Category Archives: dancing

Weekend Coffee Share – 2nd June, 2019.

Welcome Back for Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Hope you like your banana cake served up with a side serve of chewed up tennis ball and a pair of beady-eyed dogs glaring at you to throw the ball. I also offer apologies for the other dog, Lady, who’ll be glaring at your cake and looking like she’s posing for Vogue Magazine with those puppy dog eyes.

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I’m sorry I missed you all last weekend. Last Saturday, I drove our daughter up to Newcastle for the regional school aerobics championships. This was the first time I’ve seen our daughter competing, and I was getting my head around it all. There were similarities with the dance and the dance eisteddfods she’s done, and yet this was new territory. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of jazz dance and the sort of aerobics I used to do too many moons ago. However, these girls had speed, agility and nose-breaking high kicks which placed it in a different league. That’s where the similarities with the dance ended. The girls were wearing white Reeboks instead of dance shoes and were referred to as “athletes”. Their team came first, which means they’re off to State. That’s all very exciting, although I am wondering how any child of mine could even make it into the school team. When I was at uni, I wrote an article entitled “Unco Aerobics”. In keeping with my poor sense of direction, I ended up facing the class instead of the front.

While we were in Newcastle, we headed off to The Junction, which is quite an upmarket, arty part of Newcastle. That could also read “expensive”. However, Mum’s cousin and her husband owned a Mexican restaurant down there called Munchos which was a real institution in Newcastle. Unfortunately, she passed away and Mum’s aunt and uncle passed away before that and so Newcastle has this sense of making a pilgrimage and this now focuses on the family restaurant, Talulah, where I found an old, dying piano out on the footpath this time and it really spoke to me about all these family members who have passed and all the times we had together.  I still remember Mum’s uncle returning from a spear fishing trip with a lobster when I was a child and how he drove this very shiny red and black taxi which lived in the garage under the house. What happened to all of that? How can entire worlds just disappear like that and why do I feel like the last one left standing when I’m not. Surely, I’m not the only one who feels like they’re living among the dead, not in a morbid way but with the memories which quite concrete. Something I can touch. Someone I can hold and still feel their vibrant laughter.

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Anyway, on this visit we ended up having afternoon tea at the cafe across the road as I was wanting cake. I needed cake after that dreadful getting lost driving to Newcastle experience and you can’t keep pouring yourself into your kids as a parent without refueling yourself. Moreover, I make no apologies for turning to food to do that. I had a variation of Creme Brulee and Miss was hungry too. So, there went the budget enhanced by a few superb finds at the local Red Cross Opportunity Shop.  It’s okay. We could survive on dry Vegemite toast. However, our teenage son disagreed.

Speaking of our son, he placed at the school athletics carnival last week. He was in the 400 metres relay which came in second. This came as a complete surprise. Our kids have never come home with a ribbon before and while our son does a lot of long-distance hiking with scouts, he’s on the computer every waking minute he’s not at school or in an arranged activity. So, it was a bit of a surprise to find out there’s a hidden athlete in there somewhere. I did ask him if he was off to zone and his reply was priceless: “Hope not!” His enthusiasm was clearly underwhelming.

I’m still beavering away on my research and book project. However, while I’ve made some enormous leaps forward, I can’t help feeling that I’ve headed backward. That perhaps if I’d written this story at the start with the little I had, I’d have my story done and dusted by now instead of feeling lost in a research wilderness. Have you ever felt like that? I’m sure the story I write once I finally put pen to paper will be a much more textured and complex tale than something I’d have rushed off. However, I was hoping to be further down the track.

By the way, my concept is to write a series of short biographical stories about a few of our stand-out ancestors. It was supposed to be fairly straight-forward because I’ve already researched the bulk of them. However, I decided to launch off with our first arrivals in Australia and that came down to Richard Keep on Geoff’s side who arrived in Sydney in 1808 and John Paton who arrived in 1818 on mine. Unfortunately, being right back at the beginning of our Australian story, they’re the ones I knew least. So, there’s been a lot of hard work and trying to get my feet into where they’ve come from, their crimes, the voyage to Australia, their time here and their legacies. That’s a lot to cover and then condense into a short story or two. However, I am making progress and I’m loving the journey along the way. An added bonus with John Paton has been the infusion of Scotland’s national poet, Robbie Burns who was living just down the road in his parents’ day and it also turns out that his first illegitimate child (he had a few) was with his mother’s servant by the name of Elizabeth Paton. I haven’t found a connection yet and our Patons were landholders. However, the plot has thickened. Indeed, that’s part of the problem. It’s become so thick I can barely move.

