Friday, October 30, 2009

Now's the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party

Well the witching hour is almost upon us in terms of both party and Halloween. Having got used to the full on Halloween in New York, the Australian version seems rather bizarre. The whole concept is slowly building in strength eg toy shops displaying hideous masks in their windows from early September, however as daylight saving has just come in in Sydney it doesn’t actually get dark until almost 8pm, so unlike Rye where it was pleasantly spooky and satisfactorily dusky by 5pm enabling all the mini ghosts and ghouls to wander round trick or treating, the small Australian vampires and their kin actually look totally out of place roaming the streets in the Australian sunshine.

Preparations for party have gone full steam ahead – literally in one instance where I was cooking a batch of meringues at the required low temperature and Drama Queen No. 1 had a quick absent minded fiddle with the oven as you do when trying to interrupt your mother’s phone conversation. Just for your information I can inform you that meringues spontaneously combust when 110oC is swapped for the hottest setting on the grill.

The fridge is now stuffed with half made Coronation Chicken, - or rather a pared down version of it where I have cavalierly decided there is no need to bother with ingredients that look complicated or tricky so in fact it would be more accurate to call it chicken in cold curry mayonnaise. I have also been making a number of chocolate roulades and freezing them – found a brilliant Good Housekeeping website recipe though I goggled with amazement when I discovered it in a section called ‘Make it, Bake it’ which referred to the concept that once you had baked the roulade you could recreate it as a knitted version – there are also recipe/knitting pattern combinations for ├ęclairs and Battenberg cake – all I can say is that there are obviously people out there who have far too much time on their hands, but perhaps that is just jealousy – and I can feel teetering at the back of my mind that maybe there is just time to knit one purl one my way to a knitted pudding to stun and amaze all my friends.

I’ve got one soon to be ex-male friend who mused to his wife that perhaps the party was for my birthday, (which it sort of is as it is my birthday on the 30th) and whether it was a major birthday, and did she think it was my 50th. As I turned 44 today I took this very badly and he will be having his own private party on the verandah.

One of the other excitements of the birthday, aside from pulling chickens apart and pondering knitted confectionary, is discovering that in a move worthy of DQ No.3’s approach to parties, I appear to have given people a range of start times. There was potential for guests to arrive half an hour before I expected them and this could have been fatal given I am queen of the last minute crisis. Based on past experience those who turn up five minutes before the start of one of our parties are likely to be greeted by their hosts in their underwear arguing about whose job it was to order the glasses anyway.

I got an email today from a friend who lives in the country about 4 hours drive from Sydney. As an aside she mentioned her back was bad as she had been catapulted from a bob cat bucket, but unfortunately had still been tethered to the bucket by her shoelace – the image made me wince and realise that exploding meringues aside I do lead a relatively tame life – let’s hope I’m still saying that post party, perhaps I’m tempting fate, time to get back to the knitting.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time and the party

Feel as if I am caught in endless war between dog and husband. The lawn has been looking relatively good following week of heavy rain in Sydney whilst we were on holiday and no dog. Dog celebrated today and dug two medium sized holes – having just received telephone call to announce husband’s imminent arrival hastily scooped earth back in and pulled up tufts of grass from other parts of the garden to create a turf like surface over ravaged patches. As I pressed bits of grass into place with agonised care I felt like some kind of deranged flower arranger. The dog of course watched this activity with interest and I could see plans for the next excavation forming in his fertile brain. I cursed longer evenings which means that I will have to keep husband captive in kitchen until darkness falls and distract him from any thoughts of going for a soothing wander in the back garden. To put things in perspective, given the size of our garden he only has to step outside the back door to have the whole vista, complete with suspicious grass covered mounds, in front of him.

Pluto is actually straying into dangerous territory at the moment, for whilst I am relatively tolerant of his mole like activities in the back garden, he has recently developed a unacceptable tendency to roll in dead slugs – the slime is a bit of a giveaway on this one.

