All posts by Nicki

I am a half-British, half-Antipodean woman living in the UK. I blog about anything and everything to do with Australia - why? It's the best place on earth! From sport to travel, language to literature - you'll find everything to do with Australia right here! I hope you enjoy reading my blogs as much as I enjoy writing them! “The people are immensely likable— cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted, and unfailingly obliging. Their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water. They have a society that is prosperous, well ordered, and instinctively egalitarian. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Life doesn't get much better than this.” Bill Bryson: Down Under

I’ve booked my next holidays – and I couldn’t be happier!

There are lots of things I miss about my pre-covid life.
Top of the list is meeting up with friends and enjoying long walks with my yellow Labrador James.
Second is eating cake – preferably from an independent coffee shop, home-made with heaps of tooth-rottingly good icing!
Third is going on holiday and everything involved with it, from the planning to the arrival.
We’re lucky to live near a beach – so James gets lots of play-time there and two walks a day – but we’re limited as to where we can take him as Mum and I don’t drive.
Eating cake is probably not good for me and luckily I didn’t latch on to the baking craze of the first lockdown!
But, last week I was finally able to book my first holidays in over two years!
Are your hackles raised? Are you thinking really mean thoughts about me?
Well, the good thing is that it didn’t cost me a penny!
I didn’t have to spend time squashed into a plane, ferry or train.
It was an immensely enjoyable experience – so much so that I’ve booked some more holidays for the next three weeks.
OK, I think I’ve wound you up enough now!
The first trip I booked was to Birmingham.
One of my lovely friends Ian is a tour guide – and him and his wife told me about a brilliant company called Virtual Trips.
The trips are all done in real-time by tour guides who take you on adventures in all sorts of places around the world.
All you need to do is sign up (for free) select where you want to go – and an hour before the tour you get an Email.
You can join 10 minutes before the live stream starts – and chat with other travellers (although not in person, only via a chat box)
You can also ask questions during the tour and you can even take post-card photos via a clever piece of software on the website.
The trips are completely free – but there’s the chance to give a tip if you’d like to support the guide.
I’ve already booked three more tours that Ian’s doing to Oxford, the Cotswolds and Stratford-on-Avon.
We’ve also been further afield.
Mum and I had a really enjoyable tour of Guernsey where the guide talked about the occupation during world war 2.
Last Friday I spent an hour in Berlin – then in the evening we went to Yellowstone.
I’d been feeling quite sad about the present situation – as everybody does from time to time.
However, being able to escape for an hour or two to somewhere completely different has made a real difference to my mood and general outlook.
We can also take James and he doesn’t need a pet passport!
I’ve booked three trips to New York, one to Lisburn and we’re hoping to go to South America and Italy in the near future.
You can see all the tours available at:
http://www.virtualtrips.io
Right, I must go – Mum and I are off to Dublin this afternoon!

the poignant symbol of Christmas 2020

When I went to New Zealand, the first place we visited was Christchurch.
It’s a wonderfully friendly city with heaps to see and do.
However, the part which stayed with me, more than the food *which is usually the highlight of any trip* was the memorial to the people who died in the 2011 earthquake.
185 empty chairs were displayed to represent each person who lost their lives in the earthquake.
I was really moved by this touching display of empathy to a city which lost so much!
Chairs have always had special significance in art and literature – from Van Gogh to Les Miserables.
I might even go so far as to say they could be a symbol of Christmas in 2020.
This Christmas will be especially poignant for people all over the world.
The unimaginable grief and loss is impossible to describe or comprehend.
I’m training to be a psychotherapist, and I have a special interest in loss and bereavement.
We’re all experiencing a sense of loss.
For many it is the loss of family and friends.
for others it’s the loss of jobs, homes and businesses.
Other people will be feeling an immense loss of control at having our plans curtailed at the last moment which for many will be incredibly difficult to deal with.
Compassion and empathy are especially important, for ourselves and to those around us.
Some of us will be able to see our family and friends over Christmas, and it’s OK to make it a time for celebrating and making special memories.
Many people will be facing Christmas alone – or without their parents, siblings, spouses or friends
That’s why, on Christmas day, I’ll be spending a moment to remember empty chairs.
We’ll put an empty chair at our table to remember everyone going through grief and loss.
To everyone reading this – I wish you a peaceful and compassionate Christmas.



