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.