Playing tourist at home

We had a weekend in the city recently. Check out the view from our apartment:

Admittedly the weather could have been better, but we couldn’t complain about the location! In the heart of The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, we were surrounded by picturesque old sandstone buildings, quaint twisting alleys full of tiny galleries, gorgeous harbour views at every turn … So of course the kids wanted to go see the lego at the Sydney Aquarium.

And the lego was quite impressive, if lego is your thing. Moby Dick here had nearly 400,000 pieces of lego. The aquarium is always fun, if a little pricey. I love the seahorses

and the ugly dugongs. How drunk would a sailor have to be to mistake one of these babies for a beautiful mermaid??

Of course, I would have preferred less aquarium and more galleries – but that’s life with kids in tow. They were pretty patient and put up with a few galleries and a lovely Sunday morning stroll through The Rocks markets. Bribery with ice cream always helps!

We also spent a lovely hour or so browsing a couple of big bookshops. Dinner on Saturday night was at the Summit, a revolving restaurant on top of one of the city’s taller buildings. The views were great, despite the rain, and the kids had a great time stickybeaking at everything. The food wasn’t half bad either.

Even breakfast is an adventure when you’re staying at a swish place. All sorts of yoghurts and juices presented in tiny glasses made a tempting display.

Throw in a bit of time swimming in the hotel pool, and you have a pretty satisfying weekend all round. Sometimes it’s fun to play tourist in your own city.

Now if I could just convince the kids there’s more to Sydney than the aquarium …

Time flies when you’re … hmmm

Having fun? I wouldn’t exactly say that. Not that fun is not being had. There’s fun by the bucketload around here lately – writing workshops, netball clinics, basketball clinics, shopping, trips to the park and the movies. It’s just that it’s the ducklings who are having it, and me who is doing taxi duty and continuously digging into my ever-lightening wallet to pay for it.

Yes, you guessed it – it’s school holidays again, which is why I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. Too busy with the aforementioned fun.

I have a love/hate relationship with the school holidays. By the time the term drags to a close I am longing for the holidays with a passion usually reserved for peppermint chocolate. No more getting up early! No more rushing to after-school activities! Lots of time spent lazing around with my darling ducklings!

Then, by the time the new term rolls around, I’m so pleased the holidays are nearly over. I can’t wait for the kids to go back to school. Not because I’m sick of their company – just because I can’t get anything done while they’re home. My revision is languishing, my sewing is abandoned. I’m desperate to take off my maid/taxi driver/entertainment officer hat and get back to work. Every time I walk into a bookshop I get cranky seeing all those people who are published when I’m making no progress.

Cranky at myself, mainly. I know perfectly well I should be able to work when the kids are around, despite the extra interruptions. I’m just not focused enough – I get into holiday mode too.

So I guess it’s a win/win for me. I love the holidays and I love term-time too. Next week the kids will be back at school, and I’ll be able to get stuck into revision. All I have to do is remember where I left that attention span …

Moments of brilliance

I’ve just begun revising my first novel, Man Bites Dog, and I’m reminded of that famous comment about Wagner’s works: “Moments of brilliance, quarter-hours of great boredom”.

Well, “boredom” is a bit strong, but you get the idea. I haven’t looked at it in over a year, so it’s like reading a story by someone else. I can’t remember what’s going to happen next as I read. I come across some parts that are good but of course, being a first draft, there are many more parts that are less than stellar. (Even one part that made me yell “No, no, no!” and cross it out with much violence, hoping no one will ever find out I wrote something so cringeworthy.)

The happy moments give me hope I can wrestle a good book out of this mess. I’m doing Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course and I’m only halfway through the first of many steps, but I’m trudging on, putting my faith in Holly to guide me and my subconscious to pull some idea rabbits out of the hat. Gotta love those plot bunnies.

Bunnies … chickens … It’s a real farmyard inside my subconscious lately. Still haven’t figured out what happened to my little black chicken, dammit. I kept hoping I might dream of him again, but I’ve been away on a beach holiday, doing lots of tiring outdoorsy stuff, and sleeping the dreamless sleep of a very tired dead thing.

When I figure out how to drive my new camera properly I’ll post a photo of the view from the house we stayed in. It will make you all swoon with envy, it was so beautiful. But then I shall make you feel better by telling you about the mountain we had to climb to get back to our house from the beach, and the 5,083 steps inside the house itself, and how I borked my knee something severe just before we left, so that my holiday was just one big throbbing knee pain … and your envy will dissolve like a double Berocca in a glass of water.

