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I’d forgotten just how enticing my huge fireplace, roaring with logs from trees that once stood on my ground, is on a cold winter’s day. Or how wonderful it was to know there was a pot of soup on the stove waiting for me to be hungry. And to add to it a slice or two of that foccacia from Piazza al Serchio that seems to stay fresh for a week and a dollop of extra virgin oil. Not to mention the dozens of bottles of red cooling their heels in my cellar which need to be warmed up by the fire before you can pop some into your glass.

I’d forgotten too how the mist swirls around sometimes hiding the fortress on the next hill completely and at other times so close to the windows I can’t see anything. I was hoping for snow but not too much and that is just what happened on my third night in residence last week….a sprinkling of crunchy white stuff on the ground and covering the windscreen of my car the next morning. It makes everything looks magical and mysterious and I was sorry I had only asked for a little. I wanted more. I wanted the place to be covered as it was a couple of years ago when my neighbour Anna sent me this picture.


We arrived on Monday after a slight delay at Heathrow, then into a hire car and off to Lucca for a late lunch, or at least a glass of red and a walk around my favourite Italian city. Always elegant, somehow in winter it seems more so; maybe for lack of tourists, and I like it even better if that is possible. The sun was out and the blue sky between the trees in the Piazza Napoleone where we sat was just lovely.

My local town market the following morning was minimal as it always is in winter time but the bar was busy and we caught up with good friends for a white wine and a nice overdue chat. At home we bedded the rhizomes for the ginger lilies whose fragrance I hope will fill the air in the summer, made a big log fire, poured a red and enjoyed one of my favourite films, Bread and Tulips.

On Wednesday we drove up the valley, in the mist and a little rain, around some of the lovely villages north of my villa, stopping at Pieve San Lorenzo to photograph the church which has the most exquisite bells, and for Linda to purchase her very own Bialetti coffee machine in a local shop. Playing around the shores of the lake at Gramolazzo and pretending to fall off the little jetty into the icy cold, we were stunned at the beautiful colour of the water: the greenest we had ever seen…full of minerals and delicious to taste. Lunch was a sensation: no written menu but exquisite home-made pasta and local wine and coffee and a bill of €27 crossed out to €25 for the two of us.


CaIMG_2769stlenuovo di Garfagnana, the major town of the area, hosts a Thursday morning markIMG_2775et and it is something I go to rain, hail or shine. It’s a tribal affair: men standing and chatting politics, sport and probably women, and women ferreting in the stalls for something for their kitchens or their backs. We did both, then met up with a new friend over a couple of Hugo’s…my normal Thursday noon drink after the market.

Up through the hills on the way to the coast we went to an amazing restaurant, Ceragetta, for lunch. It looks out over the mountains and was humming with activity; almost every table was full when we arrived and we were lucky to get a nice spot for two in the corner. I love this place and the people who own it. We were offered 10 antipasti, 3 different pastas, 3 main courses with salad and chips, a bottle of wine, some sweet wine with dessert and coffee for the amazing cost of €23 each.


On the way home we stopped to walk around the lake at Pontecosi and take pictures IMG_2790of the two bridges – one ancient, one new, at the far end of the lake. A group of young people headed for the tiny old bridge  with their guitars for a photo shoot as we watched and the ducks swam by.




Friday and Saturday were spent in Florence – away from the madding crowds of the summer and oh! so much nicer. Whilst we had booked for the Uffizi and the Academia, we didn’t really need to as there were no queues and there was only one other person when we visited the beautiful Brancacci chapel in Oltrano over the Arno. We loved the David, the amazing paintings now over 600 years old in the Uffizi and the modernised food market near San Lorenzo. It was wonderful to see all buildings of the Duomo without scaffolding: something I don’t think I have ever seen before, and it was marvellous to walk down the wonderful roads and alleyways and not be cheek by jowl with a bunch of foreign tourists. Such is the pleasure of visiting in winter!








We ate a beautiful dinner with an exquisite bottle of Sangiovese at another of my favourites, La Fonticine and we stayeIMG_2837d in my 3 star find: the clean, with a nice breakfast, 5 minutes off the motorway, 5 minutes from the Duomo, Hotel Palazzo Vecchio at only €66 a double, plus €19 parking. Amazing in this day and age. But this is Italy and it’s winter.


We meandered home via Ikea for some cushion covers for my new sofas in the barn and some candles for the candelabra, thinking we were going to a dinner party. Sadly the hostess was ill so we lit a roaring fire, opened a bottle of red and had a much earlier dinner which was probably just as nice after our busy tourist time in beautiful Florence.

On our last full day we went down the valley to Il Pozzo, a wonderful member of the Slow Food family of restauraIMG_2909nts in Italy and again feasted with more food that is respectable and beautiful wine and paid poco….or little! On the way out past the local soccer field we sIMG_2904huddered at the muddy quagmire and the soaked players in their red and green hopefully enjoying their Sunday afternoon game despite the rain.







And so to our last night. My last night in my bed. My own bed. My house. My home. My Italian dream. I could stare out the window any season for hours on end at the changing weather and vista and feel overjoyed. I have, as have others before and after me. And taken countless pictures of that view. I used to stand at the kitchen window every time I left to weep, if just for a moment. But I don’t do that now. I live in London so its a few hours, not 24 and I can come back whenever I want. How that pleases me!

I hadn’t been in winter since 2001 and I wondered how I would feel about it. It’s fabulous. Wonderful, any time of the year. And I think the heartiness of the food makes winter even more special. The house was warm as toast, the fire roared, the rebollito on the stove was warming to the cockles of your heart and the cold cellar was full of wine just waiting to be opened, warmed a little and drunk in an armchair by the fire.


Until next time: Primavera and planting the veggie garden!


And if you’d like to spend time – winter or summer – in this paradise, please contact me now.




As I write this on a bright sunny Christmas Eve I wonder where the year went and why we have a cloudless blue sky in mid-winter London.

