I didn’t go camping as a child. Neither of my parents liked the idea of camping. They both preferred to take their holidays at one of those ancient guest houses with rattling windows and a shared bathroom at the end of a lino hall, where three meals were served each day in the dining room, so Mum could have a rest from the cooking, and a maid could be bribed to bring an early morning cup of tea to my parents in bed. And preferably a tennis court.
Dad, who was English, very much believed in the theory that “a change of air” was beneficial to one’s health and as we lived on the beach at Narrabeen, we spent our annual holiday, usually in May, in either the Blue Mountains or the Southern Highlands. Horse riding was always de rigueur. Another of his theories was that it was good for girls in particular.
When Markus and I set off on our first camping trip in a hired t-van, which turned out to be a disaster but more about that later, the only previous camping experience I’d had camping was when my brother received a small tent for Christmas. It was blue and had the head of an American Indian replete with feather head-dress on one side. It was rather a strange present in my opinion. Unlike many Australian families, we’d never been on camping trips in the school holidays.
With the help of Mum and Dad, mostly Mum because Dad definitely was not handy, we set the tent up in the back garden between the tennis court and the old fig tree. Much to our parents’ surprise, John and I told them we planned to sleep in it that very night. Mum and Dad tried to dissuade us from this pursuit. They thought daytime camping more suitable for our age group – I was 7 and John was 5 – but we managed to finally persuade them to allow us.
After dinner we crawled in. The tent was very basic. It didn’t have a ground sheet and you couldn’t stand up in it. In fact we could hardly sit up straight. It was still fairly light but as it started to get dark, we began to get scared. There were strange noises just outside the tent. Some moths and other bugs joined us attracted by the light of the small torch we’d brought with us. Then the mosquitos attacked. The ground underneath our sleeping bags got harder by the minute.
John and I had planned to spend the whole night there but only lasted a couple of hours before the comfort level deteriorated to such an extent that neither of us could sleep. Shamefacedly, we hot-footed it back to the house and our warm, comfortable beds.
And surprisingly, that tent disappeared, never to be sighted again.
I’d always dreamed of going bike riding in Provence. For years I’ve read with envy articles about other travellers enjoying bike riding holidays in France while I slogged away at my job in real estate. I imagined the vibrant colours of the landscape and could almost taste the food and the wine. It’s my perception of heaven to pedal hard all day through beautiful countryside, then relax in comfortable accommodation and of course, indulge in good food and wine each night. Perhaps it’s a hangover from my days on the tennis tour. For me there’s nothing like the relaxation I experience after strong physical exertion.
But have I left it too late, I wondered? Especially since I’ve had Fibromyalgia for the last 4 years and need to have an afternoon rest. The WalkInn representative tries to talk my husband and I into electric bikes when they find out how old we are. (I’m 65 and my husband’s 67 with a crook right knee.) The Bike Hire Company then actually delivers the said electric bikes to our hotel in a last ditch attempt to entice us. Not being technically minded, I’m sure I’d be a danger on wheels on an electric bike. The alternative they then supply is a “unisex”/man’s bike. They advise that I’m too tall for a woman’s bike. I have to insist. And just as well! Early on in the ride I have a minor spill when I try to ride up a bitumen flap and have to jump out of the way of the bike when it tips over. If I’d been on a male/unisex bike with a high bar, I wouldn’t have made it and could easily have been seriously hurt. As it was, I escape with a few minor bruises, a loss of dignity and the wisdom not to mount any more curbs. The tyres, I realise, are not cross-country ones like the ones I have on my bike at home.
Our bike riding adventure starts off in style with a move from our 2 star accommodation in Avignon to Villa de Margot, a very upmarket Bed and Breakfast at the edge of the historic part of town. It is a very stylish, elegantly furnished home with Persian rugs and beautiful artwork. As we are travelling for 6 months we are on a tight budget. The bike riding trip is to be an exception. We really appreciate having the luxury of a huge room, a very comfortable bed, soft pillows and an impressive bathroom complete with a huge bath. I can hardly wait to get in it. We can also enjoy the luxury of being able to sit downstairs in a sitting room or out in the garden. Our previous budget accommodation has confined us mostly to our room.
