Travelling to the Past

During our stay in Australia, in between catching up with friends and family, going to a family wedding and visiting as many beaches and native animals as we can I have been occupied with sorting through letters, photo’s, school work, diaries and travel journals stored at my mothers. Some are worth keeping, for others it is time to say goodbye.

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The act of looking back over past papers puts your brain into all sorts of unexpected rabbit holes. Some purely nostalgic, some surprises, re-rememberings and new ways of looking forwards. Quite fertile for a creative. Perhaps in time a whole story might grow out of this process. For now there is a pile destined for recycling and a poem.


Throwing out the Art Folios

Leafing through the high school folios
I find my old ‘art’ embarrassingly derivative.
Nothing but references to
Plath, Dali, angels and Matisse

Lino cut
Oil Painting
Still life of detergent bottle

Finding my way
one supposes.

All went into the bin.
After twenty years of taking up space.

It feels good – on the whole – to scrap these samplers,
make room for some new art.

But I still like Sylvia, Salvador and Henri
and I named my son for an angel.



The Naive Face Painter

While my son was having his face painted at a festival the other day I told my sister-in law about the time he sat down with some face paints in our kitchen. He wanted to be spiderman and brushed off any attempts I made to help him. He also scowled at my offer of a mirror. I think he was nearly four, and sat for about half an hour carefully painting his face with the cheap face paints and stubby – equally cheap – brush.

I hovered around trying to help and he kept telling me he would do it himself. Eventually I listened and just watched on.

Needless to say he is not a face painting genius and his efforts were grubby and confused.

When he finished he went and had a look in the mirror and let out a disappointed ‘oh.’

I told the story as an amusing Rafa anecdote, in a kids do the darnedest things sort of way.

At the festival, with his face painted by the (slightly cigarette scented) fairy he ran off to play, and then every few minutes he came back and asked me if his face paint had smudged. Later on he realised he could use Aunty Laura’s sunglasses to check for himself.

It was good face paint and even several sessions on the bouncy castle saw the paint mostly undisturbed.


While he was painting his own face, Rafa had a clear vision of what he was creating, and in his mind his vision matched his creation. He knew that it was perfect and did not need me to reassure him.

Looking back at the moment of disappointment – where he had invested himself in creating something, which turned out not to be quite as good as he expected it to be. I feel a little grief. Not that I want all his endeavours to be flawless – I am a big believer in learning, failing, learning a bit more.

I think my after-the-fact grief is to do with the gap between that confident face painting boy and the one who needs to check on his face paint every few minutes. Where has that naïve face painter gone?

It gets said (by me amongst others) that there is a toddler in all of us. This is usually in the context of a tantrum. Tantrums happen. But in thinking about the erosion of the naive face painter I am wondering if that other element of toddlerhood survives?

I have to believe that it does.

As a creative I have moments of unfiltered confidence – the moments are small and usually smashed on the rocks of self doubt as quickly as they are born, but they have to flicker. Otherwise how else do you sit by yourself at the table with nothing but cheap face paints, doing your best to breath life into the greasy primary colours of your art?

From that first moment of intuitive inspiration an artist hopes to build something. A painting, a short story, a novel – whatever it is it needs to be born from a kernel of self belief.

The day Rafa attempted to paint his own face he came back to me and asked me to help him create Spiderman. I used what he had begun and together we created a Spiderman he was happy with. Perhaps it did not live up to his first awesome vision, but he was happy enough to wear it out into the world.

When I am writing I do something similar. I tug on my initial inspiration, but I ask for help as well – sometimes in the form of feedback, sometimes it is just going back to reading writers I look up to.

Still – having witnessed the diminishing of the naive face painter, I have to wonder how I might better nurture that facet of creativity in the children, and in myself?


Do you have any good suggestions for tapping into the naive face painter part of your  brain?

Or for helping kids hold onto it?

I found this great blog on maintaining ‘kid high levels of imagination’ by Nastasya Parker – Keeping the Daydream Alive

How to Act like a Traveller at Home

Host travellers via Airbnb- If you have the space spruce up your spare room and create a hosting profile on airbnb – it is a great way to bring the travel vibe into your home. You can sit down to breakfast with travellers from all over the world – just like being at a backpackers – at home. And it can help you make some extra money to go towards your next holiday.

Travel Insider Tip: I love picking up little independent travel guides for my home city that are based on interviews with locals – always makes you discover new corners of your hometown!