I am conscious that it is the fourth Christmas since I left Melbourne and my ‘gap year’ far exceeded. I am conscious that my enjoyment has far exceeded my original expectations, as has my learning and knowledge gathering. And I know now, if I didn’t before, that my cravings for new learnings, new understandings and new experiences are very well satisfied living in Europe.

I have been back in London, after a wonderful summer in Tuscany, for around four action packed months.

2015-12-12 13.20.332015-12-12 16.40.08 Highlights definitely are the 9 week History of London course that took me       from the Roman ruins near the Barbican to the brilliant Shard designed by Renzo Piano, who also designed the iconic Eureka Tower in my hometown, Melbourne, and the Art History course that meandered through many galleries, most noteworthy being the Sir John Soane’s Museum of amazing objects and art, and the new Damian Hirst gallery in Vauxhall. Both courses were led by incredible women whose collective knowledge of London and art fills my curious mind with the top of the iceberg and an invitation to dig deeper.

Other exhibitions I enjoyed included shoes, Indian fabrics and Indian jewellery at the V&A, Ai Weiwei at the RA, Goya and Audrey Hepburn at the NPG, just to name a few highlights.

2015-09-10 09.07.58September s2015-09-10 14.25.49aw Hugo and I in Cornwall for a few days to celebrate his 25th birthday and I realised that, too many years ago, my own mother came to London to celebrate mine. We enjoyed the lovely coast and gorgeous villages, some great meals, the Barbara Hepworth and Tate Museums in St Ives and catching up with a friend for lunch one day.

One of the things that constantly amazes and impresses me is the magnificent way collections are housed and displayed in the many museums in London. A pre-opening tour of the Imperial War Museum’s World War II exhibit was extraordinary, and a day at Bletchley Park guided by Ruth, one of the Bletchley Girls in the 2014 book of the same name was fantastic. Remembrance Day was celebrated with the Canadian Women’s Club with a wonderful speaker who had an extraordinary collection of War Memorabilia which had us in stitches and shudders for a good couple of hours.

I took up my role as President of the Australian Women’s Club and together with my amazing committee enjoyed many great activities such as cooking lobster in Brighton, the Chelsea Psychic Gardens, a fabulous Melbourne Cup Day Luncheon, Christmas Cocktails at the Australian High Commission Residence, drinks, dinners, films, theatre and wonderful speakers at our monthly Coffee Mornings.

At Australia House I have drunk lots of wine – South Australian for a blind tasting, and West Australian for a very fun evening; listened to Germaine Greer deliver the annual Arthur Boyd lecture (attended by Barry Humphries and Lord Jeffrey Archer) and spoken to the wives of Australian officers at the AHC on the delights afforded members of the Women’s Club in the hope they come and play.

2015-10-21 15.08.51In Octob2015-10-23 12.07.28er I enjoyed a 5 day visit to Alsace in the east of France with 4 days walking amongst the russet and gold leaves of the autumn vines – organised by the Kensington and Chelsea Women’s Club. It was a very lovely few days enriched by some brilliant whites at the end of the day and a Michelin lunch on the final day.

I’ve had two weekends at Westbourne with my dear friends Linda and David and looking forward to being with them for New Year’s Eve and a bit of boating if this magnificent weather continues. I did have a trip to Bruges booked with my Aussie friend Jo, over here for work, but it was during the Brussels lock-down and we decided to play in London instead of risk our socks when we didn’t need to.

Theatre wise I enjoyed Nicole Kidman in Photograph 51, The Distance (coming soon to the MTC), Teddy Ferrara at the Donmar, a brilliant production of Orsteia, and a couple of Sunday in the Apartments showcasing young and fabulous Aussie talent.

November’s2015-11-13 14.21.22 highlight was a 4 day visit to Venice with my friend Linda to see the Biennale. The Pavilions were mixed but the Japanese and Korean exhibits were outstanding. We loved most the Palazzo Fortunay and the extraordinary buildings of the Arsenale. But the piece-de-resistance was a private visit to Elton John’s apartment which Linda and her business partner had created about 15 years ago. It was mind blowingly brilliant: every piece was stunning; floors, cupboards, objects, curtains, and 2 incredible chandeliers by world leader Dale Chihuly from Seattle. Such a privilege to be there, and, sadly for you, no photos!!

Then a return to London to gear up for Christmas. Fabulous decorations everywhere, marvellous lights, window displays. Four Carol services to sing in, and four Christmas fairs: in Spitalfields in the old Truman Brewery, an Italian one at the Chelsea Old Town Hall, a rather upmarket Belgravia street fair and the best of all in the Draper’s Hall in the City: full of exquisite things to buy, champagne to drink, Richard E. Grant to talk to, and David Frost’s son, and a diary note to return next year.

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My tree has been decorated, my fridge groaning, good wine waiting to be opened, presents and of course a stocking for Hugo under the tree.





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It’s been a fabulous year. I’m blessed to have the ability to live here in this magnificent city which fills my senses and stimulates my mind. I’m planning lots of travel next year- mini breaks- Paris in January,Tuscany in February, Bruges in March and then some… I hope my good buddies from Oz will visit and I know my sister is. It’s all looking rosy and so i hope it is for you.

My very best wishes for your Christmas and New Year – may it be whatever you most want, and above all healthy and peaceful in a world that we sometimes no longer understand.

Saluti for now





Cara Amici

Here in the hills of Tuscany with nothing to do but read, eat, swim, sample the vino and all other good things, I have been smitten by the writing bug.

I’ve posted a dozen or more blogs on www.TuscanVillageLife.com and if you’re not signed up to it then you may want to pop over and do so.

Everything from Olive Oil, the marble mountains of Carrara, Tuscan doors, the 1920 Earthquake that took my village, how and when to buy chooks, births, marriages, deaths and elections: how it’s done in Italy, and of course snippets of the amazing journey from falling in love with Tuscany as a 22 year old to owning this piece of paradiso for 27 years.

Lots of pictures too…including this one in my latest blog of our first night in the villa way back in 1989.

1989 first dinner

So if you’re tempted to read more about the wonderful time-warp quality of my gentle hills, direct yourself to WWW.TUSCANVILLAGELIFE.COM and sign up for my blogs which will appear regularly whilst I am here for another month or sp.

