A Pride and Prejudice death stare, old girls and spunk rats…….

It’s spring and with this lovely season comes the bonus of day light savings.  How wonderful to think that every day from now until April 2019, a rebellious sun will defy its own bedtime to linger longer in these beautiful Newcastle skies.

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Hello spring…….

It has been an exhausting few weeks which accounts for my tardiness in writing this post.  I have been distracted and made somewhat distant by things designed to break your heart in a thousand tiny ways.  Perhaps I take too much time trying to make sense of my world knowing I am often looking for explanation where there is none.  Yet amongst the chaos and uncertainty, there have been some wonderful moments of kindness, a few short road trips, the deeply bonded gift of lasting friendships more precious to me than all the stars in the darkest of nights, plans afoot and ocean waves.  Procrastination and inspiration it seems, make for strange bedfellows!

There is difficulty in acknowledging I have also been a little stressed of late.  I have come to realise though, it is not the stress which is most wounding but my reaction to it so given this, I have taken to drinking water laced with apple cider vinegar shotted with turmeric and ginger along with green smoothies.  They are by no means pleasant elixir’s, but learning to be a responsible adult by looking after oneself and eating healthily is ………all well and good until it hits 10 pm and there’s no gin or dark chocolate left in the house!

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I know my best does not come easily.  It takes an awful lot of work yet I still very often fail spectacularly when it comes to looking after myself.  There is no pride in saying that, its just the hand I have been dealt just as it is no secret that I often make poor decisions (some nutritional and many under the influence of gin) when what I really need do is permit myself a little self compassion.  Such a simple desire but as with most things, it is easier said than done but I’m working on it.

 Seal Rocks……..

Occasionally when I post my photos, I am immediately transported back to the early 70’s.  Sharing my photos reminds me of a time when a relative or family friend who had just returned from an exotic holiday (and yes, Surfers Paradise was a wildly exotic destination in the 60’s and 70’s!) would turn up in the evening with a projector under one arm and small rectangle boxes filled with Kodachrome slides in the other.

There is no doubt many of these nostalgic old images have been lost forever yet I still remember that large bulbous glass lens so hot to the touch, those tiny coloured slides, the whirr of the projector and the beam of light which I always thought was made of stardust.  Little did I know back then, the gossamer haze which fascinated me so was nothing more than dust particles floating in a beam of artificial light.  But one can dream a little when you are lost to a more innocent time of abandon.

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A collection of slides, the precious ghosts of someone else’s memories…….

I woke early one morning, grabbed my nipper board and underwater camera and headed up to Seal Rocks, a small coastal settlement on the mid north coast of New South Wales.  Surrounded by state forest, Seal Rocks is little more than a scattering of houses and a stunningly beautiful beach.  Unpretentious, this spectacular part of the world is achingly beautiful and somewhat isolated which is why I love being there.

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 And on this day, as luck happens, the beach was completely deserted………..with the exception of a few locals.

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This was one of those near perfect days where the aquamarine water shimmered with sunlight and schools of small fish.  While sitting out on my board lost in thought and watching for distant whale spouts, a fin, not half a metre from the front of my board sliced through the calm.  My heart raced like that of small deer and momentarily I wished I had worn a brown wet suit, then a pod of exquisitely winsome creatures broke the surface………

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I think I reeled off about one hundred and one photos in the space of a couple of seconds but these gentle creatures were far to quick for the old cameras aperture.  I slipped from my board and dived deeply to watch these most beautiful of aquatic mammals swim above me and then as quickly as they had appeared…….. they were gone.

I climbed back on my board and wonder-stuck, just lay there.  As the wind began to pick up and the chop gathered I turned and paddled back to shore.  After dragging the nipper up the sand, I stripped out of my wetsuit and stood for a while letting the warm sun flood my soul and dry my hair.

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This is about as close to a selfie as you are ever going to see of me…….x

Dry and happy and in search of coffee, I walked up the pot-holed gravelly road to the small general-store-come-post-office located near the headland.  I could not smell that unmistakable aroma of freshly ground beans and once inside, could see no espresso machine.  I skulked around looking at the kitch on sale, flicked through a local tide book and tried to find a best before date on a packet of twisties before casually asking the woman behind the counter if they served coffee.

