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Master of Philosophy? July 21, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in life, memories, uni.
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I can’t believe it’s been a month since I updated this blog! I feel incredibly guilty about that, since so much has been happening. My mother’s just left for Heathrow after staying here for six weeks, during which time we went to Spain, walked 22 miles to Ely, and ate way too much Indian food, but before I talk about all that, I’d like to fill you in on the biggest news: I graduated!

Me with my snazzy Cambridge degree.

Me with my snazzy Cambridge degree.

Like all things related to Cambridge, the graduation ceremony was poorly organised and highly ritualised. We were told that it would begin at 11 o’clock. We were to present ourselves for inspection (we had to be correctly dressed) at college at 10 o’clock, and our guests had to be at Senate House by 10.50. When we got to college, we were informed that the ceremony would actually start at midday. I had no way to contact my mother, as she had my phone, which was switched off. So I sat in the SBR with one of my housemates, watching appalling reality TV on the computer, agonising about my poor guests.

After an hour, we started our procession through town. This is a tradition for the graduation ceremony, and I’m certainly glad I am a member of a college that’s close to Senate House. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to process from somewhere like Girton, running the inevitable gauntlet of gawking, camera-happy tourists.

The ceremony itself was very quick: no long-winded, patronising speeches like at Sydney. You (I swear I’m not making this up) hold the college Praelector’s fingers, he says some Latin over you, you kneel down in front of the Vice-Chancellor (in our case it was the Vice-Chancellor’s representative), she says some more Latin over you (‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ – non-Christian monotheists can opt out with ‘in the name of God’, but there’s no opt-out phrasing for atheists or polytheists, unfortunately), you walk away and someone hands you your degree. You then hang around outside Senate House until the session is over and then everyone swarms out to congratulate you.

It felt a bit more anticlimactic than when I graduated from Sydney, simply because I graduated with college people rather than my friends from my course (although two of them were at my session). Somehow it’s more meaningful and more poignant and more significant to graduate surrounded by those who went through everything with you.

Prior to graduating, I’ve been having a grand time. Mum got here just before I handed in my dissertation, and it was a great relief to have her there during the final stages. Hand-in was followed by May Week, Cambridge’s traditional week of debauched excess. My May Week kicked off with the John’s May Ball, which was absolutely insane. Imagine the most over-the-top funfair+formal+barbecue+bar+al fresco dining+dance party+rave+jazz club+indie music street festival and you still haven’t quite encompassed all that the May Ball was. I had a fabulous time, but the not-quite-closet socialist in me felt a bit outraged at the excess of it all. I probably wouldn’t go again unless I was taking someone from home to show them ‘the Cambridge lifestyle’.

I followed the May Ball with several more sedate May Week activities: a couple of garden parties, which were all about the Pimm’s and the finger food. At these I caught up with the ASNaCs, which made me a little melancholy. So many of my ASNaC friends are third-year undergrads, and won’t be coming back next year.

After May Week I disappeared to London for a bit with Mum, where we stayed with friends. She did a few interviews for work and I caught up with one of my oldest friends from Canberra and her boyfriend. She was in the UK for a conference and they’d decided to make a bit of a holiday of it. I hadn’t seen her for nine months, so it was amazing to catch up.

Then it was time to return to the ‘Bridge for my viva, a nerve-wracking experience akin to being dragged across a bed of nails while having your hair pulled out strand by strand. Nothing about it was pleasant, and the examiners’ comments were interesting, to say the least, but I must have done acceptably, because my marks were good enough for me to continue for a PhD. Funding, however, remains elusive. Fingers crossed.

After the viva, Mum and I went off to Spain for eight days. We went to Madrid (where we visited three great art galleries: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Reina Sofia and the Prado, as well as unexpectedly finding a fantastic Annie Leibovitz exhibition). We spent a lot of time walking around the Retiro park, where Mum got some hilarious footage of people rowing around a tiny pond, and even paying money to be taken around said pond on a little steamboat. If I can, I’ll upload it here.

After Madrid, we spent four days in Barcelona, where we mostly hung around in the gothic district of the city, apart from one day when we walked to Parc Güell, the crowning glory of Gaudí’s architecture in Barcelona. (I was hoping to see people with glowing eyes running around, à la Röyksopp’s ’49 Percent’ but alas, it was not to be.)