Dinner is not included the first night. Our hostess recommends that we eat at L’Essentiel and it is a winner – right up there in line with the accommodation. My very fussy Swiss husband, Markus says that it is the best restaurant we’ve eaten in since we’ve been in Europe which includes 7 weeks in Italy.
However, despite all the comfort and wonderful accoutrements at Villa de Margot, I don’t sleep well. I worry about all the horrible things that could occur on the trip. Ambulance sirens haunt my dreams, as do the noise of mosquitos which are real and invading our beautiful room ferociously.
We have chosen to do a self-guided bike tour so as seniors, we can keep our own hours and cycling pace.
Day 2 – Saturday 21st June, 2014
Our exit from Avignon, which is quite a substantial town via the Magnanen gate is not as bad as I imagine. Fortunately it is a Saturday, so there is little traffic on the road at 8.30am. There are also designated bicycle lanes on most of the roads we make our departure along.
Very soon I am living my dream. After traversing the Durance River, we enter the magical countryside of Provence. We pedal down quiet, narrow lanes past vibrantly coloured oleanders, early roses, late spring wildflowers, fields of luminous, yellow sunflowers straight out of a Van Gogh painting, orchards of fruit trees, soon to be harvested fields of wheat and old stone farmhouses. In town squares of mediaeval villages, we peer through arches at castles and the steeples of Romanesque chapels. The only sounds I hear most of the day are the buzzing of cicadas announcing summer’s arrival and bird song. I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.
I am surprised at my level of fitness. One of the things I anticipated was that I’d be really struggling by the end of the 36k’s of our first day’s itinerary. Even though it is more than 30 degrees, I feel fine and very happy. I love being outdoors as my school reports always attested to. I also envisaged that there would be a lot more ups and downs in Provence. In fact, there is only a small climb up the Montagnette to the Saint-Michel de Frigolet Abbey, where I sing “Amazing Grace” in semi darkness in the beautiful old church which has the most amazing acoustics. The reward of our uphill toil is the journey back down with no pedalling involved. Although I do keep my foot ever ready to brake if I start going too fast for my comfort. I find about 23 k’s per hour is my max, but if the road is too curvaceous, then the brake really gets a workout.
Toilet stops are a problem. I notice that the French seem to no longer wee in public without even going behind a tree, as I remember they used to when I was travelling on the European Tennis Circuit. We find we have to search for some bush as there are no public toilets provided for water guzzling bicyclists.
We pass through the quaint towns of Graveson and Maillane, where we take a drink break and arrive at St Remy in time for lunch. All that peddling has given us a hearty appetite and we strike gold with our choice of La Gousse D’Ail (the garlic clove). The food is delicious. I have a rabbit terrine and salad. The restaurant lives up to its name with the very garlicy salad dressing.
Although there is a pool at our B and B, it is in full sun and I think I’ve had enough Vitamin D for the day. I retire inside for a lazy afternoon reading a very old Morse detective book which I find on their bookshelf. We dine at L’Estagnoll which is situated in a large courtyard garden and is a perfect venue for a summer evening. It also has excellent food. I feel very relaxed but not bone weary. Markus, my husband is a bit worse for wear, not having done any training. In typical male fashion, he is relying on his body to perform. As we wander back through the town a cacophony of sound from different types of bands broadcasts though the night. There is a musical festival on and all the streets have been closed off. All the surrounding cafés and restaurants are packed and the streets are filled with people.
St Remy is a town renowned for its artists, home to Vincent Van Gogh for a year. Much to my disappointment, we won’t have the time or energy to go and see where he lived and painted, nor the Site Archeologique de Glanum, a Roman city.