“My goodness, but Marina deserved that view,” you will say.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last little while: revising, limping, computer-less. And now I’m home, and the ducklings have gone back to school, oh frabjous day!! and life can resume what passes for normal around here. At least, it would be normal if it weren’t for the physiotherapist doing things to my leg that I’m sure contravene the Geneva Convention. We don’t want to make a habit of that, oh no.

The travelling drought-breakers, Part 2

Bendigo welcomed us with open arms.
“We haven’t had rain like this in three years. Stay longer!” they begged.

“No, no, Bendigo,” we chided. “You mustn’t be selfish. We only have one day to spend here. We are on a tight schedule and must take our rain-making circus to Ballarat post-haste. You wouldn’t want to deny Ballarat its rain, would you?”

Bendigo conceded, rather sulkily, that we had a point, so we threw ourselves into enjoying the day. And what a full day it was!

We spent a couple of (dry) hours underground, enjoying a fine tour of the Central Deborah Gold Mine. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Bendigo. Four of us enjoyed it immensely and learned lots of interesting and amazing facts. The fifth member of our party spent most of his time sobbing. When will we ever learn about dark places?
We all had to wear miners’ hats with lamps on the front. Very cool, except they were powered by an extremely heavy battery you had to strap around your waist. I tried to pick Baby Duck up to comfort him at one point and found it almost impossible to get him off the ground. So the poor old Carnivore had to lump his extremely heavy, extremely miserable son around instead.
When we resurfaced we panned for gold (no luck) and climbed the poppet head (the big tower thing above the shaft with all the winches and pulleys and stuff – yeah, I’m good at this technical talk). Not sure why we did that, actually, since all of us are afraid of heights, and there were predictable results.
Then it was off on the historic Talking Tram for a tour of Bendigo’s wide streets full of lovely old buildings, trees and gardens. It’s a really pretty city. Probably even more so when it’s not raining.
After lunch we visited the Discovery Museum, where there was a very interesting presentation at the planetarium. We were the only people there, so Demon Duck enjoyed showing off her knowledge (they’ve just been studying the planets at school). In brief gaps between the rain we saw the Chinese Gardens and temple and visited the Dragon Museum, which houses both the longest and the oldest Chinese dragons in Australia.
Then it was on to Ballarat. We stayed at the lodge attached to Sovereign Hill. Our accommodation had a queen-sized bed in the main room, with a double bunk on each side, plus two more double bunks in a separate bedroom. Very handy for all those families with eight children, I’m sure, but it seemed a bit of overkill on the beds to me! Plus they took up so much space there was nowhere really to put the small breakfast table (which only seated four – were the eight children supposed to eat in shifts?). When you wanted to use it you had to pull it out from the wall and block access to the bathroom. Very strange.
Sovereign Hill is a fascinating place. It’s a historically accurate gold-rush town, complete with goldfields, a mine and a river to pan for gold in. The main street has all the businesses such a town would have had, all working, plus schools, churches, soldiers’ quarters and government houses. There’s a working foundry, a wheelwright, clothes and sweet shops. People in costume are everywhere, going about their daily business.
More on that in another post. It was shut by the time we arrived, but they have an outdoor sound and light show there at night, which retells the story of the Eureka Stockade (an uprising by miners protesting the burden of miners’ licences, which ended in a brief battle with government soldiers in which several people were killed). We decided to brave the weather and got away with it. It didn’t rain, but we nearly froze our buns off. Man, it was cold! I had my warmest clothes on, plus a blanket from our room wrapped around me, and I was still cold.
Thankfully this time the dark was somehow not scary, and Baby Duck enjoyed the show, though all the ducklings were pretty pooped by the time we got back to our abundance of beds.
Holiday statistics for our second day in Victoria:
Rainfall: drought-breaking.
Other waterworks: one child reduced to sobbing wreck, others scared witless by extreme height.
Accommodation and food: average.
Are we having fun yet? yes, but we’re f-f-f-freezing.

The travelling drought-breakers, Part 1

Hi, Sydney, I’m home! I brought you a little souvenir from my holiday – bucketloads of rain. No, really, I insist.

Apparently there was so much rain in some parts of Sydney last night that shopkeepers were sweeping it out of their shops this morning.

