Tuesday, December 29, 2009

And a Happy New Year from Sydney

I am currently wandering round the house trying to persuade myself that my reluctance to tackle the general chaos is the result of jetlag rather than natural indolence. The staircase up to the three Drama Queens’ bedrooms is almost completely blocked by piles of assorted clothing that seem to have taken up permanent residence. Fortunately for the DQs I heard the head of the Salvation Army shops in Sydney on the radio this morning bemoaning the fact that so much stuff has been dumped outside their shops over the Christmas period that they have had to hire trucks to take it to municipal dumps and therefore I have resisted the temptation to follow through on various threats and transfer the stair-drobes into a black plastic bin bag bound for a charity shop.

We had the most fantastic two weeks in the UK scooting round our respective families who, with typical geographical convenience, live in Edinburgh and Devon. Amongst other things we were celebrating my mother’s 70th and Simon’s father’s 80th followed by a fabulous Christmas at one of my brother’s. He and my sister in law are probably still feeling weak with relief at having waved goodbye to the last of their assembled family as we were 17 in total for three days. As a consequence of all the festivities the DQ’s and I are now feeling rather bereft without the cocoon of family and the endless excitement – wondering whether I will ever see the bottom of the washing basket again seems a poor swap for the joys of skating at the Tower of London. However the children are just applying sunscreen before going for a swim so I should keep in mind some of the major benefits of living in Sydney – sun, warmth, blue sky, minimal layers of clothing and traffic jams that seem laughable after our Christmas experiences on the M11 and M25 which tested the concept of ‘Peace and Goodwill to all Men’ so far as Simon was concerned – for the geographically literally minded who wonder how on earth a journey between Edinburgh and Devon could include the M11, I should mention we also went to London, a very snowy Reading, Hertfordshire and Cambridge.

On the flight back DQ no 3 managed to throw up all over me on the Hong Kong Sydney leg. In the darkness of the plane interior I worked out it was approximately 15 years since the last time one of my offspring had covered me in vomit mid air – and as an experience it hasn’t improved much in the mean time. I was muttering on about how long it took the airhostesses to respond to my frantic bell pushes although with hindsight I can see that as DQ no 1 pointed out, attending to vomiting child must rank very low down on the list of preferred chores for the aircrew. At one point during the mopping up operations I did instruct DQ no 1 who was sitting behind me to go and get her father who was conveniently sitting on his own 20 rows away. I will admit at this point that I was giving into a petty rage he was missing all the fun of traveling with his offspring rather than any thought that he was going to be any practical help with the Mile High Vomitorium Club. However fortunately for marital relations and recriminations DQ 1 was unable to carry out this mercy mission as it transpired she was busy sticking on her false nails and his sleep was undisturbed.

Australian Immigration and Border Control officials must be the best in the world, at least from a traveler’s point of view. Landing at Sydney we were greeted with a big smile, a ‘Welcome Home’ and a bit of a joke with the children about their passport photos. When he got to mine this time his smile faded a bit, but that might have had something to do with the faint smell of vomit and general air of bad temper that was still tailing me.

Opening the pile of mail when we got home was a bit of a salutary reminder that doing the Christmas cards in a completely random fashion based on which page the address book falls open is not a particularly good idea. I am struck by remorse about the many people to whom I completely failed to send any festive indication that we were still alive and as I open their tasteful Christmas cards complete with enclosed photos that remind me of how much I like them I am trying to decide whether it is too lame to start writing a new set of cards now complete with dodgy excuses about why said card is arriving in mid January. One slight drawback to this plan is that the only Christmas cards still available feature incredibly dodgy looking koalas and kangaroos clad in festive garb riding surfboards which, even in the name of friend reconciliation, I can’t quite bring myself to send out.

Having failed on the Christmas greetings I should now wish everyone a Happy New Year – we along with most of Sydney will be watching the spectacular Harbour Fireworks and oohing and aahing in unison as 11,000 shells, 25,00 shooting comets and 100,000 pyrotechnic effects totalling 4,500 kg of explosives go up with a very satisfying crescendo of bangs.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Time to Fly

I have got that sick feeling in my stomach that generally heralds an overseas trip where I know that chaos is going to reign and it will be a miracle if we all make the plane. DQ no.1 is already in Hong Kong having set off in advance of the family caravan to stay with a friend. Panic rose to new heights as I dropped her off at the airport as an unaccompanied minor only to discover she only had one of her two passports, much teethsucking ensued from the immaculately clad hostess about whether teenager would be allowed out of the country – I felt actually that Immigration would probably be more likely to wave her onwards and outwards with some relief. I returned to the car at a fast trot, whilst calculating time it would take me to get home and back again against plane take off time and cost of new plane ticket against inevitable speeding tickets. I was mentally rehearsing how I would break the news to Simon that we were up for the cost of a new ticket to Hong Kong and cursing own hopelessness and general disorganisation when the situation was saved by my discovering missing passport on front seat of the car.

Setting off for 26 hours of travel is made more complicated by the fact that my uncle and some friends are going to take turns housesitting in our absence – so I feel there is some pressure to make the house look if not pristine at least vaguely welcoming. In the run up to the end of term I have been indulging in so much random cupboard stuffing in an effort to make rooms look tidy, that you take your life into your hands opening any cupboard door. DQs 2 and 3 have been issued with a packing list – which reflects their mother’s anxiety about the cold and wet versus their father’s annual fury at having to lug ridiculous amounts of luggage full of outfits for every possible occasion. True to form they claim to have packed, and are now playing their instruments together in a medley that I am sure is delighting the neighbours at 7.30am. Have to say this is classic distraction therapy on their part as neither of them has been known to pick up an instrument voluntarily once over the past year. I have removed surreptitiously a pair of shorts and a sundress from DQ no.3’s luggage, having not lived in the UK for the last 7 years she has obviously blanked out the reality that will meet her at 4.30 a.m. when we land at Heathrow.

Next task on the list is to take the dog to vet where he is going to board – I felt asking our houseguests to look after black fiend might be pushing the boundaries of family ties and friendship – particularly as he seems to have developed a flatulence problem related to the fact that DQ no 3 keeps feeding him some dog food cans that I won in a raffle – she claims he loves them – which he undoubtedly does however the after effects seem a little unfortunate. Am actually quite concerned for own sanity as I have just mistakenly eaten a dog biscuit thinking it was chocolate chip cookie – neither of which are actually recommended as part of a balanced breakfast.

It is the most beautiful Sydney morning – we have had a bit of rain over the last week so everything is looking very lush against a radiantly blue sky. I listen to Radio 4 and the Today programme in my early evening and am feeling a little unnerved by the way the presenters keep announcing with relish that it is “a cold and grey December morning”. “A bit parky” is after all not the expression one wants to hear in connection with a holiday destination.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hand me the tick pliers will you?

I was having a very positive day the other morning where I suddenly felt wildly happy and was trying to pin down the things that make my spirits lift and came up with the following list; walking the dog in the early morning with the sun shining and the warmth of the day coming through; the dog galloping towards me with a foolish expression on his face, ball clamped expectantly in his jaws. Phil in the coffee shop greeting me by name, which effortlessly elevates me to the status of favoured few and allows me to glide past the queue of nameless mortals with a slight smirk as I claim my café latte. Husband having an afternoon off so that in one of the last great romantic trysts we can meet with the accountant to discuss the tax return, but we do manage a rare half hour together to idle as we please, albeit in the shopping centre car park. Last but not least, discovering husband has uncharacteristically forgotten to eat all of his Father’s Day Toblerone and considerately polishing it off for him.

Before I break into a chorus of “These are a few of my favorite things”, I should point out the happy humour moved swiftly into towering fury, following a family supper complete with: “It’s got celery in it!” “Is it meant to be pink?” and “I’m a vegetarian now”. The dog has also reverted to type and has scattered dog biscuits everywhere in an effort to get to the rejected ‘pink meat’ that ended up in its bowl. I have decided to reinstate my mother’s excellent rule, which is that no one has to eat anything put in front of them, but the only food discussion allowed must centre on how delicious everything is.

One of the other highlights of the week was the removal of a large tick from a friend’s dog. Her 18 year old son brought round the beast in a panic and to the amazement of the Drama Queens I managed to produce specialist tick removing pliers from the kitchen implement drawer and yank it out - eying the large, bloated, body with its tiny legs sticking out and waving tremulously I couldn’t help musing on the perils of overindulgence, be it canine blood or chocolate, and regretting the Toblerone I had wolfed earlier. I was actually quite impressed myself on the tick removal front as whilst it is par for the course for me to buy fairly useless bits of equipment – step forward the novelty ice cube trays, the apple twirler and the sandwich stamper – it is more unusual for me to a) actually use it and b) to be able to lay hands on it when I need it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hot pants or climate controlled, Sir?

I have just walked back into the house as dusk fell and was greeted by a chorus of frogs, croaking invisibly from within the ferns by the front door and now as I sit at the computer I am being divebombed by ‘Christmas Beetles’ which surprise, surprise appear at this time of year and are attracted by the light. In the early morning as I drive off to the early morning masochistic slot of boot camp I pass a group of sulphur crested cockatoos swinging from the phone lines and preening their immaculately white and yellow plumage. All these things, frogs, insects and birds are now in many ways background to my life here rather than the initial out of the ordinary experience, but I still notice them everyday with pleasure. Another joy of Australia at the moment is the mangoes that have just come into season. Our local greengrocer sells them by the crate and somehow the word ‘gorge’ seems particularly appropriate when faced with a fresh mango for breakfast.

I think the excitement must have gone to my head. I completely failed to mention in my last blog the Scots triumph over the Australian Wallabies Rugby Team. As the daughter of a fiercely loyal Scotland supporter I always approach Scotland’s games in a spirit of cautious optimism and am accustomed to mentally trudging home thinking “never mind there is always a next time”. So not only is it very gratifying to win a match but also particularly satisfying to have beaten Australia, land of the sports mad, (for the first time since 1982). The weather is sadly far too hot for me to appear in public in my Scotland rugby shirt, although I did think of stuffing the long suffering dog into it on Sunday morning for a triumphant outing.