I have just heard a discussion on the BBC radio 4 Today programme about whether Daylight Saving should be dropped in the UK. I regret to say such was my level of concentration that I couldn’t decide which way the argument was going but I did get the gist that one of the proposals was that Scotland should operate on a different time zone ‘tundra time’ as it was termed. John Humpries was pointing out how confusing it would be. My advice to him is not to move to Australia where at this time of year with various states opting in or out of Daylight Savings, they have to run a time round up before the ABC radio News. This round up of the time slot takes a fair amount of time in itself as basically if it is 7am in Sydney it is 6am in Brisbane, 6.30am in Adelaide, 5.30am in Darwin and 4am in Western Australia. I think the half hour time differences between states adds a particular frisson of interest – I have a vivid memory of Simon and I early on in married life getting stranded in the outback mining town of Broken Hill for New Year’s Eve. We hit the local hot spot, which was the one of the Miners’ Clubs which was having a Tarts and Vicars party – being pansy Poms in our camping gear we rather stood out, but we did put the final clincher on it by embracing passionately at midnight, only to break apart to find various tarts and vicars with stubble eying us incredulously for we had failed to realise the particularly tricky time teaser that despite the fact Broken Hill is in New South Wales, it actually takes its time from South Australia so the time rather than being midnight was actually 11.30pm.


On a party theme – being of a sentimental strain I decided that as it is 20 years since Simon and I who were ‘Just good friends” as the saying goes at the time, decided to throw a party in London with another friend Louise. During this far off party in 1989 we proved amongst other things that loud music, lots of good friends and lashings of drink leads to all kinds of complications, including 18 years of marriage, 3 daughters, 1 slime covered dog, soon to be ex if behaviour doesn’t improve, and 3 goldfish (no complaints on the behaviour front); so I decided we should do it all again. As a result owing to a blanket invitation policy we now have approximately 80 people rocking up next Saturday night. In my typical “It’ll be all right on the night” style I haven’t actually focused on that fact up to now but as we are now into count down stage in terms of catering wild panic is setting in. Saving grace is that Aussies are very generous at saying things like “Can I bring a salad?” and I am throwing pride to the winds and saying “YES!” and focusing on more important questions like how can I get rid of the dog for the night and can I still fit into my black dress.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bond girl or Teletubby?

Apologies for the radio silence, we have been away sailing in the Whitsundays, a chain of islands perched in the centre of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the third year we have taken a boat up there at this time of year and despite teenage moans of “No friends, no phone, just my family” there is something very bonding about being all together as a family. We all relax into it very quickly, existing in a very small living space, with minimal outside contact for a week. Mobile phone reception is almost non existent and in the absence of the usual electronic distractions everyone is forced to revert to reading, chatting and listening to Harry Potter on the CD player.

The scenery in the Whitsundays is absolutely stunning, wooded islands dropping straight into turquoise seas, interspersed by expanses of glittering white sand appearing and vanishing with the tides. As you would expect the snorkelling is breathtaking with turtles grazing on the sea grass beneath you and kaleidoscopes of brightly coloured fish and coral. Before I get too carried away with the lyrical descriptions and your mind despairingly flickers over images of us all starring in an Australian Tourism Board advert akin to the “Where the Bloody Hell are you?” series but probably entitled “Who the Bloody Hell are you?”, I should drag things back to reality. The one downside of the Whitsundays is that there is a very slim chance at this time of year of being stung by one of a number of unpleasant types of potentially deadly jellyfish. My particular favourite is the irukandji jellyfish which is miniscule, almost invisible and can sting people without them noticing. Apparently one of the first symptoms is an overwhelming feeling of dread and foreboding which if you go on to read the next few symptoms strikes me as a completely justifiable emotion. In a bid to avoid any encounters of the jelly sort you are advised to wear stinger suits – which are all in one lycra type outfits. There is of course the potential to look quite glamorous and Bond Girlish in these suits – as indeed the Drama Queens do, but there is also the potential to look like a Teletubby let loose on an outing, particularly when the hood is up and the mitten and feet attachements are all utilized. You can guess which category, Bond Girl or Teletubby I fit into, if fit is a word that can be used in connection with the thing. Suffice to say holiday snaps that include me in my all in one will not be circulating or appearing as our Christmas card this year.

