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The air was incredibly hot last night as we gathered with friends on the south bank of the river to welcome in the New Year. The good natured crowd counted down the seconds to the final moment of 2010, upon which all the major buildings throughout the city erupted in fountains of fireworks with magical colours shooting high into the sky and then cascading back down again, the glass buildings all ashimmer with the twinkling sprays of sparkling gun powder. All around us heads were craned upwards, thousands of eyes all aglow with the magical promise of the coming year.
Out of seemingly nowhere we both erupt with claim and counter claim, each accusing the other of being selfish and not taking the other seriously. I hate it when such vitriol surfaces so suddenly, casting an air of gloom over the day and threatening to unravel things that have taken years to weave together. Then, just as abruptly, the heat goes out of the situation. Calmer minds reassert themselves and we both step back from the brink of something weíd really rather not contemplate. And while it takes a while to normalise things again the sense of relief is palpable.
We sit outside on the shady balcony of The Blue Train Cafť and laugh and joke and trade stories and anecdotes. The collective warmth between us is a pleasure to behold and a joy to be a part of. In recent years something special has emerged and in recent weeks a new member has joined the ranks, just as we once predicted he would. Nor is he the only newcomer. The more I get to know my family the more I get to like them. There is real love there and between those gathered today, that love is especially binding.
The first few days of a new year are often imbued with an air of expectation, as though time itself is holding its breath. Strange as it may seem, and without wanting to wish my life away, Iíd really prefer to get this year over and done with as quickly as possible. If last year was a year of transition (and it most certainly was) then from where Iím standing this year is going to be about laying the foundations and then quite literally building for all that will follow thereafter. And itís what follow that interests me the most.
It still doesnít feel quite real, despite the eye-watering sums of money involved. Itís been more than a year in the planning; much more in fact, and this year itís going to come to fruition. I keep trying to immerse myself in the process but never quite seem to succeed in doing so. Perhaps Iíve been holding back until now when the whole thing shifts from being conceptual to actual. I know before long itís going to come to dominate our every waking moment. I think itís already started to do so. I just need to connect with it more.
Sitting beneath the shade of a tall plane tree I find myself absently listening to a lone saxophonist across the water playing ĎOver the Rainbowí. Behind me I can hear the rattle and roll of commuter trains ferrying people back and forth into the city. The river in front of me ripples gently, picking out colours and twinkling with the reflected sunlight from the glass skyscrapers towering high above across the way. Meanwhile, an occasional bicycle goes whizzing by, adding to the cacophony of city sounds that gradually wash over me as I sit here quietly reflecting upon the day.
In the dying light I sat crouched by the railings watching a lone gondola slowly making its way along the river, its shape silhouetted against an orange sky. On either side of the water evening strollers wandered in groups of two and three, enjoying the relative cool of the evening air. And it occurred to me that if I was about to draw my final breath, this is the kind of scene I would replay in my mind as I realised itís the simple pleasures in life I will miss the most, that I all too often let pass unnoticed.
I was in need of a cultural fix so I wandered in, half expecting to be disappointed. I wasnít. I was thrilled. Iíd forgotten just how good Australian art can be. In London I became not only spoiled but complacent about the ready availability of some of the worldís finest artistic offerings being freely available and just a stoneís throw away. Now I find myself a stoneís throw away from some of the finest work to come out of this country, and while it may not be a storehouse of European masterpieces itís nonetheless a treasure trove of Australiaís finest.
I donít know why but for some reason Iíve still not bought in, which is crazy because there can be no turning back now. Last year was such a challenge and the rest I had hoped to have over the festive season was clearly derailed by Mumís passing. I still feel as though I need some more time out but thatís not on the agenda now. Things are starting to gather pace. It all feels so daunting. No doubt at some point the enthusiasm will kick in. I guess I just need to bite the bullet and embrace the challenge.
Sometimes I feel as though Iíve deviated from who I am or was supposed to be to the extent that I look in the mirror lately and I barely recognise the person staring back at me. Itís not just that the face is getting older. That much is to be expected. Itís more to do with a sense of loss; of having surrendered something I thought was of little value only to discover it was absolutely integral to who I was.
I used to look at people like me and wonder how they could let it happen.
Now I know.
