Life

dumplings and change

The face of someone who had been anticipating Melbourne dumplings for some years.

The face of someone who had been anticipating Melbourne dumplings for some years.

On our first night in Melbourne, we made a pilgrimage to my old favourite haunt from the days when I lived in this city - the Shanghai Dumpling House. An unremarkable building down Tattersalls Lane but within lurked the most glorious treasures imaginable.

From September 2005 to April 2007, you would find me there at least one night a week (and maybe one lunchtime too). Such was the lure of dumplings. And I loved the rough-and-ready atmosphere, completely devoid of pretension. It was a place I sought refuge in, for the stomach and the soul.  

At age 25, I felt so alive and powerful in this city, like anything was possible. I loved Melbourne and it loved me right back. While the city changed a lot in the years since I’d been gone, the dumpling house was like a little time portal, exactly the place I remembered. The menus, the tables, the staff, the prices, the urns of tea, the vats of chilli soy sauce, the strange 90s music they played...it was all still the same.

But on our return this time, it had changed. Nothing bad, the food was still yummy, but just lots of those little details were different, which means it is not the place 25 year old Phil frequented any more. That place only exists in my memory now. To not want to claim this space and ritual for myself anymore means acknowledging how much time has passed. While the dumplings were still good, I realised I was now just going there out of nostalgia, nothing more. And that was a surprisingly sad revelation. I guess we’ve all been there, revisiting somewhere that meant so much to us in years past, only to find it doesn’t quite stir the same emotions in us any more. But that’s good, it means we’ve changed. And change is life. 

So, on a friend’s recommendation, the following night we tried another dumpling and noodle house...which was a divinely delicious experience. If you’ve been to the Nong Tang Noodle House and had these chilli oil dumplings, you’ll understand.

nong-tang-chilli-oil-dumplings

So, it would seem that when the time is right, it’s surprisingly easy to move on, grateful for the memories but ready for something new. Especially if it involves chilli.

january

kelvedon-seashells

I always find January a mixed month, no matter what part of the world I'm in.

Everything about my life is different now, and I've been reading many books - including one on parenting, but it was written by one of my favourite psychotherapy writers and I'll read anything she writes! (sidenote: it’s fantastic, I learned so much reading it and would highly recommend it) - that have all had the same themes in common....surrender. Listen to your feelings and honour them. And invest time in doing the right but hard thing, not the comfortable thing.

To be honest, being back in Australia has brought up a lot of discomfort for me.

I spent the first days of January scrambling around, full of raw vulnerability, feeling panicked and desperate to regain control, recreate the life we used to have with walls, boundaries, safety. The armour I had on in London, and the distance that kept me safe, is gone and I didn't know what to do without it. But all the reading and self-reflecting I've done has helped me see that being flexible and accepting will be a far better use of my time than trying to reclaim what we've left behind.

So, for the first time, I am not running away.

Instead, I’ve been leaning in to the discomfort. When unresolved sadness and anger from the past has presented itself, I’ve tried to welcome it and give myself what I couldn’t give at the time. But there have been moments where that has been excruciating. A few wounds are still raw. Wounds reaching back, far back, perhaps they are my earliest memories - not things I logically remember but deeply rooted within me on a soul level, things that formed my perception of myself, that were the foundation of my deepest fears. It’s been quite exhausting, so I’ve needed a lot of rest and gentleness.

But even though I’ve felt frightened, sad and very vulnerable at times, I’ve also felt very loved. I’m back with my people. Being home is a lot of fun. Tom and I are soaking up all the things that make this place wonderful and why we wanted so very much to be here - the fresh air, the clear waters, the endless expanse of sky and beach and mountain, the raucous birdsong, the warmth of the sun, the friendliness of the people (seriously, people in Hobart are SO nice!), the generosity of my family.

And I know deep in my core that this is exactly where we need to be.

As January is slowly turning into February, I feel calmer, more like myself and more secure that the woman I've become in the years I've been gone will quite like it here, back home. There is space for her here.

no matter how far or how wide i roam

chalk-map-of-australia

and the way forward always in the end,

the way that you came, the way that you followed,

the way that carried you

into your future, that brought you to this place,

no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,

no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:

the sense of having walked from far inside yourself

out into the revelation, to have risked yourself

for something that seemed to stand both inside you

and far beyond you, that called you back

to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice

that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,

so that one day you realized that what you wanted

had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place

you had lived in before you began,

and that every step along the way, you had carried

the heart and the mind and the promise

that first set you off and drew you on and that you were

more marvellous in your simple wish to find a way

than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:

as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city

with golden towers, and cheering crowds,

and turning the corner at what you thought was the end

of the road, you found just a simple reflection,

and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back

and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:

like a person and a place you had sought forever,

like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;

like another life, and the road still stretching on.

