Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gangs of Sydney

Well, what did I predict and how right was I? No sooner do the first of our UK visitors climb on the plane at Heathrow and start slapping on the suntan lotion in preparation for their stay in Sydney than it begins to bucket down with rain. I came into the family room this morning to find the dog gazing mournfully out of the window at the waterlogged garden. His whole demeanour suggested an animal calculating potential space allocation on the ark. Actually, rain aside, Pluto is quite a sad soul at present. I took him to the vet on Monday as he was walking oddly. After a quick sniff of his ears, which was a new diagnostic tool to me, the vet diagnosed an ear infection along with a bad back. Pluto is now on numerous pills and eardrops with the promise of acupuncture if the back hasn’t cleared up by next week. Not being entirely convinced of the merits of acupuncture for humans, I am wrestling with the moral ethics of paying a fortune for someone to stick pins in the dog. Simon, needless to say, is weighing up the comparative cost of a bullet.

Sydney has been the backdrop to various acts of ‘bikie’ gang violence over the last couple of weeks, including a man battered to death in the arrivals area of Sydney airport. A couple of days later in what is known as a ‘related incident’, the murdered man’s brother was shot in his mother’s driveway. What I found absolutely amazing is that having been shot at least four times in the chest, shoulder and legs, he apparently whipped out his mobile and rang a female friend. The mind boggles at how the conversation might have gone.

In a similar vein, last month a member of one of Melbourne’s notorious underworld families was shot at in his driveway. Note to self that driveways are obviously not a good place to hang around in if you have links to any criminal factions. I listened to a radio report in which the potential victim, known as ‘Tuppence’ to his friends, was interviewed. I was fascinated to hear him start off by saying that he and a friend had come out of his house and that the friend had got into the driver’s seat because he, Tuppence, had had a beer and he doesn’t believe in drink driving. He said this with great emphasis, leaving one with the impression that drugs, guns, murder and all kinds of underworld activity were fine, but drink driving was beyond the pall.

I don’t want to create the impression that Australia is filled with marauding criminal gangs but I should also mention the very popular Australian television series Underbelly which is loosely based on a violent period of gang warfare in the 90s in Melbourne. As the series went to air last year one of the real life characters, who is currently serving 35 years, objected from his prison cell that the series made him out to be an idiot, and a ‘brain dead goose’. Difficult to argue with that one.

Anyway back to our own feral gang. On being offered a peach yesterday, Drama Queen no.2 announced very grandly, that she doesn’t eat anything with fur, so I guess hamster is off the menu again.

I am currently pondering a number of great mysteries of a mother’s life
1. Why is there a naked footprint on the inside of the car windscreen?
2. Why am I the only person in the house capable of changing the loo roll?
3. How come all the navy blue towels suddenly have bleach patches giving them a scabies like look? (Is there a connection to Drama Queen no. 1’s lotions and potions I ask myself)?
4. Why do smoke alarms and burglar alarms always fail in the middle of the night?
5. Why when I am marching along congratulating myself on looking fashionably windswept do I catch sight of myself in a shop window and realise the look is more reminiscent of a startled koala in a rain jacket?

Answers on a postcard!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's sleeping in your bedroom?

Monday 23rd March

Another beautiful day, the weather at the moment is just magical, hot and sunny during the day with a slight crispness creeping in during the evenings and early mornings. Given our usual run of luck, the onset of the holidays and the arrival of visitors from the UK in a couple of weeks means that with impeccable timing it will start to bucket down in tropical rainforest like deluges. Sydney Harbour looks stunning glittering away on a sunny morning, but on a wet, dank afternoon with a sullen grey sky and sea it can resemble Leith on a bad day.

It’s been an interesting week. I spent Thursday night working on a stall at a Bridal Expo as a favour to my fitness instructor who has set up his own company. He was hoping to persuade lots of brides that in order to look their best for the big day it might be a good idea to sign up for three months of fitness classes. Our stall was handily placed between a wedding cake stall, yum, yum and a wedding photographer so we had a constant flow of traffic. There is a definite art to launching yourself towards potential targets. You don’t want to say “Would you be interested in a fitness training club?” in tones that suggest, “and my goodness don’t you need it”. I was manning the stall with the instructor’s girlfriend who is a lithe, tanned, athletic looking, 23 year old. Simon unkindly suggested that perhaps we were intended as a before and after matching pair. I was intrigued by the rest of the stalls that included a naughty underwear stall, a teeth straightening outfit and more wedding celebrants than you could shake an engagement ring at. Good result from the whole thing though, who should be there at boot camp this morning, not a bride but the lady from the wedding cake stall!