In an unprecedented fit of organization I arranged to get our downstairs floors revarnished whilst we were away, which entailed moving all the furniture from our kitchen/family room into convenient storage locations such as the laundry and bathroom. Unfortunately my planning was slightly awry and the guys had to return to do a final coat on the hall during our first day back – as the varnish took 12 hours to dry this led to an interesting day and evening of everyone having to take a flying leap for the stair banisters and then to clamber like monkeys over it, with varying degrees of agility in order to get to a bathroom. During a pause in the varnishing, I came out to find the two chaps who were doing the floors playing a quick game of badminton at the front of the house, the incongruity of which made me laugh.

We are going out to dinner tonight to celebrate Simon’s midweek birthday. He did slightly better on the present front this year than last year where owing to a slight miscalculation on shopping days left until birthday, he got a packet of dried mango as an initial present. This year amongst other things from his nearest and dearest he got some electronic candles which I am envisaging being fantastic for the outdoor Aussie life. They are rechargeable and glow like little night lights and the DQs and I think they are charming – he seems quite keen but has been heard muttering that ‘they don’t exactly flicker, do they’ which is undeniably true but is also the point!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What price a miracle in chlorine resistant material?

Weather is bouncing around a bit in Sydney – 31oC on Thursday which was unfortunate as I had failed to listen to the weather forecast and in a fit of laziness had flung on a jumper over a very moth eaten singlet and so was forced to teach all day with a purple overheated tinge to both my complexion and my temper which must have alarmed my pupils somewhat. This weekend in contrast has been wet and windy with a daytime temperature of 16oC.

We’ve just come to the end of term 3 of the school year. Australian schools have 4 terms and finish the school year with a glorious burst of activity in December which combines Christmas and end of year celebrations and ensures most mothers stagger into Christmas feeling they deserve an unrealistically large reward under the Christmas tree. Drama Queen No 3’s school finished the term with the school show – a major production which involves every one of the school’s 430 pupils, all in costume and all singing and dancing. In fact school extravaganza might actually be a better term for it and such is the parental anticipation that the queue for tickets reputedly started at 5a.m. on the day they went on sale. I got there at 6.15 a.m. and there were about 40 people sitting smugly ahead of me. Part of the reason for the pressure to queue, is that the show is held in the school hall and if you are on the gnome like side of the height chart, as I am, then you need to make sure you are in the front half of the hall in order to appreciate every moment of your child’s moment of glory. DQ no3. announced before the opening night that they were having a final ‘Dry’ rehearsal – I privately thought if I was the teacher in charge I would actually have to have a hip flask strapped to my side to even contemplate stage managing a project of such Cameron Mackintosh size proportions.

I have just indulged in the annual swimsuit purchase. I got very excited by the lavish promises of the optimistically named “Miracle” swimsuit and squeezed myself into it with great excitement wondering what possible optical illusion could be employed to transform me into a Cindy Crawford look alike – we are after all roughly the same age. I have to say, as a swimsuit it did have fairly miraculous powers – not to mention reinforced stitching to hold one in and out – but as I twirled in Cindy like haze I suddenly caught sight of the price tag and if my innards hadn’t been clamped so tightly in lycra I might have had a complete choking fit. I sadly unpeeled the “miracle” and decided I might have to settle for the nearly as miraculous, at half the price.

In one of those dramatic double dating situations that I often seem to find myself in, owing to an inability to say no, last Saturday we managed to combine an adult dinner party for 8 with what DQ no.1 terms a ‘gathering’ involving a dozen hormone charged teenagers. As both events kicked off at the same time, it involved some interesting combinations on the doorstop. Whilst the evening had the potential to be a complete social nightmare, it was in fact surprisingly good fun, though it may be some time before our dinner guests with younger children recover form the exposure to modern teenage life.