Thursday, January 29, 2009

Swimming pool blues

January 30th 2009

It’s a stunningly beautiful Sydney day with all those clich├ęs of Australian life as imagined from the UK. Startling blue sky and temperatures in the high 20’s/low 30’s, the sunshine plus the reviving sea breeze make it a pleasure to be outside. Melbourne and Adelaide are having a heat wave and I feel my flesh sweating in sympathy at the thought of nights where the temperature stays up at unbearable levels. Melbourne has had the third day in a row with temperatures over 40 oC (104 oF). Yesterday I was listening to an ABC reporter commenting on the Australian Open Tennis that is currently on in Melbourne, spare a thought for the players and audiences who are presumably watching every bounce of the ball through a haze of perspiration. As an aside to his tennis talk the reporter mentioned he had gone down to the ocean for a swim at midnight and the water had been full of people. In my mind’s eye I have a picture of a dark night and black forms bobbing around, sighing with relief at the exquisite coolness of the water on their bodies.

I should be in a buoyant mood, great temperature, sunshine, children at school, non working day, even the normally pesky dog is prone in a heap of black fur, too hot to do anything but roll an eye at me. However I have been reduced to fury by the swimming pool – or rather the swimming pool gadget shop man. The girls are in the pool constantly after school and it has suddenly gone a rather bilious green colour and looks frankly more garden pond than sparkling turquoise haven. In my usual negligent maternal way I have been ignoring the green, opaque, sullen looking water and letting the children swim, but this morning common sense prevailed and given it is going to be a hot weekend and the one thing I hate more than anything is sick children, I thought I should do something about it before we a) start our own personal algae bloom or b) the frogs that are thriving in the pool and that we seem to be catching most mornings start breeding or c) we start the first Mosman cholera epidemic for 100 years.

I should explain that Tony ‘the pool man’ whom we inherited with the house normally looks after the pool. He comes every couple of weeks and usually that’s fine. As a result I take very little interest in pool maintenance – I liken it to the car, so long as it works I’m happy, I don’t need to understand the intricacies of why it goes. If I wanted to know I could but it happens to be a subject in which I have no interest.

Our local garden centre has a pool shop and I marched up there clutching a water bottle full of noxious pool water. The water was tested with much sucking of teeth and casting eyes up to heaven, whilst the shop owner peppered me with technical questions about type of pool, volume, dimensions, water composition etc.. Of course as ever when I am conscious I am struggling with a situation the place fills with a pack of people avid to listen to every word of the unfolding comedy of the Mosman housewife who knows nothing about her pool. I managed to field most of the questions though I did startle the assembled company somewhat when I declared the pool was 20 metres long rather than 20 ft. The pool was of course declared completely unfit to swim in and in fact I suspect he was giving my skin sidelong glances in case I was peeling like a lizard as an after effect of my latest dip. Large bottles of chemicals appeared on the counter all with complex instructions about what I should do with each and when. It won’t come as any surprise that this wasn’t a cheap little outing and I marched home in an absolute fury and flung the tub marked “Shock Treatment” – I kid you not that’s its name, into the pool. The rest of the complex instructions will have to be followed over the next couple of days. I have decided Tony the pool man is worth his weight in gold or indeed liquid chlorine which seems to be almost as expensive as any precious metal. I have no desire to become an expert in pH levels nor to know the volume of my pool down to the last cubic metre. In the meantime I am off to the beach where at least I don’t have to worry too much about the toxic quality of the water and I know for sure it’s a salt water environment as opposed to a chlorine one which was one of the tricky questions I had to answer! And by tomorrow the pool better be blue and sparkling or else shock treatment won't begin to cover my reaction.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Year's Resolutions Part 1

28th January 2009 New Year’s Resolutions

I think only the most optimistic person would call this the start of the New Year – or perhaps that should be the most calendar or time challenged. It is probably quite fitting as I have come to realize that I am habitually late for everything. This is not through any desire to be late, but generally because in yet another sign of optimism I am always convinced I can fit in 2 or 3 things before the deadlines. I am the person you see hopping up and down in the supermarket checkout glancing at my watch and sweating gently. The supermarket scenario is never helped by the fact I have an uncanny knack of picking the checkout queue with the slowest operator, generally ‘in training’ and inevitably as I reach the head of the queue the operator will begin to open and count rolls of change. I keep a gracious smile on my face whilst glancing at my watch in the vain hope the large prominent supermarket clock might be ten minutes fast. Added to which is another optimistic delusion that the traffic will be minimal and I will speed through. It is true that Sydney roads are much less clogged than your average London street but it is still a rash woman who trusts to a straight run at school pick up time.