My father has just sent me a couple of articles from the UK press claiming that most men’s pants are bought by wives and mothers. I have to raise my hand and plead guilty – normally I let Simon sort out his underwear himself but on my recent quick trip to the UK I caved and said I would try and get him some new pants. In order to forestall the inevitable marital about ‘these aren’t the right ones,” I took the precaution of stuffing a pair of his pants in my handbag, causing some mirth during the security search at Singapore. I was completely flummoxed though when I got to the till at M&S (sorry, yes we fit another sad statistic, those not even living in the country who STILL buy their underwear from M&S) and the lady declared that the pack of men’s undies I was clutching was not identical to the ones from the handbag. Apparently they were “COOL and FRESH” as opposed to the original “CLIMATE CONTROL”. Excuse my ignorance, or should that be cynicism but cool and fresh and climate control are words that I would apply to lettuce not to underwear. I have never in my life bought a pair of pants for climate control reasons – I also fail to see the difference between the two – surely the only type of climate one was trying to create around one’s nether regions would be cool and fresh – can’t see hot and sticky is going to work as an alternative.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sydney's hot,hot, hot

I don’t have a personal acquaintance with the place (as yet) but Hot as Hades is the phrase that comes to mind sitting in our kitchen this afternoon in temperatures of 40 oC/104oF. Every window and door is wide open with the ceiling fans whirring round but to no avail, all I am achieving is the movement of tepid air from one overheated spot to another. So I’m now moving onto Plan B, which is to close up the house, lower blinds etc. which my country friend tells me is the surefire way to survive. Today is what I term a ‘hairdryer’ day, with a dullish sky, overcast with the white tinge of heat and a wind that just blasts hot air through the house. However whilst I moan on about the heat, I should bear in mind I live on the coast where there is always some kind of breeze and it is normally at least a couple of degrees cooler than the western suburbs let alone the inland plains. In fact it has been so hot, dry and windy in inland districts that they have delayed the start of the harvest, as there is too much risk of a spark setting off a giant and unstoppable conflagration.

Apart from being unbearably hot, Sydney is a sea of purple at the moment. The harbour side suburbs are crowded with majestic jacaranda trees with flowers that almost vibrate with their purpleness. I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of purple as a particularly natural colour for trees – reds, greens and oranges all get ticks as does white and pink blossom but purple just doesn’t figure on my UK top ten trees colour chart. However I am now completely converted to the concept and I can envisage myself in years to come grandly gesturing to walls and saying “Yes, I think we’ll paint that jacaranda purple.

In summer, and indeed most of the year we sleep with our windows open – or rather the adult members of the family do. As a result of an unfortunate encounter between Drama Queen No. 3 and a possum that had popped into her room for a spot of nocturnal gymnastics, the Drama Queens tend to keep their windows tight shut regardless of temperatures that would cook a Christmas turkey. Apart from the possibility of waking with furry feet tap-dancing round the room, the downside of being a fresh air fiend is the large Alsatian that lives next door. Her chosen nighttime spot is beneath our window and she lies there, chewing with gusto on what must be the largest bone in history with accompanying grunts and snorts of enjoyment. Forget New Moon and teenage vampires, my dreams are currently filled with visions of being eaten by wild pigs or wolves dripping salvia as they contemplate where to start.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where's home for you?

Having had two weeks absence from blog I find it quite hard to pick up again; in the sense do I backtrack and discuss party, skate over a quick trip back to UK or do I just start back on daily life and ignore the two-week hiatus?

As blog is essentially a quite indulgent on line diary for myself I think I am going to fill in the blanks. Party was great fun for Simon and me, guests sparkled, drink flowed, and we had more than enough food – in fact I am planning another party just to get rid of the Coronation Chicken convention now being held in my freezer. The Drama Queens and their friends scooted round moonlighting as waitresses in between Halloween forays. It was a beautiful evening which was just as well as it meant we could push people out into the garden rather than reenacting the Black Hole of Calcutta inside. I always feel quite flat after my own parties – I think partly because it is such hard work in the run up and then it goes so quickly – but fortunately I didn’t have too much time to brood on various mysteries such as a) where have all our knives gone to, b) how come I hadn’t worked out that two separate sets of friends were actually related and c) who brought the bottle of wine with a label proclaiming the celebration of Jenny and Paul’s wedding.

I shot back to the UK last week for a quick trip, primarily to check in with my family. I managed 4 nights in England before boarding a plane back to Australia and any ambition to be a Qantas hostess has now vanished in the misty, bad tempered haze of jetlag made worse by the inevitable cold caught either from one of my brothers or on the plane.

Adrenaline kept me going in the UK although I was slightly alarmed to wake up at 12.30am in hotel in Yorkshire, standing in hotel corridor – fortunately I had gone to bed in my pyjamas, admittedly leopardskin but definitely decorous, as I then had to pad my way down to reception and explain that I was locked out of my room. I’ve never slept walked in my life before but given I come from a family of nocturnal wanderers who seem to have passed their genes on to DQ no. 3 who has a tendency to end up in wardrobes in strange houses, I am not too surprised.

I am not sure whether to be pleased or cross with the fact that the household ran so smoothly in my absence. Husband is now looking smug and announcing he has devised new systems (read new improved systems here) for dealing with laundry/shopping/packed lunches. However in a boost to my morale the Drama Queens have all individually slithered round me like Siamese cats, imploring me to take back control of Packed Lunch Central as apparently they don’t share their father’s passion for organic and wholesome.

The dog was sent to kennels for the week as husband declared that three children plus dog was beyond him. Didn’t like to say it’s frequently beyond me too.

As I flew into London I was thinking about what a strange concept home is. I’ve always thought of the UK as home but I realized having not having lived there for almost eight years there are lots of bits of it that are unfamiliar. I was perturbed to find I couldn’t automatically think what tube lines I would need to take to get to Charing Cross from Heathrow and was completely flummoxed by the concept of an Oyster Card. Though I know that within a week I would have slotted back into UK life it did just feel disconcertingly foreign. In contrast as I flew back into Sydney on a glorious morning, harbour and ocean spread out beneath the plane I felt my heart lift. Perhaps that is the definition of home – where there is an involuntary lift of the heart on arrival. However it should be noted at the time I was awash with patriotic Australian sentiment, filled with visions of fabulous outback scenery and rugged rural life having watched the Baz Luhrman/Nicole Kidman/Hugh Jackman film ‘Australia’, not once but twice, on the flight back (NB 22 hours gives a lot of time for repeated viewings of even the longest films). Before I sound too high minded about the glories of the Northern Territory scenery and Gone with the Herd type romance of this Australian Epic set on a cattle station, I should mention the highlight of a half naked Hugh Jackman tipping water over himself – quite nice to have a female equivalent of the normal girls in wet t shirts moment in a film.

Next drama on the horizon is the car seems to have developed an ant problem. My driving is becoming even more erratic as I flick and squash a seemingly unstoppable tide. This doesn’t come as a great surprise as the car is a traveling health hazard but I think it is time for reform – after all if we have ants how long before we discover we’ve got a mobile rodent problem?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Now's the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party

Well the witching hour is almost upon us in terms of both party and Halloween. Having got used to the full on Halloween in New York, the Australian version seems rather bizarre. The whole concept is slowly building in strength eg toy shops displaying hideous masks in their windows from early September, however as daylight saving has just come in in Sydney it doesn’t actually get dark until almost 8pm, so unlike Rye where it was pleasantly spooky and satisfactorily dusky by 5pm enabling all the mini ghosts and ghouls to wander round trick or treating, the small Australian vampires and their kin actually look totally out of place roaming the streets in the Australian sunshine.

Preparations for party have gone full steam ahead – literally in one instance where I was cooking a batch of meringues at the required low temperature and Drama Queen No. 1 had a quick absent minded fiddle with the oven as you do when trying to interrupt your mother’s phone conversation. Just for your information I can inform you that meringues spontaneously combust when 110oC is swapped for the hottest setting on the grill.

The fridge is now stuffed with half made Coronation Chicken, - or rather a pared down version of it where I have cavalierly decided there is no need to bother with ingredients that look complicated or tricky so in fact it would be more accurate to call it chicken in cold curry mayonnaise. I have also been making a number of chocolate roulades and freezing them – found a brilliant Good Housekeeping website recipe though I goggled with amazement when I discovered it in a section called ‘Make it, Bake it’ which referred to the concept that once you had baked the roulade you could recreate it as a knitted version – there are also recipe/knitting pattern combinations for éclairs and Battenberg cake – all I can say is that there are obviously people out there who have far too much time on their hands, but perhaps that is just jealousy – and I can feel teetering at the back of my mind that maybe there is just time to knit one purl one my way to a knitted pudding to stun and amaze all my friends.

I’ve got one soon to be ex-male friend who mused to his wife that perhaps the party was for my birthday, (which it sort of is as it is my birthday on the 30th) and whether it was a major birthday, and did she think it was my 50th. As I turned 44 today I took this very badly and he will be having his own private party on the verandah.

One of the other excitements of the birthday, aside from pulling chickens apart and pondering knitted confectionary, is discovering that in a move worthy of DQ No.3’s approach to parties, I appear to have given people a range of start times. There was potential for guests to arrive half an hour before I expected them and this could have been fatal given I am queen of the last minute crisis. Based on past experience those who turn up five minutes before the start of one of our parties are likely to be greeted by their hosts in their underwear arguing about whose job it was to order the glasses anyway.

I got an email today from a friend who lives in the country about 4 hours drive from Sydney. As an aside she mentioned her back was bad as she had been catapulted from a bob cat bucket, but unfortunately had still been tethered to the bucket by her shoelace – the image made me wince and realise that exploding meringues aside I do lead a relatively tame life – let’s hope I’m still saying that post party, perhaps I’m tempting fate, time to get back to the knitting.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time and the party

Feel as if I am caught in endless war between dog and husband. The lawn has been looking relatively good following week of heavy rain in Sydney whilst we were on holiday and no dog. Dog celebrated today and dug two medium sized holes – having just received telephone call to announce husband’s imminent arrival hastily scooped earth back in and pulled up tufts of grass from other parts of the garden to create a turf like surface over ravaged patches. As I pressed bits of grass into place with agonised care I felt like some kind of deranged flower arranger. The dog of course watched this activity with interest and I could see plans for the next excavation forming in his fertile brain. I cursed longer evenings which means that I will have to keep husband captive in kitchen until darkness falls and distract him from any thoughts of going for a soothing wander in the back garden. To put things in perspective, given the size of our garden he only has to step outside the back door to have the whole vista, complete with suspicious grass covered mounds, in front of him.