Have you been doing much reading lately? I’ve been reading Fled by Australian authorMeg Keneally and am really loving it. Meg Keneally is the daughter of legendary Australian author, Thomas Keneally who is best known for his story of Oscar Schindler, Schindler’s Ark. Father and daughter have been collaborating on the Monserrat Series and this is Meg’s first solo novel and she has another on the way.

Fled tells the story of Jenny Trelawney…”Highway robber. Convict. Runaway. Mother. She will do anything for freedom, but at what cost?

Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out.

Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. And when famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape, but is survival any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean?”

Meg Keneally’s debut solo novel is an epic historical adventure based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant. I heard Meg discuss the novel recently at the Sydney Writers’ Festival where she explained her decision to fictionalize the story as she felt it wasn’t right to put her own words and opinions onto the real Mary Bryant. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of history, and I gripping sea voyage.

Anyway, it’s now almost Monday night and I’m chomping on my dinner while I try to polish this off. It’s one of the advantages of living a day ahead of some of you folk.
This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to come along and join us.
Best wishes,
Rowena

 

Reference:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/popular-fiction/Fled-Meg-Keneally-9781760680275

 

 

While Your Were Dancing…

Yesterday, our daughter had a dance audition. It was about a half hour’s drive, and faced with the choice of hanging around for a few hours or driving home, I packed my camera, Dicken’s Little Curiosity Shop and my journal, and decided to stay. I watched her disappear into the studio with a number pinned front and back. The wait began.

The audition was held near a wetland area with well-maintained walking trails and it was clearly a perfect opportunity for me to fit in “my walk”. However, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that my walk was cut short. Instead, I recruited one of the other dance mums and we went to the cafe where I had a scrumptious passionfruit cheesecake and a cappuccino… quite the antithesis of a brisk walk.

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However, with another hour to go, I set out again armed with my trusty DSLR and followed my eye.

It’s Autumn here now and while most days are still warm and beautifully sunny, there’s that chill to the air. I must admit that for many of us, it’s a much welcome chill. Not unsurprisingly, the Summer heat can be just a little too intense, and the sun too bright. Personally, in that Goldilocks kind of way, Spring and Autumn are just right.

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A single leaf dangling in the blue sky…a striking beauty in old age.

 

In Australia, many, if not all of our native trees, don’t lose their leaves in Autumn and if it weren’t for the immigrants, there wouldn’t be any flashes of Autumn colour at all. Older, more established areas tend to have more deciduous trees than newer areas, which tend to go for Australian natives. Where we live near the beach, you have to look pretty hard to find any Autumn colour.

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However, as I was strolling around near the cafe, I spotted a plane tree with a single golden leaf, which looked rather striking and photo-worthy, particularly in the absence of much competition.

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I also found this fallen down leaf which had so much character and a lifetime of stories stored inside its veins.

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However, I didn’t just enjoy watching the leaves. Rather, I also loved walking through them and hearing that magnificent crunch underfoot. I remember seeing my children running through piles of Autumn leaves at my parents’ place when they were little and I still feel that magic. I always will.

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Just outside the audition venue, there was an amazing patch of native grass. It was late afternoon heading towards sunset when the light is at its magic best and the grasses just glowed. They were ever so simple, and yet absolutely magnificent.

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So, in the end, I didn’t even open my book or my journal and this serendipitous afternoon perfectly illustrated one of my favourite quotes, which I mentioned in my previous post, which was for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge:

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon

It can be very easy to groan and complain about driving your kids around and being “nothing but a taxi service”. However, it doesn’t have to be a drudge. I find driving along with my teenaged kids is the best time to touch base with them and actually communicate. It can also be quite illuminating when they’re chatting with their friend in the back seat quite forgetting that you’re there at all. You seem to become the butler, not the parent.

You can also make the most of waiting and even enjoy it. After all, waiting doesn’t have to be a waste of time. It can even become an inspiration. All these beautiful elements of nature were all just metres away from where my daughter was dancing. I didn’t even need to go and look. Indeed, you could even say they were waiting for me! How lucky was I!

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Never a dull moment!

After all, we truly live in a beautiful world!

Carpe Diem. Seize the day!

Have you been out into nature lately? Where have you been?

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Weekend Coffee Share… 25th February, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, you’re in luck. If you’re quick, you can snatch a birthday cup cake or perhaps even a few mouthfuls of pavlova. Have you ever tried pavlova? Many consider it Australia’s national dessert, although New Zealand has put in a formidable claim that it was made there first. I won’t get into that here. All I’ll say, is that it’s a pretty fail safe dessert for me to make and I’m well known for my pav.

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The remains of the pavlova.