Monday 22rd June, 2014
Over 30 degrees is predicted again today so we leave early in order to escape the worst part of the heat around 2. By this time of the day we hope to be well and truly happily ensconced in a shady restaurant, eating lunch. The ride today starts well. Once again we pedal down quiet country lanes through more olive groves and vineyards for which Provence is famous for. The rich colours of the blue sky, the green of the fields and the vibrant yellow of meadows of sunflowers makes it easy to see why artists have been drawn to this area. Beautifully sculptured religious icons of Mary and Jesus stare down at me as I ride through village squares, reminding me of the deeply religious country that French has been in the past and still is according to my Swiss husband, Markus, who descended from the Huguenots. His ancestors who were French Protestants, were driven out of France during the 16th Century during a scourge against Non-Catholics.
But this reverie doesn’t last all the way. About halfway through our day’s ride, we are on busier roads, some of which don’t have a designated bike lane; my pet aversion. Unfortunately I have a tendency to wobble when cars whoosh by. At times I fear I’ll go off the edge of the road into one of the deep ditches which run too close to the side of the grass verge for my comfort. Fortunately, French drivers on the whole are a lot more respectful of cyclists than their Australian counterparts and give us a wide berth, except for one young bloke whose patience gives way waiting for me to get around the round-about. He nearly collects me.
We ascend into Les Baux, named after the family of that name. It is not as tough going as I anticipate and I only have to get off and push my bike on a couple of the steeper sections, my thighs no longer having the capacity to pedal up fairly minor grades, even utilizing all the available gears. Les Baux is a mediaeval town perched atop a rock face. Entrepreneurs have taken full commercial advantage of the site. Rentals are obviously high as are the prices of the wares for sale. Quality paintings, sculptures, giftware and clothes, the latter which I manage to resist. No room in my bag. If only I could get rid of some of the sensible drip dry items I packed as recommended by the travel agent, that I’ve found I don’t wear.
We manage to get lost just a few kilometres from the hotel where we are staying. I’m not sure if it’s the wine and the 2 beers Markus had with his lunch or as Markus insists, the instructions from WalkInn which are at fault. It is well after 2pm and the sun by this time is absolutely blazing down as we ride down a gravel track. In the end Markus has to activate his GPS to locate our accommodation.
We eat dinner in the village square. Eggplant and chevre tart followed by duck in fig sauce (I think I have duck coming out of my right ear) accompanied by an excellent wine. Markus insists that we have wine which we have to pay for, commensurate with the food but it’s not cheap. We stroll around the town afterwards. One thing I really love about being in France is ‘la promenade’ after dinner even after a long day’s bike ride.
Tuesday 23rd June
Our last day’s peddling is “parfait”- just how I like it. Except for our exit via the main street of the village, most of the day’s ride is down quiet country lanes through the beautiful countryside of Provence. We easily accomplish the last 20 remaining kilometres back to Arles by 11.30, and despite those dire warnings of discomfort from our contact at WalkInn, except for the odd case of cramps we’ve both been experiencing due to the overly hot weather, and with the exception of that minor spill on the first day, we arrive unscathed. Contrary to one of my father’s favourite expressions “Anticipation is better than realisation” I have to report that the trip far exceeded my expectations. I particularly love the feeling of total relaxation and well-being I feel at the end of each day’s exertions which doesn’t happen often these days at home in Narrabeen.
I am happy to report that my bike riding has definitely improved. By the finish I am going downhill around 30 k’s and can ride around 18 k’s on the flat. I also wobble less when cars go by, though for safety sake, when I am on a main road, I stop and stand on the grass verge when big trucks go by.
We wander around Arles, eat lunch in a courtyard restaurant then spend the rest of the afternoon in our hotel. WalkInn has come up trumps again with their selection. There is a pool, (but once again in the full blare of the sun) a shady garden, several beautifully furnished sitting rooms and an outside bar area. We eat dinner at another fabulous restaurant, which Markus now says is the best restaurant that he’s ever eaten at, then wander down the banks of the Rhone before we turn in.
One of he most exciting things for a writer, after all the hard slog of writing a book, is to have people reading it. This year I have sold books in England, including to the All England Club at Wimbledon, France, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, the U.S and just recently India. How good is that?