Pluto is actually straying into dangerous territory at the moment, for whilst I am relatively tolerant of his mole like activities in the back garden, he has recently developed a unacceptable tendency to roll in dead slugs – the slime is a bit of a giveaway on this one.

I have just heard a discussion on the BBC radio 4 Today programme about whether Daylight Saving should be dropped in the UK. I regret to say such was my level of concentration that I couldn’t decide which way the argument was going but I did get the gist that one of the proposals was that Scotland should operate on a different time zone ‘tundra time’ as it was termed. John Humpries was pointing out how confusing it would be. My advice to him is not to move to Australia where at this time of year with various states opting in or out of Daylight Savings, they have to run a time round up before the ABC radio News. This round up of the time slot takes a fair amount of time in itself as basically if it is 7am in Sydney it is 6am in Brisbane, 6.30am in Adelaide, 5.30am in Darwin and 4am in Western Australia. I think the half hour time differences between states adds a particular frisson of interest – I have a vivid memory of Simon and I early on in married life getting stranded in the outback mining town of Broken Hill for New Year’s Eve. We hit the local hot spot, which was the one of the Miners’ Clubs which was having a Tarts and Vicars party – being pansy Poms in our camping gear we rather stood out, but we did put the final clincher on it by embracing passionately at midnight, only to break apart to find various tarts and vicars with stubble eying us incredulously for we had failed to realise the particularly tricky time teaser that despite the fact Broken Hill is in New South Wales, it actually takes its time from South Australia so the time rather than being midnight was actually 11.30pm.

On a party theme – being of a sentimental strain I decided that as it is 20 years since Simon and I who were ‘Just good friends” as the saying goes at the time, decided to throw a party in London with another friend Louise. During this far off party in 1989 we proved amongst other things that loud music, lots of good friends and lashings of drink leads to all kinds of complications, including 18 years of marriage, 3 daughters, 1 slime covered dog, soon to be ex if behaviour doesn’t improve, and 3 goldfish (no complaints on the behaviour front); so I decided we should do it all again. As a result owing to a blanket invitation policy we now have approximately 80 people rocking up next Saturday night. In my typical “It’ll be all right on the night” style I haven’t actually focused on that fact up to now but as we are now into count down stage in terms of catering wild panic is setting in. Saving grace is that Aussies are very generous at saying things like “Can I bring a salad?” and I am throwing pride to the winds and saying “YES!” and focusing on more important questions like how can I get rid of the dog for the night and can I still fit into my black dress.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bond girl or Teletubby?

Apologies for the radio silence, we have been away sailing in the Whitsundays, a chain of islands perched in the centre of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the third year we have taken a boat up there at this time of year and despite teenage moans of “No friends, no phone, just my family” there is something very bonding about being all together as a family. We all relax into it very quickly, existing in a very small living space, with minimal outside contact for a week. Mobile phone reception is almost non existent and in the absence of the usual electronic distractions everyone is forced to revert to reading, chatting and listening to Harry Potter on the CD player.

The scenery in the Whitsundays is absolutely stunning, wooded islands dropping straight into turquoise seas, interspersed by expanses of glittering white sand appearing and vanishing with the tides. As you would expect the snorkelling is breathtaking with turtles grazing on the sea grass beneath you and kaleidoscopes of brightly coloured fish and coral. Before I get too carried away with the lyrical descriptions and your mind despairingly flickers over images of us all starring in an Australian Tourism Board advert akin to the “Where the Bloody Hell are you?” series but probably entitled “Who the Bloody Hell are you?”, I should drag things back to reality. The one downside of the Whitsundays is that there is a very slim chance at this time of year of being stung by one of a number of unpleasant types of potentially deadly jellyfish. My particular favourite is the irukandji jellyfish which is miniscule, almost invisible and can sting people without them noticing. Apparently one of the first symptoms is an overwhelming feeling of dread and foreboding which if you go on to read the next few symptoms strikes me as a completely justifiable emotion. In a bid to avoid any encounters of the jelly sort you are advised to wear stinger suits – which are all in one lycra type outfits. There is of course the potential to look quite glamorous and Bond Girlish in these suits – as indeed the Drama Queens do, but there is also the potential to look like a Teletubby let loose on an outing, particularly when the hood is up and the mitten and feet attachements are all utilized. You can guess which category, Bond Girl or Teletubby I fit into, if fit is a word that can be used in connection with the thing. Suffice to say holiday snaps that include me in my all in one will not be circulating or appearing as our Christmas card this year.

In an unprecedented fit of organization I arranged to get our downstairs floors revarnished whilst we were away, which entailed moving all the furniture from our kitchen/family room into convenient storage locations such as the laundry and bathroom. Unfortunately my planning was slightly awry and the guys had to return to do a final coat on the hall during our first day back – as the varnish took 12 hours to dry this led to an interesting day and evening of everyone having to take a flying leap for the stair banisters and then to clamber like monkeys over it, with varying degrees of agility in order to get to a bathroom. During a pause in the varnishing, I came out to find the two chaps who were doing the floors playing a quick game of badminton at the front of the house, the incongruity of which made me laugh.

We are going out to dinner tonight to celebrate Simon’s midweek birthday. He did slightly better on the present front this year than last year where owing to a slight miscalculation on shopping days left until birthday, he got a packet of dried mango as an initial present. This year amongst other things from his nearest and dearest he got some electronic candles which I am envisaging being fantastic for the outdoor Aussie life. They are rechargeable and glow like little night lights and the DQs and I think they are charming – he seems quite keen but has been heard muttering that ‘they don’t exactly flicker, do they’ which is undeniably true but is also the point!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What price a miracle in chlorine resistant material?

Weather is bouncing around a bit in Sydney – 31oC on Thursday which was unfortunate as I had failed to listen to the weather forecast and in a fit of laziness had flung on a jumper over a very moth eaten singlet and so was forced to teach all day with a purple overheated tinge to both my complexion and my temper which must have alarmed my pupils somewhat. This weekend in contrast has been wet and windy with a daytime temperature of 16oC.

We’ve just come to the end of term 3 of the school year. Australian schools have 4 terms and finish the school year with a glorious burst of activity in December which combines Christmas and end of year celebrations and ensures most mothers stagger into Christmas feeling they deserve an unrealistically large reward under the Christmas tree. Drama Queen No 3’s school finished the term with the school show – a major production which involves every one of the school’s 430 pupils, all in costume and all singing and dancing. In fact school extravaganza might actually be a better term for it and such is the parental anticipation that the queue for tickets reputedly started at 5a.m. on the day they went on sale. I got there at 6.15 a.m. and there were about 40 people sitting smugly ahead of me. Part of the reason for the pressure to queue, is that the show is held in the school hall and if you are on the gnome like side of the height chart, as I am, then you need to make sure you are in the front half of the hall in order to appreciate every moment of your child’s moment of glory. DQ no3. announced before the opening night that they were having a final ‘Dry’ rehearsal – I privately thought if I was the teacher in charge I would actually have to have a hip flask strapped to my side to even contemplate stage managing a project of such Cameron Mackintosh size proportions.

I have just indulged in the annual swimsuit purchase. I got very excited by the lavish promises of the optimistically named “Miracle” swimsuit and squeezed myself into it with great excitement wondering what possible optical illusion could be employed to transform me into a Cindy Crawford look alike – we are after all roughly the same age. I have to say, as a swimsuit it did have fairly miraculous powers – not to mention reinforced stitching to hold one in and out – but as I twirled in Cindy like haze I suddenly caught sight of the price tag and if my innards hadn’t been clamped so tightly in lycra I might have had a complete choking fit. I sadly unpeeled the “miracle” and decided I might have to settle for the nearly as miraculous, at half the price.

In one of those dramatic double dating situations that I often seem to find myself in, owing to an inability to say no, last Saturday we managed to combine an adult dinner party for 8 with what DQ no.1 terms a ‘gathering’ involving a dozen hormone charged teenagers. As both events kicked off at the same time, it involved some interesting combinations on the doorstop. Whilst the evening had the potential to be a complete social nightmare, it was in fact surprisingly good fun, though it may be some time before our dinner guests with younger children recover form the exposure to modern teenage life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A seal ate my hat

Waking up on Wednesday morning was a completely surreal experience. The Red Centre had come to Sydney and the sky at dawn literally pulsated with a vibrant orange glow. It felt rather as if one had woken up on a set for ‘Life on Mars’ with clouds of red dust blotting out the sun. My early morning exercise class was abandoned owing to potential dust inhalation and I skipped off to get a coffee with that virtuous glow brought on by attempting to do exercise but being prevented by forces of nature. The downside of the dust storm is that everything inside and out is coated in a thin layer of red dirt. I hung out a white wash to dry this morning in a hurry and realised that I should have wiped down the line – being me I just carried on regardless in the hope that the red stripe down everything will disappear once dried.

Drama Queen No. 1 posed an interesting question last week, in that she wondered which option I would prefer in terms of her potential piercings, belly button or tongue. It is a bit like being asked would you like your toenails hammered off or ripped out - the answer is a resounding ‘neither’.

Why is my life always fraught with the unusual? Drama Queen No. 2 has had what she describes as an unfortunate experience with a seal. She was on an art trip to the zoo and her highly expensive, straw school hat blew off into the seal enclosure. When I phoned the zoo, the kindly man on switchboard promised to enquire after the hat’s fate but did warn me that if I hadn’t heard from him by 4pm to ‘expect the worst’. He seemed to be hinting that there would be nothing the seals would like more than a bit of roughage. I personally feel that they would have far more fun wearing it in the seal show and I await the front page coverage of a seal balancing on a beach ball whilst waggling its whiskers from underneath a fetching brim. In the meantime I am doctoring the usual ‘dog ate my homework’ letter to cover ‘seal ate my hat’ as no hat means automatic detention at school.

