begun and lived. All of us are shaped by our early beginnings, our parents, of course and events that affect them set the path before us. In my case, but for one decision that my parents made, I may have lived my life as a Dutch girl. As it happened, they decided to become migrants in a historically large influx of people arriving in countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand in the late fifties, early sixties, of the last century.

My father, had been summarily dismissed from his job of 14 + years in Indonesia. We were in Holland when the telegram came. It was a shock for them not to return to their country of choice and where they had met years before and where so much drama had unfolded in their lives. He had lived there all his life, except for a short and unsuccessful attempt at furthering his and his brother’s education back in their native Holland. They couldn’t stand it, apparently. Two wild lads used to having the freedom of running around a tropical paradise called the Dutch East Indies. Culturally, my parents weren’t very ‘Dutch’ and loathed the cold and rainy weather in Holland.

So to leave their life and what they were used to, was a hugely unexpected upheaval, one that was completely out of their control. Like the war that separated them for three years previously in 1943, when the Japanese invaded Indonesia. Both my parents, my mother with a one year old Mary-Emma, (my older sister) were interred as POWS by the Japanese. As was my maternal grandmother Oma Lies, and my then 12 year old Aunt, Tini. My paternal grandfather, Opa Henri (Harry) was interred as well. But not my paternal grandmother, Oma Toet. This still is shrouded in some mystery as to why. One story I remember from my mother was that she somehow convinced them she had Indonesian blood and as the Indos were in some collusion with the Japanese, she was allowed to stay put in her house but not leave. She stayed there for the duration of the occupation with Ans (Anna) my Uncle Han’s wife and her new baby, Marjie.

Post war, life had been sweet for them in the various places that my dad was posted to by the English shipping company he worked for. Every four years they would sail back to Holland for a few months and then dad would be re-assigned to some other seaport. That’s why my sisters and I were born in different parts of Indonesia. My father had a good job on the docks in charge of processing shipments of goods going in or out. A well paid position, it included a house, servants and a chauffeur driven car. The reason he was sacked was because he had requested a different posting to the one he had been assigned to for the previous four years. My older two sisters, who were of school age, had to remain in Holland with their paternal grandmother as there were no schools there. My sister Christine and I had been born while they were separated from the older children. They arrived back in Holland with two new siblings for the family and my mum vowed to my father never to be separated as a family again. I try to imagine having to leave a six year old and ten year old (two little girls) in the care of a grandmother and not see them for four years, but I fail every time. My poor mother, who sent money and letters faithfully home, worried all the time. Of course my sisters were well taken care of but it wasn’t easy for any of them.

Holland was over crowded and my Dad found it nearly impossible to find employment. Fortunately, through his cousin Freddy, he obtained a clerical job in the KLM so we could eat. It was a boring, badly paid job. He called himself ‘a pen pusher’.

He was a man used to a lot of responsibility and position. He spoke English, self taught, and could speak in Malay, the dialect used then in Indonesia and had limited but workable French and German. He and my mother often dined with Ship Captains and they knew a life style that was both interesting and glamorous. Many a night they would dance in the nightclubs. My mother spent her time sewing dresses for the many parties that the ex-pats organized. She didn’t have to cook, clean and had babysitters on hand. The typical colonial lifestyle that so many Dutch and English people enjoyed Post War in the Dutch East Indies.

But Indonesia had already gained Independence from the Dutch rule and in time, all the Dutch and English companies would be driven out by the then Prime Minister Sukarno. Their idealistic life style would have closed its doors eventually.

So there we all were, in cold, wet Holland, little money and in a small apartment. My mother had to learn to cook. She couldn’t even boil an egg, she told me years later. She had her sister and mother nearby who were at hand to help her through this difficult period.

A couple years passed. My father was restless and un-inspired. He was resented in his job. In Holland at the time, there were two different types of Dutch. The native Dutch and the East Indies type of Dutch. They were suspicious of him and he knew he would gather dust before he was ever promoted.

The Dutch government at the time were keen to encourage people to leave and start new lives elsewhere. Promotional films and pamphlets abounded with the opportunities that could be had in other countries. Our family at this time consisted of Mary-Emma, 17, and Frances (Francesca) 13, Christine, 7 and me 3 years old, and a cocker spaniel, Peter, whom my mother adored (she loved animals) and my father hated, that shat every where in the apartment. All the while, these plans were rolling around us about migrating to Australia. This was the best choice according to my dad Frank (Francesco) as he had known Aussies in the war at Changi (the infamous Burma Railroad) and he regarded them highly.