Itís been months since weíve been to the cinema together; longer in fact. So tonight we went to see
The Kingís Speech
. Quite apart from the fact itís a fine film, it was such a pleasure to sink into a comfortable chair and be surrounded by other people who were all there for the same purpose. The lights go down and weíre all transported to another time and place. I read once that cinema is perhaps the last example of collective dreaming that Western cultures engage in. Tonight, it was a total pleasure to surrender and allow ourselves to dream.
There are times when you really do my head in; days when the differences between us seem so acute that I begin to wonder what weíre doing and why. I always knew this was going to be a tough haul but having to deal with this tension is pushing me over the top. Being cooped up in this little apartment doesnít help either. With neither of us working at the moment and with so much groundwork to cover before we start building, the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt is beginning to resonate in ways I really wish it wouldnít.
Thereís an inherent loneliness to life that becomes ever more apparent to me with each passing year and it has nothing to do with the quality of oneís relationships or the depth of love that one shares with another. It goes much deeper than that. It is a loneliness quite independent of others, derived from the recognition that no one person can every truly know another. We build bridges, and what beautiful bridges we build, but ultimately a bridge is a symbol of distance and separation, beneath which flow the currents of life which gnaw relentlessly at our personal shorelines.
When we opened the windows in London weíd hear the sound of voices below punctuated by the passing rumble of buses, taxis and the occasional delivery truck for one of the local supermarkets. Here in Melbourne we get an altogether different sound. Here itís the trams rattling down Market Street or the trains passing over the bridge by the river; the occasional screech of brakes or the helicopters coming in to land on the local helipad. Late at night we hear the party revellers wending their way home. So many different sounds, collectively creating the cacophonous music of the city.
If someone has asked me a couple of years ago about the intricacies of inscreed hydronic heating or the insulation properties of Insulated concrete form I would have probably stared absently back wondering what on earth they were talking about. Such things were simply not on my radar. More recently however Iíve had to become not only acquainted with but in many instances something of an expert concerning these and many other building related matters as well. Itís been a steep learning curve and not one that my artistic leaning mind, which usually shuns such technical issues, warms easily to.
It was time to buy some toys, so you got a shiny new Sony Vaio and I got the new 64GB iPod touch and Bose wrap around headphones. To top it off we decided to throw in a Blu-ray player which allows us to play the foreign movies from the local library. Sometimes you just have to say, hang the expense and just do it. Who knows what the coming months will bring in terms of financial security of worry. You reach a point where you just have to trust that things will work themselves out and enjoy the day.
Itís been a month since Mum passed away.
Or, as my good friend Bronwen in London would say, died. ďShe hasnít passed away Terry,Ē she would say. ďSheís died. ď
Be that as it may, itís been a month today.
Iíve yet to have her appear in my dreams. In the months leading up to her death she appeared in them a lot, always a little younger though not young, and always in good health. It was like having the old Mum back again and Iíd always wake up with a smile.
I wonder when sheíll appear again?
Much of our time is currently spent investigating and researching for the new house. For ages the prospect of actually building it has been a distant one. Indeed, the house itself was designed long distance with our Australian architect while we were still living in London. As things currently stand we're going to start knocking down the old place in April, and April isn't that far away! Consequently there's a growing sense of urgency as we try to grapple with the multitude of decisions needing to be made. It's exciting but there's no shortage of trepidation about what lies ahead.
We applied to appear on the show a whim but we never really expected such an enthusiastic and swift response. The programme manager contacted us the very next day asking us to forward details about the project. So we sent her the floor plans, the 3D renderings and a six page account of how it came to be designed and the various hurdles we've had to overcome. Once again the response was swift. She loved what we were building and she loved our story. So it would seem we're going to be featured on one of our favourite TV shows.
I canít remember the last time we spent so much time together in such a small, confined space. Itís in such stark contrast to the months of separation we had to endure last year. Perhaps whatís most surprising however is how well itís working. Yes, there are time when we get on each otherís nerves and yes, there have been a couple of times when weíve wanted to throttle each other. But by and large weíre doing remarkably well. I suppose itís a testament to the strength of our relationship that we seem to be able to make it work.
Weíre not going to know ourselves once the new place has been built. After so many years spent living in small flats and houses weíve become accustomed to the many compromises, both small and large, that a small space imposes. Weíve done well, too. But the prospect of having so many different rooms and floors and the opportunities for creating so many different spaces under one roof is an enticing one. Itís what keeps us focused as we wade through all the demands and challenges of getting the project off the ground. It may be challenging, but itís worth it.