Yes, the drought-breaking duck family has arrived. No, no, don’t thank me. I’m happy to provide this public service. They were begging us to stay in Bendigo. They had the best rain for three years while we were there.

But I should start at the beginning.

Did I mention the heavenly firehose that dumped on our car all the way to our friends’ farm? Yes? Think of it like those bottomless cups of coffee you can get, where every time your cup looks like it might just be thinking about being empty, the waitress comes and fills it up again. We had our own personal stormcloud, just like that. Continually topped up and stuck to us like glue.

Whenever there was the tiniest break in the weather the kids would venture out. Go around the corner to herd cows? The heavens would open. Squelch through the boggy paddocks just 100 metres to look at the creek? Downpour plus hail. And so cold it’s a wonder nobody lost their extremities to frostbite.
But there were friends and games and good conversations. Not to mention puppies:
Demon Duck spent most of her time sitting out on the verandah in the freezing cold loving on those puppies. When we left she cried for the first half-hour because she missed them so.

And then we were across the border into Victoria, first stop Glenrowan, the place where Ned Kelly, a famous bushranger, was finally caught after being besieged at the local inn. Glenrowan is a small place, and it seems to me that the only reason it still exists is to service the tourist industry. There’s a ginormous statue of Ned Kelly in the main street and a rather peculiar “show” that recreates the showdown at the inn. You move through a succession of rooms peopled with somewhat creepy dummies, some of which move a little, while the events are narrated.

What an interesting experience for the children! we think. Bringing history alive! So we fork over an exorbitant sum of money and lead the ducklings into the first room.

Fortunately we are the only ones enjoying this educational experience at the time, since as soon as the lights go out Baby Duck starts to howl. Darkness + ominous music = total meltdown. I know the next room is well-lit, and I’m still smarting from the tourist-gouging admission price, so I refuse to give in to his pleas to leave.

The next room is better – a bar scene, where Ned and the rest of the gang are discussing their woes and planning the next move. There are even cute dogs, and pretend mice “running” along the bar. He is reasonably calm by the time we move outside for the shootout.

Unfortunately – this is starting to sound like a game of Fortunately/Unfortunately, isn’t it? – unfortunately we are then ushered into a tin shed and “shot” at. It’s dark and the sound of gunfire is loud, the smell of gunsmoke strong. Cue more sobs.

Then it’s on to a dark room containing an open coffin with Ned’s body in it. By this time I am wanting to shake the man who sold us the tickets for not warning us that the show might not be suitable for small people. I’ve seen it before, but that was seventeen years ago and my recollections are very hazy.

We finally make it out, but not before the body in the coffin has moved and another body has dropped down through a trapdoor in the roof as Ned is hanged. “Such is life,” were Ned’s famous last words, but I doubt Baby Duck will take anything educational away from this experience. As a public service, I give you the warning the man should have given us: overpriced but educational for older kids, too scary for more sensitive little souls.

We troop off through the rain and check out the museum, then pile back into the car and shake the mud of Glenrowan from our feet, en route to Bendigo, where we find a very comfortable family room at a motel and eat a yummy Chinese dinner.

Holiday statistics for our first day in Victoria:

Rainfall: epic – did anybody bring an ark?
Other waterworks: two out of three children reduced to sobbing wrecks.
Accommodation and food: good.
Are we having fun yet: the day is redeemed by a stop at a marvellous adventure playground on the way to Bendigo.

The long and winding road

… still hasn’t led back home, though we’re starting the trek back to Sydney tomorrow. We’re in Melbourne now. Great place, but we’re freezing our butts off.

We’ve seen some interesting places, and I’ll do detailed posts with photos when I get back. In the meantime, here’s some fascinating things I’ve learned:

— Captain Cook (who claimed the east coast of Australia for Britain in 1770) was married for 16 years, but only spent a total of four of them at home with his wife. Makes the Carnivore’s business travel look good! He was also 6 foot 3 (the good captain, that is, not the Carnivore, who is the runt of his litter). He must have been a giant in those days.

— Ballarat must have looked like a wasteland during the gold rush of the 1850s, with poppet heads everywhere and every tree cut down to line the tunnels and shafts of the mines. “At great labour and expense a forest was taken underground” said one historian. There’s a phrase to spark a story! “The Underground Forest” would make a great fantasy title too.

— The most amazing fact? The ducklings can actually live without TV for a whole week. Who would have thought???