Kathi Kamleitner – WatchMeSee

Turn off the Data on your phone – Chances are when you travel you pare your expenses down as much as possible – and paying for roaming data overseas is not cheap. Your travel self relies on wifi, paper maps, talking to your spouse over breakfast and looking out the window of the train. Give it a go at home (occasionally) and see how it feels. You will probably be a bit jittery at first – but perhaps the unconnected lifestyle will grow on you and you might just make some connections and memories offline. All the better to share on the social media of your choice later on.

Travel Insider Tip: Geocaching! Helps you discover so many hidden gems on your doorstep.

Claire Jessiman – Foodie Quine

Back up your computer, and your phone – This is a boring one, but practical.The life of a traveller is considerable less secure than your home life, and because of this travellers are better at remembering to back up their preccious memories, weather this is saving things to the cloud or a portable device no true-blue traveller would let their photo’s, diaries and work be vulnerable to theft and corruption by just being saved in one location – and while you are at it check up on your anti-virus software as well.

Travel Insider Tip: Keep an eye on cheap accommodation offers and book something nice in a different part of town for a night.

 Sonja Bolger – Migrating Miss

Join a travel network- If you work in a travel industry- but don’t get to travel as much as you would like join a group like Travel Massive – there are chapters all over the world and they are a great way to stay in touch with travel insiders, hear what is going on around you and sit down for a drink with some like minded travel addicts and talk about past and future travel escapades.

Travel Insider Tip: I’ve been doing a lot of exploring in my home city right now. Always fun to play tourist at home or to dig a little deeper and find hidden gems.Kirstin McEwan – The Tinberry Travels
Go somewhere new that is local to you – Chances are there are plenty of amazing things to discover not far from your front door. Why not: Visit a small gallery. Stand in a forest for 10 minutes and just listen. Walk down a different street when you are coming home from work. Eat out somewhere you’ve never eaten before.

Travel Insider Tip: Take a walking tours, actually find out what the buildings stand for that you walk past every day!Gemma Armit – TwoScots Abroad 


Try out minimalism- Reduce your wardrobe, remember how much simpler life is when you travel. Why not try pairing your wardrobe down to something closer to the contents of your suitcase. Sort out a seasonally appropriate wardrobe that can be mixed and matched to get you through your everyday- and put the rest into storage until the seasons change. Or try reducing other ‘stuff’ you keep at home – 

Travel Insider Tip: I spend most of my time in the same area, so during the weekends I like to head to a complete opposite side of town. Then I just stroll around, discover the area, find a good pub etc. I like seeing new sides of the city I live in.Christina Sunneklep – Cava for Lunch 


Know Your Passport: When you are travelling you always make it a priority to know where your passport is, and when the expiry date is. If you make this a priority in your at home life as well you won’t be sorry. Trust me you don’t have to go far to find a story about a lost or expired passport and a ruined trip. Don’t be the story.

Travel Insider Tip: Find your nearest hotel concierge and chat to them to find out what they recommend in the city for tourists – it’ll likely be things you’ve never considered, and they know all the best tips on how to get cheap/good tickets for things, and local events that are happening.

Julia MacGregor – Fizz and Pheasant


If you have kids or babies why not try out these tips to get that travel feeling: 

Throw out your routine – I know it is a scary idea. Dinner, bath, bed is my life raft, but when you are travelling with kids you have to accommodate all sorts of changes to routine, and everyone survives, and sometimes we even have fun. So at home why not: Go for a walk after dinner, eat out, sleep on a camp bed in the lounge room – who knows some of it might get incorporated into a new routine.

 Regular traveller Anne Hamilton told me how she and her son keep bed time from getting boring by bringing travel home. 


Travel Insider Tip: Every few weeks or so when bedtime gets boring and we’ve no real trips planned, we ‘camp out’ overnight in the sitting room. The 6 yr old chooses the country, and we spend the night under a selection of bedding on the sofas. Most recently, Antarctica was the ‘in’ place, so we put together a pick-up tea (a picnic by any other name) of tuna, prawns and ice cream – yep, we interpret local foods very widely -and ate it in our camp with March of the Penguins as background. If you left the room, you donned your hat and scarf and waterproofs (imaginary wellies out of deference to the lady in the flat below!) and braved the polar bears (played by a giant papier mache cat and Clifford the Big Red Dog)… Next time, apparently, we’re going to Denmark, but given LEGOLAND appears to be the real draw, that’ll be doubly interesting! 


Anne Hamilton – writeright editing

Again try minimalism – Get radical with how many clothes your children have – do they need that many t-shirts –are there things they never wear? Would you take that much stuff if you were travelling. The other kid area you could try to downsize is the toys – encourage the kids to help, make a pile to donate to a local charity.