I have been traveling around Australia in a Kimberley Karavan with my husband – one of his dreams. Definitely not mine. I keep a journal every morning for my third book “Diary of a reluctant camper”. I’ve certainly lots of material. We didn’t camp as children. Perhaps that is why camping doesn’t come naturally to me.
I haven’t been doing any speeches about “A Spanish Love Affair” this year since the Travelview speech at the Newport Motor Yacht club in April but have 4 booked already for when I get back at the end of April next year.
I’ve been working hard on the sequel to “A Spanish Love Affair” which at the moment has a working title of “Another Spanish Love Affair”. It will be good to have a whole year at home to be able to put some solid work on both my books with all the things I need at hand and not having to keep packing everything away. As you can imagine it is difficult working on the road but we are certainly having an amazing trip.
I sat on what happened for over 50 years. I had to think long and hard about whether I would include it in my recently published Memoir – “A Spanish Love Affair”. But as it has had such a profound effect on my life, I decided I would.
“When I gaze at the old black and white photo, I feel very sad. I am 11 and still a child. I am in love. I feel just like I do as an adult. But I am not ready for love – nor especially the aftermath. When my tennis coach dumps me for a 14 year-old who wears pancake make-up and goes all the way. I am heartbroken.” Excerpt from “A Spanish Love Affair”.
I often wonder what I would have been like if I hadn’t been sexually abused by my tennis coach when I was 11 – which of my personality traits are mine – and which are as a result of the abuse?
When it happened, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath my feet. At the time I was enjoying a typical Northern Beaches childhood of sun, surf and tennis – lots of tennis mainly “death matches” against my brother John on the beautiful loam court at our home in Narrabeen. I was a well-behaved child and did well at school – always in the top 2 in the class. Then disaster struck.
In my case it wasn’t so much the sex part, although I have never felt all that comfortable about penis’s since my tennis coach aimed his erect member in my direction behind the tennis shed and told me I wouldn’t get pregnant because I hadn’t had my periods yet – it was the loss of confidence when I found out that the “grooming” which he undertook leading up to the abuse was nothing to do with love – the emotional turmoil and heartbreak it caused – the loss of innocence – the sexualisation of my childhood before time. I had to struggle through it on my own. I didn’t dare tell my parents. I knew if I did all hell would break loose. Dad would have killed the perpetrator.
That’s me in the back row third from the left
My life changed dramatically – I rebelled totally. I smoked, developed an eating disorder, I ate erratically and put on weight, sprouted pimples, attacked my hair with scissors and peroxide, disassociated from friends, misbehaved at school, didn’t do my homework, couldn’t concentrate, was grumpy, moody, generally obnoxious and hard to get on with. I became a loner. I didn’t trust anyone – myself in particular.
I always wonder why my parents didn’t pick up on it. They attributed my change of behaviour to “teenage blues” and “puberty” or perhaps some kind of health problem. They even took me for a medical examination. Unfortunately, no-one probed. If anyone had got anywhere near asking me the right question, I would have broken down and told them what had happened. But never in their wildest dreams would it have dawned on my parents because I was always right under their watchful eye. Or so they thought.
Unfortunately, my change in behaviour fell through the cracks at school too because the abuse happened in 6th class finishing just before the end of the year. Somehow, I still managed to come 3rd in the class and my school report didn’t indicate that there was anything amiss – my behaviour hadn’t noticeably deteriorated despite the upheaval. However, the next year things went downhill fast. I couldn’t cope at all. In the half yearly I came 26th and by the end of 2nd year I came 44th out of 45.
In 5th class, I’d dreamt of becoming a Doctor although Mum put the kybosh on that saying that I’d get married and have a family so it would be a waste doing all that study. After the abuse all dreams of my future disappeared. I tried just to make it through each moment of each day.
I was lucky I played tennis. Tennis and had a very stable family life with loving parents and routine allowed me to pull through to a certain extend – at least not go completely off the rails.
I was also fortunate that I was good at tennis because it gave me a certain amount of self-esteem when every other part of my life had fallen apart. All the practice in the morning before school, in the afternoons, comp and inter-district on weekends, country tournaments on long weekends and junior championships during the school holidays also kept me busy – less time to dwell. It was only in those lonely hours at night alone in my bedroom that all my despair engulfed me. I clung to my ever-faithful Teddy and cried until in the end there were no tears left.
