Last night the BBC weather report concluded with this advice from the meteorologist. ‘Enjoy the gloomy weather as it turns wet and windy next week’. This weekend I’ve been trying to skip through the gloom, but admit it’s been a challenge at this particular time of year, which for me represents peak homesickness. I understand Australia Day evokes a mixed bag of emotions, especially for those who feel it is at odds with the recognition, respect and sensitivity due our indigenous population.  Australia Day for many is a time to not only reflect on our history but to praise those whose tireless efforts have done so much to protect our land. This long weekend, more than ever, I appreciate the men and women who have tirelessly battled the recent fires, and who continue to do so against all odds. This weekend I grieve the loss of our wildlife.

So, to January in England, an especially drawn out month, where newspapers challenge you to forgo this and give up that after the giant excesses of the festive season leave those extra pounds on your waistline and not in your bank account, so you stumble through the gloom tripping over forlorn Xmas trees discarded in gutters, sipping your oat milk decaf dandelion latte while desperately trying to kick start your fitness regime.  Despite these obstacles, January 2020 seemed at first, to be zipping by with miraculous stealth, but then nearing the end it expands then pauses in a trippy elastic way experienced by Alice in Wonderland. You find yourself wondering how the hell it’s still January? Today feels like the 311th day of 2020.

The time bending experience has been peppered by a series of global surprises; an Iranian crisis, an impeachment trial, a fallen entertainment mogul finally in court, a royal scandal and a virus that has brought the Chinese New Year to a standstill. Worst of all has been the Australian bushfire catastrophe and we are struck dumb by the magnitude of the annihilation left in its wake.  So many have given so much in financial assistance and in this vein, this weekend, my sons and I mount an Aussie bake-off from this humble London kitchen. All lamingtons and Anzac biscuits will be sold at school. (If only Bill Granger would pop over and make mine ours less… wonky.) it’s a miniscule drop in the bucket of aid. Truth be told I feel hopeless and never so far from home. If only I could send something for the kookaburras to eat.

My mum and dad live in a gully surrounded by bushland in the house I grew up in, which they built on the land over 50 years ago. Every Newcastle day above 40-degree weather is predicted, I can feel myself sort of holding my breath till the southerly change comes through. 

             This bushfire season Mum has had her mind diverted from the nation’s horrors by an unexpected guest. This summer one very determined bush turkey has set up residence right beside her study window. I was first alerted to its presence when I called home on Xmas Day. After trading festive greetings, she shouted these impassioned words down the staticky line.

            “The turkey has RUINED CHRISTMAS!” she yelled.

“Did you set the oven hot enough?” 

            “No, no, no,” she said, “the BUSH turkey has ruined Christmas. I keep dismantling his nest but he keeps on building it.” 

A few days later I returned home to Newcastle,  driving down the Pacific Highway past drought parched grassland and dried creek beds and there under a low, smoky sky I witnessed the bird first hand. It was going about its task with a degree of obsessiveness I found unnerving. All day long, from about 5.30am till sunset, he would scratchy scratch and peck, sending dirt, leaves, small rocks and branches flying while he built a monument to procreation. Vast in scale, his mound reminded me of the one in Close Encounters of The Third Kind. All this to attract a lady! Apparently, it’s a competitive dating scene for the bush turkeys, who have proliferated on the North Shore all the way up to Newcastle, (probably due to some or other climate change related shift) and they have yet to develop a Turkey Tinder App. As the saga continued I urged my mother to start a blog (she is a fine writer, and book critic for The Gleaner). She claimed lack of technical expertise, so I relay some of her desperate ramblings within this post. Keep in mind she is 83 and has recently had major surgery but will not give in to the persistent turkey onslaught.

I got up at 5.30 and spent an hour putting it all (the leaves) in a green bin, right to the top. Not the mound which the gardener can deal with but all the leaves the turkey put on the steps near the clothes line and all along the path, knee deep. I did an hour’s work before he appeared but he has started gathering leaves again. He works very hard until lunch has a break and goes flat out from 3 to 6. Does an enormous amount of damage. Love Mum.