Do you have any tipe to share?

The Sleep Series – Part one. I can’t remember where I slept last night


I walked in the door this afternoon and it flashed across my mind, for no particular reason that I could not remember where I slept last night. I don’t have a wild lifestyle. I just have two small children.
Sleeping Woman
For the first few weeks after going into his own bed Rafa settled down happily and put himself to sleep. Then he realised he could get out of bed by himself. Since then (nearly a year) Rafa has at some point in the night gotten out of his bed and into ours.
Back when we thought this was going to be a short lived phenomenon I struggled against it. We would try to put him back to bed in his own bed, I would toss and turn feeling claustrophobic stuck between my husbands body and my sons and lie awake waiting until I thought he had gone properly back to sleep so I could move him back to his bed.
Even worse than the feeling of claustrophobia was the feeling of him digging his long toe nails into my legs. He seemed to derive comfort from doing this. I did not.
Then I had one of those inevitable conversations with another mum. I was complaining about this interruption to my sleep, and wondering why he couldn’t just stay in his own bed, my friend, in her quiet, generous way pointed out how – during the daytime a child of his age – 2.5 -3 years old will not manage to spend long periods without being in either verbal or physical contact with their parents, so why she asked would this be different at night?
This realisation of his need to be close to us through the night did not solve the ‘problem’ of Rafa coming into bed with us, but it did allow me to stop thinking of it as a something I could ‘solve’. Instead I made some adjustments to help me to cope better.
Now when he comes in I guide him to the centre of the bed. This way I have some air on one side. To lessen the impact of the digging toenails I now sleep in leggings (it is Scotland, this is mostly a good idea anyway).
Sometimes I kick my husband out of the bed, and sometimes when the male snoring, wriggling, toe nail digging is all to much I quietly slip out of my bed, and go and sleep in Rafa’s bed.
Then there are the nights when the baby wakes up as well. At 17 -19months We are gradually transitioning way from me feeding the baby at night. So I can sometimes send my husband to settle the baby, give him a drink of water (tsa in Finn-ese) and snuggle down with him. Sometimes he wants ‘mulck’ (said with an amazing gutterul ckkk). And the musical beds move around once again.
It can be:
All four of us in one bed.
Rafa and mummy in the big bed -Finn and daddy in the little bed.
Rafa and daddy in the big bed – mummy in the little bed, Finn in his cot.
Finn and mummy in the little bed, Rafa and daddy in the big bed.
Do you have a sleep story you want to tell? Get in touch and add to the sleep series. 

About the Sleep Series: It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever two or more parents of young babies and children meet they will have a conversation about sleep. The Flamingo Rover sleep series is not intended to provide expert advice – more to tell sleep stories in an attempt to reassure parents that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ nights sleep, and there is no such thing as a parent who is doing the ‘wrong’ thing. 


Please please please –  If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep – or a bad week or a bad month do make sure you tell your friends about it.  Your welcome to tell me about it if you like. If you still don’t feel like yourself tell your GP and your midwife and your Health Visitor. Find a sleep clinic and talk it through. Try to take a nap.  
Look out for your sisters – If you see someone with a baby who looks like they have had a bad night’s sleep – or a bad week or a bad month go and chat to them. 


Image credit: The Met Odilon Redon (French, Bordeaux 1840-1916) Reproduced under a CC Licence.


I will teach my children lies

Winter, Jean Antoine Houdon, 1787
I will teach my children lies
I will teach them that a mothers love and a fathers love can protect them from everything.
That by treating others with respect they in turn will be respected.
That by doing their bit to protect the environment, conserving resources and treading lightly on the earth they can make a difference.
I will teach my children the lie that hard work and determination equals success.
That the world is safe.
That Art matters
That love conquers all
That their opinions count and so do other peoples.
That laughter is the best medicine.
That anything is possible.
That there is a happily ever after.
That the people we love never truly leave us.
That we are all winners.
That superman will always come to the rescue (or Paw Patrol or Octonauts or whatever next weeks obsession is).
That villains always get what they deserve.
That love will find a way.
That I will always catch them when they fall.
I will teach them the lie that character, loyalty, friendship and generosity are more important than where they go to school and how much money their father earns.
That a persons gender, race, choice of lifestyle and life partner makes no difference whatsoever to their worth as a human being.
I will teach them that we can all live in peace.


I will teach my children lies 
and perhaps in doing so
my lies will become the truth.

What Lies do you teach your children? Are there any you would like to add?