So after struggling to make ends meet in Holland with a low paying, dead end job and five dependents, he decided immigration was the answer. He saw himself as an International man, not really Dutch. He was ‘old school’, having attitudes of a colonial nature but was open to new ideas and philosophies. Holland was too ‘narrow’ for him and the promise of a new start in Australia was what he was hungering for.

My mother had to follow of course but she did so with admirable optimism. Later when she had been here in Australia for a period of time, she often said she “could’ve swum home”. Poor woman, what a bloody struggle it was. But she was resilient and hope was always present for her in those earlier years and I am filled with admiration of what she had to overcome.

She was just 19 when she married my father. Following is an excerpt from her memoirs.

“We married on the 4th. June, 1941 in Bandoeng (Bandung West Java). Why in Bandoeng? Well Frank and his brother Han had been called up into the army and when Han said he was taking his wife with him, Frank asked my father if I would be able to come too and my father said  ‘well, you’d better get married then’. But I had to fix up the papers, so Frank went on ahead, and I followed two weeks later and we got married. The reason they, the boys had to go there was so that the Dutch Army could speed up the process to make them Sergeants, because the war was now also with Japan and they were coming to Indonesia. It was one sad wedding with no family or friends, besides Anne and Han. But I was happy, because my life at home was not a happy one, so I was glad to go. I was with the man I loved and I felt free as a bird!”

She had experienced for the most part, a rotten childhood, and then war broke out when she was dating my father and was the backdrop to her marrying. She gave birth to a daughter nearly a year later and was interred as a Prisoner of War for nearly three years in Indonesia. Her and Mary-em, who was merely one at the time, were fortunate to survive. Indeed, having my older sister with her prevented my mother from becoming a ‘comfort woman’ for the Japs. She was paraded in front of them along with another string of young women and it was the late decision to take a teething toddler with her on her hip that had her dismissed as unsuitable. Someone had offered to look after Mary-em while Mum had to be taken somewhere off site from the camp that day. If she had said yes, I shudder to think of the outcome.

I now marvel at the optimistic and courageous choice they both made to leave Holland and migrate to a country far away with borrowed money, four mouths to feed and no idea of what sort of employment or life they were about to head into.

Jigsaw lessons…

Jigsaw lessons…

Last Christmas holidays I did a couple of jigsaws. One with the family that came to stay for a few days and another on my own. This year, I bought one again. Not being a jigsaw regular, I approach the 1,000 piece challenge as methodically as I can. First, and I learnt this from my mum, you do the border. Pretty basic. Then, I sort out colours and the obvious collection of matching pieces into little containers. Always at the beginning I wonder out loud why the hell have I started such an insanely difficult and time consuming exercise. I know it’s meant to be relaxing but the tedious sorting and looking at the picture on the box, which is always maddeningly small,  can make me feel overwhelmed. I say this several times to any one who might care, but they look at me with pity and so I resolve to start.

Whilst pottering around the board, I start to reflect on how the jigsaw is a picture, or allegory if you like, of how we go about life. How we see a need or a problem, or endeavour to achieve our goals. I started to do this jigsaw and along the way discovered that life’s little object lessons can reveal little bits of wisdom unlooked for.

I had only had about 10% finished when my grand-daughter Lily sat down and announced she was going to help me. Oooh she said, there is a clock, I’ll find the bit that you need Oma. I sighed, well, I handed her a small pot with brightly coloured pieces and had the expectation that she wouldn’t find it and leave the table pretty soon. She was full of enthusiasm to find it. I had serious doubts she would. Suddenly, she announced triumphantly, there you go Oma, I found it! Life lesson #1: never underestimate the very young. Even our expectations based on long held knowledge and experience can fail and the unexpected can happen. You have gotta to love that!

Trawling through a particular hard part I glanced at a piece, which I was convinced wasn’t correct. Giving it a go anyway, it fell into place easily. I could see a group of  some other pieces now that had possibilities. Life lesson #2 some things aren’t glaringly obvious. Even if you have doubt, try anyway,  it may lead to a whole other new perspective.

Another time, I was getting frustrated with not finding the right piece. I was sure it was missing. After a time, my attention drifted to another part of the puzzle and I started to get busy with sorting through the pots for that part. But as I looked down once again at some scattered pieces, I casually picked one up and found it fitted in perfectly. LL #3, what you thought was missing, was there all along. Just look away from the problem and it or something will fall into place.