On the topic of teeth we have just been on the annual visit to the orthodontist. Heavy sigh. Our American paediatric orthodontist used to send me a mother’s day card which I felt symbolised the fact we were destined to be linked together by bank debit for the rest of my life. We have had a few years of respite but now the edict has gone out, pay a fortune, in handy instalments or condemn Drama Queen no. 1 to functional but crooked teeth. It is one of those tricky ethical questions, once they have told you that you can save your child from looking like Baldrick, it is hard to say “well being called snaggletooth never killed anyone, did it?” with heartfelt conviction. Add into this mixture Drama Queen no.’s immediate reaction, which is that we are trying to ruin her life (by which she means prime teenage years) by refusing to countenance piercings on the grounds they are unnatural adornments to her body whilst at the same time forcing her into unsightly and repellent metal braces.

As I type our duvet is whizzing round in the washing machine. Our bedroom has become less of a personal sanctuary and more of a wildlife refuge. I woke up the other night because I could feel something crawling over me. As Simon was snoring away that eliminated him as a possibility so I flung on the light and revealed a giant cockroach which Simon dispatched. I would have dismissed it as an isolated incident apart from the fact I walked into the bedroom yesterday and disturbed an even bigger cockroach stretched out for a siesta on Simon’s pillow. However this morning we have moved into new territory, I never thought I would regard sharing a bedroom with cockroaches as an acceptable state of affairs but following my discovery of a huntsman spider in the corner of the room I feel like putting up a sign saying, ‘Come back cockroaches, all is forgiven”. For those in Britain, a huntsman spider, reassuringly known as the Australian Tarantula, is about the size of your hand, hairy, in fact even its legs are big enough to be hairy and whilst not dangerous not the kind of thing you want to have taking up residence in your bedroom. I recently told Simon the dubious statistic that the average person swallows a number of spiders in their sleep, this may be one of the great urban myths but I can safely say that if you attempted to swallow a huntsman in your sleep if you didn’t choke to death you would be rivalling the infamous 1986 Sun headline 'Freddie Starr ate my hamster'. As I am liberated woman, and was keen to put up a good show before my audience of Drama Queen no.3 and demonstrate that real women do not emit girly screams and run from spiders I attempted to catch the huntsman. It shot up to the cornice with an unnerving high leg movement. I considered leaving it there and hoping it went away but common sense prevailed and I realised if I came back and it had vanished the interesting question would be ‘where to?’ Images flickered across my brain of Simon and I lying rigid in bed night after night, head torches strapped to our brows, waiting to spring into action at the slightest touch of a furry leg. Overcome by my own bravery I got the mop and herded it into a large mug and slapped a plate on top. Given squashing it would involve a major redecoration job and wouldn’t do much for my already overstretched nerves I decided on a relocation policy and marched at least 200m down the street before releasing it onto a tree.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

If music be the food of love

Wednesday 18th March

Have just spent a hurried half hour organising presents for a niece and godson born the same day, nine years apart. You would think having lived most of my married life abroad and certainly most of it since I started gaining nieces, nephews and godchildren with what seemed like at times, machine gun rapid fire, that I would have worked out by now that 24 hours before the birthday is not an appropriate time to post the card. I operate with a characteristic optimism, on the basis that I have gained half a day at least by virtue of the time zone calculation plus second delivery in the UK gives me an edge. Even given these factors in my favour it is going to be physically impossible for the envelope to flop onto the doormat before Saturday morning or Monday – sorry guys.

Wednesday morning in the Ling household is a bit like living in the backstage area of the Sydney Symphony, not in terms of the music produced but in the sense of lugging instruments around. Every Wednesday I manhandle into the car, a tenor saxophone (size of small coffin and just as easy to manoeuvre), alto saxophone (quite manageable in comparison but still on the large side), trumpet (fair size, but hey I can swing this one into the car one handed) and flute (wonderfully portable instrument) plus my three children and neighbouring child and her clarinet (like flute, desirable instrument in terms of portability). As I set off for school with my musical medley packed in behind me I feel we should all be bursting into a melodic rendition of “The Hills are Alive with Music”. The reality is of course that far from conducting my travelling band I am having to field the wear down tactics of the discussion of belly button piercings whilst simultaneously refereeing the sibling heated arguments conducted fortissimo in the back seat.