Yesterday, our daughter turned thirteen and on Saturday night, she had five friends over for a sleepover where they watched and grooved to Grease. I tried to give a bit of a Pink Ladies touch with pink cupcakes, but was too busy trying to get the house sorted out to get too creative. Our daughter was also at dancing all Saturday and I could be sure that any decorated efforts would be appreciated or deemed “embarrassing”. Geoff and I retreated to the other room, but we could hear their excitement and involvement in the movie. They know all the words of the songs and probably the script, and really got into it. Of course, it really helped that the school is putting on Grease as their musical this year, and a number of them including our daughter, are in the cast.

I might’ve subtly  suggested they watched Grease. You see, I had a slumber party for my 13th birthday out in this outdoor room in my parents’ garden, which we called the playhouse. I can’t quite remember how many people we squeezed in there, but there was no room for rolling over. However, what I also remember about that party was that we also watched Grease. However, back in 1982, it was on video. Moreover, although one of the girls had lived in America and had watched the movie 12 times already, the rest of us hadn’t seen it, which meant we didn’t know all the words to the songs and couldn’t sing along. I also think we stayed sitting in our seats and weren’t bouncing around dancing like the lot who were here Saturday night. Indeed, we felt rather subdued and I wished I could’ve been a part of my daughter’s party. Indeed, I’m already planning my own Grease night! I might also need to have one with my original group of school friends too. That would be a real hoot. Well, it might be…

Another element of deja vu about my daughter’s thirteenth birthday, was that I gave her a journal along with a copy of A Diary of A Young Girl, which is the uncensored version  of: The Diary of Anne Frank. This was no impulsive purchase. However, I am glad I didn’t forget about it. You see, my mother gave me a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank when I turned thirteen back in 1982 and she also gave me a journal to write my own diary. I called my diary Anne and for many years that continued and I was in effect writing and talking to Anne Frank. At the time, it was just the two of us and it never occurred to me that millions of young women all around the world over many generations did the same. When I landed in Amsterdam in 1992, I naturally went to the Anne Frank Museum. It was, of course, an intensely personal and incredibly tragic experience. However, as I’ve grown older and experienced the trauma of my health and disability issues, I’ve also come to experience her tenacity and uplifting spirit as a survivor, even if she didn’t make it at the end. Anne Frank has a lot to teach my daughter about what it is to be a young woman surviving in dreadful, hostile circumstances but I hope she will also experience that sense of friendship. That in the midst of all her ups and downs that Anne is there with her. That she is always on her side…a staunch ally. Personally, I don’t think you can have enough of these people in your life. By the way, I should mention that while I felt very close to Anne Frank as a teen, I haven’t forgotten that she didn’t get on with her mother. I feel quite close to my daughter, so I hope that remains a fundamental difference.

Given the birthday and the party, last week was rather busy. However, I wasn’t as focused on getting ready for the party as I should’ve been and left much of the cleaning til Friday and Saturday. The trouble was that I’ve been making great progress with a writing and research project I’ve been working on and I didn’t want to lose momentum. Moreover, I am naturally concerned about pausing during a project in case it gets shelved. Yet, for most of us, it’s impossible to stop everything around us for six months and get our writing project or book finished without interruptions. Moreover, as much as I love my writing, I’m also a people person and need human interaction. I’m also married with two kids and three dogs and we’re active in our local community in multiple activities. So, we lead quite a richly textured life, which I personally believe enhances my writing, however, you still need to be able to sit down long enough to get it written and that does seem to be a difficulty for me. How about you? Are you juggling too many eggs and dropping more than the occasional one?

Coming back to my research project, I’m currently researching and writing up about a collision of two ships in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne in 1924, which resulted in the loss of six lives. My Great Grandfather, Reuben William Gardiner, was Second Mate onboard a massive collier the Dilkera when they hit a small steamer the Wyrallah which ended up steering across their path. This was at a spot called The Rip, which is renowned for its treacherous currents even today. The papers were full of interviews with the survivors and closely followed the resulting Marine Court Inquiry. As it turned out future Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, acted as Junior Counsel for the owners of the Wyrallah so that adds another element of interest to the case. Here’a link to a post I wrote about it:  When Two Ships Collide

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Our feet at a contemporary/lyrical class two or three years ago. Guess which foot belongs to our teacher?

The other big development last week, was that I did my first adult ballet class in two years. These classes are run by my daughter’s ballet teacher and I love them. I have a pair of proper, ballet-pink, shiny satin ballet shoes with ribbons and all, along with the theatrical pink ballet tights. However, I managed to pick up a black tutu at the opportunity shop and I have a black t-shirt with a butterfly printed on it and that is my uniform. I wear this mad get up to have a bit of fun but I also do it to encourage the others to have a good time, and not be too self-conscious. After all, we’re there to spread our wings, not to chop them off. We have a full range of abilities in the class including a professional dancer who has come through the studio. Dance is such a liberating experience. Yet, for most of my life, it was terrifying, inhibited and I felt so self-conscious and awkward. Of course, it didn’t help that I had undiagnosed hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) until my mid twenties and had serious gait and coordination issues, which were usually just referred to as “unco”. However, it’s amazing what a bit of plumbing can do to the brain, and I’m not only still alive but I’m almost coordinated.

