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Half the fun of travelling on an organized tour is the company, sharing stories and adventures, while engaging in that great sport of people watching. Folk on the trip came from Canada, South Africa, Australia, US, Singapore. Over the course of twelve days tour around France, we melded into one happy family, with all the fun and foibles that implies.

Our guide Jodie (not her real name), had a good sense of humour, and she needed it, dealing with at least forty eight diverse opinions about how to best run things, and changes which might be made. People clearly expected every detail to be perfect for them alone. Jodie bent like a branch in the wind to please people, which seemed the wisest course. Mother, friend, shoulder to cry on – she was all of these things and more.

On duty from first thing every morning to last thing at night, Jodie fielded questions and complaints, and organized the next day, including a poster to make everybody aware of what would happen. She made sure that every piece of luggage was intact before leaving the hotel each morning, and counted her charges before departing for the next stop. Her energy and enthusiasm was amazing.

Our driver had no easy task, either. First thing after breakfast, Pierre began to stash our luggage. The weight grew daily, due to souvenirs and bottles of fine French wine. Tired and sweaty after hefting it all into the storage area under the bus, he then drove for hours, jour après jour. Departure from some hotel car parks proved a challenge in itself. In one, we held our breaths as Pierre edged our huge coach past potted shrubs on one side and concrete barriers on the other…He deserved those claps of approval when we made it safely onto the rue! And the difficulties continued along narrow streets, and through diversions not meant for such a large vehicle.

We enjoyed the two Australian jesters on board. Their gags kept the fun and laughter flowing, like the fine red wine we drank at restaurants along the way. At every town or village our token gay man, Bruce, wrists loaded with silver bracelets, primped and preened for our benefit, wearing the latest souvenir shirt or cap. Behind every smile, though, lurked a caustic joke or three, ready to cut the unwary down to size.

One day I offered him a biscuit. ‘No thanks. You would ask me when I had a mouth full of chewing gum.’

I smiled. ‘That’s exactly why I did ask.’

The coach roared with laughter.

We felt puzzled over the man who never smiled. Ever. People tried, but failed, to make him laugh. In contrast, his wife had a lovely smile. Repartee? You must be kidding! Trying to make conversation with him proved harder than pulling teeth. It was all so heavy, diners at our table gave up.

As my newly acquired friend, another Aussie, whispered, ‘He’s a barrel of laughs.’

Only on the last day did I notice the long scar on his scalp, wondering if that explained his lack of spontaneity and emotional intelligence.

Then there was the forty-something American woman. Delilah was built like a Rugby Forward, with a penchant for narrow, criss-cross ribbons over plump arms, and see-through dresses. Not a good look with her butt! At the Louvre, Delilah wanted a photograph of the Mona Lisa. It seemed hopeless: the painting was surrounded by a dense crowd.

Camera in hand, she disappeared.

She returned, grinning. Her partner asked,’ Did you make it to the front?

Delilah grinned. ‘What do you think?’

I couldn’t help wondering about all the folk nursing bruised toes!

One fiftyish single lady almost invariably sat alone. Her unsmiling take on the world, and stultifying attitudes, put people off. The day Bruce, the gay man, was obliged to sit beside her, he tried to draw her out. Parents? No. Children? No. Siblings? No. Someone remarked they made the perfect couple, and the coach roared.

She said tartly, ‘It wasn’t all that funny!’ Which made people laugh even louder.

I sensed her loneliness, a poignant, unfulfilled need for company. She sat on the coach humming tunes, as if for comfort, a sort of self-mothering.

The South African contingent largely kept to themselves. Their women wore different outfits almost every day. We figured they must have brought huge cases. One evening I wore my cropped maroon jacket, black beaded top, black tailored trousers and three rows of pearls, intertwined with narrow black ribbon. One of the women said how nice my pearls were, rushing over to feel them as if to confirm they were only costume jewellery.

I felt violated!

In the Languedoc region we were offered the local delicacy of Cassoulet, which dates back to about 1355. Some believe the provenance is South Muslim Spain of the 12C. Others claim it was a dish made during a siege with the Black Prince. Whatever its origins, ingredients vary according to the kitchen, and must be of the best quality. All Cassoulets have one thing in common: long cooking in a casserole dish.

Ours was made with beans, pork sausages, and chicken. I found the flavours delicious, the meats melting in the mouth, the beans tasty, and could easily have managed seconds, amazed when many of the group complained. In fact, it became a talking point for days, Jodie making jokes about it for the benefit of those who’d found it unappetizing.

I couldn’t help thinking they were all too well fed.

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Where better place to begin an adventure than in Paris?