-- David Whyte, “Santiago” from Pilgrim

And so, this is my next adventure! After nearly 12 years in the UK, Tom and I will be calling Australia home again soon.

When I heard David Whyte read this poem in the recording of the On Being Gathering at the weekend, tears started falling down my cheeks and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. He put it so perfectly. Because that is really the point I have reached in my life….where I know the way forward is the way I came. It is another invitation. And the road still stretches on.

I want to write more about this, and I will, once the fatigue and stress and brain fog of packing up our life here - all the possessions and memories and clutter and baggage - begins to subside. Once the removalists have been and the belongings we are taking (or are allowed to take - nothing made of cane, bamboo or untreated wood! We had quite a bit of it as it turned out!) are on the container, and suddenly it’s just us and our suitcases, perhaps it will sink in. Perhaps I will be able to string more than a few paragraphs together.

We had hoped that our life here might burn down gently and quietly, like a big church candle. Instead, as I put it to a friend, it has been like a raging dragon riddled with syphilis, and every time we think we’ve cut its head off, it sprouts back and we have to fight it again. There has been a lot to deal with. It’s not been an easy year. It has not been easy couple of years, really. A lot has changed, in our lives and in this country. But we have faced everything together and we are a stronger, more resilient couple for it. And, as we’ve reminded ourselves often, if packing up your life and moving to the other side of the world were easy, everyone would be doing it!

Moving back to Australia is 100 per cent the right decision for Tom and I. We haven’t had a moment’s hesitation. At this point in our lives, Australia is where we need and want to be.

It will be an adjustment, for sure. I have been gone a long time. The Australia I lived in and left isn’t the Australia I’m going back to. John Howard was still the Prime Minister the last time I lived there, for a start! I will have to get to know a lot of people again, as they will have to get to know me - we haven’t been parts of each other’s daily lives for over a decade. I’m trying to have realistic expectations (actually, having no expectations would probably be best). But despite knowing that there will be some tricky moments, I also think it’s going to be amazing. For Tom and I to have some time out after a very stressful couple of years, to recharge and figure out what’s next for us, with the support of family around us…..well, that sounds like heaven right about now.

Australia has been calling us back for a while. We just had to wait until the time was right. And that time is now.

More soon, once I have emerged from packing hell!

xx Phil

what if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

violet-bakery-brownie

What if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

I like to keep busy. I’m not great at sitting still. Given a choice I’d rather be doing something than nothing. Give me a week off and I’ll fill it with day trips and walks and visits to pubs and galleries. And I love it. I love stimulation. But that’s not always what you need, is it? 

An unexpected flare up of an old wound saw me track down my old osteopath at her new digs at Kuu London for an hour of muscle manipulation and massage yesterday. I cried on the table, and it was much needed. Maybe keeping busy had distracted me. Maybe it has always distracted me.

And while I keep myself occupied and always find things to do...I’m not always very kind to myself. I tell myself I don’t need a massage, or quiet time. I meditate every morning...and it’s only recently I’ve stopped doing the guided ones and started sitting there in silence with only my breath for company. It’s uncomfortable. Lying there, having sore parts prodded and touched, was uncomfortable. No wonder I cried. I’ve forgotten how to do uncomfortable. 

Shoulder loosened and no longer in pain, I took my time going home. It was a sunny day and east London is full of beauty, characters and things to see. I found a new journal at Erbert (and got great tips on how to unclog my old fountain pen! Cheers Paul!) and treated myself to a brownie and iced tea at the Violet bakery.

I picked a table by the kitchen window so I could breathe in the heavenly smell of baking. I had nowhere else to be and for a change I felt calm, unhurried, unpressured. As a result, I lingered.

I took an obligatory photo or two then put the phone away. I wrote. I savoured every sweet, nutty, salty bite of my halva tahini brownie. I looked around. There were more dogs than cars in this quiet street, trotting alongside their owners. It was sunny, and with the warm cake-infused air I might have almost believed it was still summer.

