Tag Archives: Friends



 The other morning after speaking to my parents on the phone William asked me why I was quiet (I know, it doesn’t happen often).  “I’m homesick” I told him.  “But you’re at home Mummy” was his response.  Quite.  So why, seven years after landing in this Great Southern Land, do I still not call Australia home?

It has got me thinking about what ‘home’ means and the link between home and identity.  According to the OED home is ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family’.  So on the surface where I am now fits; it’s just that pesky ‘permanently’ I have a problem with.  I don’t have a problem with commitment on the whole, and I am the sort of person who, when I do commit, gives it my all to make it work.  Even in the short term, I hate to be seen as having failed but more that I haven’t tried so I have employed the mantra try, try and try again (heralding the Lions?)

 We have a fabulous life here, as I talked about on May 2nd.  Our needs are more than met, the boys are thriving in their respective school and pre-school, we have some lovely friends, and yet.  And yet.  There is a need in me which I almost cannot name, which defies definition and yet which somehow exemplifies homesickness.  It is an ache I carry for much of the time, a tug that I feel when I see a tall, grey haired grandpa or yearning to be where my soul can rest.  I worry that I cannot be the best version of myself without repairing the roots I yanked from the loamy Scottish ground seven years ago.

 There is a saying which suggests that the most important things we can give our children are ‘roots and wings’.  I suppose the whole point is that they are mutually dependent; we can push push push ourselves as long as we have that starting point to return to if we fail.  But if that starting point is shaky and unconvincing, what kind of support structure is in place?

 I am incredibly lucky; I still have four uncles, four aunts, many cousins who also have children.  At two out of three of my children’s christenings (all taking place in the church in which my brother and I were christened, Andrew and I were married – where we have a family pew, yes really!) my cousin Naomi’s children and my own have gone from a shy hello to a plaintive, ‘When will we see X again?’  The joy I felt being at Cowbog (see header photo on this blog) two years ago was renewed every time I saw my boys with their cousin (now plural) and the children of my close friends.  The strong, binding web of family and shared history is impossible to break entirely and it seems can survive neglect but as a sad version of itself, like a holiday house that would be nice to visit if only you had the time or money to invest in it.

 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 057 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 228 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 492

 For many people The UK means London or some other urban centre.  Some friends we have here had a wonderful few years in Oxford, others in Bristol.  All of them enjoyed their UK hiatus but treated it as such, a break in the norm.  They always knew they would return home.  My UK, my Scotland is the glorious, soft, fresh-aired countryside of The Borders.  Rich in history and legend, The Borders is populated by canny, determined souls whose passions run deep (apart from when it comes to the rugby where jersey sleeves are singed by emotion).  For my first 20 years –  probably more if I’m being honest – I was ‘Julia Wilson from Cowbog’; the farm was central to my very identity and like a ripple on a pond, Cowbog at the centre was supported by gradually bigger areas and layers of family.

In this age of international travel and expatriation perhaps it is unusual for place to play such a large part in the formation of identity.  So many people chase the dream, be it corporate or lifestyle that it is easy to identify only with those within the immediate family bubble, wherever that bubble may journey.  While I admire the ‘us against the world’ ethos that such a family habitat naturally demands I’m not sure it’s what I want to give my children.  Perhaps I am not strong enough, perhaps I need my comfort blanket of family, perhaps I don’t want to grow up.

Going beyond myself though, I think about the boys and their identity and sense of belonging.  We joke that the Scottish brainwashing has worked on William but only partially on Sam (Edward I could claim as mine but that is only in a maternal sense, not a patriotic one just now).  In fact, in the car on the way to school recently we were discussing the Lions tour as the boys had just received their shirts from Gran and Grandpa.  William said something like “I’m Scottish, the same as Mummy but you’re not, you’re from here.” This was to Sam and Edward. Obviously there was no malice intended but the division is there (Should we prepare for massive psychological bills?).  I of course told them we all had the same passport and that was that!  Gorgeous Sam though had insisted on wearing his green shorts with his Lions jumper as he ‘supports both’.

boys in lions shirts1

 I recounted this conversation to Sam’s lovely teacher at pre-school whose take on it was typically lovely and caring as she suggested that we are all citizens of the world and all just the same.  If only this were true.  Unfortunately patriotism has a large part to play in our identity and though of course our family loyalty is first and foremost to the people we love, I wonder about the impact of identifying ourselves differently within that unit.

One of my favourite poets, Eavan Boland explores this theme wonderfully in her poem Lost Land.  I considered just putting a link here but, just in case people were too busy to read another page and didn’t click on it I thought I’d make it easy and include it.  I would hate for anyone to miss out.  I first heard this on my post-colonial poetry course at Edinburgh and it still gives me goosebumps.