A navette bus from Charles de Gaulle airport brings me to my Novotel hotel late one Saturday afternoon. I‘m early for the tour of France, in order to recuperate after a twenty-four hour flight from Australia. I’ve slept on board so avoid the dreaded jet-lag.

Someone tells me the time, and I set my watch. Next day I’m looking forward to the welcome dinner, meeting the Tour leader and our ‘family’. Alas! My informant was wrong so I miss the meeting and am obliged to dine alone. Now I know why the waiters were so unwelcoming when I fronted up in the empty dining-room for petit dejeuner this morning: God knows what time it was.

I’ve arrived with an excellent travelling companion, Monsieur Cointreau. He never has hissy moods, and is always there to soothe bad throats, or to provide post postprandial nips in hotel rooms late at night. The monks knew a thing or two when they gathered secret herbs and spices to create this delightful elixir. For some reason, my grandchildren chuckle at the idea of grandmere with a huge bottle of liqueur weighing down her baggage!

The thought of visiting the Eiffel Tower brings a frisson of delight. Her delicate iron tracery first appeared on the skyline for the Grande Exposition in 1889, the tallest man-made structure in the world. Meant to be a temporary exhibit, the lady rapidly became a major attraction. She’s brought pleasure to travellers and residents ever since.

I’ll never forget the thrill of my first glimpse, way back in the seventies, while travelling with my late husband, Gordon. These days there’s a long queue but thanks to our coach pass, we enter the lift almost immediately. Those afraid of heights take care not to venture near ‘the edge’. It’s a perfect spot to admire the panorama of Paris. Gazing at other landmarks far below, such as the Louvre, cameras snap like gunfire; happily these shots aim to capture, not kill.

Night and day the Eiffel Tower exerts her magic. In the darkness she glows, revealing every curve. At 9pm she shimmers and scintillates, with a dazzling frenzy of light from top to toe. It takes our breath away! This glitter was meant to be a one-off, but has proven so popular it now takes place on the hour, two technicians regularly checking that all is in order beforehand.

The lady doesn’t share her charms cheaply. A meal in her restaurant, I’m told, costs 60 Euros per head. Most of us prefer to dine in one of the many little bistros where the food is cheaper and it’s whispered – better.

Thanks to modern travel companies, even those of modest means enjoy the architectural and artistic treasures of mankind. Excellent commentaries from our guides, including our excellent Giovanna, bring history to life. Every village has a unique story to tell, images of the past shimmering before us in stone and fabric. And it’s great the way our group jokes and laughs our way around town.

Forty years ago, wandering in almost empty salons of the Louvre, who could have envisioned the scene today? Long queues, carefully arranged appointment for coach groups. Everyone heads for the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the Victoire de Samothrace…

In decades to come, increasing numbers will need to be accommodated. One ponders how these tours might be managed. Will Virtual Visits become the norm, with perhaps one in ten chosen to view the real treasures??

On a visit to Versailles Palace, some of us recalled days when the Hall of mirrors could be viewed in all its decadent splendour without another human in sight. Now groups of tourists shuffle into the furthest corner of each room to allow others to gain entry, gazing at gilded objects, painted ceilings, angels and ornate furniture. I feel amused when the tour guide declares, ‘Luckily it isn’t a busy day.’

For us, it’s time for the next adventure. We can scarcely can believe the traffic in the Champs Elysee, our huge coach jostling for space with trucks, buses, cars and motor cycles. What drivers these French are! They ease their way through multiple lanes of traffic, keeping their cool while avoiding the smallest ding. A similar situation in Sydney would create chaos.

A night of enchantment follows. At the Moulin Rouge, every seat is occupied. We’re lucky to receive ours, grace of the tour company – and at the best price. The delicious dinner is served with almost military efficiency, while we clap to light entertainment. One of our party grumbles. ‘Probably we’re being had. Won’t see much with such a small stage.’
The meal over, we sip champagne. Suddenly, there’s a swish of movement and glittering curtains open wide. A roll of drums, and on the enormous stage one hundred dancers in dazzling costumes, the glory of youth and young men enhancing slim female loveliness! Bling, rhinestones and plumes, an explosion of movement and colour, an extravaganza never surpassed. Given the applause, it’s clear people are loving every moment.

Amazing feats of endurance are combined with skill, and timing. We’re on the edge of our seats over some acts. All too soon comes the Can Can, one of my favourite dances, and the finale. A long queue awaits the second show, this one without dinner.

This Cabaret was immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec with his famous posters. Everyone should see this magnificent spectacle at least once in their lifetime.











I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Moulin Rouge twice. And who knows?