Another couple of days and Iíll be back at work. I start my new school on Monday, the one Iíve been hanging out for these past few months. Although only a termís contract in the first instance, the hope is that the person Iím replacing will resign. I have it on good authority from the senior leadership that this is a distinct possibility but after the disappointment of not securing the job at my last school Iím trying not to get my hopes up. If itís meant to be then itís meant to be. If not, then so be it.
I rang my former colleague Sally about tomorrow. Ironically we were both the two Year 6 classroom teachers at the old school last term. She managed to secure a new full time position at the same school as I have and so weíve agreed to meet up outside tomorrow morning. I jokingly suggested we could hold hands as we walk in on our first day and she laughed. Sally was wonderful last term. I was so far out of my comfort zone in the role and it felt as though I was turning to her for advice every five minutes.
As first days go it couldnít have been more enjoyable. Today and tomorrow have been set aside for new staff, while Thursday and Friday has been allocated for all the staff to intend a series of in-service meetings and workshops. Next Monday is allocated for further meetings and planning time while the girls themselves donít walk through the gates until next Tuesday. Itís the longest period of pre-school preparation Iíve ever known at a school but itís a wonderful way to ease into the routines of a new job. As for the staff themselves, I met some wonderful people today.
This is a place I could settle. Not only am I impressed with the high level of collegiate expertise and support, the whole ethos of the school is so complimentary to my own. Add to that the fact that the place itself is incredibly well resourced and set amongst beautiful grounds and gardens and you have a recipe not only for success but an enhanced level of job satisfaction. What is abundantly clear from the outset is the professional trust and autonomy thatís being granted to me and the free reign to be as innovative and creative as I wish.
I was preparing dinner when we heard the first explosions. Why we hadnít anticipated the event is testament to having our heads in such a different headspace but once they were underway all thoughts about anything else evaporated as we stool spellbound, staring like delighted children at the pyrotechnic display erupting 90 stories up and shooting high into the evening sky from the Eureka Tower across the river from our apartment. Itís been many years since weíve been here for Australia Day and while I find all the patriotic razzamatazz somewhat nauseating, the firework display was nothing less than awesome.
We meet at the tram stop and recognise each other from school. Climbing aboard we sit together and trade stories. I discover her husband is suffering from severe dementia and has recently been put in care. Unlike some, I enquire about her ordeal. Sheís stoic when recounting the details, telling me about the long, lonely ten year journey. It makes me think about how often we bemoan the little things in life, or even the not so little, without a thought for how blessed we may actually be or how we take our health and general well being for granted.
Whatever may transpire, the more I find out about the circumstances that have enabled me to be here the less I wish I knew. No one wants to benefit from the misfortune of others. On the other hand, itís such a good place to be and while Iíve yet to meet the girls Iíll be teaching I have no doubt whatsoever that theyíll be wonderful. Itís strange to think about the path that has led me here. In my heart of hearts Iíve already taken ownership of the position and imagined myself not merely months but years down the track.
This past week has been brilliant. I have two art rooms, one on each site and separated by a two or three minute walk. The smaller of the two was in a state when I saw it yesterday but Iíve been assured that by Monday all will be in order. The other, larger room is a little worse for wear having not had a regular teacher for two terms now. Compared to the rest of the school itís rather the poor cousin but over the next few weeks Iíll be rolling my sleeves up and putting my stamp on it.
I spent the day as lazily as I could, knowing full well that things are only going to get busier over the coming weeks and months. Down time is not going to be a luxury Iíll be able to afford once the building gets underway. Itís my greatest hope that the new teaching position becomes permanent and ongoing from April onwards. Given that the schoolís a mere ten minutes down the road from where weíre building, the advantages of working there cannot be overstated, especially now that TV camera crews and an interviewer are going to be in the equation.
There was little in the way of allocated time today which left me free to get things ready for tomorrow. As promised, the smaller art room has been positively transformed since Friday. All I need to do is move in and start teaching. The larger room requires more attention and I spent much of the day cleaning out cupboards, taking stock of what materials I have and what I need to order and generally ensuring that things are in place and ready for hitting the ground running in the morning.
Tomorrow I meet the girls.
Iím looking forward to it.
The Tip Jar