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  • Carol Duval

2018 Year of Contrasts

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

It’s been an eventful year with a hefty mixture of good, bad and everything in between.

We started the year with a fantastic road trip to Tasmania with English friends, Avis and Peter Gunn. Highlights were former penal colonies, freezing Cradle Mountain, gorgeous beaches on the Freycinet Peninsula, and the crazy Museum of Old and New Art where we also made a new friend, Michael from Chicago, now based in Sydney.

We did a couple of house sits—one in the bushland of Kenwood, close to Brisbane just looking after the house.

The next was on a farmlet in Dorroughby up on the northern rivers near Mullumbimby, where we were the custodians of various fowl, a bachelor duck and a few goldfish.

Back home in Sydney, Richard continued as Official Visitor at two prisons which has been a never-ending source of interest. While he was dealing with issues behind bars, I continued my never-ending quest to learn French at Mosman Community College.

I’ve also been busy writing a book—maybe one day it will be published—tentatively called Trying Lives and about our house sitting and swapping experiences.

My sister Heather was diagnosed with a serious breast cancer a few weeks before our current house exchange in the UK which was a shock to us all. At the time of writing, she’s nearing the end of a long series of chemotherapy treatments which, as expected, have taken their toll on her physically and emotionally. January will hopefully see the end of the treatment when surgery is planned.

Noah is finishing up Year 11 at Churchie in Brisbane studying for the IB Diploma with extracurricular activities— rowing and debating—and works at McDonalds in his ‘free’ time. Milo is finishing Year 8 at Mansfield State High specialising in music, also playing in the Queensland Conservatorium Youth Orchestra. History might be another string to his bow as he did well in the Australian History Competition. It’s always a good idea to have plenty of spare strings. Who would have thought that Richard, with his IT background, would take to prisons so well?

We decided to go ahead with our planned exchange which started first in France. We spent a couple of days in Paris where we were impressed by the number of people reading BOOKS.

Then we drove down south to our exchange home in La Forge del Mitg, near Ceret, in the Pyrenees Orientales. Avis and Peter Gunn joined us for a few days and we had fun going between Spain and France as well as battling with Catalan.

Our exchange partner Elaine has two properties— the one in France and a flat in Chichester where we’ll be until late January.

To get us right into the winter holiday spirit, we spent an unexpectedly joyful day at the Weald and Downland Living Museum which combined Christmas stalls of local produce and crafts, all set among the heritage buildings on site.

Festive music, food and drink completed the very happy scene. Dogs enjoyed the day too though the oxen, donkeys and horses weren’t particularly impressed.

December will be a month of Christmas activities with so many National Trust properties within striking distance, all with different Christmas themes and displays. First up, Petworth House’s Georgian Christmas with simple handmade decorations.

This was followed by a surprise birthday cake made by Avis for Richard’s 70th birthday followed by venison at the Richmond Arms. A few days earlier we'd had another birthday celebration with Michael and Sue Wakeford at a couple of favourite pubs.

Uppark House and Gardens with decorations based on the Twelve Days of Christmas song. Every decoration was made of paper! The silks, satins, leathers and nets were impeccably created in paper—such creativity!

Hinton Ampner had a Christmas murder mystery theme. The jewel colours of the chapel stained glass windows have been magnificently picked up in the decorations throughout the house and gardens. The volunteers here have done a wonderful job.

In January we’ll be heading to the US for a few days to catch up with son/stepson Michael, and Richard’s sister’s family. Then it’ll be back to say goodbye to friends and family here in the UK and back to Sydney!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Richard and Carol


NOTE: To see all of my blog entries click the SEE ALL button just below on the right.

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