Anyway, I wasn’t too sure how I’d go at the ballet class after a two year gap and my breathing has deteriorated in that time. However, I managed to pick it up again reasonably well and certainly didn’t embarrass myself. I was one of the crowd.

Well, that’ll have to cover it, because it’s well past time for me to get to bed. I hope you’ve had a great week and I look forward to hearing what you’ve been up to.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 28th January, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I hope you’ve had a great week and being the Australia Day long weekend, I’d better offer you a Vegemite sandwich along with our choice of beverage. Please don’t all run for the hills. I won’t force you to eat it!

We have had a busy and interesting week. It was the last full week of the school holidays and so there’s been that desperate urge for the kids to squeeze as much fun as they can out of those shrinking hours, while all the organizational nightmares of “Back to School” (Golly, why hasn’t anyone made a horror movie out of the return to school for the new school year?  Or, perhaps, they have and I just haven’t heard about it. Anyway, for those of you scattered around the globe, the Australian school year starts after the Australia Day long Weekend and that’s what’s wrapping up today. There’s a bit of variation between the schools. However, teachers go back tomorrow, our son on Wednesday and our daughter on Friday. So, come Monday, my New Year begins in earnest and all those best laid plans of mice and mum, need to swing into action…and I definitely need a good breather too! After all, all work and no play makes Mum rather dull and cranky too.

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Last Tuesday, my daughter and I attended Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical at Sydney’s historic Capitol Theatre. Our dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, has a lead role and is playing that horridly spoiled brat, Veruca Salt. Miss Karina wears the most incredibly poofy and gorgeously delicious pink tutu, which reminds me of fairy floss and is straight out of a ballet girl’s pure imagination. She also has a double-decker tiara and pointe shoes and she actually does quite a lot of ballet throughout and her dance with the squirrels is simultaneously hilarious, terrifying and… (No spoilers here!) Anyway, we met up with Miss Karina and Willy Wonka played by Mr Paul Slade Smith at Stage Door and that was so much fun. We had the best day.

Above: Meeting up with Miss Karina Russell at Stage Door to get our programs signed after the performance to to say hello.

It was interesting for me to revisit Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and I can see that I’ll be having to read the book yet again so I can shake out what I’ve seen in various versions and get back to what exactly came out of Roald Dahl’s head. You see, while the action is set with the sweetly delicious context of a chocolate factory and I’ve read that it was based on Roald Dahl’s childhood experiences as a chocolate taster at a chocolate factory himself, there is a very dark and almost sadistic side to Willy Wonka and there is no doubt in my mind that this book really delves into the dark side, questioning why bad, greedy people usually win out at the expense of the good. Indeed, I feel Roald Dahl takes matters into his own hands and turns things around, ensuring that Charlie Bucket a boy growing up in grinding poverty but with a great brain triumphs over all the brats. You can read more about that in: Our Visit to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical.

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The front doors of the historic Capitol Theatre, Sydney. 

I also wrote about the musical and more specifically about the historic Capitol Theatre for Thursday Doors.

Saturday took us off on a very different trajectory. It was Australia Day and Geoff and our son both took part in the Australia Day Regatta at Gosford Sailing Club. We had a wonderful day and a real highlight was the 11.00am Sail Past where skippers decorated their boats in as much Australia Day gumph as they could muster. It was a lot of fun and while someone else’s son was the obvious winner for the best decorated boat, our son won the Junior Aussie Larrikin Award. Instead of staying in his boat, he was towed along behind on an inflatable donut while his crew member steered and they were actually towed along because their wasn’t enough wind to compensate for the big lump of a teenage boy out the back. I must admit that his father and I were not impressed at the time, but it’s hilarious in hindsight and he was quite a hit. After all, you can’t really expect an entertainer to just sit in their boat counting knots, can you? Moreover, I really have to admit, that he’s very much my boy. I’d love to do something like that even now!

Above: Our son the “Junior Aussie Larrikin” with his Flying 11.

Well, they’re very much the highlights of the last week. I should also mention that it’s been very hot and that the heat could make for a post all on its own. However, I don’t want to become an Aussie whinger so I’ll keep my mouth shut and head for the air-conditioning.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Our Visit to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory… the Musical.

On Tuesday, my daughter and I ventured into Sydney with a group from her dance school to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…the Musical. Being a Roald Dahl tragic and chocolate lover, this musical was a must see.

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My daughter with her dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, at stage door after the performance.