I’d never been to Spain before, and was most impressed at what good food you could get for basically nothing. Most places had a breakfast special (coffee, pastry or sandwich and orange juice) for about 3-4 euro, and a lunch special (three courses, drinks and bread) for 8-16 euro.

After Spain, we came back to the ‘Bridge for a few more days, then went to London, where I caught up with yet another visiting-for-a-conference old school friend (we’ve known one another since we were 11) and went on an excellent walk around Hampstead Heath. It’s amazing that such a beautiful place exists within such a huge, noisy city.

Then it was back to Cambridge for graduation and various admin-related tasks. I’m about to head off to Ireland for a Modern Irish language course, and I’ve been trying to organise that. But the whole thing was tinged with sadness. Over the past six weeks, I’ve unlearned all the independence that I gained over the nine months I’ve been away. Having my mother here was wonderful beyond words. For all I love my new friends, there’s nothing like having someone around to whom you don’t even have to explain yourself, who gets you on a level beyond language. I coped before, and I will cope again, but the initial stretching of the umbilical cord is going to be painful.

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It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiney day May 24, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in life, university.
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I realised that I hadn’t written about Cambridge for a while, so I thought I might remedy that. Easter Term has been very see-saw-y. Very up and down. My moods swung according to how well I felt I was going on my dissertation. Early on in the term, when I was very lost, I felt appalling. I inflicted my whining on everyone around me, wailing about how I just wanted to go back home to Australia. But as soon as I met my supervisor and told her that I was stuck, she pointed me towards St Anselm and the concept of the individual, and I never looked back.

After that, writing came easily. I aimed to write between 500 and 1000 words a day on days when I was writing, which meant that my dissertation proceeded at a leisurely amble – just the way I like it. I finished my draft on Wednesday (we had to hand in the drafts on Friday) and have been essentially celebrating ever since. I remember that same feeling of relief when I wrote my Honours thesis. Just seeing those 15,000 words sitting there, the result of seven months of research and reading and editing and translating and fobbing off your supervisor, is an amazing feeling.

The only other piece of assessment we had this term was a take-home essay on our seminar texts. We got given the questions (which were really just a series of words – ‘distance’, ‘illumination’, ‘interaction’ and so on) on a Thursday and had to hand the essays in the following Monday. I chose ‘interaction’ and wrote about the interaction between past and present in Virgil’s Aeneid, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and Beowulf. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed it. I love writing exercises of this kind. They were what I loved most about being an undergrad, too. Some people are in academia for research, and some are here for the writing, and I, unfortunately, am here for the writing. I suspect this may cause problems further down the line…

There’s been less socialising this term because everyone is very busy; MPhils with dissertations, undergrads with exam revision. Even so, I’ve managed to get out to ASNaC pub most Fridays and do whatever other fun stuff I could manage. There’s been a lot of movie-watching and afternoon coffee followed by browsing in Borders.

Last week I went with one of my housemates and one of my other friends to a country fair at Grantchester. We (all of us are from countries outside the UK) came away convinced that this country is insane. There was a sheep-shearing exhibition, a dude showing off his hawks and owls, a bunch of medieval reenactment people and a Punch and Judy show. We probably spent more time laughing at inappropriate moments than was strictly necessary.

I wish I could say more, somehow, about what this term has been about, but I haven’t quite sorted out in my mind what defined Easter Term. Michaelmas was all about the ‘ooh, shiny Cambridgeness’, and Lent was all about despair (not helped by the gloomy weather), but Easter’s been oddly schizophrenic. I’ve had moments of ‘what the hell did I think I was doing, coming here?’ followed by periods of undying love for Cambridge, my friends and my subject. I’ve had periods of writers’ block-filled self-doubt, and bursts of joy at how much I love my dissertation topic and how much fun I’ve had writing it. I’ve locked myself in my room with Bailey’s and chocolate, and I’ve danced in the living room with my housemates as we watched the Eurovision Song Contest.

In short, I’ve had the full range of human experiences, and I’ve loved every one of them.

When I was a child, the world seemed so wide March 22, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, fangirl, memories.
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For someone whose favourite series of books is about the absolute necessity of embracing conscious, adult existence, I sure spend a lot of time reminiscing about my childhood. On days when adult life seems to ‘suck beyond the telling of it’ (Gratuitous Buffy Quote #1), childhood experiences seem that much more wonderful, their joys that much fiercer, their emotions that much stronger, the whole 17 (to pluck an arbitrary number out of nowhere) years that much more meaningful than anything the previous seven have had to offer. Nowhere is this more apparent than in my attitude to my favourite texts (TV series and movies, but for the most part books) of my younger years.