Take one section at a time is a good rule in puzzling. Trying to do too many areas at the same time is frustrating and not enjoyable. Our sense of achievement is felt as the picture starts to materialize. One part of the picture will give context to the other for the yet to be made parts. LL. #4 never tackle a problem or a goal by scattering your energy into too many different areas. Concentrate on an area that makes sense to you first. The rest will come together.

Some jigsaw pieces have two or more ‘hands’, and some have odd angles. Some are small and others big. All of them have ‘receiving ports’ (my phrase) and it looks like they join hands. All the pieces by themselves mean a little part of the picture. But together form a whole vista of colour and beauty. LL #5  As that wise man Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” On its own a piece can look insignificant but put in the right place or context, it joins and makes sense of the picture. Like our lives, our families, friends and communities give us our ‘raison d’etre’. We shine when we are doing life with others.

Doing anything as slow as a jigsaw puzzle which will be all broken up in the end,  one would wonder what the point was. I am glad you asked.  I was actually hoping my family would jump in and do some with me as it can be a companionable thing to do. I used to visit my mother on a Thursday afternoon and we would spend an hour puzzling and chatting. There isn’t a ‘point’ but some things don’t have one. At the beginning of a new year, it’s a lovely way to spend a hot afternoon, listening to some music and wandering around my thoughts and reflecting on the year just past and the year ahead.




All that is gold does not glitter….

All that is gold does not glitter….

The gold in a ring, if it has a precious stone in it, is hardly noticed. Alongside the glittering diamond or deep hue of a semi precious stone it can be largely ignored. It is the metal that holds the stone and encases or lifts it up to prominence. The gold, (or silver)   is beautiful in its own right but seems to play a secondary role. Deep in the ground is where the gold originated. It had to be mined and refined out of rock. It is a soft metal yet is heavy. It is also malleable and the most useful. Gold is a very rare substance making up only ~3 parts per billion of the Earth’s outer layer.

Lately my ‘gold’ isn’t the type that glitters or is obvious. It is noticed by me almost by accident as if I pause and look, and there it is, something that just happened or became visible just under the surface of everyday life. Stopping in my thoughts or doings and learning to breathe.

Because I have not as many hours at my work place, I have more time in the afternoons. These are the pauses in my day that can be unsettling. Just getting from A to B in Sydney would usually take up to an hour and I worked an extra couple of hours each day. And so a day would be filled up.  I used to think that work would permit you a framework in which to order your ‘down time’  which was then crammed with practical things and socialising. Now, feelings of not being useful enough or occupied enough can creep in. So there is time to  think through things more slowly and deeply. Without being really conscious of it I am constructing a different mindset, one minute putting things up and the next taking them down. What is worthy and what is just shiny and distracting? What are my goals,  do I have any? Busyness, with all the various options that come with that. have been replaced by a slower pace of living. It may be just a season of this. Who knows, it may all change soon. But I there is no rushing this process of developing new habits. This ‘getting to know ‘ me again, in a different context and without the form of  a previous identity and status is challenging, scary but nice. Is this enough or am I being enough?  Do I really know  it’s not what I do, or what I achieve, like I tell other people, that makes me worthwhile?  Can I cultivate the ground  of  ‘I am enough’?  I like what Brene Brown says in her book ‘Daring Greatly’ when she describes what she calls wholeheartedness in living and relating.  “The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance [….] the opposite of scarcity is enough, (italics mine) or what I call Wholeheartedness. [… ] there are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness:  facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing I am enough.” Brene Brown

I have uncertainty. If we are honest, we all do. In the last twelve months or so I have felt so uncertain and exposed and at times extremely anxious, wondering at my own strength. In the past it was easy to give quick opinions, fix things and move on. This  re-locating has now brought different attributes to my life. I find I am at the receiving end of another grace. The grace to be here and now and be mindful that living with a thankful heart can change the filter that you see through. Looking at what is going well and not at what I don’t have. That’s like looking through a tiny hole in a piece of paper and not peeling back the rest to see all that is well and good. The other day I was gazing at the face of my grandchild while she was explaining why she likes one thing over the other. It was like a snapshot in time to be treasured. I was thankful to be there.