My children have become resigned to late pick ups and sit boot faced at the school gates fending off concerned adults with heavy sighs and the world weary advice of “Our mother is always late”. They tend to get more agitated about arriving late for school. The car is a seething mass of tension as we screech to a halt in a flurry of mutual recriminations, missing hats and packed lunches. My last glimpse of them is not angelic faces held up for a kiss but a mad scramble of legs and schoolbags as they exit the car at speed to try and make it to lines before the bell stops ringing.

Reflecting on this and deciding to reform has given me the idea that perhaps I should set off with a set of New Year’s resolutions – after all we aren’t out of January yet. My first one then is not to be late – or more positively to make a real effort to be on time for things and with this in mind I am off to school pick up. I can feel myself glowing with virtue at the thought and promise I won’t let myself get distracted by hanging up a wash, reading my email or putting supper in to marinade.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Speaking Frankly the Aussie Way

The British have a reputation for beating around the bush
and being so polite as to be incomprehensible to
foreigners, though I have to say I think this
reputation is wearing off pretty quickly. However so
far as plain speaking goes they definitely have some
way to go before they catch up with the Australians.

About six months ago I went for an annual check up
with my Australian GP. Annual is a bit of a misnomer
as it had been a couple of years since I last took
myself, as opposed to offspring and husband, off to
the doctor. I strolled into her office with the
virtuous glow of one who has done the sensible, adult
thing and scheduled a medical check up. I am the same
weight I have been for about five years during which
time I did manage to see a doctor on an annual basis
in the US. These American sessions were generally a
mutually enjoyable time where we congratulated each
other on our continuing good health and stayed off
contentious subjects such as amount eaten and drunk on
a regular basis. The Australian GP smiled
reassuringly, and then launched into brutally frank
mode. Her first comment was that I should loose a
number of kilos. Given I generally work in pounds and
stone this then involved a complicated multiplication
involving the size of an average bag of flour in my
head, in order to work out the enormity of the
weightloss she was advocating. She then assessed my
alcohol intake, a friendly smile encouraged relative
honesty on the amount I drank. Another frank opinion,
better to let the liver have a day off at least twice
a week.

I staggered out feeling rather like an aged Bridget
Jones and resolving to be a better woman and lay off
the chocolate and wine for a bit. As part of my new
fitness campaign I took up slow jogs round the local
park or oval during the early morning. On day two of
this regime I spotted a group of frankly middle aged
(eg slightly older than me) and plumpish (eg about the
same size as me) women doing what used to be called
physical jerks under the stern eye of an instructor.
I sidled up and asked what they were up to. Patrick
the instructor explained they were a female ‘boot
camp’; code for a group of unfit masochists who like
being shouted at. Giving my stout tracksuit clad
frame a disapproving look he said he was sure there
would be room for me if I wanted to join. Inspired by
the thought of a new me I did only to find that as
soon as I rocked up for my first session all the like
souls had disappeared to be replaced by a pack of
lycra clad twenty year old fitness fanatics. I trail
around in their wake, but I have to say it is doing me
some good and I am looking forward to bursting back
into the GP’s room and demanding to be led to the

It’s not just the GP who feels free to comment on my
personal appearance. I am still traumatized by my
latest leg waxing experience. To be fair, I had been
postponed the appointment until my legs were at a
hairy peak reminiscent of a Scottish rugby player in
his prime. However I was completely taken aback when
after a swift assessing glance, the girl in charge of
the ritual torture session said casually, “and would
you like your feet and toes done too?” I sat bolt
upright in horror. I would be the first to admit to
hairy shins but I am not, I repeat not, some kind of
troll. I emphatically do not have hairy feet and
toes. I escaped without having hot wax flicked round
my feet but I now catch myself darting worried glances
at my feet, bare for much of the year here, just in
case I’m developing hobbit-like tendencies around my
lower regions.

Australian advertising also has a certain refreshing
frankness to it. Political Correctness doesn’t seem
to have caught on as a concept here to the same extent
as it has in the UK. My particular favourite that is
being shown on television and in print at present is
an anti speeding campaign that draws a direct link
between speeding and the perceived small size of the
speeder’s penis! But I think the final frank word
award has to go to my local council that decorates all
its street bins with the memorable slogan “Don’t be a