Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And What Have You Done?

I started out this year full of fire and fierce hopes, but like all years it's been a mixed bag.

Today, the novel stands at 51,867 words. That's not bad. It's more than double my previous total words written on a project. It's not finished, but it's more than half finished, so I think I'm content with my efforts given how difficult some parts of this year have been.

I've been on a mild SSRI anti-anxiety medication since shortly after my last post, and it has helped immensely with the panic and fight-or-flight responses I was having to my workload. I'm still not sure whether the not coping was due to a chemical imbalance, or whether the chemical imbalance was caused by the workload being absurd, but either way I'm coping a bit better.

The high points of this year included my brother-in-law's lovely wedding, seeing the house where my mother grew up in Nottingham, travelling around the UK a bit, celebrating our first wedding anniversary (I did a video but it's too long to post here, and I don't suppose you lot want to sit for 14 minutes looking at wedding and honeymoon pictures really!), Munchkin starting Year 1, finding the heritage-listed gravestones of my ancestors, spending an enchanted week with the SCA at Raglan Castle in Wales, and losing around a stone through Weight Watchers. 

Aha! Oho!
Australia Day is not quite the same in England.
Making friends at his uncle's wedding.
7 Magdala Road, Nottingham: my mother's childhood home.
Surprise awesome park stop in Yorkshire.
Robin Hood's Bay.

Bridge Farm in Almeley, Herefordshire. My great-great-grandfather, Arthur William Dew, was living here in 1871 aged 2.
In the ongoing storage fight in Munchkin's tiny bedroom, I sewed a bookshelf.
Theme park day.
Raglan Castle, Wales
Caution: Archery
Sightseeing in Chichester.
Boarding the plane in Dubai en route to Perth.
A park in Glen Forrest, Perth. My father and I sat on the play equipment, drank coffee and talked.
The graves of my direct ancestors and their relatives, Ashurst, Kent.
6:15am, 25/12/2013
It's been mild so far, but the frost will come.

The low point of the year was, of course, losing my grandmother Jean. Here's some photos of her, just because.
Aged 4, growing up in Liverpool.
Aged 19.

With my grandfather Paul, and their children: (back) Mark, Penny, Nicola; (front) Jonquil, David, Erica, Leonora.
Mum, me, Jean, about 2001.
My first university graduation, 2003.
Family Gathering in 2009.

 It's been a year of big events, lots of weddings and lots of driving - from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north east to Southampton on the south coast, west to Shropshire and Herefordshire and out to Raglan, and down in the south east to Kent... I've covered a lot of ground this year, and enjoyed it. There's been new babies (though alas still not one of my own yet) and a few people have left us. Certainly a memorable year.

I haven't got a lot of big goals for 2014. Keep writing the book until it is done, then edit it and start on something new. Keep losing weight, until I hit my goal. Try to get a masters application accepted and funded to start next October, on a Heritage theme. Cope at school. Write another Christmas play. Take more photographs. Go for more walks. See more of this amazing country. Make more garb. Sleep properly. Wear interesting clothes. Have some fun. Blog regularly?

Happy new year, everyone!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rock and a Hard Place

As you're probably aware, teaching in the UK is getting worse and worse. Shifting goalposts, enormous workloads, constant negative feedback, absurd performance pay, and so on. I'm going crazy with stress and can't keep up with everything I'm supposed to be doing unless I have absolutely no life. I could work 12 hour days 7 days a week and still never get on top of it all.

I keep reaching breaking point, then finding I can go that little bit further, then reaching breaking point again. I almost resigned for Christmas, but I was too scared of the money issues. Now I'm invested in these kids and want to see out the year, but the fight-or-flight response is on constantly and I'm living through a rollercoaster of adrenaline. This has to be my last year of this. Come summer, I am done with classroom teaching.

I'm going to try to get a job back in the heritage sector, with supply teaching as my stopgap until something in that field comes through.

But this comes with a price. I was hoping to have a baby in the next year or so, but we can't really afford one if I'm not in a full-time, decently-paid job in which I am entitled to paid maternity leave. Statutory maternity pay isn't really enough for very long, and I'd be wary of not having a job to go back to anyway. So if I take the plunge, and get out of teaching and into something else, I have to put off having a baby until I'm in whatever that something else turns out to be. At nearly 33, that's not a decision to be taken lightly.