Ciao for now



Hi Friends

For IT’S NOT MY FAULT I INHERITED THE TRAVEL BUG and a glimpse into the lives of my parents pop over to WWW.TUSCANVILLAGELIFE.COM and read it. Do sign up for regular blogs from the hills of Tuscany over the next couple of months if you like what you read.

Saluti until next time


Greetings Friends

I am writing from the beauty of the Tuscan hills and to let you know that whilst I am here for the next couple or three months I will be regularly posting local stories on my new blog site.

The first, Lunch – A Family Affair has been posted today on www.TuscanVillageLife.com

Do please pop over to that site for regular stories of Tuscan village life over the summer and sign up to receive my posts in your email box. I promise lots of lovely photographs too!



Dear Friends

Its Midsummer today, 21 June, and it is hard to believe that 6 months has passed since my last blog. You can blame London. End of story: yes, London, my adopted home, at least for the moment. It gobbles up my time and it still takes my breath away.

If I chunk it down, the overriding thing is learning. Whilst I was an appalling student at school and bored out of my wits, now I have a hunger for not just more experiences, but more knowledge and wisdom. With so much choice here for everything you could possibly want I have developed a healthy addiction to this city and the stimulation it provides.

I have been exposed to so many things that my prior life left out and the more I get access to, the more I want. My peregrinations around this city (and sometimes I even go beyond Zone 1….but not often!!) have led me to learn aspects of British History that my expensive girls’ school missed and much, much more. I learned about an Adelaide born suffragette who chained herself to the Houses of Parliament, about an illegitimate Scottish woman who entertained kings and maharajahs at her home Polsden Lacey; I heard Charles Spencer talk of the killing of Charles the First at his ancestral home Althorp, and also Julian Fellows, the creator of Downton Abbey.

I’ve visited the home of sculptor Arthur Fleischmann who lived in Oz and has pieces scattered throughout the world, seen Rubens and Diebenkorn at the RA, Impressionists and Grayson Perry at the NG, new David Hockney works, Marlene Dumas, Gold and early photos of the Middle East at the Queen’s Gallery, the extraordinary Alexander McQueen at the V&A, Pre-Raphaelites and the Indigenous Australia exhibition at the British Museum at a breakfast hosted by the Australian High Commissioner, H.E. Hon Alexander Downer A.C. and I’ve heard Julia Gillard talk on gender equality and the education of girls at the prestigious Institute of Directors in Pall Mall. Next Saturday I will attend the 30th Anniversary Dinner of the Australian Women’s Club at the RAC.

My activities have taken me to Kensington Palace, Spencer House, Fulham Palace and Australia House many times to celebrate Queensland Day, the Legacy Annual Reception, to commemorate the Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser, AC CH and more. I’ve seen tiny gardens in Spitalfields where my son’s ancestors and other Huguenot refugees wove their beautiful decorated silks. I sat behind the Queen and Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey for the 100th Anniversary ANZAC Service and I did the tourist thing standing outside Buck House for the procession when she recently opened Parliament. I’ve been to a couple of the ancient Gentlemen’s Clubs and I’ve learned about the ‘influx’ of American heiresses who brought their fathers’ wealth to prop up the poverty-stricken landed gentry between the two wars.

I’ve taken blog writing classes, Italian classes and supported 6000 participants in Tony Robbins’ annual London UPW and 800 at Business Mastery a couple of weeks ago. And I worked hard and long on the Second Annual Australia and New Zealand Literary and Arts Festival which was held successfully a month ago.

Music and theatre are always on my agenda and I’ve had wonderful nights out with the Buena Vista Social Club, Mozart’s Requiem and Allegri Miserere by candlelight, Sweeney Todd, The Merchant of Venice with an Elvis overlay, the amazing Aussie talent in Sunday in the Apartment and The One Day of the Year, my friend Trish’s production in the Finborough. I sat in the front row of the Barbican for Waiting for Godot with the Sydney Theatre Company and enjoyed the after party with director Andrew Upton, Kylie Minogue and Kathy Lette and Hugo Weaving.

Eating and drinking have been important with a four week wine course on Italian wines and an 8 week one on European wines, a degustation Yalumba dinner and lunches and dinners all over town. Suffice to say that the kitchen in my flat is barely used and cooking skills sadly diminishing!

Out of town I had a gorgeous few days with friends and art in Prague, a lovely long weekend day in Cambridge with my Hugo and Eve and a fun day at The Royal Household Cricket Club at Windsor Castle where the Australian High Commission played its annual match against The Royal Household. Not this year, but previously, Liz and Phil have been known to hang over the fence and applaud at the right time!

I’ve also had a lovely but not particularly restful fortnight in Tuscany preparing the house and grounds for the summer season and my guests, and it is to there that I head in 8 days.

I’m looking forward to a change of pace, good food fresh from the next field or the next village. I can’t wait to swim in my lovely pool every day and read all the books that keep stacking up beside my bed. I’m looking forward to visits from Hugo and Eve, from friends and also to the time alone.

When I come back I will be thrust into my new role as President of the Australian Women’s Club London, the classes I’ve signed up for on British History and a 5 day walk in Alsace.

Wishing you all a happy Solstice today – winter or summer, and health and happiness: and learning. If all else fails, learn something you didn’t know before and your life will be richer. Well that’s what I’ve found and I’m sticking to it. Thank you London for making that happen for me.

Until next time
Buzz – with heart

PS: If you would like to follow my Tuscan summer, please pop over to www.TuscanVillageLife.com and sign up for my regular blogs on Italy, tomatoes, markets etc. I am sure you will love the photos that will be included!


14 is my number: the one that reoccurs more than just arbitrarily. It was the day I was born, the day my only child was born, ditto the (ex) husband; it was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to live, the day I decided to leave my marriage and live again, the day I moved out of a later significant relationship and never accept lies again, and the day for enjoying much of what I love: joy and travel. And of course it was on a 14 when I decided that Melbourne and I needed to part company. So I knew this year, 2014 would be amazing … and as it comes to a close I say, ‘yes I did it again’.