However this production had an added attraction. Miss Karina Russell, our dance teacher, was playing Veruca Salt. That’s right. She was playing that awful rich brat of rich brats who I remember so clearly demanding: “I want an Oompah Loompah and I want it NOW!!” However, that’s not all. We’d already seen her costume when the cast performed at Carols in the Domain and she’s wearing  what looks like a double-yoker of a tutu, a double-decker tiara, a faux mink jacket and pointe shoes and she actually manages to get some ballet in before she meets her demise. She looks amazing. Indeed, all the costumes were fantastic. However, that’s all I’m going to say about the show other than, you should try and see it.

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Does doing adult dance classes make me the ultimate dance Mum? After years of driving my daughter to classes and concerts, I suddenly wanted to get out of the chair and have a go myself and I loved it. Found them so invigorating and creatively it blew me away.

However, if we go back to the title, you’ll see that this post addresses our visit to the musical, and it is in no way intended to be a review of the show. Rather, this is more of a review of how yours truly can complicate matters and achieve the extraordinary without even leaving her seat. It also looks at my personal connection with Roald Dahl. I know that might sound a bit full of myself and you’re probably wondering what this mad Australian woman has in common with Roald Dahl the literary genius. “Tell ‘er she’s dreaming!” Well, I’ll get to that.

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Inside the theatre.

If you know anything about me at all, you’ll know that when my daughter and I went to see Charlie & the Chocolate Factory- the Musical, that it had to be out of the ordinary. That since we don’t do anything via the road well-travelled, that we’d wind up on our own trajectory.

Firstly, as I explained, OUR dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, is playing Veruca Salt. Yes, that’s correct. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. She is OUR dance teacher. I know that probably sounds preposterous… Rowena learning dance when I have a debilitating cocktail of significant disabilities/chronic illnesses (hydrocephalus, dermatomyositis and Institital Lung Disease). However, somehow I found a pathway through and around all of that to take adult dance classes at the same studio as my daughter, Dancin Mates, here on the NSW Central Coast. I did some sessions of lyrical and contemporary dance with Miss Karina a few years ago. Moreover, in addition to the steps, she took us on a journey through how contemporary and lyrical dance rose out of the relative straight-jacket of classical ballet and introduced me to a range of choreographers and their philosophies. Naturally, this was of particular interest to me as a writer, and I’d go home and Google them all. Of course, Miss Karina asked me if I watched them dance. Of course not. I was interested in the words.

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Stage Door

Secondly, while we were sitting in our seats waiting for the curtain to rise, we had a drama of our own.  While it’s our role as audience to sit in our seats while the performance is on stage, yours truly took off her glasses for a group photo, and put them on the floor under her seat. Of course, you know what happens next, don’t you?!! They disappeared. In a truly farcical “only you, Rowena” way, my glasses vanished. So, I start blindly groping under my seat probing through the dark like my fingers have eyes. Yet, on the first couple of sweeps, nothing. My daughter is sitting next to me, she gets recruited and switches on the torch on her phone. Tips out all our merchandise and starts going through our backpack (which was packed with the kitchen sink) searching for them. Nothing. Although I lose my glasses almost every morning under my bed and always find them, I’m now starting to panic. Really panic. Here we are on our musical theatre experience of a lifetime, and I’m not going to see anything at all. CATASTROPHE!! Of course, I didn’t want to alert the rest of our group. I didn’t want to be the problem child, especially when I was one of the parents. However, just as mysteriously as my glasses vanished, they returned. They must’ve gone off in the Tardis and returned.

Anyway, as I said, our experience of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical was unique and treading down roads few have trod.

This takes me onto Roald Dahl and my incredibly personal connection to the man. While we know his books, Roald Dahl himself is an enigma of his own making. Indeed, when it comes to getting to know Roald Dahl, he’s quite the slippery fish.

I first started researching Roald Dahl a few years ago, when I included him in my blogging series: Letters to Dead Poets Letter to Roald Dahl. What particularly attracted me to Roald Dahl the man was our shared experience of going through a major neurological event and how that impacts on just about every part of your being.

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Roald Dahl with his plane.

You see, during WWII, Roald Dahl was a pilot in the Air Force and he fractured his skull when his plane crashed and experienced personality changes as a result. Indeed, it was after this accident that Roald Dahl started writing and left behind his job working as an engineer for Shell. His biographer, Donald Sturrock, wrote:

“A monumental bash on the head” was how Dahl once described this accident in the Western Desert, claiming that it directly led to his becoming a writer. This was not just because his first published piece of writing was a semi-fictionalised account of the crash, but also because he suspected that the brain injuries which he received there had materially altered his personality and inclined him to creative writing.”