And yet, it's simply not safe, mental health wise, for me to suck it up long enough to have the baby.

I can't balance it, and I don't know what to do.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the Room Next Door

Wednesday 11th September started as a perfectly normal day. I went to work, I taught all morning, I grabbed my phone and went to have my lunch.

Sitting down to lunch, I took a look at my emails, and there was one from my Mum which just said "Phone me".

I knew her mother, Jean, was unwell, and my heart sank. I scuttled outside, juggling my credit card and my phone as I tried to charge up a calling card to phone halfway around the world. Before I managed it, my phone rang, Mum's number.

Her news was not good - she'd just had to be the witness at Jean's do-not-resuscitate conversation. Jean had been given two days to live.

I cried all over my colleagues, my head teacher drove me home, and after several phonecalls and wrestling with internet systems, a plane ticket was booked and ten hours later, 10:30pm that night, I was taxi-ing down the runway at Heathrow on my way to Perth.

I arrived at 1am on Friday the 13th (flying out on the 11th of September and flying in on Friday the 13th, it's amazing I got there in one piece). We decided not to go straight to the hospital, and I will forever wonder whether that was the right choice, as I learned later that at that time Jean was still able to talk to people.

We got there around 7am after a few hours' sleep, by which time Jean was, I guess, in a sleep of sorts. She didn't wake up, and died an hour and a half later. I had no last words from or to her, no chance to say any of the thoughts on my mind, but had I gone straight there, perhaps I wouldn't have been there to hold her hand at the very end. I'll never know whether it was the right choice. Perhaps there isn't one. Perhaps she knew I was there. Perhaps, as I was the last of the family who was on their way to get there, she was waiting for me. I'll never know.

Jean wanted to die at home and in her sleep, without having lost any of her mental acuity. Given that they won't really let people die at home any more, this was close. She had five of her seven children and one of her sixteen grandchildren at her side as she slipped away after an astonishingly full life. If any death could be said to be a good one, this was one.

If flinging myself across the world at short notice to watch my grandmother die was not surreal enough, what followed transcended surreality. My cousin, who got married last weekend in Kent, was having a betrothal ceremony in Perth on the 14th. Jean had been adamant that it should go ahead - 'dance at the wedding' was one of her last wishes for us all - and so it did, with us all in this bizarre daze of unprocessed feelings. There were a few tears, but largely it was a masterpiece of kept-up appearances and non-dealing-with-reality.

I stayed in Perth until the following Friday. I managed to see a couple of friends, I sorted out the possessions of mine that remained in Mum's shed, I saw my paternal grandmother (who got taken to hospital with pneumonia as well that week, which was almost more than I could take) and helped in a peripheral way with organising the funeral. The day before the funeral it became apparent that I was the only adult grandchild who wanted to speak (all grandchildren had been asked) so along with my 15-year-old brother I became the voice of all of my cousins at only the second funeral I'd ever attended. I was still adjusting the eulogy a couple of hours before the funeral as family members asked for particular things to be included.

The funeral was Wednesday 18th. I had not been distressed by Jean's body when she died, but I wish I hadn't looked in the coffin as it was all wrong, Jean and not Jean all at once... too much. I drove two of my three siblings in the funeral cortege across Perth to the venue, teaching them as we went that all they had to remember to say was "as well as can be expected" and "thank you". I hugged people I hadn't seen for ages, or who remembered me only as a small child. I got up and spoke. I sat and cried. I drank juice and thanked people for coming and for saying nice things about my eulogy. It was a beautiful funeral and I wish I remembered it clearly instead of in bits and snatches, but I guess that's the way of things.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, Jean’s beloved friends and family. When I was in high school, Jean attended a morning tea given by my home economics class. Overhearing me offer Jean coffee, my teacher jumped in with “Christine! How dare you call your grandmother by her first name?” Jean drew herself up, gave the teacher a scathing look, and responded with great dignity, “How dare you tell my granddaughter what she can and can’t call me?”

The teacher never forgave me, but the pride I felt about Jean standing up for me, and for our relationship, more than made up for it. It was only years later that I understood what it meant to Jean to be seen as an individual, not just someone’s granny but a vibrant,  complex person whose name deserved to be used.