It started in County Cork on my first ever visit to Ireland where I celebrated my father’s family who came from down the road and around the corner. The McCarthys had substance. They may not have had much money but they had guts and I’m glad I inherited it from them. It was a good way to start the year.

I reckon it takes guts to create a full and interesting life. We never get these things handed to us on a platter. We get the crap – the lying partners, the cheating husbands, the bad financial deals, the illnesses and the sorrows – but when you take responsibility you see that they are all there as markers to find out who we really are. And it takes a significant amount of intestinal fortitude to move on and be in joy.

I know. It’s been my journey and in my year I’m allowed to say I’m proud of myself for it. I haven’t done everything the best way, and I’ve sometimes hurt people along the way but I have taken responsibility for my life and finding my own peace and joy. And fun.

These things I have found in spades living in London, along with excitement, culture, stimulation, love and amazing friendships.

As I pack up now to move out of my London home and pack a light case of summer clothes to return to Oz for a family wedding and Christmas, I find it hard to believe that it was 2½ years ago that I left – with one suitcase, a laptop and a one way ticket to London…..without any idea what I would do, where I would go or how long I would stay.

In some ways it feels like just yesterday and in others it feels a lifetime ago that I lived in my own home surrounded by my wonderful art, everything known to man that anyone could ever need, my Mercedes convertible in the garage and my beloved Burmese puss-cat Poly to console me when things got tough.

People ask me constantly do I miss my stuff… my art in particular. And with my moniker of #GalleriesandLunch I laugh because my London Life is driven by gallery visits to look at things I could never, in a million lifetimes, have on my own walls. Yes, I love the things I have collected through a lifetime of travel and one day I will have them again, and I miss my Poly who is happy with my ex husband’s first ex wife, but having them all in Melbourne came at an unacceptable cost.

The fact is I left because I wanted a bigger life. I’d had a big life way back when but it had diminished over a 21 year period with a husband who was depressed and anti-social. I longed to feel truly alive again and free, so when my son left to live and work in London at the age of 20 and I realised after 25 years of cooking dinner every night that I no longer had to, it would be utter madness not to bugger off.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you know what I had to do to go – starting with the chucking of 100 pairs of shoes. And what I have done since: amazing holidays in Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Denmark, Norway, France, Sicily, Puglia, Venice and the Italian lakes, a month in Paris to learn French; ditto a month in Rome to brush up on my Italian, and three glorious summers in my very own Italian paradiso, I Cinghiali in the hills of northern Tuscany.

This summer I Cinghiali became all mine: my ex finally handing over his bit rather than pay for any of the upkeep and maintenance on the property, and in celebration I put in a magnificent 12 metre pool with steps all along one end for endless gin & tonics whilst the sun goes down. The pool project was a mammoth undertaking for Italy where things take inordinately long, but with my belief system that it would happen in my time frame, it did indeed. I had the most amazing team of guys working on it and it metamorphosed before my eyes over a three week period in what the locals said was the wettest July in living memory – according to local centenarians that was around 100 years; definitely not what you need when building a pool! But it happened and when it was finally finished I put the garden hose in it turned on full bore and in 3 days it was full. Anywhere else in the world you would have had an army of water trucks pull in, but this is Italy. They do things differently! It was and is a wonderful addition to my Italian paradiso and certainly one of the best things I did this year.

The summer included lots of friends coming to stay, ten days with special friends in Sicily and a delicious love affair over a number of months which, when trans-located to London simply didn’t have enough legs to keep me engaged. Yes it was fun, lovely, great sharing, wonderful communication and exciting – all the things I love feeling, but with the realisation that he was driven unconsciously by scarcity and fear of being alone and I am driven consciously by abundance and gratitude it didn’t stand a chance. All good and next, please!

Arriving back in London there was much to catch up in the #GalleriesandLunch department which brings me so much joy. So please let me indulge myself with a list: as much for my enjoyment as yours.
Giovanni Battista Moroni – the best portraits I have seen, at the Royal Academy
Conflict Time Photography – the terrible effects of war, at Tate Modern
Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy – big, bold, dark and confronting
Emily Carr in British Columbia at the Dulwich Picture Gallery
A Victorian Obsession from Perez Simon at Leighton House Museum with some pretty Pre-Raphaelites
Constable paintings and Horst photographs at the V&A
Late Turner at Tate Britain Rembrandt at the National Gallery
Grayson Perry at the National Portrait Gallery
Dennis Hopper photographs and Allen Jones’s pop art at the Royal Academy
Egon Schiele nudes at the Courtauld Gallery
and other such as The Foundling Museum and a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the death of William Hogarth, one of its patrons.

In my art history class with Aussie friends and a wonderfully knowledgeable teacher we explored colour this term. I missed several weeks whilst still in Italy but managed to catch up with Fade to Gray, Anselm Kiefer; Silver Lining – a look at silver, old and new at the V&A; Purple Haze – impressionism and the laws of colour harmony and contrasts at the Courtauld Institute; Going Green, Pre-Raphaelites and the landscape tradition at Tate Britain; Red Alert: Rothko and abstract impressionism at the Tate Modern and Rainbow Rococo at the delicious Wallace Collection.

Three art days in Lille with some fabulous women from the Kensington and Chelsea Women’s Club where we explored the Palais Beaux Arts, La Piscine in Roubaix where the old swimming pool is integral to the gallery, the Lille Musee d’art Modern, the Musee des Beaux Arts in nearby Arras and the outreach Louvre at Lens where 1000 amazing pieces are displayed in chronological order.

Since I visited some of these exhibitions more than once, that’s about 30 visits to Galleries in less than two months and I feel very much validates my hashtag #GalleriesandLunch.