His daughter Ophelia recalled her father’s fascination with tales of people who had experienced dramatic psychological and physiological changes – such as losing or recovering sight – after suffering a blow to the head. He also told her that he was convinced something of this sort had happened to him, as it explained why a budding corporate businessman working for Shell, without any particular artistic ambition, was transformed into someone with a burning need to write and tell stories. This hypothesis was doubtless attractive, too, because it pushed potentially more complex psychological issues about the sources of his desire to write into the background.

Nowadays doctors might well have diagnosed Dahl as suffering from what is called post-concussive syndrome. The initial symptoms of this condition are normally forgetfulness, irritability, an inability to concentrate and severe headaches. Dahl suffered from all of these. In some patients the symptoms disappear, but leave behind longer-lasting behavioural changes, which are usually associated with mood swings and an increased lack of inhibition. In some cases, too, it can also result in a fundamental alteration of the perception of the self.1.”

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Roald Dahl with wife actress Patricia Neal

However, that was not the end of Roald Dahl’s involvement with the neuro ward. 5th December, 1960 Roald Dahl’s son Theo was out walking with his nanny when a taxi veered into his pram and he was thrown into the air and landed head first onto the pavement fracturing his skull. Moreover, Theo also developed hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and was given emergency brain surgery where they inserted a shunt. However, shunts were particularly unreliable back then and were notorious for getting blocked. This required a surgical fix, and there were serious concerns about how these surguries would affect Theo’s cognitive development. I remember how my Dad rallied when my shunt blocked, and how Dads can be a mighty force fighting to save their child no matter how old they are. So, I wasn’t surprised that Roald Dahl decided to take matters into his own hands. Dahl recruited the guy who made the hydraulic petrol pumps for his model planes and Theo’s paediatirican and togehter they developed a new shunt which saved thousands of lives, before it was superceded.

Then, as if the Dahl family hadn’t already seen enough of the neurology ward, in February 1965 his wife Patricia Neal suffered a severe stroke after an aneurism burst while she was pregnant with their fourth child, Sophie. She spent three weeks in a coma and then Roald Dahl devised a grueling rehabilitation program, which saw her return to the screen.  However, that is a story in itself.

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Who would’ve thought that a secret harbour was inside my head?(Hydrocephalus)

As you may be aware, I was born with hydrocephalus after Mum had a very difficult birth (not unsurprisingly I was facing the wrong way something which hasn’t changed unfortunately). However, for some reason it lay dormant like a volcano until my mid-twenties, when for some strange reason whatever had been compensating for the presence of this harbour in my head stopped and within about a six to twelve month period it blew its stack. Indeed, just about the only symptoms I had growing up was being a bit clumsy, rather extroverted and impulsive and having difficulty finding a hat which fit. It was only when I was 26 and a sense of vertigo I’d had after a bad flu didn’t clear up that I went back to the family GP who’d been treating me since I was 12, and the long and short of that, was that I was diagnosed with Dandy Walker Syndrome, a variation of hydrocephalus. After a grueling six months where I rapidly went down hill, I had brain surgery in July 1997, where they inserted a shunt. I was off to rehab for 6 months as an outpatient and left wondering if I would ever reclaim my life. The impact of all of this was like being struck by a bomb only I could never see or confront my enemy and it took a few years to feel vaguely myself again.

So, rewinding back to 1997 in Perth’s Mount Hospital, you have a young Australian woman who experienced a reversal of Roald Dahl’s big bang. Instead of having all my neurons suddenly switched up at once, mine were all switched down just as suddenly, when the shunt was put in. I very distinctly remember waking up from surgery and feeling like someone had turned down the lights. Not in terms of what I could see or hear, but I guess something along the lines of how I processed everything. I felt very, very quiet. This wasn’t, I believe, something which was apparent to those around me and I am still to this day, an extrovert and I’m sure countless people are still trying to tone me down. This was all about how I felt inside myself. Naturally, when I read about Roald Dahl’s experience, I understood what he went through immediately. Wished I could talk with him about it.

There is so much more which could be said about how personal tragedy shaped Roald Dahl’s writing. However, that will be another post. However, I hope this might encourage people who have experienced an adverse neurological event, that there is hope. That the light can switch back on. Never give up. You might even become a best-selling author, especially if you actually get your book finished!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Here’s a link to my Letter to Roald Dahl from my Letters to Dead Poets series: Roald Dahl: Letters to Dead Poets

And Roald Dahl’s Fictional Reply

Sources

Roald Dahl: The Plane Crash Which Gave Birth to A Writer

Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl.

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Heading Home. This is outside Sydney’s historic Central Railway.

Our Tenacious Little Dancer.

“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.”