She looked up from the paper, slid her readers to the end of her nose and eyeballed me with a death stare to rival Julie Bishop.  Suddenly, I felt as though I was standing before the most priggish librarian ever imaginable while holding a stack of trashy Mills and Boon and asking if she knew who wrote Pride and Prejudice!!

I took her reaction to be a resounding NO! on the coffee front.  I said something off the cuff which actually made her laugh and just as I was about to leave the store, she offered me a cup of instant.  I wandered across the road and sat on the grassy knoll of the headland nursing my mug of graciously accepted Pablo thinking how lucky I was to be in this place which I loved so much it actually hurt my heart.  My alone time, sitting on that greenest of grass was nourishing and I have to say the coffee was also pretty darn good although I am still not sure if was the coffee itself or the location.

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How’s that for feigning charming ignorance!  Of course it was the coffee……. 🙂

Buoyed by the strong bitter brew, I started on a walk up to the Sugarloaf Lighthouse.  Constructed in 1875, this magnificent structure standing watch over the Pacific Ocean, is the perfect place to watch for migrating whales.   I often crave the silence of solitary walks and the walk to the lighthouse, on a track which winds around She-Oak, Black Wattles, Gymea Lily and towering Gums, resonated like a tuning fork with me as all was blissfully quiet save for the occasional call of the Green Catbird.

Once at the lighthouse, life takes on an ordered simplicity.  Everything is white, neat and deeply tranquil.  These buildings are not just dazzling white plaster, glass and wrought iron as each building, beautifully preserved, has a story of humanity attached to them.

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I enjoyed this day so much.  It was one of those ‘spur of the moment’ days where everything just seemed so perfect in its allowance of me to not lose perspective over how truly fortunate I really am.

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Possibly my most favorite sign ever!  Oh be still my aging childless hipster heart…….

This is just a little of what happened on this precious day and how wonderful the dolphins, you will have to imagine for yourself.  Leaving Seal Rocks was difficult and I won’t pretend otherwise but believe me when I say it is one of the best places on earth.  Just watch for old girls and spunk rats and for the love of Pete, don’t ask for coffee.

Footnote:  This was my 155th published post. Who would have thought……..xx

Fact: There is monkey business in Penang…….

Winter has well and truly settled itself in around Newcastle.  Some days this city seems empty when the rawest of cold hits but I somehow like those often deserted and sunlit streets.  This is a city I love and have come to know well.  A city of unrestrained chaotic redevelopment both good and bad, of near perfect days and complicated nights and best of all, a place of infinite possibility.

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And with these wintery days came a bug which saw me struck down enough to seek the haven of my bed.  It seems it was one of those ‘take a breath and slow down’ bugs.  The sort of bug we sometimes catch which insists with its coming, take some time you got this.  Really you do. 

While hold up in bed sharing my comfy real estate with the little cat for good company I longed for the ocean, read a couple of pages of some old books, willed myself to feel better and sipped pale green teas.  I scribbled some notes, ran a little mantra through my head every now and then, slept, and slept, and slept some more.

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Fact:  I like monkeys.  I like them very much!

There was no reasoning for this but I woke early one morning and decided I wanted to see a monkey.  And that my friends, is not a statement you will hear me say often if I can help it.

I find monkeys incredibly endearing but years ago I had an encounter with a pretty scary monkey in Ubud which, not wanting sound too dramatic, is an encounter not easily forgotten (and that was well over 20 years ago).  And no, before anyone jumps to conclusions I did not feed, get too close, entice, smile at or do anything to elicit his very grumpy monkey attack.

But as I said, I like monkeys.  Not only are these charming creatures wildly photogenic, they are also complex and fascinating little souls of deep intelligence whose courage is only matched by their reverence.  And so very much like us, they too also experience a range of emotions from love and grief, happiness and compassion, trust and fear to surprise.  They are entertaining – NOT in an horrific circus way – and they are curious and mischievous.  They can also be, as anyone of us could, opportunistic, vain and a little aggressive……… as I was about to find out again.