I’m a loner. I don’t like to get too close to people or see them too often. I found traveling with my tennis partners very difficult bordering on claustophobic and felt a certain relief when each chose to return home.
I like being by myself. I enjoy solitude.
I don’t like groups. I find them hard to navigate.
I enjoy being with people but in small doses and not too often. I am a mixture of an introvert and an extrovert although the former tends to dominate in recent times.
I look at people out with their friends having coffee, going away for weekends in a group, attending large public events or on a cruise and shudder.
Would I have been like them if I hadn’t been abused?
Would I have been so impulsive, adventurous even foolhardy if I wasn’t abused? Would I have fallen in and out of love with such frequency? Would I have chosen such unsuitable partners? Would I have been a better Mother?
What kind of career would I have chosen? Neither tennis or real estate were my choices but fortunately I enjoyed aspects of them both. What I love is writing and performing.
Would I have suffered from Chronic Fatigue?
It’s taken me a long time to acquire the stability I now have. I have had a lot of ‘struggle’ which I only became more aware of just how much I struggled when I read through some of my old journals.
I am amazed that I managed to make it.
Every cloud has a silver lining and probably what has seen me through is the resilience and strength I developed at a young age by having to deal with what happened.
And has all the creativity that continually insists on being expressed emanate from being sexually abused?
The Japanese say “Out of misery comes creativity”.
What a year! It has been the best year for a long while. AN ABSOLUTE STANDOUT!
Finally publishing “A Spanish Love Affair” in late December 2017, a story I sat on for more than 50 years and took 10 years to write, was an absolute KNOCKOUT. So 2018 started off with a bang with THE LAUNCH at the Long Reef Gold Club in February. If I do say so myself, it was a ripsnorter. A marvellous lot of very special people from all the different areas in my life – especially my old tennis mates – many of whom I hadn’t seen for more than 40 years and who travelled a long way to attend, a fabulous venue overlooking the beach, great food and service, WOW!
What a shame Mum and Dad aren’t still alive. They would have loved it. They would also have been very impressed that my book is available to borrow in all the Northern Beaches Libraries and that I was invited to speak at the Mona Vale Library. Not bad for an early school drop-out. And no, contrary to my teachers’ opinions that I would live to regret the day – the answer is NO, like Edit Piaf – NO REGRETS!
Dad, if he were still alive, would no doubt have been busy telling everyone in Narrabeen about “A Spanish Love Affair”, although he may have wanted a refund from SCEGGS when he read some of the chapters.
In March, I had the honour to speak at my Book Club, the Northern Beaches Booklovers and in May at the Mona Vale Library. Subsequently, I have spoken to various community groups and to the Westpac Bank in the city. All so very exciting! I love speaking about my book.
In February, 2019 I will be speaking at the GLOBAL SWAP Convention in Surfer’s Paradise and the Ladies Lunch at the Royal Motor Yacht Club Broken Bay in Newport.
Just recently I received the news that WIMBLEDON have purchased a copy of “A Spanish Love Affair” for their library. They may get a surprise when they read it. And the Australia Tennis Magazine has just advised that they are interested in featuring a review in a future issue. How good is that?
But the best part has been that all different kinds of people have read and enjoyed it – a lot of people stop me on the street to tell me they’re reading my book. How good is that? Others tell me they haven’t read a book in years until they read “A Spanish Love Affair” which is music to my ears. I sincerely hope that they will go on to read lots of other books.
I have now started writing the SEQUEL, which everyone is waiting with bated breath for as you will know if you have read “A Spanish Love Affair” it finishes on a cliff hanger. I am trying to get the first draft done before Markus and I leave for our long camping trip (9 months) around Australia next year in early April, so I can work on it while we’re on the road. But as everyone warned me, marketing a book is just as hard, if not harder, than writing it and takes up so much time. Each speech I make is for a different demographic and is a different length so I have to go back to the drawing board each time.