The Lost Land

By Eavan Boland

I have two daughters.
They are all I ever wanted from the earth.
Or almost all.
I also wanted one piece of ground:
One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.
So I could say mine. My own.
And mean it.
Now they are grown up and far away
and memory itself
has become an emigrant,
wandering in a place
where love dissembles itself as landscape:
Where the hills
are the colours of a child’s eyes,
where my children are distances, horizons:
At night,
on the edge of sleep,
I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.
Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,
shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then
I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.
I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:
Ireland. Absence. Daughter.

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward. Victor Kiam.


I’m sure the quote of the title isn’t meant to be funny but the never-say-die optimism makes me chuckle.  Perhaps I’m not cut out for motivational thinking?

Sam's family portrait.  He is the big one with six eyes, I have the long eyes on stalks!

Sam’s family portrait. He is the big one with six eyes, I have the long eyes on stalks!  This is my motivation…

I have to admit I’ve been finding it hard to motivate myself to write this week.  Having the goal of the run and the fundraising focused me and gave me something to work towards and therefore progress – or lack thereof – to relate.  I’ve realised how beneficial it was for me to have that goal (echoes of being told I just had to find an aim in life as I floated through my teens and twenties…) and how invigorating I found being that busy.  It was exciting busy rather than just the normal busy blur of washing and schoolbags and meals that my life generally is.  My parents have made being busy into an art form; my Mum constantly has huge number of balls in the air and never seems to drop one (if she does she is amazing at damage limitation).  I felt like that for about a week and I realise everyone benefited, I was more efficient in every area.  I need a new challenge to save you all from my introspective pontificating!

Suggestions are welcome as long as they don’t involve running anytime soon.  My ankles are slowly slowly recovering; it is really quite alarming how long it’s taking and how much I’m rattling!  My amazing inspirational friend Joanna is doing the first of two 10K runs on Saturday – FOR FUN!  Or at least a personal challenge.  There is no way I would have managed it were it not for raising money for Darcy so I am full to the brim with admiration.

I can’t believe my firstborn is 7!  I love remembering his first few months, the wonder and humility I felt – and utter helplessness at times.  My Scotland memory box is not one I allow myself to access very often, knowing it will tinge my day with melancholy.  But thinking of my dear friend mentioned above has allowed me to immerse myself and wallow.  Life moves on apace, not just for the generation following us but the one in front too.  Our control is so little perhaps all we can do is watch over our own little patch and hope for the best – take heart from children and keep it simple. I wish I could stand beside you Jojo to face the next chapter.

It seems we are all sentimental and love harking back to our childhoods – by watching funny montages on YouTube, ironic no?   Perhaps it comes out of a natural nervousness of the future as the unknown, especially on our children’s behalf.  Children are so beautifully in the now it’s hard not to envy them their lack of care about things past or anxiety about things to come – until it is suggested that the Wii might not be brought out at the weekend, then they’re plenty worried.  I’ll never forget William’s first teacher at day-care telling me she had a book about managing children without ever resorting to punishment or bribes…she was fired soon after, maybe for not getting children, at all?

One thing that is driving me potty in terms of bribe material is the huge individual bag of sweets the parents of Sam’s rugby team dole out at the end of every match.  Last week Sam’s loot surpassed that in the bags I made up for William’s 7th birthday party.  It’s not simply the number of baddies being ingested at 9.00am after a lovely healthy start to the day, it’s the misplaced ‘reward’ they are getting.  Isn’t the best reward the praise and excitement of their family and the feeling of having played to their best?  Perhaps I am misguided and naive but I know that Sam is on a natural high before the sugar kicks in.  Being such an old bore when it’s my turn I am going to go old school and take one bag of something like jelly snakes and give them one each.  It may well seal my fate as the mean mum but I’ll be channelling the Bupa ad and telling myself they’ll thank me one day…

The Jamie Oliver food revolution day got no media coverage here but we had fun beginning the weekend of celebrations for William’s birthday with the complete mayhem that was our pizza party!  Ten children at the end of the week armed with dough and tomato sauce, thank god my lovely friend Hannah brought a bottle of lovely fizz to get us through! The difference between the beautiful pizzas the girls produced and the chuck-it-all-on attitude of the boys won’t surprise those of you with both sexes but I will admit to having a(nother) moment of thinking how nice it would be to have someone in the house who would willingly sit down for more than five minutes at a time!

Scarlett and Ruby joining the revolution!

Scarlett and Ruby joining the revolution!