As I ate the last crumb of brownie and walked to the train, I felt lighter. Battery not quite full, but recharged nonetheless. 

We so often wait for a wake up call before we’ll prioritise looking after ourselves, before we listen to our aching bodies and souls. Saturday was a good reminder to me to not put off self care until the pain is unbearable. But also, I don’t have to be in pain to be worthy of kindness and small treats. Those are the things that make life sweeter.

So this week, I’m going to try and treat myself more like my phone - and hopefully get my battery sufficiently recharged.

a guide to london's abandoned railway parkland walk

london-parkland-walk-sign

Tom and I were having a dinner party with our new neighbours (now dear friends) last year and Matt, the husband of the couple, had recently completed the London marathon. I asked him where in the local area he had trained for it. He replied that he often went along a route between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park, which was an abandoned railway track. This caught my imagination (and Tom's) immediately! 

But, you know, best-laid plans and all that....but suffice it to say, last weekend when we had an extra day (thank you Bank Holiday) we decided to go for a long walk and finally check out the abandoned railway track. It's one of north London's best-kept secrets and I'd highly recommend doing it if you live in the area.

Londonist has a pretty good guide to the walk, which we used, but I will add my own observations and recommendations below.

First of all, get yourself to Alexandra Palace station and then make the uphill climb through the park to Ally Pally itself. The views really are lovely from up here.

view-from-ally-pally

Then head west down hill, through more of the park, where the trail starts. It's not very well sign posted, so you do need to know where you're going! There are some nice landmarks in this part of the park, including one of the oldest trees in the area - included in an Ordinance Survey in the 1860s. If you keep walking past that, going pretty much straight, until you spot the Little Dinosaurs play centre, then walk a little more past that, veering towards the right, and you're nearly there. Look for a graffitied wall and a long green tunnel, as seen below! Now the adventure begins!

tom-parkland-walk

It's pretty easy to follow this part of the walk, it goes through Muswell Hill and there are a few information boards along the way, showing you what was meant to be the railway:

We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

Once you hit Highgate, it gets a little confusing - because the most direct route is to go via the road to Highgate, but we wanted to keep going through the woods. Again, not brilliantly signposted but we walked some of the way through Highgate Woods, sticking to the Eastern path. Follow this for a while, then look for a gap in the fence near the keeper's lodge to take you out on to the street, then cross the road into Queen's Wood to continue the walk. 

queens-wood

I really enjoyed Queen's Wood, it is a lovely ancient parkland and you could probably spend all day exploring here (it's 52 acres!). There's a diverse range of plants, trees and wildlife. I was quite taken with the frog pool (but spotted no frogs!).  

bittersweet-nightshade

To continue on the Parkland (south) walk, follow the Capital Ring signs, which take you off to the right. You'll come out at a road called Queenswood Road - now, you can cross the road and keep going through the park but we weren't sure, so we came off here. If you do this too, go right up the hill and follow this road along, going past some very nice houses (!),  until it eventually becomes Wood Lane and you come out on the A1, Archway Road. Go left down Archway Road, turn left at the Boogaloo Pub down Holmesdale Road and you'll see parkland on the left and where the walk starts again.

It's worth taking a very quick diversion to your left, just a couple of hundred metres, where you'll see disused train tunnels that have been turned into London's only bat sanctuary! 

The bat cave!

The bat cave!

parkland-walk-sign

Then you head off down the track, which is much more defined than you've experienced so far! And it's pretty much a straight line all the way to Finsbury Park from here. 

I found it such a peaceful walk, even though there were other people around - mostly runners and fellow walkers, the occasional cyclist. It does appear to be a well kept local secret. The parkland has grown almost wild over the abandoned planned railway structures, making it quite beautiful….like living, abstract art, in a way. Take your camera, as there's something to catch your eye at nearly every turn on this walk. These were our favourites:

Remains of abandoned train platforms!

Remains of abandoned train platforms!

Arty arches!

Arty arches!

Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

Plant art!

Plant art!

We finally got to Finsbury Park and the heavens opened, so we ended up back on a bus to Hornsey - which was on our way home - where we went for a little stroll and found ourselves in the Great Northern Railway Tavern for a much-deserved cold beer! 

summer-fruit-hornsey
beer
phil-with-beer

For more on the Parkland Walk, you can visit the Friends of Parkland Walk website. Also check out Londonist for all the other walks in London they've done and recommend!