I’ve had a weekend with a friend in his 12th century castle in Wales, crossed the Tasman for a party at the New Zealand High Commission, taken to the streets of London on a bike, visited the poppies around the Tower of London, enjoyed some lovely meals with my Hugo and his Eve, seen a great match or two at O2 during the ATP World Finals, heard Edinburgh Festival Director Sir Jonathan Mills deliver the annual Arthur Boyd lecture at Australia House; I’ve celebrated the life of Lady Downer, mother of the Australian High Commissioner, and the life of the late Australian Prime Minster Gough Whitlam, seen the yet-to-be-released film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie and filmed entirely in Australia at BAFTA and enjoyed countless wonderful lunches and dinners with friends. I’m back working on the 2015 Australia New Zealand Literary Festival and looking forward to a couple of other projects early in the New Year.

So what is not to love about my life in London?

Yes I made tough decisions to be here and I am glad I did. I am blessed to experience what this amazing city offers and to enjoy the company of some wonderful friends, many of whom I did not know a year ago.

In two days, I move out of my home in Earl’s Court, leaving Ferdinand the ginger Tomcat to his American owner who returns from Sri Lanka, put my stuff into storage until my new flat in South Kensington in late January and with a suitcase of clothes that I can’t even conceive of wearing it’s so cold and damp here, I head to Australia for 6 weeks.

I am looking forward to hanging out with my family, my nephew’s wedding and Christmas in Sydney and leisurely summer days and nights with my friends, hopefully convincing them to come and visit me in northern climes next summer.

With my year, 2014, closing I can report it’s been stellar: lots of new experiences, lots of amazing fun, lots of love and buckets of gratitude. If you are reading this and you have been part of it, know I am immensely grateful to you for opening your heart to me and sharing my joy and my journey.

May it be magnified for us all in 2015…I know it will be for me.

Enjoy your festive season with those who mean most to you.
Until next year
With heart


As I sit in a room I have designated as my office, with a view to the 10th century fortress on the hill opposite, and with the sounds of a tractor, an earth mover, a cement mixer and the chatter of Italian workmen piercing the normally almost deafening silence, I am palpably glad I was not here 25 years ago when an unloved, deserted wreck underwent nothing short of a metamorphosis to become the magnificent Wild Boars or I Cinghiali.

It’s not that they don’t do a good job – in fact they do a great job – but they talk incessantly – often on their ‘cellulares’ – but it always sounds like they are arguing with each other. I wonder if it seems the same to them when a bunch of English-speaking people chatter away. I’ve never asked and I must.

To have been here for 26 years now seems unbelievable. It also seems like yesterday although it’s more than half a century and, for most, certainly me, a time of extraordinary change and movement, not all of it what I had in my life’s plan. Probably a place not to dwell for long, but I will linger for a moment and recall the first month we had here as owners. It was one of the most wonderful periods of my life with all the elements I need: adventure, excitement, creativity, love, good food and good wine and was the working honeymoon before our marriage 3 weeks later.

The villa was a total wreck when we first saw it: dozens of huge gaping holes in the roof, beautiful, huge chestnut beams painted baby blue and completely water-stained, mildew, woodworm, an elementary sort of electricity system with a few wires dangling down walls and light switches patched up with black tape, no piped water, no kitchen, no bathroom, no heating and a sort of hole in the ground lavatory on a tiny balcony which was very sort of green looking and definitely not to be used again.

The lady with the keys arrived and opened doors for us to see inside; each room was locked and for some inexplicable reason we never got to see all of it until the second second visit a couple of weeks later. The rooms were filled with old iron bedsteads and cupboards and junk and a few holes we had to tread gently around. There were stables in which a neighbour kept and bred pheasants and tiny apricot angora bunnies for the table. And there was a barn overflowing with old hay, sickles and scythes, homemade rakes, a huge old weighing machine, hard wooden saddles packed with straw, and a vast pile of beautiful chestnut timber, much of which had been removed by the time we took possession.

It was a renovator’s paradise if you were ‘pazzo’… the Italian word for mad! We were and I probably still am. Thankfully. And, as I undergo what may well be the final bit of major work here, now on my own, I recall the contractors we used for the big restoration.

There was Giovanni, the builder – commonly called Giovanni Barber – because of his big bushy beard. He drove around his building sites and was normally seen ‘supervising’ with a glass of vino in his hand – at most times of any day! There was Franco the electrician – dark haired, silent and efficient and you just assumed he was always a bit of a loner. Another Franco with a big gut and a fag permanently attached to his mouth was our falegname or carpenter. He was larger than life with a lovely laugh and a happy disposition. I recall with horror the night he faxed us with three designs for the 18 new doors we needed. All were beautiful and the cost was out of this world exorbitant. But what choice did we have? Choose and suck it up! Sadly Franco died some years back, not surprisingly of lung cancer. He had worded up the priest to open his funeral with his apology to a local man who, as a partigiani, had shot and killed Franco’s father in the war. A hush settled in as the pews were scoured and eyes settled on the man, who must have been squirming in his seat. And there was Fiorenzo, the plumber, with a shop to rival any branch of Reece in Australia. I always said Fiorenzo could put his shoes under my bed any time, and even my husband smiled, knowing he was the best looking and most charming professional in the field. He still is and he still attends to the plumbing needs of the villa. (Memo to self: He’ll be here later in the day for my pool. Must trick myself up and put the lippy on!)

All these guys had sent in contracts for their work. Giovanni’s was 20 pages long and all in Italian that I had to translate. That’s when I learned so much conversationally useless language like sandblasting and mildew and woodworm. But in the end all the contracts were also useless and after the job was finished 2 years later and another beautiful month here, with our 8 month old Hugo, and my wonderful step-daughters Bec and Sarah (who will probably never forgive me for serving dinner so late every night!) and we were on countdown to leave, they all came to visit. Every day, as if by design, one would turn up out of the blue. Smile on face, buon giornos all over the place; in one hand some bits of paper and in the other a bottle of wine, and salami he made in his spare time and delicious Tuscan bread made, without salt, by his mother or his wife.

Our Italian was still hopeless but it was amazing just how far we could go with a smile and a glass of vino and some good food, and of course, as they were leaving they would present us with ‘the real bill’ which in every case bore absolutely no resemblance to the contract I had signed. So we smiled, thanked them again for the job they had done and said we’d shoot the funds over as soon as we returned to Australia.