So, I haven’t really ‘arrived’ yet. It’s an evolving journey. Some days I totally fail. I feel overwhelmed. Or skittish like a dragonfly, skimming over the surface. Other times I hit ‘my wall’, and now, when I hit it, (picture a dingy alley, a solid brick thing) I don’t run away or try to fix my feelings quickly so I can get away. I camp right next to it, pull up a chair and absorb the feeling, not fearing it, knowing that it will pass.  I’m realising that I have to grow from that place and believe what I believe still facing my vulnerability. It seems like a weakness at times. At other times my greatest strength. It’s a step by step process. I’m mining my gold.

Cheryl Strayed (author of Into the Wild) says in her book Brave Enough, “you don’t have to move fast or far. You can go just an inch. You can mark your progress breath by breath” That is what I am learning.



Letting Go

Letting Go

There is an art to letting go. Letting go and moving on or forward, and not clinging onto the past. Releasing relationships that were at one time so much part of our lives can take some effort. Letting go at any time of your life can include more than that of course, you can insert here, status, identity, dreams, rejection, misunderstandings and actual places, countries and environments. The list is long.

All this has raised it’s head over the last few months. I guess it was a thing I had to do in the past after many events in my life, all with varying degrees of success. Right now, I’ve had to adjust to a different lifestyle, letting go of the past life style and environment, and it’s been like stepping into someone else’s photograph (awkward), or standing still on a travellator, (like those long ones at airports) taking you who knows where. It’s been like committing yourself to a new chapter when you’re not sure whether you have finished reading, (or writing) the last one. This is part of the process,  I have heard, of re-settling your life somewhere else.

My nephew’s little girl, three years old, and  I were making playdough rainbows recently when she asked me did I know “Letting Go” (from Frozen) I knew of it. But the point was made. Let it go, or letting go, is a healthy way of embracing new possibilities.  Of finding different parts of me, living wholeheartedly in the now and not fearing the unknowable future. But in Frozen, the lead character, out of necessity, has to slam the door on her past. This sounded familiar. In my earlier life this may have worked but there isn’t a lot to recommend it’s effectiveness.

So how does one do this with grace? To be honest, I am not sure yet. I am, in the thick of it and in the process I am learning so much more about myself in the bargain. I think the re-locating, (see previous post) has triggered another dormant coping strategy that is absolutely lousy and so ineffective.  Snapshot – A little tragic figure in the corner, going ‘ok , everybody can just GO AWAY, I don’t need anyone’ and maybe later, ‘I’ll just stay here and be invisible and wait till I get a grip on things and then I’ll reappear, stronger and shinier of course’..An outdated coping strategy probably invented around the time my girl friends dumped me in the 5th Grade. Some other tools have been needed.

Enter Brene Brown’s excellent book about being vulnerable, Daring Greatly. This has helped me so much. It isn’t at all about moving or leaving, or letting go for that matter but about being vulnerable and open and having the courage to try a new way of living and thinking. She is refreshingly honest and willing to live wholeheartedly which in turn,  has helped me to see myself more clearly. She talks a lot about being connected and not disengaging (when confronted with feeling vulnerable) whilst learning resilience and handling uncertainty. For most people, feeling uncertain and moorless can be unnerving. But sometimes ‘anchored in’ somewhere for a long time can curtail new shoots of growth. A bit like a plant being ‘pot bound’.

I have realised too, that letting go isn’t necessarily forgetting or even rejecting. It requires me to adapt to the new whilst blessing the past as a rich time, peopled with relationships that enhanced my life and brought out the best in me. My comfortable life, like an old worn slipper, predictable and cozy had to be exchanged for the unknown and the unpredictable, the challenging and sometimes uncomfortable newness. Another thing I realised was I had a fear of letting go and feeling like I might lose out, that there would be loss and no gain.That I would ‘miss out’. My busy ordered life in the past convincing me of my purpose of doing, of fitting into the wheel and being part of a whole.

Then the other day, whilst visiting Sydney and staying at my sister’s place, I was walking down a path that led through to the harbour beaches in the bushland. I was thinking, the last time I walked here by myself, (many months ago) I had run into a young student girl from my counselling job at school. I had travelled with her for several years through many difficulties that her young life had presented to her. Since leaving my job, I had of course lost contact and I wondered how she was.  Unbelievably, coming down the path that day I saw her and she was with another girl the same age who I also had a counselling relationship with. She, the other girl,  had to leave the school where I was employed, abruptly three years ago and I had not had the chance to speak with her and say goodbye. I did send her a card at the time, but always thought of her and hoped she was doing better. These two were and still are close friends. Both have had to battle extraordinary events and pain in their young lives. Both meant a lot to me. We had a lovely chat. Then one of them embraced me to say goodbye. She held on to me for a long time. I could feel the emotion coming from her. I was so moved as she had not ever in the past showed any such thing as her culture didn’t allow for it and she was so young when she left. This happy little reunion, for my part, did my heart such good. It was a cameo moment that reminded me that I had value, that my relating to these girls had changed something for them and for me.