As an adult, I often find myself echoing one of Jean’s favourite phrases: “That is an un-called-for provocative remark and as such is banned!”. As a result, a rising number of young English school children know the meanings of “un-called-for” and “provocative”, and may even try a little harder not to wind each other up. This might be the smallest part of Jean’s legacy, but nonetheless I think she would have been proud of it.

So who was Jean, to a grandchild?

Roast dinners, birthday cakes, warm hugs,
Banknotes slipped secretly into eager young hands;
Well-chosen books, comfy chairs, wise words,
A fierce defence of kith and kin;
A love of nature, an eye for beauty, a powerful history,
A lifetime of learning and love.

Thank you, Jean.

The wake was at my aunt's house, afterwards, just for family. Having catered for a 150-person wedding four days earlier, my aunt wasn't able to cater for the wake, so we ordered fish and chips. Jean loved fish and chips as one of the simple joys in life, reminiscent of holiday treats, and I think she would have found it funny and fitting that the family had such a meal in her honour.

Afterwards, my cousin got out his guitar and started strumming, and the family began to sing. Nothing particularly significant, just pop songs of various vintages. We wobbled our way through "When you say nothing at all" and nearly broke down over "Leaving on a jet plane", but there wasn't much reference to Jean at all... just the family, sitting around singing as we've done countless times before, as if Jean was not gone at all but just in another room, or had left for home early while her family carried on foolishly into the night.

I don't believe in any sort of an afterlife - haven't for years. That didn't change when Jean died. I believe she's completely gone. But perhaps as long as we remember people, love them and hold them in our hearts, in some way they're only just a thought away... like they're just in the room next door.

I miss her so much.

Five daughters, two sons, three daughters-in-law, four sons-in-law, ten granddaughters, six grandsons, three each of grandsons-in-law and granddaughters-in-law, three great-granddaughters, two great-grandsons, and one step-great-grandson. What an incredible legacy of love.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


There's no escaping the outcome of today's Australian election.

The Liberals are going to cut funding to transport, health, education and infrastructure, re-instate unfair workplace laws, and put gender and sexuality equality back as far as they can get away with. They want to suspend marine sanctuaries, don't believe in human-driven climate change, and tried to block a tax that has actually resulted in lower carbon emission rates.

This is Australia's choice.


I don't even know what to say.

They are going to prevent, hold back or break everything I care about.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

SCA Projects

I have so much going on in my head right now. School begins again soon, I'm still trying to write this book, and my SCA interests have leapt into action again. So I'm trying to at least write things down here so that they don't get forgotten. This post may be updated as I remember things!

  • I am now Deputy ID Chronicler. Must nag Lady Constanza for jobs.
Other projects:
  • Medieval tiles reproduced as rubber-backed tapestry for pavilion floor mats.
  • Recorder consort (or similar musical consort) with rehearsals conducted over Skype.
  • Insulae Draconis Song Book project.
  • Linked to the above, raising the tradition of Bardic song and storytelling in the Principality.
  • Make a linen-lined woollen hood and a warm woollen surcote for colder weather.
  • Use wire to create a new clasp for the Aneala cloak.
  • Make garb for the munchkin and take him to an event.
  • Get my own name and device registered (this should be submitted next month).
  • Heraldic cloak, once the above comes through.
Do ALL the things.

Friday, August 23, 2013


I had less than 4 hours' sleep last night, so this post may be semi-lucid. We had a friend staying over and good wine, and all temporarily forgot that the kitten and the kiddo were not under any circumstances going to let us sleep past 7am. So turning in at 3am was not smart, and we are zonked.


This is going to be a short post and probably really irritating, because none of the stuff it's actually about can be shared publicly. Suffice to say there's been a lot of Stuff and Feels being passed around branches of my social circle over the past couple of weeks, and some of it had the potential for ~boom~.

What I can and wanted to say was that I'm quite proud of how I've handled all this quite tricky emotional navigation. I've considered my own wants and needs carefully (no easy thing, as longer-term readers of this blog will know... I have a history of being unable to articulate or respect either) and I've expressed them thoughtfully and respectfully. And I've been getting the same in return from others whose Stuff and Feels needed to be clarified and/or negotiated.