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I had long wondered why all those who deny climate change seem to be on the right of Genghis Khan and Alan Jones. There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is all too real, and happening faster than expected, and measurable. The ice-caps are melting, wilder storms, acidic sea water, rising sea-levels, rising temperatures and all the other problems of pollution we have come to fear. I thought, how can so-called intelligent folk remain so dumb?

Failing to see the benefits of solar and wind, pressing on with highly-polluting coal-fired power stations?  Even the methane readings from so-called clean natural gas are sky-high – 17% in some instances.

It all became clear on watching that great SBS documentary, ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ – incidentally, the DVDs are on sale at ABC bookshops – well worth a watch.

The answer to all this denial is simple enough – human greed. Isn’t it always? If there’s a buck being made people deny there’s a problem for as long as possible, while the dosh pours in and people die, as in the case of asbestos, and arsenic in wallpaper killing people.

In the Climate Change case, multi-millionaires are pouring millions into organizations like the Heartland Institute, employing prominent climate change skeptics, like James Taylor, with no scientific qualifications, to crusade against clean energy. Despite the harm being done to our planet, these people continue peddling feel-good lies, no doubt well- paid by their masters. What good is untold wealth if the earth becomes unliveable? Where do these people expect to go?







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This is a French satirical magazine, regarded as more notorious than clever. This unsophisticated and vulgar publication specializes in, crass jokes, and relies on offence, bums and dicks. As Tory Shepherd says in an article in the Telegraph January, 16th 2015-That’s their schtick and good  on them for sticking to it. ( gimmick, Yiddish middle high German.)

But I ask, is it freedom of speech or licence to savage Muslims, Christians and Jews, even if in equal measure? Is it wise to do so in any society, let alone a multi-cultural one? Bigots seem to be on the rise, while many deranged, radicalized Islamists, are ready to take offence, seeking revenge in the most violent way possible. Le attentat in Paris, that awful assassination, would suggest no, no, and no, not Je suis Charlie.  This grubby publication has cost the lives of both the police and the dessinateurs –cartoonists.

Doubtless, more deaths are already planned.

Thank God we have 18C in Australia, that section of the Racial Discrimination Act which makes it an offence to publish anything reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person, or group of people on the basis of their race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin.

The changes suggested a few months ago were meant to remove offend and insult, intimidate would have stayed, vilify  planned to be added. In the light of the Paris atrocity, it would seem to me best to leave 18C alone, not contemplate removing these clauses. If Charlie Hebdo were shut down here because of 18C, it does not seem to me it would be any great loss for Australians. We have no place for bigots, even those who wield the pen, not the sword.

Tory says the Left in Australia are too pretentious to rely on vulgarity and offence to sell a magazine like Hebdo. Dare I suggest they may be too highbrow to countenance such a publication? Even in France it was on the verge of bankruptcy.  The attack actually raised public interest sufficiently to warrant printing millions of copies.

I agree totally with Tory’s closing paragraph. While it’s admirable that MPs, commentators and commissioners and others want to show solidarity with those killed, and to reaffirm a commitment to freedom of speech. They can find ways of doing so without deifying this bigoted, vulgar and undeniably offensive publication. You don’t have to be Charlie to be in favour of free speech, and vehemently against terrorism.



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Somewhat spaced-out after a stormy farewell to a friend, I drove back from the Blue Mountains on the 30th December, 2014. Barely had I opened the door at home, than my phone rang. ‘Colleen here. How would you like to come down for New Year’s Eve? We can sit on our balcony and watch the fireworks.’

My whoops of joy could be heard a block away. An evening that had looked like being a fizzer, had taken off like a rocket. ‘Love to.’ Though a bit surprised Colleen could see fireworks from her new balcony, I didn’t give it a second thought.

Colleen asked, ‘Will you be all right driving down?’

Normanhurst was only half an hour away. I assumed she must imagine I was upset over the quarrel. ‘Yes, I’ll be fine.’

My suitcase was still packed, so the morning of the following day, I put champagne and goodies into a cooler bag for the short journey.

Another call came from Colleen. ‘Everything all right?’

‘I’m just putting everything in the car. Leaving shortly.’

‘We’re at the swimming-pool. Bring your costume. And don’t forget your mobile. Call us when you arrive.’

Feeling light hearted, I drove off, reaching Normanhurst on the dot of eleven. It was a stretch to balance several  bags loaded with goodies and a hand bag, while pulling my case along. At last I staggered to her front door, expecting her usual warm greeting. It was locked, the apartment clearly deserted. Maybe they were still at the pool? Confident they’d arrive any minute, I took out my French novel and began to read.

Fifteen minutes passed. Half an hour. Had something gone amiss? Rang a couple of times, but her mobile was turned off.

