I'm just back from Tasmania after three of the most lovely days I've had in a while.
Barney's family have taken me on as one of their own, which is a joy in itself. They're wonderful people, easy-going, calm. Christmas Day was spent at Barney's sister's place on the banks of the Tamar River, just out of Launceston. After a lunch fof roast turkey, chicken, pork and lamb with roast vegetables and salads, then trifle, plum pudding and pavlova for dessert, (there were seven adults, three kids and a teenage boy. The teenage boy, Tim, a lovely young man of 15 eats enough for three - put away enough food to feed an army barracks, so this was just about enough food.)
After a bit of a rest Tim and Barney went sailing out on the river, Grandpa took Chance and Lance out on the dingy. The rest of us just watched on from the deck on a picture perfect summer day. No acrimony. No family fights. The only thing that came close to disaster was that the peas were left in the microwave. As disasters go, you don't get much more minor than that.
Christmas with friends is so much more mellow than with family. There's few expectations, other than to be a good house guest, watch your manners and pitch in where you can.
Spending Christmas in a town on the banks of the South Esk River, you don't get much more peaceful that that.
Yesterday, Boxing Day (unless you're in South Australia, the only place in Christendom that doesn't have Boxing Day) was spent recovering from the food coma. I went for a wonderful hour long walk along the river, stopping to chat to every dog I passed. I looked at the river and felt happy. I've been in country girl mode for the last three days. It's great.
At lunchtime we went and met some friends at a local park. Norty, a mate from book group hails from around these parts. Armed with her parents, brother and his kids we cooked a barbeque at the park. Sausages, a couple of champagnes, the kids playing cricket and throwing rocks in the creek. I took my crochet hook and some wool along, giving my hands something more to do thank drink. Helping Norty's Dad out with the barbeque, playing food runner and drink topper, we put the world to rights, talking Tasmanian Politics and cycling.
As lunch progressed, the table next to us started to fill. Being near this group made the afternoon.
Australia has a great tradition with picnic grounds. Many councils provide free of very cheap gas barbeques to use. This partly to stops the fire hazard, but it also encourages people to use the parks. You rock up, claim a table and go from there. You never know who might be at the next table. Half the time, after a while, you'll end up playing cricket, chatting with or borrowing bbq tools off the people next to you.
The group next to us were a bit of a juxtapostion to rest of the people in the park. The church group, around thirty in number, hailed from somewhere in Africa. Women in brightly coloured clothes, happy babies sleeping in slings on their backs. The men, engaging with all around. Norty's dad said that he knew some of them from Church and went over for a chat.
As the afternoon progressed, the music came. Joyous sounds, gospel music came from the small sound system. Then came the dancing. Men, women, children... they'd dance a bit then sit a bit, but the beats and the music went on all afternoon. At times, a few of our group got up and joined them.
I can't remember being around so much joy before. We were surrounded by happy people, joyous people, who were happy to include all in their fun. And it was just that - fun. There was no competition, no angst, no sorrow - just singing and dancing and happiness.
At times like this you realise that you're in a great country.
Near the end of the day, Norty's mum and I started talking about a few issues in the district. A retired drug and alcohol nurse, she's well versed in the problems of the district. We got talking about the defunding of the local women's shelter, and society, not just this society, needs more places and services like this to help get people straight.
One of the girls from the group heard what we were talking about and joined our conversation. She's stuck out from the group. Seemed a bit reserved - a camera hung around her neck. It was applauded when she got up to dance.
"Hi, I'm Gracie. I hope you don't mind me joining you. I heard about what you're talking about. Can I please pick your brains?"
We asked her about the group. "We're from our church. Most of us are from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana... West Africa. We like to sing. We like to eat. We like to dance. That's what makes the world a great place."
Couldn't say it better myself, Gracie.
Turns out Gracie - all of seventeen, wants to be a human rights lawyer. She's about to do her final year of high school. She's passionate about women's rights an getting out into the community and wanted to know where she could get more information. And articulate, intelligent, kind soul. We gave her what information we could and swapped numbers, happy to give her any guidance we could.
We all came away from the afternoon with our faith firmly restored in humanity.
I also came away wanting to dance.
It was a truly wonderful afternoon.
So now I'm home. The cat is thrilled to see me - he's already found the blanket I half finished for him over the weekend.
So now for a week off.
In all - it's been one of the better Christmases I've ever had.