And they had indeed done an incredible job kind of supervised by an architect we’d appointed as project manager although none of these guys to this day have ever spoken one word of English and our instructions to them came from me by fax, on awful shiny paper that quickly faded, and in very poor Italian. But they knew what we wanted and they were consummate professionals who knew what they had to do. It was superb and now 26 years later is even more magnificent with some additions like walk in showers and a big hole in the ground below me that is quickly taking shape into a grand piscina.

Over that time there has been a steady stream of guests, mainly Aussies, but now lots of Brits too, who have taken over as padrone of the casa for a time and invited their own guests to savour food from the local markets and cheap delicious wine from the bottega downtown, to cook whole suckling pigs in the huge wood fired oven, thought by my neighbour to be the largest in the region, to play bocce in the village competition and to celebrate weddings and anniversaries and every birthday from 30 – 90 with members of their families under the Tuscan sun.

We had always been intrigued by the possibility of turning the incredible space of the barn into something and, after the memory of the house restoration had faded into the nearby blue hills we invited Giovanni back to discuss it.

Despite protestations from him and some of the other gang there that morning we decided to stay with the present structure of the barn: square around a central wooden pillar with a mezzanine floor. The walls, rough cast and grey were 25 foot + high, above which was a stained wooden roof topped with the semi circular Tuscan tiles.

We chose a partial mezzanine so half the downstairs, the living areas, would be full height, and so you could see the fort on the next hill from your bed upon waking. The bathroom was to be the only enclosed space, in the far corner downstairs and the rest was open plan kitchen, dining and living. Our decision to have a 300 pound (or was it kilo?) piece of the local marble atop a flimsy stainless steel frame as the kitchen bench was frowned upon by all, but they loved the suggestion that all the wiring should be in nice copper tubes attached to the outside of the walls so that the integrity of the rough cast was not altered.

A simple plan drawn up and Giovanni and his team was anticipated on the Monday morning. When no one was sighted by Tuesday afternoon we were a bit concerned so on Wednesday morning we set out around the villages to find Giovanni’s red van and he with a glass of mid-morning vino in hand at one of his building sites. Perche we asked? Why are you not at ours?? Well it seems there was a problem with the local Comune: new anti-earthquake rules were in place and they did not view our mezzanine as kosher. What, I asked Giovanni, needs to happen to have you start tomorrow? Simple really: payment of five million lire to Valerio at the Comune. Brown paper bag, no questions asked and no receipt issued. At 8am the next morning the team started work and the barn, now my favourite living space on the planet, began to take shape.

Only later, when it was all finished and the daily procession with bills and goodies started, was there a unanimous declaration that our design, radical and unique as it was in the traditional hills of northern Tuscany, was indeed a great success.

And so to the builders down on my lower level: it being almost mezzogiorno they will soon disappear for lunch. No bring a sandwich here, or, as I recall the early Italian migrants on building sites in Melbourne happy to exchange salami and a bit of bread with an Aussie colleague’s Vegemite sandwich, it’s off to a restaurant for a 2 or 3 course one-and-a-half-hour lunch each day. With vino, naturally. Incredible – pronounce that in – cred – i – be – lay – and you will hit the Italian on the head. Has more forza than the English pronunciation!

But they tell me all is well, that they are on the last bit (which means vast amounts of spondooley are about to change hands – some of course in brown paper bags to avoid the dreaded ICI (eechee) – and that it can be filled on Sunday. I haven’t dared ask how much the water will cost for a 12 x 4 metre pool, but that will turn up in the fullness of time and I guess I must be ever grateful that for the first decade we had free water straight out of the mountainside.

Until then, I’ll be swimming, perhaps cracking open the jeroboam of Moët when Hugo and Eve are here next week, to celebrate that my Tuscan dream, conceived when I was but 22 and on my first time in Italy, hatched many years later, enjoyed for 26 years, is now all mine and that my choice to SKI or spend the kid’s inheritance to build a pool will not only enhance the place for people who choose to holiday here, but cements my plan to be here for many outstanding years to come. And since the kid will inherit it all one day, I guess it’s been a pretty good decision all round.

So, until next time…with heart


With another chapter of my London adventures about to close I felt a quick blog was in order.

Actually it is just a diversion from the horrible task of packing on what would otherwise be a pleasant Easter Monday that should rather be spent eating and drinking with friends. Thankfully I will be doing that this evening thus avoiding The Last Supper in a place I have delightfully called home for the past six months.

Not that I haven’t had a surfeit of eating and drinking and socialising lately or that I am in any way denied the pleasures of life as in fact in a day or so I will rediscover the delights of Italian cuisine as I head for my villa in the Tuscan hills. And quite frankly I am looking forward to it: my own bed, my own view, fresh air and the magical almost free water from the hills which makes its way into my taps. And the chance to plant my veggie garden!

But always when I leave London I am sad. It’s not just the #galleriesandlunch lifestyle which has become my special hash tag…..it’s that every time I leave I am missing a dozen things I really, really want to do. Next week I am not only missing a once in a lifetime treat of climbing 350 stairs up inside Big Ben…which is hardly ever on offer and would be magical, I am also missing more eating and drinking with friends and more #galleriesandlunch.

The fact is that I am deeply in love with my London Life. Which is not to say I sometimes don’t hate it and want to lash out at it and my fellow Londoners; I do, but in the main I totally love the life I have created here in a very short period of time.

I used to think that I knew this place well. I was proud of the fact that strangers stopped me in the street to ask directions and I almost always knew the answer. But the longer I am here the more I know without any doubt that I know tidally squat and that to know London is a life’s work.

So the question is should I have something other than an SW postcode? Should I return to an NW that I had at aged 24 or venture into an EC where I have only worked as a twenty something year old? The NW is nice – lovely wide streets, not filled with grotty rubbish and the stuff of SW. Sort of very Camberwell or Kew – Melbourne I mean, not their UK forebears but, on balance, not quite my scene. Very suburban I say, although the estate agents would have a field day praising these areas as the ultimate address. So I ventured into EC just for a look see and it’s really not my scene either. Plenty of potential; some already realised but still too run down and a bit seedy to be really honest. I was expecting all sorts of great galleries and trendy shops and was sorely disappointed. So for the moment, possibly for all time, I crossed that area off my list too.