Sam and Oli following closely behind!

Sam and Oli following closely behind!

 We had such fun playing mini golf with William’s friends on Sunday too, Andrew managed to burn some of the evil sugar and colourings (in the cake that he had, mostly, made!) out of them with soccer afterwards too – impressing some Mums with his speed into the bargain!

The birthday boy and cake Andrew made!

The birthday boy and cake Andrew made!


Do you ever have a day when you just shouldn’t have got out of bed?  We had one yesterday – no, that’s not me and my doppelganger good-cop mum sidekick but the entire family.  From the moment the boys barrelled into the study/playroom at 5.50am the day was doomed.  I was faffing already, getting lost in reading other blogs (a brave, beautifully written post from Lisey Bendy’s blog to be precise check it out here www.shittytittiebangbang.com) and trying and failing to galvanize myself into writing action.  So having achieved nothing by the time they came in put me in a grump which, as it turned out, matched the one Sam had woken up with and as it happened Andrew.  Humph.  The sort of day where we need a bigger house in order for us all to be grumpy in our own little corner.  Except life of course isn’t like that and the day had to be faced.

Edward decided to well and truly face it when he leapt off the chest of drawers onto Sam’s bed, kneecapping his big brother with a salad server (previously pilfered from the kitchen) and breaking a precious new Lego Chima model in the process.  Oh the pitiful sobbing from the victim, the defensive yelling and flailing of arms and legs as the offender was put into time-out (never one to down without a fight is Edward), the tears and snot and dribble from both.


This set the tone – before breakfast.  For the rest of the day I felt like my witty aside of ‘ha, ha, UN peacekeepers have nothing on me!’ should have been stapled on a large board to my forehead.  Navigating a day like that is walking the parenting minefield.  I didn’t know which innocent instruction would set off the next homegrown greanade (it turned out to be ‘please bring your water bottle through’, who’d have known?).  I staggered into The Source holding up two fingers.  Luckily being such a good customer I jump the queue now so energy levels were promptly pumped up.  Just writing that makes me wonder if it is my good custom that pushes me up the orders or my sons’ custom of rolling about on the floor and demanding water from the fun little tap on the counter that encourages the baristas to feel the need for speed. Hmm.

I did read recently that the results of a major study into bullying have shown that children mollycoddled by their parents are 10% more likely to be bullied than those allowed to find their own boundaries and learn conflict resolution by themselves.  Glad to see my parenting technique of ‘leave them to it, they have to learn the hard way’ gets the thumbs up from the professionals!  There are simply only so many times one can say ‘stop it’ in one day, we just happen to reach that threshold surprisingly early sometimes.  For the article click here http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/kid-gloves/story-e6frg8h6-1226636971204.

Today everything is different!  I was left in peace until almost 7am, quite a record.  Andrew was impressed that I had turned stripping beds into something fun when I gave the boys two minutes to do it themselves before I did it for them.  He obviously hasn’t realised I am training them to be decent houseguests in order to secure sleepovers!!

There was great excitement this morning when our Easter parcel from my Mum arrived – only two months late!  Sam’s question ‘Where has it been until now?’ met with William’s reply ‘There are people who have to taste every single thing in every single parcel before we can have them.’  Now there’s a reality TV show in the making.


With her permission I would like to share a short story about my friend ‘Agatha’s’ son’s reply to a question posed by his teacher which is still causing her to seriously consider changing her name to Agatha and moving school possibly even city pronto.

Teacher ‘ Let’s think about Balmoral Beach.  It is a natural landscape but now has lots of man-made features.  Can everyone think of a man-made feature at Balmoral and share it with the class.

Girl 1: The path along the front.

Boy 1: The rotunda.

Girl 2: The benches.

‘Agatha’s’ son: Balmoral Cellars…

I’m laughing even as I type.  She should be proud I say, I wish it had been my son’s answer!

Today is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day http://foodrevolutionday.com/.  It has had no publicity here that I have seen but I’m always one to try and impose some culinary experience on the boys so tonight we are making pizzas with some lovely friends.  That is four mums and ten children.  I imagine I’ll be calling Jamie all the names under the sun this evening before taking to the drink!  In the meantime I had better go and make the dough…

This week I’ve been

Reading ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King – a present to celebrate my first commission from my gorgeous boys, loving it (perhaps I should have read it earlier?)

Reading ‘An Omelette and a Glass of Wine’ by Elizabeth David – I’ve just discover ED, such poetic descriptions of food.  No wonder she was such a revolutionary.

Reading ‘Mrs Queen Takes the Train’ by William Kuhn.  Gently enjoyable, taking a while to get going (I’ll avoid a British Rail joke here!) though.

