Things that don’t change

I am happy to announce that my jetlag is over, yay! I have also ceased to giggle at Australian accents, although once or twice I have drifted to the right side of the road. Fortunately only my nana was there to briefly panic and suggest the other side might be better, so no incidents occurred.

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

This past week was a bit less planned out than next week, so on Monday I found myself at loose ends. My partner had started working so was unavailable for adventures, as were most other people I know, so I decided to head into ‘the city’. I still can’t help but think of it in inverted commas, despite the constant growth. Like a younger sibling, I’ve seen it grow, and grown up with it. From visits to the museum with mum and grandma to see the whale skeleton, to wandering up to 78 Records with my school friends, to working in A. B. Facey House and then after work drinks in new, crowded bars. And like a younger sibling, I have an irresistible urge to condescend, just a little bit.

London Court

London Court

It has grown since I was last there, though is still in flux, with giant stretches of construction sites and cranes peeping among the towers. I suppose some day it’ll be finished, but it won’t happen while the boom is still booming.

Perth from South Perth

Perth from South Perth

I caught the train in from Midland, and for those who know Midland, it is still very much Midland.

Midland train station

Midland train station

Once in the city I wandered, discovering that the final cinema in the city is gone and that otherwise little has changed. One of my favourite restaurants, The Greenhouse, is still there and I had a lovely lunch, which included the finest lemonade and the third best dessert I’ve ever had.

Lemonade

Lemonade

I then did a tiny bit of shopping and decided to catch the ferry across the river, because why not. Once across I took pictures of the city, and then strolled back around the river, with the sun in my eyes and the familiar trees and the walk warming me up.

The next day I had scheduled lunch with my dad, and then dinner at the house of 2 very good friends. I got up, baked an apple pie for dinner, then headed out to see my dad. It was a day and night of food and conversation, and wonderful company, and I finished by feeling extremely replete, and not just in my very full belly.

An apple pie

An apple pie

On Wednesday morning I drove down to Mandurah, where my nana lives, to spend the night. She is my father’s mother, and has lived down there for as long as I can remember. I have many childhood memories of christmas holidays spent at the beach, and lounging around the old house. I can remember the hot bitumen as we ran barefoot from the old red 4wd to the sand, the tides forming new sand banks each time we visited, the slick slatherings of suncream on my skin, the old fashioned music in the car and the sand that built up in the shower as we rinsed off the salt-water.

The summer beach

The summer beach

Creamy mashed potato, the old piano, playing with my cousin, trips to the shops, movies in the lounge and the hours of quiet reading and cards as the afternoon drew on. Years later the furniture has been moved around, the beaches seem smaller and the house still smells and feels the same. A constant, like lamingtons, the wisdom of old ladies and a cup of tea.

I also chatted to my nana about her father, who my father had found more information about prior to my return. She has vague memories of the man, who left when she was 6 (or more likely was told to go my her mother), and then returned years later when she had children herself, not recognising her and demanding to know who was living in his house. Not wanting to disturb her mother, she didn’t identify herself, and he left in a taxi, only to die, probably alone, a few years later. It was just one part of the tragedy of the man’s life, decided in large part when he signed up to the Australian Army in 1917, claiming the age of 18 but in fact 16. My father’s research says that he was sent to the Somme, probably as a reinforcement after the battle of the previous year. What he saw there we’ll never know, but he came back damaged, apparently never able to settle and often on the bottle. My father traced his grave, a bare patch of earth with the small numbered plaque, partially covered in sand. Soon we hope to give him back his name, something that I wish the countless other numbered graves could also receive.

My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather

After I returned home from Mandurah, I drove over to a house where I have spent many days and evenings, and where another man damaged by the war spent the last of his years. Since high school I have whiled away hours at the KSP writer’s centre, writing, talking and working, and this being a Thursday I did what must be done: I went to the Thursday Night Group. The group meets to read out their work, critique that of others and drink wine and prior to moving to Sweden I spent most thursdays there, laughing, chatting and discussing the work that brought us all together week after week. Many of the usuals were still there, reading out new stories or poems, making very poor fowl related puns and kindly pulling apart each others writing. As with the house in Mandurah, it was another constant, unchanging, reliable and often quite silly.

Then finally on Friday I went into the city again, this time with a purpose. Before I moved to Sweden I had worked for one state government agency for about 3 years, so there were many memories and friends there, that I wanted to visit. There were a few doubletakes from those who didn’t know I’d be there, and questions about how I was, how Sweden was and what I was doing. Government agencies in my experience rarely change fundamentally, despite cuts, freezes and policy changes. The day to day goes on as always, and those I met seemed mostly as they had been when I left, if slightly busier. After wandering about surprising people for a while I headed out with a few particular cronies and spent the next few hours in another aspect of government service which is unchanging – the afterwork drink.

Gums in Guildford

Gums in Guildford

Next week I will be even busier, catching up with those I haven’t had a chance to see yet and spending some final hours with my family. Soon enough I’ll be back in Sweden, with Australia again another memory. Then in a year we’ll return, and I hope have a few days without rain.