To me the whole point of living in London is to live in a café society where you only have to cross the road to find your ultimate coffee shop (well, unless it is run by an Aussie or a Kiwi that is extremely difficult in this city), or a hairdresser, a nail place, half a dozen restaurants, a Waitrose or Marks and Sparks food shop, a bottle shop, an on-the-street green grocer, a Barclay’s bank and the tube. And for heaven’s sake the tube absolutely must include the Piccadilly Line…without that your bit of London is a disaster!

Deeper into the bowels of the earth than any other, opened in 1906 a whole 43 years after the Metropolitan Line became the first underground in the world, the Piccadilly Line transports over 200 million passengers a year and, for my part, goes to almost everywhere I want to go: Piccadilly Circus, Fortnum and Mason, the Royal Academy, all the South Kensington museums, Hatchards book store, Harvey Nicks, the British Museum, the 22 or 19 bus to The King’s Road, King’s Cross for the Euro star and Heathrow for the rest of the world.

And yes, for the past 6 months it has also been the tube for my Earl’s Court address which I am moving out of tomorrow. I shall miss the glimpses of my lovely rear garden that was but a promise throughout winter, the sight of people’s legs walking past my desk as I type in the basement looking up to the street, the Troubadour with whom I share a back wall, and Ferdinand the big ginger tom who has been not so much my companion as he is incredibly anti-social, but rather the reason to come home to feed from time to time when I remember. I won’t miss the incredibly bad drainage from the sink, the loo that often needs 5 flushes to do its thing, the holes in the black painted floor and the ill fitting windows from whence the winter chills whistle in. I won’t miss the inadequate heating system, and the constant bags of rubbish outside the gate from the pub next door, or the Starbucks over the road that I never visited, but I will miss the owner’s amazing collection of Coptic crosses and her books, the old barber’s chair in the corner, the myriad mirrors in every room and the proximity to my good friend Linda Bee with whom I do pilates and almond croissants, one rather more than the other!

But I will be back after just a few days in Italy and in the shake of a wild boar’s tail, I shall be returning to continue my love affair with this city from another delicious stop on the Piccadilly line: Knightsbridge. I lived in Knightsbridge many years ago and did my food shopping in the Harrod’s Food Hall which was delightfully decadent and outrageously expensive and maybe I will do it again although I must say it no longer holds an allure for me. But it will be nice to experience some warmth of spring in Hyde Park which will be just over the road and to discover where my local coffee shop will be.

In the meantime I shall be in my Tuscan paradiso for a week or so, signing deeds and contracts and digging the first sod for my pool…which is all very exciting. I resisted the temptation for years, wanting to retain the country feel of the place but spending more time here has got the better of me so after many levels of Italian bureaucracy approval has been given and I am expecting the signed paperwork in a few days. How exciting! It will change the way I enjoy the place and of course make it more attractive to guests who want to rent their own Tuscan villa for a week or a month. And my son and his girlfriend are super excited – naturally.

And because this blog is #galleriesandlunch I must mention recent visits to the Tower of London gallery for a nostalgic exhibition of iconic 60’s photographs where you could sing along to Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where do you go to my lovely?’, the Photographer’s Gallery for Andy Warhol and David Lynch, the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Islington for de Chirico, the National Gallery for German Renaissance art, the V&A for Italian Fashion between 1945 and 2014 and the Ashmolean in Oxford for Cézanne and other impressionists.

Theatre has included Superior Donuts by the writer of Osage County and Sunny Afternoon with the great music of The Kinks and in addition there has been lots of movies, much eating and drinking: dinner parties, lunch parties, the Chelsea Arts Club and ‘at home’ with my son and his girlfriend where I have to revive my almost forgotten cooking skills!

I’ve been to Australia House for the Qantas businesswomen’s awards on International Women’s Day and to hear Maureen Wheeler of Lonely Planet this week. I’ve been to St James’s Palace to meet the Duke of Edinburgh, and to a delightful musical evening held by the Tait Memorial Foundation (from Melbourne) where I listened to the very talented Greta Bradman, granddaughter of The Don, and where I met one of the two young Aussie guys who, in 1969 bought a lion cub from Harrods and lived with it in their flat above a furniture shop in World’s End. When I told John Rendall I had seen he and Ace walking Christian down the King’s Road way back then he was nothing short of amazed. If you haven’t seen the YouTube video of their reunion with Christian, after almost a year in Africa with George Adamson, then you must not be one of the 10 million who have. Do! It’s amazing.

I’ve listened to a talk at the Royal Geographic Society about The Gentrification of London and with its 18% real estate rise in the last year have resigned myself to the next part of my life being as a tenant rather than an owner. And that’s OK. I’ve been through the Tower of London for the first time in 20+ years and Blenheim Palace which was strangely open on Good Friday. I’m back at Pilates and have spent £4000 (ouch) on my teeth in Notting Hill Gate, fortified afterwards, always, with vino at Jamie Oliver’s Recipease.

We had an amazing night at the Union Chapel Islington where Robert Macfarlane, Chair of the 2013 Man Booker committee talked with 2013 recipient the young and delightful Kiwi, Eleanor Catton and a reading by Kerry Fox. But I passed on the drinks afterwards as I had the most god-awful hangover I’d had in decades from a night well lived the previous evening.

So is it any wonder I love this place?? The variety, the opportunity, the fun, the people, the joy of living here has no bounds.

The Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts, which I am working with, is progressing nicely and we are excitedly looking forward to its opening by Tim Winton at the end of May. But there will be more of that next time and maybe something on Italy in the meantime.

Until then, with heart



It’s been a long time since my last blog but that time has gone in a heartbeat. It’s called London. My favourite city in the world, offering the ultimate variety package and perfect for this variety junkie.

I’ve been here now for four months, since the middle of October when I packed up my beautiful Tuscan villa for the winter and prayed that it would not be too harsh a winter for those who live there and that all would be in order when I set foot again in la bella Italia.