How To Feed Your Soul

Have you already lost that New Year glow? That warm fuzzy feeling that this year things will go OK, things will be accomplished. You will be calm, intelligent and accomplished?

I reached a proper low around the middle of January. The bottom out involved words like: stomach bug, medical fasting, colonoscopy*, husband projectile vomiting, two small children, no family nearby, vandalism to the car, nobody going to bed on time, spilt milk, tears over spilt milk. So that was last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Our climbing Finn and the spilt milk, January 2017

Our climbing Finn and the spilt milk, January 2017


Thankfully, this week there has been some soul food to replenish my very empty tank.


A child free catch up. My friend B is from New Zealand and we have only known each other as ‘mums in Scotland.’ Most of the time we have snatched conversations amidst the chaos of small children. This week we managed a late afternoon glass of wine and a chat without the babies. Just sitting down to an uninterrupted chat with another mum is a special occasion. But B has been been on a soul food gathering project of her own. She has been asking each of her good friends to come up with two adjectives which describe her- and giving out two in return. For me she had ‘non-judgemental’ and ‘worldly’. I am still working on my return words.


Kid time: We were watching some vintage Wiggles and Rafa was dancing, but became concerned that he was ‘not very good.’ We reassured him that he was good, and also that perhaps if he practised more he would get even better. A moment later Rafa asked Jon and I to leave the room so that he could ‘practice’.

We dutifully let the room and had a brief chat (and a chuckle) in the kitchen, before being called back in to join Rafa (with his new and improved dance moves) in a wags the dog dance party.

For the first time in years I went to a writing workshop. It was an Ekphrastic (using visual art as a prompt) group led by Helen Boden. We spent the morning at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery with Helen taking us through the landscape photography exhibition – The View From Here. Two hours with no phone and no children were soul food in themselves, but I took real energy and joy from the guided viewing, stretching my writer muscles and listening to others read their work (especially those who wrote and read in Scots).  I admit it was also a bit of a buzz having people chuckle at the occasional line of my own. Here are some of my scribbles:
On viewing Mer de Glace  – Francis Bedford French Alps, 1860, and ‘View from Baluchiston’ Fred Bremnr India, 1899.
Humans in Landscapes
The leisure Class.
Explore, conquer.
What monster is there that needs out-run up a mountain?
Icy passage, Oh the air up there is fine.
But I wonder who is at home cooking the dinner?
The hot rock under bare feet .
Man stands in a landscape and he thinks himself large.
Stands tall. Knows of the photographers click,
but does he think about what comes after?
Watches on, listens while friends tell a tale,
a romance perhaps,
Or a stubbed toe and lingering pain.
The small details they carry in their pockets are not captured here.
Just their deeds. Just a moment gathering water.
Geological landscape and man.
Does it make a poem? Hmm.
Inspired by the title: ‘Late Afternoon – Remembering Lost Holidays’
Photograph by Thomas Joshua Cooper and other Highlands landscapes.
These Scottish landscapes, especially the bald hills- Denuded long past set my teeth on edge today. Yes there is adventure there and beauty and majesty. But Oh please just give me a tree! No actually give me a forest and a stream and a child naked squatting to examine a stone rubbed smooth by river water. With bare feet tough from a summers wandering.

Late December at the Green Lochen my son asked to take off his boots. He paddled a moment and then asked to have his boots put back on. The long dark days just now. I’m over them.
‘Is it morning?’ He asks everyday.

And there I was back writing about the children, and daydreaming about the contrast between Scotland, where I find myself today, bringing up small children, and Australia of my youth. I also loved the contrast between my piece, and other readings based on the same images. You can read some of the other work inspired by the morning here – Sam Dounis.

‘Can I take my boots off.’ Paddling in Scotland in December 2016


Over a bowl of soup after the workshop one of the women commented that she finds her other writing flows better afterwards. I like the notion that what you produce is not necessarily the goal. It is free-ing because you are not setting yourself up to fail – or to worry if you don’t ‘produce’ something. When I go back (which I hope to next month) I will try to remind myself of that.

Still even having occasionally sunk into that mum habit of fretting over the need to make the most of every valuable second, I came away from the workshop with a bounce in my step.

Some other soul food moments this week have been starting ‘The Buried Giant, the Kazuo Ishiguro book I bought in December, Skyping with my brother, getting new twitter followers, going to the gym with my husband and having a family swim.

So here’s hoping New Year Fuzzy Feelings- the reboot- lasts longer than the original… or perhaps I just need to factor in soul food all year round?