a dog’s eye view of the last three months

My name’s Jimmey and I’m a six year old yellow Labrador.
For anyone who doesn’t know what a Labrador is, it’s a highly intelligent, super-cute, ultra-soppy dustbin with a tail!
I love walking, rolling (for any dogs reading this, I highly recommend eau-de-fox)), and eating anything and everything – and I mean everything.
I’m also a guide dog which means I have a really important job!
I’ve noticed lately though my Mum has been behaving quite strangely.
It started about three months ago. She developed an alarming habit of washing her hands – a lot!
Even more disturbing though was when she sang!
I’ve never had so many birthdays – even though it wasn’t actually my birthday she kept singing it – and she’d always say happy birthday dear Jimmey!
Next, we went on a train to Grandma’s and we’re still there!
It’s cool, I love grandma so I’m totally happy about it.
We went shopping a bit – but there were heaps of people throwing things into their trolleys like it was Christmas – which it wasn’t, as I didn’t get a present!
Then Mum was very sad for a few days – I let her burry her face in me and have a little cry. Then I got my smelly toy and pushed it into her ear – which always makes her giggle!
It’s been good spending time with grandma, she fusses me heaps and we all go for lots of walks.
But even walks are different.
Mum and grandma have started avoiding everyone – and the feeling is mutual with other people.
There’s a lot of waving and shouting! Goodness, humans have become loud over the last three months.
People will even cross a road if they see us coming – which never happens!!
The sad thing is nobody strokes me anymore.
Mum understands as she misses her friend’s lots – and especially hugs!
I give her lots of fuss though – and I’m extremely good at making her giggle.
If it’s just me and Mum out together and I’m on my harness (did I mention I’m a special guide dog) I have to do my emergency stop if I catch so much as a sniff of another human!
We do a little dance sometimes which is really amusing to anyone watching.
We haven’t been shopping properly for ages.
Mum went into a shop once and the lady was very kind to her and got her shopping.
There’s lots of queuing, which apparently we should all have a first class honours degree in as it’s practically our national pass-time.
Mum has also learned to do shopping online – which I think is great as she’s bought me some nice presents – including a new toy where I have to get the treats out of draws and cups!
I naturally triumphed on the first day!
Apparently we’ll have to stay here a bit longer.
Mum says she won’t change things until she thinks it’s ultra-safe (whatever that means – it puts me in mind of a new kind of nappy – or money-box).

It’s fine though – I love all the extra walks, running on the beach, fuss and attention.
After all – what is it you humans say?
It’s a dog’s life – and this life is actually quite good fun!




You have not been forgotten

When was the last time you felt cross because of a tactless comment someone made.
I’m a very calm person – it takes a lot to make me feel really annoyed.
However, I feel I must write this blog.
I’m shaking with rage as I type.
For a while now – the daily briefings about the coronavirus have – some would say quite rightly focussed on the “number” of people getting the virus.
Also the “number” of people who have died.
I put the word number in quotes because this is one of the things which started making me feel cross.
We are living in the worst times any of us have possibly experienced collectively.
Our brave, brilliant NHS are struggling – and we’re all doing our bit to acknowledge how fantastic they – and our other key workers are.
But the people who have died are not numbers – or statistics!
The next thing which made me angry was the (as I perceived it) mention of the number of people from ethnic minorities who have contracted the virus.
It shouldn’t – and doesn’t matter what colour, religion, age, job the person had.
These are people!
They have families and friends.
They were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and children!
We must never forget this.
So, when it was decided yesterday we should have a 1 minute silence for the NHS and key workers I felt I had to write this blog.

Yes, they’re important – but so is everyone else who has sadly lost their life to this awful disease.
I found the idea of having a one minute silence purely for one group tactless and unkind.
So, I just wanted to say that at 11 AM I will be thinking of every single person’s family who has died.
You are not a number, you are not alone – and you haven’t been forgotten.

how many of these really hard questions can you answer?

Thanks to everyone who read – and hopefully enjoyed the last quiz.
I write all the questions myself so I hope you’re enjoying doing the quizzes as much as I like writing them.

As promised, this one should be a bit harder (unless you’re a chaser or one of the eggheads)
Good luck!

1 if you had cynophobia, which animal would you be scared of?
2 what would an entomologist study?
3 The American TV series Us and Them was based on which UK TV show
4 Which airport is situated in the village of Bagging ton in the West Midlands?
5 In which Tennis tournament would winners receive the Norman Brooks challenge cup and the Daphne Ackers memorial cup
6 Kirkpatrick McMillan is credited with the invention of which form of transport?
7 Pope Francis is from which South American country?
8 Which famous playwright said: “Always forgive your enemies! Nothing annoys them so much!”
9 James Scullin and Joseph Cook were prime ministers of which country during the 20th century?
10 Halophyte plants are predominantly found in which type of habitat?
11 Who first coined the phrase “Survival of the fittest”?
12 Natalie Clein plays which musical instrument?
13 how many feet are there in a mile?
14 How many letters are there in the Hawaiian alphabet?
15 Cordelia, Miranda and Bianca are the names of moons on which planet?
16 Which king of England had wives called Maria Fitzherbert and Caroline of Brunswick?
17 In which country would you find the Aberdare range of mountains?
18 Zia Mahmood writes books about which card game?
19 Which country’s currency is called the Pula?
20 Which artist’s works include Frozen Assets, Man – controller of the universe and the flower carrier?

