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.