I have just been in the post office and am slightly downcast to see they have all the Christmas cards and Christmas wraps on display – together with Early Bird type offers. This year I am going to be a realist and admit that there is zero chance of my making the “By Sea” cut off date for cards and parcels. In one of her books Jilly Cooper said girls should never trust a man with a half eaten bar of chocolate in his car as he obviously has far too much self control, I feel much the same way about any one who manages to get their Christmas shopping wrapped up in every way by mid September – we’re probably not destined to be bosom buddies.

Whilst on the topic of bosoms, I found myself with a spare half hour in an industrial area of Sydney waiting for a mobile phone to be fixed and came across a discount underwear shop. Being in need of a few bras I popped in and had an entertaining time squeezing in and out of bras. I came out feeling that perhaps I should revert to the medieval habit of breast binding as I found the wide variety of push up and out bras in dubious colours most unflattering. Based on my reflection in the changing room mirror – and top tip to discount underwear shops here, fluorescent lights and 360 degree mirrors are not a flattering combination, I’m probably more in need of a pull in than a push out – but then again I am the woman who a lingerie saleswoman once dismissed as a strange shape!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting my teeth into 'Dear Fatty'

I’m in the midst of one of my ‘Hairy Maclary’ type phases at present where almost overnight I go from looking vaguely presentable to a woman impersonating an Old English Sheepdog look. The last haircut was not a stunning success as Roger my hairdresser got completely into the spirit of the 80’s event I was going to and cut my hair in an 80’s type fringe – or so he claimed. I do have memories of Duran and Duran and Princess Diana peering out from behind fringes during that era so I reluctantly conceded that a fringe might help the whole 80s look but I did add the rider that I have a bad track record with fringes having spent most of my early teens sporting a pudding bowl haircut complete with dead straight fringe, from behind which I glowered at the world.

All DQ no.2’s worst fears came true and the orthodontist declared that despite a number of baby teeth falling out over the last couple of weeks, (and being left beside the basin adding to the general attractiveness of the pit known as the family bathroom), she still needed to have 4 teeth out. DQ no.2 was not unnaturally in a complete state of hysteria about this and even I found it difficult to put a jolly spin on the whole outing to the dentist. When I went into the dentist’s room with her I was slightly stunned to see a large piece of paper headed ‘Guide to Dental Extractions’ placed next to the dreaded chair. For one horrified moment I thought perhaps our very experienced dentist had suffered a mental blank and was mugging up before starting on DQ2’s tooth removal job, though given I teach with the answer book clasped firmly under one arm at all times I am not in a position to criticise those who do go in for a quick bit of revision. It transpired of course that the paper was for me and whilst I wouldn’t have described the whole operation as fun, and DQ2 would certainly have a few pithy words to say about it, now she has taken the cotton wool out of her mouth and is able to speak again, she was very brave and it was over very quickly.

I am cursing as some child has altered the setting on my text messaging on my phone to predictive and I am of course completely unable to cope with it. I think it is an age thing but I just can’t get to grips with it and it annoys me. It’s like Twitter which I joined recently and which I just don’t get the point of. Facebook, yes, I can understand why people get hooked and I do quite like looking at friends’ photos and messages but Twitter??? What am I going to post? “Off to library to do some writing” “Back from library.” But again suspect I am showing my age here.

Fabulous weekend in Sydney weatherwise, inspired by the sunshine we spent part of Sunday hanging out of a small rowing boat, debarnacling the runaround boat we have a half share in. There is something very satisfying about chipping great wodges of marine vegetation off with a large scraper, though less amusing when the sponges spit at you and the appearance of a large crab did make me shriek. Trust this description gives you a clear idea of the desperate need for a serious antifouling job on the boat.

Have been completely gripped by Dawn French’s autobiography “Dear Fatty”. It wasn’t a book to which I would normally be attracted but I picked it up in the library and was immediately gripped. She has written it in the form of letters to the important people in her life and it is both funny and moving. She and I are roughly the same age and have a teenage daughter of the same age – apart from that there aren’t many similarities, but I found myself both laughing and wiping tears from my eyes and muttering most un –me like sentiments like “You go Girl!”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fancy an argument do you?

The dog had a very satisfying walk this morning. We came upon a flock of cockatoos feeding serenely upon the grass and he bounded upon them like a large black furry bowling ball, cockatoos scattering with raucous shrieks before him.

There was a notice up at the school in which I teach part time advertising a ‘Best Dressed Teddy’ competition, and overcome by my competitive streak plus the fatal desire to appear a jolly, participating, human type of teacher, I grabbed the stuffed gorilla that has slept in our bed for the last 20 years, pummelled him into a christening type dress and marched into school. When I arrived at school, smile nailed on my face, I was greeted by a table manned by a variety of parents and small children who promptly tied a label around Grill and announced that I would get him back on September 17th after the school fair. I was completely horror-struck by this announcement but felt I couldn’t possibly lose face by demanding him back. He was thrust unceremoniously into a black bin bag along with other random teddies and borne off. Fortunately as a household we are not short of stuffed animals should the situation become desperate and I do realise I am being pathetic because after all I do have a husband to clutch if all else fails.

I was in the car today listening to a Monty Python sketch that I have never heard before about an Argument Clinic. In the sketch Michael Palin arrives at the argument clinic and books a one off argument rather than the full course. He initially goes into the abuse room by mistake before arriving at the argument room and bandying words with John Cleese. I feel the book an argument is an approach I could adopt quite happily at home, encouraging members of the family to sign up for a 5 minute teenage argument with pauses to allow combatants to storm out of room, or alternatively to opt for the 1 hour intermittent sibling bicker or the 10 minute full on family recrimination about use of towels and general state of rooms. In fact Simon and I are in the midst of a minor argument about dishwashing – for the technically minded I shall merely say it centres upon the use of a dishcloth versus a brush to wash dishes. The most appropriate way of describing my reaction to the veiled criticism of my household hygiene is to say I bridled and made what I considered the strong defensive point that in almost 20 years of marriage I have yet to give him salmonella. He feels that despite having escaped food poisoning in the past he would prefer not to flirt with what he obviously considers a strong possibility of imminent hospitalisation. For both of us there is a strong sense of enjoyment associated with the discussion, as bridling aside, we can both sense the possibility of dragging in references to each other’s families and multiple incidents from our shared and separate pasts – should keep us going for some months.

I took DQ no.2 and 3 bikini shopping last week and I am strongly tempted to join the line up of supermodels in launching my own swimwear line for teens. The current general swimwear look in the shops seems to be “Something I’ve just popped into on my way to the lap dancing club” leading to more heated than usual mother daughter exchanges in the changing rooms, conducted in hissed whispers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What would you use a road sweeper for?

It is now officially spring in Sydney and when sunny it is absolutely fabulous, with leaves and blossom coming out and early morning blasts of fragrance from jasmines and wisteria. We have a star magnolia outside our bedroom window that produces flowers of such pink tinged beauty that I find myself completely distracted midway through making the bed in the mornings – (to be fair it actually doesn’t take much to distract me from this kind of task).

There is a large London plane tree outside our front garden that at this time of year attracts groups of jewel coloured parakeets swinging crazily from its branches whilst trying to get at the new leaves, when disturbed they zip across the sky like mini fighter jets. The plane tree whilst majestic and graceful is actually a major pain as its roots are desperate to make their way inside the house. When we redid the front garden we had to relay the front steps and the verandah tiles as a tree root had shifted them up three inches. When I say the offending root was as big as one of my thighs you get an idea of the magnitude of the arboreal invader. Which brings me to good news on the thunder thighs account. I have just heard on the radio a report from a Danish study that suggests having thighs with a circumference of over 60 cm is a good thing from the long-term health point of view. I haven’t actually whipped out a tape measure but I can quite happily predict which side of the thigh tide line I am going to be.

I was in the car following a council road sweeper on the way home yesterday and noticed that it had a big ‘For Hire” sign painted on the back, together with phone number. I was absolutely riveted as I couldn’t imagine who in their right mind hires a road sweeper the size of a tanker. I came to the conclusion that if I lived in a very smart large house with an avenue, and we’re talking a Brideshead Revisited scale house here, I might want the avenue swept. Alternatively if I become house proud in the extreme I might hire the thing to sweep my little bit of street, however given both of these scenarios are up there with winning the lottery in terms of possibility I didn’t bother writing the number down.

Whilst pondering the hundred and one uses of a road sweeper I was listening to the radio and heard Dire Straits playing “Money for Nothing” and was immediately transported back to the days after my final university exams. It is amazing how evocative a piece of music can be, I can so clearly remember driving out to a pub lunch with two male friends, windows down and Dire Straits on full blast – what rebels we were. It wasn’t a particularly memorable lunch in that I wasn’t romantically involved with either of the men nor did I want to be, but for some reason the glorious feeling of freedom, end of exams, English summer has just stayed with me and the song always makes me smile.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Chop Chop Casanova

The weather in Sydney at the moment is just outstanding, beautiful clear days with enough warmth in the sun to swim in the sea if one is either a) under the age of 13 or b) seriously tough; Note: I fall into neither category.

Drama Queen no.3 does swim training down at North Sydney Olympic Pool which must be one of the most amazingly scenic pools in the world, situated right on the harbour’s edge. Whilst she is pounding up and down the swim lanes I sit up in the bleachers overlooking the outdoor pool, coffee in hand gazing up at Sydney Harbour Bridge and watching the harbour afternoon traffic. There is something very soothing about watching Aussie swimmers carve their way up and down the pool. The majority of adults, and indeed children, who swim laps in the pool, cruise effortlessly up and down in an efficient and graceful freestyle. On the occasions when I do some laps, I ease myself gingerly into the ‘slow lane – breaststroke only’ corridor. I am gloomily aware that my distinctive style of breaststroke, head held high as if I have accepted a bet that I can do a lap without a drop of water disturbing the hairdo and an expression of grim determination upon my face mark me out to any watching Australian as an obvious Pom in the pool.