It became apparent, in a couple of conversations with Sibylle, that I mythologised my personal canon of childhood to an absurd degree. Sibylle has set herself a rather awesome reading challenge this year: to read the best young-adult, science-fiction and fantasy novels out there. Since these are my three main genres, I was happy to oblige with suggestions. What we both noticed was that I was constantly saying things like ‘such and such a book was my favourite book when I was seven’ or, ‘so and so wrote the books that meant the most to me when I was a teenager’. Although I have discovered texts that I adore since hitting the wrong side of 18, they are much rarer. (Hello, current crazy Watchmen obsession! Why don’t you stand up and take a bow, Great, Epic Fangirling of Scott Westerfeld and Cory Doctorow of 2007-8? And let’s not forget the time that American Gods reduced me to a quivering heap of awed silence.)

But a recent post of Sibylle’s forced me to reexamine my rather blinkered, uncritical view of my childhood canon.

I’ve also watched Grease (1978) for the upteenth time. It was my favourite movie when I was 13, which means nothing as to its quality. I’m very suspicious of my teenage and childhood loves as I don’t think half of them were based on merit. You won’t find me writing about how wonderful something is based solely on my childhood memories of it.

Ouch. Even though she assures me this comment wasn’t aimed at me, it did make me think that I needed to assess exactly why I champion my beloved texts of childhood so fiercely.

One of the things I’ve noticed about adulthood is that you have much less time to be a narcissist. (Somewhere, my mother is rolling on the floor laughing at this admission of her most narcissistic of daughters.) I know this sounds odd coming from someone whose idea of a good time is to sit in her room, reviewing books on the internet while talking to people on IRC, but the pull of the ‘real world’ is slightly more insistent once you’re an adult. If nothing else, there’s a need to earn money to support an expensive lifestyle of Buffy boxed sets, fantasy novels and, once in a while, food. Childhood and adolescence, in contrast, offer many opportunities for sitting in one’s room, thinking about how such and such a novel (or film, or song) PERFECTLY ENCAPSULATES ONE’S LIFE. (That is, if one’s childhood is as wonderfully middle-class Canberran as mine was.) But it is not merely opportunity that causes this vastly expanded childhood canon.

I’ve realised that I like texts in three different ways. These can be roughly summarised thus:

  • Head: These texts appeal to me solely on an aesthetic level.  I appreciate the technical proficiency of their creators, and in some cases, their complex themes, but I feel no desire to reread or rewatch them.  I can’t list any examples because, once I’ve read or watched such texts, they exert no further pull on my imagination.
  • Head and Heart: These texts are aesthetically pleasing and speak to me on some personal level.  They have some kind of meaning that either fits in with my worldview or has some relevance to my life, and tend to encourage me to want to write about them and discuss them with others.  The majority of the books of my childhood would fall under this category, as would most of my current personal canon (Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas series, China Miéville’s books, Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series, Dollhouse, most of the immrama that I’m writing about for my dissertation).
  • Head, Heart and Soul: These texts are technically proficient.  They possess themes which speak to me on a personal level and make me want to write about them and discuss them with other fans.  But, most importantly, they make me reexamine who I am, make me want to change, to become better, to think more.  These are the texts that I would quite possibly die to save.  Thinking about these texts makes my life worth living.

This last category contains such things as His Dark Materials, Buffy, Firefly, Sara Douglass’s Troy Game series, Parkland, Earthsong, Firedancer, The Beast of Heaven and Taronga by Victor Kelleher, The Tiger In The Well by Philip Pullman, The Vampire Chronicles, Catherine Jinks’s Pagan series, Adele Geras’s Tower Room series and book The Girls in the Velvet Frame, John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, the films Amelie and Waltz With Bashir, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, Jo Walton’s Tir Tanagiri Saga, Cirque du Soleil’s show Quidam, Buile Shuibne, and the graphic novel Watchmen.

Of that list, only American Gods, Small Gods, The Vampire Chronicles, Buile Shuibne, The Troy Game, The Tir Tanagiri Saga, Waltz With Bashir, Firefly and Watchmen were read/watched by me when I was an adult. And of that small list, the only ones read/watched by me after I finished my undergrad degree were Waltz With Bashir, Watchmen, American Gods and Small Gods. That’s a very small proportion of a rather large personal canon.