Cooking for my lovely preggy friend Rebecca.  Curry, soup, pasta sauce.  I still remember fondly the gorgeous parsnip soup my lovely sister-in-law Lucy filled my freezer up with before William’s arrival.

Celebrating having lost 1.5 kilos, better stay off the wine (you were right Mum!).

Boys will be boys…

WE DID IT! Now what?!


As the banner says, I did it!  I managed to finish in just under an hour – awaiting the official result but by my watch it was 58.40 (7.11 mins per km – a PB!).  Very happy with that given I did next to no training for the last two weeks leading up to today.

What an amazing experience it was too. It was incredibly empowering to be a part of something so strong and so vibrant and humbling to read all the tribute cards.  It’s easy to forget as we go about our busy lives that cancer could affect any of us at any time.  It is our obligation to support those affected where we can and, when given the chance, to pull together to find a way to beat this terrible disease. 

Huge respect and congratulations to everyone who took part today and of course massive thanks from me to everyone who supported me, financially, emotionally, physically.  Most of all my four amazing boys.

Some photos from my day.


With the boys at the starting line.


My smile belies my dreadful nerves.


  Very happy to see Hannah


Almost there (running so fast Andrew could hardly get me in shot!)


Across the line!


Clashing with my t-shirt!


  Celebrating with the Kelly family.


  Doing it for Darcy.


The journey home.  We never tire of travelling to and from the city on the ferry, it still feels like an adventure.

Image  First stop The Source – loving BJ’s creative coffee labelling!

 Image First drink in a month, cheers!


A lovely lunch at Bathers, our ‘go to’ place for occasions with the boys.  Such a treat!  (And yes, I’m still wearing the medal – the boys and I have taken it in turns all day!)

Darcy is doing really well at home with his family before immunotherapy treatment 4 out of five begins later this week.  It looks like they have had a great Mother’s Day too, and so so deserved.  http://www.facebook.com/DoingItForDarcyNz?fref=ts

I am still blown away by your generosity, thank you.  In case you were waiting for me to actually do it….https://www.youcaring.com/other/doing-it-for-darcy/54263

Julia xx

Reflections from an empty glass part 1


Image  It’s in my DNA, what can I say?  This from a book at playgroup, love it!  I remember this from my childhood (the book not the Scotsman staring sadly at this empty bottle).

The one question that I have asked me more than any other over the past month is ‘do you feel fantastic?’  This of course is in relation to my not drinking for almost a month (28 days to be precise – and counting).    It is often asked with a hopeful tone of voice followed by relief when I give my answer…not as fantastic as I think I should!  This is probably because I have had an incredibly busy few weeks, never have I been trying to keep as many balls in the air*, so rather than nurturing my de-toxing body I have been pushing it to its limits in terms of tiredness.  The one thing I can say is that there is no doubt I would have dropped more balls had I also been having a couple of wines a night – and the rest at the weekend.  As much as I revile the man, a quote that encompasses this comes from old George Dubya: ‘…drinking began to compete with my energy.’  Hmm, I’d never have put myself in the same basket as him!

It makes me slightly apprehensive about being allowed to ‘get back on it’ as one friend puts it.  Although I have had the self-discipline to abstain for a month I know that, as an all or nothing person with, let’s face it, three good reasons (all under 7) to reward myself at the end of the day it could be a slippery slope back to the days of energy sapping boozing.

I was happy to read this morning though that a study conducted by Newcastle University (where else?) has concluded that ‘…consumption of champagne has the potential to influence cognitive functioning, such as memory.’  Bloody brilliant, it’s Veuve all the way then!

There have only been a handful of occasions over the month when I have really longed for a drink and, very like I remember the craving for a cigarette, the moments passed surprisingly quickly.  The way in which it differed from cigarettes is the social acceptability of enjoying a glass or three.  There are not many mums of young children I know who can’t or don’t join in with the playground banter about wine o’clock and/or a drink being the only thing that gets them through the witching hour.  One friend didn’t drink for two and a half years after starting with a month like me – I guess she must have felt so great at the end of the month the very idea of compromising that inspired her to keep going.  In a way I’m quite glad then not to feel utterly fabulous – that first glass is certainly going to taste good.

So cheers my dear fellow time-poor, sleep-deprived, down-trodden wonderfully supportive Mums, here’s to Sunday and a very happy (and mildly merry) Mother’s Day!

Image  Love it!

*Public apology number one –  to the gorgeous Alice Curry, whose first birthday I forgot.  Totally unforgivable especially as her gorgeous mum has been unfailingly wonderful at remembering the boys’ birthdays.  I only wish I was there to grovel in person.  Sorry sorry KC.