Boat trip

The animals went in two by two, hurrah! hurrah! Sing along, everyone! The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo …

Our road trip is turning into a boating holiday. Yesterday the heavens opened and bucketloads of water fell on us. No, not bucketloads. Truckloads. Especially when it was my turn to drive. And I just looove driving in the rain. The equivalent of Sydney Harbour dumped on our car. It rained so hard we could hardly see and other cars were pulling off the road all around.

But at last the flood washed us up on our friends’ farm, safe and sound, if a trifle waterlogged. And they have puppies! All is right with the world. We are sitting inside watching the rain fall, while the ducklings play with their friends and we drink lots of cups of tea and veg out.

I checked the internet before we left for ideas for games we could play in the car. Oh frabjous internet! We had Car Bingo and Who Am I? and a very amusing game called Virtual Hide and Seek.

“We’re going to play virtual hide and seek,” I said.

Drama Duck touched my shoulder. “Found you!”

It was fun. You have to “hide” somewhere in your house, and the others “find” you by asking questions with yes/no answers. Your hiding place doesn’t have to be somewhere you could actually fit, so you can hide in the cutlery drawer or the toilet or inside your brother’s money box.

Another game that went on for a long time was Fortunately/Unfortunately, where everyone takes turns to say a sentence starting alternately with “fortunately” and “unfortunately”.

“Unfortunately Mum fell down a giant hole and there was a cannibal at the bottom.”

“Fortunately he wasn’t hungry at the time.”

“Unfortunately Demon Duck fell in too and there was an axe murderer after her.”

“Fortunately he’d forgotten to bring his axe.”

During the course of the game most of us got turned into zombies, several people died and got brought back to life, I had my brain replaced by a sock – but “fortunately the sock was full of amazing circuitry so I became the smartest person in the world” – volcanoes erupted and there were several earthquakes. In short, a good time was had by all.

Also we listened to Roald Dahl read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Enormous Crocodile, so the hours passed quite quickly.

Tomorrow we’ll hit the road again, heading into the wilds of Victoria. We’ll decide in the morning whether to take the car or a canoe.

Alien invasion

I’ve just come back from a week in sunny Queensland, enjoying the theme parks on the Gold Coast. The ducklings had a marvellous time. Demon Duck is now known as Daredevil Duck, from her complete lack of fear on rides that scared even her daddy. I, on the other hand, am now known as the family chicken.

Surfers Paradise is a funny place. I’ve never seen so many hotels and holiday apartments in one place. And yes, I’ve been to Waikiki. Every single local resident must work in the tourism industry. I can’t imagine how they all make a living in winter.

And what is it with Irish pubs? They’re on every street corner, often cheek by jowl with a tattoo parlour. I tell you, Surfers is the tattoo capital of the world. Every second person you pass on the street has a tattoo. And every other person is a Japanese tourist — although many of them have tattoos too.

I saw everything from full-back tattoos to barcodes on the neck; from delicate swirls on girls’ shoulder blades to hideous things protruding from low-slung jeans that looked like the top of a particularly ugly grey lacy g-string (or thong, for the Americans out there). There were full sleeves, the classic barbed-wire thingy around the upper arm, coloured flowers, writing – even one guy with a girl’s name tattooed over his heart. I hope it was the name of the girl he was with.

Tattoos were particularly noticeable at Wet ‘n’ Wild, a theme park full of waterslides, since everyone was wandering around in their swimmers. It led me to realise that they weren’t really tattoos at all, but some kind of aquatic aliens. Lurking in the dark tunnels of the waterslides, they waited for their next host to swoosh by, allowing them to spread through the park and, ultimately, the world.

I figure they must have made planetfall somewhere near Japan, hence the large numbers of Japanese tourists already infected with the alien parasites. It makes sense that they’d pick an island nation like Japan, so they were never far from water. And Japanese tourists are everywhere – what easier way to spread than to hitch a ride with such seemingly innocent characters?

I haven’t figured out their motive yet, though. World dominion is so old hat. And why start in a place like Queensland, if that’s your goal? Queenslanders all seem to drive about 10 km under the speed limit, a habit which the Carnivore found very annoying. I suggested to him that the aliens may have come to teach the Queenslanders to drive faster, but he didn’t seem convinced.

At least the ducklings enjoyed helping me with the alien spotting. I’m glad to report that we all made it back unscathed, though there was one touch-and-go moment as I passed a tattoo parlour when the alien mindwaves almost lured me in.

Be on guard, earthlings. You never know where they’ll strike next.