*edited 25/1/2017 – talking with a friend last night I realised I should explain, I have a first degree relative who died from bowel cancer (my father) as such the advice is to have a colonoscopy every five years – happy to say I am symptom free. If you have any concerns about your health don’t be shy to seek medical advice.

Counting down to Christmas

A week or so to go:
Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming… and I’ve done very little.
Edinburgh is bloated with pre-Christmas activities. I think perhaps the intention is to distract us from the gloomy weather setting in – so the locals feel cold and are indoctrinated to think ‘ah Christmas is coming’ rather than ‘ah, must immigrate.’ Even though, once the Christmas lights, Christmas market, Christmas jumpers, ice skating, Santa and fire works have all been packed away comes the long dark of January, February and March.
Being Australian the Christmas Jumper thing is possibly the hardest tradition to fathom. There is something deeply uncomfortable for (this) antipodean about Christmas jumpers. You see, I had always assumed that the Christmas jumper moment in Bridget Jones’s Diary was pointing out the freakishness of the gift giver in question, but in fact I now realise this is a popular phenomenon- grown men walk the streets with elf jumpers on, and no one bats an eyelid.
Sunday 18thDecember– an actual week to go!
If I am sounding grinchy I think it is because of all the added pressures of having a three year old in the house. Now is the time that traditions mean something, that memories are made – only I am adrift myself. I grew up with big noisy family Christmases in Australia. We often had to drive from place to place, over committing ourselves, over spending and overeating. There were aunties and uncles and cousins and bubbles and kids and general chaos. My adult traditions around Christmas are about sunshine and king prawns and oysters and my gang of female cousins and gossiping. I am trying to recall my childhood recollections of Christmas – helping to decorate the tree, the anticipation, running into mum and dads room to unwrap presents.
This year we are just… us, our little nuclear family here in Scotland. I am working Christmas Eve and I am working Boxing Day and we have had builders in all month and mummies book distracting her and interrupted sleep patterns to deal with. Very little focus has thus far landed on Christmas.
Monday 19thDecember– Christmas is Sunday. What’s that you say? Christmas is on Sunday! This realisation was followed by much yelling and the slamming of doors.
Once the caffeine settles down I remind myself that we have been ‘participating’ in the build up. Jon was Santa again this year at the playgroup Christmas Fayre, – so there have been conversations around Santa, and attempts to persuade him that daddy is not Santa … ‘Daddy is Santa.’  I’ve hung up the cards we’ve received, and found the Christmas stockings. Rafa was in a Nativity play at his nursery and Finn has come home covered in glitter more than once. We are reading our Christmas book, and we have cleaned up most of the building debris and made some space for a tree. Last night I wrote two cards,  Today I WILL post them.
Finn – exhausted by Christmas. Edinburgh 2016
I’m trying to focus on how to best marry the needs of the two wee ones v’s how to ‘create’ a memorable Christmas day. I have learnt in the past that novelty is not always best when it comes to the babies.
I keep reminding myself that a day just for our little family is probably the best gift we could give the boys. Day to day we more often than not resort to split shift parenting – we are rarely all together all day- so if we can achieve that, plus some presents and some tasty food, talking to the relatives on the phone, that will be enough – won’t it?
Tuesday 20th December
I rallied today. Christmas love abounds. Jon cut some branches from the gigantic conifers out the back and put the children’s nursery made decorations on them. In the chaos of moving things around to accommodate the builders my collection of nice decorations has been lost. And Jon’s ugly baubles are lost also. Pity.
Jon, Finn and I walked up the hill to Bruntsfield to do a local shop- something I made time to do last year- so we would have a nice local ‘hamper’ for when my brother and his girlfriend arrived from Australia. Today we came home with locally made coco chocolate, sea salt from the isle of Lewis, olives – for me from 181delicatessen, black pudding – for Jon, some stocking fillers from the gullivers toys and a few other tasty treats here and there.
I got home, found one extra bauble for the tree and I put Norah Jones on in the background. Baby Finn pottered about briefly and I looked over the progress of this blog – only to realise that somewhere along the way my wee family has gathered a couple of its own traditions – my biggest one seems to be Jon as Santa – because actually he has dressed up as Santa for the last three years to the mingled delight and confusion of children from regional Victoria to Edinburgh. Another tradition I now see is doing a local shop for special tasty Christmas treats.
‘Daddy is Santa.’ Edinburgh – 2016
Some years we might travel down the road, others we might fly vast distances or someone special might fly to see us – living the life I live now – inevitably someone will be far from me. Lots will change and more traditions will emerge – but if we continue to be as blessed as we are now – I will try to keep the grinch at bay.