I do read slightly less than I did as a child (when I would routinely read three books a day), but that can’t be the only reason. Of the three books a day I read as a child, after all, not all became Head, Heart and Soul books. Why, then, are so few of the texts that have meaning for me texts I’ve discovered as an adult?

It’s not a reflection of quality. Objectively, I know, for example, that the Pagan series is of a much higher quality than the Vampire Chronicles, and that Victor Kelleher is a much better writer than Sara Douglass. I might (after doing Honours in English literature, working for five years as a book reviewer and two years as a feature sub-editor) know a bit more about what makes for bad writing than I did as a child, but none of the ‘childhood canon’ books on my list are badly written. I’ve read them all many times as an adult, and they remain as wonderful now as they seemed to me as a child.

Perhaps it has something to do with the relative complexity (and stability) of one’s adult identity in comparison to the fluidity of the identity of a child. A child is, to a certain extent, unformed, and capable of possessing many facets, not all of which must be satisfied in a work of fiction. Thus, the part of my child-self that consoled itself through ‘supposing’ was satisfied with A Little Princess, while the part of it that thought all humans were beasts found expression in the works of Victor Kelleher. I did not require a text to be all things to all parts of my personality, and so was satisfied with texts that embodied just some parts of that personality. As an adult, I require more of my texts, and so, for the most part, am disappointed in this regard. A text must, as I wrote elsewhere in this blog, speak to me and for me and and about me, but it must do so to and for and about all parts of my identity.

That is asking a lot of a text. In fact, in the face of my high-maintenance requirements of texts, it’s a wonder any have managed to find their way into my personal canon at all since I turned 18. So thank you, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Ari Folman, Alan Moore, Sara Douglass, Jo Walton, Anne Rice, crazed anonymous medieval author of Buile Shuibne, and Joss Whedon for somehow finding a way into the seething mass of contradictions which make up my mind, heart and soul. Sometimes, your writings are the only things that make me feel anything for this confusing, terrifying, beautiful and heartbreaking thing called adulthood. For this, I am eternally grateful.

What a difference a month makes October 26, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in memories.
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I’ve been in Cambridge for just over one month, so I thought it was about time to bore you all with my impressions of the place and my experiences. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here this long, because it seems like only yesterday I was dumped unceremoniously at Parker’s Piece, shivering in the cold, numbed with tiredness and tense with anxiety, to find my way to my college and then my house. But then I think about how much I’ve done in the past few weeks – a whirlwind of parties and pub crawls and Latin verb declensions and phone meetings with my supervisor and late-night conversations on the stairs with my housemates – and I feel that it is impossible, that I couldn’t possibly have lived so much in four short weeks.

My life is kind of divided in three, so I shall talk about each third separately.

The first third is, of course, my research, classes and the people associated with it. I’d like to say that it’s going well, but not quite as well as I’d like. My supervisor is great, the perfect combination of friendly, helpful and scary. She gives me good suggestions for books, but, being out of the country, isn’t quite as effective at prodding me to work as would be ideal. The big thing this term is the review-of-scholarship, a 5000-word literature review. My reading is going fine, but the actual writing is not going so well. I wrote 800 words this weekend. Whether they’re good words is another matter entirely. As long as I have 3000 words by the end of this week, though, I’ll be right on track.

My degree is partly coursework-based, so I take classes. I’m studying medieval Irish, Latin and medieval Welsh, as well as Modern Irish (which is just for fun and not assessed) and attending M.Phil (Masters) seminars and graduate student seminars. These all, of course, require a lot of work. Just to give you an idea, last week I: translated a whole story from the Táin, did three pages of Latin exercises, translated a big chunk of De raris fabulis, read about 80 Psalms for my M.Phil seminar, and did many pages of Modern Irish exercises. My right little finger has acquired a blister from resting against the page for prolonged periods of time.

Luckily, since I spend so much time there, the people in the ASNaC department are fantastic. They’re just the right mix of nerdy and crazy. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to talk to people who know what Buile Suibhne and Longes mac nUislenn are. Also, they’re quite fond of a party, the ASNaC crowd. We have drinks on Mondays after the grad seminars, and drinks on Friday nights (this pub is, fabulously, around the corner from my house). I suppose when we’re all studying stories where most characters spend a fair amount of time ‘at the drinking of mead’, it shouldn’t be surprising.