There appear to be eggs in the turkey mound because Turkey comes, digs a hole, digs a hole, tests the temperature and either adds or subtracts leaves making a mess each time and destroying more plants. After a couple of months when the tumult and the shouting has died down I will ask the gardener to come and dismantle it if possible and make a turkey proof bit of garden there. Dad says tall steel spikes. Love Mum.

It is 9.30 and the turkey has just come on duty. Dad swept up the path last night and Turkey has covered it again with a few swift digs with its powerful claws.  I wish it would migrate to another suburb. One North Shore lady planted 4 large teddy bears in her garden to frighten her turkey away but it incorporated the teddies in its mound and went happily on. She said it demolished her buffalo grass lawn too.  John rang last night and he said to sit back and enjoy it but it could easily break my window when it sprays stones and dirt this way. I think I will have to get the gardener to demolish it. Love Mum.

A female has been here a lot…  I think laying more eggs. The male has made the garden look like Verdun with soil dragged all over the place. Why I ask? We went out this morning to the bank.  The turkeys had free rein while we were out. I swept up a bit of mess for them to mess up again but I want to be able to hang out the washing tomorrow. Love Mum.

The turkey is still here and another lady visited him today. Sad. I hoped he had finished and would go away. Love Mum.

I advised her to start an online support group and got this response.

No time too busy doing turkey patrol! Love Mum.

In other ways January 2020 has packed a few surprises. It’s been strange not to hear the endless Brexit debate on BBC radio when it has been either bubbling, simmering or raging in the background for three years.  Then just like that, this January, Brexit was replaced by Megxit. Coincidence? Is the royal exodus merely a ruse to smooth over Brexit negotiations? Or are the Sussex Royals actually so fed up with Piers Morgan that the only way is Canada?

I tune in keenly to US news of the impeachment trial but in my heart of hearts know that not only will Teflon Man evade removal from office he’ll probably be re-elected. I also switched on to Thunberg vs Trump, wanting her to pack him a teenage wallop of guts and determination. Here, for now, Britain seems committed to reducing carbon emissions, introducing schemes to reward farmers for planting trees and incentivising them for the encouragement of more worms in their soil.  Fortunately, this planet has Sir David Attenborough’s words of warning and wisdom to cleave to. He recently said scathingly that it is ‘palpable nonsense’ to dismiss the bushfires as having nothing to do with climate change and that rather ‘the moment of crisis’ is here.  As I write this he is at the Citizen’s Climate Assembly in Birmingham which aims to focus on decision making needed to get to the net-zero targets. 

This year I have begun my reading with Underland by Robert Macfarlane, a staggering, sprawling masterpiece of reflection on the environment which has been a continually enlightening experience. I began 2019 with Overstory, which explored the ideas of trees communicating with each other. Underland is about the worlds that lie beneath. Macfarlane’s brave and intrepid journeys through underground caves, rivers and man-made shafts all over the globe highlight concerns of our relationship with our environment and the ‘wood wide web’ while catapulting back thousands of years. He also ponders the legacy of the Anthropocene with chilling perspective. I particularly love reading about his experiences in Norway which hold particularly transporting imagery. Though the heartbreaking change he described from his contact with glaciers in Greenland where ‘ice left language beached’, filled me with despair. As Macfarlane says, we can no longer say things move at a ‘glacial pace’ now that our glaciers travel fast and melt away to nothing.

I’ve also read Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” which I highly recommend for a thoughtful analysis on social media humiliation, and for my book club, I read Clive James’ “Unreliable Memoirs” which served to exacerbate my homesickness. He said it best “There is nothing like staying away for bringing it with you.”

Anyway, I usually bang on unreasonably about the dark and the damp but I have restrained myself this January. If only I could send this ceaseless rain home to Australia where it is so sorely needed. Soon I will bid adieu to another Dry-ish, Vegan-ish January and ring in February. Wishing you a happy weekend.