So, yay for chosen family (friamily? friendamily? famiends? famends? Shut up, Christine) who know how to string an emotionally charged sentence together without unnecessarily hurting anyone. It rocks.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


1. (original meaning) Adding information to the back story of a fictional character or world, without invalidating that which had gone before.
- Urban Dictonary

A few months ago we took out a subscription to Lovefilm Instant, which among other things has given me dangerously unfettered access to Buffy episodes. I have been indulging in a fit of nostalgia and watching the entire thing, all 7 series, from start to finish.

Watching the early seasons of Buffy is like looking back at my own teenage years. The main characters are supposed to be mere months younger that me; the clothing, hair, technology and mannerisms are all those of my own generation.

As I was watching the first season, I couldn't help paying extra attention to the character of Willow, who as anyone familiar with the series will know, later becomes/realises she is a lesbian. For those who are not familiar, teen-Willow has a crush on a boy, slightly-older-teen-Willow has a relationship with a boy, but early-20s Willow has two successive relationships with women. I don't know - I haven't read up on it - whether this was always something that Joss Whedon intended, or whether it developed as the seasons went on.

When I look back at my own high school years, there are some things that stick out glaringly as signs that I was gay and didn't know it. The way I blushed and stuttered when speaking to girls. The way I couldn't quite 'get' crushing on the usual cute boy celebrities and had to pretend as best I could. The way I craved "intense friendships" with girls and didn't quite know what that meant.

As I watch these early seasons, I can't help looking for the same signs in Willow... and imagining them, where I can. Imagining in her unknowing proto-lesbian character my own proto-lesbian self.

It's surprisingly therapeutic to overlay the past with the future, to see in earlier events the shadow of later events that the players in those events could not even imagine.

On Trout, and Memories

When I was growing up, one of my eccentric maternal grandfather's hobbies was farming trout in the creek that ran through my grandparents' property in the Perth hills. I have many vivid memories of this setup: the netting around the enclosures, the smell of the big bin of trout food (very similar to kitten kibble!), the texture of the pole on the long-handled nets we used to catch them, the yellow of the fish innards when they were being gutted for cooking. Sometimes we'd catch, cook and eat them at my grandparents' house; other times, we'd be sent home with cleaned trout ready for cooking.

Inextricably linked with trout is the smell of lemon thyme, which grew in our herb garden and was always the herb of choice when Mum cooked the trout. It smells of warm evenings and sounds like honey bees and cicadas. It's one of the fundamental memory scents of my childhood home.

I was unexpectedly taken back there yesterday in Tesco, half a world away, when I came across a bunch of fresh lemon thyme in the herb section. It's so rare to see lemon thyme in the shops that I leapt at it, then sensibly put it back, saying to Ellie that we'd see whether they had trout at the fish counter first.

They did have trout, both whole and filleted. At the end of our shopping list, and in possession of two trout fillets, we went back for the lemon thyme... and it was gone.

I actually fought back tears, absurdly enough, but consoled myself with the thought of thyme and slices of lemon as a close second. We grabbed a lemon and headed for the checkout.

Naturally, seven hours later when we came to cook dinner, Ellie called me into the kitchen with a chagrined expression: the thyme we both thought was in the cupboard was not there. We must have run out without either of us putting it on the shopping list, I guess. Thwarted again.

So, I ended up having mixed herb and lemon trout, and yes, it was delicious. But next time I'm grabbing the lemon thyme first!

I had wanted to put up a photograph of Whistlepipe Gully where it runs through my grandparents' property, but it seems I don't have one. Instead, this is my family's herb garden in Glen Forrest, Western Australia, circa 1991.

Monday, August 5, 2013

An Update...

It's been a while, and I've been neglecting this blog shamefully, so here's some things that have happened lately.

Munchkin turned 5. I made a cake.


We added a new family member, Ophelia (also known as Feefee or Feely-Cat, or Get Out Of It You Stupid Git).


My wife and I both finally accepted that we'd gained more weight than we were happy with in the long slide since the wedding, and we've joined Weight Watchers. It's working very well for us so far - they've changed the plan a lot and it's a lot more manageable and liveable than it was the last time I tried it. It's going well, and I'll update about it again when I reach goal - which I am going to this time, unlike the last few attempts!