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Magpies and old places

I would be interested to know if there exists in any language a word for the feeling that something is both familiar and strange at the same time. It is a feeling that I have discovered since arriving in Australia on Sunday night. Driving up into the hills, seeing the old and newly greened bushland, and my parents’ house, it seems as though I never left. Perhaps the whole thing was some Eurovision induced fantasy.

Whether or not the months in Sweden have been a dream, the long flight over here couldn’t have been faked. As anyone who’s made long-haul flights will know, the only thing worse than 10 hours tightly packed into a cabin is the queues, waiting, security checks and sudden rush before and after the flights. The reward of course is arriving, and for us being able to see our families for the first time in months. Thanks to skype we never feel too far away from them but the internet is no substitute for a hug.

The Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean

That first night we slept like the dead, waking up mid-morning to a strange feeling of warmth. While it’s been mostly cloudy with occasional showers since we arrived, it is much warmer than what we left behind and I am right now indulging in a pair of shorts, which I have not worn since we left last year. Though my mind is slowly adjusting to being on holiday and being in Australia, my body is still finding the warmth and humidity strange, and noticing more than ever the scent of eucalyptus, the soil after rain and the din of all the birds calling in the bush.

The sun behind a grasstree

The sun behind a grasstree

I went for a walk on Wednesday afternoon and felt a bit like a tourist, amazed by the cries of the various parrots, cockatoos, magpies, finches, mudlarks and other unknown birds, and the strange shapes and colours of the plants lining the gravel path. I was reminded again of the contrast between soft and hard shown in the Australian bush. The parrot bush, with its sharp edged leaves and downy yellow flowers, the prickly moses with buds not yet in bloom and an unknown grass the blades of which twist like calligraphy.

Calligraphy

Calligraphy

Another new experience was the other people cycling, walking or running on the path. Without exception, they smiled, nodded or said good morning and we passed each other. One fellow shooting past on a bike even said thank you when I moved to the side of the path in response to his bell ringing. I suppose people in Australia, or at least those who live out beyond suburbia, will probably shrug and wonder what I’m talking about. You see, in Sweden, if you meet someone on a path, or on a road, be they walking, cycling or running, the most acknowledgement you can expect is a nod. Mostly I get the briefest of eye-contact, if that. There are a few ladies who are an exception, as I pass them every day and one of their dogs generally chases me, so I get a semi-apologetic smile and ‘hej’ as I outrun the little ball of fluff. I am now experiencing the reverse of what I got used to months ago, as I blink in surprise at friendly greetings from strangers.

Prickly Australian natives

Prickly Australian natives

Further proof that I am in Australia came on Wednesday night, as I pulled aside the curtain in my bedroom to close the window. Perched on the sill, looking just as surprised as me, was a little gecko. It turned out that the top of the window screen was slightly open, so I climbed up and pulled it out so I could set the gecko free (no double glazed windows in Australia) and as I did so a big black spider scuttled across the screen. Thinking it was a redback, I may have sworn a bit, waking my dad up and startling both the spider and the gecko. It was just a plain black spider, and with a bit of shaking I got it off the screen and then tried to coax the gecko out of the window. It decided instead to scamper into a gap under the sill and as far as I know is still there. I have made sure that the screen is closed, so hopefully I won’t have any more surprise guests. On the fluffy side, I have also seen a bandicoot and two rabbits. I’m sure a kangaroo will be along at some point too.

The reason for the trip, or at least the reason for the timing, was a wedding. One of my partner’s closest friends set the date for his wedding shortly after we’d left for Sweden, so the plan to pop over had been in place for a while. The wedding was on Thursday, at a very nice venue right next to a river. It was relatively small, around 60 guests, and beautifully planned. The ceremony was short and sweet, the bride looked lovely and the groom slightly nervous but pleased. There were garden games while photos were taken, and I first beat my partner at giant-connect 4, and then we drew at chess. Well we reached an impasse so I distracted him, stole the king and made him forfeit. After which we had a reception in a very elegantly decorated pavilion, with tasty food, slightly embarrassing and sincere speeches and then dancing. The night ended as the bride and groom were driven to the airport and the guests who had lasted stumbled off to cars or taxis. I’ve only been to a few weddings, but in terms of planning, calmness and sincerity, it was the nicest.

This week has otherwise been spent recovering from jetlag, resting, spending time with family, talking, watching my brother and his girlfriend play netball (their team won), seeing friends and planning for the coming weeks. Already my days are filling up, and the first week is nearly over. Soon there will be more people to see and plans to make, but until then I’ll sit in my old room, listening to magpies and the rain.

A gravel trail

A gravel trail

Home

In 2 days I will be in Australia, breathing in the familiar air and absorbing the broad accents of home. I can picture the dry earth, gangly eucalypts and somewhat more casual dress of the people, more accustomed to endless sunshine than months of drizzle. What I can’t imagine is whether it’s going to feel more like a home-coming or a holiday. A homliday?
However, the more I think about it, I realise that what I think of as the most yearned for aspect of the trip is seeing family and friends, who are home in one way or another.