But for me now London feels like home and as I returned to renew my friendships and create a life here I slowly and surely find myself moving even further away from Australia. The process of closing bank accounts, setting up everything on line and choosing to put my frequent flyer points into the system at British Airways rather than Qantas is part of what feels like a very organic shift. I’m not sure where it will lead or where I will live in the longer term but right now it does not seem to matter much.

It is tough in the middle of winter when all my Aussie friends post countless pictures of beaches and sunsets and glasses of champagne on Friday nights with the backdrop of brilliant blue skies, but I soldier on knowing that in the blink of a British eyelid, I will have 4 months of long, languid days and nights in the next European summer.

I have to combat endless questions of what I will do with all my furniture in storage, don’t I miss my art on the walls, why don’t I bring my car over, shouldn’t I go back and get some of my clothes before they get too out dated, and so on but none of that seems to matter either.

To be honest, although I have lived in my own homes for 35 years I am entirely happy living in a rented flat without much of my stuff. I have enough clothes here to sink a ship and if I want more, I buy them. I go to enough art galleries to be inspired by what I see there without having to have my own and what would I do with a convertible Mercedes parked in a London street? Well, I’d work something out with the car. I sometimes miss it….

The truth is, I am living day to day and I don’t have to make any of these decisions until an answer is obvious. And right now, it is not. I don’t have to put down roots here. I don’t have to come back to Australia. I don’t want to live in Italy full time. I just want to prop here and travel and have fun enjoying every day. Do I feel guilty? Yes, sometimes I do. Sometimes I feel I should be ‘doing something’ like work, or a charity, or something meaningful. But thankfully that passes and I’m out again with a friend or inside the next museum or opening the next bottle of red.

So whilst I don’t know what else I ‘should be’ doing, I know what I don’t want to do any more and have deregistered my last company Ultimate Relationships because I know I have no energy for it any more. That will create an energy shift which might well lead me to the next piece, but until then, there is a big city and a wonderful continent just over the Channel to explore.

On the useful side, I am a member of the Advisory Group for the first Australia New Zealand Literary and Arts Festival which will be staged in London at the end of May. We have had a summer barbecue with 4 authors including Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton, and we had a super glam launch at Australia House in November. Next is the Program Launch in March at the New Zealand High Commission which I am organising. And then we have 4 wonderful days to fill with, so far, around 60 authors and artists and another 51 in discussion. I have met some amazing and interesting people and am looking forward to even more excitement as we move towards the Festival date. One of the highlights was an evening lecture at the Royal Academy with Tim Winton who spoke incredibly movingly at the Australians’ connection to the land, captivating every single person who was in the room. Tim will be returning to open the Festival on 31 May which is fabulous.

I have also met a great collection of women at the Australian Women’s Club which has many arms like films, books, art and drinking. I am participating in the latter two. Every second Thursday a group of 12 of us meet at a different gallery, with our knowledgeable guide, to visit an exhibition and talk about it. Amazing how it crystallises your thoughts when you have to articulate to a group of women you hardly know about a piece of art you thought was crap! Well that was the first one: at a gallery in Hyde Park and the Chapman Brothers exhibition of penises, brains with maggots and at least 30 figures dressed as Ku Klux Klan members. Our second visit to the Barbican and Pop Art was more interesting and my chosen piece to discuss was an old Coke vending machine that looked like a Mobil petrol pump, minus the flying white horse, of my childhood. And last week we went to the Royal Academy to view the series of sometimes weird installations by Bill Woodrow who has the well known elephant made of car doors in the Tate Britain.

I like the drinking bunch. Some I met at the Australia Day luncheon which was very pleasant except we were drinking New Zealand wines which I thought was not quite right, and others I met when we gathered a few weeks ago upstairs at a nice little pub near Sloane Square, famous for being the watering hole of the servants from the big houses nearby. Apparently it still is. Anyway we meet again tonight which will be a challenge for me as it’s day 4 of a 5-day juice cleanse and no drop of alcohol must pass my lips. I guess I can make do with a sparkling Pellegrino and leave it until tomorrow night at the National Portrait Gallery where I am going to an exhibition of David Bailey’s photographs, presumably of the glitterati and the rich and famous.

When I was in the US in December at Date with Destiny we had a round table of ‘what’s great in your life right now’ amongst the trainers who gave me a bit of a cheer when I said my life consisted of galleries and lunch, but it is indeed the truth – if we can extend it to theatre and dinner also.

So in these cold winter months I have ventured out to see Dame Edna, The Duck House, Ciphers, Red Velvet, The Hotel Plays and Rapture, Blister and Burn; the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate’s Britain and Modern, the Saatchi a couple of times, the British Museum and tomorrow I venture into the east end to the Whitechapel Gallery.

I have also enjoyed several lunches at Ottolenghi in Islington, and at The River Café and Iberica, several dinners at an amazing Italian just a stone’s throw, called Rocco, the last of which was on Sunday to celebrate the birthday of my son’s girlfriend Eve and, once more, The Chelsea Arts Club.

Late December saw me in Ireland for the first time (rather late considering my Irish ancestry) and in January I explored the amazing Highgate Cemetery, before a few days in Paris with a friend from Oz. It was of course Sale Time so a good bit of shopping was to be had.

Next week I return to northern Norway with some friends to look upward again and hope the Northern Lights Gods are with us this year. It’s very cold there so the thermals and the ski pants have come out of storage and I bought a furry hat on a visit to the Lake District back in November to keep my brains warm as my father would have said.

Plans for my pool in Italy proceed but as yet there is no permission. I am wondering if I need to give the man at the Comune a plain brown envelope as I did in 1999 to get permission for the barn to be restored but I am hoping not.

Reading this makes me feel it sounds very Aussie-centric but that is not the case. I have been foraying into the world of British men with a number of dates, none of which would make me leave home for, and of course spending heaps of time with my wonderful British friends.

So, that’s probably it from me for now. Loving life. Happy to be here. Living in the present. Not doing anything useful for anyone but me…and totally happy about that. For now.

Until next time. Live with heart.