A neighbour’s pooch set up a frenzy of barking. An elderly woman called Polly came out. I told her I was waiting for Colleen.

‘Good luck. They’ve been away for days.’

I blinked. ‘But I spoke to Colleen this morning. Perhaps they returned late last night. She was at the pool.’

Polly shrugged. ‘Like a cuppa while you’re waiting?’

‘Thanks, but I’ll be fine.’ What could be keeping them ? Had Colleen forgotten she’d asked me to lunch and gone to her daughter’s place?”

With nowhere available to sit, I adjourned to a garden gazebo to await my hosts. Engrossed in my book, I suddenly heard a low whine, another and yet another. I was under attack by a squadron of mini mosquitoes, intent on getting their fill of my blood. I sprayed myself with Chanel No 5, it only made them more voracious.

I returned and sat on Colleen’s step. Polly’s dog kept yapping. I heard Polly tell him to be friendly.

‘I’ve got to go out in a minute to buy a new toaster,’ said Polly, her voice upbeat. ‘They don’t last these days. Not a very exciting mission, but there you are. Would you like to sit inside while you’re waiting?’

‘I’m okay. They’re bound to arrive soon.’

I overheard Polly talking to the pooch inside the apartment, ‘If I don’t go out somewhere I’ll go crazy.’

I felt bad for not accepting her earlier offer of tea, realizing she must be extremely depressed and lonely, as so many people are at these times of the year . One needs friends and family around. She and the terrier emerged. I admired Polly’s sandals, to make up for my earlier lack of insight.

I decided to sit in my car for awhile. Polly was just driving out, and stopped, briefly.

‘I’ve left you a fold-up chair. Didn’t know you’d come by car.’

Profuse thanks. At 12.30 my patience finally ran out. I dialled Colleen again.

She said, ‘I rang but you didn’t answer. Where are you?’

‘At your front door.’

‘You can’t be ; Michael’s been all around the apartment looking-’

‘I’m outside your apartment at Normanhurst.’

‘Normanhurst? We’re at the Entrance.’

The Entrance!’ No wonder I hadn’t seen them. For those not familiar with the area, it’s a beach resort on the NSW Central Coast, while I was in Sydney.

‘Why not come up?’

‘Now?’ I had no GPS, and, not having tackled the drive before, felt nervous about doing so. Then I pictured myself sipping champagne alone in front of the box on New Year’s Eve. Dammit, I thought, don’t be a wimp. ‘What Freeway Exit do I take?’

‘ It’s signposted Tuggerah, Wyong, the Entrance. There are about ten roundabouts on Wyong road before the turnoff.’

Speeding along at 110 K, I felt carefree and confident. Yippee! Off to have some fun. Mustn’t miss the sign…

Soon I was on Wyong road. It would be a cinch, unless I accidentally took a side road. Ten roundabouts came and went. I was still counting. Had I missed the turnoff? I was rewarded by a big, green sign. Good, still on track.

After about the eighteenth roundabout, a side road lead towards The Entrance. At Long Jetty came new doubts. I couldn’t recall seeing that village last time someone had  driven  me. There was only one choice: press on.

Then – miracle of miracles – I found myself driving through The Entrance shopping centre. There had to be a right turn to reach the boardwalk parade. Of course, too late  I saw it. A Police van was parked nearby. With Double Demerit points for infringements during summer, I daren’t make an illegal U-Turn.

Drove around the block, up a hill, took a few false moves, turned my nose towards the ocean and I found myself at the Dolphin Apartments. It was already after 2PM

Dialled  Col’s mobile number. She was surprised to hear I was right outside.

Michael had thoughtfully parked his car out front at 6am to ensure I had a spot!

They hugged me in congratulation. ‘You’ve done it,’

Must confess I felt pleased,  given earlier doubts.

I was ravenous, having eating only a few bites of cheese and biscuits before setting out. On the balcony we devoured a scrumptious late lunch – watermelon, grapes, strawberries, mini quiche, saveloys, pizza…

Overhead, a lone pelican soared on thermals, children waded and built sandcastles. I heard the soothing shush and splash of waves, the breeze caressing my arms, bringing the delightful aroma of the deep.

Late that afternoon we strolled down to the shopping centre where families had already set up tables, chairs and picnic baskets on the waterfront lawns, in readiness for the fireworks. We enjoyed live music from a singer and guitarist while kids danced and others enjoyed the holiday fashion parade of passers by, everything from teenagers in impossible heels and leopard costume hats to the elegance of long dresses – basic black, to every colour, length and hemline imaginable. The constabulary strolled by, big and blue with pistols on prominent display. It was a no-alcohol zone for families, so trouble should be minimal.