We have a fantastic local butchers’ shop that is always heaving with customers despite being more expensive than the supermarkets. I am on chatty terms with at least two or three of the mainly male staff as indeed are most of their customer base. One of my friends confided recently that having been into the shop, when she got home she discovered the chap who served her had written his name and number down on the butchers’ paper he’d used to wrap her meat in. As you can imagine my first reaction was absolute outrage that no butcher had ever tried to slip me his phone number and I am restraining myself from marching in and demanding what’s wrong with the older, larger and greyer versions of the female form. Close interrogation of my glamorous friend revealed however that the Casanova amongst the chops wasn’t actually one of my staff chums so honour was somewhat satisfied, but I will still be making a big effort with my appearance before I set off on the next sausage sortie.

The dog is having a ripper of a day in every sense of the word. I looked out just before it got dark and discovered all the towels that had been hanging on our rotary clothes line were on the ground. Fuelled by some kind of manic ambition to fly he leaps at the towels and hangs on with his teeth as momentum carries the clothes line round. The inevitable end to Orville Wright Dog’s test flight is that either the fabric rips or the clothes pegs give and he is propelled to the ground muffled in towel. Duvet covers also have surprising aeronautical properties so far as he is concerned and most of the household duvet covers now sport a number of interesting triangular tears. I am not sure which does more damage, Pluto’s teeth or my inept attempts at darning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crisis and cakes

I can’t decide whether it is my stage of life or a fundamental personality type problem but life in our household does seem to lurch from crisis to crisis. Being by nature an optimist I keep thinking that once I get past whatever the latest stress is, that I will have a nice, calm week that does not entail rushing about like a lunatic clutching large musical instruments, doing a mercy dash to the all night garage in search of loo roll at 10pm or trying to pass off jam or hardened cheese as exciting fillings for packed lunch sandwiches.

Having stressed about the 80’s dance, it was of course, great fun. As with all fancy dress parties once you have got over the embarrassment of exiting the house looking as if you are heading for either a transvestite club or the cast party for a particularly saucy pantomime, you enter into the spirit of the thing. I came home from the party clutching a large Wallabies dog bed for Pluto that I had “won” in the silent auction, if won is the correct monetary term for ‘handed over large wads of money’. Fortunately the dog bed has been a huge hit and not only has it weaned Pluto off his sofa surfing habits but it appears to be regarded by the children as satisfactory compensation for the fact that I didn’t buy Drama Queen no.3’s class artwork, (which needless to say went for a comparative fortune) at the auction, so perhaps I did win after all.

Next excitement on the horizon is Drama Queen no. 3’s 10th birthday party. For the second year running she has organised this herself, past experience having taught her that there is no point waiting for her parents to get on with this annual chore. When I protest that we’ve always had some kind of party for her birthday, she points out that her 8th party was held in December, by which point her August birthday was a dim and distant memory. The good news is that this year I managed to get my hands on the invitations before they went out. Last year she managed to put a selection of different times on the invites with the result that we had expectant children ringing the doorbell a good hour before my anticipated kick off.

One of the magic ingredients of the party – besides a good slug of gin in my tea, will be the fact that DQ no. 1 will just have arrived back from five days in a tent courtesy of the school camp. Her views on camp beforehand were fairly unprintable but seemed to centre on the fact that having been subjected to outdoor holidays involving tents and boats on a regular basis by her parents from a young age, she has been left with an almost pathological hatred of nature in all its forms and indeed her very soul (and I am paraphrasing here) yearns for urban splendour, ipods, internet cafes and teenage retail outlets – none of which are likely to be found in a rural retreat where her days will be occupied with the wholesome pursuits of hiking, canoeing and biking.

Drama Queen no.2 has been helpfully combing the Children’s Birthday Party Cakes book which contains a number of ambitious and complicated cakes, thank you to the godparent who thought that was a helpful present, easy to see whose side you are on in the parent child tussle for supremacy. I keep nodding weakly as she holds up illustrations knowing in my heart of hearts the very low odds of my being able to reproduce a swimming pool complete with swimmers, an octopus or a sheep in edible form. However before I am too hard on myself I should remember the cake I made for my mother’s birthday, ornate and emblazoned with a large medal made out of icing, it was a triumph complete with wobbly writing – or would have been had the dog not eaten 2 corners of it just before my mother’s entry necessitating radical surgery and transforming the magnificent square edible edifice into a round cake etched with disguised canine teethmarks.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Oh I am sorry, I thought you were a strawberry pavlova

Just back from a completely hopeless trawl through teenage shops in search of appropriate 80’s garb for the fancy dress farce aka school dance. I thought my luck was in when the main Sydney paper had a piece on how the 80’s look is back in fashion complete with photos of Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell et al. I gazed admiringly at them and set off for the mall with a skip in my step. Fortunately it was during school time so the chance of running into any teenagers I knew was mercifully slim as I wriggled my way in and out of a variety of highly unsuitable outfits. I could however feel the sales girl, approximate age 16, rolling her eyes as she passed me in various lace and leopard print garments. Suffice to say I didn’t venture out of my miniscule cubicle to look in the main mirror as the reflection in the cubicle mirror was enough to have me shooting back into my everyday uniform of jeans and shirt, double quick time.

Such was my despair on the shopping front that I came home and resurrected the 1986 dress I wore to a May Ball which has spent the last 20 odd years in a dressing up box. I was of course, secretly gratified that I still fitted into it, though bear in mind I was not a particularly elfin 20 year old. My memory however had not served me wrong, there is a reason why I have not worn it in two decades. The best way to describe how I look in it is Princess Diana’s wedding dress meets a chintz sofa, and the sofa wins! If I tell you it has bodice lacing up the back it gives you an idea of the full horror of it. If I am kind to my former self, perhaps the glow of youth was enough to enable me to carry off the look of a full blown, mixed fruit pavlova, but in my heart of heart I fear not, and I grieve for my misguided 20 year old self.

The good news is that I have now rummaged though various wardrobes and managed to assemble an outfit that both I and most importantly DQ no. 2, the acknowledged fashion queen in the house, deem acceptable and even dare I say it, mildly attractive.

To move onto more interesting topics, I was fascinated by a corporate memo that went round Simon’s work which dealt with acceptable behaviour in the bathrooms. Whilst most of it was along the standard lines of “Leave the bathroom as you would wish to find it” type advice, there was also a puzzling stricture about “Don’t stand on toilet seats”, which was quite enough to make my mind boggle.

I am a complete sucker for any kind of competition, with a naïve faith that I am about to win big time. I find myself planning holidays on the basis that my 25 witty words on the beauties of a region are about to win us an all expenses holiday for 4, (which could prove slightly tricky in itself as there are actually 5 of us in the family). So far my successes have been relatively minor but I have just won a coffee machine, rather embarrassingly by dint of buying a packet of strepsils rather than any skill on my part. I was highly excited about this when they rang with the good news and visions of myself setting up as an inhouse barista, until I googled the machine and discovered it retailed at Aus $90 (about STG 45 the way the currency is going at present). Lest I sound ungrateful I should point out it has been a big hit as it produces impressive amounts of steam and the DQs have been frothing hot chocolate with enthusiasm. I feel this could be the start of a good run on the competition front and I am just waiting for a loud hooting to tell me the prize Audi is outside along with the men carrying the keys to our new holiday house and the lottery cheque.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Moonlit nights and the hippobottomus

It is suddenly showing signs of being spring in Sydney. The magnolia bush in the back garden is starting to put out huge waxy buds and there has been the most wonderful full moon floating in the sky. However before I wax too lyrical on the beauties of the Australian life I should just bring things down to earth by pointing out that at about 3am this morning whilst the moon was creating an unearthly white lit wonderland in the garden, I was searching for a sick bowl to thrust at Drama Queen No.3. She had appeared in our bedroom like a small hobbit clutching her stomach, and as I fumbled my way to the kitchen I stood in something wet, never a good thing in an indoor room. When I turned on the overhead light it transpired the dog had also had a stomach upset. It’s hard to see the romance of a moonlit night when you are standing barefoot in a pool of dog effluent!

I love the way Australians tell it as it is. All our local municipal rubbish bins are adorned with a sign reading in big letters “Don’t be a Tosser”. Yesterday I spotted an advert for a fitness club on the side of a bus that read - “Got a hippobottomus?” with appropriate photo. Am now nervously casting glances over my shoulder in case a hippobottomus is creeping up on me.

Drama Queen no.3 has now resorted to calling me Catriona as she realises that after approximately 14 years of small squeaky voices shrieking “Mummy” at me that I have developed a strategic, selective, deafness and she has a much better chance of getting my attention if she hollers “Catriona”. I’m trying to train her up to the notion that were she to shout, “Gorgeous, glamorous woman” the response time would be even shorter.

Following the sick in the night episode, DQ no.3 is now off school and lying on the sofa. I realise it was a good job that I never followed up on any Florence Nightingale fantasies as I am absolutely hopeless on the nursing front. Like the rest of the family she is a complete hypochondriac and in fact over the last couple of weeks has started taking her temperature most mornings with the beep of the electronic thermometer becoming a regular accompaniment to breakfast. In the interests of sanity I have now redefined normal temperature as anything between 30oC and 40oC.

The next drama looming on the horizon – I hesitate to prejudge and call it a crisis, is the school fundraiser. As with all good fundraising dances it has a theme, the 80’s and an expectation of fancy dress. Theoretically I should have an advantage on this one as I was alive and in fact at university during the 80’s, so a) I should recognise the music and b) I should remember what I wore and be able to recreate the look. The problem with this positive approach is that I looked like a dog’s breakfast in the 80’s – I have memories of wearing camouflage trousers a lot of the time and a leopard skin cord dress was a particular favourite which gives you an idea of my sartorial student style. At the back of my mind I also have my mother’s advice to my teenage self when trialling fancy dress outfits, which was, “It’s always a good idea to look attractive too.” After a quick trawl of the online fancy dress outfits, I’ve got a sinking feeling that I could look less like a spring lamb in my potential outfit of fluoro colours, leg warmers and lashings of fishnet gloves and tights and more like a mutton cutlet. Any useful suggestions gratefully received – but will point out with two weeks to go, unlikely to have time to buff myself up to appear as Madonna in her bondage phase.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Black Shoe Shuffle

Hands up if you’ve looked at your child’s school photo and made a point of checking out the shoes. Aside from obsessives and shoe tragics like me who’ve been up half the night looking for a pair of black shoes to strap onto child’s feet I don’t think most parents register footwear.