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Adorably sweet…….x 

Hailing a cab, which is scandalously cheap in Malaysia, it was off to the Penang Botanic Gardens.  A stunningly beautiful and peaceful oasis and home to both the Long Tailed Macaques and the Dusky Leaf Monkey.

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I came across my first monkey within moments of alighting the cab.    It was a good start as the monkeys seemed mostly content to just sit about minding their own business, groom each other, look incredibly cute, snuggle their young (even more incredibly cute if that were possible) or eat what they had foraged from the trees.

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Unconditional love…….x

Serving as a big green lung for Penang, the Botanic Gardens are lovely with walking  tracks, trails and paths which take you through lush rain forests, around clusters of bamboo, past lily ponds and waterfalls, over old bridges and around topiary trees and the very peculiar Cannon Ball trees.  As it is also home to the monkeys, you get to see them in their natural environment, climbing trees and structures, playing, living in their family groups, interacting and being highly social.

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There are signs posted everywhere throughout the gardens requesting you DO NOT FEED the monkeys.  It’s not good for them and it is not good for us as it makes the monkeys trusting, dependent and in turn aggressive.  Remember, these are wild animals.

Fact:  It is my fate to have to occasionally spend time around stupid people!

It seems there will always be the one or two who completely ignore all rules or signage and case in point was the person who on this day who not only fed the monkeys (in a self-absorbed act to attract more monkeys around him for his #shit-for-brains photo opportunity), but then teased the monkeys by withholding the food to make them jump.

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Fact:  Monkeys do not tolerate stupid humans!

Now I had a couple of things to tick off my fabulous-to-do-list-for-the-day which also included Monkey Tree and Monkey Beach.  I know, call me theme predicable on this day but I never do things by halves, yet facing off against a small pack of very pissed off marauding monkeys led by the least jolliest of alpha males I had seen all day was certainly not one of them!  I somehow knew too I was about to re-experience a particular moment.  You know that moment.  It is the moment where you realise you are in a new, exciting and undiscovered place yet the experience you are about to have has an old familiar ring to it ……….and not in a good way!

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As a ranger approached #shit-for-brains, the monkeys legged it………in my direction.  Quietly, I stepped off my intended path and although I kept my eyes downcast I kept them well and truly on the wily old jackanapes who was leading them.  This alpha male wasn’t quite done with humans just yet as he did, after all, have a score to settle and he wasn’t about to lose face either with his dedicated band of monkey followers.  Plus he probably now viewed all humans as nasty food withholding, self centered pricks and thoughts of exacting a little monkey revenge would no doubt top off his morning.

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He changed direction and picked up a speed while heading right toward me.  Then, as expected, came the very familiar and not easily forgotten raucous screech.  A banshee like scream that will chill your blood followed by the baring of large, sharp yellow teeth.

Fact:  Monkeys are no longer cute once you see their teeth!

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I rest my case…….

This was going to be a make or break moment but I knew I had to be the one to decide the outcome of this confrontation.  Being 157cm I managed to pull myself up to an intimidating 160 cm, I know, super daunting to a monkey (I hoped) and just as impressive to me as I was wearing flats a the time.  I stood my ground and faced him down while unfurling my hands to show open palms, my years of watching David Attenborough doco’s finally paying off.

He showed his teeth again, loped forward then stopped.  We looked at each other for a moment almost considering our next moves then he slowly turned and stalked off leaving me with an impressive view of his monkey overlord arse.

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If this little dude had thumbs there would be serious snapping………

And me, well I owned it.  I walked off feeling pretty chuffed.  I think I may even have high fived myself or at the very least skipped.

I did actually skip……… and it was in the direction of the strongest cocktail available on the island of Penang!

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Truth:  GO SEE MONKEYS in the wild.  They are brilliantly amazing 🙂   Just don’t be a stupid, inconsiderate human jackass when you do…….x

Please note:  incredible ‘monkey baring teeth’ photograph taken by A. Wilcox.