We also celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. There is a mushy video of our wedding and honeymoon, but blogger won't let me upload it (probably because it's 14 minutes long and rather large)... I will look into putting it up on youtube or vimeo and linking it here.


The day school finished we raced up to visit friends in Shropshire - an area we are falling in love with as a future home - and climbed The Wrekin, an achievement that made us both feel rather proud given how unfit we've both become!

That's the Munchkin and his best friend L in the foreground.

The book currently stands at just over 43,000 words. Things got slow when the assessment end of the school year arrived at the same time as an unexpected plot twist, and I'm now trying to get back on track with daily writing over the summer. It's already more than double the length of my previous longest piece of work, so that is pretty satsifying. I have an idea for another, unrelated book on the backburner, so I want to finish this one by the end of the year, work on the other one in the first half of next year, then come back and edit this one next summer. The other one is aimed at primary school readers, so it will be shorter.


I'm off to Wales in just over a week to a big SCA event. I've become reconciled with the SCA since inspirational equality was written in as acceptable, and was tried out by a same-sex couple appearing in the most recent crown tourney. They didn't win, but the precedent is now there and one day we will have a same-sex couple on the throne. That's been enough to entice me back!


Late last year, I glanced back over my employment contract and realised that they'd made me a permanent, not one-year, offer. There was much rejoicing. There's been a bit of staff turnover and rearrangement ready for next year, but I am staying in Year 2. This is the first time I've ever stayed at the same school two years running, and the first time I've ever taught the same year two years running. Fancy that! I might almost begin to feel like I know what I'm doing.


One of the reasons there's been a long gap on this blog is that I've found it hard to express many of the things I've been thinking about this year. I get very emotional about my hot-button topical issues - feminism, sexuality and education - and I sometimes feel too overwhelmed with  frustration to actually say anything sensible about them. However, I'm going to try, so my goal is to blog every weekend, and say something, whether it's an update or a few thoughts on something that matters.

I think that's everything. Back to the book...

Sunday, February 17, 2013


This weekend, my wife and I were invited to the birthday celebrations of an old friend of hers, up in Scotland. We could only afford for one of us to go, so I encouraged her to book flights and get on up there and have fun. I've actually been looking forward to it: the munchkin is away too, so I am getting my first 100% solo weekend since E and I first got serious, and my first nights alone in a bed since we moved in together in September 2011.

I won't say I haven't enjoyed some solo time, because I have. I've watched things that E won't watch with me (LotR, yay!) and got a heap of stuff done around the house that is just easier with no one else underfoot. Plus, loooong uninterrupted bath, exercising with no one around to see, and so on. A break from people is good.

But now I'm starting to feel a little lonely, and more significantly, I'm channelling the deep, disturbing loneliness of so many solitary hours in my 20s.

I get what I call 'location flashbacks' all the time. There is usually no rhyme or reason to these: as in, I'll be fishing my travel card out of my purse and suddenly an image of the intersection of Roe Highway and Kalamunda Road will pop into my head. These images never make any sense or have any discernible trigger, so I generally ignore them.

Today, however, all of the images have been of my house in Goomalling or my flat in Sydney. The two places where I spent the longest, loneliest hours of my life so far. The two had a lot in common: removed from my family and existing friends, struggling to make new friends in a new place, very uncertain about myself and my life.

In both of those places, I was surrounded by silence. I remember it well... long empty day after long empty day. I pottered about, frittering away time, lost in my depression and confusion and ennui and need. I told myself I enjoyed the quiet, that I could never stand living with a housemate, but in the end it was a comforting lie. I did not like being alone, and it was not good for me.

I've learned a lot since then - about myself, about how to make friends, about how to meet my own needs and not fear them. But for some reason today's empty, silent house has really thrown me.

It's a good reminder, I think. Even though the two members of my little family, with all their quirks, may sometimes drive me to long for silence... I don't really want it. Not a return to the long, empty solitude and the deep sadness that went with it. My life now is full, happy and satisfying, and I'm very grateful for that. The years of loneliness are gone, and I don't need to fear them any more.