It’s photo day at school today, and DQ no.3 has trotted off almost unrecognisable in her school dress with a hair tied back into a ponytail. Please note that I’ve achieved the almost impossible on the hairdressing front, with no lumps and bumps marring the smooth ponytail. Just to digress – maybe I’m just loosing my memory but I don’t remember being worried about bumps in my hair as a child but it does seem to be a terror that reigns high in our house.

On a normal winter’s day, the girls at the DQ no.3’s primary school have an option of either a unisex outfit of shorts and polo shirt, or the more traditional tunic dress and long sleeve polo. I love my daughter in her dress and black tights, however needless to say maternal yearnings do not count in the life of a nine year old and she is a staunch devotee of shorts and polo shirt, regardless of weather and knobbly knees turning blue.

It is not actually the dress that causes the consternation on the three days a year when school dress is mandatory, after all this is my third girl at the school and I could probably kit out a dance team in barely worn dresses. The factor that throws the household into chaos is the black shoes that are deemed the essential accompaniment to the dress. Every other day of the school year she wears trainers and being fundamentally a mean Scot I prefer not to invest in a pair of black shoes for three annual outings.

As I don’t learn from experience, it dawns on me at precisely the same time, 9.30pm of the evening before photo day that we have a black shoe problem. The children morosely line up all the potential black shoes in the house and in scenes reminiscent of Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters, DQ no.3 shoves her feet into shoes that are patently too small or too large. I flap around making helpful comments about how she could stuff the toes or wear two pairs of socks as she mournfully trials cast off shoes belonging to an older sister that make her look like a comic character from Disney.

As with all good pantomimes there is always the same punch line, in my case the desperate ring round of friends to find some black shoes that might just fit. Based on the distinctly odd line up of black footwear on display at school today I wasn’t the only mother with the same problem. I think a black school shoe lending library has merit as an idea or alternatively a rule that all school photos cut off at knee level.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hurray for the hols

We are now into the last week of the holidays, and the Drama Queens and I have relaxed into a state of torpor. One of the perks of being a teacher is that I can justify all kinds of laid back behaviour on the grounds it is my holiday too. I reverted to my favourite teenage pastime yesterday, lying in the bath in the middle of the day, foot gently jammed against the hot tap, reading a gripping book until my skin went wrinkly and the concerned squeaks of the Drama Queens who feared I was suffering some kind of nervous breakdown, became too loud to be ignored. It was absolute bliss and I resolved I must do it more often.

Husband is still gripped by home improvement fever, I do not regard it as a promising sign that I have somehow mysteriously signed up to a number of Australian homes and gardens magazines who are now emailing me on a daily basis. He painted part of the kitchen at the weekend and I have to say it looks fantastic. It is unfortunate the DQ no. 3 has written to both sets of grandparents setting out in a chatty fashion her overview of the past couple of weeks in the household – in summary she points out that “Poor Daddy is still at work but is also very busy painting things, everyone has jobs to do in the house apart from Mummy who is catching up with friends and having lunch and dinner”. Was very tempted to take out red felt tip pen and heavily censor this gross libel, or else add in a few points of my own in heavily disguised nine year old writing.

One of the downside of the parental painting frenzy is that the children have got in on the act and have been painting a number of slabs of wood. We have a multitude of tester paints in the shed owing to our fundamental inability to decide between hot pink and cool blue and everything in between as shades for each room and the girls have allowed themselves free rein on the artistic front. As a by product we now have an interesting array of footprints in different colours across the tiles and the dog is sporting a rather dashing lavender blue patch which has proved remarkably resistant to both brushing and immersion in sea water.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Carpet cleaning for romantic heroes

I have just been in the family bathroom, pondering the question of why there are tufts of black hair all over the floor. Given we are a family of blondes, tasteful blonde to disguise grey for me, platinum blonde in homage to Marilyn Monroe for DQ no.1, actually more grey than blonde for Simon and natural blonde in DQ no.2 and 3’s case the only candidate for the black strands is the dog. I do have a vague memory of DQ no.3 saying she was going to groom the dog and I am now making a mental note to check my hairbrush for tell tale black hairs as a certain nasty suspicion comes upon me.

One of the downsides of being married to Mr Activity is that when it rains and he is housebound there is a roughly ten minute period during which time I can distract him with the idea of a cup of coffee and a look at the papers and then he is off on the hunt for a major household project. As I am by nature incredibly indolent and have a fairly relaxed attitude to housekeeping (feel free to insert your own appropriate adjectives here) these bursts of frenzy never augur well. Sure enough within minutes of waking to a wet Saturday, he was muttering about the dubious stains on the carpets. I immediately denied all knowledge of the origin of these marks whilst simultaneously mentally cataloguing nail polish remover, dog, coffee, craft glue, blue tack and felt tip. Simon fired with the enthusiasm that is one of his most endearing characteristics, set off for the local superstore to hire a carpet cleaner, whilst I stomped behind in a sulky silence designed to convey that a morning spent in a pool of frothing bubbles was not my idea of marital bonding. However despite myself I did get into the whole thing and there was a revolting satisfaction watching the coal black liquid disgorge from the machine. Fortunately most of the downstairs of the house is wood floors and it is only really the DQs’ rooms upstairs that are carpeted – having all their possessions dumped on top of their beds by their Desperate Housewife of a father gave them the impetus to sort their rooms and in fact if anyone would care to drop by I can give you a rare tour of a perfect Homes and Gardens set of children’s rooms – but make it snappy I can’t guarantee this level of perfection for long.

One of the many things I love about having children is the opportunity it gives you to read and reread children’s books. As a family we’ve loved Harry Potter and are moving towards the Vampire tales of love and longing – summarised by one of DQ no 1’s 15 year old male friends as ‘Edward loves Bella, Bella loves Edward, and Edward wants to eat Bella’. I am currently wallowing in Noel Streatfield, Lynne Reid Banks and the K M Peyton Pennington and Team series. K M Peyton in particular has a nice line in moody, teenage male heroes who entranced me as a teenager. As I write this I am pondering the paradox that were DQ no.1 to appear home with one of these interesting teenage rebels I would immediately move into the protective mode and push her hastily towards the nearest, nice, calm, fits the mould, type boy.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

These boots are made for....?

The good news is that Simon has returned from his two week overseas trip; the bad news is that the dog, who has been relatively well behaved in his absence, decided to celebrate the return of the Alpha male by digging a monster hole in the lawn. It was slightly unfortunate that I hadn’t spotted the excavations before I went to the airport as I could perhaps have camouflaged it or at least shovelled some of the earth back in. As it was the first thing that greeted Simon as he wandered into the back garden was the sight of the Pluto sitting triumphantly on an earthen mound. All thoughts of a happy homecoming vanished as Simon pursued the black fiend round the garden with murder in his heart.

I have been looking for a pair of boots for ages and once I had managed to stop Simon phoning vets and enquiring how much for the canine one way ticket to the sky, we wandered up round our local market and then finding ourselves outside a shoe shop went in. I should perhaps explain that we have slightly different ideas on the ideal pair of boots – views that perhaps could be characterised as male/female. Simon tends to favour thigh length and gleaming black in the Pussy Galore, Bond Girl mode, whereas I point out that a) I would look more like Puss in Boots in such a get up and b) I would like to be able to wear the boots to do normal things like school pick up rather than constantly looking as if I am on my way to an S & M bondage party.

We had DQ no.1 with us and whilst the trip was a success in that I did find and buy a pair of boots that we all liked, it was unfortunate that as I rolled up my trousers to try them on, both Simon and DQ no.1 said simultaneously and loudly “My God, you’ve got hairy legs”. Needless to say the entire shop came to a halt and turned to peer at Bison Woman trying on her boots. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I had to cancel the leg waxing appointment because I was working in the school canteen.

Apart from the fact it left me with legs that could compete with the dog on the hairy front, (perhaps I’ll start digging holes to get attention), I love doing canteen duty. As the recess bell rings the counter is deluged with small faces peering over, and up at the counter and mouthing their orders. I find it very endearing the way in which small children push 50 cents towards you whilst hopefully reciting the list of goods they would like to purchase, which generally total about $2.50. A lengthy process of negotiation then follows where I try gently to match monetary total and ambition.

On the monetary front I have just been listening to an advert on the radio where it was suggested the way to financial success was to “learn how to trade foreign exchange”. Apparently all you need to get started is a computer, a phone line and access to the company’s handy tips and your money worries will be a thing of the past. It felt almost immoral to me – along the lines of “short of cash, try your luck at the casino” or “need some money, take up betting”. However before I sound too pious on this one, let’s just remember who was pinning their hopes on winning the lottery last week.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sun is shining in Sydney and snake swallows woylie

First up let me come clean and admit after all my recent moaning about the amount of rain we have had, that today is the most beautiful day in Sydney. It is the type of day where being outside is a positive joy and you find yourself smiling at complete strangers.

I took the dog out as dawn came up over the harbour this morning. There is something very exhilarating about leaving the first set of footprints along a stretch of smooth sand, possibly even romantic if one was accompanied by another human, less so if accompanied by a black, furry creature whose idea of the ultimate good time is to chase, catch and disembowel a seagull (note to bird lovers he hasn’t actually achieved this ambition yet).

As it began to get light a group of kayakers went by, their progress marked by the flashing LED lights stuck to the back of their kayaks. You can understand the flashing light precautions when you see the speed at which the large ferries, lit up like a saloon bar, plough their way to and fro across the harbour to Manly.