The next third of my time is taken up with my housemates. I’m lucky to live in a house of very sociable and friendly people. This manifests itself in big ways – such as last night, when we had a big housewarming party, inviting friends and other people from our college – or in smaller ways, such as the fact that we all cook dinner at the same time, spending a few hours each night gossiping and chatting in the kitchen. There’s none of this ‘phantom flatmate’ hiding-in-his-or-her-bedroom business here.

My final third of time is taken up with societies and clubs that I’m involved in. I’m doing two things. I volunteer at a community cafe, which is nice and laid-back and gives you that warm, fuzzy volunteering feeling. I’ve also taken up trampolining, which is mad fun. I’ve only been three times, and yesterday I learned how to do full turns into a back drop, which is scary but surprisingly elegant when you get the hang of it. Being a gymnast, I can grasp the concepts better than other first-timers, so that I know, for example, if you keep your body tight, things will work out easier for you, but it’s still a little bit scary. Trampolines are just so bouncy, and a lot of the trampolining moves seem, to my gymnast’s mentality, like falling over – you know, that thing you’re not supposed to do. But it’s lots of fun.

So, all up, I’d say, Cambridge is going well. Oh, that’s not to say that I’m never homesick, or that I don’t have days when I wake up in the morning thinking, ‘What the hell was I thinking when I decided to come here?’ but in general, I’m cheerful. Sometimes I’m in a black mood and feel like I’ll snap with irritation the next time I have to translate my Australianism into British (or American) English. Sometimes a wave of anguish hits me when I think it’s been a month since I’ve seen my mother or sister’s face. Sometimes I want to shriek with rage that I am such a blank canvas to everyone around me, my history as yet unknown and irrelevant. But mostly I wake up cheerful, confident in the knowledge that I’m doing what I want to do, in a place I want to be, surrounded by people who, if not yet friends or family or surrogate family in the way of those I’ve got back in Australia, may become such things to me in the future.

When I grow up… May 22, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in childhood, memories.
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When I was two, I was going to be a fairy, angel or animal when I grew up. I’m not sure how I could’ve trained for these positions, but it’s obvious that logic has never been my strong point.
When I was six, I was going to be a hairdresser (‘because I like getting my hair done’) by day and a ballerina (‘in the Royal Ballet Company’) by night. Well…I was certainly enthusiastic.
When I was seven I wanted to be a palaeontologist or an astronaut. Mainly because I was utterly obsessed with dinosaurs and outer space. I had romantic visions of myself finding the bones of a muttaburrasaurus perfectly preserved in the Australian soil, or perhaps spinning around in a gravity-less spaceship somewhere between Mercury and Venus. The future spread out before me in a perfect, glorious mixture of archaeological digs and trips to collect moonrocks.
When I was nine I was going to be a writer and illustrator of ghost stories when I grew. I practiced so that when I was a grown-up I’d be really good at writing. The protagonists were always shy, lonely, misunderstood girls who hung out a lot in graveyards and found their perfect friends among the dead.
When I was 10 I was going to be a diplomat or travel-writer when I grew up. It didn’t occur to me that my pathological fear and hatred of change might be a problem for this particular career choice.
When I was 12 I was going to be a translator of Japanese into English. Demo watashi wa nihongo wo oboitenai yo. (And that’s probably not even correct!)
When I was 18 I was going to be a journalist when I grew up. Never mind my parents’ horror. After all, I was going to be a print journalist and steer clear of their stamping ground of the ABC!
When I was 22 I was going to be a brilliant academic, making ground-breaking discoveries in the mediæval Celtic field. When I grew up, I would sit in a room, reading books, writing papers and passing on my knowledge to a small, eccentric band of students, who, like me, loved Celtic Studies because it removed them from the ordinary, day-to-day tedium of the everyday world.
When I grow up…
When I grow up…
I want to be…
I want to be?
I want to?
I want?
I?