I had not known I had needed that little connection, to remind me that my past had purpose and that it was still having an ongoing effect. Lately, I can see a little more clearly, that the fabric of my life one day when unrolled so to speak,  will have all these connecting pieces, all joined together into one cloth and interwoven with the old and the new and the continuing. Now to have courage, to get going and let go. It might get a little more messy as I go but I’m okay with that.










The Far North Coast

The Far North Coast

We arrived jet lagged and tired on the 30th May to our place here in Lennox Head. Up till now I have avoided writing here in this blog. Usually it helps me organise and clarify my thoughts. Processing my thoughts is one thing, my emotions another. Both have not been consistent enough to even put down in writing and if anything, my emotions have been more reminiscent of a roller coaster going crazily up and down.All this was expected to a certain degree. I knew that I would be homesick and that jobs wouldn’t necessarily fall into our laps. I also knew I would miss family,  my job and work friends and spiritual community.

So we happily  set about buying some furniture and unpacking the last of the boxes. The house started to resemble a home. Occasionally, I would be jolted to the realisation that this was our  actual home. After about three weeks, even after Neil landed work for a time (at the moment it has changed again) and the sun shone for days at a time, ‘it’ arrived. ‘It’ can only be described as a hollow feeling inside, something intangible, but very present. They call it transition, people who have moved  before tell me, but it feels more like an ‘it’ as it stalks you when you least expect it. I sometimes would think in the middle of the night, (actually I think a lot in the middle of the night) that the pieces of my life were floating around like a jig saw puzzle and the pieces were not quite fitting together. Or another way of putting it, life felt suspended by fragile threads, a bit like spiders and their silky threads just hovering around without landing anywhere. And it wasn’t just me. Neil felt the same way. We kind of propped each other up on the worst days. Unfortunately, one of the the worst days happened to be  on his birthday. It was only eleven days after we came back from overseas.  We had a nice time with my daughter and her husband and the grandies (grand children) in the morning for a couple of hours but after we left them, the day abruptly changed as if a brooding cloud was over us. Friends rang up Neil up to wish him happy birthday, which was lovely but made it seem kind of worse. We drove around not wanting to go home. Finally we did and ‘it’ manifested. After tears (and apologies for his day being so miserable) there came a calm. Till the next wave. In fact, it seemed every second day was a lesson in navigating the rocking boat called Transition.

It hit a peak one day. The week had been particularly trying. Neil had an infected tooth which needed to come out and then infection had spread into his jaw, so it required a trip to the Oral surgeon and two different types of antibiotics. I had started a new casual job down at the local school and I was still ‘finding my feet’. That’s a great saying isn’t it? I kind of feel that finding your feet means that somehow they have gone missing. Which was exactly where I was at. Missing everything including feeling disembodied somehow, like I hadn’t really landed yet. Plus that Neil hadn’t worked for a few weeks. We both hit the bottom of what felt like a murky creek and then, as the saying goes, there is only one way after that, up.

One night I had a dream. I was turning pages of a magazine and two words jumped off one of the pages. I woke up and wondered about the words. They were ‘magnify hope’. I thought, well, that means I need to pay closer attention to hope and look at it and ponder the power of hope. Hope has to replace anxiety and fear of failure. Hope is what brought us to this decision in the first place, to move and bring about change in our lives and to have a home and build a different life. I also had an inspirational talk with my gorgeous and multi talented daughter who lives in Bangalow at one of the many cosy cafes there. She shared that we need to avoid a ‘survival’ mindset. As a business woman and an entrepreneur, she can’t afford to stay in that mindset if they are to achieve their goals. She understood all about homesickness, after all, she had been here for more than a year. But a  survival mindset is destructive to being creative. Just surviving is not what we intended to do when we thought about moving here. So we talked about the other mindset, the ‘creative’ one. With this mind set you seek to create and fulfill dreams. You focus on where you want to be in and start to plan a path in that direction. With this mind set you are the ‘best’ you.