Answers:

1 Dogs
2 Insects
3 Gavin and Stacey
4 Coventry airport
5 The Australian Open
6 The pedal powered bicycle
7 Argentina
8 Oscar Wilde
9 Australia
10 Salty water or salty conditions
11 Herbert Spencer
12 Cello
13 5280 feet
14 13 letters
15 Uranus
16 King George the 4th
17 Kenya
18 Bridge
19 Botswana
20 Diego Rivera


How did you get on with those questions?























how many of these questions can you get right?

We all need a bit of fun and entertainment during these difficult times – so I’ve decided to set a quiz for my lovely readers.
The first one will be relatively easy – but be warned… They will get harder.
So, are you ready? Answers are at the bottom of this post.
Let me know what you think – and how many you got!

1 Who was the first president of the United States?
2 Which element has the chemical symbol AU?
3 Which event occurred on the 25 of December 1066?
4 Which composer wrote Swan Lake and the Nutcracker Suite?
5 Which soap opera would you find the characters Irene Roberts, Alf Stewart and Colby Thorn?
6 What type of creature is a Linnet?
7 In the nursery rhyme, who put the kettle on to make tea?
8 What is the capital of Australia?
9 Where in your body would you find your axilla’s?
10 Which film won the 2020 Oscar for best picture?
11 Who was the roman god of War?
12 In the bible, how many disciples did Jesus have?
13 What is the name of the currency used in Poland?
14 Who had an album in 2019 called Heavy is the Head?
15 Who wrote the book Wuthering Heights?
16 What fruit would you expect to find on a Hawaiian pizza?
17 Which of Henry the 8ths wives were beheaded?
18 If you were celebrating your ruby wedding anniversary, how many years would you have been married?
19 Who directed the film Jurassic Park?
20 Which celebrity wrote the memoir Alanatomy?


Answers:
1 George Washington was the first president of the United States
2 AU is the chemical symbol for gold
3 William the conqueror was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 25 December 1066
4 Tchaikovsky wrote the Nutcracker Suite and Swan Lake
5 Home and Away
6 a bird
7 Polly put the kettle on
8 Canberra
9 they’re your arm pits
10 Parasite
11 Mars
12 12
13 Zloty
14 Stormsy
15 Emily Bronte
16 Pineapple
17 Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard
18 40 years
19 Steven Spielberg
20 Alan Carr

So, how did you do?
I’ll do another quiz soon – but it will be harder than this one!

























slow down and enjoy the silence

When did you last listen to something other than music, books or a podcast?
When did you last take the time to concentrate on the sounds around you?
I was walking with my guide dog Jimmey the other day when I heard the sparrows chirruping away.
Now, I admit, sparrows are boring!
Their song is one of – if not the most boring of sounds!
However, in these uncertain times I found myself savouring every note!
I heard a blackbird – and just stood and listened. But also I heard how beautiful it was.
Hearing is not the same as listening.
Hearing takes a much deeper form of concentration.
It’s tempting to fill your hours, minutes and seconds with something – anything which stops us thinking about this situation.
British summer has started today – so why not learn some birdsongs and take some time out to enjoy the silence!


You can find out more about birds by visiting
http://www.rspb.org.uk

when words are not enough

Hi everyone and thanks for reading this blog.
I always write poetry when I can’t make sense of things, or need to express something which is difficult to comprehend.

This poem is just to say thank you to the fantastic courage and selflessness of our NHS staff and to encourage us all to think about each other more during these uncertain times.
It’s in free verse and would be better if it was read aloud, hence there being no capital letters or correct punctuation.


Thank you

what can we do, as the invisible enemy stalks the silent empty streets.
no one can see it
but its presence means we have to be alert.
we stay away
from anyone and everyone we know.
Shut-down
Lockdown
our town does not want you here
Go home
Stay home
People don’t talk, but walk away when they see you coming
You might be the one who lets the enemy in.
Some will complain ‘cos they can’t get their hair cut
Pub’s shut.
The shopping vultures will fill their trollies with barely a thought for the nurse
Or the doctor who just wants to eat
To be healthy
To care for the one who fell ill because you were more concerned about missing out!!!
So what can we do?
We can clap, we can sing
We can find ways to be kind with a smile or a call.
We can cook
We can clean
We can dream of the day when staying away will not be the new normal.
We can unite
In the fight by saying thank you!
Thank you to the doctors and nurses
And all those who care
Who are there.
Think of their reality, not yours.
Think of our NHS and say thank you!