Typing all this out has helped me process what I've been feeling this evening, and I'm not feeling maudlin and desperate like I was at the beginning. But I'm posting it nonetheless... to remind me why people are a good thing!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sharing My Workout...

I started off two weeks ago with a workout 20 minutes long and using 680g weights. I've crept it up to 30 minutes now and 1.13kg weights, and I plan to keep creeping... an hour is my length goal, and once I've conquered the 2.27kg dumbells lurking in the back of the cupboard I'll look at investing in something heavier. It's baby steps, but they feel awesome. I'm getting in a session on Mondays, Wednesdays and either Friday or Saturday each week depending on energy & privacy levels on those days. It's working!

One of the things I set out to counter with this particular exercise routine was my peculiar hatred of counting repetitions. Ask me to do twenty situps and I'll get annoyed with the counting by about 5. My brain does a lot of drifting when I exercise, and I think I need that to keep going, so counting brings me back to the physical activity in a way that actually makes the activity harder. To deal with this, I've used songs with distinct patterns, and I use those patterns instead of counting: e.g. I do star jumps for the whole of this verse, then switch to weight curls for the chorus, then situps for the next verse, etc. I'm cramming in a lot of different exercises targeting different muscle groups, and I can already feel it making a difference. I have more energy, stamina and strength, and I no longer ache post-workout or feel like I can't walk the next day. I've not exercised this frequently since I was a teenager, and it's really quite a remarkable feeling. I might even be becoming someone who craves exercise. Fancy that!!

I thought I'd share the 8 songs that currently make up my 30-minute workout. They're all songs in which I find the tune uplifting and moving; a couple of them have lyrics that also lift my spirit. The last one always leaves me with its eponymous emotion, even at the end of a hard workout, and the buzz I get from finishing on that high note always leaves me feeling I could go that little bit further.

1. Celtic Woman: Granuaile's Dance

2. Voices of Ireland: Star of the County Down

3. Enya: The River Sings

4. Celtic Woman: Mo Ghile Mear

5. Mediaeval Baebes: Return of the Birds

6. John Parr: St Elmo's Fire

7. Celtic Woman: The Sky and the Dawn and the Sun

8. Loreen: Euphoria


PS: In story news, I am currently sitting on 12,957 words, with today's writing session yet to come. Pretty much double my expected total for this point. Oh, yes.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Year of Living Christinely

Back in November, I tried for the umpteenth time to do NaNoWriMo. And, like most years, Stuff happened. It seemed to happen with particular vigour this time: a chest infection, an OFSTED inspection and the winter vomiting bug , all in a row. By the time the crises were over, I was too far behind to catch up. Again.

But finally it dawned on me that writing a set amount each day until it's done is what a lot of real authors do anyway. They just don't try to cram it into one manic month. I knew this, but I didn't, too. I guess it finally sank in!

I mulled this over in the last couple of weeks of the year, then in the last few days after Christmas knuckled down and chose a plot and sorted out my characters, and on the first of January the words started to flow. In the first five days I've already written around 2750 words - which is more than I've managed in some NaNoWriMo attempts!

My target for each day is a mere 250 words. That's less than this blog post will be by the time it's finished. At that rate, I should finish the first draft sometime in October. With 9 weeks of holiday between now and then, and with the potential for days when inspiration comes thick and fast, it could be sooner.

Now, it's not speedy and it's surely not as much as I'm capable of, but it's doable no matter what happens. If the munchkin gets chicken pox or we all have gastro for the third time this winter or the boiler breaks or whatever... I can still crank out a measly 250 words every. single. day.

This book is getting written, damn it!

I'm trying to make a few little lifestyle changes alongside the writing effort, too. This year looks to be an astonishingly stable one for me: job, house and relationship are all firmly set and highly unlikely to change. This year should be a bit of a breather, a chance to put things in place and get into a routine with the certainty of (hopefully!) knowing what's coming next. We're finding ways to take a more structured approach to managing the household, and I'm looking at a routine to work on my fitness without costing us any money and with minimal time loss in our already-hectic schedule. Small steps, but good ones.

I'm not making any resolutions, except to stick to the goals I've got: get fitter, write book, maintain house, teach well, love my family and enjoy myself.

Happy New Year!