Public apology number two – to my Mum who loyally reads this drivel and who now probably wishes she doesn’t!

Image  My nails after a gorgeous pampering session courtesy of Sam at the wonderful Northern Nursery Mother’s Day morning tea.  He asks every day ‘do you like your nails Mummy?’  Needless to say they still look like this!  I am wearing my polish with pride.

The happy other (and mother)


Image    The best coffee in Mosman (and further) found at The Source.                                         Love being a regular!

Arghhhh!  If I have ever craved a glass of wine since the 12th April (and I have, believe me I have) I have never craved one like I do tonight.  Thankfully Andrew has taken the boys to rugby training at which there is a bar and bbq so I don’t have to stand watching the other parents enhance the rugby experience with a drink (oh the times I have done that – Kelso Rugby Club, Murrayfield Car Park, Melrose 7’s, endless pubs in Edinburgh, feel free to add to this list).

The bottle of Prosecco that is in our fridge will be given away tomorrow since it has begun to speak to me, “mmm, , drink me, just imagine the lovely icy fizziness, you know you want to, no-one will know…”  (not terribly imaginative this bottle, and it makes up words) apart from I will and that’s enough.  I am many things including weak when it comes to self-control generally but I feel so accountable doing this, both to all the wonderful people who have supported and sponsored me and of course to Darcy.  Thankfully I definitely got the gift of tenacity from both my parents so when I do something…  Roll on the 12th May however!

I’ve been thinking about community today, and how far I’ve come in terms of feeling settled in just a few months.    A lot of you will know that I have a tendency to over-think things and there is no doubt I have done it with the whole expat situation.  I’ve even been known to bring my post-colonial and anthropological learning into the discussion, applying the idea of ‘the other’ to myself and the boys.  It has really concerned me that they and I will not share a cultural identity should we choose to remain away from the UK.

I am not yet entirely at peace with this however I have decided to put this to one side for now and simply enjoy living in Mosman.  We are truly blessed to live in a place which affords us easy access to every amenity and facility we require or desire (just a pity it’s not more affordable).  The boys are settled into the most wonderful schools, both of which have such strong community values and which we really feel a part of and now have some lovely friends through.  To supplement this I joined the social committee and coerced Andrew into being on the management committee of the Northern Nursery School.  Turns out I chose the wrong committee, we meet in the mornings with children in tow as opposed to the evenings with wine in hand…hmm, I sense a theme to this post.

We met a lovely lady on the ferry last weekend who has lived in Mosman for thirty years and who told me she met most of her close friends when their children were around this age.  I suggested that we all live for the Friday evening wine with children’s supper and she replied ‘And what about the Monday to Thursday wines?’  A kindred spirit and great example that we are not all dreadful old soaks as we feared.

My sense of belonging was shaken a little this morning when I found that a nasty note had been shoved under our front door.  In it, some nutter from the flats which overlook our back garden accused the boys of waking her up (we’re assuming female from the handwriting) every morning at 6am (when it is still dark and the boys are still in bed) and then a line later expresses her pity for said annoying boys since they have a mother who shouts.  Show me the mother of three very lively boys under 6 who never has cause to shout and I’ll promise not to drink for a bloody year.  What a cheek!  Talk about not having enough in your own life to worry about.   Andrew made me report the old bag to the police who said I should have phoned and they would have come round in order that the perp (ha ha!) might have seen them and therefore would know we’d reported her.  What a cowardly thing to do and the last thing I need.

Phew.  Now I need a drink more than ever.

Image      Autumnal Joy!

Running wise my lovely friend Chris, a chiropractor whose son Hugo is Sam’s bestie, re-aligned my ankles (I think that’s what she said) and I now have orthotic insoles in my trainers…fingers, or rather toes, crossed I’ll be able to run a bit more in the last week I have to train.

Darcy is at home recovering from the immunotherapy treatment that was really brutal last week.  Wee soul, it is just so much for anyone to go through, let alone a child.  As a Mum I imagine it must be utterly heart-breaking to watch.  I feel it physically in my gut when I think about the Wilson family and what they are all going through, they show such bravery and determination always with a ready smile.  Simply amazing.

Fan-bloody-tastic effort everyone!  We have made it to the $500 mark which was the initial goal.  I’m upping it to $700 by next Sunday, can we do it?  Yes we can!

Link to Doing it for Darcy http://www.facebook.com/DoingItForDarcyNz?fref=ts

Link to fundraising page https://www.youcaring.com/other/doing-it-for-darcy/54263