Louisa May Alcott

Today, our beautiful daughter suddenly grew a couple of inches taller when she stepped into her very first pair of pointe shoes and she was up en pointe. This has been something she’s been aspiring towards ever since she first started ballet as an almost four year old eight years ago. Indeed, I remember a time when she was very small and she stood in a couple of plastic cups to get the look (and a bit of added altitude). In hindsight, I probably should’ve got those cups off her feet and been more safety conscious. However, she was so happy, and it was too good a photo opportunity to miss.

In typical Rowena fashion, this pointe shoe fitting demanded a bit of pomp and ceremony. Indeed, quite frankly if she wasn’t twelve years old, I would’ve popped the  champagne, even though I’m not that partial to the taste. Even as a child, I was mesmerized by the theatre of it all what with popping the cork and all those bubbles shooting out like stars across the room with unbridled joie de vivre. Bubbly encapsulates the excitement, the celebration the exquisite preciousness of the moment in a way that nothing else does. You don’t even need to drink the stuff.

However, instead of a champagne celebration, we met up with my Mum for lunch and coffee and then the three of us headed off to Bloch’s for her 3.00pm appointment. By the way, our daughter wasn’t the only young dancer who had to get that very special pair of first pointe shoes on the very first day of the school holidays. The fitter had been flat out all day and we were something like her 11th fitting. Yet, she seemed just as excited for my daughter and for us as the first. As a dancer herself, she knew what this moment was about and really helped to make it special and informative. If there’s one thing I now know about pointe shoes, it’s not to get them wet. I also confess that I’ve also seen my daughter’s feet in a new light.

Helping en pointe BW

We really appreciated the care and assistance we received at Bloch’s Hornsby with the shoe fitting. Naturally, the staff are dancers themselves and I felt that our fitter was handing down the mantle to our daughter. They actually gave her a certificate. She’d joined the club.

Our daughter has been learning ballet for eight years now and she’s worked very hard for the last 12 months doing all sorts of stretches to prepare her feet and toes. Indeed, she needed to have a physio consultation before she could go for her pointe shoe fitting. By that stage, her teacher already knew she was ready. However, she likes her students and a parent to be aware of the physicality of ballet and how the muscles bones and other bits and pieces come together to to produce your swan. Through being more conscious of this physical element and looking after your body, dancers can help prevent injury, wear and tear. Given the difficulties I have with movement, I have appreciated these physical realities through a different window, which has given me an insight into the physical demands of dancing. That it isn’t only about costumes, makeup and hair. After all, injury and being on the sidelines is not just an inconvenience for a dancer. It can mean The End, or simply the end of  dance as they know it. When dance is your passion and raison d’etre, that can feel like surviving your own death. (I’ve gone through that with my own battles.)

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There was so much to learn at her fitting and you can see here that Miss is very focused taking it all in. She hasn’t been swept away by the excitement of it all.

For every young dancer along with her birth and dance families, getting their first pointe shoes is rightly an incredible achievement and time for celebration. While you might see those beautiful pink satin pointe shoes and immediately think of the likes of Degas and his dancers and the professional stage, these young girls are still within cooeee of being the “awkward duckling” who started out. There were no guarantees back then and for us, there were  certainly no expectations. I just dropped her off for her first class and the mysteries of dance went on behind closed doors until open days or the concert. From where I sat, ballet was just a part of childhood for a little girl. A bit of fun. An activity. It had nothing to do with my dreams, unless it came to taking her photo. Now, that was something I understood.

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Edgar Degas, The Little Dancer. She reminded me of my daughter until I found out she was quite distorted.

Although I wasn’t so conscious of this at the time, seeing Miss in her pointe shoes really brought home what we’ve all been through to get her there. I don’t think anybody’s road is easy, but everybody’s road is unique with their own particular reasons why getting into those pointe shoes is a personal miracle and a triumph over adversity. Most of you will be aware that I live with a life-threatening auto-immune disease which affects my muscles and lungs. However, Miss has a rare digestive disorder called gastroparesis, which particularly flared up a few years ago and she was barely able to eat. Indeed, she was struggling to get to school or to ballet and she missed months of classes.

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Miss in hospital waiting for her endoscopy. So brave but she also loved having her own remote control TV!!

As you could imagine, it was very difficult to know quite how to manage the situation. We were very concerned about her actual health and it would’ve been quite a logical decision to cut out dance to focus on her schoolwork. Yet, we’re fighters. We might be holding onto the cliff face by our fingertips and kicking and screaming, but we don’t give up. Indeed, it was only after missing a couple of terms and feeling like all my motivational strength had run out, that I truly started thinking it was time to pull the pin. Her teacher was also very patient. However, dancing is a team sport and it’s hard to manage a team on three legs. So, with the end of year concert rapidly approaching, it was crunch time. As a possible way forward, her teacher suggested that her friend came over and they practice the dance together. I’m so thankful because her friend saved the day. That was the turning point. She picked up the dance. Was in the concert and was back on her dance feet again. Then, the following year, she had a friend at her new school who was a passionate dancer and she also a tremendous encouragement. By the end of that year, Miss decided to audition for Dance Team at the studio and was accepted. She hasn’t looked back and with the incredible training and support from her teachers, is growing from strength to strength. Clearly, with all these dance angels working flat out with her on multiple fronts, our daughter must’ve been destined to get up on those pointe shoes today. It’s been a real team effort.