That evening we sat on the balcony under a lopsided moon. Families and chattering children crowded the promenade, waiting. We polished off several bottles of bubbly, with a variety of cheeses, quince paste, dips, biscuits, chips, mango, strawberries, pomegranate…

Colleen had devised our own private smoking ceremony. First we wrote down on slips of paper what one wished to change or get rid of in the coming year. Then we set them alight in a special container; where they were devoured by the flames. It was amazing how long it took for the smoke to dissipate – luckily, we didn’t set off the smoke alarm.

Out front, eager voices, young and old, gave a number of excited countdowns to the 9 pm fireworks display. At last, cheers, whistles and shouts of joy greeted the real thing.

There is always a feeling of innocent pleasure as red, green, yellow and purple waterfalls drip from the sky, and fountains of light, explode into a thousand points of disappearing colour.

The midnight fireworks from Sydney Harbour on TV were even more splendid. We loved the icon of a beating heart and light bulb on  the bridge, the theme of inspiration being just what we needed for our literary efforts in 2015.

On New Year’s Day, on a stroll along the beach, we poured the ashes of 2014, made the previous evening, into the waves, pleased to see them sucked away immediately by the strong undertow. The wishes, confined to the deep, were out of our hands

And my return journey to Sydney? I stopped several times on the way to seek directions; everyone advising me to look for the big roundabout. It had gained the power of myth before I finally found it. Spinning along Wyong road, I felt confident the tricky part of my trip was over.

I followed a sign for the Freeway, exultant, telling myself to, Put it there, kid! A long turn left, then I increased revs. At 110k, and I was on my way. Sort of. A big green sign informed me I was heading for Newcastle, not Sydney.

At a food stop, where I’d stopped to confirm my error, an Aussie bloke said, ‘Take the next exit at Sparkes road. About a 1K.’

Again I sped up to 110 K. Why didn’t that damn fool driver ahead of me join the Freeway, instead of blocking my entry?

Sparkes Road, no sign. Must be a right turn. Yippee! There it is.

Doing 110 K. Sydney, here I come!

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A chill London breeze whipped rain onto Liza’s trousers and into her soaked shoes, twilight swiftly descending. She took the map out of her pocket to check her location. I’m totally lost, she thought, feeling sick.

The tube strike complicated matters. Only for that, it would have been easy to meet Emma at Liverpool station. The walk had been easy earlier that morning, but now she was being swallowed up by the mist and darkness.

Buses disgorged commuters, who rushed by, clearly keen to be home out of the drizzle. Some ignored pleas for directions, others had no advice to offer. She dodged puddles, turned this way and that, seeking the right direction in vain.

Finally, she darted into a hotel, blurting out her dilemma. The desk clerk told her: ‘The Bakerloo line is still working, luv. That’ll get you there.’

Liza entered the tube at Oxford Circus, her relief palpable. Sitting in the train she felt almost light-hearted. A cinch, she thought, why did I worry?

Passengers left and entered. The next stop was Liverpool. To her dismay, the train whizzed past. I’ve no choice but to alight at the next station , Liza thought, biting her lip.  How on earth will I find my way back in the rain and darkness? Another voice consoled her: it’ll be all right.

She exited the barriers, about to consult an official in uniform, when he began giving directions to a tall, handsome young man . ‘Ten minutes walk and you’ll be at Liverpool station.’

The stranger scored his map with a pen.

Hoping he was a knight in shining chain-mail and not an axe murderer, Liza asked: ‘ Do you mind if I tag along?’

A warm smile. ‘Not at all.’

The pavements gleamed wetly in car headlights as they negotiated a twisting confusion of streets, and ascended a bridge over disturbed waters, then following a path beside the lapping ripples of a canal, gleaming with coloured images of the city. It seemed odd to be sharing her little adventure with a total stranger.

‘The name’s Liza – I’m visiting my daughter in Bath. She’s a painter – just finished her Masters in Fine Arts.’

‘I’m Luke. What a coincidence: I’m also an artist. Did my Masters but I’m now working in commerce. Love painting but it doesn’t earn enough.’ Luke was running late for a dinner engagement

Ten minutes walk became fifteen, twenty…

Light spilled into the pools of rain outside a pub. Liza’s knight seized the opportunity, asking a passer-by whether they were still on the right track.

Then Luke pointed towards a large building. ‘That’s Liverpool station.’

Liza thanked him profusely. ‘Even in the twenty-first Century, chivalry is alive and well.

He laughed, and bowed. ‘Have a good evening.’

(This blog first appeared in radio national pocket docs)

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Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?

Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?.

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