I have been following the Julie Myerson debates in the UK with interest in particular the ethics of writing about one's own children. I have some sympathy with her in that the family offer such rich pickings in terms of material to write about, but part of the reason that the predominant theme of this blog seems to be the dog is because he doesn’t mind having his faults splashed across the internet, or more accurately if he does he a) can’t tell me and b) I don’t care as he is unlikely to write a retaliatory ‘Mommy Dearest’ book. I have decided though that I can’t really continue to use the girls’ names in this blog. I am tempted to go the Miss Moneypenny in the FT route and refer to them as Cost Centre 1, 2 3 – perhaps Drama Queen 1, 2 and 3? Simon of course will continue to be pilloried on a regular basis!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Monday morning- must be time for coffee

Monday 9th March

Just listening to a Radio 4 interview with Joan Bakewell who has just written her first novel at 74 – feel this should inspire me. Listening to her talk though I am slightly downcast by what an interesting life she has had, including a long running affair with Harold Pinter. I am finding writing regularly in this blog a help in that it actually forces me to sit down and think about my writing, so perhaps as an aspiring writer I should continue with this course of action rather than rushing out to find difficult and brooding playwrights to seduce!

It has rained so much overnight that the lawn is flooded and I had to fish a frog doing a rather frantic breaststroke, out of the pool. I put it into the large water pot with the goldfish but it now seems to have disappeared. I peered hopefully into the pot hoping the goldfish haven’t eaten it. Charlotte is theoretically in charge of feeding them so it is quite conceivable that they are so ravenous that they would attack a frog with relish.

The highlight of the morning was hearing the leathery flap of wings and looking up to see a host of bats flying overhead in the very early dawn as they returned back to their roost in the Botanic Gardens. As the light of the day came in all the cockatoos that live in the trees down by the beach come to life with incredibly raucous cries. To my ears they sound almost prehistoric and during the odd moment when I can actually hear them over my fevered panting as I lumber round the running circuit I feel as if I have been transported back to a Jurassic jungle.

I am off to meet a friend for coffee. We probably meet up once every couple of months and we always go to a patisserie owned and run by a Frenchman who is both a friend of my friend and also crews with Simon on the boat that friend’s husband races every Friday evening. We have now probably met at the patisserie four times for our incredibly indulgent coffee, friendship and chat enlivened by the delicious little morsels the owner keeps slipping us. Every time we arrange to go my friend waxes lyrical about how charming it will be to sit out on the pavement on a little table and how we will feel as if we are part of a Parisian neighbourhood. I start drooling at the thought of my sugar fix, guzzled whilst pretending I am in Paris without the language difficulty, and without fail each time we arrive it begins to pour and we end up sitting on a pair of milk crates inside the shop. Still absolutely delicious and still a real treat, but definitely not Paris.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hair and dog or should that be hair of the dog?

Friday 6th March

Now getting quite dark in the mornings in Sydney, feel more like a coal miner than a boot camper as we all meet up in a pitch black car park at 6 a.m. However stumbling around in the dark does add to the feeling of extreme overall virtue.

If I am not going to boot camp in the morning I take the dog out for a walk. We generally go down to Clifton Gardens, a nearby beach. The road down to the beach is very steep and I get a glorious view of the harbour with the dawn coming in in streaks of blue and pink as I come down the hill. I have to pick my times for visiting the beach quite carefully. On a sunny weekend Clifton Gardens is packed with large family groups having picnics and parties and bitter experience has taught me this is not a good time to visit with Pluto. With what would be a touching innocence if it weren’t so embarrassing, he is convinced he is a welcome guest at any gathering and bounds into the middle of picnic rugs tail wagging ready to play. There is generally, quite rightly, an extreme and noisy reaction to a black bomb arriving next to the rice salad, Lebanese grandmothers clad in black from head to toe scatter like chickens in front of him. Puce in the face, I haul him away, apologising profusely

Early mornings however the beach is almost deserted, the only people around a few fishermen sitting at the end of the jetty, an elderly man who swims every morning whilst his Staffordshire bull terrier guards his clothes, a couple of solitary joggers and me. Pluto gallops up and down the beach chasing seagulls, ever the optimist he is convinced that if he just runs fast enough he’ll catch one. It’s a very relaxing way to start the day, particularly with a stop to pick up a coffee on the way home.