Sad news though this morning on the monetary front. Against all expectations I failed to win the record $106 million Australian lottery drawn last night. In my joyful optimism I had already had debates with myself about whether I would tell Simon that I’d won, on balance I thought I would, but I had toyed with the idea of just stashing it in a bank account and using it to secretly supplement my salary/the housekeeping in a fairly major way. The lottery officials have calculated that one in every two adults in Australia bought a ticket, lured in by the huge jackpot. Like many people in addition to my own ticket, I am part of a work syndicate, mainly because I can’t bear the thought of turning up to school one day to discover the rest of the staff have resigned en masse having hit the monetary jackpot.

Unbelievably the dog and I have been promoted from the beginners’ class, a.k.a. the completely out of control group who have to spread out round the oval to stop their dogs killing each other. We are now moving into the intermediate class where owner and dog are supposed to have established a relationship where the dog understands who’s the boss – Pluto and I are still grappling with this one.

I was amused to read of a 2 metre long West Australian carpet python that mistakenly swallowed a woylie – hands up here if you know what a woylie is. (Ans: a very small Australian mammal). This particular woylie was wearing a transmitter which apparently was going to do the snake insides no good at all so the python was carted off to a place where it could be observed – puts me in mind of when one of my brothers swallowed a ball bearing and we had to ‘observe’ him to check it exited his body, even as a very small child I was impressed by my mother’s stoicism as she attacked this task armed with a box of cocktail sticks and the potty.

The python, which by this time must have been wondering what had happened to its previously peaceful existence, was then unfortunately stolen from the Department of Environment and Conservation's Research Centre. In the midst of presumably much teeth gnashing by the staff, some bright spark pointed out that they could track the snake down using the transmitter and in a raid involving an air force plane and the police, wildlife staff having one of the more exciting mornings on the job, burst into the snake burglar’s house and recovered the python which presumably was still trying to digest the lump of metal in its middle.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's the nights that are the worst!

It was a dank, cold night in Sydney on Tuesday night. Our house, and indeed the whole street, is built on the site of an old sandstone quarry, so the garden consists of a thin layer of topsoil and a ledge of solid rock, with the result that when it pours continually for days the water doesn’t so much as seep, as pool. The ground is currently so wet that the dog has developed a hackney pony type gait when picking its way across the front lawn. Despite the drizzle I nobly set off for dogtraining that night, after all let’s get real, Sydney bad weather shouldn’t really deter someone who spent their teenage years in Glasgow. It was a trifle unfortunate that the council had closed the oval where the training is held, as it was so waterlogged, and even more importantly had failed to turn on the floodlights. Dog training is run by a very hardy group of volunteers who in true Dad's Army style, brushed aside the problem of training a group of twenty odd dogs in the almost pitch dark. I have to say Pluto has never had such a successful class, mainly because as a black dog on a dark night the instructor couldn't see him up to his usual antics, let alone me giving him a sly nudge with my foot whenever he failed to perform.

As Simon is away, Drama Queen No. 3 has spotted her opportunity and quicker than an excited ferret shoots into my bed at 2am most nights. At that hour my resistance is low and apart from an odd growl, I can’t force myself up to return her to her own bed. However I pay for my parental laxness big time. The experience is how I would imagine it must be sleeping with a half grown bush pig. She grunts and snuffles and works her way up and down the bed, but worst of all she grinds her teeth as if she’s accepted a large bet about how soon it will be before she can wear them down to a stump. Short of blackboard nail scraping I don’t know a worse noise and it isn’t just sly nudges with my foot that I give her in an effort to make her stop.

My latest classic time wasting activity is a 1,000 piece jigsaw full of dogs that we rather overambitiously bought before the long weekend. A month later, it is residing on the dinning room table with various family members having a go at it every time they pass. It is completely addictive and the Drama Queens and I carry on late into the night convinced that another 10 minutes will sort out the Golden Retriever that appears to have three heads, rivalled only by the legless Boxer puppy. Hopefully it will be finished by the time Simon gets back but I do know in my heart of hearts that once we get down to the final 10 pieces we’ll discover the dog has eaten at least three of them.

The fire alarm went off with earshrilling drama last night. Usually it is activated by the gentle charring of supper, this time it transpired it had been set off by the clouds of steam generated by DQ no.3's showering/beautifying/purifying and I strongly suspect hair bleaching activity.

So there we have it, the week’s exciting night time activities of a temporarily single parent; dogtraining in the dark, bush pig in the bed; jigsaw and fire duty. It’ll be cocoa, curlers and slippers before I know it!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Productive use of time

This afternoon Simon is off to the UK for a couple of weeks on business and I feel rather bereft. I always swear to myself that I will use the time he is away productively. Ideas so far include a) tidying out the midden of children’s rooms, filling bags which I will then have to smuggle off surreptitiously to the charity shop or tip. b) do some proper writing, working to a strictly defined timetable, c) take up a craft and present Simon on his return with a completed homeknitted Arran jumper that he will wear with pride, (this project brought on by the fact I rashly volunteered to run a knitting club as my after school teaching duty and as the first session looms it is dawning on me that the last thing I started and completed on the knitting front was a green and orange teacosy with pom poms in primary school.) and d) eat healthy and wholesome meals every night before retiring to bed with a worthy book in order to get 8 hours sleep. Aside from this I am obviously going to learn a new language and start yoga.

The sad thing is that I already know that in reality what will happen is a) the children will discover the illicit bags and I will be forced to express amazement that so many treasured objects have mistakenly fallen into a plastic bag and watch with gritted teeth as they are all tenderly replaced. c) the knitting will join yet another collection of plastic bags at the bottom of my wardrobe including the tapestry started when I was pregnant with Drama Queen No. 3, that particular child is now almost 10 and d) midnight will fall upon the house, and the dog and I will be wandering around the kitchen as I eat large marmite sandwiches and raid the packed lunch store for chocolate whilst I reflect on an evening spent watching Bridget Jones’ Diary for the nth time and reading trashy novels or Agatha Christie.

So the message is I might as well abandon all these good resolutions and concentrate on the only one I really care about which is trying to get some writing going.

I am off to a drinks party at DQ no. 3’s school tonight to celebrate the school portrait prize called the ‘Bald Archy’. It mimics the big NSW portrait prize known as the “Archibald” and like the Archibald has three prizes, the judges, the packers or people who hang the pictures, and the public. This year the school has persuaded Ken Done to do the judging and as every child in Yr 4,5 and 6 enters a portrait you get a wonderful kaleidoscope of every conceivable colour, subject and genre hanging round the hall. All the parents wander round, trying to identify their child’s offering and casting their votes. DQ no. 3 has apparently painted Britney Spears this year and I am sure she won’t be the only Britney on offer.

It’s not that I am a closet alcoholic but I do find drinks do make these kind of things more fun. Having said that last week Simon and I managed to survive an Abba dress up and perform evening at Drama Queen 1 and 2’s school, stone cold sober , clad in a pathetic attempt at an Abba style outfit with orange juice as the only reviver. Given my ability to dance and sing I can’t help feeling a large glass of wine would have improved my performance in the Dancing Queen line up – I think Meryl Streep is fairly safe in the role of Donna.

There are definitely times when living in Australia adds to the daily interest of life. My top news stories this week have included the following:
Pet dog snapped up by a crocodile metres away from his picnicking owners, the National Parks rangers are now trying to find and kill the crocodile as it is deemed to be dangerously aggressive – wonder if they would like Pluto as bait

And a notorious gangland family member who was shot dead in a Melbourne coffee shop with his 65 year old sister in law being charged with involvement in his death, bringing a whole new meaning to family disagreements.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Supper is served

Life in household continues to be dominated by teenage exams. We are now into result season and Drama Queen is developing Convenient Memory Loss Syndrome (CMLS). She claimed yesterday to have forgotten what she had got for Maths, the result of which was handed out in the afternoon, though apparently she does remember her Maths teacher announcing that she was very proud of all of them. The CMLS was justified on the grounds that she “has no head for figures” – bodes well for the maths result all I can say – can’t wait for the report.

It is dark and cold (relatively, we’re talking 10oC) in the mornings now so I feel incredibly virtuous, not to mention saint like as I set off at 6 to either walk the dog or go to my outdoor exercise class. On the dog mornings I go down to a local beach where I am put to shame most mornings by a chap in his late 70’s who rips off all his clothes and plunges into the sea for a 20 minute swim, leaving his Staffordshire Terrier mournfully standing guard over his towel and clothes.

The dog training is going well – on the advice of the trainer I bought some water pistols to shoot at him if he looks as if he is going to wee anywhere. His behaviour is now impeccable; wish I had thought of this tactic when I was in the midst of potty training. The downside however is that the girls’ behaviour has deteriorated out of sight as they hang over the banisters shooting each other with the water pistols.

We’ve reached new heights on the physio front. In addition to rolling myself up and down a rolling pin, I now have to balance myself on a golf ball – I’ll leave your imaginations to picture the scene of middle aged lady trying to achieve Zen like pose on top of small ball, but I would point out I am supposed to be lying across golf ball rather than balancing seal like on my nose.

I had better go and rescue the girls’ supper as we are getting dangerously close to situation normal where the smoke alarm announces dinner is served. In the course of preparing supper I investigated the depths of the fridge vegetable “crisper” as the drawer is labelled – crisp wouldn’t actually be the word I applied to the sad remains I discovered there. Even I didn’t have the heart to turn the debris into slime mix, so the worms are going to get a real treat.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pass me the rolling pin would you?

I have just been lying prone on the floor, rolling my right thigh, and in fact by default my whole body, sideways over a rolling pin. I have to say it was absolute agony so don’t try this at home as I heard Jenni Murray say only the other day on Woman’s Hour as with horror in her voice she commentated her way through a female sword swallower’s act. The reason for my rolling pin party piece, the agonizing performance of which needless to say, has the rest of the family in hysterics, is that I have been diagnosed with ‘runner’s knee’. This is somewhat depressing but I suppose marginally better than having ‘couch potato’s knee’ and it basically means I have to have a period of no running, lots of stretching, icing of knee and rolling pin exercises interspersed with visits to the male physio who clucks disbelievingly at the risible amount of stretch I have in various muscles.