The past week has flown past, in a mix of teachers tactlessly making a joke about Putler (Putin + Hitler) in front of a Ukrainian who supports Putin, watching a live-streamed interview with Hilary Mantel and for the most part preparing for the oncoming trip. As such my mind is casting itself forwards rather than backwards, which makes for a brief update. Short and sweet, is what I hope readers will take out of it.

I feel as though ever minute is being ticked off a list at the end of which is our arrival, tired and relieved, at the Perth airport.

There goes another minute, and another, and another.

Sunset in the hills

Sunset in the hills

The wheel of the seasons

During the past 3 weeks I have been to more bbqs than I would usually go to in a year, and incidentally, have eaten more sausages than I would usually eat in 6 months. This grilling frenzy isn’t limited to our household either; it seems to have infected the whole of Göteborg.
And what is responsible for this strange happenstance? Spring.

One of many

One of many

The last two weekends have been clear and sunny, and every place where grass grows has been covered in Swedes, from parks, the sides of canals, gardens and conveniently placed deckchairs. Many people are chatting with friends, some eating, but for the most part people are just basking in the sun. Though I come from a place that is known for sunny weather, I have never really enjoyed it as much as I have these past few weeks. Now I can bask happily, making up for the months of cloud, rain and fog, and hope to gather in enough heat to last before the wheel turns to winter.

A scampering squirrel

A scampering squirrel

I have also been able to understand the meaning of the seasons since I have been here. In Australia we follow the European seasons; Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. As my homeland lies in the southern hemisphere the seasons are precisely flipped, so that Summer is Winter, and Autumn is Spring, etc… This isn’t the only difference that I have found however. While the march of the seasons is recognisable, in Australia it isn’t anything like the changing seasons in Europe. Not only rain and encroaching chill in Autumn and snow in Winter, but Spring… Well, it’s as though an enormous bucket of colour was spilt over the country. Trees that only a month ago were bare and stragledy are now heavy with light green leaves, and flowers of all colours and sprouting between trees, in pots and all over whatever grassy area they can find.

An Easter daffodil

An Easter daffodil

First came the snow drops, tiny white bell-shaped flowers on the sides of footpaths and under trees. Next were stands of daffodils, then tulips popped up in gardens, mostly red and yellow. Most recent are the cherry trees and apple trees covered in masses of pink and white flowers, whose petals litter the city. I don’t know what will be next, but I’m looking forward to roses, especially in Trädgårdsföreningen.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

In addition to the opportunity for bbqs, the changing seasons also bring festive days. As with Jul, Easter is celebrated in Australia, but as with Jul I know understand Easter much better. When you’ve only experienced the slow cooling of Summer to Autumn, and the only rebirth around is the sudden rise in chocolate sales, I don’t think I ever truly understood Easter. Having lived through the end of Winter and watched green return I now know why there is a festival of rebirth at that time of year. I also better understand the excitement of the 1st of May. One festival that I hadn’t really been aware of was last Wednesday, the 30th of April; Valborg.

Kanelbullar in Haga

Kanelbullar in Haga

I had been confused about the name of the day and then continued to confuse Swedes by asking what it meant. Mostly I got blank faces, and someone realising that it was his fathers birthday and rushing off to call him, until someone brought out their smart phone. It would seem that it has something to do with Saint Valborg, and for some reason students wearing white hats. Valborg seemed to me a strange name, but what do I know about Scandinavian names. I’m still not convinced about Knut for example.
Then the bbq continued and I forgot about strange names, and missed the Chalmers University parade (featuring Putin, North Korea and Ryan Air – they are students after all) and the bonfires that were burning throughout the country.

The next morning I woke up and thought I’d do a bit of blogging, and looked up Valborg. Like every other northern-European festival it can be traced way back to pagan traditions. It used to be called Walpurgis (and probably still is in some places) and was a celebration of the change from Winter to Spring, as well as the time when the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living was at its weakest. It then transformed into a celebration of the saint (coincidentally with a similar name) and her power over witches and representatives of the old religions. Now only the bonfires, traditional songs and parades remain, a link that has been altered but not broken since before written memory.

Dusk in the forest

Dusk in the forest

Another wonderfully Swedish day was yesterday, the 1st of May. Not only was it the first day of Spring but it was the Swedish equivalent of Labour Day. All over the country crowds gathered in squares to protest. Protest against what, you ask? That seemed to depend which party you’re inclined towards. As I was at a bbq (of course) I didn’t see any of them but I did hear that the Social Democrats were supporting the change to a 6 hour work-day and the Feminist Initiative were protesting against racism. It also explained why our bbq spot was so very quiet – on such a fine day only traditional festivities could pull Swedes away from picnics and basking in the sun.

Picnic by a lake

Picnic by a lake

As I write, the sun is shining, the wind of blowing, and teenage girls are screaming on the ride at the recently re-opened Liseberg. Spring has arrived, and the country has come alive again.