How to help a person through the loss of a pet

I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting my blog. The past six months has gone by so quickly. Mum and I continue to miss Chelsea every day – but I’m so glad for all the memories of my special, amazing little Labrador. I thought I’ write a quick blog though to try and help other people who may be experiencing the loss of their pet – and also to gently advise people of how they can help – or not help someone who’s pet has died. Warning: These are only my opinions – and I take no responsibility for any offence anyone may take at my suggestions. Things which are helpful: Let yourself grieve – in any way you want. Cry, scream, or, allow the numbness to wash over you for as long as it takes. Nobody can tell you how long to grieve, or how to do it. I’d describe my grief as being like a faulty bath. I’d be aware of it dripping away in the background, but I could more or less cope. Then something would happen and the taps would just burst into life. I was out with Friends the other day and I heard a song which my guide dog trainer played on the radio on the first day I started training with Chelsea. I just started crying! Talk about your pet if you want to – with those who knew them the most. Mum misses Chelsea lots as well – and we talk about her almost every day. Don’t do anything you feel you should. If you want to scatter your pet’s ashes – do it. If you want to keep them on your chest of drawers – or on your coffee table – that’s fine. Ask the person about their pet. I love talking to people about Chelsea. People who never met her don’t share the feelings I do – so it’s great to have a chat with someone about all the funny things she did. Lastly, pay special attention to any other pets you have – love them, hug them and tell them it’s OK. Jimmey missed Chelsea as well – and it was heart-breaking when he sniffed her blanket when Mum and I returned home after Chelsea died. Now, some things which I feel are not helpful to say to a person who’s lost a pet. Never, ever say “I know how you feel!” or “I know how it feels!” you don’t – because you’re not me! Also, it can feel quite false at times. I tend to say: “It’s awful isn’t it! I don’t know what to say!” You’re acknowledging the feelings of the other person – without making it all about you. A dear friend, who has had guide dogs but hasn’t had to face the awfulness of the last chapter sent me a lovely Email. It was straight from the heart and – like all the lovely messages I had about my Chelsea, I’ve kept it. Please don’t tell someone who loses a pet at an older age: “Well, she was 14!” It’s horrible when a pet dies young – I know that! But, it’s just as bad when the pet has had a long and happy life. I might say to someone who asks how old Chelsea was: “Well, she was 14 years and 3 months – but we still miss her heaps!” But that’s my choice and I wouldn’t tell somebody they were lucky to have her for such a long time. Now, this is tricky – people mean well when they say it – but be very careful about jumping in with: “So, will you get another dog now?” Timing is important with this one – as well as barrel loads of sensitivity. Lots of people asked Mum this – when it was the last thing on her mind. Lastly, don’t be afraid of talking about the pet. Funny stories, things they did. Not everybody will know your pet has died. I went to see a friend the day after Chelsea died – and a man came up to me and asked how she was. More crying – which is embarrassing for other people I know, but my friend explained to him what had happened – and I told him it was OK to talk about her. Not everybody will want to talk – and that’s totally fine as well. The last point is to just grieve how you feel you want to – and for anyone going on the awful journey of loss with a friend – be there, be kind and just listen.

So you need to book a taxi with your guide dog? No drama!

As many of you who read this blog *and thanks heaps for doing so* will know I’ve had more than my fair share of taxi dramas. from being abandoned at a train station at 10.30 at night after a taxi I’d pre-booked refused to take me home because I had a guide dog, to being told |I had to put my guide dog in the boot.
The second one was perhaps worse than the first – as the driver was underhand, rude and made me feel like the worst guide dog owner in the world. In the end I had to tell him I’d had guide dogs for over 20 years, and there was absolutely nothing he knew about them which I didn’t.
So, it’s refreshing to find a company in Cardiff which was set up to support the community – and particularly people with disabilities. Drive taxis is a co-operative formed by former taxi drivers from local companies and other taxi firms.
I first heard about them from a former work colleague – and was eager to find out more.
Paul, one of the lovely drivers and founders of the company took James, my guide dog and I to a school talk. He was kind – and most of all he didn’t try and make James go in the boot – but asked me where I’d like to sit.
He also took me to the reception. This in itself was great, as I’ve been unceremoniously dumped by the side of a road by drivers with absolutely no idea where I am – let alone how to get to where I need to be.
He didn’t whinge about James hair – which he can shed in copious amounts at times.
Even that has caused trouble in the past. I’ve had drivers who have claimed they have to take the rest of the day off to clean the car.
I’ve had drivers charging me a pound extra for “having to hoover up the dog’s hair!” *needless to say I didn’t pay it*
One of the worst experiences was when I gave a driver a £10 note and he claimed it was a fiver!
The other thing which enhances the experience of using Drive taxis is if you have a concessionary bus pass, you get %10 off the fare.
Drive currently have around 10 drivers – and are hoping to recruit more in the coming weeks.
I wish them all the best. At last, I’ve found a taxi company which, as they quote on their Facebook page:
puts customers first!”