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Afternoon Tea.

By the way, while we’re talking about life lessons from the road, organization has been another hurdle. While other girls have managed to get to class with a perfect ballet bun and all components of their uniform, all too often Miss could only find one ballet shoe and her ballet bun could well have been reinterpreted as a bird nest of its own unique variety thanks to her superfine hair, where getting the knots out produced spine-chilling screams. Yet, somehow or another, all of this has mostly become a thing of the past.

After explaining some of the hurdles we’ve had to overcome, perhaps you’ll understand why I thought this moment might never come and the tears of joy I held back while we were there as I felt like the happiest Mum alive. Back when our daughter was struggling, I remember seeing a group of older girls who’d just got their first pair of pointe shoes. They were exuberant and clearly this meant the world to them not only as individuals, but as a group. I felt so privileged to catch a glimpse through this keyhole and get an insight into just how important this moment is to a young dancer and what it would mean to my girl. Whatever happened with my daughter and dance, I wanted her to hang in there at least until she’d gone en pointe and  been a part of that bubble. Not for me, but for herself. I could could sense something in her soul, which is becoming more apparent with every passing year. Dancing is her thing. It isn’t her only thing but it lights her fire.

So, now we find ourselves at a new beginning. Once she goes en pointe, she has to learn to dance all over again. Although it is tempting to try to fast forward and think about where all of this is heading, he’s only 12 years old. The world is her oyster and there are still so many forks in the road. She doesn’t need to choose one yet. However, it can be difficult to maintain a balance and keep an open mind when you fall in love with such an alluring juggernaut that you could easily sell your soul to dance in ballet’s fire. Somehow, we just need to keep a level head and maintain a balanced path…at least for now.

After the fitting, she went to stay with my parents for the week taking her beloved pointe shoes with her. If they weren’t so precious, it wouldn’t surprise me if she slept with them under her pillow or close to her heart. They meant the world to her and I’m so proud of her for all she’s overcome, her hard work, dedication and most of all her passion for dance. I am also very grateful to all the people who have helped her along the way, her teachers, my parents but also very much her friends who have been so supportive and encouraging and that’s not something you hear much about in the dance world. She has some incredible dancing mates.

That is also why I am sharing our journey via the road less travelled for our daughter to get her pointe shoes.  That parenting isn’t all about bragging rights and showing off about your kids’ talents. It’s also about sharing about the hurdles and difficulties so other girls don’t give up along the way because they feel they don’t measure up. Aren’t good enough without giving it all they’ve got. I belong to the Muscular Dystrophy community and not everyone can get up on pointe shoes or dance in a conventional sense. However, that doesn’t have to stop you from finding a way. Indeed, I’ve done some adult classes myself and have my own pair of pink satin ballet shoes. I think it helps to understand that you’re not the only one who might be going through difficulties and wondering whether to persevere with dance or whether it’s all worth it. No one else can answer that on your behalf. However, we are meant to encourage each other and dance is such an exhilarating experience. It’s worth fighting for.

Do you have any dance stories you would like to share? Or, a story of triumphing over adversity? I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I have a strange sense of humour. However, after hearing about how her pointe shoes have paper mache in the toes and are very sensitive to moisture, including sweaty feet, I found I found a great deal of humour in this quote:

“Growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet”
Joni Ernst

So, if you see a dancer with plastic bread bags over er pointe shoes, you’ll know that’s our daughter!

Dancing With Apollo…Friday Fictioneers.

The full moon was a magnet, drawing the tide of madness over her conscious mind, drowning all inhibition. Nancy slipped out of bed, unlatched the window and shimmied down the drainpipe to freedom. With her long, white hair and translucent nightdress blowing in the wind, she cast a haunting figure as she floated through the empty streets towards the pier. Word had got out about “a ghost”, and all but a stray cat was safely indoors. Silhouetted by the moonlight, Apollo took her by the hand. Yet, her teeth were still in the glass beside her bed, and Grandma slept.

….

100 words.

This is another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields.  Every week, we write 100 words to a photo prompt, which is a lot of fun and I also these prompts stretch my content beyond the four walls of my own outlook. This week’s PHOTO PROMPT © Gah Learner.

Best wishes,

Rowena