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 cafĂ© 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.