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