Yes, as they say in the traditional greeting of Kenya and northern Uganda, Flappy Gnu Ears to you all.
We headed four hours north to Mum and Dad's on New Year's Eve. Our friends Alex and Suparna from Melbourne came to Tasmania to spend Christmas with Alex's parents, and brought with them their 4 month-old Etta. As they live only a twenty minute drive from my parents on the north west coast, we went up to visit them and stay a couple of nights.
Before we set off, I did some last minute washing-up while Michael sat at the table playing with a bead and a cardboard tube. Twenty minutes later he and I were downtown at Emergency Admissions, after the bead somehow found its way up his nose.
I struck a bargain with him on the way in that there would be no futile yelling and recriminations from Elf and I as long as he did exactly what he was told to help us get it out. When the triage nurse asked us how it happened, I said that Michael claimed not to know, and the main thing was to get it out. She wrote "self-administered bead in nose". He stuck to the deal, stayed calm and co-operated admirably, but it still took us nearly three hours from bead insertion to getting home and setting off on the long drive north.
Elf and I were both very tired and there was some weary driving. Mum and Dad set off at about 8am so they were comfortably ensconced by the time we got there. We flopped out of the car and had a very quiet New Year's Eve, all heading for bed about 10. Marcus and dad and I played the third hand of a game of mah jongg that had started in Hobart the day before. Marcus had a concealed kong of green dragons, which beat my revealed pung of my own wind and Dad's chow of bamboos.
On New Years Day we drove up the Forth Valley to Graham and Esther Tyers' little farm. Mum and Dad live down by the mouth of the Forth River, where the tide and the river flow struggle in a [insert heroic nature metaphor here]. The road up the valley hugs the west bank of the river and it's really quite spectacular. In a few spots where the river bends 90°, you could look straight up the river. It's prone to very sudden rises in level, and someone drowned in it the summer before last.
Graham and Esther have a little bit of verdant paradise, safely tucked in just above the confluence of the Wilmot and Forth Rivers. Their property is by the gentle Wilmot and even has a safe swimming hole. Graham raises poultry, and actually appeared in one of the top documentaries of 2008, called Rare Chicken Rescue. The boys got a kick out of the chooks, especially the huge glossy Ancona roosters.
It was great to see Alex and Supa, and really wonderful to meet Etta. She is so beautiful, and has quite a head of dark hair still. She was very happy and chuckled a lot. Also chucked up a bit, but that's babies for you. We were knuckleheads and didn't think to bring a present for her, or anyone. A and S had beautiful books as gifts for the boys, of course.
Alex's sister Beck is staying there at present while she tries to sort out a new teaching job. She made baklava on the spot which was pretty impressive. After stuffing ourselves with that we said farewell and went over to Devonport, the nearest big town, to try to find a shirt as Fred's late Christmas present. Everything was closed for the public holiday. Back to Mum and Dad's, and another hand of mah jongg. This time Marcus had a major concealed kong of wheels and his own flower and season. He was killing us. The final score was about 4600 to 800 to 700. He did antelope leaps for quite some time.
Today we got going pretty early on the road home. We tried Devonport again for a shirt, but to no avail. I am sorry to say I have never liked Devonport, having grown up in Burnie, the similarly-sized large town half an hour away. It's true Devonport does have a shop called Fancy Shoes, but years of enmity are hard to reverse.
We next stopped in Launceston and had a look at Scott and Lynn's new house (no. 80), literally a stone's throw from the old one (no. 73). 80 came up for sale long before they really planned to put 73 on the market. They went to have a look, and enquired vaguely of the agent if she would visit and value 73 for them. She brought a mainland couple (who had looked at 80)with her to 73, and sold it to them on the spot. Suddenly homeless, Scott and Lynn broke the news to their kids. They all went to look at 80 again and decided they might as well take it.
The boys always click really well with Tom and Isobel, but we had to drag them away. We went across town to Joe and Jill's, were assaulted by their tiny dogs as usual, and saw young William walking for the first time - he was a real lie-down-and-gurgle baby last time we saw him, We brought salad rolls with us, ate them., sluice4d down some coffee and then got back on the highway.
Our next plan was a quick stop in Campbell Town (the classic halfway refreshment point), followed by a dash south, past our place and on another half hour to Mountain River where a classmate of Michael's named Oliver lives. His family has anglo-nubian goats, and his mum Fleur rang while we were in Launceston, insisting we come to see the brand new kids.
At Campbell Town we met a different classmate of Michael's, named Max, in the park. They are good buddies and his parents are very nice, so we stopped and talked to them a little too long. This always happens in Campbell Town, which although miles from anywhere, has good coffee and this excellent park. One always bumps into familiar faces, and the hearty greeting "are you going Up or Down?" is often heard. Although Tasmania is a triangle, most driving seems to be vertical.
We were running late for our date with newborn nubians, so we decided to ring from home and bail out. Fleur wouldn't hear of it and extended the invite into a barbecue dinner. We went, the goats were lovely, the dinner was tasty, the property and house were marvellous. South Hobartians Teresa and Neil were there too - they also have kids at the school. The six children galloped around happily. We debated "giftedness". All agreed it's a silly word. Oliver, like Michael, was assessed for early entry to Kinder. There was a lot of hand-wringing about the school and whether particular kids are being "extended" enough.
David is a doctor, Fleur a podiatrist. Teresa and Neil are scientists at the CSIRO. Wine. Yachts. As we drove out, with the sun setting on the goaty acres, we pondered this august company we now keep. More friends were driving in as we left. Over dinner I had idly speculated that they may be related to Hitler. I perhaps need to work on my conversation skills.
We picked up Fred at Firthfield on the way back to town - he'll be with us now for a few days.