‘All is fair in love and war’ they say. Not that I necessarily agree with that statement but, I guess all is fair with moving ‘lock, stock and barrel’, (sorry for the cliches) at our stage of life, to 750 klms away from everything familiar. It’s not like I didn’t expect  not to feel dislocated and a bit lost, but it’s always a different experience to what you imagine. I know that in twelve or more months time, I will have a different perspective. A friend of mine recently said in an email, (she and her husband have been living overseas for years now) to view the downside of transition not so much as being homesick, as ‘timesick’. Those moments (or times spent living your life back there) are not retrievable. They are in the past and you can’t go back.

We have new ‘times’  to make now. Hope is anchoring us into our surroundings. I feel like my feet are on the ground and the road ahead holds promise.It’s a road to somewhere. All stop overs and bends in it are negotiable.  I am grateful for the stretching experience and the beautiful area in which I am living. I’m not here just to survive but to maximize the times that we are in. I’m hoping for more.

“Hope like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice, that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is; not as we wish it to be.” Krista Tippett, ‘On Being’







How does one capture the essence of a city? Surely it would be presumptuous to try after five days. But Lisbon invites you to see her. She is proud and yet humble, having been scarred by many events. It was only as recent as 1974 that they were liberated from Salazar’s dictatorship. But it’s beauty stands out like its  colourful painted houses and its myriads of tiles. The great earthquake of 1755 forever changed the nation’s psyche and there are reminders everywhere. Such as the burnt out church that stands as a memorial of the thousands that died there on All Saints Day when the earthquake rumbled through. It’s heavy stone walls collapsing. Apparently it would have scored 9 on the Richter scale, if there was such a device then. There were fires even more devastating straight after the quake, caused by overturned cooking fires and candles. This fire raged for five days and if people tried to escape on boats, a Tsunami heaved over them.  So the taxi driver tells us this driving from the airport. It feels current even for these generations because it altered their national psyche.

But more than this they have an adventurous spirit. They called their most prolific time in this, in the 16th century, The Age of Discovery. They went ballistic in sailing out with their beautiful ships and discovering and colonising countries everywhere bringing wealth to the nation. It was their Golden Age and then there was devastation because after the quake of 1755 there came poverty. Despite this, it seems at nearly every turn, we still see such glorious enormous squares and plazas with tall statues and fountains. It’s like the Portuguese are  celebrating  life even more since then and perhaps their national pride is in this, survival.

With our friends who had come to Lisbon for the weekend, we venture out one night to find us some Fado, the Portuguese version of the blues. This music is sung with an accompaniment of guitar and something that resembles a mandolin, with twelve strings. Women mainly sing Fado, meaning ‘fate’, as they sing of the often fatal results of the aforementioned adventurous spirit, or protracted separation from their loved ones sometimes for years. On this night, in a traditional restaurant that has been a Fado one for thirty years, we settle ourselves in comfortable chairs around a table with a white linen table cloth and a waiter explains that there will be different singers tonight, as it is a Sunday night. As if we care. We are thrilled to have stumbled across this local and not touristy place because as we look around the room it seems we are the only non-Portuguese there. We decide to have just nibbles, cod croquettes and stuffed mushrooms and a good glass of red wine. It’s pretty expensive but the cover charge includes this so we decide it’s worth it. After a few minutes, a woman comes out and stands in the middle of the room with the  two musicians seated around her. She starts with a powerful voice, straight into a crescendo with the first verse. No microphone needed. We cannot understand a word, but she is captivating. The women singers all wear shawls and they hold one end of the shawl out and twist it whilst singing. It must be traditional. Then there is an interlude and we eat for a while and then another singer comes out. Each time they sing four songs. Once a male singer comes out and he is a smallish man, but what an incredible voice! People in the room look so moved. I spot a couple of women snuggling close to their partners. Other men closing their eyes in rapturous attention and women moving to the rhythm of the music inn their seats. Each singer over the course of the night has a unique voice but the style is similar and at times it can be a joyful type of song ending in a sort of declaration which has the room applauding before they even finish the last few words. It was a wonderful way to round up the last couple of nights and I feel satisfied.

We have trawled up the steep cobble paved streets either walking or in the vintage trolleys that rattle around centimeters away from parked cars. We have been in a Tuk Tuk which is like an open sided little van with seats facing each other. Travelled by ferry to nearby Calcihas across the river and eaten grilled sardines and octopus. Walked around Markets, shopped in Chiado and had the most delicious pastries, ever.Seen stunning views and visited an ancient Castle. Drank inexpensive but lovely wines and heard music played everywhere in the streets. Thank you Lisbon. You are indeed a beautiful city with a great heart.