As a light relief from the rolling pin I’ve just taken the dog to his second dog training class. This is a somewhat belated move on our part. Pluto having been a moderately good dog, albeit with an underwear fetish, has suddenly taken a turn for the dominant, and in an effort to move into alpha male position has started peeing in inappropriate places. The final straw was when he peed on Drama Queen No. 1’s school laptop. You can imagine the face of the IT technician at school when she took the laptop in and explained why it was no longer working. She was apparently sent straight off to the Science Department to fetch some protective gloves before they were willing to lay a finger on the machine. Following this major transgression Pluto has now been enrolled in the local dog training class on a Tuesday night and I have to say both he and I are enjoying it enormously. It does have its moments though, tonight we were in the beginners’ class with a large Doberman cross who was harnessed up in leather straps like a bondage devoteee. When his owners where asked if he had any particular issues they mentioned he liked “eating small dogs” and I don’t think they were joking at this point. Pluto is the smallest and generally yappiest dog in the group but even he could see the wisdom of keeping quiet and cowering behind me, given the frothing lunges the Doberman was making towards him.

Things are not going well on the cooking front. I am trying to be organised at the moment and do all the things advised by everyone from Martha Stewart to Good Housekeeping, mainly, plan your meals in advance, never go shopping a) without a list and b) when you are hungry, use the left overs in a series of tasty little meals etc. The children are not responding well to the new regime of experimental dishes. I did make rather a good stew the other day which they all wolfed down but I then made the mistake of telling them it contained anchovies; the reaction was as if I had suggested the main component was boiled cat kidney and as a result they now poke dubiously at everything I serve up. As for the left overs, if they didn’t want it the first time round I can tell you quite categorically they are not fooled by attempts to dress it up as bubble and squeak type dishes and even the dog looks a little sniffy at spinach surprise!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is it raining - or am I in a trance?

The downside of living in a normally warm and sunny country where drought is a major issue, is that when it rains for what seems like weeks, you are completely unprepared for it mentally and physically. We are about to have a long weekend in honour of the Queen’s Birthday and we have decided to go to a cottage three hours north of Sydney. As the rain drips miserably down outside and I remove yet another slug from the inside of the front door, I am considering rather feebly, what to pack and realising that we can only assemble about 31/2 waterproof coats, and even then that 31/2 includes Drama Queen no.3 being stuffed into a raincoat so small that her arms stick out horizontally. The good news though is that it is finally raining in the main Sydney dam catchment area – one of the great Sydney mysteries is why you would construct a monster dam in an area where based on the last five years it almost never rains.

We are off to the country cottage ‘en famille’ much to the disgust of Drama Queen No.1. Unfortunately in planning this rural getaway we failed to take into account that there was a chance she would fall out with best friend this week and as a result she now HAS to go to potential new friend’s party over the weekend or witness the end of social life as she knows it. A weekend with her family, out of phone range, strikes me as as the perfect way to recover from friend dumping, but then again I’m not fourteen. Fortunately I am fairly immune to claims I am ruining her life, as believe you me I haven’t even started yet.

DQ No.1 has just had exams. This is the first year that they are taken seriously at her school with a result that parent twitching levels have started to rise. She came skipping home from her English exam and explained that much to her astonishment she had gone into “like a trance” for the two hours of the exam, she then claimed that having awoken from her time on alternative plane, she read back her paper and it struck her as pretty good – call me a nasty cynical parent but I’m feeling a bit nervous about the result of this trance state, we are both awaiting the marks with interest.

From one drama to the next, possum man appeared, skipped nimbly around the roof and shot back down his ladder to give me his verdict. Basically it is never good news when the possum man shakes head and says “not an easy job”. Transpires we’ve got what could be called an open door policy on the possum front and blocking up the hole is going to require wire and concrete. In addition, as he noted cheerfully, we’ve got rats as well. Cost of rodent removal and eradication respectively is so great that moving house is looking like an attractive option.

Have to laugh – have just looked at the business section of the paper and spotted a large advert placed by the Australian Government and the Tax Office. The headline is “Don’t take the bait. Dodgy schemes can come back to bite you.” It warns against investments that promise high returns, tax breaks and no risks, and finishes with “If you are offered a dodgy scheme call us” – can’t help feeling there is a bit of shutting the stable door about this one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Possum Magic?

One of my tasks for today is to ring a possum expert to see if he can persuade the possums in our roof to shift their party venue. I couldn’t sleep on Monday night and as I sat on the sofa reading back copies of Yachting Monthly in an attempt to induce a coma like state, I heard noises in the roof space above the kitchen. It was less the patter of tiny feet and more of a thundering herd. I googled ‘possums in the roof’ and discovered that possums are a protected species in NSW and the advice proffered is to build them an alternative home and then to gently encourage them out of the roof space with a combination of carrot and stick. The carrot, (or actually banana or apple in the case of possums) forming a trail of food towards their new handmade palatial possum house, and the stick being mothballs spread around the roof space. The other slightly unnerving bit of advice is make sure it is possums not rats. I have just stuck my head into the roof space and glanced nervously around and there are definitely rodent droppings. However given my limited rodent knowledge, I am unable to differentiate between possum and rat poo, nor I hasten to add, do I have any desire actually to develop the ability to spot rodent type by dropping, so the sooner the possum man gets here the better. Being rather hard hearted I also think if it is possums they can jolly well move back into the trees – the chances of Simon building a possum palace are remote.

The only bit of wildlife/pet around the place I am feeling vaguely friendly about are the worms in the worm farm. Historically we have chucked all our vegetable peelings and egg shells into the worm farm. However Simon has now banned all kinds of eggs being chucked in the worm bin. This is following an eye wateringly, unpleasant experience where Simon spread the worm soil over the front garden and splatted a whole egg that had been maturing in the worm compost for a good three months. I have some sympathy with his viewpoint as he was still making cat sick noises four hours later and complete strangers were crossing the road rather than walk past the front garden.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sick dog, battered car - does life get any more glamorous?

I realise it has been some time since my last blog post. Combination of all three children plus dog taking it in turns to be ill has proved once and for all that Florence Nightingale is a role to which I am completely unsuited. The dog has had a sore paw at which he proceeded to gnaw and lick, until we were forced to incarcerate his head in a plastic ‘Elizbethan collar’ as they are known in veterinary circles. Being a sensitive dog he found the whole experience of wandering around with his head stuck in a see through bucket, humiliating and deeply embarrassing. Likewise the girls and Simon who flatly refuse to be seen in public with ‘cone head’.

It’s been wet and grey in Sydney all week, though not nearly as wet as areas of Queensland where they have had ALL their normal annual quota of rain in the last three days. As a result of the intermittent, very heavy showers in Sydney, my washing has been hanging morosely on the line for days. Yesterday the resulting clothing crisis was such that I was reduced to putting on a pair of Drama Queen No. 1’s pants as all of mine were hanging sopping on the line. Apart from being a bit of a medical miracle that I managed to get into them, DQ no.1 being built like a racing snake, I was then overcome with horror at the thought of being run over and taken unconscious to hospital clad in a pair of red pants with ‘cupcake princess’ emblazoned on the front.

The car has been in the smash repair outfit all week. It is a sad reflection of life, or perhaps my driving skills, though I have to say this time I was completely the innocent party, that I am on first name terms with the smash repair man. He waves me a cheery goodbye after each visit whilst presumably making a mental note to reorder more of the sickly green, metallic paint necessary to restore the car to gleaming good order. The only upside of the whole thing was that courtesy of the other party’s insurance I got a very flash Audi to drive round for the week whilst the dents were being bashed out and lashings of paint applied. As usual with any car I drive, the indicator and windscreen wipers were swapped around with the result I have spent the whole week waggling my windscreen wipers suggestively at motorists rather than indicating.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Autumn leaves and sick children

Beautiful autumn day with a blue sky of startling clarity behind trees in the last ebb of autumn leaves. The mornings are getting colder which is bad news given our heating system is looking decidedly dodgy and in the interests of safety we decided we should probably have it serviced before we turn it on. However despite what I hoped was a winning tone rather than a downright pleading whine, the earliest date for a service was June 13th. Keep your fingers crossed for a warm spell, otherwise we may be forced to turn it on regardless, in which case Pluto the dog could have a new canary like role in testing for carbon monoxide.

State primary schools in our area take their school band and orchestra programmes very seriously. DQ No. 3 plays saxophone in the school band and has to attend two forty-five minute practices a week with a professional band master. At this time of year things start getting a bit serious, as all the school bands compete in the Yamaha Festival in June. As part of the build up, the two school bands and the orchestra go off for a weekend to get in some serious and concentrated practise. Band camp is a major undertaking, involving over eighty children, seventy parent volunteers, lots of music tuition and practise interspersed with child amusement activities. The highlight as a volunteer parent is sleeping in a children’s cabin – basically my annual bunk bed outing.

True to form when I picked DQ3 up from school on Friday ready to ferry her up to the camp, she was clutching her head and stomach simultaneously whilst moaning piteously. In order to put things into context, DQ3 could be renamed Lupine Girl as she cries wolf so often and is the past master of the sore tummy/headache technique, so my sympathy was limited; wrongly as it transpired.

After ten minutes at home and much jolly parental encouragement she decided that actually she was fine and able to attend the camp and I gaily deposited her there. I should have know better, she immediately called my bluff and I got a phone call at 7am on Saturday morning to say she had thrown up during the night.

She has been looking interestingly pale and gently loitering on the sofa ever since. I’ve spent a couple of nights cuddled up with her in the spare room but it is like sleeping with a bush pig. She grunts and snuffles and grinds her teeth with an unnerving vigour.

Drama Queen no.1, ever sympathetic to sibling illness, is now driving me insane by asking me if I think it is hygienic to have sick people in same room as a food. One of my many mistakes this year was allowing DQ1 to select psychology as an elective subject at school. This has given her a whole new perspective on her family and enables her to diagnose all of us as suffering from numerous mental problems.