Having waxed lyrical about the joys of the morning beach walk, I have just picked up our local paper and discovered an article about concerns that dogs on the beach, and in particular in the water, could potentially attract sharks. As a result I suspect our early morning walks are going to have to be much tamer for fear of an on the spot fine from a council ranger inspired by zeal into patrolling the park at 6 a.m.

I am off to the hairdressers for the morning for a cut and colour. For once I have been sensible and left myself enough time. In my usual happy fashion I generally don’t allow enough time for the colour to take, as it were, and for my hair to be cut and blow-dried. As I never bother blow-drying my hair myself I always forget that even after a cut, my hair has a yak like thickness to it and drying it takes forever. I sit tensely in the chair, shooting surreptitious glances at my watch and calculating whether a) I’ve got a parking ticket yet and b) at what point the school will ring to ask if I have any intention of picking up my children today. Part of the tension is that I am too much of a wimp to cut the whole beautifying process short. I feel it would be a trifle ungracious to leap to my feet, shrieking, “I’ve got to go, just leave it” whilst rushing, dripping wet out of the saloon. Having had a number of haircuts in my past that made me look like an ageing Rod Stewart, I value my relationship with Roger who works wonders, and I have no wish to upset his artistic tendencies! However I can go into the saloon today feeling smug and bury myself in as many back copies of Hello as I can get my hands on – bliss.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fancy a dip??

Monday Evening

Third week; third shark attack in Sydney, this time on Sunday morning off a beach north of us. We went down to our local beach on Sunday afternoon and whilst people, including our children, were swimming inside the shark netted enclosure, there was a noticeable drop in the amount of people taking their chances in the wide, blue yonder. The local council has hastily put up notices saying it cannot be responsible for any holes in the shark netting, eg if bitten don’t even think about suing.

The key feature of these three attacks are that they all happened at dawn or dusk and thus in poor visibility, to the extent the latest victim, a 15 year old boy thought the splashing was his father mucking around, an easy mistake to make before the teeth sunk in! Every report about sharks emphasises the fact that dawn and dusk are peak feeding times and so Simon and I were slightly surprised as we ambled along Balmoral Beach this evening to see a young woman, clad in a bridal outfit, thigh deep in water as the gloom of twilight settled around her. It looked like the opening scene of a horror movie and we were poised for a roll of drums and the flash of white teeth as the sea turned artistically red. In fact the only flashes were those of the cameras as it appeared to be some kind of fashion shoot. I did wonder how much the model was being paid and whether they had discussed a life insurance policy before she waded out.

I went to Boot Camp this morning and couldn’t decide whether to be flattered or mortified when Patrick, the trainer, asked whether there was any chance he could use a photo of me on his website. He then went on to say what he would really like to do is a before and after photo. I am hoping he means a 'before' I started Boot Camp and an 'after' based on now, but Simon tactfully pointed out that perhaps Patrick means a 'before' photo now in the hope he can whip me into better shape over the next couple of months. Either way am not sure I am up for the ritual humiliation of this one – would feel like Weightwatchers winner of the month or a contestant on the Biggest Loser! Don’t know if Biggest Loser has reached the UK yet – funnily enough doesn’t refer to stock market investors but to a reality show where a group of very overweight people compete to see who can lose the most weight. In between the ritual mortification of weigh ins in their underwear they are made to take bizarre forms of physical exercise. I find it a dangerous show to watch as in general contestants are so large that they make me complacent. I feel as if I am a mere slip of a thing as I lie on the couch, Bridget Jones style in my pyjamas, tucking into mountains of ice cream. I guess it is a variation on the theory that all man needs to be happy is to be comparatively wealthier than those he spends time with, perhaps the female version is to be comparatively slimmer than her acquaintances – mental note strike Duchess of Windsor/Nancy Reagan look alikes off Christmas Card list.