Autumn daydreams and segues April 21, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, fangirl, memories, subbing.
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Sometimes I’m very in love with Aaron Timms, the Sydney Morning Herald columnist. I’ve been meaning to post this gem from his Friday column for some time. It appeals to my subs’ humour. It’s about ‘Aussie bands to watch’. My favourite is Subeditors: ‘A classic indie rock four-piece operating off a set of MacBooks in a garage out the back of Erskinville, Subeditors see it as their mission to cover the same lyrical territory as their British counterparts, Editors, only in a far more succinct fashion – removing commas, semicolons and excess verbiage wherever they appear. Their work covering Editors’ recent single Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors, in which they changed the line “The saddest thing that I’d ever seen/ Were smokers outside the hospital doors” to the far punchier “The saddest thing/ Was smokers” was met with critical acclaim.’ I laughed and laughed. So true. *attacks semicolons with a pair of scissors*

In other news this Facebook group cracks me up. I may have to join it. There really is a Facebook group for everything. I sometimes wonder what (pedantic, obsessive, bored) people did before the Internet. I really do.

Last night Mum, Mimi and I reminisced for about an hour about the picture books we read when Mimi and I were children. We really did have some awesome ones, and kept them all; they are slowly gathering dust on the bookshelves of my bedroom. There isn’t room to contain my gushings about these brilliant books (Graeme Base, Alison Lester, Tomie de Paola, Orlando the Marmalade Cat series, the Fox books, the Frances books, the Happy Families books Maira Kalman, Mystery on the Docks etc etc etc etc), so I will confine myself to one recollection. Book Week was a standard feature of my youth. Once a year, to coincide with the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, our school would hold a Book Day, when all the children had to dress up as book characters. One year, two of the short-listed books were Magic Beach by Alison Lester and Greetings from Sandy Beach by Bob Graham. They were both typical Australian picture books of the ’90s. Sandy Beach is utterly hilarious, and if you haven’t read it, you really should. It still cracks me up. It’s just about a girl’s weekend trip to the beach, and the randoms she meets along the way (including a busload of school kids and a bikie gang).

To cut a long story short, that year, our teachers said that if we had no inspiration for our Book Week costumes to dress up as something from one of the two ‘beach’ books. This of course meant that every boy in my class was dressed as a bikie. For seven years, Book Week dress-up day was the same. Some kids’ parents would go to enormous trouble, and the children would be wearing hand-made, intricate, over-the-top costumes good enough for a stage-play. Other parents would ensure their kids went as a character who could wear jeans and a white t. shirt. There would always be at least two kids who forgot and came in school uniform, and at least one boy inexplicably dressed as Batman or Spiderman in every class.

Such is the strength of this and other such memories that when I started talking about it with Mum and Mim, I began laughing hysterically. The laughter soon turned to tears.

It’s very hard to explain why such things still have the power to move me to tears. My feelings are reflected more widely, I think, in the fact that (for example), the largest Australia-based Facebook group (yes, there I go again) is I grew up in Australia in the 90s. It’s partly because I’ve always had a very strong sense of the passage of time, and feel every second of my childhood slipping away from me. But it’s also because I feel the past so strongly. I can remember exactly what it felt like, and yet it sometimes feels like I am looking at a movie of someone else’s life. Who was that solemn little girl who spent her mornings before school dancing to The Little Mermaid soundtrack, her afternoons climbing the magnolia and dogwood trees of her front garden and the evenings pretending to be the protagonist of A Little Princess? Who was that girl who could recite Yikes! by Alison Lester off by heart? Who set up obstacle course for her dolls and believed her herb garden was the grave of a teenager called Mary whose ghost haunted her house?

The world was in some ways so much brighter then. Every small thing mattered more. I don’t regret for a day that I’ve grown up, but sometimes I wish there was a more fluid link between the past and present. I’d like to drop in on seven-year-old, four-year-old, 10-year-old Ronni (or Veronica, as she was known then), to be her for a day or two.

It’s summed up, for me, in a poem I wrote a few years ago (the phrasing of it makes me wince, but the idea I’m trying to get across now is there):
When a catoniasta bush was as big as the whole world
And no, that is not a misprint:
I do not mean seemed, but was.
When the two of us sat among the whippy branches
Which arched over our heads, laden
With an infinitude of small red berries
– ‘They aren’t for eating’ –
our mothers said, worriedly
– ‘they’re poisonous’ –
‘But if the birds can eat them, why can’t we?’
We asked, with the logic of six-year-olds.
It made perfect sense.
While the branches and leaves transformed around us
Into a pirate ship
And no-one ever worried that we were so close
To the road, because
It was obvious we were too enthralled to move.

How infallible is your memory?
How infallible is a memory?
All I can say is, that although we could barely read
On that day
Never again will we see the world so clearly.